Merry Christmas From Martin Luther

This is a wonderful story to tell about very great men and pillars of the churches. Paul is the only one who has his eyes open and sees the sin of Peter, Barnabas, and the other Jews, who were acting insincerely along with Peter. At the same time they do not see their own sin; in fact, they think they are doing well and are charitably deferring to the Jews who were weak in faith. And Paul does not cover up their sin; but he accuses Peter, Barnabas, and the others in no uncertain terms of failing to walk the proper way according to the truth of the Gospel, that is, of having swerved from the truth of the Gospel. It was a serious matter for Peter to be accused by Paul of falling and of swerving from the truth of the Gospel; there could be no graver reproach. Yet he bears it patiently and undoubtedly accepted it with real gratitude. I warned earlier that many have the Gospel but not the truth of the Gospel. Thus Paul says here that Peter, Barnabas, and the rest of the Jews did not walk properly according to the truth of the Gospel; that is, they had had the Gospel but had not walked in it properly. For although they were preaching the Gospel, still by their pretense, which could not stand with the truth of the Gospel, they were establishing the Law. But the establishment of the Law is the abrogation and overthrow of the Gospel.

Therefore whoever knows well how to distinguish the Gospel from the Law should give thanks to God and know that he is a real theologian. I admit that in the time of temptation I myself do not know how to do this as I should. The way to distinguish the one from the other is to locate the Gospel in heaven and the Law on earth, to call the righteousness of the Gospel heavenly and divine and the righteousness of the Law earthly and human, and to distinguish as sharply between the righteousness of the Gospel and that of the Law as God distinguishes between heaven and earth or between light and darkness or between day and night. Let the one be like the light and the day, and the other like the darkness and the night. If we could only put an even greater distance between them! Therefore if the issue is faith, heavenly righteousness, or conscience, let us leave the Law out of consideration altogether and let it remain on the earth. But if the issue is works, then let us light the lamp of works and of the righteousness of the Law in the night. So let the sun and the immense light of the Gospel and of grace shine in the day, and let the lamp of the Law shine in the night. These two must be distinguished in your mind in such a way that when your conscience is completely terrified by a sense of sin, you will think of yourself. “At the moment you are busy on earth. Here let the ass work, let him serve and carry the burden that has been laid upon him; that is, let the body and its members be subject to the Law.34 But when you ascend into heaven, leave the ass with his burdens on earth; for the conscience has no relation to the Law or to works or to earthly righteousness. Thus the ass remains in the valley; but the conscience ascends the mountain with Isaac, knowing absolutely nothing about the Law or its works but looking only to the forgiveness of sins and the pure righteousness offered and given in Christ.”

…Peter had confused this distinction between the Law and the Gospel, and thus he had persuaded the believers that they had to be justified by the Gospel and the Law together. This Paul refused to tolerate. Therefore he rebuked Peter. He did not want to put him to shame, but he wanted to separate these two very sharply again, namely, that the Law justifies on earth and the Gospel in heaven. But the pope has not only confused the Law with the Gospel; but he has changed the Gospel into mere laws, and ceremonial laws at that. He has also confused secular matters and church matters, which is really a satanic and infernal confusion.

Martin Luther | Luther’s Works, Vol. 26: Lectures on Galatians, 1535, Chapters 1-4, ed. Jaroslav Jan Pelikan, Hilton C. Oswald, and Helmut T. Lehmann, vol. 26 (Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1999), 115–17.


34 On this tropological use of Gen. 22:5 see also Luther’s Works, 23, p. 169, note 123.



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  1. Merry Christmas (Frohe Weinachten) from Martin Luther:

    Vom Himmel hoch, da komm’ ich her,
    ich bring’ euch gute neue Mär,
    der guten Mär bring’ ich soviel,
    davon ich sing’n und sagen will.

    Euch ist ein Kindlein heut geborn
    von einer Jungfrau auserkorn,
    ein Kindelein so zart und fein,
    das soll eur Freud und Wonne sein.

    Es ist der Herr Christ, unser Gott,
    der will euch führn aus aller Not,
    er will eur Heiland selber sein,
    von allen Sünden machen rein.

    Just three verses, but I coldn’t help thinking of this carol which Luther wrote for his own children.

  2. “I have not even accepted a dinner engagement for what they call ‘Christmas.’ I hate the whole business” Prof John Murray

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