My heart became hot within me. As I mused, the fire burned; then I spoke with my tongue: "O Lord, make me know my end and what is the measure of my days; let me know how fleeting I am!"

21 June 2005

Notes on Luther, 11

Bondage of the Will, Ch. 4, paragraphs 15-16, Ch. 5, paragraphs 1-2

15. But what about the promises? – Some might counter with, not just commandments, but many Scriptural promises based on someone’s actions. Not only is this common in Proverbs, but throughout the New Testament (merciful receiving mercy, etc.). Here again the answer is the same: even in the real world, consequence/reward doesn’t necessitate or even imply ability. This is not to deny that God fulfills those promises, of the merciful receiving mercy; but the real question is, “Why are the merciful merciful in the first place?” Answer: Because God made them merciful by the power of His Spirit. Thus, even rewards for goodness show forth the sovereignty of God in salvation.

16. But they’re mine! All mine! – Mt. 7:16, “You will recognize them by their fruits.” How does Luther deal with the possessive pronoun – if they’re my works, how can God take credit for it?? To say our works are ours doesn’t mean they originate with us. Our good works are ours in the same way a tree’s fruit is the tree’s, that is, by way of God’s sovereignty. Luther goes on to give this similar treatment to several New Testament passages speaking of our works.

John 1:12 says “But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God” – Erasmus uses this in support of free will, noting the power we have to become sons of God. Luther simply responds by reading the verse back: God gives the power to become sons of God…where here can one find free will? It is all of God.

Chapter 5 – “Review of Erasmus’ Treatment of Texts that Deny ‘Free-will’”

1. Erasmus’ battle-plan – Erasmus gathered to himself a “dreadful army” of passages that seem to speak of free-will, as well as gathering to himself the support of many church fathers who speak well of human ability to satisfy God’s justice. Then he addressed some passages that seem to deny free-will, such as God hardening Pharaoh’s heart (Ex. 9:12). Even though Paul already answered this in Romans 9, Luther agrees to put his pen to showing these and other passages to deny man’s ability to overthrow God’s sovereignty.

2. Figgers – Erasmus’ main tool in disposing of texts that seem to deny man’s free-will is to claim that, “Here we have a figure of speech.” You can already see that this tool can be brought out whenever one doesn’t like something Scripture reports about us. Luther responds with an incredibly important part of good hermeneutics (interpreting Scripture): “no ‘implication’ or ‘figure’ may be allowed to exist in any passage of Scripture unless such required by some obvious feature of the words and the absurdity of their plain sense, as offending against an article of faith.”

Translation: you can only say something's a “figure of speech” when its plain meaning would be crazy, going against the gospel. Scripture does use figures, but it’s always clear when it does. Remember this, grasshopper, it will serve you well.

We’ll see next time how Erasmus deals (poorly) with the texts in question.

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