The Liberty of the Will (Muller)

“The freedom or liberty of nature; viz., the liberty that is proper to a being given its particular nature.  No being, not even omnipotent God, can act contrary to its nature.  In man, this ‘libertas naturae’ can be distinguished into four distinct categories or states:

  1. The ‘libertas Adami,’ or freedom of Adam, before the fall – this is the ability or power not to sin, potentia non peccandi, and Adam and Eve are described, in the traditional Augustinian terminology, as ‘possse non peccare’, able not to sin.
  2. The ‘libertas peccatorum’, or freedom of sinners, a freedom that is proper to and confined within the limits of fallen nature and is therefore an absolute ‘impotentia bene agendi’, inability to do good or act for the good, with the sinner described as ‘non posse non peccare’, not able not to sin,
  3. The ‘libertas fidelium’, or freedom of the faithful, a freedom of those regenerated by the Holy Spirit that is proper to the regenerate nature and is characterized by the ‘potentia peccandi et bene agendi’, the ability to sin and to do good; the regenerate, because of grace, can be described as ‘posse peccare et non peccare’, able to sin and not to sin;
  4. The ‘libertas gloriae’, or liberty of glory, a freedom proper to the fully redeemed nature of the ‘beati’, who, as residents of the heavenly kingdom, as ‘in patria’, are now characterized by ‘impotentia peccare’, inability to sin, and as ‘non posse peccare’, unable to sin.

Richard Muller, Dictionary, p. 176.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54015

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Luther on the Term “Free Will”

If you know a few things about Martin Luther, you probably know that he wrote Bondage of the Will in response to Erasmus’ book about the freedom of the will (Discussion Concerning Free Will).  Luther argued from Scripture that man, since Adam’s fall, is born in sin, dead in sin, and in bondage to sin.  This means because his nature is corrupt and his will is sinful, an unregenerate person cannot obey and please God.  A bad tree brings forth bad fruit.  Luther did not like the term “free will” since it implies that fallen man is free to choose what is good and pleasing to God:

“This false idea of ‘free-will’ is a real threat to salvation, and a delusion fraught with the most perilous consequences.”

In other words, if man’s will even plays a little part in salvation, it robs God of glory and exalts man in a very unbiblical way.  Luther did make a minor concession, however.  He did say if we want to keep the term “free will,” we should use it differently than the semi-Pelagians or Pelagians use it:

“If we do not want to drop this term altogether – which would really be the safest and most Christian thing to do – we may still in good faith teach people to use it to credit man with ‘free-will’ in respect, not of what is above him, but of what is below him.  That is to say, man should realize that in regard to his money and possessions he has a right to use them, to do or to leave undone, according to his own ‘free-will’ – though that very ‘free-will’ is overruled by the free-will of God alone, according to his own pleasure.  However, with regard to God, and in all that bears on salvation or damnation, he has no ‘free-will’, but is a captive, prisoner and bondslave, either to the will of God, or to the will of Satan.”

Martin Luther, Bondage of the Will, p. 106-7.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI

Freedom of the Will? (Horton)

The Bible teaches that the human heart is deceitful above all things and that everyone who sins is a slave to sin (Jer. 17:9; John 8:34).  It teaches that apart from grace, a person is dead in sin (Eph. 2:1).  These texts and others like them are where Reformed theology gets the doctrines of total depravity and bondage of the will.  That is, apart from grace we are depraved in every part (extensively): heart, mind, body, and soul.  Apart from grace, it is impossible for a sinner to come to faith in Christ since he is dead in sin.  Yet every human still has a will and ability to choose to some extent. Michael Horton describes this topic well:

“Before the fall, humankind had the natural and moral ability to obey God with complete fidelity and freedom of will.  After the fall, we still have the natural but no longer the moral liberty to do so.  When it comes to our fallen condition, we all have the natural ability to think, will, feel, and do what we should.  None of our faculties have been lost.  We have all of the ‘equipment’ necessary for loving God and our neighbors.  Nevertheless, the fall has rendered us morally incapable of using these gifts in a way that could restore us to God’s favor.  I could choose to dedicate myself to becoming a marathon runner, but I cannot choose to dedicate myself to God apart from his grace.”

