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Break Up Your Fallow Ground

By Charles G. Finney

    In this article, Charles G. Finney, greatly experienced in the movings of the Holy Spirit in revival, tells what he sees our part to be in softening our hearts to receive God’s Word and to bear fruit one-hundred fold. If we mean business for God, it will take time and thought and effort as this article indicates. But it will help make us fruitful and help prepare us for the day when every man gives account to God of things done in the body (2 Corinthians 5:10). 

    The Jews were a nation of farmers, and it is therefore a common thing in the Scriptures to refer for illustrations to their occupation, and to the scenes with which farmers and shepherds are familiar. The prophet Hosea addresses them as a nation of backsliders, and reproves them for their idolatry, and threatens them with the judgments of God.

    Hosea 10:12 says: “Break up your fallow ground, for it is time to seek the Lord, till He come and rain righteousness upon you.”

    Fallow ground is ground which has once been tilled, but which now lies waste, and needs to be broken up and mellowed before it is suited to receive grain.

What Is It to Break Up the Fallow Ground?

    To break up the fallow ground is to break up your hearts—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 in it, and the fruit represents the actions and affections of those who receive it. To break up the fallow ground, therefore, is to bring the mind into such a state that it is fitted to receive the word of God.

    Sometimes your hearts get matted down hard and dry, and all run to waste, till there is no such thing as getting fruit from them till they are all broken up and mellowed down and fitted to receive the word of 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.

How Is the Fallow Ground to Be Broken Up?

    It is not by any direct efforts to feel. People talk about religious feeling as if they thought they could, by direct effort, call forth religious affection. But this is not the way the mind acts. No man can make himself feel in this way merely by trying to feel. The feelings of the mind are not directly under our control. We cannot by willing or by direct volition call spirits up from the deep. They are purely involuntary states of mind. But they can be controlled indirectly.

    We cannot say, “Now I will feel so and so toward such an object.” But we can command our attention to it, and look at it intently till the involuntary affections arise. If you wish to break up the fallow ground of your hearts, and make your minds feel on the subject of religion, you must go to work just as you would to feel on any other subject. Instead of keeping your thoughts on everything else and then imagine that by going to a few meetings you will get your feelings involved, go the common sense way to work, as you would on any other subject.

    If you mean to break 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 spiritually or not—whether they are gaining ground or going back—whether they are fruitful or lying waste like the fallow ground.

    You must draw off your attention from other things and look into this. Make a business of it. Do not be in a hurry. Examine thoroughly the state of your hearts, and see where you are—whether you are walking with God every day or walking with the devil—whether you are serving God or serving the devil most—whether you are under the dominion of the prince of darkness, or of the Lord Jesus Christ.

    To do this you must set yourselves at work to consider your sins. You must examine yourselves. And by this I do not mean that you must stop and look directly within to see what is the present state of your feelings. That is the very way to put a stop to all feeling.

    Self-examination consists in looking at your lives, in considering your actions, in calling up the past, and learning its true character. Look back over your past history. Take up your individual sins one by one, and look at them. I do not 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. Now begin and take up first what are commonly, but improperly, called your sins of omission.

So-Called Sins of Omission

    Ingratitude. Take this sin, for instance, and write down under it all the instances you can remember wherein you have received favors from God for which you have never exercised gratitude. How many cases can you remember? Some remarkable providence, some wonderful turn of events that saved you from ruin.

    Set down the instances of God’s goodness to you when you were in sin, before your conversion. Then the mercy of God in the circumstances of your conversion, for which you have never been half thankful enough. The numerous mercies you have received since. How long the list of instances where your ingratitude is so black that you are forced to hide your face in shame.

    Now go on your knees and confess them one by one to God, and ask forgiveness. The very act of confession, by the law of suggestion, will bring up others to your memory. Put these down. Go over these three or four times, and you will find an astonishing amount of mercies for which you have never thanked God.

    Want of love to God. This is another sin. Write it down and go over all the instances you can remember when you did not give to the blessed God that hearty love which you ought.

    Think how grieved and alarmed you would be if you discovered any flagging of affection for you in your wife, husband or children, if you saw somebody else engrossing their hearts and thoughts and time. Perhaps in such a case you would well nigh die with a just and virtuous jealousy. God styles Himself a jealous God, and have you not given your heart to other loves, played the harlot and infinitely offended Him?

    Neglect of the Bible. Put down the cases when for days and perhaps for weeks—yes, it may be, even for months together you had no pleasure in God’s word. Perhaps you did not read a chapter, or if you read it, it was in a way that was still more displeasing to God. Many people read over a whole chapter in such a way that if they were put under oath when they have finished it, they could not tell what they have been reading.

