and witnesses of this Light to men, that all may believe in this
Therefore, when he had said: "Which lighteth every
man," he realized that he had said too much, and so he added :
"coming into the world," so that he might make Christ the
Light of this world.
For in the world to come this light will
cease and will be changed into eternal glory, as St. Paul says :
"When he shall deHver up the kingdom to God," 1 Cor. 15,24;
but now he rules through his humanity. When he delivers up
the kingdom, he will also deliver up the Light ; not as though
there were two kinds of light, or as though we were to see
something different from what we now see ; but we shall see the
same Light and the same God we now see in faith, but in a
different manner. Now we see him in faith darkly, then we
shall see him face to face. Just as though I beheld a gilded
picture through a colored glass or veil, and afterwards looked
at it without these. So also St. Paul says : "Now we see in a
mirror, darkly; but then face to face," 1 Cor. 13, 12.
90. Behold, you now know of what the Evangelist speaks,
when he says that Christ is the Light of men through his
humanity, that is, in faith, by means of which his divinity is
reflected as by a mirror, or is seen as in a glass or as the sun
shines through bright clouds. But let us remember that the
Light is attributed to his divinity, not to his humanity; and
THIRD CHRISTMAS DAY. 207
yet his humanity, which is the cloud or curtain before the
Light, must not be thought Hghtly of.
91. This language is sufficiently plain and he who has faith
understands very well what is the nature and character of this
Light. It matters not if he who does not believe does not
understand it. He is not to understand it, for it is better that
he knew nothing of the Bible and did not study it, than that
he deceive himself and others with his erroneous light; for
he imagines it to be the light of Scripture, which, however,
cannot be apprehended without true faith. For this Light
shines in the darkness, but is not apprehended by it.
92. This passage may also mean that the Evangelist has
in mind the preaching of the Gospel and of faith in all the
world, and so that this Light shines upon all men throughout
the world, just as the sun shines upon all men. St. Paul says :
"Be not moved away from the hope of the Gospel which ye
heard, which was preached in all creation under heaven,"
1 Col. 1, 23. Christ himself says : *'Go ye into all the world,
and preach the Gospel to the w^hole creation," Mark 16, 15.
The Psalmist also says : "His going forth is from the end of
the heavens, and his circuit unto the ends of it; and there is
nothing hid from the heat thereof," Ps. 19, 6. How this is to
be understood has been explained in the sermon on the Epistle
for Christmas. Is. 9, 2.
93. By this easy and simple interpretation we can readily
understand how this Light lighteth every man, coming into
the world, so that neither Jews nor anyone else should dare
to set up their own light anywhere. And this interpretation is
well suited to the preceding passages. For even before John
or the Gospel bore witness of the Light, it had shone in
darkness and the darkness apprehended it not; but after it
has been proclaimed and publicly witnessed to, it shines as far
as the world extends, unto all men, although all men will not
receive it ; as follows :
II. THE COMING OF CHRIST.
*^He was in the world, and the world was made through
him, and the world knew him not."
208 luth£:r's church postil.
94. All this is said of Christ as man and refers especially
to the time after his baptism, when he began to give light ac-
cording to John's testimony. He was ever in the world. But
what place of the world knew it ? Who received him ? He was
not even received by those with whom he was personally asso-
ciated, as the following shows :
''He came unto his own, and they that were his own re-
ceived him not."
95. This also is said of his coming as a preacher, and not
of his being born into the world. For his ;coming is his preach-
ing and illumining. The Baptist says : ''He it is who coming
after me is preferred before me, the latchet of whose shoe I am
not worthy to unloose," Math. 3, 11 ; Luke 3, 16; Mark 1, 7;
John 1, 27. Op account of this coming John is also called his
forerunner, as Gabriel said to his father Zacharias : "He shall
go before his face in the spirit and power of Elijah; to make
ready for the Lord a people prepared for him," Luke 1,17.
For, as has been said, the Gospels begin with the baptism of
Christ. Then he began to be the Light and to do that for
which he came. Therefore it is said that he came into the
Vv'orld to his own people and his own received him not. If
this were not said of his coming to give light by preaching,
the Evangelist would not thus reprove them for not having
96. Who could know that it was he, if he had not been
revealed? Therefore it is their fault that they did not receive
him; for he came and was revealed by John and by himself.
