This article is part 9 of 11 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) – Conclude the ‘Discussion: First Part’.

My summary

Once again Luther looks at further passages which Erasmus cites in favour of free will, yet again are really about what one ‘ought’ to do, not what one ‘can’ do. The passages include:
(i) Deuteronomy 30:11-14;
(ii) Matthew 23:37-39;
(iii) Matthew 19:17.

Then Luther moves to a new argument of Erasmus, that free will must exist as God promises reward for those who do what he commands. Luther denies this saying that all these texts do is tell us what will happen to those who do certain works, not whether they can do the works. The texts examined by both Erasmus and Luther include:
(i) Matthew 5:12;
(ii) Romans 2:6-7;
(iii) Matthew 7:16, 20;
(iv) John 1:12;
(v) Romans 2:4.

What grabbed me

Luther made a strong argument against Erasmus when it came to the texts concerning rewards and punishments: ‘As to merit, or a proposed reward, what is it else but a certain promise? But that promise does not prove that we can do any thing; it proves nothing more than this: — if any one shall do this thing or that, he shall then have a reward. Whereas, our subject inquiry is, not what reward is to be given, or how it is to be given, but, whether or not we can do those things, for the doing of which the reward is to be given. This is the point to be settled and proved. Would not these be ridiculous conclusions? — The prize is set before all that run in the race: therefore, all can so run as to obtain. — If Cæsar shall conquer the Turks, he shall gain the kingdom of Syria: therefore, Cæsar can conquer, and does conquer the Turks. — If “Free-will” shall gain dominion over sin, it shall be holy before the Lord: therefore “Free-will’ is holy before the Lord. ‘

Just because there is a reward for doing something, that doesn’t mean you have the ability to earn the reward.

Next week’s reading

Commence the ‘Discussion: Second Part’ by reading sections 76 to 86.

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
  • TOG Book Club: Luther’s Bondage of the Will – Part 9
  • TOG Book Club: Luther’s Bondage of the Will – Part 10
  • TOG Book Club: Luther’s Bondage of the Will – Part 11

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