Wednesday, October 18, 2006

The Bondage of the Will and the Reformed Confessions


Question: My understanding (which may very well be incorrect) is that Luther's view of original sin is very much similiar to Calvin's T in his TULIP (total Depravity) Is this true, or could someone tell me the similarities and differences between the two?

The “Calvinistic” doctrine of Total Depravity can be stated as such:

1. God hath endued the will of man with that natural liberty, that it is neither forced, nor, by any absolute necessity of nature, determined to good, or evil.

2. Man, in his state of innocency, had freedom, and power to will and to do that which was good and well pleasing to God; but yet, mutably, so that he might fall from it.

3.Man, by his fall into a state of sin, hath wholly lost all ability of will to any spiritual good accompanying salvation: so as, a natural man, being altogether averse from that good, and dead in sin, is not able, by his own strength, to convert himself, or to prepare himself thereunto.

4. When God converts a sinner, and translates him into the state of grace, he freeth him from his natural bondage under sin; and, by his grace alone, enables him freely to will and to do that which is spiritually good; yet so, as that by reason of his remaining corruption, he doth not perfectly, nor only, will that which is good, but doth also will that which is evil.

5. The will of man is made perfectly and immutably free to good alone, in the state of glory only.

Source: Westminster Confession of Faith

One can see the confession what is meant by “Total Depravity”. Total Depravity means that humans are unable to do anything “good” in its ultimate sense. By "ultimate sense", I mean, a spiritually dead sinner is unable to perform an action motivated by the love of God. Hence, a spiritually dead sinner who is in bondage to sin cannot "choose Christ" without God first setting the sinner free from his bondage to sin. People though, are capable of doing “good” acts in a certain sense. The Canons of Dort say:

"There remain, however, in man since the fall, the glimmerings of natural understanding, whereby he retains some knowledge of God, of natural things, and of the difference between good and evil, and shows some regard for virtue and for good outward behavior. But so far is this understanding of nature from being sufficient to bring him to a saving knowledge of God and to true conversion that he is incapable of using it aright even in things natural and civil. Nay further, this understanding, such as it is, man in various ways renders wholly polluted, and hinders in unrighteousness, by doing which he becomes inexcusable before God."

Here are some quotes from Dr. Luther that I think agree with the above cited Reformed Confessions:

"Free-will is plainly a divine term, and can be applicable to none but the divine Majesty only: for He alone " doth, (as the Psalm sings) what He will in Heaven and earth." Whereas, if it be ascribed unto men, it is not more properly ascribed, than the divinity of God Himself would be ascribed unto them: which would be the greatest of all sacrilege. Wherefore, it becomes Theologians to refrain from the use of this term altogether, whenever they wish to speak of human ability, and leave it to be applied to God only. And moreover, to take this same term out of the mouths and speech of men; and thus to assert, as it were, for their God, that which belongs to His own sacred and holy Name. . . ."

"But, if we do not like to leave out this term altogether, (which would be most safe, and also most religious) we may, nevertheless, with a good conscience teach, that it be used so far as to allow man a " Free-will," not in respect of those which are above him, but in respect only of those things which are below him: that is, he may be allowed to know, that he has, as to his goods and possessions, the right of using, acting, and omitting, according to his " Freewill ; " although, at the same time, that same " Free-will " is overruled by the Free-will of God alone, just as He pleases: but that, God-ward, or in things which pertain unto salvation or damnation, he has no " Free-will," but is a captive, slave, and servant, either to the will of God, or to the will of Satan."

Source: Bondage of the Will, (Translated by Henry Cole) Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1931), 76-79.

