THE BONDAGE OF THE WILL

 

THE BONDAGE OF THE WILL
by Martin Luther,
Translated by J.I. Packer & O.R. Johnston
Published 1997 by Fleming H. Revell, a division of Baker Book House Company
This book can be purchased at
www.bakerbooks.com or www.amazon.com

Book Review by Richard Engstrom, circa 1998


“If I profess with the loudest voice and clearest exposition every part of the truth of God except precisely that little point which the world and the devil are at the moment attacking, then I am not confessing Christ, however boldly I may be professing Him. Where the battle rages, there the loyalty of the soldier is proved; and to be steady on all battlefields besides is merely flight and disgrace if he flinches at that point.” – Martin Luther

BONDAGE OF THE WILL is about contending for the Faith once delivered unto the saints; it is about Spiritual warfare. NO! Not the kind of spiritual warfare like RECONCILIATION WALKS or national days of prayer and intercession. Those things are nothing more than religious hobby-craft carried out by the self-important purveyors of popular religion.

The kind of Spiritual warfare that we are talking about here is the kind where a man, simply and only because of his faith in God; simply and only because of what the Bible says: takes his life in his teeth and goes to war against everything and everyone around him that contradicts his Faith. If this means the loss of family affections: SO BE IT! If it means the loss of career and respect: I’LL COPE WITH IT! If it means ending up alone, rejected, misunderstood and hated by the men who once upon a time plied you with flatteries: REJOICE, AND BE EXCEEDING GLAD, FOR SO PERSECUTED THEY THE PROPHETS WHICH WERE BEFORE YOU!

The impact of Luther’s words and actions upon the history of our Faith is a well-known fact. Within months of nailing up his Ninety-five Sentences on the Church door in Wittenburg, conflicts had broken out throughout all Europe. Men in all stations of life took sides in the conflict and what was hoped would be a Reformation of the Roman Catholic Church turned instead to the disintegration of the Holy Roman Empire, as masses of people defected from the errors of Romanism. The axe laid to the root was THIS BOOK, in which Luther came against THE foremost scholar in Christendom: Erasmus of Rotterdam, the man who was responsible for the Textus Receptus, the text of our New Testament in the KJV, a tremendously valuable work that we all appreciate even to this day.

In this book, Luther utterly refutes Erasmus’s Diatribe on Free Will, which was the key and significant controversy of the moment. We will not know until the Judgement seat of Christ just how many Christians, from that time to the present, have been edified, encouraged, and instructed in sound doctrine by this book, but I am one of them. Luther’s Spiritual warfare against the foes of our Faith was successful because his warfare was REAL and consistent with the Spiritual warfare of our Lord. When He was tempted by the Devil, Jesus would not turn stones into bread, and neither did Luther serve mammon by keeping silent for want of a paycheck. Jesus would not bow down, and neither did Luther kow-tow to the enemies of the Gospel in his day, no matter who they were. So it is today, that those who are engaged in the fight of faith, are warring against real Lies and real enemies: We are Casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ, in the knowledge that we shall be vindicated. God WILL revenge all disobedience, when [our]obedience is fulfilled.

The controversy in particular between Erasmus and Luther was the issue of the Sovereignty of God versus the “free-will” of man IN RESPECT TO SALVATION, but in this review I am not going to reiterate those arguments all over again: those who continue to preach the false doctrine of ‘free-will’ (in respect to salvation), but who have never been able to refute Luther’s evidence and who only pretend that this question has never been settled once and for all – are doubly guilty, and Liars every one. Instead, I will focus on the matters that are particularly relevant today. The writer of the Historical and Theological Introduction to this book introduces some of these pertinent issues:

“Has not Protestantism today become more Erasmian than Lutheran? Do we not too often try to minimize and gloss over doctrinal differences for the sake of inter-party peace? Do we still believe that doctrine matters? Or do we now, with Erasmus, rate a deceptive appearance of unity as of more importance than truth?”

UNITY!

