This article is part 7 of 8 in the series Book Club: Luther's Bondage of the Will

Required reading

The Bondage of the Will by Martin Luther, preferably the version translated by Henry Cole (Available from the Wandering Bookseller or free here) – Commence ‘Discussion: First Part’ by reading sections 41 to 52.

My summary

Today Luther begins to unpack Erasmus’ definition of free will which is: ‘Moreover I consider Free-will in this light: that it is a power in the human will, by which, a man may apply himself to those things which lead unto eternal salvation, or turn away from the same.’

However, Luther quickly shows that Erasmus does not even stick to his own definition and ends up with three definitions: ‘ OUT of the ONE opinion concerning “Free-will” you make THREE. You say — ‘that THE FIRST OPINION, of those who deny that man can will good without special grace, who deny that it can begin, who deny that it can make progress, perfect, &c., seems to you severe, though it may be VERY PROBABLE.’ And this you prove, as leaving to man the desire and the effort, but not leaving what is to be ascribed to his own power. ‘That THE SECOND OPINION of those who contend, that “Free-will” avails unto nothing but to sin, and that grace alone works good in us, &c. is more severe still.’ And THIRDLY ‘that the opinion of those who say that “Free-will” is an empty term, for that God works in us both good and evil, is most severe.’

Then Luther begins to examine Erasmus’ proof text from Ecclesiasticus: ‘God from the beginning made man, and left him in the hand of his own counsel. He gave him also His commandments, and His precepts: saying, If thou wilt keep My commandments, and wilt keep continually, the faith that pleaseth Me, they shall preserve thee. He hath set before thee fire and water; and upon which thou wilt, stretch forth thine hand. Before man is life and death, good and evil; and whichsoever pleaseth him, shall be given unto him.’

Luther’s interpretation of the passage is that ‘Ecclesiasticus does not make for “Freewill,” but directly against it: seeing that, it subjects man to the precepts and will of God, and takes from him his “Free-will.” ‘

What grabbed me

I was a bit surprised that Luther allows a discussion on the apocryphal book Ecclesiasticus: ‘Although I might justly refuse this book, yet, nevertheless, I receive it; lest I should, with loss of time, involve myself in a dispute concerning the books that are received into the canon of the Hebrews: which canon you do not a little reproach and deride, when you compare the Proverbs of Solomon, and the Love-song, (as, with a double-meaning sneer, you call it,) with the two books Esdras and Judith, the History of Susannah, of the Dragon, and the Book of Esther, though they have this last in their canon, and according to my judgment, it is much more worthy of being there, than any one of those that are considered not to be in the canon. ‘

As Luther felt Ecclesiasticus was on his side in the free-will debate there was no point arguing about the canon.

Not sure if that is a wise move in the long-term.

Next week’s reading

Commence ‘Discussion: First Part’ by reading sections 53 to 64.

Now it’s your turn

Please post your own notes and thoughts in the comments section below.


Posts in this Book Club Series:

  • TOG Book Club: Luther’s Bondage of the Will – Part 1
  • TOG Book Club: Luther’s Bondage of the Will – Part 2
  • TOG Book Club: Luther’s Bondage of the Will – Part 3
  • TOG Book Club: Luther’s Bondage of the Will – Part 4
  • TOG Book Club: Luther’s Bondage of the Will – Part 5
  • TOG Book Club: Luther’s Bondage of the Will – Part 6
  • TOG Book Club: Luther’s Bondage of the Will – Part 7
  • TOG Book Club: Luther’s Bondage of the Will – Part 8

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