RPM, Volume 12, Number 42, October 17 to October 23, 2010

The Bondage of the Will

By Martin Luther


Section XLI.

Sect. XLI. — AND, first of all, let us begin regularly with your definition: according to which, you define "Free-will" thus,

— "Moreover I consider Free-will in this light: that it is a power in the human will, by which, a man may apply himself to those things which lead unto eternal salvation, or turn away from the same." —

With a great deal of policy indeed, you have here stated a mere naked definition, without declaring any part of it, (as all others do); because, perhaps, you feared more shipwrecks than one. I therefore am compelled to state the several parts myself. The thing defined itself, if it be closely examined, has a much wider extent than the definition of it: and such a definition, the Sophists would call faulty: that is, when the definition does not fully embrace the thing defined. For I have shown before, that "Free-will" cannot be applied to any one but to God only. You may, perhaps, rightly assign to man some kind of will, but to assign unto him "Free-will" in divine things, is going too far. For the term "Free-will," in the judgment of the ears of all, means, that which can, and does do God-ward, whatever it pleases, restrainable by no law and no command. But you cannot call him Free, who is a servant acting under the power of the Lord. How much less, then, can we rightly call men or angels free, who so live under the all-overruling command of God, (to say nothing of sin and death,) that they cannot consist one moment by their own power.

Here then, at the outset, the definition of the term, and the definition of the thing termed, militate against each other: because the term signifies one thing, and the thing termed is, by experience, found to be another. It would indeed be more properly termed "Vertible-will," or "Mutable-will." For in this way Augustine, and after him the Sophists, diminished the glory and force of the term, free; adding thereby this detriment, that they assign vertibility to "Free-will." And it becomes us thus to speak, lest, by inflated and lofty terms of empty sound, we should deceive the hearts of men. And, as Augustine also thinks, we ought to speak according to a certain rule, in sober and proper words; for in teaching, simplicity and propriety of argumentation is required, and not highflown figures of rhetorical persuasion.

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.