“The Diatribe gathers its second absurdity from Mistress Reason—‘human’ reason, so-called: to wit, that on my view blame must attach, not to the vessel, but to the potter, especially in view of the fact that He is a potter who creates this clay as well as moulds it. ‘Here (says the Diatribe) ‘the vessel is cast into eternal fire, a fate which it in no way deserved, except that it was not under its own control… At this point, they demand that God should act according to man’s idea of right, and do what seems proper to themselves—or else that He should cease to be God! ‘The secrets of His majesty,’ they say, ‘shall not profit him; let him render a reason why He is God, or why He wills and does that which has no appearance of justice in it… Rules must be laid down for Him, and He is not to damn any but those who have deserved it by our reckoning! In this way, Paul must presumably recall it, and allow that it has no force, and remodel it; because the Potter in question (this is the Diatribe’s explanation) makes the vessel unto dishonor on the grounds of merit preceding, just as He rejected some of the Jews by reason of unbelief, and received Gentiles by reason of their faith. But if God works in such a way as to regard merit, why do objectors grumble and complain?...what becomes of the power of the Potter to make what vessel He will, if He is controlled by merits and rules, and is not allowed to make as He would, but is required to make as He should? Respect for merit militates against power and freedom for Him to make what He will; as is proved by the case of the ‘good man of the house’ who, when the workmen grumbled and demanded their rights, replied by asserting his freedom of will in dealing with his own goods (cf. Matt. 20:15). It is these considerations that preclude the validity of the Diatribe’s gloss” (Martin Luther, Part xiii, “Of the righteousness of God in justifying and condemning sinners” in “Erasmus’ Treatment of Texts,” from “The Bondage of the Will.” Grand Rapids: Fleming H. Revell, 2007, pages 232-233. Translated by J.I. Packer and O.R. Johnston).
I’ve been reading Martin Luther’s “The Bondage of the Will” with a detailed eye for the last few days. Whenever Luther provides scriptural justification for his conclusions, I’m always “zooming” in on such quotes and assessing his scriptural evidence to see if he makes sense or not. The above quote (somewhat abridged for length’s sake) shows Luther attacking “The Diatribe” (Erasmus) and his explanations of God and His work. Luther quotes Matthew 20:15 as a way to explain why God picks some men for salvation and lets others go to damnation.
But the scriptural passage of Matthew 20:15 poses problems for Luther’s argument. To see it, let’s go to Matthew 20:
1 "For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire workers for his vineyard. (A) 2 After agreeing with the workers on one denarius for the day, he sent them into his vineyard. 3 When he went out about nine in the morning, [a] he saw others standing in the marketplace doing nothing. 4 To those men he said, 'You also go to my vineyard, and I'll give you whatever is right.' So off they went. 5 About noon and at three, [b] he went out again and did the same thing. 6 Then about five [c] he went and found others standing around, [d] and said to them, 'Why have you been standing here all day doing nothing?' 7 " 'Because no one hired us,' they said to him. " 'You also go to my vineyard,' he told them. [e] 8 When evening came, the owner of the vineyard told his foreman, 'Call the workers and give them their pay, (B) starting with the last and ending with the first.' [f 9 "When those who were hired about five [g] came, they each received one denarius. 10 So when the first ones came, they assumed they would get more, but they also received a denarius each. 11 When they received it, they began to complain to the landowner: 12 'These last men put in one hour, and you made them equal to us who bore the burden of the day and the burning heat! (C) ' 13 "He replied to one of them, 'Friend, I'm doing you no wrong. Didn't you agree with me on a denarius? (D) 14 Take what's yours and go. I want to give this last man the same as I gave you. 15 Don't I have the right to do what I want with my business? [h] Are you jealous [i] because I'm generous? (Matthew 20:1-15, Holman Christian Standard. All verses will come from this version unless otherwise stated).
The parable itself is about the Lord hiring workers in His vineyard. He agrees with them all for the SAME PRICE. Notice too, that He invited everyone He found standing around to come to work for Him: He “went out early in the morning to hire workers for his vineyard…” (v.1); “When He went out about nine in the morning, he saw others STANDING IN THE MARKETPLACE doing nothing….” (v.3); “about noon and at three, he went out again and did the same thing. Then about five he went and found others standing around” (vv.5-6). Everyone He found doing nothing, He put them to work. He didn’t discriminate against ANYONE who wanted to work in His vineyard. Doesn’t sound like Calvinism, does it? If Calvinism were true, then the Lord would have “weeded out” some workers and left others.
At the end of this parable, the workers who worked all day complain about receiving the same pay as those who worked only one hour. Jesus’ words to the unsatisfied workers was “Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my business? ARE YOU JEALOUS BECAUSE I’M GENEROUS?’” (Matt. 20:15)
Notice that the Lord talks about doing what He wants to do with His business—however, His decision to do as He pleases is based on His “generosity,” not arbitrariness! The Lord gives to those who worked one hour THE SAME AMOUNT as those who worked all day because HE CHOSE TO give generously! The Lord withheld nothing from any party here, so the Lord Himself violated no rules of fairness. All workers were found, hired, and paid what the Lord promised them.
And the Lord does the same thing for all of us: as 2 Peter 3:9 says, He desires that “none perish, but all to come to repentance.” Because of that, the Lord is always willing to hire workers in His vineyard and pay them what He promises them (which is no more or no less than anyone else receives). But if Calvinists have it their way, God now begins to “discriminate” between who He chooses for Heaven and Hell. This, however, doesn’t make sense when you consider that all died in Adam and all have the opportunity to be made alive in Christ (Rom. 5).