Monday, December 17, 2018

Luther: All things whatever arise from, and depend on, the divine appointment; whereby it was foreordained who should receive the word of life, and who should disbelieve it; who should be delivered from their sins, and who should be hardened in them; and who should be justified and who should be condemned

I was asked about this Martin Luther quote:
All things whatever arise from, and depend on, the divine appointment; whereby it was foreordained who should receive the word of life, and who should disbelieve it; who should be delivered from their sins, and who should be hardened in them; and who should be justified and who should be condemned.
A quick search shows how popular this quote is. This is another instance in which you will not come across a lot of "Lutheran" web sites using this quote. It appears to be most popular with those involved in the debate over predestination. We'll see this isn't exactly what Luther said. Rather, his words have been augmented and placed in the context of  Calvinism.

Documentation
As far as I can tell, the popular source for this quote is Lorraine Boettner's book, The Reformed Doctrine of Predestination. Boettner states,
That Luther was as zealous for absolute predestination as was Calvin is shown in his commentary on Romans, where he wrote: "All things whatever arise from, and depend on, the divine appointment; whereby it was foreordained who should receive the word of life, and who should disbelieve it; who should be delivered from their sins, and who should be hardened in them; and who should be justified and who should be condemned." And Melanchthon, his close friend and fellow-laborer, says: "All things turn out according to divine predestination; not only the works we do outwardly, but even the thoughts we think inwardly"; and again, "There is no such thing as chance, or fortune; nor is there a readier way to gain the fear of God, and to put our whole trust in Him, than to be thoroughly versed in the doctrine of Predestination."
While Boettner's book does a fair job outlining the Reformed doctrine of predestination, his method of citing secondary sources is often less than adequate. For this quote, I suspect Boettner didn't actually utilize Luther's "commentary on Romans, " but rather took the quote from another secondary English source: Absolute Predestination by Jerome Zanchius (Girolamo Zanchi). Zanchius was a contemporary of Luther's (1516-1590).  This writer  is claimed to have stated,
Luther* observes that in Rom. ix., x. and xi. the apostle particularly insists on the doctrine of predestination, "Because," says he, "all things whatever arise from and depend upon the Divine appointment, whereby it was preordained who should receive the word of life and who should disbelieve it, who should be delivered from their sins and who should be hardened in them, who should be justified and who condemned."
*In Praefat, ad Epist. ad Rom.
This English rendering is exact to Boettner's, making it highly likely this was the  source Boettner used (this version certainly predates Boettner as this English text from 1769 demonstrates!).  The original text of Zanchi's was not written in English, but rather, written in Latin. Here's where it gets very complicated. There's debate as to which Latin source was utilized for the English rendering. The English translation was the work of Augustus Toplady. Toplady stated he did not exactly follow Zanchi word for word:
Excellent as Zanchy's original piece is, I yet have occasionally ventured both to retrench and to enlarge it, in the translations. to this liberty I was induced, by a desire of rendering it as complete a treatise on the subject as the allotted compass would allow. I have endeavoured rather to enter into the spirit of the admirable author; than with a scrupulous exactness to retail his very words. By which means the performance will prove, I humbly trust, the more satisfactory to the English reader ; and, for the learned one, he can at any time, if he pleases, by comparing the following version with the original Latin, both perceive wherein I have presumed to vary from it; and judge for himself whether my omissions, variations, and enlargements, are useful and just (link, p. 26-27).
This link outlines the severe problems with Toplady's translation, noting particularly,
The "Problem" with Absolute Predestination is that while it is by far Zanchi's most well known work, it was not technically written by him. It is, in fact, a translation and revised abridgment of a section of Zanchi's corpus completed by Augustus Toplady in the eighteenth century, which spawned a heated epistolary controversy with John Wesley.
I went through a number of Latin sources of Zanchi's writings, and could find no exact matching text to that Toplady attributes to him. The closest I found was this text:


While this snippet has some similarities to the purported English text produced by Toplady, it does not sit in the same context as the English. Note that Zanchi  refers to Luther's comments on Romans 9, 10, and 11, while Toplady has Zanchi referring to "In Praefat, ad Epist. ad Rom." Putting both of these togetherit appears Luther's Preface to Romans is being cited. I'm not sure which version Zanchi utilized.