Therefore John says, ''That he should be made manifest to
Israel, for this cause came I baptizing with water," John 1, 31.
And he says himself, "I am come in my Father's name, and
ye receive me not ; if another shall come in his owh name, him
ye will receive," John 5, 43. This is also evidently said of the
coming of his preaching and of his revelation.
97. He calls the Jews his own people because they were
chosen out of all the world to be his people, and he had
been promised to them through Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and
David. For to us heathens or Gentiles there was no promise
of Christ. Therefore we are strangers and are not called "his
THIRD CHRISTMAS DAY. 209
own"; but through pure grace we have been adopted, and
have thus become his people ; though, alas, we also allow him
to come daily through the Gospel and do not esteem him.
Therefore we must also suffer that another, the Pope, comes
in his place and is received by us. We must serve the bitter
foe because we will not serve our God.
98. But we must not forget in this connection that the
Evangelist refers twice to the divinity of Christ. First, when
he says : ''The world was made through him." Secondly,
when he says : "He came unto his own." For it is the nature
only of the true God to have his own people. The Jews were
always God's own people ,as the Scriptures frequently declare.
If then they are Christ's own people, he must certainly be that
God to whom the Scriptures assign that people.
99. But the Evangelist commends to every thoughtful per-
son for consideration, what a shame and disgrace it is that the
world does not recognize its Creator, and that the Jewish people
do not receive their God. In what stronger terms can you
reprove the world than by saymg that it does not know its
Creator? What base wickedness and evil report follow from
this fact alone ! What good can there be where there is nothing
but ignorance, darkness and blindness? What wickedness
where there is no knowledge of God ! O, woe ! What a
wicked and frightful thing the world is ! The one who knew
the world and duly pondered this, would fall the deeper into
perdition. He could not be happy in this life, of which such
evil things are written.
^^But as many as received him, to them gave he the right
to become children of God, even to them that believed on his
100. We see now what kind of a Light that is of which the
Evangelist has hitherto been speaking. It is Christ, the com-
forting light of grace, and not the light of nature or reason.
For John is an Evangelist and not a Platonist. All who re-
ceive the light of nature and reason receive him according to
that light; how could they receive him otherwise? Just as
they receive the natural life from the divine life. However,
that light and that life do not give them any power to become
210 LuThe:r's church postil.
the children of God. Yea, they remain the enemies of this
Light, do not know it, nor acknowledge it. Therefore there
can be no reference in this Gospel to the light of nature, but
only to Christ, that he may be acknowledged as true God.
101. From now on this Gospel is familiar to all, for it
speaks of faith in Christ's name, that it makes us God's chil-
dren. These are excellent words and powerfully refute the
teachers of the law, who preach only good works. Good
works never bring about a change of heart. Therefore, al-
though the work righteous are ever changing and think they
are improving their deeds, in their hearts they remain the
same, and their works only become a mantle for their shame
102. But, as has often been said, faith changes the person
and makes out of an enemy a child, so mysteriously that the
external works, walk and conversation remain the same as
before, when they are not by nature wicked deeds. Therefore
faith brings with it the entire inheritance and highest good of
righteousness and salvation, so that these need not be sought
in works, as the false teachers of good works would have us
believe. For he who is a child of God has already God's in-
heritance through his sonship. If then faith g\/es this sonship,
it is manifest that good works should be done freely, to the
honor of God, since they already possess salvation and the
inheritance from God through faith. This has been amply
explained heretofore in the sermon on the second Epistle for
''Who were horn, not of blood, nor of the ivill of the flesh,
nor of the zvill of man, hut of God."
103. To explain himself, the Evangelist here tells us what
faith does, and that everything is useless without it. Here
he not only does not praise nature, light, reason, and whiUcv^,
is not of faith, but forcibly overthrows each. This sonship
is too great and noble to originate from nature or to be re-
quired by it.
