For years, my grandparents had a sign in their yard that read, “Done Ploughing.”
Had my grandfather been a preacher in the sixteenth century, Hugh Latimer would
have taken issue with that sign.

Hugh Latimer (1490?-1555), the most illustrious preacher of the English Reformation,
believed preaching was indispensable to Christianity. Perhaps no preacher in
England in Latimer’s era believed in the need for preaching in the church and
the importance of preaching for the furtherance of reform as he.

Latimer was born in Thurcaston in Leicestershire, England, to yeoman stock.
In spite of his status in society, Latimer’s father kept him in school, allowing
the educational foundation he would need for his ministry. Raised a Catholic,
Latimer was a strong supporter of the old order in his early years. The one
whom critics later said had disseminated more heresies than Luther was, in his
own words, “as obstinate a papist as any was in England.”1
However, because of the testimony of Thomas Bilney (d. 1531), Latimer converted
to reform.

Almost immediately, Latimer began disseminating reformation doctrines and condemning
the Roman Church in his sermons. Throughout his early reforming career, he devoted
himself to the restoration of preaching through the elimination of the corrupt
ecclesiastical practices that had become so prevalent in his day.

Initially, the political environment was favorable to Latimer’s preaching; however,
the adoption of “The Six Articles” in 1539 caused a shift in that climate. This
new situation resulted in Latimer’s resignation from his bishopric and a period
of eight years of silence, the last year and a half spent in the Tower of London.
However, when Henry VIII died and Edward VI took the throne, the political climate
became favorable once again, and Latimer was released from the Tower. On 1 January
1548, Latimer’s silence ended as he mounted the outdoor pulpit of Paul’s Cross
and delivered his first sermon in eight years to Edward VI and a throng of eager
listeners. Thereafter, Latimer was in high demand. Often called upon to preach
at critical moments in the history of the English church, Latimer’s prolific
preaching ministry earned him the title “Apostle to the English,” and, until
his martyrdom by Queen Mary, he preached reform.

was a riveting preacher. Through rhetorical creativity and dynamic delivery,
all spoken in colloquial language, Latimer drew congregations into the proclamation
of the Word.  On some occasions, Latimer would even employ daring communication
tricks, such as pulling a deck of cards from his garment, in order to communicate
his point. But Latimer’s success was only partially due to his effective delivery.
More central to his success was his homiletic, which placed emphasis upon the
person of the preacher, the content of preaching, and one particular aim in

Person of the Preacher

Latimer bemoaned the deficiency of preaching and the negligence of preachers
in England. In his famous Sermon of the Plough, he rebuked his fellow ministers
for being more concerned with worldly affairs than with preaching. With sarcasm
and creative rhetoric, Latimer offered an excuse for the lording and loitering

They are so troubled
with lordly living, they be so placed in palaces, couched in courts, ruffling
in their rents, dancing in their dominions, burdened with ambassages, pampering
of their paunches, like a monk that maketh his jubilee; munching in their
mangers, and moiling in their gay manors and mansions, and so troubled with
loitering in the lordships that they cannot attend it.2

Latimer challenged that prelates should be so painfully engaged in their preaching
as in their lording and loitering.3 Christ said, “No one
who puts his hand to the plough and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God”
(Lk. 9:62). Latimer added, “That is to say, let no preacher be negligent in
. . . his office.”4

It is evident that Latimer wanted preachers to preach, but who did Latimer feel
was qualified to preach? Latimer’s first requirement was that the preacher be
one called of God. He proclaimed, “To preach God’s word it is a good thing,
and God will have that there shall be some which do it: but for all that a man
may not take upon him to preach God’s word, except he be called unto it.”5

A second requirement was that preachers be hungry to do the will of God. In
an exposition of the Lord’s Prayer, Latimer said:

Would God our
preachers would be so fervent to promote the honour and glory of God, to admonish
the great and the small to do the will of the Lord! I pray God they may be
as fervent as our Saviour was, when he said to his disciples . . . , “My meat
is to do the will of my Father which is in heaven.6

believed preachers were God’s instruments for accomplishing His will.

Third, the preacher must possess certain properties. “These be the properties
of every good preacher: to be a true man; to teach, not dreams nor inventions
of men, but viam Dei in veritate, ‘the way of God truly;’ and not to
regard the personage of man.”7 Further, the preacher should
“beware of vain-glory and only seek to edify and to profit their audience” as
Christ did.8

Finally, if the preacher was to proclaim truth rightly, Latimer believed training
was needed. If education was improved, educated preachers would be produced.9
These educated preachers would then take to the pulpits, advancing reform through
effective preaching.        

Content of Preaching

For Latimer, the Word of God was central to the content of preaching. Scripture
could transform lives, but Scripture preached was the power of God unto salvation.
Holding to the principle of sola scriptura, Latimer viewed Scripture
as a great and eternal book, penned by a great and eternal author.10
Because the Word comes from God, it is authoritative, and every person, including
rulers, should give credence to it and order their steps according to it.

