Archive for the ‘The Gospel and the Enslaved Will’ Category

The Gospel and the Enslaved Will 200

April 20, 2012

I give you [Erasmus] 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 those 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. For that I heartily thank you; for it is more gratifying to me to deal with this issue, insofar as time and leisure permit me to do so.” (Luther, Bondage of the Will)

The language that Luther uses to close his book gets at why he wrote the book in the first place, which is also why the Reformation had to happen. The issue of the enslaved will versus the ‘free-will’ gets at the real thing and it gets at the essential issue, which is the essence of an issue. The real issue of the Reformation (arguably) was over the doctrine of the will because of how it safeguarded the doctrine of grace alone which was what justification by faith alone was originally set out to do. But today we have people who think of faith as a mere act or decision of the will and so end up thinking that they have the Gospel when in fact they deny it while using the same words.

One reason that the doctrine of the enslaved will is so essential is that is uncovers what a person really believes about human depravity and about sovereign grace. It is so easy to affirm a creed that espouses total depravity, but it is far harder to deal with human beings as dead in sin when preaching to them or evangelizing them. It is one thing to preach sermons about depravity and just leave it there, but then to tell people that they cannot believe the Gospel or have faith unless God gives them life and faith is quite a different thing. It is one thing to tell them that if they believe God must have given them the faith, but it is quite a different thing to distinguish between a faith that came from a ‘free-will’ and one that comes as a gift of God in regeneration.

The Gospel of justification by faith alone is in the larger setting of the sovereign grace of God and cannot be set out in truth apart from the sovereign grace of God. The faith that is the instrument through which grace comes can only come to a regenerated and believing soul. This regeneration can only happen when God does it by grace alone and it is not based on anything that the human soul can do in terms of merit or worth. It is based on the character of God and the merit of Christ. When the grace of God meets the human soul, there has to be a true agreement between those two doctrines or there will be an adjustment made in both. To the degree that the soul is truly depraved (and by nature has an inability to believe) is the degree that the soul must have sovereign grace. But to the degree that depravity is backed off of and room for human ‘free-will’ left, then that is the same degree that people must deduct from grace. If at any point the grace of God is given based on an act of the human will, then that is something other than the sovereign grace of God and a grace that is not sovereign is not grace at all.

The hinge of the Gospel itself is the enslaved will. Apart from actually teaching the enslaved will one cannot actually teach the sovereign grace of God and so not an actual grace at all. Again, if sovereign grace is not taught then God as sovereign is also not taught and so we are left with the human will being sovereign rather than God. The battle over the enslaved will is also over who will be sovereign over the life of the person and over the salvation of each person. It is, in reality, much like the battle in the Garden of Eden. It was there that Eve was told that she could be like God, and it was there that she decided that is what she wanted to be. However, a true repentance is when people turn from being their own little gods and bow before the sovereign of the universe and ask Him for grace. The sovereign of the universe is obligated to give grace to no one and that is exactly what the repenting sinner needs to understand as s/he repents of his or her rights to dispose of self and look to God alone.

In a very real sense, then, until a person repents of his or her ‘free-will’ that person has not repented of his or her lordship and of playing God over self. People try to leave it to the decision of the ‘free-will’ in evangelism, but all that is doing is telling people to be lord over themselves and decide to do something so God will give them grace. Clearly, then, that is taking the throne of God and saying that grace comes when the human makes a choice and decides that s/he wants it. The act of ‘free-will’ to obtain grace, then, is the claim of a sovereign act of the human will. It is an act of dethroning God and doing it for self. It is the desire and claim to actually apply grace to self. In other words, it is not just a battle over some little something; it is a battle over who will be sovereign. It is a battle over who has the ultimate right over the creature and who is sovereign in giving grace. The battle over the ‘free-will’ is not just a small thing, but a battle over the Gospel and over the sovereignty of God. It is an essential issue.

Thus it should be easily seen that the doctrine of the enslaved will is an essential issue to the Gospel itself. It can be seen that it is at the heart of the battle over the sovereignty of God. It can easily be seen that it is at the heart over who is sovereign over man and also sovereign over man’s salvation. It is at the heart of how people preach and teach and how they approach the issues of evangelism. When the doctrine of the enslaved will is swept under the rug, most likely the Gospel of grace alone in reality will be swept there very soon if it does not go at the same time. When the doctrine of the enslaved will is simply ignored as a matter of convenience or in order to be gracious to those who differ from us, it will not be long until the Gospel itself is ignored as well. When the doctrine of the enslaved will is set aside, the sovereignty of God is in reality set aside as well. The doctrine of the enslaved will has been ignored, set aside, and certainly not stressed in our modern day. Is it any wonder that the churches are so weak and inept despite the great numbers that show up at some? Until the teaching of the enslaved will begins to be stressed once again, the true Gospel will continue to be ignored and forgotten as well. This is an essential issue and it is the hinge on which all else turns, though many don’t believe that any longer. A famine of the Word is upon us.

