Theological Book Reviews - The Bondage of the Will

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Men are depraved. They are bound in sin and in bondage to the unregenerate state. Here we find one of the greatest, if not the great, work on the study of man’s sin nature in bondage to sin.

Theological Book Reviews – The Bondage of the Will
Reviewed by Dr. C. Matthew McMahon

The Bondage of the Will
by Martin Luther
Fleming H. Revell Company Publishers, Old Tappan, NJ: 1957.
322 Pages, Paperback

As the title states, this book is “The Master work of the Great Reformer;” this is no doubt the case. What is at the heart of Luther’s theology and of the doctrine of justification which struck his soul with a bolt of divine lightning? It is the original depravity and sinfulness in man – that which he knew well as an ascetic monk in the Augustinian order. How much more qualified must the Reformer be to write an elenctic treatise on the subject of wickedness and depravity?

Translated into English by J.I. Packer and O.R. Johnston this work is divided into 8 sections and treats the subject of the “bondage” of the human “will” to sin and wickedness as a result of inherent sin. Erasmus denied this, and Luther set the record straight. Luther’s work is written against Erasmus of Rotterdam who wrote his famous “Diatribe” on the will which was a carnal work of the flesh according to Luther. Luther counters this diatribe by setting forth the biblical doctrine of original sin.

Luther’s style is that of the era he lived in (the 1500’s). It is filled with sarcasm, blunt ad hominems, innuendo and language that no scholarly writer would ever use today – that what makes this so refreshing, Luther defends the bondage of the will against the notion that men are all free to choose good or evil even in a depraved state. It was common for writers at that time to call each other “dogs” or “stupid” and the like, as Luther does Erasmus. He accuses him of many sins, and many wicked deeds as a result of his writing such an offense as the Diatribe was against Holy Scripture; even accusing him of never having read the Word of God well (and Erasmus translated the NT into Greek.)

No doubt this is a cornerstone work for the Reformation and for the truth. Luther thought that of everything he wrote, this was his best and most useful work. Every Christian should read this work. If we do not understand how our wills work, who we are before God, and how we ought to continually view our standing before Him as a result of Christ’s work, then we can never understand salvation. Without knowing about the bad news (sin) we cannot every know about the good news (freedom in Christ from sin and the ability to glorify God). Men are in bondage to sin and without being released from that bondage through the cross of Christ our wills shall always be captive to wickedness and evil.

Some Quotes:

“I know that to many people a great deal remains obscure; but that is due, not to any lack of clarity in Scripture, but to their own blindness and dullness, in that they make no effort to see truth which, in itself, could not be plainer. As Paul said of the Jews in 2 Cor. 4: “The veil remains on their heart” (2 Cor. 3:15); and again, “If our Gospel be hid, it is hid to them that are lost, whose heart the god of this world has blinded (2 Cor. 4:3-4).”

“In the NT, the Gospel is preached and this is just the word that offers the Spirit and grace for the remission of sins which was procured for us by Christ crucified. It is all entirely free, given by the mercy of God the Father alone as he shows His favour towards us, who are unworthy, and who deserve condemnation rather than anything else.”

“The Diatribe is deceived by its own ignorance in that it makes no distinction between God preach and God hidden, that is, between the Word of God and God Himself.”

“For once it is granted and settled that “free-will” has lost its freedom, and is bound in the service of sin, and can will no good, I can gather nothing from these words but that “free-will” is an empty term whose reality is lost.”

Bible Verse:

“I am Almighty God; walk before Me and be blameless,” (Gen. 17:1).

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