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De Servo Arbitrio “On the Enslaved Will” or The Bondage of Will
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Sect. CXXXVIII. — SEE, moreover, whether Paul himself does not particularize the most exalted among the Greeks, where he saith, that the wisest among them “became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened;” that “they became wise in their own conceits:” that is, by their subtle disputations. (Rom. i. 21).

Does he not here, I pray you, touch that, which was the most exalted and most excellent in the Greeks, when he touches their “imaginations?” For these comprehend their most sublime and exalted thoughts and opinions; which they considered as solid wisdom. But he calls that their wisdom, as well in other places “foolishness,” as here “vain imagination;” which, by its endeavouring, only became worse; till at last they worshipped an idol in their own darkened hearts, and proceeded to the other enormities, which he afterwards enumerates.

If therefore, the most exalted and devoted endeavours and works in the most exalted of the nations be evil and ungodly, what shall we think of the rest, who are, as it were, the commonalty, and the vilest of the nations? Nor does Paul here make any difference between those who are the most exalted, for he condemns all the devotedness of their wisdom, without any respect of persons. And if he condemn their very works and devoted endeavours, he condemns those who exert them, even though they strive with all the powers of “Free-will.” Their most exalted endeavour, I say, is declared to be evil — how much more then the persons themselves who exert it!

So also, just afterwards, he rejects the Jews, without any difference, who are Jews “in the letter” and not “in the spirit.” “Thou (saith he) honourest God in the letter, and in the circumcision.” Again, “He is not a Jew which is one outwardly, but he is a Jew which is one inwardly.” Rom. i. 27-29.

What can be more manifest than the division here made? The Jew outwardly, is a transgressor of the law! And how many Jews must we suppose there were, without the faith, who were men the most wise, the most religious, and the most honourable, who aspired unto righteousness and truth with all the devotion of endeavour? Of these the apostle continually bears testimony: — that they had “a zeal of God,” that they “followed after righteousness,” that they strove day and night to attain unto salvation, that they lived “blameless:” and yet they are transgressors of the law, because they are not Jews “in the spirit,” nay they determinately resist the righteousness of faith. What conclusion then remains to be drawn, but that, “Free-will” is then the worst when it is the best; and that, the more it endeavours, the worse it becomes, and the worse it is! The words are plain — the division is certain — nothing can be said against it.

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