Posts Tagged ‘fallow ground’

(Excerpt from “Divine Doorkeepers”)

Charles Grandison Finney was born in Warren, Connecticut, and was the youngest of fifteen children. Born to a family of farmers, Finney never attended college, but he apprenticed to become a lawyer. After his conversion, he became an important figure in the Second Great Awakening which swept over the northern states, especially upstate New York.  Finney believed that the revivals did not have great impact in the Southern states because of the evil of slavery. He has been called The Father of Modern Revivalism and he was famous for sermons that were preached without notes or memorization, also known as “extemporaneous preaching.”  He developed the custom of the “anxious bench” for people who were anxious about their souls and wanted guidance.

Finney was a tireless spiritual leader who worked to bring about revivals in many communities in America and Europe.  Having been with a law firm before his conversion, he was well-suited to “plead the case of Christ”.  He was often told that his style was like a lawyer at the bar talking to a jury, because he was powerfully direct, searching, and persuasive in his language.

Finney was criticized by other preachers in his time for his straightforward and plain style, and his illustrations that were directed at common people in ordinary occupations. He was told that his sermons were an embarrassment to the ministerial profession.  But he replied by saying, “Great sermons lead people to praise the preacher.  Good sermons lead people to praise the Savior” (Autobiography 74).  He frequently had to defend his style: “Among farmers and mechanics, and other classes of men, I borrowed my illustrations from their various occupations.  I tried to use language they would understand… my object was not to cultivate a style of oratory that should soar above the heads of the people, but to make myself understood” (Autobiography 70).

In one of his lectures recorded in the book Revivals of Religion, he uses the analogy of hardened ground to represent the hardness of the human heart that resists the gospel message.  Like George Fox, he refers to himself as the divine gardener that has been appointed by God to labor in the field and plant holy seed:

Fallow ground is ground that has once been tilled, but which now lies waste, and needs to be broken up and mellowed, before it is suited to receive grain.  I shall show, as it respects a revival in the church…

To break up the fallow ground, is to break up your heart, to prepare your minds to bring forth fruit unto God.  The mind of man is often compared in the Bible to ground, and the Word of God to seed sown therein, the fruit representing the actions and affections of those who receive it…

Sometimes your hearts get matted down, hard and dry, till there is no such thing as getting fruit from them till they are broken up…It is that softening of the heart, so as to make it feel the truth, which the prophet calls breaking up your fallow ground (32-33).

Fox previously used the analogy of “thick cloddy earth” in a similar manner. Finney explains that tilling represents self-examination which allows the heart and mind to become tender and receptive. He explains that no preacher can “sow seed” or have any effect until a man prepares his heart on his own first.

Finney also depicts the movement of the Spirit with language pertaining to weaponry.  For instance, he spoke of the Word of God as an arrow: “The Word of God had wonderful power…and I was surprised to find that a few words spoken to an individual would stick in his heart like an arrow” (Autobiography 32).  He refers to preaching as being like a sword:  “I concluded with such pointed remarks as were intended to make the subject go home…The sword of the Lord slew them on the right hand and on the left” (Autobiography 63).  The “pointed remarks” and the sword represent the effect of the truth on the minds of people, piercing them with self-awareness and “slaying” their evil natures.

Finney was disillusioned that many ministers in his day had been trained in such a way that diminished their spiritual potency and hindered their growth.  He writes of one such minister in his autobiography: “The fact is that Mr. Gale’s education for the ministry had been entirely defective. He had imbibed a set of opinions, both theological and practical, that were a straitjacket to him” (Autobiography 50).  The straitjacket is used as a symbol for a condition of being restrained and weakened in faith.

Charles Finney uses simple stories and style in a way that is persuasive and authoritative, and draws readers into a stronger understanding of their own spiritual condition and the workings of God.

Advertisements

Read Full Post »

%d bloggers like this: