Monday, August 5, 2019

Something from .... Luther's "The Bondage of the Will" (entry #3)


INTRODUCTORY NOTES:  During the life of Martin Luther, Dutch scholar Desiderius Erasmus, was urged by Roman Catholic Church leaders to challenge Luther’s teachings and to condemn him.  Although Erasmus would rather have kept the peace in the Church, Erasmus was finally goaded into attacking Luther.  Erasmus intended to defend the official Roman Catholic teaching that God’s grace was needed to do the works by which man could then merit additional grace.  Luther’s response to Erasmus is known as The Bondage of the Will (De Servo Arbitrio).  Although Luther had published a myriad of writings in his career, he did not consider them worth preserving.  Luther regarded The Bondage of the Will as a rare exception to that rule.  In it, Luther writes at length that “free will” in spiritual matters is a lie, and that, if man actually has free will, then God loses such attributes as grace, omnipotence, and even his right to be God.
            The quotations from Luther in this blog post come from The Bondage of the Will translated by J. I. Packer and O. R. Johnston, Baker Academic: Grand Rapids, MI. © 1957.
            The following are thoughts concerning Luther’s arguments, urging us to LET GOD BE GOD.  Something from Luther’s The Bondage of the Will.


LET GOD BE GOD: Let God be clear.

            It seems that modern man has become quite the skeptic.  There is a kind of pride that people have in not believing anything they see or hear.  In some cases, it is understandable.  “Don’t believe everything you read on the internet” is good advice.  But it has gone further than that. 

            I remember learning history about George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and the American Revolution.  They were presented as heroes and role models of patriotism.  But now it seems that their flaws are far more important than their accomplishments.  It seems the only thing that I really need to know about them now is that they owned slaves.  Whatever good was accomplished by Washington and Jefferson now has to be tempered with their sins, or trumped by them.

            It is no different with the Bible.  There is a sense of pride that many people have who want to question, challenge, and reject the biblical record, particularly about Jesus.  Great pains are taken to determine which words and works of Jesus are genuine and which are fabricated.  (What is usually fabricated is the evidence that the words and works of Jesus are dubious.)  Postmodern ideologies would have us wonder if we can really know anything.  There are too many skeptics, that is, people who deny the possibility of knowledge, or even rational belief.  If I can't ever really know anything, then I can believe anything I want--but I can never be sure about anything either.  

            While people may have problems uncovering the truth in a number of matters (e.g., the police will always have cold cases), God is always truthful.  He is not capable of lying.  What he has revealed in the Scriptures is true and it is clear.  What he tells us in the Bible is told us for our knowledge.  Since the main purpose of the Bible is “so that we may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing we may have life in his name” (John 20:31), it is crucial to recognize that God speaks truthfully and clearly through the prophets and the apostles. 

This is a great comfort to us, having the confidence that our place in God’s kingdom is both knowable and certain.  As Luther notes, “The Holy Spirit is no skeptic.”  God the Holy Spirit does not abide by the theory that there are no certainties and no truth.  He gives us the truth, and it saves us.  Something from Luther about the word of God, letting God be God, and letting God be clear: “The Holy Spirit is no Sceptic (sic), and the things He has written in our hearts are not doubts or opinions, but assertions—surer and more certain than sense and life itself.” (page 70)

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