“Even in our rebellion, we are exercising the very faculties that God created good, yet we are employing them in a perverse way.  …The fall has not taken away our ability to will in the least, but only the moral ability to will that which is acceptable to God.  It’s not a question of whether we choose, but what we choose.  …If we are bound by sin, then it is not a natural ability that we have lost but a moral ability.  We can only choose sin and death – and we really do choose it (John 8:44) – until God liberates us from this bondage. …It is not that the will that is rendered inactive by sin, but that it is bound by sin until grace restores it in a one-sided, unilateral, and unassisted divine act.”

Michael Horton, For Calvinism, p. 45.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church
Hammond, WI

Something Left For Us To Do?

Product Details  If I had to choose one book (aside from Scripture of course) that helped me understand the gospel the most it would be Martin Luther’s The Bondage of the Will.  I read it back in September 2001 (in Wyoming, Michigan), and I can still remember parts of it quite clearly.  Here’s one of those parts.  I’ve shared it here before, but it is worth repeating.

“A man cannot be thoroughly humbled till he realizes that his salvation is utterly beyond his own powers, counsels, efforts, will and works, and depends absolutely on the will, counsel, pleasure and work of Another – God alone.  As long as he is persuaded that he can make even the smallest contribution to his salvation, he remains self-confident and does not utterly despair of himself, and so is not humbled before God; but plans out for himself (or at least hopes and longs for) a position, an occasion, a work, which shall bring him final salvation.  But he who is out of doubt that his destiny depends entirely on the will of God despairs of himself entirely, chooses nothing for himself, but waits for God to work in him; and such a man is very near to grace for his salvation.”

“So these truths are published for the sake of the elect, that they may be humbled and brought down to nothing, and so saved.  The rest of men resist this humiliation; indeed, they condemn the teaching of self-despair; they want a little something left they can do for themselves.  Secretly they continue proud, and enemies of the grace of God.  This, I repeat, is one reason – that those who fear God might in humility comprehend, claim and receive his gracious promise.”

Martin Luther, Bondage of the Will, II.vii.

rev shane lems
hammond, wi

Anabaptist Profiles Part II

Product Details In August, I did a sort of “Anabaptist profile” on Conrad Grebel, who hated the early 16th century Papacy and the Reformers equally – both were antichrists to many anabaptists like Grebel.  This “profile” is a brief on Balthasar Hubmaier, living at the same time as Grebel, Munzter, John Denck, and so forth, in the early 16th century.  These selections from Balthasar Hubmaier come from his 1527 treatise, On Free Will.

Hubmaier wrote that a person has flesh, a spirit, and a soul.  He said that each of these have a distinct will.  In Adam’s fall, Adam’s flesh fell, and Eve is a figure of the fleshly fall.  However, in Adam’s fall, his spirit “remained utterly upright and intact before, during, and after the fall, for it took part, neither by counsel nor by action, yea, it did not in any way consent to or approve of the eating of the forbidden fruit by the flesh.”  In other words, the spirit did not sin when Adam fell, but the flesh did.

Not only did Adam’s flesh fall, his soul did as well, Hubmaier notes: “The soul, the third part of man, through the disobedience of Adam was so maimed in will and wounded even unto death that it can of itself not even choose good or reject evil, for it has lost the knowledge of good and evil, and nothing is left to it but to sin and to die.”

What did Christ’s work then do for the flesh, spirit, and soul?  Well, the flesh is bad, the spirit is good, and the soul stands “between the spirit and the flesh” and needs help because its natural powers cannot do the good.  The Father sent Christ and the Holy Spirit to give freedom back to the soul.  “It  [the soul] can now freely and willingly be obedient to the spirit and can will and choose the good, just as well as though it were in paradise.”  Hubmaier then cites a few medieval proverbs to show that the soul is now free to obey: God says ‘Man, help thyself, and then I will help thee.’  “God created you without your aid, but he will not save you without your aid.”  “If I will [saith the soul], I can be saved, by the grace of God.”  God “wills and draws all men unto salvation.  Yet choice is still left to man, since God wants him without pressure, unconstrained, under no compulsion.”  

 Yikes!  This is part of the theological reason why the Reformers (Luther, Calvin, etc.) worked very hard to distinguish themselves from the Anabaptists (i.e. the Belgic Confession uses the terms, “We detest the error of the Anabaptists…”).  Of course, the Anabaptists returned the “love;” in fact, in the above mentioned treatise, Hubmaier said that the teaching of the bondage of the will is “rubbish” which “they” (read: Luther[ans]) “introduced into Christendom.”  Hubmaier, in this treatise, tries to “hew them (Luther[ans]) down with the sword of the divine word” by upholding the freedom of the will.  I don’t think it worked!