In his famous analogy, Latimer likened the preacher to a ploughman whose seed
was the Word of God; the ground was the people of God. The word of God, not
the word of man, was the seed. Latimer proclaimed, “Many teach men’s way, but
that should not be. We should learn viam Dei, God’s way; and that truly,
without mixture, temperature, blanching, powdering.”11
Only God’s Word can teach God’s way. If any person wondered what constituted
the Word of God, Latimer clarified, “Those [words] which are of God written
in God’s book.”12 To assure the proper proclamation of
the truth, Latimer insisted that preachers be ruled by the word of God through
careful hermeneutics.13 Sola
scriptura was the rule in theory and practice, in study and pulpit.   

Aim of Preaching

Latimer likened preaching to an angler’s net, which brings people to shore so
that God can open their hearts.14 This imagery reveals
Latimer’s aim for preaching. Though he did not neglect the need for sermons
to provide edification, Latimer emphasized the need for them to lead people
to salvation. For Latimer, preaching was not a means of grace but the
means of grace.

Two passages in Romans were especially important. First, Latimer interpreted
Rom.1:16 as a reference to preaching saying, “God’s word opened: it is the instrument,
and thing whereby we are saved.”15 The second passage
was Rom. 10:14. Latimer commented, “[I]f we will come to faith, we must hear
God’s word: if God’s word be necessary to be heard, then we must have preachers
which be able to tell us God’s word.”16

When one considers Latimer’s understanding of the aim of preaching, he can see
readily why Latimer was so concerned over the lack of preaching prelates. Latimer
proclaimed, “God commanded thee to preach: and . . . if thou warn not the wicked,
that they turn and amend, they shall perish in their iniquities. . . . If you
do not your office . . . you shall be damned for it.”17

preaching was so powerful in bringing people to salvation, Latimer believed
preaching to be “the thing that the devil wrestleth most against: it hath been
all his study to decay this office.”18 While Christian
prelates may be content to neglect their office, the devil is never content
to neglect his. He is the most diligent preacher of all. 

Preacher Today

Though more than four centuries separate us from Latimer’s sermons, his words
are still convicting today. Modern day preachers should note Latimer’s indelible
stamp on the power and importance of preaching. While not all will hold his
sacramental view of preaching, all should realize and trust in the power with
which the Lord has vested the foolishness of preaching the Word of God. Truly,
it is an awesome honor and privilege to handle and to engage in such an authoritative,
potent, and effective work.

Further, we must heed Latimer’s instruction that the devil is the most diligent
preacher of all. If we will take hold of this perceptive observation of the
spiritual realm, we will be much more conscientious and assiduous in our work.
Our preaching will take on a renewed urgency and fervency. Heaven’s gates will
burst open, and hell’s gates will tremble. The Spirit will triumph, and the
Word will be remembered. Though our words might be powerful and our presentation
creative, our efforts will pale in comparison with the God whose Word we proclaim.

Preachers, take to your ploughs! There is ground to plow, seed to sow, and,
ultimately, a harvest to gather for His name’s sake.  May we never be “done


Holloway is Pastor of Forestburg Baptist Church in Forestburg, TX.


1. Hugh
Latimer, First Sermon on the Lord’s Supper, in Sermons of Hugh Latimer, Sometime
Bishop of Worcester, Parker Society ed. (Cambridge: The University Press,
1844), 334.
2. Ibid., Sermon of
the Plough, Sermons, 67.
3. Latimer, Sermon
Preached in Lincolnshire, in Sermons and Remains of Hugh Latimer, Sometime
Bishop of Worcester, Parker Society ed. (Cambridge: The University Press,
1845), 24.
4. Ibid., Sermon of
the Plough, Sermons, 59.
5. Ibid, Sermon Preached
in Lincolnshire, Remains, 38.
6. Ibid., The Fourth
Sermon on the Lord’s Prayer, Sermons, 382.
7. Ibid., Sermon Preached
at Stamford, Sermons, 292-3.
8. Ibid., Sermon Preached
on Sexagesima Sunday, Remains, 210.
9. Ibid., The Sixth
Sermon on the Lord’s Prayer, Sermons, 418.
10. Ibid., The First
Sermon Preached before Edward VI, Sermons, 86.
11. Ibid., Sermon
Preached at Stamford, Sermons, 290.
12. Ibid., The First
Sermon Preached before Edward VI, Sermons, 85.
13. Ibid., Sermon
Preached at Grimsthorpe, Remains, 117.
14. Ibid., Sermon
Preached at Stamford, Sermons, 285.
15. Ibid., Sixth Sermon
before Edward VI, Sermons, 202.
16. Ibid., Sixth Sermon
on the Lord’s Prayer, Sermons, 418.
17. Ibid., Sermon
Preached at Stamford, Sermons, 286.
18. Ibid., Sixth
Sermon Before Edward VI, Sermons, 202.

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