Sneak Peak! Grace upon Grace: Gospel Sermons, by George Stoeckhardt

Steadfast Press is beyond-happy to announce Vol 1 in our Steadfast Heritage series, Grace Upon Grace: Gospel Sermons for the Church Year, By George Stoeckhardt. Originally in German, they were translated into English by Erwin Keohlinger in the 1980’s. It was a typewritten manuscript out of the CTS printshop.

Now, Stoeckhardt is getting the handsome English edition he deserves. Newly reformatted, we believe these sermons on the historic lectionary will be of great value to the church and her pastors.

As a special preview, we’re including the original Foreword (translated into English for the first time!), along with – there’s no other way to describe it – “our rebuttal.” I’m don’t know who at Northwestern got assigned to write the Foreword, but it’s seems he liked Stoeckhardt more as a friend than as a preacher. We love his sermons and think preaching in the church will be greatly improved once pastors have a chance to study and learn from them.

Foreword to Original German Edition

It is with heartfelt joy that we hereby present to the Church a volume of Gospel Sermons by blessed +Dr. Stoeckhardt+. A volume on the Epistles and one on free texts will follow later, God willing. It was important to us to bring these incomparable sermons to the circle of our pastors, and we are convinced that they will thank us for it. There is nothing similar to it in the sermon literature. Stoeckhardt was a unique figure among theologians in the Lutheran Church. He shared the originality of his Lutheranism with many, his theological depth and fullness with a few, his thoroughly evangelical character with individuals, and the wealth of his Christian experience with none of the important men of his generation. In Stoeckhardt there was a rare combination of feminine intimacy, childlike simplicity and unshakable virility. It was the gospel that had made him so vigorously sanctified, so humble, so heartfelt, so firm and strong. In personal conversation, streams of living water flowed from him. His writings, especially his commentaries, but also his essays in the church magazines, even the polemical ones, are richly bubbling sources of the saving gospel, drawn from the inexhaustible well of the God’s Word.

So also are Stoeckhardt’s sermons. As far as their external form — the diction, the style — are concerned, they are not garbed in the slick robes of artificial rhetoric. Language conveys a man’s personality. Stoeckhardt was an original through and through. He spoke and wrote in his own style. At first glance, it seems almost childish and simple: sentence follows sentence, without much use of articles, here and there it is almost clumsy and opaque. But these sentences are rich in original and meaningful expressions and phrases; the speech flows like a broad, deep stream. It has its own higher poetic beauty; here and there it has an absolutely enchanting flourish. Stoeckhardt speaks the language of the Holy Scripture — Luther’s bible translation — and it is incomparably beautiful, unsurpassed by any language in the world. Stoeckhardt does not mechanically string together biblical sayings; he has put on the garb of biblical language so well it often feels as if you are hearing a biblical author speaking. Everywhere you see in his speech the biblical word, the biblical phrase, especially the poetic phrase of the Psalter and Prophets. This came from his deep knowledge of the Scriptures, and from his continual life in the Psalter, which was his constant companion and private prayer book.

But the exceptional worth of Stoeckhardt’s sermons lies in the great fullness and depth of the Gospel thought that we encounter throughout. Not that he systematically treats the entire doctrinal complexity of Scripture. It serves as a schematic; it is practical in the best sense, directly applied to concrete life. He is an extremely adept psychologist; he knows precisely the old and the new man. He knows how to follow the Old Adam into his most secret hiding places and expose all of his wiles to the light of the law. He knows how to comfort those who are suffering, using an abundance of God’s varied graces and manifold wisdom. To the weary wanderer, he continually offers new life from the rich treasury of the Word. He was brought low by the schooling of the Holy Spirit, recognized the profound damage to his own heart, drank abundantly from the well of grace, and experienced the tremendous power of the Word coming into his own heart. The Word of Life passed through him in unusual fullness and power and profoundly held and sanctified every fiber of his naturally rich soul.

