A good many ministers in Charles Finney’s day didn’t like the way he preached. He hadn’t gone to one of the seminaries of the time; instead, he came directly out of the practice of law into his evangelistic ministry. They despised his lack of “polish” in the pulpit, in the sense that he didn’t fill his sermons with examples from classical history or use language suited more to the well-educated congregations. He had this penchant for talking to the common man and making sure that man understood the message of the Gospel.
Finney listened to their criticisms, but found no good reason to change his style. He shares this story in his autobiography that touches on the issue:
Many years ago a beloved pastor of my acquaintance, left home for his health, and employed a young man, just from the seminary, to fill his pulpit while he was absent. This young man wrote and preached as splendid sermons as he could. The pastor’s wife finally ventured to say to him, “You are preaching over the heads of our people. They do no understand your language or your illustrations. You bring too much of your learning into the pulpit.”
He replied, “I am a young man. I am cultivating a style. I am aiming to prepare myself for occupying a pulpit and surrounding myself with a cultivated congregation. I cannot descend to your people. I must cultivate an elevated style.”
I have had my thought and eye upon this man ever since. I am not aware that he is yet dead; but I have never seen his name connected with any revival, amidst all the great revivals that we have had, from year to year, since that time; and I never expect to, unless his views are radically changed, and unless he addresses the people from an entirely different stand-point, and from entirely different motives.
How many ministers are in the ministry for the wrong reasons? How many just want to impress with their intellect? How many talk above the heads of the people who need to hear the message that will lead them out of sin and into life? As Finney says, the motives need to be entirely different. I have no problem with a learned ministry, but if one has really “learned” what God wants one to learn, the Gospel will be communicated clearly and with conviction. God will work with that to bring results.