RPM, Volume 14, Number 12, March 18 to March 24, 2012

The Bondage of the Will

By Martin Luther

Section CXV.

Sect. CXV.THE third passage is that in Isaiah xl. 2.She hath received at the Lord ¡s hand double for all her sins. Jerome (says the Diatribe) interprets this concerning the divine vengeance, not concerning His grace given in return for evil deeds.

I hear you, Jerome says so: therefore, it is true! I am disputing about Isaiah, who here speaks in the clearest words, and Jerome is cast in my teeth; a man, (to say no worse of him) of neither judgment nor application. Where now is that promise of ours, by which we agreed at the outset, that we would go according to the Scriptures, and not according to the commentaries of men? The whole of this chapter of Isaiah, according to the testimony of the evangelists, where they mention it as referring to John the Baptist, the voice of one crying, speaks of the remission of sins proclaimed by the Gospel. But we will allow Jerome, after his manner, to thrust in the blindness of the Jews for an historical sense, and his own trifling vanities for an allegory; and, turning all grammar upside down, we will understand this passage as speaking of vengeance, which speaks of the remission of sins. But, I pray you, what vengeance is fulfilled in the preaching of Christ? Let us, however, see how the words run in the Hebrew.

Comfort ye, comfort ye My people, (in the vocative) or, My people (in the objective) saith your God. He, I presume, who commands to comfort, is not executing vengeance! It then follows.

Speak ye to the heart of Jerusalem, and cry unto her (Isa. xl. 1-2).Speak ye to the heart is a Hebraism, and signifies to speak good things, sweet things, and alluring things. Thus, Shechem, Gen. xxxiv. 3, speaks to the heart of Dinah, whom he defiled: that is, when she was heavy-hearted, he comforted her with tender words, as our translator has rendered it. And what those good and sweet things are, which are commanded to be proclaimed to their comfort, the prophet explains directly afterwards: saying,

That her warfare is accomplished, her iniquity is pardoned; for she hath received of the Lord ¡s hand double for all her sins. Her warfare, (militia,) which our translators have rendered her evil, (malitia), is considered by the Jews, those audacious grammarians, to signify an appointed time. For thus they understand that passage Job vii. 1. Is there not an appointed time to man upon earth? that is, his time is determinately appointed. But I receive it simply, and according to grammatical propriety, as signifying warfare. Wherefore, you may understand Isaiah, as speaking with reference to the race and labour of the people under the law, who are, as it were, fighting on a platform. Hence Paul compares both the preachers and the hearers of the word to soldiers: as in the case of Timothy, 2 Tim. ii. 3, whom he commands to be a good soldier, and to fight the good fight. And, 1 Cor. ix. 24, he represents them as running in a race: and observes also, that no one is crowned except he strive lawfully. He equips the Ephesians and Thessalonians with arms, Ephes. vi. 10-18. And he glories, himself, that he had fought the good fight, 2 Tim. iv. 7.: with many like instances in other places. So also at 1 Samuel ii. 22, it is in the Hebrew, And the sons of Eli slept with the women who fought (militantibus) at the door of the tabernacle of the congregation: of whose fighting, Moses makes mention in Exodus. And hence it is, that the God of that people is called the Lord of Sabaoth: that is, the Lord of warfare and of armies.

Isaiah, therefore, is proclaiming, that the warfare of the people under the law, who are pressed down under the law as a burthen intolerable, as Peter saith, Acts xv. 7-10, is to be at an end; and that they being freed from the law, are to be translated into the new warfare of the Spirit. Moreover, this end of their most hard warfare, and this translation to the new and all-free warfare, is not given unto them on account of their merit, seeing that, they could not endure it; nay, it is rather given unto them on account of their demerit; for their warfare is ended, by their iniquities being freely forgiven them.

The words are not obscure or ambiguous here. He saith, that their warfare was ended, by their iniquities being forgiven them: manifestly signifying, that the soldiers under the law, did not fulfil the law, and could not fulfil it: and that they only carried on a warfare of sin, and were soldier-sinners. As though God had said, I am compelled to forgive them their sins, if I would have My law fulfilled by them; nay, I must take away My law entirely when I forgive them; for I see they cannot but sin, and the more so the more they fight; that is, the more they strive to fulfil the law by their own powers. For in the Hebrew, her iniquity is pardoned signifies, its being done in gratuitous good-will. And it is thus that the iniquity is pardoned; without any merit, nay, under all demerit; as is shewn in what follows, for she hath received at the Lord ¡s hand double for all her sins. That is, as I said before, not only the remission of sins, but an end of the warfare: which is nothing more or less than this: the law being taken out of the way, which is the strength of sin, and their sin being pardoned, which is the sting of death, they reign in a two-fold liberty by the victory of Jesus Christ: which is what Isaiah means when he says, from the hand of the Lord: for they do not obtain it by their own powers, or on account of their own merit, but they receive it from the conqueror and giver, Jesus Christ.

And that which is, according to the Hebrew, in all her sins, is, according to the Latin, for all her sins, or, on account of all her sins. As in Hosea xii. 12, Israel served in a wife: that is, for a wife. And so also in Psalm lix. 3, They lay in wait in my soul; that is, for my soul. Isaiah therefore is here pointing out to us those merits of ours, by which we imagine we are to obtain the two-fold liberty; that of the end of the law-warfare, and that of the pardon of sin; making it appear to us, that they were nothing but sins, nay, all sins.

Could I, therefore, suffer this most beautiful passage, which stands invincible against Free-will, to be thus bedaubed with Jewish filth cast upon it by Jerome and the Diatribe?God forbid! No! My Isaiah stands victor over Free-will; and clearly shews, that grace is given, not to merits or to the endeavours of Free-will, but to sins and demerits; and that Free-will with all its powers, can do nothing but carry on a warfare of sin; so that, the very law which it imagines to be given as a help, becomes intolerable to it, and makes it the greater sinner, the longer it is under its warfare.

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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