1. Luther on the content of the sermon.
Now here St. Peter [4.11] says: If anyone speaks, let him speak as the oracles of God. It is well to note this part: no one should preach anything unless he is certain it is God’s Word. Here St. Peter stopped the pope’s mouth; and behold, the pope wants to be the heir of St. Peter’s throne! And how finely he adorns it! (Erl. Bd. 51, 471; cf. AE, XXX, 125)
In this God is wondrous. He wants me to know the Scripture and to know it mightily or else I should not preach. He does not want me to rely on learning and skill. Paul exhorts Timothy to study without ceasing. Likewise Christ, that we should be rich in His Word so that we strike the sects [Rotten]. He wants the learned, who are armed with Scripture and able to carry out this knighthood, to preach… (ib. 308)
In sum, where this article of Christ is not emphasized—that we are justified and saved alone through Him and regard everything outside of Him as damned—there is no longer any hindering and stopping, yes, no bounds or limit to every heresy and error, to every sect and rabble [Rotten] because everyone imagines and throws up something particular, peculiar. Until now we have experienced this under the pope: whatever a monk could dream had to come to the pulpit and a particular worship come from it; and no lie become so pernicious that it was not accepted; he only had to bring it to the preaching chair. (43, 74)
One should preach nothing but Jesus Christ and faith in Him. This is the Scopus generalis, the general content of this Gospel [Pentecost Monday]. (4, 123)
When someone asked Dr. Luther and told the opinion of Calixtus that the people would only become worse the longer the Gospel and the grace of God are preached, the Doctor answered and said: “Nevertheless gratia must be preached because Christ commanded it; and even when grace has already been preached for a long time, the people in the distress of death often know little of it. It is to the glory of God that gratia is preached; even if now we make the people more wicked and evil by it, God’s Word cannot be omitted.” (Tisch. 58, 313)
Therefore it is certainly necessary that upright, pious and faithful teachers right faithfully and diligently urge the doctrine of works as well as the doctrine of faith. Satan is an enemy to both doctrines, of faith and works, and opposes them most fervently. Yet, the doctrine of faith must be planted first. Without it, no one can understand what good works are, what pleases God or not. (Gal. 5.14; cf. AE XXVII, pg. 53)
Where there are not faithful and wise servants of Christ over God’s mysteries, who know how to distribute the word of truth rightly, it is almost certain that faith and works are mixed among each other. In Christianity one should and must diligently and faithfully teach and urge both doctrines, of faith and good works. If one go too far and only teaches of works, like happened in the papacy, faith is lost; but if one teaches only of faith, the coarse, fleshly people immediately dream that works are not necessary. (Gal. 5.15; cf. AE XXVII, pg. 62-63)
This is a proper way to preach: first of all faith stressed—what it does and what kind of power it has and how it acts; that it gives us everything necessary for godliness and blessedness; that a person can do nothing but through faith, and we, through faith, have everything that God has. If God has then gone along with us and given us everything that is His and has become our own, so that we then have all goods and sufficiency through faith, what should we then do? Should we then be idle? It would certainly be the best if would die because in this way we would have everything. But because we live here, we should do the same to our neighbor and give ourselves to him as God has given Himself to us. –Thus faith saves us, but it is love when we give ourselves to the neighbor since we now have enough. That is, faith receives from God; love gives to the neighbor. This is briefly spoken about. One can also certainly preach much about it and further highlight as St. Peter does here. [Erl. Bd. 51, 402 f]
Therefore what is certainly needed here is a faithful and wise teacher who knows how to urge and to use the Law to the extent that he goes no further than is proper and good for it. For if I would preach the Law to the people in a way that it sounds like they become righteous and godly by it, then I would have already done too much and gone beyond the bounds and would have mixed together these two kinds of righteousness… And therefore I would be a coarse wretched teacher, who without any distinction would throw the hundred into the thousand and mix together one into the other. But when I hold before and preach the doctrine of the Law and works to the old Adam, but promise and grace to the new man, I divide rightly. [Galaterbr. Einleitung, #8 f; cf. AE XXVI, pg. 6ff.]
