Martin Luther: Bondage of the Will, part 4


In the diatribe, Erasmus raises yet another common logical/emotional objection to Calvinism’s view of the Sovereignty of God.  The objection is that if God rewards and punishes the deeds that men do, and if all men’s deeds were foreordained by God, then God ultimately punishes/rewards based on His own works in us, and not based on our own free merit.

Luther addresses this objection in his work on the Bondage of the Will, Packer/Johnston edition, Chapter 1, around page 97. Luther doesn’t waste any ink philosophizing on this issue. According to Luther, if God does reward us for good deeds that are only possible if He works them through us and if this is clearly revealed in His Word, who are we not to teach and believe it? [and to thank Him for it!]


For an example of what Luther is saying, consider, for example, the following from the Apostle Paul…

…work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure. (Phil 2:12-13)

Who is command to work out their own salvation? You are! How are you to do this? By your innate good nature and fleshly willpower? No! Remember, it is God who works in you! He not only works in you, but he changes the will (both to will and do).  And He works in you to accomplish the purpose that is according His own good pleasure – not yours!


Is it fair? Is it fair that God shows mercy to some? Is God just in His dealings? The Apostle Paul, the first Calvinist, addressed this very question in his letter to the Roman (of all people) Christians.

“Therefore hath he mercy on whom he will have mercy, and whom he will he hardeneth. Thou wilt say then unto me, Why doth he yet find fault? For who hath resisted his will? Nay but, O man, who art thou that repliest against God? Shall the thing formed say to him that formed it, Why hast thou made me thus? Hath not the potter power over the clay, of the same lump to make one vessel unto honour, and another unto dishonour? What if God, willing to shew his wrath, and to make his power known, endured with much longsuffering the vessels of wrath fitted to destruction” (Rom 9:18-22)


Luther goes on to explain that apart from the grace of God, everything men do is, of necessity, evil (2 Tim 2:25-26). Luther notes that our evil is of necessity – i.e., it is based on our nature. It is not of compulsion – God does not force us against our will; we gladly sin, willingly and voluntarily. The will cannot change itself, it is based on the nature – the nature must be changed in order to change the will! When God works in us to do good, it is not by compulsion, rather, He changes the nature.

Man’s Nature -> Man’s Pleasure -> Man’s Will


Based on Luther’s argument, then, man is responsible for all his own evil actions, but God alone is due all the praise for anything good found in man.


Oh flesh-lover, do not glory in your goodness, remember the words of the Apostle Paul:

For who maketh thee to differ from another? and what hast thou that thou didst not receive? now if thou didst receive it, why dost thou glory, as if thou hadst not received it? (1 Cor 4:7)

Tullian Tchividjian Reflects on Free Will

In the essay at the following link, Tullian Tchividjian reflects on Jonathan Edwards famous work, the freedom of the will.


Tchividjian sums Edwards:

We choose according to that which we desire most. The problem, however, as we noted earlier, is that because the fall was total and not partial, and as a result we are all dead in our trespasses and sins desiring only sin by nature, what seems to us to be right, proper, and good is wrong, improper, and bad. Sin has made us God-haters at the core of our souls so that we are all by nature at enmity with God. In order for us to do what God would have us to do, we need to be who God wants us to be. And in order for us to be who God wants us to be, we need new natures. And because we cannot change our own nature, no more than we can push a bus while we are riding in it, we are in need of the sovereign hand of grace to change it for us. We cannot do what pleases God because we will not do what pleases God. And the reason we will not is because we don’t want to.


Note: this excellent summary of Edwards theology of the will does not serve as an endorsement of the ministry of Tchividjian and his advocacy for contemporary worship.

Martin Luther: Bondage of the Will, part 2

The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it? (Jer 17:9)

One common objection to God’s Sovereignty as revealed in the Scriptures is that it makes man a robot. I’ve heard Christians describe Calvinist doctrine as the idea that God brings people to salvation against their will and damns other ‘good’ people against their ‘free’ will. This view makes God into an arbitrary tyrant and presents a view point contrary to life experience.

In the following quote, Dr. Luther helps dispel the careless slanderings of the ignorant and foolish regarding the will…

The will, whether it be God’s or man’s, does what it does, good or bad, under no compulsion, but just as it pleases…” [1:82]

The Protestant view of the will is not that the will is not ‘free’ to decide which things pleases itself most. We affirm that the will is ‘free’ to do exactly as it pleases. But what does the sinful nature desire to do? Yes, we affirm that the will does what it pleases AND we understand that the Bible teaches that the will of the natural man pleases to sin.

Man’s Nature -> Man’s Pleasure -> Man’s Will

For example, I am free to eat whatever I wish, but yet I would never eat a bag of sand for lunch. In fact, I would never desire to. Is my will truly ‘free’ if it only desires to do that which pleases me? Can anyone deny that man’s will is by nature inclined to sin?

To eat a bag of sand would be utter foolishness to me because it is contrary to my nature to digest sand. So what does the Bible say about the inclination of natural man’s heart?

For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God. …But we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumblingblock, and unto the Greeks foolishness; But unto them which are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of God. (1 Cor 1:18-29)

But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned. <1 Cor 2:14)

[1] The bondage of the will, Martin Luther, J.I. Packer, O.R. Johnston, Revell, 1990.

Martin Luther: Bondage of the Will, part 1

This summer I had the privilege of spending some time in the land of Luther and while I was there I wanted to read one of Luther’s works.  I had just finished his commentary on Galatians so I decided to take his masterpiece along with me – The Bondage of the Will.  I scratched a few notes in a notebook and on scraps of paper here and there and so from time to time I’d like to collect them all here.  I’ll write an intro and overview of the book later…


Some Preliminaries

Erasmus, like most Romanists today, makes harmony with Mother Rome and ‘peace’ with men to be more desired than propositional theological statements. Luther contends that Protestants must have precision in our religious beliefs:

1 Pet 3:15“be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear”

2 Tim 4:2“Preach the word; be instant [ready] in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all long suffering and doctrine.”


One of the primary battle grounds of the Reformation centered around the perspicuity of the Scriptures.  Luther could not make a Bible-based argument about the nature of man without first taking time to defend that the Word which God gave His church was meant to be understood.

Perspicuity – plain to the understanding especially because of clarity and precision of presentation.  (Merriam Webster Online Dictionary)

Erasmus asserts that the Scriptures are not plain, but Luther contends that although parts of Scripture are obscure, the great Mystery of Scripture – Christ – has been brought to plain light:

Rom 15:4 – “For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope.”

2 Tim 3:15-17 – “And that from a child thou hast known the holy scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works.

Erasmus appeals to Scripture in his testimony against the know-ability of Scripture. He quotes Scripture, for example, which attest to the unknow-ability of God, but Luther avers that these statements of Scripture refer to the unknow-ability of God Himself, not the unknow-ability of God as He has disclosed Himself in His Word.

1 Cor 2:12 – “Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the spirit which is of God; that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God.”

One might argue, if Scripture is so clear, why do so many struggle to understand?

2 Cor 4:3-4 – “But if our gospel be hid, it is hid to them that are lost:  4In whom the god of this world hath blinded the minds of them which believe not, lest the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine unto them.

According to Luther, there is a two-fold error with respect to perspicuity of Scripture:

  1. External – Some argue the Scriptures are not clear
  2. Internal – Lack of Spirit of God – blind eyes cannot see light

These are both answered by the Scriptures above (and others).


Christianity is not all ‘just do’.  We should consider before we ‘do’ (see Luke 14:28, etc).  If we, in our faith, are ignorant of God’s Word and works and power, we are ignorant of God; cannot worship Him, and are no Christian men at all.