“So it is right to say: ‘If God does not desire our death, it must be laid to the charge of our own will if we perish’; this, I repeat, is right IF YOU SPOKE OF GOD PREACHED. For HE DESIRES THAT ALL MEN SHOULD BE SAVED, in that HE COMES TO ALL BY THE WORD OF SALVATION, AND THE FAULT IS IN THE WILL WHICH DOES NOT RECEIVE HIM; as He says in Matt. 23: ‘How often would I have gathered thy children together, and thou wouldst not!’ (v.37). But why the Majesty DOES NOT REMOVE OR CHANGE THIS FAULT OF WILL IN EVERY MAN (for it is not in the power of man to do it), or WHY HE LAYS THIS FAULT TO THE CHARGE OF THE WILL, WHEN MAN CANNOT AVOID IT, IT IS NOT LAWFUL TO ASK; and though you should ask much, YOU WOULD NEVER FIND OUT; as Paul says in Rom. 11: ‘Who art thou that repliest against God?’ (Rom. 9:20)” (Martin Luther, “The Bondage of the Will,” translated by J.I. Packer and O.R. Johnston. Grand Rapids: Fleming H. Revell, 2007, page 171).
Luther gives the skeptic a lot to think about. I’ve been reading his work, “The Bondage of the Will,” for the last day and I’ve constantly encountered his attacks against Erasmus, that the imperatives of Scripture (spoken by God Himself) are really just duties that man must fulfill—and yet, man cannot fulfill them. The purpose of the duties then, is not to assume that man can do them, but to show man how helpless he really is. But this part really shocked me in his work. It is here that Luther admits the universality of the gospel and the universal opportunity for salvation. This, in and of itself, is totally foreign to the determinist view. Notice that Luther states it plainly, “He [God] desires that ALL MEN SHOULD BE SAVED…” These are the words of 2 Peter 3:9—
“The Lord does not delay His promise, as some understand delay, but is patient with you, not wanting ANY TO PERISH, but ALL TO COME TO REPENTANCE” (2 Pet. 3:9, Holman Christian Standard Bible).
Luther also admits another biblical truth when he says, “He comes to ALL by the word of salvation, and the fault is in the will which does not receive Him…” First, the Lord does come to all by the word of salvation, for Romans 10 tells us,
“But how can they CALL on Him in whom they have not BELIEVED? And how can they BELIEVE without HEARING about Him? And how can they HEAR without a PREACHER?” (Rom. 10:14, HCSB)
In order to believe, a person has to hear the Word; and in order to hear the Word, someone must preach the Good News of the Gospel.
But did all believe? NO—
“But all did not obey the gospel” (Rom. 10:16, HCSB).
So everyone did not believe. But in order to believe, a person must hear. If everyone did not believe, that means that everyone DID NOT HEAR, right? Wrong:
“But I ask, ‘Did they not hear?’ YES, THEY DID:
Their voice has gone out to ALL THE EARTH, and their words to the ENDS OF THE INHABITED WORLD” (Rom. 10:18, HCSB).
But yes, all heard the message!
So it seems that Luther is biblical with these responses. While most determinists would disagree, I would say that Luther is adhering to sound biblical doctrine.
But I think his remark about the will is fascinating: “…and THE FAULT IS IN THE WILL WHICH DOES NOT RECEIVE HIM…” Luther actually blames the will for not receiving Christ (who he just admitted comes to everyone and provides equal opportunity for all in salvation).
Suddenly, though, we find that Luther slips back into his “determinist” mold once more: “But why THE MAJESTY does not remove or change this fault of will in every man (for it is not in the power of man to do it), or why HE lays this fault to the charge of the will, when man cannot avoid it, it is not lawful to ask...”
Here, though, Luther blames “The Majesty,” God Himself, for the spiritual “defect” of man’s will, as well as the fact that the Lord “blames” the will (when He has the power to change the will).
Let me just say here that this is the classic Calvinist position. Calvinists attempt to blame God for man’s will being inclined to sin. But where did the first inclination for sin come from, as Roger Olson asks? It did not come from God, but MAN! Remember the account of Genesis 3 with the serpent? The moment the serpent told Eve that she and Adam would be “as gods” when they ate of the fruit, she and Adam both ate the forbidden fruit. The first inclinations of sin came from Adam and Eve.
But Luther blames God for not “removing” or “changing” the faulty will, if not for blaming the will itself; and the charge that smacks God the most is when Luther says “when man cannot avoid it.” In Luther’s eyes, man is UNABLE to rescue himself from his sad, spiritual state; and God, the ONLY one who can help him, REFUSES to do so.
