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Luther’s Three Rules of Preaching

January 26, 2012

The preaching of Martin Luther captivated sixteenth-century Germany.  Certainly we know that the Gospel and Scripture were recovered in the Reformation, and without them all else would have been in vain.  But even with that we might ask the question, “Just what kind of a preacher was this Martin Luther?” 

His contemporary, fellow Reformer, and friend Philip Melanchton said, “One is an interpreter, one a logician, another an orator, but Luther is all in all.”  Church historian Philip Schaff wrote that “Luther observed no strict method.  He usually followed the text, and combined exposition with application.  He made Christ and the gospel his theme…He had an extraordinary faculty of expressing the profoundest thoughts in the clearest and strongest language for the common people.  He hit the nail on the head…He disregarded the scholars among his hearers, and aimed at the common people, the women and children and servants.  ‘Cursed be the preachers,’ he said, ‘who in church aim at high or hard things.’  He was never dull or tedious.  He usually stopped when the hearers were at the height of attention, and left them anxious to come again.  He censured Bugenhagen (a pastor in Wittenberg) for his long sermons, of which people so often and justly complain.  He summed up his homiletical wisdom in three rules:- ‘Start fresh; Speak out; Stop short.'”

Schaff then adds a footnote that gives a more literal rendering of Luther’s dictum:  “Get up freshly; Open your mouth widely; Be done done quickly.”  (Philip Schaff, History of the Christian Church, vol 7, first published 1888, (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1996), 491.)

5 Comments leave one →
  1. January 27, 2012 9:17 am

    I DO like that last quote! It’s a good word for would-be preachers!

  2. January 28, 2012 11:42 pm

    Shortening my sermons is something I’m working on this year. Good post, Neal!

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