104. John mentions four different kinds of sonship : one
of blood, another of the will of the flesh, a third of the will of
man, the fourth of this will of God, It is evident that the son-
THIRD CHRISTMAS DAY. 211
ship of blood is the natural sonship. With this he refutes the
Jews who boasted that they were of the blood of Abraham and
the patriarchs, relying on the passages of Scripture in which
God promises the blessing and the inheritance of eternal salva-
tion to the seed of Abraham. Therefore they claim to be the
only true people and children of God. But here he says, there
must be more than mere blood, else there is no sonship of God.
For Abraham and the patriarchs received the inheritance, not
for blood's sake but for faith's sake, as Paul teaches in Heb.
11,8. If mere blood-relationship were sufficient for this son-
ship, then Judas, the betrayer, Caiaphas, Ananias, and all the
wicked Jews who in times past were condemned in the wilder-
ness, would have a proper right to this inheritance. For they
vere all of the blood of the patriarchs. Therefore it is said,
they were born, "not of blood, but of God."
105. The other two relationships or sonships, to wit, of
the will of the flesh." and "of the will of man" I do not yet
sufficiently understand myself. But I see very well that the
Evangelist thereby wishes to reject everything which is of
nature and which nature can accomplish, and that he would
retain the birth by God alone. Therefore there is no danger
in whatever manner we explain these two parts and variously
attribute them to nature outside of grace. It is all the same.
Some understand the sonship of the will of the flesh to come
not of blood, but through the law of jv loses. He commanded
that the nearest kin to the wife of a deceased husband marry
the widow, and raise a name and heir to the deceased one,
that the name of his friend be not put out of Israel. To this
interpretation belongs also the step-relationship, which comes
of the will of the flesh, and not of blood-relationship.
106. But the Evangelist here calls by the name of flesh
man, as he lives in the flesh, which is the common Scriptural
designation. Therefore the meaning is : not as men have chil-
dren outside of their own line of descent, which is carnal and
human, and takes place in accordance with man's free will.
But what is born in the line of ancestral blood, takes place
without the free will, according to nature, whether a man wills
it or not.
212 LUTHER S CHURCH POSTIL.
107. The third kind of sonship mentioned is "of the will
of man." This is taken to mean the sonship of strangers, com-
monly called "adoption," as when a man chooses and adopts
a strange child as his own. Though you were Abraham's or
David's real child, or step-child, or you had been adopted, or
you were a stranger, it would all be of no benefit to you
unless you were born of God. Even Christ's own friends and
relatives did not believe in him, as we are told, John 7, 5.
108. But those who wish may explain this relationship as
follows : "Those born of blood" may mean all those who belong
to the blood-relationship, whether it be a full or a step-relation-
ship; "those born of the will of the flesh" may include all
those who are not born of blood, or those who have been
adopted into the relationship. But "those who are born of the
will of man" are spiritual children of those who are the dis-
ciples or followers of a teacher. Thus the Evangelist rejects
everything that might be accomplished by blood, flesh, nature,
reason, art, doctrine, law, free will, with all their powers, so
that no one may presume to help another by means of his own
doctrine, work, art, or free will, or be allowed to help any man
upon earth to the kingdom of God ; he is to reject everything,
except the striving after the divine birth.
I am also inclined to think that "man" in the Scriptures
usually means a superior, who rules, loads, and teaches others.
These are properly and before all others rejected, since no
relationship is more stubborn, more insolently presumptuous,
and confides more in itself than this, and does most stren-
uously oppose grace at all times, and persecutes the Lord of
grace. In this respect let every one have his opinion, as long
as he bears in mind that nothing avails which is not born
of God. For if something else would have availed anything,
the Evangelist would without doubt have put it side by side
with the divine birth, especially as he looks for it so care-
fully, and would not have exalted only this divine birth.
109. The divine birth is therefore nothing else than faith.
How can this be? It has been explained above how the light
of grace opposes and blinds the light of reason. If now
the Gospel comes and bears witness to the light of grace, that
THIRD CHRISTMAS DAY. 213
man must not live and do according to his fancy, but must
reject, put away, and destroy the Hght of nature, if this man
accepts and follows such testimony, gives up hi's own light
and fancy, is willing to become a fool, allows himself to be
led, taught and enlightened he will be entirely changed, that
is, in his natural light. His old light is extinguished and a
new light, to wit, faith is kindled. He follows this new light
in life and in death, clings solely to the witness of John or
the Gospel, even should he be compelled to abandon all he
had and could do before.