Erasmus’s first mewing complaint was against Luther’s assertiveness. In the soft tones of a diplomat he begs Luther to have the reasonableness to consider that such dogmatism tends to be unnecessarily divisive. Oh, how reasonable this all sounds – just like the complaint we hear so often, “WHY CAN’T WE ALL JUST GET ALONG? WE ALL BELIEVE IN JESUS, DON’T WE?” We hear these complaints even from those whom we sincerely want to believe are our brethren. But I agree with Luther and I can say that he answers for me when he writes:

“What Christian can endure the idea that we should deprecate assertions? That would be denying all religion and piety in one breath – asserting that religion and piety and all the dogmas are just nothing at all. . . What Christian could talk like that? If you are speaking of doctrines that are unprofitable and uncertain, what news do you bring us?. . .Or perhaps you think that all Christians are people whose dogmas are useless things, for which it is absurd of them to quarrel and fight with their assertions!. . .In a word, what you say comes to this: that you do not think it matters a scrap what anyone believes anywhere, so long as the world is at peace. . . .” (pp. 67-69)

DON’T GIVE AN INCH to those ministers of Satan that would have us to discard our “divisive” doctrines and reduce our faith to little more than the name of Jesus – all in the name of unity. These Liars want to blame US for all of the Denominational schisms in Christendom and say that it is all OUR fault that the prayer of Christ, that we may all be one, has never yet been (they say) answered. Well, my friend, Christ’s prayer HAS BEEN ANSWERED, and all of the saints of God in Christ Jesus ARE One, even as we are one with Luther in his masterful defense of our Faith. The doctrines of our Faith, are ASSERTIONS of the Truth of the Gospel, and ANYONE who rejects the ASSERTIONS of our Faith is NOT our brother, and is NOT saved. These complainers against the exclusiveness and assertiveness of our Faith will clap their hands off when Jesus says, “I am the way, the truth and the life; no man cometh unto the Father but by me,” UNTIL, someone like us comes along and preaches that everyone who refuses to believe Jesus Christ is in danger of hell fire! WHY? Because to say such a thing might offend some other “sincere” and religiously devout folks who just do not “prefer” to yield to the name of Jesus Christ. This includes all of our Jewish Messianics who demand just the slightest concession that THEY be allowed to yield THEIR loyalty to Yeshua, because they are offended at the Jesus that the rest of the world has already heard of. All of you to whom Jesus Christ is STILL the stone of stumbling and the rock of offense should repent NOW, and pledge your allegiance to Jesus Christ our Lord and to His Church!

Furthermore, this also goes for you professing Christians who applaud Jesus Christ while making all of your excuses for why it is not necessary to obey whatsoever He has commanded us. Be advised: Luther is not on your side; WE are not on your side; and God is not on your side!

YES, BUT WE HAVE MIRACLES ON OUR SIDE!

I’ll bet you thought that this was a new argument invented by the Revival Now crowd! No, Erasmus used the same ploy on Luther. He wrote,“The Apostles would not have been believed, had not miracles procured belief for their doctrine. . .When the Apostles shook off vipers, healed the sick, and aroused the dead, then at last they were believed; and yet hardly so. So paradoxical was their teaching. Now, though our opponents put forward teaching that is generally considered to be almost more paradoxical still, none of them has so far appeared who could even cure a lame horse!” (p.110)

Here we are: Do we deny the reality of the reported miracles? Perhaps you agree with the lying cessationists who assert that the days of miracles have disappeared with the death of the apostles, or upon the completion of our New Testament. Had Luther believed such a thing, here was a perfect opportunity to defend himself against Erasmus’s challenge by asserting that the time for miracles and the other supernatural gifts of the Spirit was past. But NO! He fully endorsed the possibility of miracles: “. . .God is wont to confirm His doctrine by miracles without respect to the carnality of the age; what moves Him is not the merits or demerits of a carnal age, but just mercy, and grace, and love of the souls that are to be established by solid truth unto their glory.” Take note also of the lyrics of Luther’s hymn, A MIGHTY FORTRESS, especially note his clear assertion that, “the Spirit and the gifts are ours!”

Oh, how I wish that I could see the faces of all those who clap their hands off for their hero, Luther, until they find out that Luther does not agree with THEM at all!

