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The Bondage of the Will

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Acknowledged by theologians as one of the great masterpieces of the Reformation, Martin Luther's Bondage of the Will was also Luther's favorite work. Luther responds to Desiderius Erasmus' Diatribe on Free Will with the bluntness, genius, sarcasm, and spirituality that were as much a part of his writing as they were of his colorful personality. Luther writes lucidly on the themes of man's inability and God's ability, man's depravity and God's sovereignty. The crucial issue for Luther concerned what ability free ...
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Overview

Acknowledged by theologians as one of the great masterpieces of the Reformation, Martin Luther's Bondage of the Will was also Luther's favorite work. Luther responds to Desiderius Erasmus' Diatribe on Free Will with the bluntness, genius, sarcasm, and spirituality that were as much a part of his writing as they were of his colorful personality. Luther writes lucidly on the themes of man's inability and God's ability, man's depravity and God's sovereignty. The crucial issue for Luther concerned what ability free will has, and to what degree it is subject to God's sovereignty. Luther's doctrine of salvation pivoted on this key issue. Is man able to save himself, or is his salvation completely a work of divine grace? This work will long remain among the great theological classics of Christian history. Bondage of the Will was first published in 1525, eight years after Luther penned his Ninety-Five Theses.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781598562804
  • Publisher: Hendrickson Publishers, Incorporated
  • Publication date: 6/28/2008
  • Pages: 297
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 4.37 (d)

Meet the Author

J. I. Packer, considered one of the most influential Evangelicals in North America, is the Board of Governors' Professor of Theology at Regent College in Vancouver, British Columbia. His many books include Knowing God and Keep in Step with the Spirit.

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The Bondage of the Will


By Martin Luther

Hendrickson Publishers Marketing, LLC

Copyright © 2012 Hendrickson Publishers Marketing, LLC
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-59856-967-4



CHAPTER 1

Introduction


Martin Luther, to the venerable D. Erasmus of Rotterdam, wishing grace and peace in Christ.

That I have been so long answering your Diatribe on Free Will [De libero arbitrio Diatribe sive collatio (1524)], venerable Erasmus, has happened contrary to the expectation of all, and contrary to my own custom also. For hitherto, I have not only appeared to embrace willingly opportunities of this kind for writing, but even to seek them of my own accord. Someone may, perhaps, wonder at this new and unusual thing, this forbearance or fear, in Luther, who could not be roused up by so many boasting taunts, and letters of adversaries, congratulating Erasmus on his victory and singing to him the song of Triumph—What that Maccabee, that obstinate assertor, then, has at last found an antagonist a match for him, against whom he dares not open his mouth!

But so far from accusing them, I myself openly concede that to you, which I never did to anyone before—that you not only by far surpass me in the powers of eloquence, and in genius (which we all concede to you as your desert, and the more so, as I am but a barbarian and do all things barbarously), but that you have damped my spirit and impetus, and rendered me languid before the battle; and that by two means. First, by art, because, that is, you conduct this discussion with a most specious and uniform modesty, by which you have met and prevented me from being incensed against you. And next, because, on so great a subject, you say nothing but what has been said before: therefore, you say less about, and attribute more unto, "free will," than the Sophists have hitherto said and attributed (of which I shall speak more fully hereafter). So that it seems even superfluous to reply to these your arguments, which have been indeed often refuted by me; but trodden down, and trampled under foot, by the incontrovertible book of Philip Melancthon, Concerning Theological Questions, a book, in my judgment, worthy not only of being immortalized, but of being included in the ecclesiastical canon. In comparison of which, your book is, in my estimation, so mean and vile, that I greatly feel for you for having defiled your most beautiful and ingenious language with such vile trash; and I feel an indignation against the matter also, that such unworthy stuff should be borne about in ornaments of eloquence so rare; which is as if rubbish, or dung, should be carried in vessels of gold and silver. And this you yourself seem to have felt, who were so unwilling to undertake this work of writing; because your conscience told you, that you would of necessity have to try the point with all the powers of eloquence; and that, after all, you would not be able so to blind me by your coloring, but that I should, having torn off the deceptions of language, discover the real dregs beneath. For, although I am rude in speech, yet, by the grace of God, I am not rude in understanding. And, with Paul, I dare arrogate to myself understanding and with confidence derogate it from you; although I willingly, and deservedly, arrogate eloquence and genius to you, and derogate it from myself.

