Church HistoryDoctrineEvangelismMinistry


For preaching of the gospel is one of God’s plough-works,

and the preacher is one of God’s ploughmen.[1]

So proclaimed Hugh Latimer (c. 1485-1555) on a rainy eighteenth day of January during the winter of 1548. This sermon – the famous ‘Sermon on the Ploughers’ – was preached at Paul’s Cross in London, where renowned preachers drew huge crowds and prophetically proclaimed the word of God to the hearts of the hearers. Latimer had Romans 15:4 as his scriptural text, and having preached in the previous weeks on the subject of the seed which is sown in God’s field, he turned to the subject of the sower of the seed, the humble ploughman.

Hugh Latimer practised what he preached. Indeed, he was undoubtedly the most influential preacher of the English Reformation. He was a household name throughout the realm of England and was as comfortable preaching in front of royalty as he was before a raucous rabble. He was held in high esteem by his friends and enemies alike and was blessed with a certain style of preaching which aimed not only for the head, and not only for the heart, but for the consciences of women and men. We have a staggering forty-three full sermons of his available today, but this is the mere tip of his homiletical iceberg. Through his preaching, Ploughman Latimer was, as merchant Richard Hilles recounted to the Zürich reformer Heinrich Bullinger, “the first who in our times sowed the pure doctrine of the gospel.”[2]

Hugh Latimer was also one of the great prelates of the English Reformation. “A prelate is that man,” preached Latimer in his ‘Sermon on the Ploughers’,“that hath a flock to be taught of him; whosoever hath any spiritual charge in the faithful congregation, and whosoever he be that hath cure of souls.”[3] He lamented the presence of “so many unpreaching prelates, lording loiterers, and idle ministers” who were derelict in their duty. Thus, he took great care to faithfully pastor people, whether in the Cambridge jail, or before royalty in London, or among his parish churches, or upon becoming an episcopal prelate, serving his diocese of Worcester. It was for this reason, that the learned Sir John Cheke remarked, “I have an ear for other preachers, but I have a heart for Latimer.”[4]

Both preacher and true prelate, Hugh Latimer was the Tudor ploughman par excellence. But behind and at the bottom of it all, he was an evangelical: a committed Bible-man and avowed adherent to the doctrine of justification by faith in Christ alone. Indeed, he was committed to the Lord Jesus at the cost of his own life. Such was his international reputation that as he became a national sensation, the imperial ambassador, Eustice Chapuys informed his master, emperor Charles V, that Latimer disseminated more errors and made more heretics than even Luther.[5] And within this backhanded compliment lies the central question that this short biography seeks to explore: how did the Lord make Latimer such a pivotal ploughman of the gospel during the English Reformation?

The above is an excerpt from a short biography written by Mark Earngey. Complementary copies have been delivered to Sydney Anglican rectors as a Christmas gift from the ACR. If others would like to order copies, please email

[1] Hugh Latimer, ‘A Sermon of the Reverend Father Master Hugh Latimer’ in George Elwes Corrie (ed.), Sermons by Hugh Latimer (Cambridge: CUP, 1844), 59.

[2] Hilles to Bullinger, n.d. (1541?) in Hastings Robinson (ed.), Original Letters Relative to the English Reformation (Cambridge: CUP, 1846)1:208.

[3] Latimer, Plough, 61

[4] Cited in Allan G. Chester, Hugh Latimer: Apostle to the English (New York: Octogon Books, 1978), viii.

[5] Chester, Latimer, 95.