RPM, Volume 12, Number 18, May 2 to May 8 2010

The Bondage of the Will

By Martin Luther


Section XVII.

Sect. XVII. — IN the example concerning confession and satisfaction, it is wonderful to observe with what dexterous prudence you proceed. Throughout the whole, according to your custom, you move along on the tiptoe of caution, lest you should seem, neither plainly to condemn my sentiments nor to oppose the tyranny of the Popes: a path which you found to be by no means safe. Therefore, throwing off, in this matter, both God and conscience, (for what are these things to Erasmus? What has he to do with them? What profit are they to him?) you rush upon the external bugbear, and attack the commonalty.

- ‘That they, from their depravity, abuse the preaching of a free confession and of satisfaction, to an occasion of the flesh. But, nevertheless, (you say) by the necessity of confessing, they are, in a measure, restrained.' —

O memorable and excellent speech! Is this teaching theology? To bind souls by laws, and, (as Ezekiel saith, xiii. 18,) to hunt them to death, which are not bound by God! Why, by this speech you bring upon us the universal tyranny of the laws of the Popes, as useful and wholesome; because, that by them also the depravity of the commonalty is restrained.

But I will not inveigh against this place as it deserves. I will descant upon it thus briefly — A good theologian teaches, that the commonalty are to be restrained by the external power of the sword, where they do evil: as Paul teaches. (Rom. xiii. 1-4.) But their consciences are not to be fettered by false laws, that they might be tormented with sins where God wills there should be no sins at all. For consciences are bound by the law of God only. So that, that intermediate tyranny of Popes, which falsely terrifies and murders the souls within, and vainly wearies the bodies without is to be taken entirely out of the way. Because, although it binds to confession and other things, outwardly, yet the mind is not, by these things restrained, but exasperated the more into the hatred both of God and men. And in vain does it butcher the body by external things, making nothing but hypocrites. — So that tyrants, with laws of this kind, are nothing else but ravening wolves, robbers, and plunderers of souls. And yet you, an excellent counselor of souls, recommend these to us again: that is, you are an advocate for these most barbarous soul-murderers, who fill the world with hypocrites, and with such as blaspheme God and hate Him in their hearts, in order that they may restrain them a little from outward sin. As though there were no other way of restraining, which makes no hypocrites, and is wrought without any destroying of consciences.

This article is provided as a ministry of Third Millennium Ministries (Thirdmill). If you have a question about this article, please email our Theological Editor.

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