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De Servo Arbitrio “On the Enslaved Will” or The Bondage of Will
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Sect. CXXVIII. — WHAT, therefore, the Diatribe cannot do in its affirmative, I will do in the negative; and though I am not called upon to prove the negative, yet I will do it here, and will make it by the force of argument undeniably appear, that “nothing,” in this passage, not only may be but ought to be understood as meaning, not a certain small degree, but that which the term naturally signifies. And this I will do, in addition to that invincible argument by which I am already victorious; viz.. ‘that all terms are to be preserved in their natural signification and use, unless the contrary shall be proved:’ which the Diatribe neither has done, nor can do. — First of all then I will make that evidently manifest, which is plainly proved by Scriptures neither ambiguous nor obscure, — that Satan, is by far the most powerful and crafty prince of this world; (as I said before,) under the reigning power of whom, the human will, being no longer free nor in its own power, but the servant of sin and of Satan, can will nothing but that which its prince wills. And he will not permit it to will any thing good: though, even if Satan did not reign over it, sin itself, of which man is the slave, would sufficiently harden it to prevent it from willing good.

Moreover, the following part of the context itself evidently proves the same: which the Diatribe proudly sneers at, although I have commented upon it very copiously in my Assertions. For Christ proceeds thus, John xv. 6, “Whoso abideth not in me, is cast forth as a branch and is withered; and men gather them and cast them into the fire, and they are burned.” This, I say, the Diatribe, in a most excellent rhetorical way, passed by; hoping that the intent of this evasion would not be comprehended by the shallow-brained Lutherans. But here you see that Christ, who is the interpreter of His own similitude of the vine and the branch, plainly declares what He would have understood by the term “nothing” — that man who is without Christ, “is cast forth and is withered.”

And what can the being “cast forth and withered” signify but the being delivered up to the devil, and becoming continually worse and worse; and surely, becoming worse and worse, is not doing or attempting any thing good. The withering branch is more and more prepared for the fire the more it withers. And had not Christ Himself thus amplified and applied this similitude, no one would have dared so to amplify and apply it. It stands manifest, therefore, that “nothing,” ought, in this place, to be understood in its proper signification, according to the nature of the term.

Sect. CXXIX. — LET us now consider the examples also, by which it proves, that “nothing” signifies, in some places, ‘a certain small degree:’ in order that we may make it evident, that the Diatribe is nothing, and effects nothing in this part of it: in which, though it should do much, yet it would effect nothing: — such a nothing is the Diatribe in all things, and in every way.

It says — “Generally, he is said to do nothing, who does not achieve that, at which he aims; and yet, for the most part, he who attempts it, makes some certain degree of progress in the attempt.” —

I answer: I never heard this general usage of the term: you have invented it by your own license. The words are to be considered according to the subject-matter, (as they say,) and according to the intention of the speaker. — No one calls that ‘nothing’ which he does in attempting, nor does he then speak of the attempt but of the effect: it is to this the person refers when he says, he does nothing, or he effects nothing; that is, achieves and accomplishes nothing. But supposing, your example to stand good, (which however it does not) it makes more for me than for yourself. For this is what I maintain and would invincibly establish, that “Free-will” does many things, which, nevertheless, are “nothing” before God. What does it profit, therefore, to attempt, if it effect nothing at which it aims? So that, let the Diatribe turn which way it will, it only runs against, and confutes itself which generally happens to those, who undertake to support a bad cause.

With the same unhappy effect does it adduce that example out of Paul, “Neither is he that planteth any thing, neither he that watereth; but God who giveth the increase.” (1 Cor. iii. 7). — “That (says the Diatribe,) which is of the least moment, and useless of itself, he calls nothing.” —

Who? — Do you, pretend to say, that the ministry of the word is of itself useless, and of the least moment, when Paul everywhere, and especially 2 Cor. iii. 6-9, highly exalts it, and calls it the ministration “of life,” and “of glory?” Here again you neither consider the subject matter, nor the intention of the speaker. As to the gift of the increase, the planter and waterer are certainly ‘nothing;’ but as to the planting and sowing, they are not ‘nothing;’ seeing that, to teach and to exhort, are the greatest work of the Spirit in the Church of God. This is the intended meaning of Paul, and this his words convey with satisfactory plainness. But be it so, that this ridiculous example stands good; again, it stands in favour of me. For what I maintain is this: that “Free-will” is ‘nothing,’ that is, is useless of itself (as you expound it) before God; and it is concerning its being nothing as to what it can do of itself that we are now speaking: for as to what it essentially is in itself, we know, that an impious will must be a something, and cannot be a mere nothing.

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