RPM, Volume 13, Number 48, November 27 to December 3, 2011

The Bondage of the Will

By Martin Luther


Section XCIX.

Sect. XCIX. — LET him, then, be anathema who shall say, ‘that those things which are of no force in their own places are made to be of force in Paul.' This, however, is only said, it is not proved. And it is said by those, who understand neither Paul, nor the passages adduced by him, but are deceived by terms; that is, by their own impious interpretations of them. And if it be allowed that this passage, Gen. xxv. 21-23 is to be understood in a temporal sense (which is not the true sense) yet it is rightly and effectually adduced by Paul, when he proves from it, that it was not of the "merits" of Jacob and Esau, "but of Him that calleth," that it was said unto Rebecca, "the elder shall serve the younger." (Rom. ix. 11-16).

Paul is argumentatively considering, whether or not they attained unto that which was said of them, by the power or merits of "Free-will"; and he proves, that they did not; but that Jacob attained unto that, unto which Esau attained not, solely by the grace "of Him that calleth." And he proves that, by the incontrovertible words of the Scripture: that is, that they were "not yet born:" and also, that they had "done neither good nor evil." This proof contains the weighty sum of his whole subject point: and by the same proof, our subject point is settled also.

The Diatribe, however, having dissemblingly passed over all these particulars, with an excellent rhetorical fetch, does not here argue at all upon merit, (which, nevertheless, it undertook to do, and which this subject point of Paul requires), but cavils about temporal bondage, as though that were at all to the purpose; — but it is merely that it might not seem to be overthrown by the all-forcible words of Paul. For what had it, which it could yelp against Paul in support of "Free-will"? What did "Free-will" do for Jacob, or what did it do against Esau, when it was already determined, by the prescience and predestination of God, before either of them was born, what should be the portion of each; that is, that the one should serve, and the other rule? Thus the rewards were decreed, before the workmen wrought, or were born. It is to this that the Diatribe ought to have answered. Paul contends for this: — that neither had done either good or evil: and yet, that by the divine sentence, the one was decreed to be servant, the other lord. The question here, is not, whether that servitude pertained unto salvation, but from what merit it was imposed on him who had not deserved it. But it is wearisome to contend with these depraved attempts to pervert and evade the Scripture.

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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