Therefore I admonish you who in time will be curates of the soul and teach consciences, as well as each one of you personally, that you well exercise yourselves with study, reading, diligently contemplate the matters and pray so that you can instruct and comfort both yourselves and other consciences; and help and bring them from Law to grace and from the righteousness of their own works to the righteousness we receive from Christ without our works; in short that you know how to bring them from Moses to Christ. [Ibid. #19; cf. AE XXVI pg. 10]
St. Paul’s opinion is this: that in Christianity both preachers and hearers should be taught and maintain a definite distinction between the Law and Gospel, between works and faith. He commands this to Timothy when he admonishes him in the Second Epistle 2, 15: “rightly dividing the word of truth.” This difference between the Law and the Gospel is the highest art in Christianity… Whoever can do this art of dividing Law from Gospel well, place him at the front and call him a doctor of Holy Scripture. [Er. Bd. 19, 235.238]
When this article or portion of justification is given up, everything is already given up. Thus it is also absolutely necessary that we daily practice it. [Galaterbr. 1,3]
2. Luther on the form of the sermon.
Simple and understandable. All your sermons should be the most simple. Do not look on the princes, but instead on the simple, foolish, coarse and unlearned people—the prince is cut out of the same cloth. If in my sermon I would regard Philipp Melanchton and other doctors, I would do nothing good; instead I preach the most simply to the unlearned and it pleases all. Since I can speak Greek, Hebrew, I save it for when we learned ones come together; then we make it so frilly that our Lord God wonders at it.[Antw. An Er. Alberus, Tischr. 59, 205]
Those who overflow with many words and are very garrulous are dangerous and suspect. A preacher’s aptness is his ability to teach simply, plainly and correctly the foolish and unlearned, because much more lies in teaching than in exhorting. We should be wet-nurses, just like a mother nurses her child. She coddles and plays with her child and gives it from the breast. She doesn’t add wine; for we are not cupbearers. I am very hostile to them who conform themselves to the high, educated hearers, not to the common people; they do not pay attention to that. (ib. 224)
Each preacher should get in the habit of only preaching simply and making a point of remembering that he must preach to ignorant people, like peasants, who understand as little as the youth 12, 13, 14, 20 years old; also to such one alone preaches…One must not preach and boldly paw about using big words in a marvelous and artful manner, so that people can see how learned he is and praise him. O no, here nothing matters!
One should conform himself to his hearers. This is generally lacking in all preachers with the result that when they preach the poor people learn little from it. Bucer and Zwingli preached very impressively and creatively in Marburg so that they would be praised for it. It is as if they wanted to say: Behold, Dr. Martin and Philipp see how I am such a learned fellow.
To preach simply is a great art. Christ Himself does it; He speaks only of farming, a mustard seed, etc. and uses purely coarse, peasant examples. (ib. 228)
St. Paul does not have such a high, magnificent word like Demosthenes and Cicero, but he really and clearly speaks and has words that mean and point to something great. [ib. 240]
When I (said Dr. Luther) come to the pulpit, I think of preaching only to the servants and maids. I do not want to come forward even once for Dr. Jonas and Philipp or for the entire university; for they can read it well enough in the Scripture. When one wants to preach to those of great intelligence and fling out a pure rabbinic masterpiece, the poor people stand there just like a cow. [Tischr. 59, 242 f. 272 f.]
When Bucer preached a scholarly sermon, Luther said to him across the table: “I am a better preacher.” When Bucer answered that everyone rightly gives Luther this praise, Luther earnestly said, “You should not think that I foolishly praise myself. I know my weakness well and could not give as sharp a sermon as we heard from you today. But it is my custom that when I come to the pulpit, I look around me at what kind of people sit there…. You, however, ascend all too high in the “spirit, spirit”…. [Lutheraner V, 96]
Short and sweet. Moses said a lot with few words. This is also the proper art of preaching and teaching the people so that they do not listen to something else beneficially and carry something away from that. [Bd. 36, 197]
Doctor Luther forbade the preachers of torturing delaying the hearers with long sermons because the desire to listen, he said, leaves them. Thus the preachers do themselves harm and violence with long sermons. [Bd. 59, 189]
Some torment the people with sermons that are all too long. Listening is a delicate thing that soon becomes bored and tired… Moderation in all things is good. [ib. 222 f.]
To be able to report much with few words succinctly is an art and great virtue. But it is foolishness to say nothing with much speaking. [ib. 225]
The office or sign of a good speaker is that he stops when one wants to hear him most and thinks he is first coming. It is a bad sign when one is bored listening to him and does so unwillingly and wishes that he stop and come to the end and conclusion. So also with a preacher: when one says I would have certainly liked to have listened to him longer, it is good. But it is a bad sign when one says: “He came in the wash and couldn’t stop.” [ib. 242]
A good preacher can take the subject before him and concisely grasp and end it with two or three words and afterward, when it is necessary, also highlight and explain it with verses and examples. Thus from one flower he makes an entire meadow. In the same way a goldsmith can hit the same piece of silver compactly and thickly over one another into a nugget and again flat, crinkled and curved and into a thin sheet; that it is both a long and short sermon, and yet the same and not annoying. “For God’s Word shall dwell richly in us” says, St. Paul Col 3.16, so that one is mighty in the Scripture and can prove the correct doctrine from it. [Bd. 12, 136]
Slowly and clearly. Speaking slowly is to a preacher the most appropriate and fine virtue because in this way he can preach his sermon all more the attentively and deliberately. Seneca writes that, Cicero, the foremost orator of the Latin language, spoke slowly and to the heart. You also see this in Doctor Gregory Bruecken. [Bd. 59, 226]
He should stay on topic.
