RPM, Volume 15, Number 2, January 6 to January 12, 2013

The Bondage of the Will

Section CLVIII.

By Martin Luther

Sect. CLVIII. — Now let us hear an example of “Free-will.” — Nicodemus is a man in whom there is every thing that you can desire, which “Free-will” is able to do. For what does that man omit either of devoted effort, or endeavour? He confesses Christ to be true, and to have come from God; he declares His miracles; he comes by night to hear Him, and to converse with Him. Does he not appear to have sought after, by the power of “Free-will,” those things which pertain unto piety and salvation? But mark what shipwreck he makes. When he hears the true way of salvation by a new-birth to be taught by Christ, does he acknowledge it, or confess that he had ever sought after it? Nay, he revolts from it, and is confounded; so much so, that he does not only say he does not understand it, but heaves against it as impossible — “How (says he) can these things be?” (John iii. 9).

And no wonder: for who ever heard, that man must be born again unto salvation “of water and of the Spirit?” (5). Who ever thought, that the Son of God must be exalted, “that whosoever should believe in Him, should not perish, but have everlasting life?” (15). Did the greatest and most acute philosophers ever make mention of this? Did the princes of this world ever possess this knowledge? Did the “Free-will” of any man ever attain unto this, by endeavours? Does not Paul confess it to be “wisdom hidden in a mystery,” foretold indeed by the Prophets, but revealed by the Gospel? So that, it was secret and hidden from the world.

In a word: Ask experience: and the whole world, human reason itself, and in consequence, “Free-will” itself is compelled to confess, that it never knew Christ, nor heard of Him, before the Gospel came into the world. And if it did not know Him, much less could it seek after Him, search for Him, or endeavour to come unto Him. But Christ is “the way” of truth, life, and salvation. It must confess, therefore, whether it will or no, that, of its own powers, it neither knew nor could seek after those things which pertain unto the way of truth and salvation. And yet, contrary to this our own very confession and experience, like madmen we dispute in empty words, that there is in us that power remaining, which can both know and apply itself unto those things which pertain unto salvation! This is nothing more or less than saying, that Christ the Son of God was exalted for us, when no one could ever have known it or thought of it; but that, nevertheless, this very ignorance is not an ignorance, but a knowledge of Christ; that is, of those things which pertain unto salvation.

Do you not yet then see and palpably feel out, that the assertors of “Free-will” are plainly mad, while they call that knowledge, which they themselves confess to be ignorance? Is this not to “put darkness for light?” (Isaiah v. 20). But so it is, though God so powerfully stop the mouth of “Free-will” by its own confession and experience, yet even then, it cannot keep silence and give God the glory.

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