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!"

27 August 2005

Notes on Luther, 13

Martin Luther - Bondage of the Will, Ch. 5, paragraphs 6-10

6. Remember Pharaoh? – Back to the question of God hardening Pharaoh’s heart – how? Luther says it goes like this: God worked on Pharaoh outwardly (signs, plagues, prophets), but not inwardly. This outward-only working always results in more hardness of heart; without the will of Pharaoh being changed, it can only react to God with rebellion.

Many have questioned why God doesn’t change every will – Here, we must bow before the ways and judgments of God, which are beyond finding out (Rom. 11:33). It is good to remember that God is not subject to doing what is right; rather, His actions are the very definition of what is right. Does this make it easier for us to understand? Not necessarily, but it does humble us before God.

Why did God harden Pharaoh? Luther gives a couple reasons. First, He meant to build faith in Israel by making them wait for His timing & salvation. Second, He meant to display His power and glory

7. On to Paul – Romans 9 is awful hard for those who want to hold on to truly free will. Erasmus did what many do, try to pass off that Paul isn’t talking about salvation here, but something else. But the plain sense of the text is that God predestines (which is the same thing as foreknows). For Erasmus and those who question the God who would harden hearts, Romans 9:20 holds a powerful rebuke: Who are you, O man, to answer back to God? In the end, this is the spiritual heart of the issue between Erasmus & Luther.

Here, then, is a matter of reverence, submission & humility. Will we deny God’s sovereignty when it comes uncomfortably close to assaulting our freedom? Will we rejoice in God’s sovereignty, even in salvation, when it means we must humble ourselves under His mighty right hand?

8. Sovereignty for Dummies – As some often do, Luther turns to human reason to prove that, even in this realm God’s sovereignty removes humanity’s absolutely-free will. Simply put, it just goes back to the question: is God God? If so, He must be sovereign. If He’s sovereign, He’s sovereign over salvation, too. If He’s sovereign over salvation, man’s will is something less than absolutely free.

It is understandable why people don’t like this part of the doctrine – but in the end, a passion for God’s glory should outweigh our sense of entitlement.

9. Back to Paul – Luther goes on to point out that the whole book of Romans is geared toward convincing us that we can do nothing, “not even when we seem to do well.” While this lack of ability would be depressing to some, for those convicted by the Spirit, it drives us to Christ, who could do what we couldn’t: Obey the law perfectly.

10. Well, what about Judas? – Judas could be another interesting case study. Was he infallibly bound to become a traitor? Erasmus actually said he was, but that he was able to change his will…to accomplish thinking like this requires philosophical gymnastics of the gold-medal variety. It centers around the idea of necessity and consequence. If something is necessary, is its consequence guaranteed?

Erasmus would like both of these to be true: (1) Judas can will not to betray; (2) Judas must necessarily will to betray. Not gonna happen…something has to give, either God’s sovereignty in planning Judas’ betrayal, or Judas’ sovereignty in being able to determine his future.

This is not to say that men don’t choose – Luther has said all along that we have wills and we choose accordingly. The question is not whether we have the freedom to choose, but whether we have the ability to choose right when our hearts love to choose wrong.

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