RPM, Volume 13, Number 22, May 29 to June 4, 2011

The Bondage of the Will

By Martin Luther


Section LXXIII.

Sect. LXXIII. — IT would be too tedious to repeat here each imperative passage which the Diatribe enumerates out of the New Testament, always tacking to them her own conclusions, and vainly arguing, that those things which are so said are ‘to no purpose,' are ‘superfluous,' are ‘coldly useless,' are ‘ridiculous,' are ‘nothing at all,' if the will be not free. And I have already repeatedly observed, even to disgust, that nothing whatever is effected by such arguments; and that if any thing be proved, the whole of "Free-will" is proved. And this is nothing less than overthrowing the Diatribe altogether; seeing that, it set out to prove such a "Free-will" as cannot of itself do good, but serves sin; and then goes on to prove such a "Free-will" as can do all things; thus, throughout, forgetting and not knowing itself.

It is mere cavillation where it makes these remarks — "By their fruits, saith the Lord, ‘ye shall know them.' (Matt. vii. 16, 20.) He calls works fruits, and He calls them ours, but they are not ours if all things be done by necessity." —

I pray you, are not those things most rightly called ours, which we did not indeed make ourselves, but which we received from others? Why should not those works be called ours, which God has given unto us by His Spirit? Shall we then not call Christ ours, because we did not make Him, but only received Him? Again: if we made all those things which are called ours — therefore, we made our own eyes, we made our own hands, we made our own feet: unless you mean to say, that our eyes, our hands, and our feet are not called our own! Nay, "What have we that we did not receive," saith Paul. (1 Cor. iv. 7.) Shall we then say, that those things are either not ours, or else we made them ourselves? But suppose they are called our fruits because we made them, where then remain grace and the Spirit? — Nor does He say, "By their fruits, which are in a certain small part their own, ye shall know them." This cavillation rather is ridiculous, superfluous, to no purpose, coldly useless, nay, absurd and detestable, by which the holy words of God are defiled and profaned.

In the same way also is that saying of Christ upon the cross trifled with, "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do." (Luke xxiii. 34.) Here, where some assertion might have been expected which should make for "Free-will," recourse is again had to conclusions — "How much more rightly (says the Diatribe) would He have excused them on this ground — because they have not a Free-will, nor can they if they willed it, do otherwise." —

No! nor is that "Free-will" which ‘cannot will any thing good,' concerning which we are disputing, proved by this conclusion either; but that "Free-will" is proved by it which can do all things; concerning which no one disputes, to except the Pelagians.

Here, where Christ openly saith, "they know not what they do," does He not testify that they could not will good? For how can you will that which you do not know? You certainly cannot desire that of which you know nothing! What more forcible can be advanced against "Free-will", than that it is such a thing of nought, that it not only cannot will good, but cannot even know what evil it does, and what good is? Is there then any obscurity in this saying, "they know not what they do?" What is there remaining in the Scriptures which may not, upon the authority of the Diatribe, declare for "Free-will," since this word of Christ is made to declare for it, which is so clearly and so directly against it? In the same easy way any one might affirm that this word declares for "Free-will" — "And the earth was without form and void:" (Gen. i. 2.) or this, "And God rested on the seventh day:" (Gen. ii. 2,) or any word of the same kind. Then, indeed, the Scriptures; would be obscure and ambiguous, nay, would be nothing at all. But to dare to make use of the Scriptures in this way, argues a mind that is in a signal manner, a contemner both of God and man, and that deserves no forbearance whatever.

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.