The Bondage of the Will by Martin Luther, as translated by J. I. Packer and O. R. Johnston

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Universally recognized as the greatest piece of theological writing that ever came from Luther’s pen, The Bondage of the Will speaks to the heart issue of the Reformation, the free and sovereign grace of God (see p. 319). As the translators affirm, “The principle of sola fide is not rightly understood till it is seen as anchored in the broader principle of sola gratia” (p.59).

The thrust of Luther’s argument is that all men act according to their nature, they cannot do otherwise. The unregenerate does not do evil against his will, but voluntarily does so. It is his nature to do evil and he willingly sins because he cannot act contrary to his nature. He is therefore a slave to his evil nature, even as he believes he is free to choose (c.f. pp.102, 104,263,265). On the other hand, when God regenerates a person “the will is changed under the sweet influence of the Spirit of God.” [The result being that the regenerated will] “desires and acts, not of compulsion, but of its own desire and spontaneous inclination” (p.103). It is Luther’s contention that grace and free will are mortal enemies. They cannot co-exist. Either free will exists, or grace does; both cannot (c.f. p.308).

Luther uses every means at his disposal to prove that the will is in bondage to sin until the sinner is regenerated. It is hard to refute Luther’s logic and use of Scripture. If there is a weakness in the book it is that it was written in response to Erasmus’ attacks on his views on free will in Erasmus’ famous work the Diatribe. As a result, many of Luther’s arguments are directed to statements made by Erasmus and not toward the concept of free will itself. Since most, including myself, have not read the Diatribe this proves to be somewhat problematic.

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