Behold, he is now born again of God through the Gospel,
in which he remains, and lets go his own light and fancy,
as St. Paul says: "For in Christ Jesus I begat you through
the Gospel," 1 Cor. 4, 15; again, "Of his own will he brought
us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of
first fruits of his creatures," Jas. 1, 18. Therefore St. Peter
calls us "new born babes," 1 Pet. 2, 2. It is for this reason
also that the Gospel is called the womb of God, in which we
are conceived, carried and born as a woman conceives, car-
ries and bears a child in her womb. Isaiah says: "Hearken
unto me, O house of Jacob, and all the remnant of the house
of Israel, that have been borne by me from their birth, that
have been carried from the womb," Is. 46, 8.
110. But this birth properly shows its power in times of
temptation and death. There it becomes evident who is born
again, and who is not. Then the old light, reason, struggles
and wrestles and is loath to leave its fancies and desires, is
unwilling to consider and resort to the Gospel, and let go its
own light. But those who are born again, or are then being
born again, spend their Hves in peace and obedience to the
Gospel, confide in and cling to the witness of John, and let go,
their light, life, property, honor, and all they have. There-
fore they come to the eternal inheritance, as real children.
111. But when this light, reason and man's old conceit
are dead, dark, and changed into a new light, then the life
and all powers of man must be changed and be obedient to
the new Light. For where the will goes reason follows, and
love and pleasures follow the will. And so the whole man
214 Luther's church postii..
must be hid in the Gospel, become a new creature and nut
off the old Adam, as the serpent puts off its old skin. When
the skin becomes old the serpent seeks a narrow crevice in
the rock, crawls through it, sheds its old skin, and leaves it
on the outside.
Thus man must resort to the Gospel and to God's Word,
confidently trusting their promises, which never fail. In this
way he puts off the old Adam, sets aside his own light and
conceit, his will, love, desire, speech, and his deeds, and
becomes an entirely new man, who sees everything in a
different manner than before, judges differently, thinks differ-
ently, wills differently, speaks and loves and desires differently,
acts and conducts himself differently than he did before. He
now understands whether all the conditions and works of men
are right or wrong, as St. Paul says: "He that is spiritual
judgeth all things, and he himself h judged of no man,"
1 Cor. 2, 15.
112. He now sees iclearly what great fools they are who
pretend to become pious through their good works. He
would not give one farthing for all the preachers, monks,
popes, bishops, tonsures, cowls, incense, illuminations, burning
of candles, singing, organs, prayers, with all their external
performances; for he sees how all this is simple idolatry, and
foolish dissimulation, just as the Jews prayed to Baal, Asta-
roth, and the calf in the wilderness, which they looked upon
as precious things in the old light of stubborn, self-conceited
113. From this it is evident that no blood, nor relationship,
nor command, nor doctrine, nor reason, nor free will, nor
good works, nor exemplary living, nor Carthusian orders, nor
any religious orders, though they were angelic, are of any
use or help to this sonship of God; but they are only a
hindrance. For where reason is not first renewed and in
agreement with the new birth, it takes offense, becomes har-
dened and blinded, so that it will scarcely, if ever, be able
to be righted; but thinks its doings and ways are right and
proper, storming and raving against all who disregard and
reject its doings. Therefore the old man remains the enemy
THIRD CHRISl MAS DAY. 215
of God and of grace, of Christ and of his Hght, beheads John
and destroys his testimony, the Gospel, and sets up his own
human doctrines. Thus the game goes on even now, in full
splendor and power, in the doings of the pope and his clergy,
who together know nothing of this divine bi'rth. They prattle
and speak nonsense in their doctrines and commandments of
certain good works, with which they hope to attain grace,
though still clad in the old Adam.