A man void of the Spirit of God, does not evil against his will as by violence, or as if he were taken by the neck and forced to it, in the same way as a thief or cut-throat is dragged to punishment against his will; but he does it spontaneously, and with a desirous willingness. And this willingness and desire of doing evil he cannot, by his own power, leave off, restrain, or change; but it goes on still desiring and craving. And even if he should be compelled by force to do any thing outwardly to the contrary, yet the craving will within remains averse to, and rises in indignation against that which forces or resists it. But it would not rise in indignation, if it were changed, and made willing to yield to a constraining power. This is what we mean by the necessity of immutability: — that the will cannot change itself, nor give itself another bent; but rather the more it is resisted, the more it is irritated to crave; as is manifest from its indignation. This would not be the case if it were free, or had a " Free-will." Ask experience, how hardened against all persuasion they are, whose inclinations are fixed upon any one thing. For if they yield at all they yield through force, or through something attended with greater advantage; they never yield willingly. And if their inclinations be not thus fixed, they let all things pass and go on just as they will.

But again, on the other hand, when God works in us, the will, being changed and sweetly breathed on by the Spirit of God, desires and acts, not from compulsion, but responsively, from pure willingness, inclination, and accord; so that it cannot be turned another way by any thing contrary, nor be compelled or overcome even by the gates of hell; but it still goes on to desire, crave after, and love that which is good; even as before, it desired, craved after, and loved that which was evil. This, again, experience proves. How invincible and unshaken are holy men, when, by violence and other oppressions, they are only compelled and irritated the more to crave after good! Even as fire, is rather fanned into flames than extinguished, by the wind. So that neither is there here any willingness, or " Free-will," to turn itself into another direction, or to desire any thing else, while the influence of the Spirit and grace of God remain in the man.

In a word, if we be under the god of this world, without the operation and Spirit of God, we are led captives by him at his will, as Paul saith. (2 Tim. ii. 26.) So that, we cannot will any thing but that which he wills. For he is that " strong man armed," who so keepeth his palace, that those whom he holds captive are kept in peace, that they might not cause any motion or feeling against him; otherwise, the kingdom of Satan, being divided against itself, could not stand; whereas, Christ affirms it does stand. And all this we do willingly and desiringly, according to the nature of will: for if it were forced, it would be no longer will. For compulsion is (so to speak) unwillingness. But if the " stronger than he "come and overcome him, and take us as His spoils, then, through the Spirit, we are His servants and captives (which is the royal liberty) that we may desire and do, willingly, what He wills
.

Thus the human will is, as it were, a beast between the two. If God sit thereon, it wills and goes where God will: as the Psalm saith, " I am become as it were a beast before thee, and I am continually with thee." (Ps. lxxiii. 22-23.) If Satan sit thereon, it wills and goes as Satan will. Nor is it in the power of its own will to choose, to which rider it will run, nor which it will seek; but the riders themselves contend, which shall have and hold it.

Source: Bondage of the Will, pp. 72-74.

"Paul says, in II Timothy ii, " Instruct those that oppose the truth; peradventure God will give them repentance, that they acknowledge the truth, and return from the snares of the devil, by whom they are taken captive at his will." Where is the free will here when the captive is of the devil, not indeed unable to do anything, but able to do only what the devil wills? Is that freedom, to be captive at the devil's will, so that there is no help unless God grant repentance and improvement? So also says John viii, When the Jews said they were free, Christ said, " Verily I say unto you, all they who sin are servants or possessions of sin; if the son make you free, ye shall be free indeed." So St. Augustine changes the term " free will," in his work Against Julian, book ii, and calls it servum arbitrium, " a will in bondage."

Source: "An Argument in Defense of All the Articles of Dr. Martin Luther Wrongly Condemned in the Roman Bull," Works of Martin Luther, Vol. III, pp. 108. (Philadelphia 6 volume set)

"This is my absolute opinion: he that will maintain that man's free-will is able to do or work anything in spiritual cases be they never so small, denies Christ. This I have always maintained in my writings, especially in those against Erasmus, one of the learnedest men in the whole world, and thereby will I remain, for I know it to be the truth, though all the world should be against it; yea, the decree of Divine Majesty must stand fast against the gates of hell."

Source: Table-Talk, #CCLXII (Hazlitt edition).