In effect, God is guilty of “overlooking” man in his state of spiritual need—while man is given no answer (according to Luther) regarding the reason for God’s passivity. It is with this horrible attack on the character and nature of God that Roger Olson comes to us with the same sharpness of Luther against Erasmus:
“His God specializes in domination, control, and self-glorification even though the eternal infliction of unimaginable torment on persons who were selected for hell before they were born or did anything good or bad. That they supposedly ‘deserve it’ does NOTHING TO GET GOD OFF THE HOOK GIVEN THAT HIS GOD SAVES UNCONDITIONALLY. Clearly, He could save everyone. He chooses not to. Why? TO APPEAL TO MYSTERY RIGHT AT THAT POINT IS UNFAIR. IT SMACKS OF OBFUSCATION AND EVASION. GOD’S CHARACTER IS AT STAKE. SOMETHING MUST BE SAID ABOUT THAT; the good and necessary consequence of…unconditional double predestination is GOD’S MORALLY AMBIGUOUS CHARACTER unless he can say something about God’s goodness and love that at least opens up an avenue of thought allowing reconciliation of God’s goodness as loving-kindness with this account of his sovereignty” (Roger E. Olson, in his response to Paul Helm, “Perspectives on the Doctrine of God: Four Views,” edited by Bruce Ware, page 58).
Luther does what burns Olson most—he makes a claim about God not freeing everyone from the bondage of the will—and then says that of such things, “it is not lawful to ask.” And then quotes Romans 9:20 (“Who art thou that REPLIES AGAINST GOD?”) as a way to evade answering the question!
I agree with Olson. When it comes to the issue of salvation, evading questions CANNOT be tolerated! If the Lord came for the entire world (as Luther states above), and uses the Word as the vehicle by which to reach mankind (whom He gave an intellect, reason, and will), then why the Lord doesn’t free everyone and save them all does require an answer. If there is none given, then God is made to look like an arbitrary Creator and Savior—for then, He only dies and saves SOME of the creation He made. And if God doesn’t save all, and ONLY HE can save them, God then looks malicious and malevolent.
We can see this concept of responsibility in the parable of the Good Samaritan:
25 Just (BF) then an expert in the law (BG) stood up to test (BH) Him, saying, "Teacher, (BI) what must I do to inherit eternal life?" (BJ) 26 "What is written in the law?" He asked him. "How do you read it?" 27 He answered: Love the Lord your God (BK) with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind; (BL) and your neighbor as yourself. (BM) (BN)
28 "You've answered correctly," He told him. "Do this and you will live." (BO)
29 But wanting to justify himself, (BP) he asked Jesus, "And who is my neighbor?" (BQ)
30 Jesus took up [the question] and said: "A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho and fell into the hands of robbers. They stripped him, beat him up, and fled, leaving him half dead. 31 A priest happened to be going down that road. When he saw him, he passed by on the other side. 32 In the same way, a Levite, when he arrived at the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33 But a Samaritan (BR) on his journey came up to him, and when he saw [the man], he had compassion. (BS) 34 He went over to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil (BT) and wine. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. 35 The next day [k] he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said, 'Take care of him. When I come back I'll reimburse you for whatever extra you spend.' 36 "Which of these three do you think proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?" 37 "The one who showed mercy (BU) to him," he said. Then Jesus told him, "Go and do the same." (Luke 10:25-37, Holman Christian Standard Bible).
Jesus tells the Parable of the Good Samaritan to answer the question regarding neighbors, but the Lord shows us something in this parable: that we are “our brother’s keeper.” When the Lord asked the lawyer, “Which of these three do you think PROVED TO BE A NEIGHBOR TO THE MAN WHO FELL INTO THE HANDS OF THE ROBBERS?”, He was asking the lawyer, “Who did the RIGHT THING,” or that which is good.
In the above parable, the priest and the Levite, those who claimed to be “religious” and “God-fearing” proved to be none of that at all! Here is a man who was helpless, a man who was robbed, beaten, and left “half-dead”—and yet, the priest and Levite felt no compassion towards him.
And I think the Lord shows us that compassion and concern are what love is all about. And if the Lord took time to tell this story, and show the goodness of compassion and concern, why would He do so if, as the Calvinists say, the Lord Himself would turn around and choose to rescue only a FEW “helpless, dead” men along the road leading to Hell? If they had it their way, the Lord would be the “priest” passing by, as though He was too busy into “saving a few” that He wouldn’t have time to save one or two more! And yet, we find that Scripture refers to the Lord as being “ABUNDANT in mercy” and having “GREAT love” toward mankind (Ephesians 2:4, HCSB), not to mention “the immeasurable riches of His grace” (Eph. 2:7, HCSB).
While Luther could escape the Roman Catholic Church, he could not escape the clutches of determinism. It seems as if he traded one “tradition” for another…