No, Luther didn’t deny the possibility of miracles, or that the miracles reported were real. What he (and we) deny is that these miracles are a confirmation of anything but the doctrine of Christ: Miracles do not confirm the man, as if everything that comes out of his mouth is inspired, and more to the point, miracles do not confirm doctrines that contradict the plain language of the Bible. Those of you who are tempted to think that the occurrence of miracles means that God is confirming one “gang” against another have ignored the warnings of our Lord Jesus Christ and His apostles:

(Mat 24:24) For there shall arise false Christs, and false prophets, and shall show great signs and wonders; insomuch that, if it were possible, they shall deceive the very elect.

(2 Th 2:9-11) Even him, whose coming is after the working of Satan with all power and signs and lying wonders, {10} And with all deceivableness of unrighteousness in them that perish; because they received not the love of the truth, that they might be saved. {11} And for this cause God shall send them strong delusion, that they should believe a lie:

YES, BUT WE SHOULD JUST STICK TO PREACHING THE GOSPEL AND STOP ALL THIS ARGUING.

Oh, yes! Erasmus resorts to the same dodge that so many do these days. In their scramble to find some common ground of agreement, all of these unity mongers try to reduce the cardinal tenets of our faith to nothing more than the death, burial, and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. They cite 1 Cor. 15:1-4 and say, “There’s the Gospel! That’s all of it!” as if the rest of the New Testament is nothing more than interesting though extraneous details that were only added for our entertainment. Those who say things like this are lying: They have no intention of discarding their own pet doctrines; they only want US to shut up and to stop raining on their parade! Luther answers this absurd and dishonest platitude.

He wrote, and we agree: “And here, Erasmus, I invoke your own advice, given above, that ‘questions of this kind be left alone, and that Christ crucified, and as much as suffices for Christian piety, be taught instead.’ But this is what we have long been desiring, and doing. What else do we contend for, but that the simplicity and purity of Christian doctrine should prevail, and, that what men have invented and brought in along with it should be left behind and disregarded? But you, who give us this advice, do not take it up yourself; you do the opposite; you write Diatribes; you cry up the decrees of Popes; you vaunt the authority of men; you try every means of carrying us off into these strange pastures and foisting upon us things both unscriptural and unnecessary, so that we may spoil the simplicity and sincerity of Christian piety, and disorder it with man-made additions.” (p.117)

The “simplicity and sincerity of Christian piety” makes no concession to the ever-popular, long-winded bogus arguments against the plain language of our Bible. Such are the hyper-dispensationalists who use their convoluted logic to escape the teachings, commands and warnings of our Lord Jesus Christ – saying that His Words are just a part of the “Law” from which we have been delivered. Anyone who believes this is apostate! The simplicity of Christ is receiving, believing, and subsequently (because we believe) obeying the Words of Christ and his apostles – not inventing theologies that turn these Words into little more than suggestions, and the Bible into no more than a hint of what the will of God is.

YES, BUT THE BIBLE IS SUBJECT TO INTERPRETATION

Still trying to make his case, Erasmus sidles up to Luther with a suggestion that he knows Luther must agree with, in part. He writes, “Some [doctrines in the Bible] are ambiguous, whereas others are quite plain.” Of course, what Erasmus, and all those like him, mean by statements like this is that ANY doctrine that threatens the hegemony of popular religion shall ALWAYS be regarded as AMBIGUOUS. And today, Ambiguity has become the king of mischief: When any of the “inconvenient” teachings of our Lord are brought up, such as, “Give to every man that asketh of thee,” Ambiguity takes over and begins to argue for exceptions – explaining this simple command UNTIL, there is nothing left to obey. And woe to the man that brings up the apostle Paul’s injunction against women pastors: He will be derided as just another stupid male chauvinist, while it is explained to us “poor simpletons” how it is that the Bible doesn’t mean what it says.

Luther answers, “If the words are obscure in one place, they are clear in another. What God has so plainly declared to the world is in some parts of Scripture stated in plain words, while in other parts it still lies hidden under obscure words. But when something stands in broad daylight, and a mass of evidence for it is in broad daylight also, it does not matter whether there is any evidence for it in the dark. Who will maintain that the town fountain does not stand in the light because the people down some alley cannot see it, while everyone in the square can see it?. . .”