The German text is found in WA DB 7:23.  The English text used below is found in   LW 35:377. 

Context
In chapters 9, 10, and 11 [of Romans Paul] teaches of God’s eternal predestination—out of which originally proceeds who shall believe or not, who can or cannot get rid of sin—in order that our salvation may be taken entirely out of our hands and put in the hand of God alone. And this too is utterly necessary. For we are so weak and uncertain that if it depended on us, not even a single person would be saved; the devil would surely overpower us all. But since God is dependable—his predestination cannot fail, and no one can withstand him—we still have hope in the face of sin.
Conclusion
Zanchi's Latin text follows the gist of Luther's comments, that in Romans 9-11 salvation is dependent on God's predestination, who will believe or not, who will be freed from sin, etc.  When Luther's words are compared to Toplady's rendering, notice Luther has a bit more Calvinistic "umph"; "All things whatever arise from, and depend on, the divine appointment," "who should receive the word of life," "who should be hardened in them," "who should be justified and who should be condemned."

It appears to me Toplady was translating Zanchi with Calvinistic zeal, thus rendering Luther's comments more "Reformed" than Lutheran. True, Luther believed in predestination, and there's really nothing in Toplady's rendering that would contradict Luther's overall theology. But, as I've studied Luther, predestination and election were expressed in a different way than those with a Reformed worldview. In his Preface to Romans, consider what Luther then goes to immediately say:
Here, now, for once we must put a stop to those wicked and high flying spirits who first apply their own reason to this matter. They begin at the top to search the abyss of divine predestination, and worry in vain about whether they are predestinated. They are bound to plunge to their own destruction, either through despair, or through throwing caution to the winds.
But you had better follow the order of this epistle. Worry first about Christ and the gospel, that you may recognize your sin and his grace. Then fight your sin, as the first eight chapters here have taught. Then, when you have reached the eighth chapter, and are under the cross and suffering, this will teach you correctly of predestination in chapters 9; 10, and 11, and how comforting it is. For in the absence of suffering and the cross and the perils of death, one cannot deal with predestination without harm and without secret anger against God. The old Adam must first die before he can tolerate this thing and drink the strong wine. Therefore beware that you do not drink wine while you are still a suckling. There is a limit, a time, and an age for every doctrine (LW 35:378).
For Luther it is the hidden God who predestines, but this God is not to be sought after or scrutinized. He is to be avoided. As a pastor, Luther was concerned about those who would be entangled by scrupulous introspection, something that plagued him. Therefore, discussions about predestination were best avoided. The emphasis was placed on the positive proclamations of the Gospel. He would advise his hearers to cling to the positive voice of Christ’s gospel. For Luther, discussions of predestination provide little comfort to the Christ’s sheep.

2 comments:

Bob Enyart said...

When you quote Luther criticizing those who "worry in vain about whether they are predestinated", this in no way distances Luther from Calvin and so does not make your point. Hard Calvinists make the same criticism, and those who are not would immediately answer the concern, that your standing before God depends only upon your willingness to accept His salvation.

James Swan said...

My comments were not a comparison between Luther and Calvin (though Boettner certainly does compare the two in the quote above). Rather, any comparison in my conclusion was between Luther and those with "Calvinistic zeal," which is not the same thing.

I do not recognize the categories of "hard Calvinism / soft Calvinism" or "extreme Calvinism / moderate Calvinism" (Geisler). That is, I do not accept these terms as meaningful theological delineations (they are typical of non-Reformed theologies, and tend to be defined however one wants). In theology proper, the historically used categories are Calvinism and hyper-Calvinism. So when you say, "Hard Calvinists make the same criticism," I do not know how you're defining the term. I suspect your particular theology may be defining typical "Calvinism" as "hard Calvinism." That sort of parsing debate doesn't interest me at all... I prefer to use theological terms how they're supposed to be used.

JS