Wherefore, I thought thus—If there be any who have not drunk more deeply into, and more firmly held my doctrines, which are supported by such weighty Scriptures, than to be moved by these light and trivial arguments of Erasmus, though so highly ornamented, they are not worthy of being healed by my answer. Because, for such men, nothing could be spoken or written of enough, even though it should be in many thousands of volumes a thousands times repeated: for it is as if one should plow the seashore, and sow seed in the sand, or attempt to fill a cask, full of holes, with water. For, as to those who have drunk into the teaching of the Spirit in my books, to them, enough and an abundance has been administered, and they at once contemn your writings. But, as to those who read without the Spirit, it is no wonder if they be driven to and fro, like a reed, with every wind. To such, God would not have said enough, even if all his creatures should be converted into tongues. Therefore it would, perhaps, have been wisdom, to have left these offended at your book, along with those who glory in you and decree to you the triumph.

Hence, it was not from a multitude of engagements, nor from the difficulty of the undertaking, nor from the greatness of your eloquence, nor from a fear of yourself, but from mere irksomeness, indignation, and contempt, or (so to speak) from my judgment of your Diatribe, that my impetus to answer you was damped. Not to observe, in the meantime, that, being ever like yourself, you take the most diligent care to be on every occasion slippery and pliant of speech; and while you wish to appear to assert nothing, and yet, at the same time, to assert something, more cautious than Ulysses, you seem to be steering your course between Scylla and Charybdis. To meet men of such a sort, what, I would ask, can be brought forward or composed, unless anyone knew how to catch Proteus himself? But what I may be able to do in this matter, and what profit your art will be to you, I will, Christ cooperating with me, hereafter show.

This my reply to you, therefore, is not wholly without cause. My brethren in Christ press me to it, setting before me the expectation of all; seeing that the authority of Erasmus is not to be despised, and the truth of the Christian doctrine is endangered in the hearts of many. And indeed, I felt a persuasion in my own mind, that my silence would not be altogether right, and that I was deceived by the prudence or malice of the flesh, and not sufficiently mindful of my office, in which I am a debtor, both to the wise and to the unwise; and especially, since I was called to it by the entreaties of so many brethren.

For although our cause is such, that it requires more than the external teacher, and, beside him that plants and him that waters outwardly, has need of the Spirit of God to give the increase, and, as a living teacher, to teach us inwardly living things (all which I was led to consider); yet, since that Spirit is free, and blows, not where we will, but where He wills, it was needful to observe that rule of Paul, "Be instant in season, and out of season" (2 Tim. 4:2). For we know not at what hour the Lord comes. Be it, therefore, that those who have not yet felt the teaching of the Spirit in my writings, have been overthrown by that diatribe—perhaps their hour was not yet come.

And who knows but that God may even condescend to visit you, my friend Erasmus, by me His poor weak vessel; and that I may (which from my heart I desire of the Father of mercies through Jesus Christ our Lord) come unto you by this book in a happy hour, and gain over a dearest brother. For although you think and write wrong concerning free will, yet no small thanks are due unto you from me, in that you have rendered my own sentiments far more strongly confirmed, from my seeing the cause of free will handled by all the powers of such and so great talents, and so far from being bettered, left worse than it was before, which leaves an evident proof, that free will is a downright lie; and that, like the woman in the gospel, the more it is taken in hand by physicians, the worse it is made. Therefore, the greater thanks will be rendered to you by me, if you by me gain more information, as I have gained by you more confirmation. But each is the gift of God, and not the work of our own endeavors. Wherefore, prayer must be made unto God, that He would open the mouth in me, and the heart in you and in all; that He would be the Teacher in the midst of us, who may in us speak and hear.

