RPM, Volume 13, Number 41, October 9 to October 15 2011

The Bondage of the Will

By Martin Luther


Section XCII.

Sect. XCII. — "THE question concerning the will and predestination of God, is somewhat difficult. For God wills those same things which He foreknows. And this is the substance of what Paul subjoins, "Who hath resisted His will," if He have mercy on whom He will, and harden whom He will? For if there were a king who could effect whatever he chose, and no one could resist him, he would be said to do whatsoever he willed. So the will of God, as it is the principal cause of all things which take place, seems to impose a necessity on our will." — Thus the Diatribe.

At last then I give thanks to God for a sound sentence in the Diatribe! Where now then is "Free-will"? — But again this slippery eel is twisted aside in a moment, saying, — "But Paul does not explain this point, he only rebukes the disputer; "Who art thou, O man, that repliest against God!" (Rom. ix. 20.) —

O notable evasion! Is this the way to handle the Holy Scriptures, thus to make a declaration upon ones own authority, and out of ones own brain, without a Scripture, without a miracle, nay, to corrupt the most clear words of God? What! does not Paul explain that point? What does he then? ‘He only rebukes the disputer,' says the Diatribe. And is not that rebuke the most complete explanation? For what was inquired into by that question concerning the will of God? Was it not this — whether or not it imposed a necessity on our will? Paul, then, answers that it is thus: — "He will have mercy on whom He will have mercy, and whom He will He hardeneth. It is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that sheweth mercy." (Rom. ix. 15-16, 18.). Moreover, not content with this explanation, he introduces those who murmur against this explanation in their defence of "Free-will," and prate that there is no merit allowed, that we are damned when the fault is not our own, and the like, and stops their murmuring and indignation: saying, "Thou wilt say then, Why doth He yet find fault? for who hath resisted His will?" (Rom. ix. 19.).

Do you not see that this is addressed to those, who, hearing that the will of God imposes necessity on us, say, "Why doth He yet find fault?" That is, Why does God thus insist, thus urge, thus exact, thus find fault? Why does He accuse, why does He reprove, as though we men could do what He requires if we would? He has no just cause for thus finding fault; let Him rather accuse His own will; let Him find fault with that; let Him press His requirement upon that; "For who hath resisted His will?" Who can obtain mercy if He wills not? Who can become softened if He wills to harden? It is not in our power to change His will, much less to resist it, where He wills us to be hardened; by that will, therefore, we are compelled to be hardened, whether we will or no.

If Paul had not explained this question, and had not stated to a certainty, that necessity is imposed on us by the prescience of God, what need was there for his introducing the murmurers and complainers saying, That His will cannot be resisted? For who would have murmured or been indignant, if he had not found necessity to be stated? Paul's words are not ambiguous where he speaks of resisting the will of God. Is there any thing ambiguous in what resisting is, or what His will is? Is it at all ambiguous concerning what he is speaking, when he speaks concerning the will of God? Let the myriads of the most approved doctors be blind; let them pretend, if they will, that the Scriptures are not quite clear, and that they tremble at a difficult question; we have words the most clear which plainly speak thus: "He will have mercy on whom He will have mercy, and whom He will He hardeneth:" and also, "Thou wilt say to me then, Why doth He yet complain, for who hath resisted His will?"

The question, therefore, is not difficult; nay, nothing can be more plain to common sense, than that this conclusion is certain, stable, and true: — if it be pre-established from the Scriptures, that God neither errs nor is deceived; then, whatever God foreknows, must, of necessity, take place. It would be a difficult question indeed, nay, an impossibility, I confess, if you should attempt to establish, both the prescience of God, and the "Free-Will" of man. For what could be more difficult, nay a greater impossibility, than to attempt to prove, that contradictions do not clash; or that a number may, at the same time, be both nine and ten? There is no difficulty on our side of the question, but it is sought for and introduced, just as ambiguity and obscurity are sought for and violently introduced into the Scriptures.

The apostle, therefore, restrains the impious who are offended at these most clear words, by letting them know, that the divine will is accomplished, by necessity in us; and by letting them know also, that it is defined to a certainty, that they have nothing of liberty or "Free-will" left, but that all things depend upon the will of God alone. But he restrains them in this way: — by commanding them to be silent, and to revere the majesty of the divine power and will, over which we have no control, but which has over us a full control to do whatever it will. And yet it does us no injury, seeing that it is not indebted to us, it never received any thing from us, it never promised us any thing but what itself pleased and willed.

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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