"I wish that the word " free will " had never been invented. It is not in the Scriptures, and it were better to call it " self-will," which profiteth not. Or, if anyone wishes to retain it, he ought to apply it to the new-created man, so as to understand by it the man who is without sin. He is assuredly free, as was Adam in Paradise, and it is of him that the Scriptures speak when they touch upon our freedom ; but they who lie in sins are unfree and prisoners of the devil; yet because they can become free through grace, you can call them men of free will, just as you might call a man rich, although he is a beggar, because he can become rich. But it is neither right nor good thus to juggle with words in matters of such great seriousness."

Source: " An Argument in Defense of All the Articles of Dr. Martin Luther Wrongly Condemned in the Roman Bull," Works of Martin Luther, Vol. III, pp. 110 f.

"Dear Christians, one and all rejoice, With exultation springing, And with united heart and voice. And holy rapture singing, Proclaim the wonders God hath done, How his right arm the victory won; Right dearly it hath cost him. Fast bound in Satan's chains I lay, Death brooded darkly o'er me; Sin was my torment night and day, Therein my mother bore me, Deeper and deeper still I fell, Life was become a living hell, So firmly sin possessed me. My good works could avail me naught, For they with sin were stained; Free-will against God's judgment fought, And dead to good remained.Grief drove me to despair, and I Had nothing left me but to die, To hell I fast was sinking. God saw, in his eternal grace, My sorrow out of measure; He thought upon his tenderness — To save was his good pleasure. He turned to me a Father's heart — Not small the cost — to heal my smart. He gave his best and dearest. He spake to his beloved Son: 'Tis time to take compassion; Then go, bright jewel of my crown, And bring to man salvation; From sin and sorrow set him free, Slay bitter death for him, that he May live with thee forever."

Source: Luther's Hymns (Phildadelphia, 1917), p. 75.

As far as I can understand Luther and the Reformed Confessions, both seem to be saying the same thing about “Total Depravity.” I will not argue that Luther was a “Calvinist”. He was not, but both had the same concept of the bondage of the will.

1 comment:

FM483 said...

James,

Regarding the Total Depravity of natural man, both Calvinists and Lutherans do agree. Most other denominations falsely believe there is a spark of goodness within each person, a “prevenient geace”, by which natural man can seek God and abide in Him. This viewpoint is contrary to Scripture, however(e.g. 1Cor 2:14). As Martin Luther said in his treatise “The Bondage of the Will”, unbelievers cannot understand spiritual matters and without faith in Christ nothing a man does is pleasing to God(Hebrews 11:6). In it’s doctrine of the Two Kingdoms, Lutheranism clearly expounds the Scriptural viewpoint. In “matters below” or the “Left-Hand kingdom”, the earthly realm, the world, all men, including unbelievers, can do good works. Man is able to perform outwardly righteous acts toward his neighbor, thus benefiting society and even possibly resulting in rewards in the temporal realm. As St Paul mentions in Romans 2, every man has the Law of God written on his conscience and thus everyone knows basic right from wrong. This knowledge has formed the basis for all human governments since creation – all nations are based upon Law in one form or another. They are similar in this respect. On other hand, in the “Right-Hand kingdom”, the kingdom of God, unbelievers can never do any good work since they lack faith in the Son of God. In this realm only believers in Christ can actively seek God and abide in Christ through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.

In view of the doctrine of the Two Kingdoms, the reason Pharoah was hardened by God was because after repeated attempts by God, Pharoah continued to remain in his unrepentant state so that, as Paul mentioned in Romans chapter 1, God finally gave him over to the desires of his evil heart. The worst thing that could happen to any person is that God gives him what his sinful heart desires! Pharoah was an unbeliever and as such it was impossible for him to do anything except sin. That is the natural state of every human being. Outwardly, many men may appear “good” based upon their external actions, but God always judges the motives of men -–and unbelievers are incapable of doing anything with a pure motive since only God is good and the Holy Spirit is necessary for true fruit pleasing to God.

Frank Marron