But from you, my friend Erasmus, suffer me to obtain the grant of this request; that, as I in these matters bear with your ignorance, so you in return would bear with my want of eloquent utterance. God gives not all things to each; nor can we each do all things. Or, as Paul says, "there are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit" (1 Cor. 12:4). It remains, therefore, that these gifts render a mutual service; that the one, with his gift, sustain the burden and what is lacking in the other; so shall we fulfill the law of Christ (Gal. 6:2).

CHAPTER 2

Erasmus' Preface Reviewed


Section 1

First of all, I would just touch upon some of the heads of your Preface; in which, you somewhat disparage our cause and adorn your own. In the first place, I would notice your censuring in me, in all your former books, an obstinacy of assertion; and saying, in this book—"that you are so far from delighting in assertions, that you would rather at once go over to the sentiments of the skeptics, if the inviolable authority of the Holy Scriptures, and the decrees of the church, would permit you: to which authorities you willingly submit yourself in all things, whether you follow what they prescribe, or follow it not." These are the principles that please you.

I consider (as in courtesy bound), that these things are asserted by you from a benevolent mind, as being a lover of peace. But if anyone else had asserted them, I should, perhaps, have attacked him in my accustomed manner. But, however, I must not even allow you, though so very good in your intentions, to err in this opinion. For not to delight in assertions, is not the character of the Christian mind: no, he must delight in assertions, or he is not a Christian. But (that we may not be mistaken in terms) by assertion, I mean a constant adhering, affirming, confessing, defending, and invincibly persevering. Nor do I believe the term signifies anything else, either among the Latins, or as it is used by us at this day. And moreover, I speak concerning the asserting of those things, which are delivered to us from above in the Holy Scriptures. Were it not so, we should want neither Erasmus nor any other instructor to teach us, that, in things doubtful, useless, or unnecessary; assertions, contentions, and strivings, would be not only absurd, but impious: and Paul condemns such in more places than one. Nor do you, I believe, speak of these things, unless, as a ridiculous orator, you wish to take up one subject, and go on with another, as the Roman emperor did with his turbot; or, with the madness of a wicked writer, you wish to contend, that the article concerning free will is doubtful, or not necessary.

Be skeptics and academics far from us Christians; but be there with us assertors twofold more determined than the Stoics themselves. How often does the apostle Paul require that assurance of faith; that is, that most certain, and most firm assertion of conscience, calling it (Rom. 10:10), confession, "with the mouth confession is made unto salvation"? And Christ also says, "Whosoever confesseth Me before men, him will I confess before My Father" (Matt. 10:32). Peter commands us to "give a reason of the hope" that is in us (1 Pet. 3:15). But why should I dwell upon this; nothing is more known and more general among Christians than assertions. Take away assertions, and you take away Christianity. No, the Holy Spirit is given unto them from heaven, that He may glorify Christ, and confess Him even unto death; unless this be not to assert—to die for confession and assertion. In a word, the Spirit so asserts, that He comes upon the whole world and reproves them of sin (John 16:8), thus, as it were, provoking to battle. And Paul enjoins Timothy to reprove, and to be instant out of season (2 Tim. 4:2). But how ludicrous to me would be that reprover, who should neither really believe that himself, of which he reproved, nor constantly assert it! Why, I would send him to Anticyra, to be cured.

But I am the greatest fool, who thus loses words and time upon that, which is clearer than the sun. What Christian would bear that assertions should be contemned? This would be at once to deny all piety and religion together; or to assert that religion, piety, and every doctrine is nothing at all. Why, therefore, do you too say that you do not delight in assertions, and that you prefer such a mind to any other?