I, said Dr. M., make a great effort in my sermons to take a verse and remain with. I proclaim it and highlight it to the people so that they can say: this was the sermon. That is, I remain in statu only on the article, main point and substance that I intended to speak on. With His sermons, Christ quickly adds a parable and example of sheep, shepherds, wolves, vineyards, fig trees, seeds, fields, plows. The poor laity understood this. [ib. 196]
Luther said to his wife: Johann Polner preaches like you women are in the habit of speaking: they say whatever occurs to them. Dr. Jonas used to say: One should not greet every soldier one meets. And it is true, Dr. Pommer sometimes takes along some who greet him. But a foolish preacher is one who intends to say everything that occurs to him. A preacher should remain with the theme and carry out what he intends so that it is well understood. Those same preachers who want to say everything remind me of maids going to market. When another maid greets them, they stop for a while with her; if then another maid greets them, they converse with her, and so they also do with the third and fourth, thus they come ever so slowly to the market. The preachers also do the same, qui nimis procul discedunt a proposito and think they want to say everything all at once; but they don’t succeed. [ib. 196 f.]
Whoever wants to teach and comfort effectively and beneficially should focus on the main thing that he wants to say most of all. For example, when one preaches on the Gospel of the 5 loaves that is read on Laetare Sunday in Lent: one, who is poorly instructed, focuses on individual parts, mightily scolding covetousness and dealing with verses that do not really pertain to it. Whoever, though, looks upon and has regard for the main thing, says: “Seek first the Kingdom of God (Mt. 6. 33). [id. 199]
He should not blab and scream.
Dr. Luther says, they could certainly be very eloquent preachers but there would be nothing behind it, only words. They could blabber much and yet teach nothing rightly. Magister Philipp Melanchton said: The world has always had such boasting bawlers. It is written that Cicero, the most eloquent heathen in the Latin language, had once said that when he had heard a great excellent babbler speaking, that never in his whole life had he heard a person who had said nothing with such power and authority. When Erasmus Roterd., had listened to Bononien a man who gloried in his oration and greatly boasted of it, and was then asked how he liked it, said, “Very well, because it was quite over my head and how I thought.” “How?” he was then asked. To which he answered and said, “I would never have thought that there is such a fool inside him.” Thus speaking is not art; few have the gift of speaking clearly and correctly. No one should undertake something, unless it is given to him from above. [Bd. 59, 207 f.]
3. Luther on some particular qualities of a good preacher.
A good preacher should have these qualities and virtues: First, that he is able to teach correctly and orderly; secondly, that he has a good head; third, that he be eloquent; fourth, that he has a good voice; fifth, that he has a good memory; sixth, that he should know to stop; seventh, that he should be certain of and thorough with his subject; eighth, that he should risk body and life, possession and honor; ninth, that he should let everyone tease and ridicule him. [ib. 194]
A preacher should be a dialectician and rhetorician, that is, he must be able to teach and exhort. If he wants to teach of a subject or theme, he must, first of all, decide what it really is; secondly, he must define, describe and indicate what it is; third, he should explain the verse from Scripture and prove and strengthen it with Scripture; fourth, he must highlight and explain with examples; fifth, he must adorn it with examples to admonish and awaken the lazy, the disobedient, to earnestly chastise false doctrine and its founders, yet in such a way that it isn’t seen as coming from any loathing, hatred or envy, but instead that only God’s glory and the benefit and salvation of the people are being sought. [id. 258]
A preacher must neither pray the Our Father nor seek the forgiveness of sins when he has preached (where he is a true preacher); but rather must say with Jeremiah and boast, Jer. 17.16: “Lord, You know what came out of my mouth is right and pleasing to you;” yes, he must say with St. Paul, all apostles and prophets the comfort: Haec dixit Dominus, this God Himself said. Et iterum: I was an apostle and prophet of Jesus Christ in this sermon. Here it is not necessary, in fact, it is not good to ask for the forgiveness of sins, as if it what was taught was taught falsely. It is God’s word, not mine of which God should or could forgive me. Instead He should confirm, praise, crown and say: You have taught correctly for I have spoken through you and the word is Mine. Whoever cannot boast of his sermon in this way, let the sermon wait because he certainly denies and blasphemes God. [Bd. 26,35 Wider Hans Wurst]
Sources: Magazin fuer ev. luth. Homiletik, vol. 3, 1879, pg. 349-352.
Magazin fuer ev. luth. Homiletik, vol. 4, 1880, pg. 26-29.