RPM, Volume 12, Number 49, December 5 to December 11, 2010

The Bondage of the Will

By Martin Luther


Section XLVIII.

Sect. XLVIII. — BUT, setting aside that "Freewill" which the definition defines, let us consider that which the opinion proposes as contrary to it. You grant, that man, without special grace, cannot will good: (for we are not now discussing what the grace of God can do, but what man can do without grace:) you grant, then, that "Free-will" cannot will good. This is nothing else but granting that it cannot ‘apply itself to those things which pertain unto eternal salvation,' according to the tune of your definition. Nay, you say a little before, ‘that the human will after sin, is so depraved, that having lost its liberty, it is compelled to serve sin, and cannot recall itself into a better state.' And if I am not mistaken, you make the Pelagians to be of this opinion. Now then I believe, my Proteus has here no way of escape: he is caught and held fast in plain words: — ‘that the will, having lost its liberty, is tied and bound a slave to sin.' O noble Free-will! which, having lost its liberty, is declared by Erasmus himself, to be the slave of sin! When Luther asserted this, ‘nothing was ever heard of so absurd;' ‘nothing was more useless than that this paradox should be proclaimed abroad!' So much so, that even a Diatribe must be written against him!

But perhaps no one will believe me, that these things are said by Erasmus. If the Diatribe be read in this part, it will be admired: but I do not so much admire it. For he who does not treat this as a serious subject, and is not interested in the cause, but is in mind alienated from it, and grows weary of it, cold in it, and disgusted with it, how shall not such an one everywhere speak absurdities, follies, and contrarieties, while, as one drunk or slumbering over the cause, he belches out in the midst of his snoring, It is so! it is not so! just as the different words sound against his ears? And therefore it is, that rhetoricians require a feeling of the subject in the person discussing it. Much more then does theology require such a feeling, that it may make the person vigilant, sharp, intent, prudent, and determined.

If therefore "Free-will" without grace, when it has lost its liberty, is compelled to serve sin and cannot will good, I should be glad to know, what that desire is, what that endeavour is, which that first ‘probable opinion' leaves it. It cannot be a good desire or a good endeavour, because it cannot will good, as the opinion affirms, and as you grant. Therefore, it is an evil desire and an evil endeavour that is left, which, when the liberty is lost, is compelled to serve sin. — But above all, what, I pray, is the meaning of this saying: ‘this opinion leaves the desire and the endeavour, but does not leave what is to be ascribed to its own power.' Who can possibly conceive in his mind what this means? If the desire and the endeavour be left to the power of "Free-will," how are they not ascribed to the same? If they be not ascribed to it, how can they be left to it? Are then that desire and that endeavour before grace, left to grace itself that comes after, and not to "Free-will" so as to be at the same time left, and not left, to the same "Free-will?" If these things be not paradoxes, or rather enormities, then pray what are enormities?

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.