Posts Tagged ‘seed’

(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.

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(From “A Cloud of Witnesses”)

“Being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God, which liveth and abideth for ever.”  I Peter 1:23

I had heard Minister Robert Burney speak about his father and the second stroke that impaired him with almost complete paralysis.  He said that while his father was in the hospital bed a fellow preacher sent a message to him saying, “Don’t forget that you still have a tongue.”

At that time, I had never heard the Elder Burney preach, but I finally did during the January district service.

 ~♥~

Elder Burney is a broad-shouldered and well-dressed man with a warm and wise face, sitting in a wheelchair.  I have never seen such a paradox of weakness and strength in one man, and I was totally unprepared for that mighty tongue.

The elder began speaking in a gentle voice about the woman with the alabaster box of ointment who washed Jesus’ feet with her tears and dried them with her hair.  He explained how the men who were present when she did this began to mock her and assault her character, but she was so in love with Jesus that she didn’t care.

In only a matter of a few minutes, I felt something stirring inside of me.  A sudden tide of joy rolled over me like an ocean wave. Before I could catch my breath, another one struck, and then another. I looked over my shoulder and realized that I was not alone. It was high tide. The waves were rolling over the congregation with such force that many people could not remain seated or keep silent.  Elder Burney said quietly, “I don’t believe in interfering with the Spirit of God.”  He sat silently as the Spirit burst forth like a tidal wave and flooded the entire room.

 ~♥~

I attended another district service a few months later, and I noticed on the program that Elder Burney was the speaker again.  I thought to myself that it couldn’t possibly be the same as the last time.  Lightning doesn’t strike the same place twice.

This time, the elder began speaking about the woman at the well, and how Jesus told her He would give her living water, and that she would never thirst again, and that it would be a well springing up into everlasting life.  Without warning, water began to flow from my eyes.  I was surprised by this, and wondered what was going on, because I was not sad.  Then the elder said, “When the Spirit gets ahold of you, water is gonna come out of your eyes when you’re not even sad.” I began to laugh with surprise.

It’s very difficult to explain but it seemed as if the Spirit flowed like waves out of the elder’s mouth as he spoke, and began to fill up the room, and then tears sprung out of my eyes.

~♥~

One great mystery is the way that the elder’s preaching lingers with me for a long time afterward.  He plants a powerful seed that germinates and flowers into a deeper understanding of God.  It reminds of the story of Jack and the beanstalk. Someone gave Jack some magic beans, and he found himself in an amazing adventure. He climbed into the sky to a new kingdom, where he slew a giant, and won an amazing treasure.  Elder Burney’s preaching is like those magic seeds that have somehow given me a new identity and purpose.

Once he preached a message about the City of God.  He said that there are twelve gates to the city, and that he believes we will enter at the Southern gates and the streets will be pure gold.  He spoke about the Tree of Life with the twelve fruits that would heal every kind of disease, and the crystal river that flowed from the throne. He said that he had resolved in his mind that he was going to go to that city, and that the power of Hell could not stop him from making it there. He said, “I look forward to seeing my mama and daddy when I get there.  But they’re gonna have to step aside so I can see Jesus.” Soon after that, I dreamed that I was searching for a city, and I saw a familiar man by side of the road.  I asked him the way to the gates of the city.  He did not speak but simply handed me a key.

In another service I attended, Elder Burney cried out, “I am rich beyond measure! Praise God, I’m rich!”  Those words began to sprout within my mind. I knew that he was speaking of heavenly riches. I read the scripture that speaks of how I belong to Christ, and Christ belongs to God, so I am an heiress.  I found myself beginning to identify with Christ, and not with the world, and it began to transform my whole way of thinking. I realized that I had no need of anything, that the world had nothing to offer me. I became less worried about success and worth in the eyes of other people.  I only wanted to please Christ and bless others.

I recognize that Elder Burney has planted some divine seeds in my heart.  I am overwhelmed and humbled by the way God has used him as instrument of power and mercy in my life.

 “The kingdom of heaven is like unto a grain of mustard seed, which a man took and sowed in his field: which indeed is the least of all seeds, but when it is grown, it is the greatest among herbs, and becometh a tree…” (Matthew 13:31-33)

~♥~

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