Calvinism and Arminianism 39

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

A modern editor of Luther’s great work underscores this fact: ‘Whoever puts this book down without having realized that evangelical theology stands or falls with the doctrine of the bondage of the will has read it in vain.’

The subject of free-will is, as it were, the connecting link between the doctrines of original sin and of divine grace—between man’s natural condition as fallen, involved in guilt and depravity, and the way in which they are restored to favor, to holiness, and happiness… And regarding the subject in this light, they [the Reformers] were unanimous in asserting it as a doctrine of Scripture, that the will of man is in entire bondage with respect to spiritual things, because of his depravity,—that fallen man, antecedently to the operation of divine grace, while perfectly free to will and to do evil, has no freedom of will by which he can do anything really good, or dispose or prepare himself for turning from sin and for receiving the grace of God. This was the doctrine of all the Reformers,–it is embodied in all the Reformed Confessions,–and is fully and explicitly set forth in the Confession of our own Church; and this, and this alone, is what the Reformers and the Reformed Confessions mean when, upon scriptural grounds, they deny to men, as they are, all freedom or liberty of will,–when they assert the entire servitude or bondage of the will of unrenewed men in reference to anything spiritually good.       William Cunningham

The doctrine of man’s depravity (when it is not taught as little more than a hindrance to man) is quite devastating to the Arminian position and shows one reason why Luther and the Reformers were so virulent in opposition to the Arminian position. The teaching of Scripture on the depravity of man shows man as dead sin sins and trespasses and by nature a child of wrath. Because of that depravity man is in entire bondage to his sinful nature as opposed to having any spiritual ability or freedom in spiritual things. Before the sovereign grace of God comes to fallen man in his bondage to sin, men are not forced by an external power to sin. Rather than that, man is free to will and to do in accordance with his nature, but that nature is a sinful nature.

This shows us that while man is free to sin which is according to his sinful nature, man is not free to do anything spiritual because he has no spiritual nature. Because man has no spiritual nature and as such cannot love God, all that man does is sinful. Because man’s real problem is a sinful nature, all that can come from that nature is sinful. This shows us that man cannot do anything really good and cannot prepare himself for grace. This is not to say that man should not flee from sin and seek the Lord to show him grace, but that man cannot prepare himself for grace.

This inability for man to do anything good or dispose himself to do good because he was dead to spiritual things was the teaching of the Reformed and as such it became the orthodox position in the Reformed Confessions. This point should be driven home and shouted from the housetops. This is what the heart of Reformed theology is about. It denies any freedom of man to do one thing good or to prepare himself for grace and as such it was a strong and even severe denunciation of Arminian teaching on free-will. If the Reformers were correct on this, then the teaching of Arminian views on the will is in reality a return to the heart of Roman Catholic theology and is a denial of the Gospel of grace alone.

The doctrine of The Bondage of the Will as set out by Luther was indeed a doctrine that was at the heart of the Reformation and apart from it there is no distinctive Reformed teaching on the Gospel. Going back to the quotes above, the teaching of free-will is a real threat to salvation and a delusion. If a person can read Luther’s book on the will and does not see or understand or believe that evangelical theology as a whole stands or falls with the bondage of the will, then that person does not understand what Luther taught that the Bible teaches. If that is true, then there is no preaching or teaching of the biblical Gospel of grace alone apart from this teaching. This doctrine is vital and must be taught if the Gospel is to be taught. This doctrine is vital to understanding the reality of the Gospel of grace alone. Apart from this doctrine being taught in its context and how it fits with the Gospel, there is no Gospel being taught. This is one reason why the Gospel has virtually disappeared in our nation in our day.

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