    With so little attention do they read that they cannot remember where they have read from morning till evening unless they have marked their place. They did not lay to heart what they read. They did not make it a subject of reflection. If you were reading a novel or any other piece of literature that greatly interested you, would you not remember what you read last?

    The word of God is the rule of life. And do you pay so little regard to it as not to remember what you read? If so, no wonder that you live so at random and that your spiritual life is such a miserable failure.

    Unbelief. How many are the instances in which you have virtually charged the God of truth with lying by your unbelief of His express promises and declarations? God has promised to give the Holy Spirit to them that ask Him. Have you believed this? Have you expected Him to answer? Have you not virtually said in your hearts when you prayed for the Holy Spirit, “I do not believe that I shall receive Him”?

    If you have not believed nor expected you should receive the blessing which God has expressly promised, you have charged Him with lying!

    Neglect of prayer. Consider the times when you omitted secret prayer, family prayer and prayer meetings, or have prayed in such a way as more grievously to offend God than to have neglected it altogether.

    Neglect of the means of grace. This is when you have suffered trifling excuses to prevent your attending meetings, have neglected and poured contempt upon the means of salvation, merely because you did not relish spiritual duties.

    The manner in which you have performed those duties—want of feeling, want of faith, worldly frame of mind— so that your words were nothing but the mere chattering of a wretch that did not deserve that God should feel the least care for him. Have you fallen down upon your knees, and said your prayers in such an unfeeling and careless manner that if you had been put under oath five minutes after you left your closet, you could not have told what you had been praying for?

    Your want of love for the souls of your fellow men. Look round upon your friends and relations and remember how little compassion you have felt for them. You have stood by and seen them going right to hell and it seems as though you did not care if they did. How many days have there been in which you did not make their condition the subject of a single fervent prayer, or even an ardent desire for their salvation?

    Your want of care for the unreached. Perhaps you have not cared enough for them to attempt to learn of their condition, perhaps not even to take a missionary magazine. Look at this and see how much you do really care for the heathen, and set down honestly the real amount of your feelings for them and your desire for their salvation.

    Measure your desire for their salvation by the self-denial you practice in giving of your substance to send them the Gospel. Do you deny yourself the superfluities of life, even those which are harmful to your body? Do you retrench your style of living and really subject yourself to any inconvenience to save them?

    Do you daily pray for them in your closet? Are you lying aside something to put into the treasury of the Lord on their behalf? If you are not doing these things and if your soul is not agonized for the poor benighted heathen, are you not a hypocrite?

    Your neglect of family duties. How have you lived before them? How have you prayed? What example have you set before them? What direct efforts do you habitually make for their spiritual good? What duty have you not neglected?

    Neglect of social duties.

    Neglect of watchfulness over your own life. Search for instances in which you have hurried over your private duties and not taken yourself to task, nor honestly made up your accounts with God. Where have you entirely neglected to watch your conduct and have been off your guard and have sinned before the world and before the church and before God?

    Neglect to watch over your brethren. How often have you broken your covenant that you would watch over them in the Lord! How little do you know or care about the state of their souls! What have you done to make yourself acquainted with them? How many of them have you interested yourself for, to know their spiritual state?

    Go over the list and wherever you find there has been a neglect, write it down. How many times have you seen your brethren growing cold in their souls and have not spoken to them about it? You have seen them beginning to neglect one duty after another, and you did not reprove them in a brotherly way. You have seen them falling into sin and you let them go on.

    And yet you pretend to love them. What a hypocrite! Would you see your wife or child going into disgrace or into the fire and hold your peace? No, you would not. What do you think of yourself, then, to pretend to love Christians and to love Christ while you can see them going into disgrace and say nothing to them?

    Neglect of self-denial. There are many who are willing to do almost anything in religion that does not require self-denial. But when they are called to do anything that requires them to deny themselves, Oh! that is too much. They think they are doing a great deal for God and doing about as much as He ought to reasonably ask if they are only doing what they can do about as well as not. But they are not willing to deny themselves any comfort or convenience whatever for the sake of serving the Lord.

    They will not willingly suffer reproach for the name of Christ. Nor will they deny themselves the luxuries of life to save a world from hell. So far are they from remembering that self-denial is a condition of discipleship that they do not know what self-denial is. They have never really denied themselves anything for Christ and for the Gospel.

