Luther On Preaching-Part 4

This is the fourth blog post in a series of six posts that are looking at Luther’s view on preaching. So far we have seen an introduction to what Luther’s preaching consisted of. We then looked at how Luther believed that preaching needed to be Word driven. So It needed to saturated with Scripture. After that, we saw that Luther believed that preaching needed to be clearly articulated. It was not enough for the preaching to simply be Word driven. It needed to be clearly and simply taught. Today, we are going to look at how Luther believed that preaching needed to be soul searching. He wanted to open the Bible and preach from it in such a way that the hearers were going to be led to an awareness of how sinful they truly are.

A Brief Word

The Holy Spirit comes to wound then to heal. That may sound odd, but it is biblically accurate. When the Holy Spirit begins working on an individual, that individual begins to have an increasing awareness about the things of God. This increasing awareness of the things of God usually consist of thinking about sin and judgment day. This wounds the person. The Holy Spirit is letting the individual know how just it would be for God to condemn them to the lake of fire for all of eternity. It is after this wounding that the Holy Spirit heals. The individual is increasingly aware of sin and the coming judgment of God. Therefore, they begin to seek refuge in something other than themselves. Ultimately, the Holy Spirit leads them to the cross of Christ. It is there that the Holy Spirit shows them the means by which they can be saved. It is at the cross of Christ that the individual sees the Lord Jesus crushed, pierced, and punished so that they might have peace with God. That is why I said the Holy Spirit comes to wound then to heal.

Preachers need to learn from the Holy Spirit. When I say that, I am not saying that the preacher needs to wound and then to heal. That is not our job. That is the Holy Spirit’s job. However, the Holy Spirit does this with the preaching of the whole counsel of God. Therefore, the preacher needs to preach the whole counsel of God. That means when the Bible addresses the wickedness and vileness of the human heart, then he needs to address it as well.  That means when the Bible talks about the offensiveness of sin to a glorious and Holy God, then he needs to address it as well. This is what Luther did. He showed the people from the Bible how sinful they were. Therefore, he saw many people wounded and then healed by the Holy Spirit of the living God. We would be wise to do the same.

Part 4-Soul Searching

Since Luther was a student of the Word, he had a biblical understanding of man apart from sovereign grace. If the Scripture was as clear as it was pertaining to the sinfulness of man, he understood that all good preaching must, of necessity, expose man as Scripture reveals man. Pertaining to this, Luther said, “True evangelical preaching is to magnify the sins as much as possible in order that man may develop fear of God and proper repentance.”[1] So magnifying the people’s sins is ultimately what is going to bring about a true sense of reverence for God. This fear of God, in turn, would lead to a genuine repentance. Luther was adamant about this. The reason for this is because he believed that if man is ignorant of his sin then he will be ignorant of God. Luther said, “But ignorance of sin necessarily brings with it ignorance of God, Christ, and the Holy Spirit and all things.”[2] This is a profound theological statement. Luther is saying that if a man is ignorant of sin, he is going to be ignorant of the Righteous Judge of all the earth who’s anger burns intensely against sin everyday. He will be ignorant of the wrath of God that was placed on the Lord Jesus Christ as the rod of God’s judgment came upon Christ for the sins of His people. He is going to be ignorant of the Holy Spirit who takes a man from dead in trespasses and sins to alive in Christ Jesus by the crushing of the stony, obstinate heart in order to place a heart of flesh within him that loves and delights in Christ. With this being Luther’s belief, in his preaching he sought to search the soul so that he, by the power of the Spirit, could expose indwelling sin.

Luther also understood that man would never be humble if he was never made aware of the depth of his wickedness. He said, “They cannot be humble who do not recognize that they are damnable whose sin smells to high heaven.”[3]This painstaking soul searching is healthy. It is the equivalent to a physician taking a scalpel into his hand and removing the cancerous tumor from a life-giving organ. In his Heidelberg Disputation, Luther said, “It is apparent that not despair, but rather hope, is preached when we are told that we are sinners.”[4] Luther understood better than most people that being in the slough of despondency at the overwhelming reality of one’s sin means that one is closer to grace than they would have ever expected to be. Their soul is in torment. They are perplexed at the fact that the wrath of God is over them. They become increasingly aware that all their “good” works only serve to damn them. In this moment, hope is right around the corner. This is why Luther said, “Such preaching concerning sin is preparation for grace,” and also, “Yearning for grace wells up when recognition of sin has arisen.”[5] Preaching about sin exposes the sin of the people. This, in turn, brings about a yearning for grace. People finally begin to see that they are doomed to the bottomless pit reserved for the vilest of people and so begin to plead for the grace of God in Christ. They finally see Him who was pierced to the cross as the most beautiful Savior and therefore long to place their faith in Him for the forgiveness of sins.

Since Luther believed all this so strongly, he wanted preachers in his day to begin doing this. He said, “There is a need for the Holy Spirit to come and send preachers into the World, to uncover and to punish, not the outwardly gross sins like adultery and murder, which the world can know and punish by itself, but the things it regards as the most precious and highest asset, the claim to piety, holiness, and the service of God.”[6] Luther saw the great need for the Holy Spirit to send preachers into the world that were going to proclaim the Word in such a way that it would punish the consciences of those who were in sins. Not just punish those who were in apparent, gross sins, but also those who had secret, concealed sins that only the heart of a man is made aware of as he encounters the glory of God through the proclamation of the Word.

Luther, however did not only want to awaken the soul to an awareness of sin. This was a means to an end for Luther. He ultimately wanted people to be saved. Therefore, he was going to search the soul and in hopes to reveal the indwelling sin, but he was also going to exalt Christ so that sinners and saints alike could rejoice at such a beautiful Savior. This is what we will turn our attention to tomorrow (Lord willing).


[1]Martin Luther, Luther’s Works: Career of the Reformer, ed. Herald J. Grimm and Helmut T. Lehmann, vol. 31. American Edition (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1957)241.
[2]Martin Luther, Luther’s Works: Lectures on Genesis Chapters 38-44, ed. Jaroslav Pelikan and Walter A. Hansen, vol. 7. American Edition (Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1965) 278.
[3]Martin Luther, Luther’s Works: Career of the Reformer, 51.
[4]Ibid.
[5]Ibid.
[6]Martin Luther, Luther’s Works: The Sermon on the Mount and The Magnificat, ed. Jaroslav Pelikan, vol. 21. American Edition (Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1956) 56.

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