Of course, the only people to whom the plain assertions of Scripture are obvious, are those who believe and have obliged themselves to obey whatsoever Christ has commanded us. As Luther asserts to Erasmus, “My good Erasmus, God’s church is not so common a thing as the term ‘God’s church’; nor are God’s saints so promiscuously found as the phrase ‘God’s saints.’ The saints are pearls and precious jewels, which the Spirit does not cast before swine; but (as the Scripture puts it) He keeps them hid, that the wicked may not see the glory of God! Else, if they were open to the recognition of all how could they be so vexed and afflicted in the world as they are? So Paul says: ‘ Had they known him, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory’ (1 Cor.2:8).”

Luther did not think that all those who call themselves Christians were members of the body of Christ, and neither do WE. You need to take note that the ongoing campaign to embrace everyone and every group that names the name of Christ, including the Mormons, and the JW’s, etc., is a campaign against the Gospel of Christ. And don’t think for a minute that this campaign will stop with those who make some concession to the name of Christ. Already the rhetoric of Apostate Christendom is contriving to promote full acceptance as BRETHREN, the devout Buddhists, Moslems, American Indians who still embrace their paganism, and etc. Unity is the name of the game – the doctrines of our Faith, and those who are loyal to them, are the obstacles. There is no hiding from this conflict and you are a player whether you know it or not and whether you like it or not.

CONCLUSION

Want a primer on what Spiritual warfare in the public arena is all about? Read this book! For those of you who have gotten fatigued by relentless contradictions to sound doctrine from all of the so-called “Christians” around you, I suggest that this book will provide strong encouragement and fresh energy for the good fight of faith. Now is not the time to relent!

I conclude this review with Luther’s prediction concerning the final days of this age: “I foresee other, greater upheavals in store for a future generation, compared with which these present are but a whisper of a faint breeze, or the murmur of a gentle brook.” It looks like Luther’s prophetic impulse is being vindicated now, and the outcome is sure!

(Psa 2:1-5) Why do the heathen rage, and the people imagine a vain thing? {2} The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the LORD, and against his anointed, saying, {3} Let us break their bands asunder, and cast away their cords from us. {4} He that sitteth in the heavens shall laugh: the Lord shall have them in derision. {5} Then shall he speak unto them in his wrath, and vex them in his sore displeasure.

A MIGHTY FORTRESS, by Martin Luther

A HYMN, words and music both by Martin Luther, written in perfect meter and in perfect rhyme and in a musical structure that perfectly agrees with the poetic structure mathematically (an absolutely GENIUS piece of work, such as may not be created by anyone less than an IQ genius of 160+) in the 1520’s by a man educated in THEOLOGY.

A mighty fortress is our God,
a bulwark never failing;

Our helper He, amid the flood
of mortal ills prevailing:

For still our ancient foe
doth seek to work us woe;

His craft and power are great,
and, armed with cruel hate,
On earth is not his equal.

Did we in our own strength confide,
our striving would be losing;

Were not the right Man on our side,
the Man of God’s own choosing:

Dost ask who that may be?
Christ Jesus, it is He;

Lord Sabaoth, His Name,
from age to age the same,
And He must win the battle.

And though this world, with devils filled,
should threaten to undo us,

We will not fear, for God hath willed
His truth to triumph through us:

The Prince of Darkness grim,
we tremble not for him;

His rage we can endure,
for lo, his doom is sure,
One little word shall fell him.

That word above all earthly powers,
no thanks to them, abideth;

The Spirit and the gifts are ours
through Him Who with us sideth:

Let goods and kindred go,
this mortal life also;

The body they may kill:
God’s truth abideth still,
His kingdom is forever.

(Lyrics translated by Frederic Hedge, 1853)
oh….. and by the way…….. even when translated to English from the original German, the poetic structure, both in meter and rhyme, are still perfect – AND TO WHAT might the doubters attribute this presently undeniable, measurable fact?

Psalm 46:1-3
1 To the chief Musician for the sons of Korah, A Song upon Alamoth. God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.
2 Therefore will not we fear, though the earth be removed, and though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea;
3 Though the waters thereof roar and be troubled, though the mountains shake with the swelling thereof.
Selah.

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