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The Gospel and the Enslaved Will 199

April 17, 2012

I give you [Erasmus] 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 those 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. For that I heartily thank you; for it is more gratifying to me to deal with this issue, insofar as time and leisure permit me to do so.” (Luther, Bondage of the Will)

In closing his great book on the will, Luther took time to point out how important he thought this issue was. While he went after Erasmus for what he taught, he praised and commended him for the fact that he went after the most essential issue. While people differ in their thinking on what the most important issue in Christianity is, there is no doubt what Luther thought it was. This was at the heart of what drove the main teaching of the Reformation, though indeed it is not thought to be all that important in the modern day. Luther was attacked because of what he believed about indulgences, and indeed that topic took up a lot of space in his original writings he tacked on the door in Wittenberg. After some of his early debates, he was attacked on his diminishing belief and trust in the Papacy. But notice in the paragraph above he said that those things were mere trifles rather than issues.

Why would anyone waste their time in the modern day writing a book like Bondage of the Will? Most likely books like that are not written because people do not see the importance of the subject. It is a fascinating philosophical debate, one that interests historians for various reasons, but why is this topic such an important subject? Why is this subject, according to Luther, so vital? It is because it is at the heart of several teachings, and in fact is where those teachings meet. It is at the heart of what one thinks of the grace of God, of the sovereignty of God, and of the depravity or freedom of man. Those three teachings collide at precisely the point of the will.

The person that denies (whether theologically or practically) the total depravity of man will view the Gospel differently than the person that truly and really believes and adheres to the total depravity of man. The person that thinks that God gives a person grace because a person responds will view the Gospel differently than those who believe that grace is conditioned on God and God alone. The person that does not think of God as utterly sovereign will view the Gospel of grace alone differently than the person who knows and rests on the utter sovereignty of God. The doctrine of the will is where those three teachings meet and where a person’s real theology is exposed. In the modern day there are many who claim to be Reformed and yet on a practical basis deny the total depravity of man while giving it lip-service. But a person cannot just give depravity lip-service without giving the sovereignty of God and His grace lip-service as well. The three doctrines or teachings stand or fall together and they stand or fall together because they meet at and mutually stand or fall at the doctrine of man’s will.

When this is said (the three doctrines or teachings mutually stand or fall at the doctrine of man’s will) this is not to say that man’s will is more important than God Himself. It is just insisting and asserting that the three doctrines so fit together that what one really believes about one will influence what one really believes about the others. When Luther stressed the bondage of the will so vehemently, he was doing so with the full knowledge that he was fighting for the sovereignty of God and His grace in the Gospel. There can be no justification by grace alone through faith alone apart from the bondage of the will in sin and of a sovereign God who shows grace as He pleases and to whom He pleases. In some ways it does not matter what a person says he believes if he does not practically preach and evangelize with these great truths in mind. It is useless to have a creed that teaches about the bondage of the will of man and of the sovereign grace of God if those things don’t drive what is actually taught.

The Gospel of grace alone (sovereign grace is the only kind of grace) only fits with men being dead in sins and trespassed with no ‘free-will’ that will enable them to do anything other than sin. Despite the fact that so many “Reformed” today say that the Arminian preaches the same gospel, that condemns those who claim to be Reformed. Preaching that depends on a ‘free-will’ is not preaching that depends on ‘free-grace’. One cannot have it both ways, though many try in an effort to do ministry or to be gracious and non-offensive. The doctrine of the enslaved will is “the hinge on which all turns” and is at “the vital spot.” When people do not teach the enslaved will but another gospel, they have moved away from the hinge on which all turns and they miss the vital spot. That is like falling short (missing) the glory of God.

This is, once again, not a minor issue but is at the heart (vital spot) of what Christianity is and it is at the heart of how God glorifies His name on the earth and to heavenly beings. If the enslaved will is the hinge on which all turns, to move from that to a ‘free- will’ is to have a different hinge. In other words, Luther would say that one is preaching a different Gospel. If Luther was correct then, his writing on that subject is correct now. If that is true, then we are at a time in history when there is great darkness in terms of the Gospel. The hinge has changed which means the Gospel that Luther preached is virtually lost in the modern world.

The Gospel and the Enslaved Will 198

April 9, 2012

When Christ says in John 6; ‘No man can come to me, except My Father which hath sent me draw him’ (v. 44), what does he leave to ‘free-will’? He says man needs to hear and learn of the Father Himself, and that all must be taught of God. Here, indeed, he declares, not only that the works and efforts of ‘free-will’ are unavailing, but that even the very word of the gospel (of which He is here speaking) is heard in vain, unless the Father Himself speaks within, and teaches, and draws. ‘No man, no man can come,’ he says, and what he is talking about is your ‘power whereby man can make some endeavour towards Christ’. In things that pertain to salvation, He asserts that power to be null…But the ungodly does not ‘come’, even when he hears the word, unless the Father draws and teaches him inwardly; which He does by shedding abroad His Spirit. When that happens, there follows a ‘drawing’ other than that which is outward; Christ is then displayed by the enlightening of the Spirit, and by it man is rapt to Christ with the sweetest rapture, he being passive while God speaks, teaches and draws, rather than seeking or running himself. (Luther, The Bondage of the Will)

In one sense this short exposition of John 6 by Luther may seem negative; much like the whole denial of ‘free-will’ does to some people. It seems so negative to speak of the bondage of the will and the inability of man. However, what we see on the other hand is the very power of the Gospel. The Gospel of grace alone should instruct us that God saves by grace alone and does not need nor want the help of man. This is to say that for the Gospel of grace alone to be preached, there is nothing left for man to do. The promise of the Gospel is that God will save sinners and He will do that by grace alone. God saves sinners apart from anything they can do to assist in that endeavor.

