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De Servo Arbitrio “On the Enslaved Will” or The Bondage of Will
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Sect. XXIII. — IN the last part of your Preface, where you deter us from this kind of doctrine, you think your victory is almost gained.

“What (you say) can be more useless than that this paradox should be proclaimed openly to the world — that whatever is done by us, is not done by Free-will, but from mere necessity. And that of Augustine also — that God works in us both good and evil: that He rewards His good works in us, and punishes His evil works in us.” (You are mightily copious here in giving, or rather, in expostulating concerning a reason.) “What a flood-gate of iniquity (you say) would these things, publicly proclaimed, open unto men! What bad man would amend his life! Who would believe that he was loved of God! Who would war against his flesh!”

I wonder, that in so great vehemency, and contending zeal, you did not remember our main subject, and say — where then would be found “Free-will.”

My friend, Erasmus! here, again, I also say, if you consider that these paradoxes are the inventions of men, why do you contend against them? Why are you so enraged? Against whom do you rail? Is there any man in the world, at this day, who has inveighed more vehemently against the doctrines of men, than Luther! This admonition of yours, therefore, is nothing to me! But if you believe that those paradoxes are the words of God, where is your countenance, where is your shame, where is, I will not say your modesty, but that fear of, and that reverence which is due to the true God, when you say, that nothing is more useless to be proclaimed than that Word of God! What! shall your Creator, come to learn of you His creature, what is useful, and what not useful to be preached? What! did that foolish and unwise God, know not what is necessary to be taught, until you His instructor prescribed to Him the measure, according to which He should be wise, and according to which He should command? What! did He not know before you told Him, that that which you infer would be the consequence of this His paradox? If, therefore, God willed that such things should be spoken of and proclaimed abroad, without regarding what would follow, — who art thou that forbiddest it?

The apostle Paul, in his Epistle to the Romans, discourses on these same things, not “in a corner,” but in public and before the whole world, and that with a freely open mouth, nay in the harshest terms, saying, “whom He will He hardeneth.” (Rom. ix. 18.) And again, “God, willing to shew forth His wrath,” &c. (Rom ix. 22.) What is more severe, that is to the flesh, than that word of Christ “Many are called but few chosen?” (Matt. xxii. 14.) And again, “I know whom I have chosen?” (John xiii. 18.) According to your judgment then, all these things are such, that nothing can be more uselessly spoken; because that by these things, impious men may fall into desperation, hatred, and blasphemy.

Here then, I see, you suppose that the truth and the utility of the Scripture are to be weighed and judged of according to the opinion of men, nay, of men the most impious; so that, what pleases them or seems bearable, should be deemed true, divine, and wholesome: and what has the contrary effect upon them, should at once be deemed useless, false, and pernicious. What else do you mean by all this, than that the words of God should depend on, stand on, and fall by, the will and authority of men? Whereas the Scripture, on the contrary saith, that all things stand and fall by the will and authority of God: and in a word, that “all the earth keeps silence before the face of the Lord.” (Hab. ii. 20.) He who could talk as you do, must imagine that the living God is nothing but a kind of trifling and inconsiderate pettifogger declaiming on a certain rostrum, whose words you may if you be disposed, interpret, understand, and refute as you please, because He merely spoke as He saw a set of impious men to be moved and affected.

Here you plainly discover how much your advice above, — ‘that the majesty of the judgments of God should be reverenced,’ — was from your heart! There, when we were speaking of the doctrines of the Scripture only, where there was no need of reverencing things abstruse and hidden, because there were no such doctrines, you awed us, in the most religious terms, with the darkness of the Corycian cavern, lest we should rush forward with too much curiosity; so that, by the awe, you well nigh frightened us from reading the Scriptures altogether; (to the reading of which Christ and His apostles urge and persuade us, as well as you do yourself elsewhere.) But here, where we are come not to the doctrines of the Scripture, nor to the Corycian cavern only, but to the very, and greatly to be reverenced secrets of the divine Majesty, viz., why He works thus? — here, as they say, you burst open all bars and rush in; all but, openly blaspheming! What indignation against God do you not discover, because you cannot see His reason why, and His design in this His counsel! Why do you not here frame, as an excuse, obscurity and ambiguity? Why do you not restrain yourself, and deter others from prying into these things which God wills should be hidden from us, and which He has not delivered to us in the Scriptures? It is here the hand is to be laid upon the mouth, it is here we are to reverence what lies hidden, to adore the secret counsels of the divine Majesty, and to exclaim with Paul, “Who art thou, O man, that contendest with God?” (Rom. ix. 20.)

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