RPM, Volume 13, Number 15, April 10 to April 16, 2011

The Bondage of the Will

By Martin Luther


Section LXVI.

Sect. LXVI. — We now come to the NEW TESTAMENT, where again, are marshalled up in defence of that miserable bondage of "Free-will," an host of imperative sentences, together with all the auxiliaries of carnal reason, such as, conclusions, similitudes, &c., called in from all quarters. And if you ever saw represented in a picture, or imagined in a dream, a king of flies attended by his forces armed with lances and shields of straw or hay, drawn up in battle array against a real and complete army of veteran warriors — it is just thus, that the human dreams of the Diatribe are drawn up in battle array against the hosts of the words of God!

First of all, marches forth in front, that of Matt. xxiii. 37-39, as it were the Achilles of these flies, "O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, how often would I have gathered thy children together, and thou wouldest not." — "If all things be done from necessity (says the Diatribe) might not Jerusalem here have justly said in reply to the Lord, Why dost thou weary thyself with useless tears? If thou didst not will that we should kill the prophets, why didst thou send them? Why dost thou lay that to our charge, which, from will in thee, was done of necessity by us?" — thus the Diatribe. —

I answer: Granting in the mean time that this conclusion and proof of the Diatribe is good and true, what, I ask, is proved thereby? — that ‘probable opinion,' which affirms that "Freewill" cannot will good? Nay, the will is proved to be free, whole, and able to do all things which the prophets have spoken; and such a will the Diatribe never intended to prove. But let the Diatribe here reply to itself. If "Free-will" cannot will good, why is it laid to its charge, that it did not hear the prophets, whom, as they taught good, it could not hear by its own powers? Why does Christ in useless tears weep over those as though they could have willed that, which He certainly knew they could not will? Here, I say, let the Diatribe free Christ from the imputation of madness, according to its ‘probable opinion,' and then my opinion is immediately set free from that Achilles of the flies. Therefore, that passage of Matthew either forcibly proves "Free-will" altogether, or makes with equal force against the Diatribe itself, and strikes it prostrate with its own weapon!

But I here observe as I have observed before, that we are not to dispute concerning that SECRET WILL of the divine Majesty; and that, that human temerity, which, with incessant perverseness, is ever leaving those things that are necessary, and attacking and trying this point, is to be called off and driven back, that it employ not itself in prying into those secrets of Majesty which it is impossible to attain unto, seeing that, they dwell in that light which is inaccessible; as Paul witnesseth. (1 Tim. vi. 16.) But let the man acquaint himself with the God Incarnate, or, as Paul saith, with Jesus crucified, in whom are all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge — but hidden! for in Him, there is an abundance both of that which he ought to know, and of that which he ought not to know.

The God Incarnate, then, here speaks thus — "I WOULD and THOU WOULDST NOT!" The God Incarnate, — I say, was sent for this purpose — that He might desire, speak, do, suffer, and offer unto all, all things that are necessary unto salvation, although He should offend many, who, being either left or hardened by that secret will of Majesty, should not receive Him thus desiring, speaking, doing, and offering: as John i. 5, saith, "The light shineth in darkness, and the darkness comprehended it not." And again, "He came unto His own, and His own received Him not." (11.) It belongs also to this same God Incarnate, to weep, to lament, and to sigh over the perdition of the wicked, even while that will of Majesty, from purpose, leaves and reprobates some, that they might perish. Nor does it become us to inquire why He does so, but to revere that God who can do, and wills to do, such things.

Nor do I suppose that any one will cavillingly deny, that that will which here saith, "How often would I!" was displayed to the Jews, even before God became Incarnate; seeing that, they are accused of having slain the prophets, before Christ, and having thus resisted His will. For it is well known among Christians, that all things were done by the prophets in the name of Christ to come, who was promised that He should become Incarnate: so that, whatever has been offered unto men by the ministers of the word from the foundation of the world, may be rightly called, the Will of Christ.

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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