An Introduction to The Bondage of the Will by Martin Luther

De Servo Arbitrio

(On the Bondage of the Will)

Abridged

1525

A.D.Martin Luther

The Significance of the Issue

It is not irreligious, wasteful, or superficial, but essentially healthy and necessary, for a Christian to know whether or not his will has anything to do in matters pertaining to salvation. Indeed, let me tell you, this is the hinge on which our discussion turns, the crucial issue between us; our aim is, simply, to investigate what ability “free will” has, in what respect it is the subject of divine action and how it stands related to the grace of God. If we know nothing of these things, we shall know nothing whatsoever of Christianity, and shall be in worse than the heathen! He who does not admit this should acknowledge that he is not a Christian; and he who ridicules or derides it should realize that he is the greatest enemy of Christianity. For if I am ignorant in the nature, extent and limits of what I can and must do in relationship to God, I shall be equally ignorant and uncertain of the nature, extent and limits of what God can and will do in me – though God, in fact, works everything in everyone. Now, if I am ignorant of the works and powers of God, I am ignorant of God himself; and if I do not know God, I cannot worship, praise, give thanks or serve Him, for I do not know how much I should attribute to myself and how much to Him. We need, therefore, to have in mind a clear-cut distinction between God’s power and ours, and God’s work and ours, if we would live a godly life.

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First published in 1525, Martin Luther’s Bondage of the Will is acknowledged by theologians as one of the great masterpieces of the Reformation. It is Luther response to Desiderius Erasmus’ Diatribe on Free Will, written in his direct and unique style, combining deep spirituality with humor. Luther writes powerfully about man’s depravity and God’s sovereignty. The crucial issue for Luther concerned what ability free will has, and to what degree it is subject to God’s sovereignty. For Luther, this key issue of free will is directly connected to God’s plan of salvation. Is man able to save himself, or is his salvation entirely a work of divine grace? This work is vital to understanding the primary doctrines of the Reformation and will long remain among the great theological classics of Christian history.If you have not read this great work, and if you are interested in the true nature of man’s natural will, the remainder of an abridged version can be found here. The complete work is available for audio download here.

4 responses to “An Introduction to The Bondage of the Will by Martin Luther

  1. That was really good. I liked the whole thing. But I really really liked this part from the link…

    “The comfort of knowing that salvation does not depend on “free-will”

    I frankly confess that, for myself, even if it could be, I should not want “free-will” to be given to me, nor anything to be justify in my own hands to enable me to endeavor after salvation; not merely because in face of so many dangers, and adversities, and assaults of devils, I could not stand my ground and hold fast my “free-will” (for one devil is stronger than all men, and on these terms no man could be saved); but because, even were there no dangers, adversities, or devils, I should still be forced to labor with no guarantee of success, and to beat my fists at the air. If I lived and worked to all eternity, my conscience would never reach comfortable certainty as to how much it must do to satisfy God. Whatever work I had done, there would still be a nagging doubt as to whether it pleases God, or whether He required something more. The experience of all who seek righteousness by works proves that; and I learned it well enough myself over a period of many years, to my own great hurt. But now that God has taken my salvation out the control of my own will , and put it under the control of His, and promised to save me, not according to my working or running, but according to His own grace and mercy, I have the comfortable certainty that He is faithful and will not lie to me, and that He is also great and powerful, so that no devils or opposition can break Him or pluck me from Him. “No one,” He says, “shall pluck them out of my hand, because my father which gave them me is greater than all” [John 10:28-29]. Thus it is that, if not all, yet some, indeed many, are saved; whereas, by the power of “free-will” none at all could be saved, but every one of us would perish. Furthermore, I have the comfortable certainty that I please God, not by reason of the merit of my works, but by reason of His merciful favor promised to me; so that, if I work too little, or badly, He does not impute it to me, but with fatherly compassion pardons me and makes me better. This is the glorying of all the saints in their God.

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    • I really liked that part also, and almost just posted it instead of the introduction. I’ll be listening to the entire work as soon as I have finished to The Confessions of Augustine. 🙂

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