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De Servo Arbitrio “On the Enslaved Will” or The Bondage of Will
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Sect. CXXVI. — THE Diatribe after this, having said that many such testimonies, as Luther collects, may be collected out of the book of Proverbs; but which, by a convenient interpretation, may stand both for and against “Free-will”; adduces at last that Achillean and invincible weapon of Luther, “Without me ye can do nothing,” &c. (John xv. 5).

I too, must laud that notable champion-disputant for “Free-will,” who teaches us, to modify the testimonies of Scripture just as it serves our turn, by convenient interpretations, in order to make them appear to stand truly in confirmation of “Free-will”; that is, that they might be made to prove, not what they ought, but what we please; and who merely pretends a fear of one Achillean Scripture, that the silly reader, seeing this one overthrown, might hold all the rest in utter contempt. But I will just look on and see, by what force the full-mouthed and heroic Diatribe will conquer my Achilles; which hitherto, has never wounded a common soldier, nor even a Thersites, but has ever miserably dispatched itself with its own weapons.

Catching hold of this one word “nothing,” it stabs it with many words and many examples; and, by means of a convenient interpretation, brings it to this; that “nothing,” may signify that which is in degree and imperfect. That is, it means to say, in other words, that the Sophists have hitherto explained this passage thus. — “Without me ye can do nothing;” that is, perfectly. This gloss, which has been long worn out and obsolete, the Diatribe, by its power of rhetoric, renders new; and so presses it forward, as though it had first invented it, and it had never been heard of before, thus making it appear to be a sort of miracle. In the mean time, however, it is quite self-secure, thinking nothing about the text itself, nor what precedes or follows it, whence alone the knowledge of the passage is to be obtained.

But (to say no more about its having attempted to prove by so many words and examples, that the term “nothing” may, in this passage, be understood as meaning ‘that which is in a certain degree, or imperfect,’ as though we were disputing whether or not it may be, whereas, what was to be proved is whether or not it ought to be, so understood;) the whole of this grand interpretation effects nothing, if it affect any thing, but this: — the rendering of this passage of John uncertain and obscure. And no wonder, for all that the Diatribe aims at, is to make the Scriptures of God in every place obscure, to the intent that it might not be compelled to use them; and the authorities of the Ancients certain, to the intent that it might abuse them; — a wonderful kind of religion truly, making the words of God to be useless, and the words of man useful!

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