RPM, Volume 12, Number 30, July 25 to July 31 2010

The Bondage of the Will

By Martin Luther


Section XXIX.

Sect. XXIX. — BUT we will grant you, if you please ‘that they were all saints, that they all had the Spirit, that they all wrought miracles'(which, however, you do not require.) But tell me this — was any one of them made a saint, did any one of them receive the Spirit or work miracles, in the name, or by virtue of "Free-will," or to confirm the doctrine of "Free-will"? Far be such a thought (you will say,) but in the name, and by virtue of Jesus Christ, and for the confirmation of the doctrine of Christ, all these things were done. Why then do you bring forward the sanctity, the spirit, ‘and the miracles of these, in confirmation of the doctrine of "Free-will,"' for which they were not wrought and given?

Their miracles, Spirit, and sanctity, therefore, belong to us who preach Jesus Christ, and not the ability and works of men. And now, what wonder if those who were thus holy, spiritual, and wonderful for miracles, were sometimes under the influence of the flesh, and spoke and wrought according to the flesh; since that happened, not once only, to the very apostles under Christ Himself. For you do not deny, but assert, that "Free-will" does not belong to the Spirit, or to Christ, but is human; so that, the Spirit who is promised to glorify Christ, cannot preach "Free will." If, therefore, the fathers have at any time preached "Free-will," they have certainly spoken from the flesh, (seeing they were men,) not from the Spirit of God; much less did they work miracles for its confirmation. Wherefore, your allegation concerning the sanctity, the Spirit, and the miracles of the fathers is nothing to the purpose, because "Free-will" is not proved thereby, but the doctrine of Jesus Christ against the doctrine of "Free-will."

But come, shew forth still, you that are on the side of "Free-will," and assert that a doctrine of this kind is true, that is, that it proceeds from the Spirit of God — shew forth still, I say, the Spirit, still work miracles, still evidence sanctity. Certainly you who make the assertion owe this to us, who deny these things. The Spirit, sanctity, and miracles ought not to be demanded of us who maintain the negative, but from you who assert in the affirmative. The negative proposes nothing, is nothing, and is bound to prove nothing, nor ought to be proved: it is the affirmative that ought to be proved. You assert the power of "Free-will" and the human cause: but no miracle was ever seen or heard of, as proceeding from God, in support of a doctrine of the human cause, only in support of the doctrines of the divine cause. And we are commanded to receive no doctrine whatever, that is not first proved by signs from on high. (Deut. xviii. 15-22.) Nay, the Scripture calls man "vanity," and "a lie:" which is nothing less than saying, that all human things are vanities and lies. Come forward then! come forward! I say, and prove, that your doctrine, proceeding from human vanity and a lie, is true. Where is now your shewing forth the Spirit! Where is your sanctity! Where are your miracles! I see your talents, your erudition, and your authority; but those things God has given alike unto all the world!

But however, we will not compel you to work great miracles, nor "to cure a lame horse," lest you should plead, as an excuse, the carnality of the age. Although God is wont to confirm His doctrines by miracles, without any respect to the carnality of the age: nor is He at all moved, either by the merits or demerits of a carnal age, but by pure mercy and grace, and a love of souls which are to be confirmed, by solid truth, unto their glory. But we give you the choice of working any miracles, as small an one as you please.

But come! I, in order to irritate your Baal into action, insult, and challenge you to create even one frog, in the name, and by virtue of "Free-will;" of which, the Gentile and impious Magi in Egypt, could create many. I will not put you to the task of creating lice; which, neither could they produce. But I will descend a little lower yet. Take even one flea, or louse, (for you tempt and deride our God by your ‘curing of the lame horse,') and if, after you have combined all the powers, and concentrated all the efforts both of your god and your advocates, you can, in the name and by virtue of "Free-will," kill it, you shall be victors; your cause shall be established; and we also will immediately come over and adore that god of yours, that wonderful killer of the louse. Not that I deny, that you could even remove mountains; but it is one thing to say, that a certain thing was done by "Free-will," and another to prove it.

And, what I have said concerning miracles, I say also concerning sanctity. — If you can, out of such a series of ages, men, and all the things which you have mentioned, shew forth one work, (if it be but the lifting a straw from the earth,) or one word, (if it be but the syllable MY,) or one thought of "Free-will," (if it be but the faintest sigh,) by which men applied themselves unto grace, or by which they have merited the Spirit, or by which they have obtained pardon, or by which they have prevailed with God even in the smallest degree, (I say nothing about being sanctified thereby,) again, I say, you shall be victors, and we vanquished; and that, as I repeat, in the name and by virtue of "Free-will."

For what things soever are wrought in men by the power of divine creation, are supported by Scripture testimonies in abundance. And certainly, you ought to produce the same: unless you would appear such ridiculous teachers, as to spread abroad throughout the world, with so much arrogance and authority, doctrines concerning that, of which you cannot produce one proof. For such doctrines will be called mere dreams, which are followed by nothing: than which, nothing can be more disgraceful to men of so many ages, so great, so learned, so holy, and so miraculous! And if this be the case, we shall rank even the stoics before you: for although they took upon them to describe such a wise man as they never saw, yet they did attempt to set forth some part of the character. But you cannot set forth any thing whatever, not even the shadow of your doctrine.

The same also I observe concerning the Spirit. If you can produce one out of all the assertors of "Free-will," who ever had a strength of mind and affection, even in the smallest degree, so as, in the name and by virtue of "Free-will," to be able to disregard one farthing, or to be willing to be without one farthing, or to bear one word or sign of injury, (I do not speak of the stoical contempt of riches, life, and fame,) again, the palm of victory shall be yours, and we, as the vanquished, will willingly pass under the spear. And these proofs you, who with such trumpeting mouths sound forth the power of "Free-will," are bound to produce before us. Or else, again, you will appear to be striving to give establishment to a nothing: or to be acting like him, who sat to see a play in an empty theatre.

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.

Subscribe to RPM

RPM subscribers receive an email notification each time a new issue is published. Notifications include the title, author, and description of each article in the issue, as well as links directly to the articles. Like RPM itself, subscriptions are free. To subscribe to RPM, please select this link.