While it may seem so negative that sinners cannot come to Christ on their own but the Father must draw them, which is actually quite a positive statement. Sinners cannot come to Christ on their own anyway and if they try they will either be deceived or disillusioned. This is only negative in appearance and only appears that way to the proud and fallen human heart. The Gospel is from grace to grace and is all grace in between. It is not that God has finished a work and it is now up to the human being to make a choice, but that God must make the human a new creature. The fallen human heart will never love God unless it is made a new creature. One can only love God by grace alone rather than love Him from a self-centered and self-powered heart.

So much of evangelism in the modern day tries to influence and woo people by outward means, but that only shows the paucity of the theology in our day which starts and ends with self-centeredness. The only ways sinners can come to God is if God draws them in the inner man. While preachers are to preach the Word of God and that is to the ear, yet they are to preach in a way that points to the Spirit who alone can draw men to God. It is the Spirit who alone can bring a true conviction of sin and show men their true need of Christ. It is the Spirit alone who can open the eyes of the soul to the beauty and glory of Christ. This is the teaching that the Father does. He teaches by the Spirit and it is His teaching that shows sinners what sin is and opens the eyes of sinners so that they will flee to the Savior. Sinners are not drawn to Christ by chains and brute power, but they are drawn to Christ when the Spirit teaches them the ugliness and damnable nature of sin and then the beauty of Christ.

As long as men are told that it is in their power to come and that all they have to do is to make a choice, they are left in their own power to do what the unregenerate power of self can do. But when men are left in their own power, they cannot see how dead they are in sin and the greatness of the glory of the teaching of the Father by the Spirit to draw them to Christ. These sinners never learn to die to self and the power of self and to bow low before the Father asking Him for grace to teach them and draw them to Himself.

As long as men are left to the power of ‘free-will’ they are left in the deadness and inability of self. To say that another way, as long as men are told that they must make a choice of their ‘free-will’ they will not see their inability to do what is commanded and they will obey by the power of self. The problem, however, is that they will think that they have done what is needed to be converted and so they will think they are truly converted. The teaching of ‘free-will’ is deceptive and deceitful. It is a false gospel and leads to the destruction of multitudes because it leaves men in the despair and utter inability of self rather than the power of God and His grace for salvation. Luther saw how important it was for sinners to be broken from this ‘free-will’ teaching, but in our day it appears that not many see this at all. However, it is necessary for the Gospel of grace alone. May God open the eyes of many to this vitally important teaching.

The Gospel and the Enslaved Will 197

April 2, 2012

When Christ says in John 6; ‘No man can come to me, except My Father which hath sent me draw him’ (v. 44), what does he leave to ‘free-will’? He says man needs to hear and learn of the Father Himself, and that all must be taught of God. Here, indeed, he declares, not only that the works and efforts of ‘free-will’ are unavailing, but that even the very word of the gospel (of which He is here speaking) is heard in vain, unless the Father Himself speaks within, and teaches, and draws. ‘No man, no man can come,’ he says, and what he is talking about is your ‘power whereby man can make some endeavour towards Christ’. In things that pertain to salvation, He asserts that power to be null…But the ungodly does not ‘come’, even when he hears the word, unless the Father draws and teaches him inwardly; which He does by shedding abroad His Spirit. When that happens, there follows a ‘drawing’ other than that which is outward; Christ is then displayed by the enlightening of the Spirit, and by it man is rapt to Christ with the sweetest rapture, he being passive while God speaks, teaches and draws, rather than seeking or running himself. (Luther, The Bondage of the Will)

The Gospel of Jesus Christ is indeed the Gospel of grace alone and the Gospel of the glory of God alone. Christ did not die in order to provide man what man lacked, He died in order to glorify God by saving those who were dead in sins and trespasses. Christ did not die in order to give man an opportunity to freely choose, but to make man willing to come to Christ. Christ did not die in order to purchase the Holy Spirit for all sinners so that they could be enabled to do what they wanted to do anyway, but He died in order to purchase the Holy Spirit for His people so that they could be made alive by the Spirit.

When the Scriptures speak of the Gospel as the power of God for salvation, it is not speaking just of the words of Scripture but of the power of God in acting out and fulfilling His words. God commands men to repent and believe, but as long as men believe that they can do that they will not look to God to enable them to repent and believe. Thus, the power of the fall and sin remains upon them and the veil remains over their eyes. The Gospel is about what God can and will do, not about what man can do. The Gospel does teach what man is required to do and what man must do in order to be saved, but it is the Holy Spirit alone who can work life in the soul and actually do what is required for man to be saved.

