To the Blind, Sleepy-Headed, Mistress Diatribe

Rembrandt - Moses with the Ten Commandments - Google Art Project

Let’s let Martin Luther speak today, responding to Erasmus’ Diatribe on free will…

The words quoted are imperative, and tell us merely what out to be done. Moses does not say: ‘you have the power and strength to choose’, but: ‘choose’, ‘keep’, ‘do’; he is conveying commandments to perform, not describing man’s ability. But the inference appended by the would-be-wise Diatribe runs thus: ‘therefore, man can do these things, else the commandments would be given in vain.’ To which we reply: Mistress Diatribe, you reason badly; you do not prove your inference; it is only to your own blind sleepy-headed self that it seems to be proven and to follow. However, the commandments are not given inappropraitely or pointlessly; but in order that through them proud, blind man may learn the plague of his own impotence, should he try to do what is commanded.”- Martin Luther, The Bondage of the Will, 160.

I frankly confess that, for myself, even if it could be, I should not want ‘free-will’ to be given to me, nor anything to be left in my own hands to enable me to endeavor after salvation; not merely because in face of so many dangers, and adversities, and assaults of devils, I could not stand my ground and hold fast my ‘free-will’ (for one devil is stronger than all men, and on these terms no man could be saved); but because, even were there no dangers, adversities, or devils, I should still be forced to labour with no guarantee of success, and to beat my fists at the air. If I lived and worked to all eternity, my conscience would never reach comfortable certainty as to how much it must do to satisfy God. Whatever work I had done, there would still be a nagging doubt as to whether it pleased God, or whether He required something more…Furthermore, I have the comfortable certainty that I please God, not by reason of the merit of my works, but by reason of His merciful favour promised to me; so that, if I work too little, or badly, He does not impute it to me, but with fatherly compassion pardons me and makes me better. This is the glorying of all the saints in their God.”- Martin Luther, Bondage of the Will, 313-314.

Free will is at best an illusion, a desperate cry of man for autonomy and independence. Our souls are never truly at peace until we have ceased to trust in our own works, being skeptical of even the best of them, and have come to trust in the beautiful, sufficient work of Jesus Christ on our behalf. Our true humanity lies not in a contrived, defiant, self-reliant autonomy resulting in darkness and death, but in being dependant on God in Christ, unified to Him to enjoy Him for all eternity.

“For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin. But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it- the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe.”- Romans 3:20-22.


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