Monday, September 16, 2019

Something from ... Luther's "The Bondage of the Will" (Entry #9)

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.

            Jesus had warned that his teaching would result in division, in fact, in bitter opposition.   Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth.  I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.” (Matthew 10:34)

            Erasmus desired peace within the church.  He longed for a church that was free from strife, division, and hostility.  Who wouldn't?  That is still the desire of Christians today.  No one rejoices in a fractured church.  But, as is the case now, so it was then.  The way man wants to achieve this peace is to cast God's word aside wherever it creates divisions among men.  People argue that it is more important to be kind than to be right.  Love is championed above doctrine—as if these were opponents!

            Luther chided Erasmus for his desire for peace.  He recognized that peace could be achieved, but only by silencing God's word.  Temporal peace could certainly be gained ... at the cost of eternal peace.  The conflict which came from opposing teachings could be put down if it was agreed to be silent on the issue—that is, to refuse to confess God's word on the issue so that it would become a non-issue.  But what Christian would agree to give up confessing God's word?  What would be commendable about attaining peace among men by having God keep silent?  

            Something from Luther who insisted on letting God speak for himself.  And if an outbreak of bitterness, anger, and even bloodshed should result, so be it.  These are momentary troubles.  Let God's word, which alone is eternal, be heard.

            “These things, I say, being temporal, may be endured with less harm than inveterate evil ways, which will inevitably ruin all souls that are not changed by the Word of God.  If the Word were removed, eternal good, God, Christ, and the Spirit, would be removed with it.  How much better, then, is it to lose the world than to lose God, the world's Creator, who can create countless worlds afresh, and is better than infinite worlds!  For what are temporal things besides eternal?  We should, therefore, endure this leprous outbreak of temporal evils, rather than keep the world at peace and free from these upheavals; for the price of that peace would be the blood and ruin of all souls, who would then be destroyed and damned for ever!  For the whole world is not of value enough to redeem a single soul.” (pages 92-93)

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