Here are Luther’s words again: “When Christ says in John 6; ‘No man can come to me, except My Father which hath sent me draw him’ (v. 44), what does he leave to ‘free-will’? The point is that there is nothing left for the ‘free-will’ to do. It is all to be done by Christ and the power of His Spirit, which is the Father drawing them. “But the ungodly does not ‘come’, even when he hears the word, unless the Father draws and teaches him inwardly; which He does by shedding abroad His Spirit.” This is such a powerful and feeing passage of Scripture that Luther explains. No one will come to Christ unless the Father draws that person. But that is good news when this is seen. Dead sinners will not come and don’t really want to come thought they may want to escape hell. But the Gospel is such that the Spirit works in them so that they want to come and they are drawn by the Father. The good news is that this is not something that man can and therefore must work up himself, this is done by grace alone.

“When that happens [the shedding abroad of the Spirit], there follows a ‘drawing’ other than that which is outward; Christ is then displayed by the enlightening of the Spirit, and by it man is rapt to Christ with the sweetest rapture, he being passive while God speaks, teaches and draws, rather than seeking or running himself.” What good news this is to sinners. The Gospel does not add another work to the list that man must do in his own power, though indeed it is a lethal stab to the heart of pride. The Spirit enlightens the soul so that sinners may see their sin and see the beauty and glory of Christ. This enlightening of the soul is how “God speaks, teaches, and draws.” This work of the Spirit is in the inward man and is God teaching the soul of the glories of Christ and changing the inclinations of the soul. No amount of seeking or running of the sinner will save the sinner or contribute to salvation. The whole work of salvation is of God. The sinner must be broken from any hope in his or her own works of ‘free-will’ and learn to look to the work of God alone. As Romans 9:16 sets out so clearly, “it does not depend on the man who wills or the man who runs, but on God who has mercy.” The soul must learn not to depend on its own works, running, or ‘free-will’ to work or run, but to be drawn by grace alone. In this way the soul is weaned from trust in itself and what it can do so it can lean on and rely (part of faith) on grace alone.

The Gospel and the Enslaved Will 196

March 29, 2012

When Christ says in John 6; ‘No man can come to me, except My Father which hath sent me draw him’ (v. 44), what does he leave to ‘free-will’? He says man needs to hear and learn of the Father Himself, and that all must be taught of God. Here, indeed, he declares, not only that the works and efforts of ‘free-will’ are unavailing, but that even the very word of the gospel (of which He is here speaking) is heard in vain, unless the Father Himself speaks within, and teaches, and draws. ‘No man, no man can come,’ he says, and what he is talking about is your ‘power whereby man can make some endeavour towards Christ’. In things that pertain to salvation, He asserts that power to be null…But the ungodly does not ‘come’, even when he hears the word, unless the Father draws and teaches him inwardly; which He does by shedding abroad His Spirit. When that happens, there follows a ‘drawing’ other than that which is outward; Christ is then displayed by the enlightening of the Spirit, and by it man is rapt to Christ with the sweetest rapture, he being passive while God speaks, teaches and draws, rather than seeking or running himself. (Luther, The Bondage of the Will)

When Jesus said that in John 6 that ‘No man can come to me, except My Father which hath sent me draw him’ (v. 44), He made a very powerful statement that deals a death blow to modern methods of evangelism. No man has the ability to come to Christ apart from the drawing work of the Father. In other words, this is a complete slam on the ability of man to come to Christ and it throws man to the ground in utter despair of self leaving all souls totally helpless and in the hands of God to show grace as He pleases. How often in the modern day do we hear “preachers” telling men that they must go to Christ, but they don’t tell them the only way that can happen. Indeed men must go to Christ, but do they go in their own understanding and in their own power? According to Jesus, the only way sinners can come to Him is on the basis of the Father teaching them and drawing them.

This is an utterly vital point. While men try to tell other men to listen to their teaching and then come on the power of the outward man, Jesus is pointing us to something inward and something quite beyond the power and ability of the natural man to do. This is the real hope of the Gospel. Oh how Jesus delivers a lethal stab to the heart of human ability and the heart of human efforts in salvation. In the words of Luther again, “Here, indeed, he declares, not only that the works and efforts of ‘free-will’ are unavailing, but that even the very word of the gospel (of which He is here speaking) is heard in vain, unless the Father Himself speaks within, and teaches, and draws.” Man is not only told that the works and efforts of ‘freewill’ will and can do nothing, but he is also told that he cannot even hear the Gospel in truth unless it is the Father who speaks within to teach and to draw.

Again, this is a major and vital point and cannot be stressed beyond the level of its importance. The will is not free to act on the Gospel and the will is not free to even hear and learn the Gospel. There is a sense in which the natural man can hear the external fact of the Gospel and even give his assent to those truths, but no man can learn the Gospel in the inward man apart from the inward teaching of the Father. No will is free to come to Christ part from this teaching of the inward man. No will is free to give itself ears to hear and understanding. As Christ prayed to the Father in Matthew 11, “I praise You, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that You have hidden these things from the wise and intelligent and have revealed them to infants 26 “Yes, Father, for this way was well-pleasing in Your sight. 27 “All things have been handed over to Me by My Father; and no one knows the Son except the Father; nor does anyone know the Father except the Son, and anyone to whom the Son wills to reveal Him.” (Mat 11:25).

The Father is the One who hides or reveals. The very same words can be preached to one congregation and yet those same words will be hidden from one and revealed to another. The will is not free to reveal the words to self and the will is not free to hide the eyes to what God has revealed. We can see this same principle in Peter’s confession of Christ as well in Matthew 16: “He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” 16 Simon Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” 17 And Jesus said to him, “Blessed are you, Simon Barjona, because flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but My Father who is in heaven” (vv. 15-17).

