Rev. Sherlock Bristol's Letter to A. M. Hills on

Mahan's Resignation and Oberlin's Spiritual Decline.


From: Life of Charles G. Finney.

Chapter 18



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. . . .

I have written to Rev. Sherlock Bristol, of Montalvo, California, one of the few men now living who knows all the facts from the beginning of Oberlin's history, who himself was baptized with the Spirit, and became a preacher and author of great power and usefulness, to give me the facts about Mahan's resignation and Oberlin's spiritual decline. Here are selections from his letters:

"Montalvo, Cal., January 2, 1902.

"My Dear Brother Hills, -- Your letter of December 28th came to hand this evening, and was very cheering and encouraging. The reports of conversions and sealings of the Spirit in the Holiness University, and in that part of Texas, are such as we do not hear of nowadays in the Northern part of the country. I think I know the reason why this is so. It is the same as made the north of Palestine more receptive of Christ than highly favored and enlightened Judea, They were less gospel-hardened, had less pride and self-conceit. I rejoice that it is so, and can heartily join with Christ in saying, 'Even so, Father, for so it seemed good in Thy sight.' The growth of your college and theological school is wonderful. How I should like to help you! But such as I have I give -- a daily visit with our Lord to the school in prayer. . . Now, in regard to Oberlin and its steps down from the highway of holiness, where once it walked with God in the days of Finney's and Mahan's presidency, I feel reluctant to write, lest I should seem ungrateful for what that school did for me, and lest, also, some injustice should be done to some one, The Lord help me to write with a charity that thinketh no evil!

"That Oberlin has receded from the high ground she once occupied spiritually admits of no question. President Fairchild definitely owned it in a pamphlet he published some twenty years ago, and read before the Faculty, securing their approval and indorsement. In it he went so far as to say, 'It came to be more and more a matter of doubt whether the seeking of sanctification as a special experience was on the whole to be encouraged, and it was not in general an occasion of satisfaction when a young man gave himself up to seek the blessing.' This shows how far Oberlin had backslid from the high and apostolic ground held while President Mahan stood as the human head of the school.

"This leads me to trace, somewhat in detail, the steps which led to this sad departure. President Mahan was quite a prominent in those days as was Professor Finney. In my opinion, the baptism with the Spirit he received was equal to Finney's. His sermons were mighty and his influence great. Spending his vacations abroad in spiritual labors, he boldly urged upon Christians and converts the earnest seeking of that Divine enduement foretold by the prophet Joel and experienced at Pentecost. Vast good was done. But, as was to be expected, opposition appeared here and there. Letters were written from Boston and elsewhere, criticizing Mahan's preaching of the doctrine. Some of these fell into the hands of members of the Faculty, who did not relish the doctrine, and felt restive under its demands and restraints. Revivals followed all his labors; but, notwithstanding, he found on his return, when the term opened, quite a clique combining against him.

"A continual dropping wears a rock. I knew these men, one and all, and how assiduously they worked. During a winter vacation, while Mahan was absent in Boston, Providence, and New York, these home critics drew up a paper, and, by strong efforts, persuaded a majority of the Faculty to ask him to resign. It almost broke his heart, But he continued his energetic work. I left my work of gathering funds for the school, went back, and persuaded the Faculty to withdraw their request. He returned and resumed his work; but no more with the cordial good-will and co-operation of former times. Finally he resigned. I have no more doubt that it was want of spirituality that generated the opposition and fed it than I have that I write this account of the matter. Nor have I any doubt of that action being a great sin against God, From that day onward, Oberlin declined further and further from the spiritual life and power of Mahan's days, but with like steps, also, from the doctrine of possible Pentecostal power.

"When the dear man left the school for which he had done so much, he must have felt much as Paul did when he uttered the sad words in his letter to Timothy, 'Thou knowest that all they of Asia are turned away from me, of whom is Phygellus and Hermogenes!' Oberlin is still a large school of intellectual and moral power; but the spiritual power of other days it has no more.

'O hadst thou known in that thy day,

And flocked beneath the wing

Of Him who called thee lovingly,

Thine own anointed King.

Then had the tribes of all the earth

Gone up thy pomp to see,

And glory dwelt in all thy gates,

And all thy sons been free!'

"I am sure President Finney never agreed with President Fairchild in repudiating the Pentecostal baptism so plainly taught as the need and privilege of New Testament Christians. He had felt too deeply its influence within, and witnessed too much of its power without, But he was getting worn down and wearied, and he allowed things to drift as he would not have done in earlier days; and he died before having seen President Fairchild's pamphlet repudiating the experience and doctrine of Mahan's administration and times.

"How sad the history of Oberlin! I mourn every time I look that way. Fairchild and I have exchanged many letters on the subject. He and I were very warm friends during our whole college and theological course. I do not think he loved any student more than myself, if I except his brother Henry. He was a natural gentleman, genial, moral, of equable temperament, and highly intellectual; non-impulsive, and little tempted toward outbreaking sins. He passed through those great Pentecostal seasons which changed so many of us without any deep sense of his own need of a baptism with the Holy Ghost, and with little effort to obtain it. It was in that line, what abnormal morality is, often an obstacle to conversion. 'I fast twice in a week; I give tithes of all I possess,' etc., seems to me the illusion Which kept him from seeking and obtaining the gift unspeakable. 'Because thou sayest I am rich,' etc., -- that is my explanation of his singular blindness, and also of his fearful leading of other blind ones also. It is God's order that we all, however intellectual, should go to Christ for light; and unless He anoints our eyes with the eye-salve of heaven, we shall grope in darkness all our days.

"Fairchild did not intend to be a preacher, and did not realize his need of more than natural equipments to do his work as a teacher and Christian. He ultimately threw his influence decidedly against the doctrine. He criticized it in his theology, and in his pamphlet defended the drift of Oberlin backward from the ground occupied by Finney and Mahan to that occupied by the average Churches. Oberlin, with few exceptions, went with him. 'Facilis est descensus Averni.' Nevertheless, the seed sown is springing up all over the land.

"Just now there is a great struggle at Oberlin, as in other colleges, to gain large endowments of money. But what it needs more than all the gold of earth is a return to its first love -- to the spirit of those early days when its students were taught to 'tarry in Jerusalem till endued with power from above.' The retrograde steps of Oberlin were due to the persistent carpings and criticisms of men in the Faculty, college, and town, who had small experience in spiritual things. So chronic it became, at length, that better men at last yielded, and consented to Mahan's departure, and with him the doctrine of sanctification, for the sake of peace! Oberlin's 'Old Guard,' Morgan, Finney, and Cowles, and many sanctified students, will mourn this concession for many a day. May other institutions take warning, and 'let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall!'

"This is a long letter, written in haste and with sorrow. May the Lord bless you, dear brother, and preserve you and your school from the like disaster, and unto Him be the praise for ever and ever!

"Most affectionately, your brother,

"S. Bristol."