Monday, August 12, 2019

Something from .... Luther's "The Bondage of the Will" (entry #4)


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 speak for himself.

            There are a number of teachings in the Christian faith which are mysteries—the Trinity and the two natures of Jesus are prime examples.  We will never grasp how it can be that God is one, but that God is three distinct persons who are Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  This is a mystery that will never be unraveled.  Jesus Christ is both God and man.  So, when we speak about Jesus, we can say that God had to be born, grow up, be tempted and tormented by the devil, and die.  We can also say that a man walked on water, fed the multitudes with minimal food, rose from the grave, and reigns over heaven and earth.  Again, it is a mystery that we ponder, but we don’t really grasp it.

            Now, while these things are mysteries, they are not secrets.  We can’t explain them, but we do confess them.  They are well-known, proclaimed, and sung about in our churches regularly.  The problem is not that the passages which teach such things are unclear (if they were, how could we confess them?), but that God has revealed things which are above our understanding. 

            Do we understand everything that the Scriptures say?  Sadly, no.  We grapple with some teachings for perhaps years before God grants us enlightenment on them.  People who have studied the Bible for decades still have “Aha!” moments.  But that is not the fault of the Bible.  It is our own sin-clouded understanding that prevents us from grasping these things.  Granted, there will always be parts of the Bible which are hard, confusing, or even troubling for us, but that is not the fault of God.  He speaks clearly for us.  We don’t need to explain God’s word until it meets our own satisfaction.  We let God speak for himself and simply add our “Amen” to it.  Even when we don’t get it, we still confess it.  We let God be God.  We take him at his word.  We let him speak for himself.

            Something from Luther on letting God speak for himself:  “I certainly grant that many passages in the Scriptures are obscure and hard to elucidate, but that is due, not to the exalted nature of their subject but to our own linguistic and grammatical ignorance; and it does not in any way prevent our knowing all the contents of Scripture.  For what solemn truth can the Scriptures still be concealing, now that the seals are broken, the stone rolled away from the door of the tomb, and that greatest of all mysteries brought to light—that Christ, God's Son, became man, that God is Three in One, that Christ suffered for us, and will reign for ever?  And are not these things known, and sung in our streets?  Take Christ from the Scriptures—and what more will you find in them?  You see, then, that the entire content of the Scriptures has now been brought to light, even though some passages which contain unknown words remain obscure.” (page 71)

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