Predestination and Freewill: On the Bondage of the Will, Part II

This post is part of our ongoing series on Romans, Predestination, and Freewill.

Martin Luther

Martin Luther

In The Bondage of the Will, Luther also argues that if the potter and clay in Romans 9 do not refer to God and man in salvation, “Paul’s whole argument in defense of grace is meaningless. For the whole purpose of his epistle is to show that we can do nothing, even when we seem to be doing well, just as he says in the same chapter that Israel in pursuing righteousness did not attain to righteousness, while the Gentiles attained to it without pursuing it.”[1] In Luther’s interpretation, Paul “uses [the image of potter and clay] in his own spirit against free choice. But as for the idea that freedom of choice is not lost if we are as clay in God’s hands when he afflicts us, I do not see the point of it or why [Erasmus] contends for it, since there is no doubt that afflictions come upon us from God against our will, and put us under the necessity of bearing them willy-nilly, not is it in our power to avert them, although we are exhorted to bear them willingly.”[2] Luther equates free choice with the flesh, which he believes that “Paul in Romans 8 (:7) says cannot submit to God (as we shall see in that passage), and in which [Erasmus] says can will nothing good.”[3] Thus, whereas Erasmus understands Paul as a champion of free choice, Luther understands Paul’s doctrine of universal sinfulness to nullify free choice.[4] Continue reading

Predestination and Freewill: On the Bondage of the Will, Part I

This post is part of our ongoing series on Romans, Predestination, and Freewill.

On the Bondage of the WillWe now turn to Martin Luther’s response to Erasmus in his De Servo Arbitrio (Or On the Bondage of the Will).[1] In addition to responding, Luther also outlined his own fully developed soteriological theology concerning the roles of human will and God in salvation.[2] It should be noted that some ten years prior to writing Bondage of the Will, Luther had delivered lectures on Romans at the University of Wittenberg.[3] In these lectures, Luther summarized the materials of Romans 7 as, “The apostle [Paul] established the cessation of the old law, which is the law of death; and he is dealing here with the law of the tinder.”[4] Concerning Romans 9:16,[5] he wrote that “This is not to be understood in the sense that this is a matter only of God’s showing mercy, as if it were not necessary for a person to will or exert himself, but rather that the fact that a man does will or exert himself is not of his own power but of the mercy of God, who has given this power of willing and doing, without which man of himself can neither will nor make exertion…. For it does not follow from this text that the willing or the running of a man achieves nothing, but that it is not a matter of his own power. For the work of God is not nothing. But the willing and running of a man is the work of God.”[6] This view, while sounding much like the Erasmian perspective that we have already seen, represents Luther’s perspective on the human will in process, and as we will see in looking at the Bondage of the Will below, does not necessarily constitute Luther’s fully developed position on the will. Lohse summarizes the developed view in Bondage by writing that for Luther, “the finite human will cannot be free in relationship to the infinite will of God. Sometimes Luther came very close to the view that people have no freedom to choose even in matters that are subject to them and seemed to say that human actions even at this lowest level are directed by God. “[7] Continue reading