RPM, Volume 12, Number 39, September 26 to October 2, 2010

The Bondage of the Will

By Martin Luther


Section XXXVIII.

Sect. XXXVIII. — BUT you ask — "if then the Scripture be quite clear, why have men of renowned talent, through so many ages, been blind upon this point?" I answer: they have been thus blind, to the praise and glory of "Free-will;" in order that, that highly boasted-of ‘power,' by which a man is ‘able to apply himself unto those things that pertain unto eternal salvation,' might be eminently displayed; that very exalted power, which neither sees those things which it sees, nor hears those things which it hears, and much less, understands and seeks after them. For to this power, applies that which Christ and the evangelists so often bring forward out of Isaiah vi. 9, "Hearing ye shall hear and shall not understand, and seeing ye shall see and shall not perceive." What is this else but saying, that "Free-will," or the human heart, is so bound by the power of Satan, that, unless it be quickened up in a wonderful way by the Spirit of God, it cannot of itself see or hear those things which strike against the eyes and ears so manifestly, as to be as it were palpable by the hand? So great is the misery and blindness of the human race! Thus also the Evangelists themselves, when they wondered how it could be that the Jews were not won over by the works and words of Christ, which were evidently incontrovertible and undeniable, satisfied themselves from that place of the Scripture, where it is shewn, that man, left to himself, seeing seeth not, and hearing heareth not. And what can be more monstrous! "The light (saith Christ) shineth in darkness, and the darkness comprehendeth it not." (John i. 5.) Who could believe this? Who hath heard the like — that the light should shine in darkness, and yet, the darkness still remain darkness, and not be enlightened!

Wherefore, it is no wonder in divine things, that through so many ages, men renowned for talent remained blind. It might have been a wonder in human things, but in divine things, it would rather have been a wonder if there had been one here and there that did not remain blind: that they all remained utterly blind alike, is no wonder at all. For what is the whole human race together, without the Spirit, but the kingdom of the devil (as I have said) and a confused chaos of darkness? And therefore it is, that Paul, (Ephes. vi. 12,) calls the devils, "the rulers of this darkness." And, (1 Cor. ii. 8,) he saith, that none of the princes of this world knew the wisdom of God. What then must he think of the rest, who asserts that the princes of this world are the slaves of darkness? For by princes, he means those greatest and highest ones, whom you call ‘men renowned for talent.' And why were all the Arians blind? Were there not among them men renowned for talent? Why was Christ foolishness to the nations? Are there not among the nations men renowned for talent? "God (saith Paul) knoweth the thoughts of the wise that they are vain," (1 Cor. iii. 20.) He chose not to say "of men," as the text to which he refers has it, but would point to the first and greatest among men, that from them we might form a judgment of the rest. — But upon these points more at large, perhaps, hereafter.

Suffice it thus to have premised, in Exordium, that the Scriptures are most clear, and that by them, our doctrines can be so defended that the adversaries cannot resist: but those doctrines that cannot be thus defended, are nothing to us, for they belong not unto Christians. But if there be any who do not see this clearness, and are blind, or offend under this sun, they, if they be wicked, manifest how great that dominion and power of Satan is over the sons of men, when they can neither hear nor comprehend the all-clear words of God, but are as one cheated by a juggler, who is made to think that the sun is a cold cinder, or to believe that a stone is gold. But if they fear God, they are to be numbered among those elect, who, to a certain degree, are led into error that the power of God may be manifest in us, without which, we can neither see nor do any thing whatever. For the not comprehending the words of God, does not arise, as you pretend, from weakness of mind; nay, nothing is better adapted to the receiving of the words of God, than a weakness of the mind; for it was on account of these weak ones, and to these weak ones, that Christ came, and it is to them he sends His Word. But it is the wickedness of Satan enthroned and reigning in our weakness, and resisting the Word of God: — for if Satan did not do this, a whole world of men might be converted by one Word of God once heard, nor could there be need of more.

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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