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Six Lessons From Luther’s Preaching

He also said Christ’s simplicity was a model for preachers:

“When Christ preached He proceeded quickly to a parable and spoke about sheep, shepherds, wolves, vineyards, fig trees, seeds, fields, plowing. The poor lay people were able to comprehend these things.”

Old writes, “Luther’s ability to teach Christian doctrine in a pictorial and imaginative way is one of his greatest assets as a preacher…Luther is at his best an expository preacher.” Luther usually preached from an outline. He was known for having a conversational style that was engaging. He used many rhetorical features such as direct address and dialogue. His preaching was so engaging he often preached to hundreds and thousands of people, which was not common in his day.

4. Preach Jesus Christ as an Ambassador of Christ

Luther also felt strongly that his preaching was actually Christ preaching through him. Jesus said, “The one who listens to you listens to Me, and the one who rejects you rejects Me; and he who rejects Me rejects the One who sent Me.” (Luke 10:16, cf. John 13:20Matt. 10:40). Luther stated:

“Now let me and everyone who speaks of the word of Christ freely boast that our mouths are the mouths of Christ. I am certain indeed that my word is not mine, but the word of Christ. So must my mouth be the mouth of him who utters it.”

Luther was so committed to the objective and sufficient truth of Scripture, that on one occasion, he said that he thought he saw a vision of Christ. But because he felt so strongly that he needed no new revelation, that the Scriptures are sufficient, and that the true Christ only appears through Scripture and faith, he said that the devil was up to his old tricks again.

For Luther, sola scriptura was also solo Christo. Since the essence of both the OT and NT is Christ, the truth of Scripture is in what promotes Christ as the soteriological key to interpretation. His belief that Christ as the Word speaks in the words of Scripture led Luther to call the church a “mouth house” (“not a pen-house”) that must confess and proclaim Christ.

Luther once said, “If I could today become king or emperor, I would not give up my office as preacher” (quoted in Mueser, 39). Preaching the Word of God is the highest of all callings. He was also emphatic that preaching must be done to the glory of Christ and for the upbuilding of the saints.

5. Remember that Jesus Saves through His Word

Preaching is the main vehicle through which God saves. God engenders faith through the proclamation of His Word and saves the elect through the same. Luther said, “The Holy Spirit, ordinarily, gives such faith or his gift to no one without preaching or the oral word or the gospel of Christ preceding, but …through and by means of such oral word he effects and creates faith where and in whom it pleases him (Romans 10[:14ff.]).” He went on to say:

“For one should not quit simply because so few are changed for the better in hearing the preaching of the gospel. But do what Christ did: He rescued the elect and left the rest behind. This is what the apostles did also. It will not be better for you.”

Luther believed that hearing the Word preached planted the Word in the Christian:

“The Word is the channel through which the Holy Spirit is given. This is a passage against those who hold the spoken Word in contempt. The lips are the public reservoirs of the church. In them alone is kept the Word of God. You see, unless the Word is preached publicly, it slips away. The more it is preached, the more firmly it is retained. Reading it is not as profitable as hearing it, for the live voice teaches, exhorts, defends, and resists the spirit of error. Satan does not care a hoot for the written Word of God, but he flees at the speaking of the Word.”

He believed that Christ and salvation are conveyed through the preaching of God’s Word.

6. Pray Much before You Preach

Luther says that the biblical way to study the Bible will be saturated with prayer and self-doubt and God-reliance moment by moment: “You should completely despair of your own sense and reason, for by these you will not attain the goal…Rather kneel down in your private little room and with sincere humility and earnestness pray God through His dear Son, graciously to grant you His Holy Spirit to enlighten and guide you and give you understanding.”

In one of his prayers, Luther said:

“Dear Lord God, I want to preach so that you are glorified. I want to speak of you, praise you, praise Your name. Although I probably cannot make it turn out well, won’t you make it turn out well?”

One of Luther’s favorite sayings was, “To have prayed well is to have studied well” (Dargan, 388).

Summary

To understand Luther’s view of preaching, consider his comments on his role in the reformation:

“In short, I will preach it, teach it, write it, but I will constrain no man by force, for faith must come freely without compulsion. Take myself as an example. I opposed indulgences and all the papists, but never with force. I simply taught, preached, and wrote God’s Word; otherwise I did nothing. And while I slept or drank Wittenberg beer with my friends Philip and Amsdorf, the Word so greatly weakened the papacy that no prince or emperor ever inflicted such losses upon it. I did nothing; the Word did everything. Had I desired to foment trouble, I could have brought great bloodshed upon Germany; indeed, I could have started such a game that even the emperor would not have been safe. But what would it have been? Mere fool’s play. I did nothing; I let the Word do its work.”

Various historians note that his last words were in relation to preaching. When his sons and friends arrived at his bedside after suffering a heart attack, his friend asked him, “Reverend father, do you stand by Christ and the doctrine you have preached?” Luther replied “Yes” and then breathed his last breath (Hill, History of Christian Thought, 190).

Luther was only a Reformer because he was a preacher.

This article originally appeared here.

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Steve, a New York native and accomplished musician, has pastored for ten years in Tucson, Arizona with a commitment to expository preaching, discipleship, and apologetics. He earned his D.Min. from The Master's Seminary. Steve speaks at various conferences, does pastoral consulting, and preaches at churches across the United States. Dr. Ingino is the author of a few books and an app for iPhones which helps parents pray for their children (31 Prayers for My Child). He is married to his incredible wife Bridgett and they have three children. Steve is working on his addiction to dark chocolate.