But you would have it understood that you have said nothing here concerning confessing Christ, and His doctrines. I receive the admonition. And, in courtesy to you, I give up my right and custom, and refrain from judging of your heart, reserving that for another time, or for others. In the meantime, I admonish you to correct your tongue, and your pen, and to refrain henceforth from using such expressions. For, how upright and honest soever your heart may be, your words, which are the index of the heart, are not so. For, if you think the matter of free will is not necessary to be known, nor at all concerned with Christ, you speak honestly, but think wickedly; but, if you think it is necessary, you speak wickedly, and think rightly. And if so, then there is no room for you to complain and exaggerate so much concerning useless assertions and contentions, for what have they to do with the nature of the cause?

CHAPTER 3

Erasmus' Skepticism


Section 2

But what will you say to these your declarations, when, be it remembered, they are not confined to free will only, but apply to all doctrines in general throughout the world—that, "if it were permitted you by the inviolable authority of the Sacred Writings and decrees of the church, you would go over to the sentiments of the Skeptics"?

What an all-changeable Proteus is there in these expressions, "inviolable authority" and "decrees of the church"! As though you could have so very great a reverence for the Scriptures and the church, when at the same time you signify, that you wish you had the liberty of being a Skeptic! What Christian would talk in this way? But if you say this in reference to useless and doubtful doctrines, what news is there in what you say? Who, in such things, would not wish for the liberty of the skeptical profession? No, what Christian is there who does not actually use this liberty freely, and condemn all those who are drawn away with, and captivated by every opinion? Unless you consider all Christians to be such (as the term is generally understood) whose doctrines are useless, and for which they quarrel like fools, and contend by assertions. But if you speak of necessary things, what declaration more impious can anyone make, than that he wishes for the liberty of asserting nothing in such matters? Whereas, the Christian will rather say this—I am so averse to the sentiments of the Skeptics, that wherever I am not hindered by the infirmity of the flesh, I will not only steadily adhere to the Sacred Writings everywhere, and in all parts of them, and assert them, but I wish also to be as certain as possible in things that are not necessary, and that lie without the Scripture; for what is more miserable than uncertainty.

What shall we say to these things also, where you add—"To which authorities I submit my opinion in all things; whether I follow what they enjoin, or follow it not."

What say you, Erasmus? Is it not enough that you submit your opinion to the Scriptures? Do you submit it to the decrees of the church also? What can the church decree, that is not decreed in the Scriptures? If it can, where then remains the liberty and power of judging those who make the decrees? As Paul (1 Cor. 14:29) teaches, "Let others judge." Are you not pleased that there should be anyone to judge the decrees of the church, which, nevertheless, Paul enjoins? What new kind of religion and humility is this, that, by our own example, you would take away from us the power of judging the decrees of men, and give it unto men without judgment? Where does the Scripture of God command us to do this?

Moreover, what Christian would so commit the injunctions of the Scripture and of the church to the winds—as to say, "whether I follow them, or follow them not?" You submit yourself, and yet care not at all whether you follow them or not. But let that Christian be anathema, who is not certain in, and does not follow, that which is enjoined him. For how will he believe that which he does not follow? Do you here, then, mean to say, that following is understanding a thing certainly, and not doubting of it at all in a skeptical manner? If you do, what is there in any creature which anyone can follow, if following be understanding, and seeing and knowing perfectly? And if this be the case, then it is impossible that anyone should, at the same time, follow some things, and not follow others: whereas, by following one certain thing, God, he follows all things; that is, in Him, whom whoso follows not, never follows any part of His creature.


(Continues...)

Excerpted from The Bondage of the Will by Martin Luther. Copyright © 2012 Hendrickson Publishers Marketing, LLC. Excerpted by permission of Hendrickson Publishers Marketing, LLC.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents

Publisher's Preface 1

Preface the Translator 9

1 Introduction 13

2 Erasmus' Preface Reviewed (Section 1) 17

3 Erasmus' Skepticism (Sections 2 - 6) 20

4 The Necessity of Knowing God and His Power (Sections 7 - 8) 29

5 The Sovereignty of God (Sections 9 - 27) 33

6 Exordium (Sections 28 - 40) 63

7 Discussion: First Part (Sections 41 - 75) 91

8 Discussion: Second Part (Sections 76 - 134) 146

9 Discussion: Third Part (Sections 135 - 166) 231

10 Conclusion (Sections 167 - 168) 278

Appendix 1 Martin Luther's Judgment of Erasmus of Rotterdam 281

Appendix 2 Martin Luther to Nicolas Armsdoff Concerning Erasmus of Rotterdam 283

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 19, 2003

    'Whoever sins is a slave to sin.'