That is why Stoeckhardt is a preacher like few others in the church. Even the most mature and capable have a lot to learn from him. Yes, this book will be a great blessing especially for professional preachers, and it will enrich our own abilities if we study him diligently and thoroughly. There are those among us who don’t find much to savor or benefit themselves in Stoeckhardt. He is too opaque for them. Here and there someone gets the impression that his sermons lack logic and order. But no accusation is less justified. Stoeckhardt was an unusually clear-headed man, and a man of the most scrupulous order in all his affairs. So also in his writings, essays, and sermons, the most precise order and the strictest logic prevail, even down to the individual sentences. But he deliberately, and later involuntarily and habitually, concealed it because it had become completely second nature to him and was something external and transcendent. In terms of its external structure, he is equivalent to Walther. In a logic-and-order sense, a sermon by Walther is at first glance like an oak tree, whose strong branches appear above and through the foliage. Stoeckhardt is like a lush sugar maple tree, at first glance hiding branches in thick foliage. But the branches and twigs are all there and become clear when examined closely. Look closely if you want to get the full benefit from Stoeckhardt. Study his logic for use in your own sermons. Anyone who doesn’t shy away from this effort will find themselves richly rewarded. The study of these sermons will add to our proclamation a Gospel tone, great richness and depth of Gospel thought, and a richness of homiletic expression.

For this purpose in particular we published them, and hastened their publication. We do not count significantly on their spread among the laity. They are intended firstly for pastors. That’s why the circulation is limited. Publishing experience has taught us the foreseeable results of overpublication. If you want to secure a copy, do it soon. A reprint is not expected.

May the Lord Jesus Christ, whom this book praises, accompany it with rich blessings!

Northwestern Publishing House.

Milwaukee, October 1914.

Foreword to Steadfast Press English Edition

Dr. Stoeckhardt (1842-1913) was a pastor and exegetical professor during the formative years of the LCMS. He was the finest exegete in her first century. Given the turbulence in her second century, especially among the exegetical so-called scholars that formed Seminex, he is arguably the best in any century so far.

Less well known is his talent as a preacher. If not for this volume of sermons, published hastily and posthumously by Northwestern Publishing House, his skill in this area may never have been known. The original foreward notes his singular skill. The book was intended as a tribute to a recently departed saint. But it seems they struggled with how to classify him, and how to properly promote him. It was a single printing, a short run of sermons they considered too opaque for the average reader. With all respect, we heartily disagree with this senitment, and have no trouble finding a place for this work in our permanent catalog.

Stoeckhardt’s sermons stand out for their systematic and clear approach to the task of interpreting scripture each week for the saints. We have heard complaints in recent years that seminarians and yong pastors struggle with outlining their sermons: presenting a coherent line of thought that is faithful to the scriptural text and presents the doctrine once delivered. In this, Stoeckhardt excels. And in this we believe his sermons have an important place in the pastor’s library. They are textual, doctrinal, liturgical, traditional, churchly, well-ordered, practical sermons. No one of those is sacrificed for the sake of the other. In this, they are model sermons, perhaps even more so than more famous names, because Stoeckhardt sticks to the task at hand: Preaching the text faithfully to the people of God. And yet, the pastoral concern for the hearer is not lost. His sermons have a distinctive style, but they are not wooden to our ears, as with so many sermons of past preachers. Stoeckhardt begins with the fear of the Lord, and a love of His Holy Word. It gives him wisdom we would do well to learn from and emulate.

Aword of caution is in order: Stoeckhardt is not afflicted with the modern problem of toothless law. Reading his sermons can be painful at times. The preacher who models his preaching on Stoeckhardt’s sermons is likely to find that the arrow hits the target a little too closely for today’s modern sensitivities. The other option — hitting a little less precisely — will leave the preacher to struggle with his own conscience. Only in the direct hit of the law will the full beauty of Stoeckhardt’s Gospel salve be reailzed. In that sense, this a dangerous book. It has the power to kill and make alive, because Law and Gospel are both delivered in their full scriptural and godly strength. The church can only be improved by such powerful use of God’s Word.  

Steadfast Press rejoices to offer this as the first volume in our Steadfast Heritage series. We also offer sincere thanks to the Koehlinger family, for sharing with us the translation work of Erwin Koehlinger.

Wyoming, Advent 2023.

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