Peter was not said to be blessed because he made this confession, but because it was not flesh and blood that had revealed that to him, but rather it was the Father in heaven who had revealed that. The will is not even free to hear or understand the Gospel, but that is left to the Father to reveal that. “A natural man does not accept the things of God” (I Cor 2:14), but only the spiritual man. A spiritual man is made by God and not by the will of man. A spiritual man is one that sees, understands, and so lives by spiritual things. The natural man is one that sees, understands, and so lives by natural things. However, the natural man can still be very religious, but he never gets beyond the natural man though he thinks of them as spiritual. But that which is spiritual is by the Spirit and it is not by the ‘free-will’ of man. The Gospel of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ will not and cannot be understood by the natural man. It must be taught in the inward man by the Father. The will is not free to teach itself the Gospel, give understanding to itself of the Gospel, nor is it free to take itself to Christ.

The Gospel and the Enslaved Will 195

March 24, 2012

When Christ says in John 6; ‘No man can come to me, except My Father which hath sent me draw him’ (v. 44), what does he leave to ‘free-will’? He says man needs to hear and learn of the Father Himself, and that all must be taught of God. Here, indeed, he declares, not only that the works and efforts of ‘free-will’ are unavailing, but that even the very word of the gospel (of which He is here speaking) is heard in vain, unless the Father Himself speaks within, and teaches, and draws. ‘No man, no man can come,’ he says, and what he is talking about is your ‘power whereby man can make some endeavour towards Christ’. In things that pertain to salvation, He asserts that power to be null…But the ungodly does not ‘come’, even when he hears the word, unless the Father draws and teaches him inwardly; which He does by shedding abroad His Spirit. When that happens, there follows a ‘drawing’ other than that which is outward; Christ is then displayed by the enlightening of the Spirit, and by it man is rapt to Christ with the sweetest rapture, he being passive while God speaks, teaches and draws, rather than seeking or running himself. (Luther, The Bondage of the Will)

The words of Scripture are so powerful and one would think irrefutable on this issue at this point. When the text of Scripture says that “No man can come to me,” it means that no man has the ability to come to Christ apart from the exception that Christ gives. The word “can” is a word of ability. To put it clearly, the text could easily and accurately be translated as to say that “no man has the ability to come to me, except my Father which hath sent me draw him.” A will that could be free and yet had no ability would not be really free. Yet Christ is so clear that no man has the ability to go to the Father apart from the Father’s drawing that man. As Luther puts it, “what does he leave to ‘free-will’?”

John 6:43 Jesus answered and said to them, “Do not grumble among yourselves. 44 “No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up on the last day. 45 “It is written in the prophets, ‘AND THEY SHALL ALL BE TAUGHT OF GOD.’ Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father, comes to Me. 46 “Not that anyone has seen the Father, except the One who is from God; He has seen the Father. 47 “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who believes has eternal life.

The text in modern English (NAS) is given just above. In this text the argument for ‘free-will’ is simply destroyed and the dust is wiped off from the place the argument was set forth. The Word of God gives us the words of Jesus Christ and what He taught on the subject. When Jesus says that no man can come or no man has the ability to come except that man is drawn by the Father, then the case is simply closed. The will is not free to come to the Father unless the Father brings the soul to Himself in His own way and in His own time.

The soul and will of man is not free to understand the things of God unless God Himself teaches that soul. The soul of man is not free to hear (spiritual hearing) the Father apart from the grace of the Father in giving this hearing. The Gospel of Jesus Christ, then, will not savingly benefit any soul apart from the Father teaching that soul and drawing that soul to Himself. In other words, the aspect of the soul which chooses (will) is not free to understand the things of God and is not free to hear the things of God in and of itself. Only those that are taught by the Father will hear and learn from the Father and go to Christ.

Luther’s words can hardly be put any better. “Here, indeed, he declares, not only that the works and efforts of ‘free-will’ are unavailing, but that even the very word of the gospel (of which He is here speaking) is heard in vain, unless the Father Himself speaks within, and teaches, and draws.” All the works and efforts of ‘free-will’ are to no avail in bringing the sinner to Christ. Even the very words of the Gospel are heard with no saving benefit or effect unless the Father speaks, teaches, and draws in the inner man. No human will is free to do these things to self or to another human. The scary part of this is that this is precisely what the vast majority of people in our day do. They try to tell people that they are free to make a choice for Christ when they want to do so. But when preachers tell people this, they are preaching a false gospel of the power of self rather than the power of God. When preachers try to talk people into making a decision, they are not teaching people of the inward teaching that must take place. To say this clearly, when preachers try to talk people into making a decision for Christ they are ignoring the real way that people are to come to Christ. Not only that, but they are telling people a way to be saved that Christ has said will not and cannot work for salvation. The teaching of ‘free-will’ is a dangerous teaching that contradicts Jesus.

