A reposting of The Gospel and the Enslaved Will 2 from May 3, 2010

A BLOG/website with the title of God Loves Himself must never stray far from the main theme of the site, especially since that is the deepest theme of the whole Bible. As quoted in the introduction of the O.R. Johnson and J.I. Packer introduction of Luther’s Bondage of the Will, one man called this book “the finest and most powerful Soli Deo Gloria to be sung in the whole period of the Reformation.” To quote Warfield again, speaking of this same book, “it is…in a true sense the manifesto of the Reformation.” This is not just any doctrine that is set out that for a person to intellectually believe or dismiss with no important result. This teaching is at the heart of the glory of God in the Gospel of grace. This can be seen by Luther’s statement below (quoted once again).

Moreover, I give you hearty praise and commendation on this further account—that you alone, in contrast with all others, have attacked the real thing, that is, the essential issue. You have not wearied me with these extraneous issues about the Papacy, purgatory, indulgences, and such like—trifles, rather than issues—in respect of which almost all to date have sought my blood (though without success); you, and you alone, have seen the hinge on which all turns, and aimed for the vital spot.

It may seem surprising that Luther thought that the list of extraneous issues included such “trifles” as the Papacy, purgatory, and indulgences. Indeed it was the issue about the indulgences that was the main theme with his 95 theses that were used to get the Reformation going. His death was desired by the pope over such issues. But he saw those as trifles as compared with this great doctrine of the bondage or enslavement of the will. The doctrine of the will was and is the essential issue of the Reformation as touching the Gospel and the glory of God. How we understand the Gospel of grace alone depends on how we understand the depths of man’s enslavement to sin. The issue of God’s glory in the Gospel is vitally linked with how free His grace is versus how free the will is.
We must understand this point in the thinking of Luther and his understanding of Scripture if we are going to understand the issue of the Gospel that was used in the Reformation and is so needed in our day and any other day as well. While many want to limit the Gospel to believe in Jesus, though others will say repent and believe, Luther thought that people must understand from the depths of their being just how depraved they really were. This is not an intellectual doctrine alone; it is one that must reach the depths of the soul. A person cannot understand the doctrine of depravity in a real sense apart from seeing and feeling it as true of him or herself. Until a person arrives at the point of seeing and understanding him or herself from the deepest parts of the soul that s/he is utterly undone unless God shows grace, that person will not really understand the nature of grace itself in the Gospel.
Many Protestants today oppose quite stringently the teachings about the Pope, purgatory, and the indulgences. They do this thinking that they are quite in line with the Reformation. What they don’t see is that they are dealing with mere trifles as compared to the teaching of the enslaved will which they quite ignore. Luther said that this is “the hinge on which all turns.” By that, we can safely say, he meant that this is the hinge on which the Gospel turns. The Gospel of grace alone to the glory of God alone must also be declared. God saves by grace alone in order that it would be His glory alone that shines. There is no other Gospel. There is no other hinge on which the Gospel turns. If we deny the enslavement of the will in reality, whether we deny it in our creed or not, we deny the hinge of the Gospel itself. When we practically deny the enslavement of the will we deny the heart of the glory of God in the Gospel. If this is the “vital spot” as Luther said, then to deny this is to deny a vital spot of the Gospel. We are not dealing with trifles here.

Stephen Charnock wrote in the 1600’s on the Existence and Attributes of God. In it he had a very powerful section (about ninety pages) on practical atheism. He said that people denied certain truths about God in practical ways while they held to them in their heads. He said that in many ways it was worse for a person to be a practical atheist than to be one in reality. Perhaps, then, we should take that to heart and understand that those who hold to creeds that uphold the enslaved will and yet deny it practically are worse than those who deny it openly. Certainly it is far more dangerous for people to say they believe it and then deny it in a practical way than those who simply deny it. Those who say they believe it and then deny it practically are far more deceptive than those who simply deny it. One greater than Luther told us that “No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up on the last day” (John 6:44). If we deny the enslavement of the will, in creed or practically, we are saying that men can come to Him apart from the work of the Father. We should and must believe Jesus.

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