RPM, Volume 12, Number 43, October 24 to October 30, 2010

The Bondage of the Will

By Martin Luther


Section XLII.

Sect. XLII. — BUT that we might not seem to delight in a mere war of words, we cede to that abuse, though great and dangerous, that "Free-will means "Vertible-will." We will cede also that to Erasmus, where he makes "Free-will" ‘a power of the human will:' (as though angels had not a "Free-will" too, merely because he designed in this book to treat only on the "Free-will" of men!) We make this remark, otherwise, even in this part, the definition would be too narrow to embrace the thing defined.

We come then to those parts of the definition, which are the hinge upon which the matter turns. Of these things some are manifest enough; the rest shun the light, as if conscious to themselves that they had every thing to fear: because, nothing ought to be expressed more clearly, and more decisively, than a definition; for to define obscurely, is the same thing as defining nothing at all.

The clear parts of the definition then are these: — ‘power of human will:' and ‘by which a man can:' also, ‘unto eternal salvation.' But these are Andabatae: — ‘to apply:' and, ‘to those things which lead:' also, ‘to turn away.' What shall we divine that this ‘to apply' means? And this ‘to turn away,' also? And also what these words mean, ‘which pertain unto eternal salvation?' Into what dark corner have these withdrawn their meaning? I seem as if I were engaged in dispute with a very Scotinian, or with Heraclitus himself, so as to be in the way of being worn out by a twofold labour. First, that I shall have to find out my adversary by groping and feeling about for him in pits and darkness, (which is an enterprise both venturous and perilous,) and if I do not find him, to fight to no purpose with ghosts, and beat the air in the dark. And, secondly, if I should bring him out into the light, that then, I shall have to fight with him upon equal ground, when I am already worn out with hunting after him.

I suppose, then, what you mean by the ‘power of the human will' is this: — a power, or faculty, or disposition, or aptitude, to will or not to will, to choose or refuse, to approve or disapprove, and what other actions soever belong to the will. Now then, what it is for this same power ‘to apply itself,' or ‘to turn away,' I do not see: unless it be the very, willing or not willing, choosing or refusing, approving or disapproving; that is, the very action itself of the will. But may we suppose, that this power is a kind of medium, between the will itself and the action itself; such as, that by which the will itself allures forth the action itself of willing or not willing, or by which the action itself of willing or not willing is allured forth? Any thing else beside this, it is impossible for one to imagine or think of. And if I am deceived, let the fault be my author's who has given the definition, not mine who examine it. For it is justly said among lawyers, ‘his words who speaks obscurely, when he can speak more plainly, are to be interpreted against himself.' And here I wish to know nothing of our moderns and their subtleties, for we must come plainly to close quarters in what we say, for the sake of understanding and teaching.

And as to those words, ‘which lead unto eternal salvation,' I suppose by them are meant the words and works of God, which are offered to the human will, that it might either apply itself to them, or turn away from them. But I call both the Law and the Gospel the words of God. By the Law, works are required; and by the Gospel, faith. For there are no other things which lead either unto the grace of God, or unto eternal salvation, but the word and the work of God: because grace or the spirit is the life itself, to which we are led by the word and the work of God.

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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