The Gospel and the Enslaved Will 194

March 17, 2012

But our question is this: whether he has ‘free-will’ God-ward, that God should obey man and what man wills, or whether God has nor rather a free will with respect to man, that man should will and do what God wills, and be able to do nothing but what He wills and does. The Baptist [John the Baptist] says here that man ‘can receive nothing, except it be given him from above’, which means that ‘free-will’ must be nothing! (Luther, The Bondage of the Will)

While it may seem rather ridiculous to some that the assertion of ‘free-will’ means that God must obey man what man wills, a little thought makes this obvious. God alone upholds the breath and life of man (In whose hand is the life of every living thing, And the breath of all mankind? Job 12:10) It is God who is sovereignly superintends the world. But if ‘free-will’ is true, then it is God who while upholding the world and giving men their every breath must do so in order that man could do as he pleased. Ephesians 1:11 tells us that believers are predestined according to His purpose: “having been predestined according to His purpose who works all things after the counsel of His will.” What is God’s purpose? He works all things (not just some) after the counsel of His will. The text does not say that He works some things after the counsel of His will and leaves man free to do some other things. The text does not say that God works some things after the counsel of man’s will. This means that all things that happen are in accordance with the counsel of His will.

The doctrine of ‘free-will’ would have God at the service of the whims and sin of human beings. It would have God protect the person and give that person breath while that person carried out his or her own desires for sin at his or her own pleasure. It would have God to carry out this sinful person’s desires in that He has to concur with the person in order for that person’s desires to be carried out. The difference between that view and that of the Bible is that God “allows” or “permits” or concurs with sin as it fits in with His own divine wisdom and will. In other words, He does not make the person sin, but He concurs with it in accordance with His own will. If He wants to restrain sin, He does so as He pleases. In other words, the sinner does not use God to serve self when the sinner sins, but instead when God concurs and so the sinner sins it is in accordance with His own will. Even when sinners are in pursuit of their sin, they are fulfilling the sovereign will of God in accordance with His good pleasure.

Despite the fact that this may be hard for some to swallow, the Bible is quite clear that God hardens hearts and turns people over to sin as He pleases (cf., Pharaoh in Exodus and then Romans 1:18-31). When those God hardens and turns over to sin, they are sinning according to their bound will and are not using God to carry out their purposes. But instead, when those sinners sin under the just punishment of God, they are carrying out His will and they are being judged. This is not to say that God puts sin in the hearts of men and makes them carry out His desires, but instead He hardens their hearts and then withdraws His sovereign hand and they carry out the desires of their hearts under His judicial punishment and only to the degree He concurs with.

The doctrine of ‘free-will’ is, once again, an attack on the sovereignty of God and on the kingly rule of Jesus Christ. All authority in heaven and earth has been given to Him (Mat 28:18) and there is nothing left for this valued idol of ‘free-will’ to claim or practice. The freedom of God is absolute and man is only free to operate within the absolute freedom of God. Satan is more powerful than man by far and yet he can only go as far as God allows him to go. Who is man to think that he can do as he pleases in all ways and yet Satan who is far more powerful than man is ruled over by God at every turn? If God did give man ‘free-will’ out of concern for man’s freedom, then surely He would give Satan the same freedom as well. But if God gave Satan his freedom, then he would completely overwhelm all of mankind in an instance. The doctrine of ‘free-will’ is said to be an essential part of a moral being, but Satan is a moral being as well. If we really think we have ‘free-will’ and that it is an essential part and right of a moral being, then we should pray that God would take back that right immediately.

If we would but think for a moment we would realize how ludicrous it is to think we have ‘free-will’ or anything like it. It is really man’s attempt to be a god of some type just like Satan tried to do and then tried to convince Eve of. It is man’s attempt to be guided by his own wisdom and follow his own desires rather than to follow God. It is man’s attempt at being sovereign and self-sufficient rather than trust and rest in God alone. If what preceded this is true, then it is really man’s attempt at being god to himself. All of this shows the horrible nature of ‘free-will’ in man trying to participate in the work of Father in choosing who will be saved and when, trying to participate in the finished work of Christ in salvation, and then in the work of the Holy Spirit in applying salvation. The doctrine of ‘free-will’ is not just a small error, it is man trying to be god to himself. It is idolatry and nothing less.

The Gospel and the Enslaved Will 193

March 11, 2012

But our question is this: whether he has ‘free-will’ God-ward, that God should obey man and what man wills, or whether God has nor rather a free will with respect to man, that man should will and do what God wills, and be able to do nothing but what He wills and does. The Baptist [John the Baptist] says here that man ‘can receive nothing, except it be given him from above’, which means that ‘free-will’ must be nothing! (Luther, The Bondage of the Will)

Here is another gem of an argument from Luther that human beings who live in the presence of an omnipotent and omniscient God must deal with. What exactly can it mean for human beings to be free to do as they please if God is free in His sovereignty to decree what He in accordance with His good pleasure wants to have happen? Does God just set His sovereignty to the side in order to enable sinners to be free? Would that be in accordance with His omniscience and His wisdom?

The battle over ‘free-will’ is really over who will run each person’s life. The heart of the argument for ‘free-will’ is really what happened in the Garden of Eden when Satan tempted Eve and she sinned. “For God knows that in the day you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” 6 When the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was desirable to make one wise, she took from its fruit and ate; and she gave also to her husband with her, and he ate” (Gen 3:5-6). The word for “knowing” in Genesis 3:5 is the same word used for “God knows” earlier in the verse and in Genesis 4:1 where the text says (NAS) that “Adam had relations with Eve and she conceived.” The KJV rendered this as “Adam knew Eve his wife, and she conceived.”