The above quotes were taken from Spiritual and Anabaptist Writers ed. George H. Williams and Angel M. Mergal (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1962), 114-135.  For more info on the Reformer’s responses to the Anabaptists, check out Luther’s Concerning Rebaptism, Letter to the Christians at Strassburg in Opposition to the Fanatic Spirit, and Against the Heavenly Prophets in the Matter of Images and Sacraments just to name a few.  Also see The Formula of Concord, Epitome – XII (“Other Factions and Sects”) as well as  Calvin’s Treatise Against the Anabaptists.

shane lems

sunnyside wa

Luther and ‘By the Law Comes Knowledge of Sin’

Martin Luther’s classic, De servo arbitrio (On The Enslaved Will; a.k.a. The Bondage of the Will) is – as many of you know – a response written to the great humanist scholar, Desiderius Erasmus’ (d. 1536) Diatribe seu collation de libero arbitrio (Discussion or Dialoge Concerning Free Will).

This is one of those “must read” books.  I know people say as much about every book that comes along, but in the words of Packer and Johnston (in the introduction), “To accept the principles which Martin Luther vindicates in The Bondage of the Will would certainly involve a mental and spiritual revolution for many Christians at the present time.  It would involve a radically different approach to preaching and the practice of evangelism, and to most other departments of theology and pastoral work as well.  God centered thinking is out of fashion today, and its recovery will involve something of a Copernican revolution in our outlook on many matters.” (p. 60).  The Bondage of the Will is that “Copernican revolution;” this is no overstatement.

Here is a splendid quote by Luther on the commandments of God: “…  The words of the law are spoken, not to assert the power of the will, but to eliminate the blindness of reason, so that it may see that its own light is nothing, and the power of the will is nothing. ‘By the law is knowledge of sin’, says Paul (Rom. 3.20).  He does not say: abolition, or avoidance, of sin.”

The entire design and power of the law is just to give knowledge, and that of nothing but sin; not to display or confer any power.  This knowledge is not power, nor does it bring power; but it teaches and displays that there is here no power, and great weakness.  What can ‘knowledge of sin’ be, but knowledge of our weakness and badness?  He does not say: ‘by the law comes knowledge of power or goodness’!  All that the law does, on Paul’s testimony, is to make sin known” (p. 158).

Note: you can read Luther’s Bondage of the Will here on Google.  Though I couldn’t find Erasmus’ Diatribe there, he does have other stuff on Google.

shane lems

sunnyside wa

Grammar and the Bondage of the Will

 

Here’s an instance where a small and sometimes difficult point of grammar can show the source of some doctrinal truths we (Reformed Christians) confess.  In this case, it is the bondage of the will prior to conversion/regeneration as shown from Titus 3.3 (see Canons of Dort III/IV.3).

In this verse, Paul uses an imperfect “being” verb (ESV “were”) plus four present participles (ESV “led astray,” “slaves to/serving,” “passing our days,” and “hating”).  In the Greek, an imperfect “being” verb plus a present participle equals the imperfect tense (technical jargon: a periphrastic participle).  That is, even though the participles are present, the imperfect being verb in this case renders the participles as imperfect.  In summary, the above four participles must be treated as imperfects (See Daniel Wallace, Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics [Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996], 647-8).

So what?  The imperfect tense in Greek is usually past time and displays the past as “a motion picture, portraying the action as it unfolds” (Ibid., 541).  The imperfect can be translated as “he began doing ____” (inceptive), or “from time to time he did ____” (iterative), or “he habitually did ____” (customary) or a few other ways.  I would submit that in Titus 3.3 Paul used the imperfect being verb plus the present participles to describe something that customarily, contiunally, or habitually happened. 

In other words, in Titus 3.3 Paul says, “You were habitually…wondering astray…slaves to various lusts and pleasures…living life in evil and envy… and hating one another.

Wallace agrees, though discussing a different verse; for Rom. 6.17 Wallace translates the imperfect being verb as, “you were continually slaves of sin” (Ibid., 548).

shane

sunnyside wa