    Some are giving of their abundance and are giving much and are ready to complain that others don’t give more, when in truth they do not give anything that they need, anything that they could enjoy if they kept it. They only give of their surplus wealth, and perhaps that poor woman who puts in twelve and a half cents has exercised more self-denial than they have in giving thousands.

Look at Sins of Commission

    Worldly mindedness. What has been the state of your heart in regard to your worldly possessions? Have you looked at them as really yours—as if you had a right to dispose of them as your own, according to your own will? If you have, write that down.

    If you have loved property and sought after it for its own sake, or to gratify lust or ambition or a worldly spirit or to lay it up for your families, you have sinned and must repent.

    Pride. Recall all the instances you can in which you have detected yourself exercising pride. Vanity is a particular form of pride. How many times have you detected yourself in consulting vanity about your dress and appearance? How many times have you thought more and taken more pains and spent more time about decorating your body to go to church than you have about preparing your mind for the worship of God?

    You have gone to the house of God caring more how you appear outwardly in the sight of mortal men than how your soul appears in the sight of the heart-searching God. You have in fact set up yourself to be worshipped by them rather than prepared to worship God yourself. You came to divide the worship of God’s house, to draw off the attention of God’s people to look at your pretty appearance.

    It is in vain to pretend now that you don’t care anything about having people look at you. Be honest about it. Would you take all the pains you do about your looks if everybody was blind?

    Envy. Look at the cases in which you were envious at those who you thought were above you in any respect. Or perhaps you have envied those who have been more talented or more useful than yourself. Have you not so envied some that you have been pained to hear them praised?

    It has been more agreeable to you to dwell upon their faults than upon their virtues, upon their failures than upon their success. Be honest with yourself and if you have harbored this spirit of hell, repent deeply before God.

    Censoriousness. Take account of the instances in which you have had a bitter spirit and spoken of Christians in a manner entirely devoid of charity and love—charity which requires you always to hope the best the case will admit and to put the best construction upon any uncertain conduct.

    Slander. What about the times you have spoken behind people’s backs of their faults, real or supposed, of members of the church or others, unnecessarily or without good reason. This is slander. You need not lie to be guilty of slander. To tell the truth with the intent to injure is slander.

    Levity. How often have you trifled before God as you would not have dared to trifle in the presence of an earthly sovereign? You have either been an atheist and forgotten that there was a God or have had less respect for Him and His presence than you would have had for an earthly judge.

    Lying. Understand now what lying is. Any species of designed deception for a selfish reason is lying. If the deception is not a design, intended, planned, it is not lying. But if you aim to make an impression contrary to the naked truth, you lie. Put down all those cases you can recollect. Don’t call them by any soft names. God calls them lies, and charges you with lying, and you had better charge yourself correctly.

    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.

    Cheating. Set down all the cases in which you have dealt with an individual and done to him that which you would not like to have done to you. That is cheating. God has laid down a rule in the case: “All things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them” (Matt. 7:12).

    That is the rule. If you have not done so you are a cheat. The rule is not that you should do what you might reasonably expect them to do to you. That is a rule which would admit of every degree of wickedness. But it is “As ye would they should do to you.”

    Hypocrisy. Examine, for instance, your prayers and confessions to God. Set down the instances in which you have prayed for things you did not really want. The evidence is that when you have finished praying, you could not tell what you had prayed for.

    How many times have you confessed sins that you did not mean to break off and when you had no solemn purpose not to repeat them? Yes, you have confessed sins when you knew you as much expected to go and repeat them as you expected to live.

    Robbing God. Think of the instances in which you have misspent your time and squandered hours which God gave you to serve Him and save souls, in vain amusements or foolish conversation, reading novels or doing nothing, cases where you have misapplied your talents and powers of mind, and where you have squandered money on your lusts or spent it for things you did not need and which neither contributed to your health, comfort or usefulness. Perhaps some of you have laid out God’s money for tobacco. Think of a Christian using God’s money to poison himself with tobacco!

    Bad temper. Perhaps you have abused your wife or your children or your family or servants or neighbors. Write it all down.

    Hindering others from being useful. Perhaps you have weakened their influence by insinuations against them. You have not only robbed God of your own talents but tied the hands of somebody else. What a wicked servant is he that loiters himself and hinders the rest!

    This is done sometimes by taking their time needlessly, sometimes by destroying Christian confidence in them. Thus you have played into the hands of Satan and not only showed yourself an idle vagabond but prevented others from working.

