Luther on sermon length

In September of 1532, Luther said in his Table Talks (2643a):

I hate a long sermon, because the desire on the part of the congregation to listen is destroyed by them, and the preachers hurt themselves.

A few months before in June he said (3137):

I cannot bring things together short and to the point like Philip and Amsdorf.

In the fall of 1533 he said (3422):

The sign of a good speaker is that he stops just when people are most interested in hearing him and feel that he has just begun. But when he is boring and people wait for the end of the speech, that is a bad sign. The same is true of preachers. When someone says: “I would have liked to listen longer,” that is good. When someone says, however, “He was prattling on and could no longer stop,” that is a bad sign.

In August of 1540 (5171a):

A preacher climbs up to the pulpit, opens his mouth, and then stops. That means a preacher must be called before he advances to the pulpit. He should preach carefully and be understood by all, and not burden his listeners with too much verbosity.

That same month it is reported (in 5171b) that Conrad Cordatus asked Luther: “Reverend Father, tell me in a brief way how to preach.” Luther replied:

First, you must learn to go up to the pulpit. Second, you must know that you should stay there for a time. Third, you must learn to get down again.

It is reported that this infuriated Cordatus.

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7 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Scott Christensen on October 22, 2010 at 12:05 pm

    I would like some commentary on these quotes good preacher.

  2. Do you by any chance have these quotes in the original German? These are a godsend. We team preach here in Berlin and, frankly, the sermon lengths by some of the brothers have been a bit extreme. Quoting Luther might get their attention. I really appreciate this post.

    • See the Weimar Edition of Table Talks (Tischreden, D. Martin Luthers Werke, Kritische Gesamtausgabe, Hermann Bohlaus Nachfolger, Weimer, 1916).

  3. I don’t have the quotes in German but the numbers in parenthesis should match the German edition of Luther’s Table Talks.

  4. Using those numbers I found the original quotes in Luther’s Tischreden here: http://www.lutherdansk.dk/WA/D.%20Martin%20Luthers%20Werke,%20Weimarer%20Ausgabe%20-%20WA.htm. Apparently, the orignal text was in Latin and then later translated into German by commentators.

  5. Posted by Caleb Kolstad on October 27, 2010 at 7:30 am

    I’m amazed how the same sermon can evoke such different responses from two professing Christians in the same congregation. How can one sleep through half of it and another sincerely ask you why you didn’t finish the rest of the passage? If you have a congregation full of 1 Peter 2:2 saints you’ll need to learn when and where to stop. If you have a congregation full of something less than 1 Peter 2:2 saints the challenge will be to continue preaching the Text in spite of apparent apathy and disinterest. Most of us shepherd congregations full of both types of people….

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