RPM, Volume 13, Number 39, September 25 to October 1 2011

The Bondage of the Will

By Martin Luther


Section XC.

Sect. XC. — THE more immediate design of Moses then is, to announce, not so much the hardening of Pharaoh, as the veracity and mercy of God; that is, that the children of Israel might not distrust the promise of God, wherein He promised, that He would deliver them. (Ex. vi. 1). And since this was a matter of the greatest moment, He foretells them the difficulty, that they might not fall away from their faith; knowing, that all those things which were foretold must be accomplished in the order in which, He who had made the promise, had arranged them. As if He had said, I will deliver you, indeed, but you will with difficulty believe it; because, Pharaoh will so resist, and put off the deliverance. Nevertheless, believe ye; for the whole of his putting off shall, by My way of operation, only be the means of My working the more and greater miracles to your confirmation in faith, and to the display of My power; that henceforth, ye might the more steadily believe Me upon all other occasions.

In the same way does Christ also act, when, at the last supper, He promises His disciples a kingdom. He foretells them numberless difficulties, such as, His own death and their many tribulations; to the intent that, when it should come to pass, they might afterwards the more steadily believe.

And Moses by no means obscurely sets forth this meaning, where he saith, "But Pharaoh shall not send you away, that many wonders might be wrought in Egypt." And again, "For this purpose have I raised thee up, that I might shew in thee My power; that My name might be declared throughout all the earth." (Ex. ix. 16; Rom. ix. 17). Here, you see that Pharaoh was for this purpose hardened, that he might resist God and put off the redemption; in order that, there might be an occasion given for the working of signs, and for the display of the power of God, that He might be declared and believed on throughout all the earth. And what is this but shewing, that all these things were said and done to confirm faith, and to comfort the weak, that they might afterwards freely believe in God as true, faithful, powerful, and merciful? Just as though He had spoken to them in the kindest manner, as to little children, and had said, Be not terrified at the hardness of Pharaoh, for I work that very hardness Myself; and I, who deliver you, have it in My own hand. I will only use it, that I may thereby work many signs, and declare My Majesty, for the furtherance of your faith.

And this is the reason why Moses generally after each plague repeats, "And the heart of Pharaoh was hardened, so that he would not let the people go; as the Lord had spoken." (Ex. vii. 13, 22; viii. 15, 32; ix. 12, etc.). What is the intent of this, "as the Lord had spoken," but, that the Lord might appear true, who had foretold that he should be hardened? — Now, if there had been any vertibility or liberty of will in Pharaoh, which could turn either way, God could not with such certainty have foretold his hardening. But as He promised, who could neither be deceived nor lie, it of certainty and of necessity came to pass, that he was hardened: which could not have taken place, had not the hardening been totally apart from the power of man, and in the power of God alone, in the same manner as I said before; viz. from God being certain, that He should not omit the general operation of His Omnipotence in Pharaoh, or on Pharaoh's account; nay, that He could not omit it.

Moreover, God was equally certain, that the will of Pharaoh; being naturally evil and averse, could not consent to the word and work of God, which was contrary to it, and that, therefore, while the impetus of willing was preserved in Pharaoh by the Omnipotence of God, and while the hated word and work was continually set before his eyes without, nothing else could take place in Pharaoh, but offence and the hardening of his heart. For if God had then omitted the action of His Omnipotence in Pharaoh, when He set before him the word of Moses which he hated, and the will of Pharaoh might be supposed to have acted alone by its own power, then, perhaps, there might have been room for a discussion, which way it had power to turn. But now, since it was led on and carried away by its own willing, no violence was done to its will, because it was not forced against its will, but was carried along, by the natural operation of God, to will naturally just as it was by nature, that is, evil; and therefore, it could not but run against the word, and thus become hardened. Hence we see, that this passage makes most forcibly against "Freewill"; and in this way — God who promised could not lie, and if He could not lie, then Pharaoh could not but be hardened.

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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