RPM, Volume 15, Number 8, February 17 to February 23, 2013

The Bondage of the Will

Section CLXIV.

By Martin Luther

Sect. CLXIV. — I OMIT to bring forward that truly Achillean Scripture of mine, which the Diatribe proudly passes by untouched — I mean, that which Paul teaches, Rom. vii. and Gal. v., that there is in the saints, and in the godly, so powerful a warfare between the spirit and the flesh, that they cannot do what they would. From this warfare I argue thus: — If the nature of man be so evil, even in those who are born again of the Spirit, that it does not only not endeavour after good, but is even averse to, and militates against good, how should it endeavour after good in those who are not born again of the Spirit, and who are still in the "old man," and serve under Satan? Nor does Paul there speak of the 'grosser affections' only, (by means of which, as a common scape-gap, the Diatribe is accustomed to get out of the way of all the Scriptures,) but he enumerates among the works of the flesh heresy, idolatry, contentions, divisions, &c.; which he describes as reigning in those most exalted faculties; that is, in the reason and the will. If therefore, flesh with these affections war against the Spirit in the saints, much more will it war against God in the ungodly, and in "Free-will." Hence, Rom. viii. 7, he calls it "enmity against God." — I should like, I say, to see this argument of mine overturned, and "Free-will" defended against it.

As to myself, I openly confess, that I should not wish "Free-will" to be granted me, even if it could be so, nor anything else to be left in my own hands, whereby I might endeavour something towards my own salvation. And that, not merely because in so many opposing dangers, and so many assaulting devils, I could not stand and hold it fast, (in which state no man could be saved, seeing that one devil is stronger than all men;) but because, even though there were no dangers, no conflicts, no devils, I should be compelled to labour under a continual uncertainty, and to beat the air only. Nor would my conscience, even if I should live and work to all eternity, ever come to a settled certainty, how much it ought to do in order to satisfy God. For whatever work should be done, there would still remain a scrupling, whether or not it pleased God, or whether He required any thing more; as is proved in the experience of all justiciaries, and as I myself learned to my bitter cost, through so many years of my own experience.

But now, since God has put my salvation out of the way of my will, and has taken it under His own, and has promised to save me, not according to my working or manner of life, but according to His own grace and mercy, I rest fully assured and persuaded that He is faithful, and will not lie, and moreover great and powerful, so that no devils, no adversities can destroy Him, or pluck me out of His hand. "No one (saith He) shall pluck them out of My hand, because My Father which gave them Me is greater than all." (John x. 27-28). Hence it is certain, that in this way, if all are not saved, yet some, yea, many shall be saved; whereas by the power of "Free-will," no one whatever could be saved, but all must perish together. And moreover, we are certain and persuaded, that in this way, we please God, not from the merit of our own works, but from the favour of His mercy promised unto us; and that, if we work less, or work badly, He does not impute it unto us, but, as a Father, pardons us and makes us better. — This is the glorying which all the saints have in their God!

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