114. But what is here said remains unchangeable: Not
of blood, not of the will of the flesh nor of man, but of God,
is this new birth. We must despair of our own will, works,
and life, which have been poisoned by the false, stubborn,
selfish Hght of reason; in all things listen to the voice and
testimony of the Baptist ; believe and obey it. Then the true
Light, Chirst, will enlighten us, renew us, and give us power
to become the sons of God. For this reason he came and was
made man, as follows:
III. CHRIST'S INCARNATION.
''And the Word became flesh, and dzvelt among us, and we
beheld his glory, glory as of the Only Begotten from tho
Father, full of grace and truth."
115. By "flesh" w^e understand the whole man, body and
soul, according to the Scriptures, which call man "flesh," as
above, when it is said : "Not of the will of the flesh" ; and in
the Creed we say : "I believe in the resurrection of the body"
(German: flesh), that is, of all men. i\gain Christ says:
"Except those days had been shortened, there would be no
flesh saved," that is, no man. Math. 24, 22. Again : "He
remembered that they were but flesh, a wind that passci.h
away, and cometh not again," Ps. 78, 39. Again : "Thou
gavest him authority over all flesh, that to all whom thou hast
given him, he should give eternal Hfe," John 17, 2.
116. I speak of this the more fully because this passage
has occasioned so much offense on the part of heretics at the
time when there were learned and great bishops. Some, as
Photinus and Appollinaris, taught that Christ was a man
without a soul, and that the divine nature took the place of
216 luthkr's church postHv.
the soul in him. Manichaeus taught that Christ did not have
true, natural flesh, but was only an apparition, passing through
his mother, Mary, without assuming her flesh and blood,
just as the sun shines through a glass, but does not assume
its nature. In opposition to all these the Evangelist uses a
comprehensive word, and says: *'He became flesh," that is,
a man like every other man, who has flesh and blood, body and
117. Thus the Scriptures, one part after another, had
to be tried and confirmed, until the time of the Antichrist,
who suppressed them not in parts, but in their entirety. For
it has been prophesied that at the time of Antichrist all
heresy should be united into one parasitic whole and devour
the world. This could not have happened at a better time
than when the Pope set aside the whole Scriptures, and in
their place set up his own law. Therefore bishops are now
no more heretics, nor can they become heretics ; for they have
no part of the book by which heretics are made, to wit, the
Gospel. They have piled up all heresy within and among
118. In times past, heretics, however bad they were, still
remained in the Scriptures, and left some parts intact. But
what is left since this divine birth and faith are no more
acknowledged and preached, and in their stead only human
law and works? What matters it, whether Christ is God
or not God, whether he was flesh or a mere apparition, whether
he had a soul or not, whether he had come before or after his
mother, or whether all error and heresy which have ever been,
would prevail ? We would have no more of him than all those
heretics and do not need him. He seems to have become man
in vain, and all things written about him seem to be to no pur-
pose, because we have ourselves found a way by which we may
by our own works come to the grace of God !
119. Therefore there is no diflference between our bishops
and all heretics that have ever lived, except this that we name
Christ with our mouth and pen, for the sake of appearance. But
among ourselves we speak of him, and are as little benefited by
him, as though he were one with whom all heretics might play
tiie fool. Thus St. Peter has prophecied and said: *'These
THIRD CHRISTMAS DAY. 217
shall be false teachers among you, who shall privily bring in
destructive heresies, denying even the Master that bought
them." (2 Peter 2, 1).
120. \Miat does it profit, though Christ be not what the
heretics make him, if he is no more to us than to them, and
does no more for us? What does it profit to condemn the
heretics, and know Christ aright, if we have no different faith
in him than they had? I see no reason for the need of Christ,
if I am able to attain grace by my works. It is not necessary
for him to be God and man. In short all that is written about
him is unnecessary ; it would be sufficient to preach God alone,
as the Jews believe, and then obtain his grace by means of my
works. What more would I want? What more would I neel?
121. Christ and the Scriptures are not necessary, as long
as the doctrine of the pope and his schools exist. Therefore
I have said that pope, bishops, and schools are not good enough
to be heretics ; but they surpass all heretics, and are the dregs
of all heresies, errors, and idolatry from the begining, be-
cause they entirely suppress Christ and the Word of God,