What Would Martin Luther Say to “Free Will”?
Those who promote the free will of natural man will often, in their defense, offer up various passages from Scripture which declare to man what he MUST DO to be saved. The following is how Luther responded to such arguments:
“If thou art willing’ is a verb in the subjunctive mood, which asserts nothing…a conditional statement which asserts nothing indicatively.” “if thou art willing”, “if thou hear”, “if thou do” declare, not man’s ability, but his duty. The commandments are not given inappropriately or pointlessly; but in order that through them the proud, blind man may learn the plague of his impotence, should he try to do as he is commanded.
How is it that as soon as you get hold of a single imperative verb you infer an indicative meaning, as though the moment a thing is commanded it is done, or can be done? Does it follow from: ‘turn ye’ that therefore you can turn? Does it follow from “‘Love the Lord thy God with all thy heart’ (Deut 6.5) that therefore you can love with all your heart? What do arguments of this kind prove, but the ‘free-will’ does not need the grace of God, but can do all things by its own power. By the law is the knowledge of sin’ [Rom 3:20], so the word of grace comes only to those who are distressed by a sense of sin and tempted to despair. Imperative or hypothetical passages, or wishes of Jesus, by which is signified, not what we can do, or do do…but what we OUGHT TO DO, and what is required of us, so that our impotence may be made known to us and the knowledge of sin may be given to us.
As to why some are touched by the law and others not, so that some receive and others scorn the offer of grace…this is the hidden will of God, Who, according to His own counsel, ordains such persons as He wills to receive and partake of the mercy preached and offered … If man has lost his freedom, and is forced to serve sin, and cannot will good, what conclusion can more justly be drawn concerning him, than that he sins and wills evil necessarily?
…If any man doth ascribe of salvation, even the very least, to the free will of man, he knoweth nothing of grace, and he hath not learnt Jesus Christ aright!”
[From Luther’s De Servo Arbitrio or ‘The Bondage of the Will’]