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De Servo Arbitrio “On the Enslaved Will” or The Bondage of Will
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Sect. CXL. — BUT let us see how Paul proves his sentiments out of the Holy Scriptures: and whether the passages which he adduces ‘are made to have more force in Paul, than they have in their own places.’ “As it is written, (saith he,) There is none righteous, no not one. There is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God. They are all gone out of the way, they are all together become unprofitable: there is none that doeth good, no, not one,” &c. (Rom. iii. 10-23).

Here let him that can, produce his ‘convenient interpretation,’ invent ‘tropes,’ and pretend that the words ‘are ambiguous and obscure!’ Let him that dares, defend “Free-will” against these damnable doctrines! Then I will at once give up all and recant, and will myself become a confessor and assertor of “Free-will.” It is certain, that these words apply to all men: for the prophet introduces God, as looking down from heaven upon men and pronouncing this sentence upon them. So also Psalm xiv. 2-3. “God looked down from heaven upon the children of men, to see if there were any that did understand and seek after God. But they are all gone out of the way,” &c. And that the Jews might not imagine that this did not apply to them by anticipation, and asserts, that it applied to them most particularly: saying, “We know that what things soever the law saith, it saith to them that are under the law.” (Rom. iii. 19). And his intention is the same, where he saith, “To the Jew first and also to the Greek.”

You hence hear, that all the sons of men, all that are under the law, that is, the Gentiles as well as the Jews, are accounted before God ungodly; not understanding, not seeking after God, no, not even one of them; being all gone out of the way and become unprofitable. And surely, among all the “children of men,” and those who are “under the law,” those must also be numbered who are the best and most laudable, who aspire after that which is meritorious and good, with all the powers of “Free-will;” and those also of whom the Diatribe boasts as having the sense and certain seeds of good implanted in them; — unless it means to contend that they are the “children” of angels!

How then can they endeavour toward good, who are all, without exception, ignorant of God, and neither regard nor seek after God? How can they have a power able to attain unto good, who all, without exception, decline from good and become utterly unprofitable? Are not the words most clear? And do they not declare this, — that all men are ignorant of God and despise God, and then, turn unto evil and become unprofitable unto good? For Paul is not here speaking of the ignorance of seeking food, or the contempt of money, but of the ignorance and contempt of religion and of godliness. And that ignorance and contempt, most undoubtedly, are not in the “flesh,” that is, (as you interpret it,) ‘the inferior and grosser affections,’ but in the most exalted and most noble powers of man, in which, righteousness, godliness, the knowledge and reverence of God, ought to reign; that is, in the reason and in the will; and thus, in the very power of “Free-will,” in the very seed of good, in that which is the most excellent in man!

Where are you now, friend Erasmus! you who promised ‘that you would freely acknowledge, that the most excellent faculty in man is “flesh,” that is, ungodly, if it should be proved from the Scriptures?’ Acknowledge now, then, when you hear, that the most excellent faculty in man is not only ungodly, but ignorant of God, existing in the contempt of God, turned to evil, and unable to turn towards good. For what is it to be “unrighteous,” but for the will, (which is one of the most noble faculties in man,) to be unrighteous? What is it to understand nothing either of God or good, but for the reason (which is another of the most noble faculties in man) to be ignorant of God and good, that is, to be blind to the knowledge of godliness? What is it to be “gone out of the way,” and to have become unprofitable, but for men to have no power in one single faculty, and the least power in their most noble faculties, to turn unto good, but only to turn unto evil! What is it not to fear God, but for men to be in all their faculties, and most of all in their noblest faculties, contemners of all the things of God, of His words, His works, His laws, His precepts, and His will! What then can reason propose, that is right, who is thus blind and ignorant? What can the will choose that is good, which is thus evil and impotent? Nay, what can the will pursue, where the reason can propose nothing, but the darkness of its own blindness and ignorance? And where the reason is thus erroneous, and the will averse, what can the man either do or attempt, that is good!

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