    If you find you have committed a fault against an individual and that individual is within your reach, go and confess it immediately and get that out of the way. If the individual you have injured is too far off for you to go and see him, sit down and write him a letter and confess the injury and put it into the mail immediately. If you have defrauded anybody, send the money, the full amount and the interest.

Go Thoroughly to Work in All This

    Go now! Don’t put it off. That will only make the matter worse. Confess to God those sins that have been committed against God, and to man those sins that have been committed against man. Don’t think of getting off by going around the stumbling blocks. Take them out of the way.

    In breaking up your fallow ground, you must remove every obstruction. Things may be left that you may think little things, and you may wonder why you do not feel as you wish to spiritually, when the reason is that your proud and carnal mind has covered up something which God required you to confess and remove.

    Break up all the ground and turn it over. Do not balk it, as the farmers say. Do not turn aside for little difficulties. Drive the plow right through them, beam deep, and turn the ground all up so that it may all be mellow and soft and fit to receive the seed and bear fruit a hundred fold.

    When you have gone over your whole history in this way, thoroughly, if you will then go over the ground the second time, and give your solemn and fixed attention to it, you will find that the things you have put down will suggest other things of which you have been guilty connected with them or near them.

    Then go over it a third time and you will recollect other things connected with these. And you will find in the end that you can remember an amount of your history and particular actions, even in this life, which you did not think you should remember in eternity. Unless you do take up your sins in this way and consider them in detail, one by one, you can form no idea of the amount of your sins. You should go over it as thoroughly and as carefully and as solemnly as you would if you were preparing yourself for the judgment!

Resolve in God’s Strength to Sin No More in These Ways

    As you go over the list of your sins, be sure to resolve upon present and entire reformation. Wherever you find anything wrong, resolve at once, in the strength of God, to sin no more in that way. It will be of no benefit to examine yourself unless you determine to amend in every particular what you find wrong in heart, temper or conduct.

    If you find as you go on with this duty, that your mind is still all dark, cast about you and you will find there is some reason for the Spirit of God to depart from you. You have not been faithful and thorough. In the progress of such a work you have got to do violence to yourself and bring yourself as a rational being up to this work, with the Bible before you, and try your heart till you do feel.

    You need not expect that God will work a miracle for you to break up your fallow ground. It is to be done by means. Fasten your attention to the subject of your sins. You cannot look at your sins long and thoroughly and see how bad they are, without feeling and feeling deeply.

    Experience abundantly proves the benefit of going over our history in this way. Set yourself to the work now. Resolve that you never will stop till you find you can pray. You never will have the spirit of prayer till you examine yourself and confess your sins and break up your fallow ground.

    You never will have the Spirit of God dwelling in you till you have unravelled this whole mystery of iniquity and spread out your sins before God. Let there be this deep work of repentance and full confession, this breaking down before God, and you will have as much of the spirit of prayer as your body can bear up under.

    The reason why so few Christians know anything about the spirit of prayer is because they never would take the pains to examine themselves properly and so never knew what it was to have their hearts all broken up in this way.

Why So Little Godliness in the Church

    Preaching will do no good to you while your hearts are hardened and waste and fallow. The farmer might just as well sow his grain on the rock. It will bring forth no fruit. This is the reason why there are so many fruitless professors in the church and why there is so much outside machinery and so little deep-toned feeling in the church. See how much machinery there is and how little of the power of godliness.

    If you go on in this way, the word of God will continue to harden you, and you will grow worse and worse, just as the rain and snow on an old fallow field makes the turf thicker and the clods stronger.

    See why so much preaching is wasted, and worse than wasted. It is because the church will not break up their fallow ground. A preacher may wear out his life and do very little good, while there are so many stony-ground hearers who have never had their fallow ground broken up. They are only half converted and their religion is rather a change of opinion than a change of the feeling of their hearts. There is mechanical religion enough, but very little that looks like deep heart work.

    Christians should never satisfy themselves or expect a revival just by arousing out of their slumbers and blustering about and making a noise and talking to sinners. They must get their fallow ground broken up.

    If your fallow ground is broken up, then the way to get more feeling is to go out and see sinners on the road to hell and talk to them and guide inquiring souls, and you will get more feeling. You may get into an excitement without this breaking up; you may show a kind of zeal, but it will not last long. 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 round.

Will You Break Up Your Fallow Ground?

    Will you enter upon the course now pointed out and persevere till you are thoroughly awake? You can go no further until your fallow ground is broken up. You must make thorough work upon this point, or further preaching will only harden and make you worse. Repent and do your first work!

    – Condensed and revised from Revival Lectures by Charles G. Finney.