RPM, Volume 13, Number 19, May 8 to May 14, 2011

The Bondage of the Will

By Martin Luther


Section LXX

Sect. LXX. — AS to merit, or a proposed reward, what is it else but a certain promise? But that promise does not prove that we can do any thing; it proves nothing more than this: — if any one shall do this thing or that, he shall then have a reward. Whereas, our subject inquiry is, not what reward is to be given, or how it is to be given, but, whether or not we can do those things, for the doing of which the reward is to be given. This is the point to be settled and proved. Would not these be ridiculous conclusions? — The prize is set before all that run in the race: therefore, all can so run as to obtain. — If Cæsar shall conquer the Turks, he shall gain the kingdom of Syria: therefore, Cæsar can conquer, and does conquer the Turks. — If "Free-will" shall gain dominion over sin, it shall be holy before the Lord: therefore "Free-will' is holy before the Lord.

But away with things so stupid and openly absurd: (except that, "Free-will' deserves to be proved what it is by arguments so excellent) let us rather speak to this point: — ‘that necessity, has neither merit nor reward.' If we speak of the necessity of compulsion, it is true: if we speak of the necessity of immutability, it is false. For who would bestow a reward upon, or ascribe merit to, an unwilling workman? But with respect to those who do good or evil willingly, even though they cannot alter that necessity by their own power, the reward or punishment follows naturally and necessarily: as it is written "thou shalt render unto every man according to his works." (Pro. xxiv. 12.) It naturally follows — if thou remain under water, thou wilt be suffocated; if thou swim out, thou wilt be saved.

To be brief: As it respects merit or reward, you must speak, either of the worthiness or of the consequence. If you speak of the worthiness, there is no merit, no reward. For if "Free-will" cannot of itself will good, but wills good by grace alone, (for we are speaking of "Free-will" apart from grace and inquiring into the power which properly belongs to each) who does not see, that that good-will, merit, and reward, belong to grace alone. Here then, again, the Diatribe dissents from itself, while it argues from merit the freedom of the will; and with me, against whom it fights, it stands in the same condemnation as ever; that is, its asserting that there is merit, reward, and liberty, makes the same as ever directly against itself; seeing that, it asserted above, that it could will nothing good, and undertook to prove that assertion.

If you speak of the consequence, there is nothing either good or evil which has not its reward. And here arises an error, that, in speaking of merits and rewards, we agitate opinions and questions concerning worthiness, which has not existence, when we ought to be disputing concerning consequences. For there remains, as a necessary consequence the judgment of God and a hell for the wicked, even though they themselves neither conceive nor think of such a reward for their sins, nay, they utterly detest it; and, as Peter saith, execrate it. (2 Pet. ii. 10-14.) .

In the same manner, there remains a kingdom for the just, even though they themselves neither seek it nor think of it; seeing that, it was prepared for them by their Father, not only before they themselves existed, but before the foundation of the world. Nay, if they should work good in order to obtain the Kingdom, they never would obtain it, but would be numbered rather with the wicked, who, with an evil and mercenary eye, seek the things of self even in God. Whereas, the sons of God, do good with a free-will, seeking no reward, but the glory and will of God only; ready to do good, even if (which is impossible) there were neither a Kingdom nor a hell.

These things are, I believe, sufficiently confirmed even from that saying of Christ only, which I have just cited, Matt. xxv. 34, "Come, ye blessed of my Father, receive the kingdom which was prepared for you from the foundation of the world." — How can they merit that, which is theirs, and prepared for them before they had existence? So that we might much more rightly say, the kingdom of God merits us its possessors; and thus, place the merit where these place the reward, and the reward where these place the merit. For the kingdom is not merited, but before prepared: and the sons of the kingdom are before prepared for the kingdom, but do not merit the kingdom for themselves: that is, the kingdom merits the sons, not the sons the kingdom. So also hell more properly merits and prepares its sons, seeing that, Christ saith, "Depart, ye cursed, into eternal fire, prepared for the devil and his angels." (Matt. xxv. 41.)

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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