One of Charles Finney’s themes in speaking and writing was the need for everyone to undergo a merciless self-examination. By this, he didn’t mean some self-centered ego trip, but an honest assessment of where we stand before God. Those outside the family of God have to start there, of course, but he believed it is just as essential for those who have entered into the faith. He called it “breaking up the fallow ground” of the heart.
In his Revival Lectures, he urged his readers to take this seriously:
Break up the ground and turn it over. . . . Do not turn aside for little difficulties; drive the plough right through them, beam deep, and turn the ground up, so that it may all be mellow and soft, and fit to receive the seed and bear fruit “an hundred-fold.” . . .
It will be of no benefit to examine yourself unless you determine to amend in every particular that which you find wrong in heart, temper, or conduct. . . .
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. . . .
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.
If this is not done, if our hearts are not broken over sin, anything we attempt to communicate to others about the love of God will come across as plastic or superficial, and the reason for it will be that we aren’t really genuine in our communication. They will see the shallowness of our words and not be moved. We don’t give the Holy Spirit anything to use to lead them to the Truth. We must be what God has called us to be first; when we are right before Him, He can use us to reach out to others.