RPM, Volume 13, Number 20, May 15 to May 21, 2011

The Bondage of the Will

By Martin Luther


Section LXXI.

Sect. LXXI. — BUT, says the Diatribe — "what then mean all those Scriptures which promise a kingdom and threaten hell? Why is the word reward so often repeated in the Scriptures; as, "Thou hast thy reward," "I am thy exceeding great reward?" Again, "Who rendereth unto every man according to his work;" and Paul, Rom. ii. 6, "Who by patient continuance in well doing, seek for eternal life," and many of the same kind?" (Rom. ii. 6, 7.) —

It is answered: By all these passages, the consequence of reward is proved and nothing else, but by no means the worthiness of merit: seeing that, those who do good, do it not from a servile and mercenary principle in order to obtain eternal life, but they seek eternal life, that is, they are in that way, in which they shall come unto and find eternal life. So that seeking, is striving with desire, and pursuing with ardent diligence, that, which always leads unto eternal life. And the reason why it is declared in the Scriptures, that those things shall follow and take place after a good or bad life, is, that men might be instructed, admonished, awakened, and terrified. For as "by the law is the knowledge of sin" (Rom. iii. 20,) and an admonition of our impotency, and as from that, it cannot be inferred that we can do any thing ourselves; so, by these promises and threats, there is conveyed an admonition, by which we are taught, what will follow sin and that impotency made known by the law; but there is not, by them, any thing of worthiness ascribed unto our merit .

Wherefore, as the words of the law are for instruction and illumination, to teach us what we ought to do, and also what we are not able to do; so the words of reward, while they signify what will be hereafter, are for exhortation and threatening, by which the just are animated, comforted, and raised up to go forward, to persevere, and to conquer; that they might not be wearied or disheartened either in doing good or in enduring evil; as Paul exhorts his Corinthians, saying, "Be ye steadfast, knowing that your labour is not in vain in the Lord." (1 Cor. xv. 58.) So also God supports Abraham, saying "I am thy exceeding great reward." (Gen. xv. 1.) Just in the same manner as you would console any one, by signifying to him, that his works certainly pleased God, which kind of consolation the Scripture frequently uses; nor is it a small consolation for any one to know, that he so pleases God, that nothing but a good consequence can follow, even though it seem to him impossible.

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.