RPM, Volume 14, Number 37, September 9 to September 15, 2012

The Bondage of the Will


By   Martin Luther    


Section CXLI.


    Sect. CXLI.  BUT perhaps some one may, here sophistically observe though the will be gone out of the way, and the reason be ignorant, as to the perfection of the act, yet the will can make some attempt, and the reason can attain to some knowledge by its own powers; seeing that, we can attempt many things which we cannot perfect; and we are here speaking, of the existence of a power, not of the perfection of the act.   

I answer: The words of the Prophet comprehend both the act and the power. For his saying, man seeks not God, is the same as if he had said, man cannot seek God: which you may collect from this.  If there were a power or ability in man to will good, it could not be, but that, as the motion of the Divine Omnipotence could not suffer it to remain actionless, or to keep holiday, (as I before observed) it must be moved forth into act in some men, at least, in some one man or other, and must be made manifest so as to afford an example. But this is not the case. For God looks down from heaven, and does not see even one who seeks after Him, or attempts it. Wherefore it follows, that that power is nowhere to be found, which attempts, or wills to attempt, to seek after Him; and that all men are gone out of the way.  

Moreover if Paul be not understood to speak at the same time of impotency, his disputation will amount to nothing. For Paul's whole design is, to make grace necessary unto all men. Whereas, if they could make some sort of beginning themselves, grace would not be necessary. But now, since they cannot make that beginning, grace is necessary. Hence you see that Free-wills by this passage utterly abolished, and nothing meritorious or good whatever left in man: seeing that, he is declared to be unrighteous, ignorant of God, a contemner of God, averse to God, and unprofitable in the sight of God. And the words of the prophet are sufficiently forcible both in their own place, and in Paul who adduces them.  

Nor is it an inconsiderable assertion, when man is said to be ignorant of, and to despise God: for these are the fountain springs of all iniquities, the sink of all sins, and the hell of all evils. What evil is there not, where there are ignorance and contempt of God? In a word, the whole kingdom of Satan in men, could not be defined in fewer or more expressive words than by saying they are ignorant of and despise God! For there is unbelief, there is disobedience, there is sacrilege, there is blasphemy against God, there is cruelty and a want of mercy towards our neighbour, there is the love of self in all the things of God and man!  Here you have a description of the glory and power of Free-will!

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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