RPM, Volume 13, Number 23, June 5 to June 11, 2011

The Bondage of the Will

By Martin Luther


Section LXXIV.

Sect. LXXIV. — AGAIN the Diatribe receives that word of John i. 12, "To them gave He power to become the sons of God," thus — "How can there be power given unto them, to become the sons of God, if there be no liberty in our will?" —

This word also, is a hammer that beats down "Free-will," as is nearly the whole of the evangelist John, and yet, even this is brought forward in support of "Free-will." Let us, I pray you, just took into this word. John is not speaking concerning any work of man, either great or small but concerning the very renewal and transformation of the old man who is a son of the devil, into the new man who is a son of God. This man is merely passive (as the term is used), nor does he do any thing, but is wholly made: and John is speaking of being made: he saith we are made the sons of God by a power given unto us from above, not by the power of "Free-will" inherent in ourselves.

Whereas, our friend Diatribe here concludes, that "Free-will" is of so much power, that it makes us the sons of God; if not, it is prepared to aver, that the word of John is ridiculous and stands coldly useless. But who ever so exalted "Freewill" as to assign unto it the power of making us the sons of God, especially such a "Free-will as cannot even will good, which "Free-will" it is that the Diatribe has taken upon itself to establish? But let this conclusion be gone after the rest which have been so often repeated; by which, nothing else is proved, if any thing be proved at all, than that which the Diatribe denies — that "Free-will" can do all things.

The meaning of John is this. — That by the coming of Christ into the world by His Gospel, by which grace was offered, but not works required, a full opportunity was given to all men of becoming the sons of God, if they would believe. But as to this willing and this believing on His name, as "Free-will" never knew it nor thought of it before, so much less could it then do it of its own power. For how could reason then think that faith in Jesus as the Son of God and man was necessary, when even at this day it could neither receive nor believe it, though the whole Creation should cry out together — there is a certain person who is both God and man! Nay it is rather offended at such a saying, as Paul affirms. (1 Cor. i. 17-31.) so far is it from possibility that it should either will it, or believe it.

John, therefore, is preaching, not the power of "Free-will," but the riches of the kingdom of God offered to the world by the Gospel; and signifying at the same time, how few there are who receive it; that is, from the enmity of the "Free-will" against it; the power of which is nothing else than this: — Satan reigning over it and causing it to reject grace, and the Spirit which fulfils the law. So excellently do its ‘endeavour' and ‘desire' avail unto the fulfilling of the law.

But we shall hereafter shew more fully what a thunderbolt this passage of John is against "Freewill." Yet I am not a little astonished that passages which make so signally and so forcibly against "Free-will" are brought forward by the Diatribe in support of "Free-will;" whose stupidity is such, that it makes no distinction whatever between the promises, and the words of the law: for it most ridiculously sets up "Free-will" by the words of the law, and far more absurdly still confirms it by the words of the promise. But how this absurdity is, may be immediately solved, if it be but considered with what an unconcerned and contemptuous mind the Diatribe is here disputing: With whom, it matters not, whether grace stand or fall, whether "Free-will" lie prostrate or sit in state, if it can but, by words of vanity, serve the turn of tyrants, to the odium of the cause!

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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