Friday, December 6, 2013

Learning Guilt: Charles Finney

Blessed are they that mourn, for they shall be comforted.
Matthew 5:4

A few months after becoming an Advanced Training Institute family, we began the Wisdom Booklet on the above verse. The major feature was a sermon by the lawyer-turned-revivalist Charles Finney

Charles Grandison Finney

I knew of Charles Finney as a dead preacher, but Gothard evidently admired him. Reflecting on the two men's controversial "ministries", one sees plenty of similarities of style and method. A PBS commentary on Finney quotes historian Sydney Ahlstrom, "In the Presbyterian church the tensions created by his kind of ministry contributed to a recurrence of schism."

Finney taught us to “mourn” over our sin and to pore over our wretchedness as with a microscope. In “Breaking Up the Fallow Ground”, he uses 19th-century psychobabble to instruct professing Christians in spiritual self-examination. We analyzed our souls carefully, searching for evidence of 26 different sins:
It is just as easy to make your minds feel on the subject of religion as it is on any other. God has put these states of mind under your control. If people were as unphilosophical about moving their limbs as they are about regulating their emotions, you would never have reached this meeting. 
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. Now 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 with the devil; whether you are serving God or serving the devil most; whether you are under the dominion or the prince of darkness, or of the Lord Jesus Christ.

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. Get a pen and paper and write them down as you remember them. Go over them as carefully as a merchant goes over his books and as often as a sin comes before your memory, add it the list. General confessions of sin will never do. Your sins were committed one by one; and as they come to you, review and repent of them one by one. Ask the Holy Spirit to show you your past sins...
1. Ingratitude. Take this sin and write down under that heading all the times you can remember where you have received favors from God and others for which you have never expressed gratitude or thankfulness. How many cases can you remember? Some remarkable change of events, that saved you from ruin. Write down the instances of God's goodness to you when you were in sin, before your conversion, for which you have never been half thankful enough; and the numerous mercies you have received since. How long the list of instances, where your ingratitude has been so black that you are forced to hide your face in confusion! Go on your knees and confess them one by one to God, and ask forgiveness. The very act of confession, by the laws of suggestion, will bring up others to your memory. Put these down. Go over them three or four times in this way, and see what an astonishing number of mercies there are for which you have never thanked God.
2. Lack of love to God. Think how grieved and alarmed you would be if you discovered any lack of affection for you in your wife, husband, or children; if you saw another absorbing their hearts, and thoughts, and time. Perhaps in such a case you would nearly die with a just and virtuous jealousy. Now, God calls Himself a jealous God; and have you not given your heart to other loves and infinitely offended Him?
3. Neglect of the Bible. Put down the cases when for perhaps weeks, or longer, God's Word was not a pleasure. Some people, indeed, read over whole chapters in such a way that they could not tell what they had been reading. If so, no wonder that your life is spent at random, and that your religion is such a miserable failure.
4. Unbelief. Recall 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. Now, 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"? If you have not believed nor expected to receive the blessing which God has expressly promised, you have charged Him with lying.
5. Neglect of prayer. Think of the times when you have neglected secret prayer, family prayer, and prayer meetings; or have prayed in such a way as more grievously to offend God than to have omitted it altogether.
6. Neglect of the means of grace. When you have made stupid and meaningless excuses to prevent your attending meetings, have neglected and poured contempt upon the methods of salvation, simply because you dislike spiritual duties?

 And so on, for pages. I wrote carefully in the margins of my Wisdom Booklet, marking which sins I was guilty of, and giving specific examples. The project was completed in two or three days, but for decades afterward, the words "but let a man examine himself" made me shiver inside every time a pastor read from Corinthians before the "Lord's Supper". Just a few months before, we had learned to judge others by their appearance. Now we turned the same gaze of judgment in on our very selves.

Even years later when I had broken free of the cult and no longer imagined that wearing trousers was morally wrong or using birth control was an act of selfish pride, I could still feel the burden of guilt placed on my tender pre-adolescent heart.

There were so many sins to be aware of: sins of omission, sins of commission, original sin, and the scariest phrase of all in a Baptist preacher's toolbox--"known and unknown sin"! The Psalmist wrote, "In sin did my mother conceive me." Isaiah said even my righteousness was as offensive to God as a menstruous rag. Assuming that God was disgusted by bloody trash with vaginal odors, being alive as a human was practically a sin in itself!

And another sermon the same month would hammer that point home.

1 comment:

  1. Oh mercy, I actually want to throw up after reading this. What a dreadful, dreadful person to people in such horrible, unrelenting bondage!! So, so, so glad to be free. SO glad. xo