As one looks at the above text it becomes obvious that the Hebrew word translated as “know” has more meaning that just know about something. The promise from Satan was that the woman would be able to decide or will what was right and wrong for themselves and in that way would be like God. This was a promise, then, of ‘free-will’ in a way that would make them able to decide the path of right and wrong or of self-determination for themselves. In reality, this is precisely what the teaching of ‘free-will’ does. In concept it sets people on the path of deciding for themselves or of being self-determined in many ways. In theory, once examined, it is the promise that man can decide for himself and then carry that out.

Some of the insidious nature of ‘free-will’ can be seen for what it is. John Owen thought of ‘free-will’ as being an idol raised up in the house of God because human beings trusted in their own wills to decide or do religious activities rather than God. If we look at the nature of God can it even be a possibility? Can the God who is free to do as He pleases and will always do according to His own wisdom allow foolish human beings to do as they please in accordance with the desires of their wicked hearts? Human beings want to be free of restraints in order to do as they please, but that is not Theism and that cannot take into account the sovereign Lord of this universe. Even in such things as traveling on business James tells us to say “If the Lord wills, we will live and also do this or that” (James 4:15). While we think we are making decisions with a self-determining power, it is actually the Lord who is determining all things. The degree of freedom we may think we have is just an illusion of a rebellious heart.

King Nebuchadnezzar thought very highly of himself and thought of himself as free. But God saw his pride over the extent of his kingdom and Nebuchadnezzar lost his reason and ate grass with the animals for a few years. “But at the end of that period, I, Nebuchadnezzar, raised my eyes toward heaven and my reason returned to me, and I blessed the Most High and praised and honored Him who lives forever; For His dominion is an everlasting dominion, And His kingdom endures from generation to generation. 35 “All the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, But He does according to His will in the host of heaven And among the inhabitants of earth; And no one can ward off His hand Or say to Him, ‘What have You done?’” (Daniel 4:34-35). There is no one among the inhabitants of the earth who are free from God. He hardens hearts and softens hearts as He pleases. The supposed freedom that some think they have is really an illusion, but with some their supposed freedom is the illusion of a hardened heart. God is God and will always be God. No man has the right to a self-determining will because that is to be like God. The teaching of ‘free-will’ in its essence is really man wanting God to be his own servant. This is ludicrous and wicked.

The Gospel and the Enslaved Will 192

March 4, 2012

For if the power of ‘free-will’ is not wholly and damnably astray, but sees and wills what is good and upright and pertains to salvation, then it is in sound health, it does not need Christ the physician, nor did Christ redeem that part of man; for what need is there of light and life, where life and light exist already? And if that power is not redeemed by Christ, then the best part in man is not redeemed, but is of itself good and sound. And then God is unjust if He damns any man, for He damns that in man which is very good and sound; that is, innocent!…It remains, therefore, that God is unjust to damn this good, righteous, holy power in man, which even in a bad man does not need Christ! (Luther, The Bondage of the Will)

The argument of Luther (just above) is quite powerful once it is thought about and dealt with. The orthodox position has been that man is totally depraved which is to say that man is depraved in all aspects of his being. But for there to be ‘free-will’ in any real sense, there must be something of man that is not wholly and damnably astray. That part of man must not only be something less than wholly and damnably astray, but it must be something that is able to see and will what is good if it is able to choose what is good and that for salvation.

If the will is indeed free, then there is something in the soul that is free from depravity and that something is able to see and choose what is good. If the will is free to do that, Luther says, then that part of the will does not need Christ as physician and does not need redemption. As the Scripture so powerfully says, “It is not those who are healthy who need a physician, but those who are sick” (Mat 9:12). The aspect of the human soul that is healthy does not need a physician. In a different context, that same saying is expanded: “It is not those who are healthy who need a physician, but those who are sick; I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners” (Mark 2:17). In this context we see that Jesus says that He did not even come to call the righteous. The only people that Jesus came to call are sinners. Yet those who adhere to or do not denounce ‘free-will’ have to believe something about the will is not sick and is in fact righteous. That leaves human beings with part of the soul that does not need redeemed.

If there is part of the man that is good and is not sinful, as Luther points out, then God is unjust to damn that part of man. While this could be dismissed quite easily, perhaps it should be thought through. If the mind is not sinful, then the mind itself would not be worthy of wrath and it would be unjust of God to cast the mind without sin into eternal torment. Again, this may sound like an odd way to look at things, but this forces us to look at this issue in a different light. The soul is usually thought to be united in a sense, that is, that each aspect of the soul must be tainted with sin and so the soul as a whole is sinful in all of its parts and as such needs to be redeemed. But the claim of a ‘free-will’ leaves the soul with an aspect of it that is not wholly helpless in sin. How can the soul be sinful in parts and not in others? It is not that the soul truly has different parts that operate apart from each other, but the soul has capacities that work in union with each other. The mind is the soul’s capacity for thought and the will is the soul’s capacity to choose. So how is the soul to be divided into parts so that it is just of God to damn all the soul? The will does not choose apart from the mind and the mind does not think apart from the will. You cannot have one aspect of the will that is not guilty of sin and the other parts wholly and damnably astray.

