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 the ‘Discussion: Second Part’ by reading sections 76 to 81.

My summary

Today Luther begins to examine two Scriptures which seem to be more prominent than the rest of Erasmus’ proof texts for free will.

The texts are
(i) Exodus 9:12 ‘The LORD hardened the heart of Pharaoh’;
(ii) Malachi 1:2-3 ‘Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated’.

Firstly Luther speaks about the importance of interpreting scripture rightly: ‘But let our sentiment rather be this: — that neither conclusion nor trope is to be admitted into the Scriptures, unless the evident strife of the particulars, or the absurdity of any particular as militating against an article of faith, require it: but, that the simple, pure, and natural meaning of the words is to be adhered to, which is according to the rules of grammar, and to that common use of speech which God has given unto men.’

Then Luther explains and refutes the view of Erasmus on Exodus 9:12: ‘..this passage of Moses, “I will harden the heart of Pharaoh,” is interpreted thus: — My long-suffering, by which I bear with the sinner, leads, indeed, others unto repentance, but it shall render Pharaoh more hardened in iniquity: — it is a pretty interpretation, but it is not proved that it ought to be so interpreted. But I am not content with what is said, I must have the proof. ‘

Luther also answers Erasmus’ assertion that: ‘As under the same sun, mud is hardened and wax melted; as by the same shower, the cultivated earth brings forth fruit, and the uncultivated earth thorns; so, by the same long-suffering of God, some are hardened and some converted.’

What grabbed me

Luther was right to point out that context demonstrates Pharaoh was not hardened because of God’s mercy:

‘BUT this is the most excellent statement of all — ‘that God is said to harden, when He indulges sinners by long-suffering; but to have mercy upon them, when He visits and afflicts, and thus, by severity, invites to repentance.’ —

What, I ask, did God leave undone in afflicting, punishing, and calling Pharaoh to repentance? Are there not, in His dealings with him, ten plagues recorded? If, therefore, your definition stand good, that shewing mercy, is punishing and calling the sinner immediately, God certainly had mercy upon Pharaoh! Why then does not God say, I will have mercy upon Pharaoh? Whereas He saith, “I will harden the heart of Pharaoh.” For, in the very act of having mercy upon him, that is, (as you say) afflicting and punishing him, He saith, “I will harden” him; that is, as you say, I will bear with him and do him good. What can be heard of more enormous! Where are now your tropes? Where are your Origens? Where are your Jeromes? Where are all your most approved doctors whom one poor creature, Luther, daringly contradicts? — But at this rate the flesh must unawares impel the man to talk, who trifles with the words of God, and believes not their solemn importance! ‘

Mercy isn’t punishment.

Next week’s reading

Continue the ‘Discussion: Second Part’ by reading sections 82 to 90.

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
  • TOG Book Club: Luther’s Bondage of the Will – Part 12
  • TOG Book Club: Luther’s Bondage of the Will – Part 13
  • TOG Book Club: Luther’s Bondage of the Will – Part 14
  • TOG Book Club: Luther’s Bondage of the Will – Part 15
  • TOG Book Club: Luther’s Bondage of the Will – Part 16
  • TOG Book Club: Luther’s Bondage of the Will – Part 17

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