RPM, Volume 14, Number 26, June 24 to June 30, 2012

The Bondage of the Will


By   Martin Luther    



Section CXXX.


  Sect. CXXX. — THERE is also that of 1 Cor. xiii. 2. “If I have not charity I am nothing:” Why the Diatribe adduces this as an example I cannot see, unless it seeks only numbers and forces, or thinks that we have no arms at all, by which we can effectually wound it. For he who is without charity, is, truly and properly, ‘nothing’ before God. The same also we say of “Free-will.” Wherefore, this example also stands for us against the Diatribe. Or, can it be that the Diatribe does not yet know the argument ground upon which I am contending? — I am not speaking about the essence of nature, but the essence of grace (as they term it.) I know, that “Free-will” can by nature do something; it can eat, drink, beget, rule, &c. Nor need the Diatribe laugh at me as having prating frenzy enough to imply, when I press home so closely the term ‘nothing,’ that “Free-will” cannot even sin without Christ: whereas Luther, nevertheless says, ‘that “Free-will” can do nothing but sin’ — but so it pleases the wise Diatribe to play the fool in a matter so serious. For I say, that man without the grace of God, remains, nevertheless, under the general Omnipotence of an acting God, who moves and carries along all things, of necessity, in the course of His infallible motion; but that the man’s being thus carried along, is nothing; that is, avails nothing in the sight of God, nor is considered any thing else but sin. Thus in grace, he that is without love, is nothing. Why then does the Diatribe, when it confesses itself, that we are here speaking of evangelical fruits, as that which cannot be produced without Christ, turn aside immediately from the subject point, harp upon another string, and cavil about nothing but natural works and human fruits? Except it be to evince, that he who is devoid of the truth, is never consistent with himself.

So also that of John iii. 27, “A man can receive nothing except it were given him from above.”

John is here speaking of man, who is now a something, and denies that this man can receive any thing; that is, the Spirit with His gifts; for it is in reference to that he is speaking, not in reference to nature. For he did not want the Diatribe as an instructor to teach him, that man has already eyes nose, ears, mouth, hands, mind, will, reason, and all things that belong to man. — Unless the Diatribe believes, that the Baptist, when he made mention of man, was thinking of the ‘chaos’of Plato, the ‘vacuum’ of Leucippus, or the ‘infinity’ of Aristotle, or some other nothing, which, by a gift from heaven, should at last be made a something. — Is this producing examples out of the Scripture, thus to trifle designedly in a matter so important!

And to what purpose is all that profusion of words, where it teaches us, ‘that fire, the escape from evil, the endeavour after good, and other things are from heaven,’ as though there were any one who did not know, or who denied those things? We are now talking about grace, and, as the Diatribe itself said, concerning Christ and evangelical fruits; whereas, it is itself, making out its time in fabling about nature; thus dragging out the cause, and covering the witless reader with a cloud. In the mean time, it does not produce one single example as it professed to do, wherein ‘nothing,’ is to be understood as signifying some small degree. Nay, it openly exposes itself as neither understanding nor caring what Christ or grace is, nor how it is, that grace is one thing and nature another, when even the Sophists of the meanest rank know, and have continually taught this difference in their schools, in the most common way. Nor does it all the while see, that every one of its examples make for me, and against itself. For the word of the Baptist goes to establish this: — that man can receive nothing unless it be given him from above; and that, therefore, “Free-will” is nothing at all.

Thus it is, then, that my Achilles is conquered — the Diatribe puts weapons into his hand, by which it is itself dispatched, naked and weapon-less. And thus it is also that the Scriptures, by which that obstinate assertor Luther urges his cause, are, ‘by one word, brought to nothing.’    

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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