Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Am I Predestined

Luther and Calvin on the Dangers of Speculating about Election Apart from Christ
by Shane Rosenthal

In 1524 Erasmus of Rotterdam decided to engage the famous Martin Luther in a debate over free will and salvation. Critical of Luther’s grace-oriented approach, Erasmus warned that Christians should not “through irreverent inquisitiveness rush into those things which are hidden, not to say superfluous.” Among the list of irreverent or superfluous debates, Erasmus included the question, “whether our will accomplishes anything in things pertaining to eternal salvation.” This assertion did not sit well with Luther who in 1525 published his book The Bondage of the Will as a way of responding to Erasmus’ complaints. “This is the cardinal issue between us, the point on which everything in this controversy turns,” Luther wrote. “For if I am ignorant of what, how far, and how much I can and may do in relation to God …I cannot worship, praise, thank, and serve God, since I do not know how much I ought to attribute to myself and how much to God.”

Throughout The Bondage of the Will, Luther presents his case that one cannot have a stable view of God’s grace unless it is anchored in the doctrine of election. He argues, for example, that a man will not completely despair of himself and his own works until he has “no doubt that everything depends upon the will of God.” Knowledge of God’s sovereign will in election then, is the only medicine strong enough to kill the virus of human pride in Luther’s scheme. “For as long as [one] is persuaded that he himself can do even the least thing toward his salvation, he retains some self-confidence and does not altogether despair of himself, and therefore he is not humbled before God, but presumes that there is…some place, time, and work for him, by which he may at length attain to salvation.”

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This article originally appeared in the July / Aug 2006 edition of Modern Reformation and is reprinted with permission. For more information about Modern Reformation, visit or call (800) 890-7556. All rights reserved.


Anonymous said...

Very educational article!

It is to bad to me that people wrestle over this doctrine when it is so clear in Scripture. I agree with John MacArthur when he says it is human pride that stands in the way when one does not believe in this doctrine.

Exist~Dissolve said...

I wouldn't say that Luther actually "responded" to Erasmus' [quite brief] essay. Rather, if one reads the two together, one gets the distinct impression that Luther is talking completely past Erasmus, for Luther makes Erasmus' argument into something upon which he can establish his polemics, rather than actually dealing with the logic of Erasmus' thesis.

If we are speaking of BOW as a "response" to Erasmus, it is really nothing more than bluff and bluster, for rarely does he actually engage Erasmus on the basis of Erasmus' argument.

Exist~Dissolve said...

Let me add one more point: the author begins by saying that Erasmus was "critical" of Luther's "grace-oriented" approach, giving the distince impression that Erasmus' argument is devoid of this same orientation. This, however, is patently false. Erasmus--just as strenuously as Luther (although without the superfluous polemics)--asserts that human salvation begins and ends with divine grace. He is merely, in his argument, calling for reasonableness in the way in which this is spoken about, trying to get away from Luther's incessant and unnecessary polarizing of all possible issues.

Anonymous said...

So ED in your personal opinion how is a person saved from sin?