Many think of Martin Luther primarily as a reformer. However, he thought of himself first and foremost, as a preacher. John Ker wrote, “Preaching was the center and spring of his power; by preaching he moved Germany and then Europe, till he shook the Papal throne. Melanchthon was a scholar and theologian, Calvin was a theologian and an exegete, Cranmer was a religious statesman; Luther was great in all those respects, but still greater as a preacher.” What can we learn from Luther the preacher?
- Preach Frequently
Luther preached thousands of sermons in his lifetime, many at the town church (as opposed to the castle church) in Wittenberg. He preached so often because the people of the town wanted to hear him and because he and his contemporaries understood his doctorate in theology to be a call to teach the Word of God to the whole church. So, Luther would often preach two to three times on Sunday and frequently during the week. In his book History of Preaching, O. C. .Edwards notes that many times Luther would preach four times a day.
Keep in mind there were no “programs” at his church. The gatherings were focused on worship and preaching. John Piper explains:
“On Sundays there were the 5:00 A.M. worship with a sermon on the Epistle, the 10:00 A.M. service with a sermon on the Gospel, and an afternoon message on the Old Testament or catechism. Monday and Tuesday sermons were on the Catechism; Wednesdays on Matthew; Thursdays and Fridays on the Apostolic letters; and Saturday on John.”
This schedule probably changed as he taught on other books, but this is one schedule we have recorded.
Walther von Loewenich said in his biography, “Luther was one of the greatest preachers in the history of Christendom …Between 1510 and 1546 Luther preached approximately 3,000 sermons. Frequently he preached several times a week, often two or more times a day.” Edwards said that number was low, and it is more likely that Luther preached 4,000 sermons in his lifetime.
Luther knew the “burden” of preaching. He was a family man and according to Muesser’s work on Luther’s preaching, Luther often spent one hour in devotional studies with his six children. Nevertheless, preaching was the order of business at his church. Luther was not the pastor of the church in which he preached. Johannes Bugenhagen was the pastor from 1521 to 1558 but Luther’s schedule shows how rigorous his preaching schedule was. Meuser wrote:
“Never a weekend off—he knows all about that. Never even a weekday off. Never any respite at all from preaching, teaching, private study, production, writing, counseling.”
Luther was also devoted to catechetical preaching. In order to teach children the Ten Commandments, the Apostles’ Creed, the Lord’s Prayer, and the theology of baptism and the Lord’s Supper, he would give ten sermons over a two week period, each day at two in the afternoon. These were then used for his Shorter and Larger Catechism. Luther was convinced that preaching the Word was the only way to evangelize and disciple and was one of the first to preach to children.
In short, because Luther knew the power of God’s Word, he was primarily committed to preaching the Word. He knew it was the means through which God primarily called His elect, sanctified them, and therefore saw preaching as the most solemn duties. This is why he often preached 4-5 times a week. Not all of your messages will be as good as your Sunday message, but a short message for children or youth or a mid-week teaching is not supposed to be the same as a Sunday sermon. Put most of your effort into the Sunday sermon, but look for other times to preach the Word.