Charles Finney often went against the conventions of the day in his teaching and preaching. Some of his most vociferous critics were fellow ministers who had been formally trained in the colleges. Finney had been largely self-taught and was therefore thought to be ignorant of the proper manner of speaking. Yet he had results where others did not. In his autobiography, he provides some detail on this controversy:
The fact is, their education had been so entirely different from mine that they disapproved of my manner of preaching very much. They would reprove me for illustrating my ideas by reference to the common affairs of men of different pursuits around me, as I was in the habit of doing. Among farmers and mechanics, and other classes of men, I borrowed my illustrations from their various occupations.
I tried also to use such language as they would understand. I addressed them in the language of the common people. I sought to express all my ideas in few words, and in words that were in common use.
Before I was converted I had a different tendency. In writing and speaking, I had sometimes allowed myself to use ornate language. But when I came to preach the Gospel, my mind was so anxious to be thoroughly understood that I studied in the most earnest manner, on the one hand to avoid what was vulgar, and on the other to express my thoughts with the greatest simplicity of language.
In reference to my illustrations, they would say, “Why don’t you illustrate from events of ancient history, and take a more dignified way of illustrating your ideas?” To this, of course, I replied, that if my illustrations brought forward anything that was new and striking, the illustration itself would rather occupy the minds of the people than the truth which I wished to illustrate.
And in respect to the simplicity of my language, I defended myself by saying that my object was not to cultivate a style of oratory that should soar above the heads of the people, but to make myself understood; and that therefore I would use any language adapted to this end.
In effect, Finney was doing only what Jesus did when he used parables to communicate with the people of His day. The parables were illustrations drawn from what the people experienced themselves. They could then easily catch the meaning and make the application. I love beautiful language, but the most beautiful language in the eyes of God is language that effectively communicates His message.