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 gracious.
One of the arguments Erasmus made about man’s free will and his ability to either come to God or to do the works God desires is that there must be something in those who are saved which sets them apart from those who are not. Erasmus argued that this distinction is found in man’s free will. Man uses his free will either to do the works God desires or to rebel against him. It seems sensible. Those who are saved are worthy; those who perish deserved it because of their willful rebellion.
This may seem sensible, but it is not scriptural. We are all dead in sin (Ephesians 2:1). We are all, by nature, hostile to God (Romans 8:7) and his enemies (Romans 5:10). We cannot make the move toward God. In the same token, we cannot even do the works God wants to see in us. Rather, “it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” (Philippians 2:13) So, God creates the faith in us. God works that faith in us to want to do good works. And God works those good works in us and through us. It is all God’s working from beginning to end.
St. Augustine once commented that God makes willing ones out of the unwilling. It is not man whose will does these things; it is God who converts our will and continues to work in us. This is all about God’s grace, that salvation is God’s work through and through. Luther urges us to let God be gracious in every part of our salvation. Here is something from Luther on our sinful impotence and God’s gracious, life-giving work:
“'Who' (you say) 'will try and reform his life?' I reply, Nobody! Nobody can! God has no time for your practitioners of self-reformation, for they are hypocrites. The elect, who fear God, will be reformed by the Holy Spirit; the rest will perish unreformed. Note that Augustine does not say that a reward awaits nobody's works, or everybody's works, but some men's works. So there will be some who reform their lives.
“'Who will believe' (you say) 'that God loves him?' I reply, Nobody! nobody can! But the elect shall believe it; and the rest shall perish without believing it, raging and blaspheming, as you describe them. So there will be some who believe it.
“You say that a flood-gate of iniquity is opened by our doctrines. So be it. Ungodly men are part of that evil leprosy aforementioned, which we must endure. Nevertheless, these are the very doctrines which throw open to the elect, who fear God, a gateway to righteousness, an entrance into heaven, and a road to God!” (page 99)