Look what Charles Finney has done to the church!?!

The first two or three dozen times I heard the name “Charles Finney” I thought to be associated with him was some sort of curse. Perhaps that reveals the cultural/church climate in which I find myself. Nonetheless, one would think that Finney was some perverter of all that we hold sacred, a charlatan or a man-centered manipulative preacher. I mean you would think he was some liberal God-hatin’ democrat, or something. 😉

Well, If you have been raised to think this way, or find yourself thinking this way now, I would suggest you read his “Lectures on Revivals of Religions.” You can order it on Amazon here.

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If you played the “Who Said It?” game earlier, you would have seen that Finney operated within a worldview based on God’s providential interraction with the world. Even though he has been critiqued as overemphasizing the instrumentality of man, it is my hypothesis that he was reacting to views of God’s sovereignty that de-emphasized the role of active obedience. He recognized God’s work in revival, and the necessity of God working for people to be changed. But he is rightly calling the church to action. I will find, as I continue to read, if he swung the pendulum too far into the area of human freedom. Until then, let us learn from his Third Lecture on Revival:

His Text: Hosea 10:12 “Break up your fallow ground; for it is time to seek the Lord, till he come and rain righteousness upon you.” (Interestingly, this text is somewhat parallel to Jer 4:3)

To break up the fallow ground, is to break up your hearts–to prepare your minds to bring forth fruit to God…It is this softening of the heart, so as to make it feel the truth, which the prophet calls breaking up your fallow ground (pg 31).

Sin hardens our hearts. It is not that God leaves us or forsakes us. We can trust his promises that he will never do that. It is not that God loves us any less, only that we have become insensitive to His Spirit. Sin de-sensitizes us. Finney will later warn that unless we soften our heart, by continuing to hear the Word, the hearing will continue to harden our hearts. In other words, we would be inoculated against our only cure. We should be introspective:

If you mean to break up the fallow ground of your hearts, you must begin by looking at your hearts–examine and note the state of your minds, and see where you are. Many never seem to think about this. They pay no attention to their own hearts, and never know whether they are doing well in religion or not–whether they are gaining ground or going back–whether they are fruitful, or lying waste like the fallow ground (pg 33).

This introspection consists of investigation, understanding, and repenting of the sinfulness in your heart. Repentance of sin the precursor to every revival. The two revivals that have captured my attention recently, “The Shantung Revival” and “The Great Revival in Korea,” bore fruit from the blossoms of repentance.

Finney tells us that we cannot make general confession, but must confess and repent of every individual sin. Now, before you call this legalism, or cultic, realize his motivation. It is not for the sake of programmatic confession, but because he desires to be a broken vessel, one whose heart is soft toward God. If sin truly hardens us, let us walk with Finney a little here. Others have said similar things, including Bertha Smith (Shantung Revival, and afterwards).

I do no mean that you should just cast a glance at your past life, and see that it has been full of sins, and then go to God and make a sort of general confession, and ask for pardon. That is not the way. You must take them up one by one. It will be a good thing to take a pen and paper, as you go over them, and write them down as they occur to you. Go over them as carefully as a merchant goes over his books; and as often as a sin comes before your memory, add it to the list. General confessions of sin will never do. Your sins were committed one by one; and as far as you can come at them, they ought to be reviewed and repented of one by one (pg 34).

You might still be asking, “Why?” Wait before asking this, walk a little down this path. Many of our sins we justify, or hide, or ignore. This is an opportunity to grow in holiness. Finney believed it was an opportunity to become usable by God. I think both ideas are correct.

So, he lists sins of Omission and sins of Commission. Consider each and repent of them all:

Omission:

  1. Ingratitude

  2. Want of love to God

  3. Neglect of the Bible

  4. Unbelief

  5. Neglect of Prayer–This is a big one for me

  6. Neglect of the means of grace–I’m assuming he means the ordinances/sacraments. They are more important that you probably realize, though I don’t think they convey any grace at all.

  7. The manner in which you have performed those duties.

  8. Your want of love for the souls of your fellow-men

  9. You want of care for the heathen

  10. Neglect of family duties

  11. Neglect of Social duties

  12. Neglect of watchfulness over your own life

  13. Neglect of watch over your brethren–“Am I my brother’s keeper?” Answer: “YES!”

  14. Neglect of Self-Denial

Commission:

  1. Worldly mindedness–it is no small issue that he included this first.

  2. Pride–Perhaps a very close second. Pride and worldly mindedness are perhaps the biggest temptations for American Christians at the present.

  3. Envy

  4. Censoriousness–being uncharitable and ungracious in the way you speak of other Christians

  5. Slander

  6. Levity–not taking God seriously

  7. Lying–“How innumerable are the falsehoods perpetrated every day in business, and in social intercourse, by words and looks, and actions–designed to make an impression on others contrary to the truth for selfish reasons” (pg 39).

  8. Cheating

  9. Hypocrisy

  10. Robbing God

  11. Bad Temper

  12. Hindering others from being useful

Remember, these are only categories that may be useful in humbling yourself before God,

“so that [you] may be mellow and soft, and fit to receive the seed and bear fruit a hundred fold” (pg 41).

Lest you write of Finney as being an extremist, take this Warning!!!!

You may get into an excitement without this breaking up; you may show a kind of zeal, but it will not last long, and it will not take hold of sinners, unless your hearts are broken up. The reason is, that you go about it mechanically, and have not broken up your fallow ground (43).

Let us take encouragement from the Psalms

23Search me, O God, and know my heart!
   Try me and know my thoughts!
24And see if there be any grievous way in me,
   and lead me in the way everlasting!

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