    This book is being heralded as Martin Luther's defense of predestination. It foreshadows the brilliant work of Jonathan Edwards, 'Freedom of the Will,' which is also considered a defense of predestination---as are the works of other men such as John Calvin, who also wrote a similar treatise called 'On the Bondage and Liberation of the Will,' and we must not forget that centuries before any of them lived, Augustine taught predestination based on the Apostle Paul's writings. While the doctrine of predestination is set forth in all these discourses on the will, for Luther predestination, though important, had not yet moved to the center of his theology, as it did for Calvin and later Calvinists such as Jonathan Edwards. Luther did not flinch in setting forth Paul's doctrine of predestination, but that is not what this book is about. This book, like his Galatians commentary, is about salvation by grace through faith alone. It is his response to Erasmus' treatise on free will, which claimed that man had the ability in himself to respond to the Gospel (which smacked of Pelagianism to Luther), yet had to concede that this happened only with the assistance of God's grace, and only after regeneration in Christ. Luther forcefully demonstrates the inconsistencies in Erasmus' argument, showing that if humanity is hopelessly lost in sin, according to the biblical doctrine of original sin in Adam, then he has neither the ability, nor even the desire, to turn to God. Luther proves that God 'has mercy on whom he will have mercy' not according to any merit in the person whom he saves, or any action the person performs. The sovereignty of God in the salvation of men (as Edwards also expounded) is the subject of Luther in Bondage of the Will. With that proven, Luther demonstrates the futility of our attempts to please God in ourselves, and the necessity of believing in Christ for salvation, in accepting it as a gift from God. Luther was careful to teach that it was not man's place to inquire into God's hidden will, but to embrace the grace given and let it destroy Adam, the old self, before endeavoring to study predestination. It is not for 'babes' in Christ to drink this 'strong wine' (as Luther put it) but for the mature Christian who has made 'his calling and election sure.' For Luther, as for Augustine, God had not issued a decree from eternity of who would be saved and who would be damned, but was in mercy saving from the 'lump' of sinful humanity some (indeed, as Christ says, 'MANY'- Matt 20:28) to be transformed and conformed to the image of His Son, and indeed Christ's sacrifice was for the whole world, though only those who believe truly embrace the free gift. I am a living example of the damage that can be done if the doctrine of predestination is mishandled. I am also living proof that the human will truly is in bondage until the Son of God sets it free. 'Whoever sins is a slave to sin.' Luther's point is that sin is what we desire, it is in fact our very nature, and even the best in man 'falls short of the Glory of God' until we are re-created, or 'born anew.' In Christ we are new creatures created in the will of God, and this is our freedom from the bondage of our own will.

    4 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 11, 2002

    luther's magnum opus

    this is luther's greatest historical work in one of the world's greatest debates concerning free will and sin...erasmus was one of the brightest scholars in the history of christianity, but unfortunately he met a man with the thunderous authority of an old testament prophet....this is the doctrine, said luther, in which all else hinges... a christian classic that every one should own...

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted February 23, 2009

    The introduction makes this edition the best

    The best aspect of this excellent translation of the classic work of Luther, defining the central doctrines of the Reformation, is the introduction and its explanation of the fundamental theological issue the Reformers grappled with: is regeneration the monergistic work of God and his grace, or is it a synergistic work in which the action of the individual is key? The authors deal with this issue with fairness and balance, though they come down with Luther (and Paul) on the side of God's sovereignty and grace in the work of salvation.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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