A very important point in this matter is that if one part of the soul is not guilty of sin or so far gone that it needs to be redeemed, then that part of the soul (or aspect) is not worthy to be damned by God. This one aspect of the soul has enough goodness in it to choose Christ and to decide to be saved, so there is something in this soul that is not worthy to be damned. If God will not destroy a whole city for ten righteous men, will He cast a whole person in hell when the best part of that person is still good? Another way of looking at this would be to note that if ‘free-will’ is true then those in heaven are not completely saved by Christ. Still another way to look at it would be that if ‘free-will’ is true then saved sinners do not need the life of Christ in them in terms of the will.

This alone is enough to show us that there are major problems with ‘free-will’ and the ramifications that fall from it. William Cunningham has shown that the will is where the sinfulness of man and the grace of the Gospel meet. Part of the sinfulness of man cannot be thrown out without having some effect on the grace of the Gospel. It is not just that people have to adjust the sinfulness of man to fit with ‘free-will’ which overthrows the whole biblical doctrine of man’s sinfulness, but that also overthrows the biblical doctrine of grace alone. The doctrine of man’s depravity which includes his will must be left alone because it is biblical, but also because when it is not left alone it is an attack on the sovereign grace of God which is the only kind of grace. If we uphold the teaching of ‘free-will’ in man, then to that degree we dismiss sovereign grace and really change the idea of grace. If man’s will is free, then what we have is man’s will that is free from depravity and free from grace responding to God and then God responding to that free act of man’s will and saving him. This is such a clear departure from the biblical doctrine of grace alone that one would think that it would be glaringly obvious.

The Gospel and the Enslaved Will 191

February 27, 2012

Moreover, since Christ is said to be ‘the way, the truth, and the life’ (John 14:6), and that categorically, so that whatever is not Christ is not the way, but error, not truth, but untruth, not life, but death, it follows of necessity that ‘free-will’, inasmuch as it neither is Christ, not is in Christ, is bound in error, and untruth, and death. Where and whence, then, comes your intermediate, neutral entity (I mean, the power of ‘free-will’) which, though it is not Christ (that is, the way, the truth and the life), should not be error, or untruth or death? If all the things that are said of Christ and of grace were not said categorically, so that they may be contrasted with their opposites…what, I ask you, would be the use of all the apostolic discourses and, indeed, of the entire Scriptures? (Luther, The Bondage of the Will)

Luther’s point about the ‘free-will’ being an intermediate, neutral entity is a powerful shot against the doctrine of ‘free-will’. The will that is free is somewhere between (logically) being dead in sin and having life. The will that is free (logically) is not totally depraved but not totally free. The will that is free (logically) is not bound by sin or by grace. It is in some neutral area and can choose anything it wants at any point. This is basically a denial of total depravity and of a free and sovereign grace.

For the will to be free to be able to choose Christ or sin before regeneration (at least) the will has to be able to be neutral at some point and in some way. This is quite contrary to Scripture. Passage after passage of Scripture teaches us that men are slaves of sin and are in bondage to sin. The will is not in some mythical category of neutrality, if the person has not been born again that person cannot see the kingdom of God and that person “enslaved to various lusts and pleasures”. God Himself blinds people to spiritual truth and also hardens their hearts and turns them over to sin. A hardened heart that has been turned over to sin is not a heart that is neutral.

John 8:34 Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is the slave of sin.

John 3:3 Jesus answered and said to him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.”

Proverbs 5:22 His own iniquities will capture the wicked, And he will be held with the cords of his sin.

Acts 8:23 “For I see that you are in the gall of bitterness and in the bondage of iniquity.”

Romans 6:6 knowing this, that our old self was crucified with Him, in order that our body of sin might be done away with, so that we would no longer be slaves to sin;

Romans 6:20 For when you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness.

Titus 3:3 For we also once were foolish ourselves, disobedient, deceived, enslaved to various lusts and pleasures, spending our life in malice and envy, hateful, hating one another.

The Gospel of Jesus Christ comes to sinners who are dead, blind, and in bondage to sin and the devil and it will only deliver helpless sinners who are beyond their own help and will not trust in anything or anyone but Christ alone. Sinners must not look to their own so-called neutral will to help them do something so that God will save them, but they must die to their own ability and look to Christ who will save by grace and grace alone. The doctrine of free-will basically teaches people to look to themselves and trust in themselves to do something. Jesus told His disciples that with men salvation was impossible (Matthew 19:26), yet those who espouse or even tolerate ‘free-will’ must deny that to be consistent.

Scripture teaches that God makes sinners who are dead in sin alive by grace alone. Scripture teaches that God must deliver sinners from the dominion of the evil one and He does that by grace alone. Scripture teaches that God must deliver sinners from their bondage to sin and He does that by grace alone. The proponents of ‘free-will’ are adding what must be a neutral entity into the mix and having men look to their own will for something. But when that is done, they make grace no longer to be grace (Rom 11:6). Adding something to grace is a denial of grace alone.