The Father William Most Collection
The Real Luther
[Published electronically for use in classes taught by Fr. Most and for private theological study.]
James I. Packer and O. R. Johnston in the long introduction to their edition of Luther's The Bondage of the Will, make a remarkable statement on p. 59. They say that much of modern Protestantism has gone far from Luther. To get it right, use The Bondage of the Will, about which they claim on p.40 that Luther himself considered it the most important of his works.
On p.273 they quote Luther as saying insistently that there is no free will.
What he means is that without grace, a man is incapable of doing good. With grace he can do it. But Luther says we cannot do anything to get grace. He makes this clear twice (pp. 103-04 and 204) by comparing a human being to a horse. Either God or the devil will ride it, and accordingly a man does good or evil. But he has nothing to say about which one rides him.
So he goes to heaven or hell accordingly, and has no control over which place he goes. The picture is dismal, for on p.101 Luther says that God saves "so few and damns so many." He says it is hard to believe then that He is just. On p.314 he even says that those who are damned are "undeserving". Yet we must reverence God as being merciful to a few, and show "some measure of deference" to His Wisdom by thinking He is just when He seems unjust.
Of course, this is very disturbing. Luther himself, on p.217 says it has caused him to stumble more than once, and that he has gone down "to the deepest pit of despair." He even wished he had not been made a man.
The authors asserted, as we saw above, that much of modern Protestantism has gone far from Luther. An example, which they do not give, is found in Brief Statement of the Doctrinal Position of the Missouri Synod of Lutherans,1932, §14: They say that if we consider two things: that all men are equally corrupt, and that grace is everywhere: then why are not all saved? They reply: "We cannot answer it." Luther answered it: blind predestination, which the Missouri Synod did not want to face.
We comment: 1) He holds that we can do nothing to get grace or to determine salvation for ourselves. He passes by 2 Cor 6:1:"We urge you not to receive the grace of God in vain." All over Scripture there are similar exhortations to repent, to return to God. They are all nonsense, and mockery of man, if we cannot determine whether or not a grace comes in vain. It is true, St. Paul also said in 2 Cor 3:5 that we cannot get a good thought by our own power,or even make a good decision or carry it out: Phil 2:13. But these texts must not cause us to deny 2 Cor 6:1 and many other texts of Scripture.
2) Luther also thinks God denies grace to most people. But the Father accepted the price of redemption (1 Cor 6:20) which is infinite. Therefore He bound Himself to make grace available infinitely, that is, without limit, except for our rejection of it. We have it in our power to reject or not reject: 2 Cor 6:1 again.
3) Luther ignored the most basic comparison of the Gospels: God is our Father. No Father damns most of His children without even giving them a chance. He wills all to be saved:1 Tim 2:4. If He refuses grace with no fault on the part of the human, then He could not say He wills all to be saved. In fact, Paul in Gal 2:20 said: "He loved me, and gave Himself for me." Vatican II, On Church in Modern World §22 said: "Each one of us can say with the Apostle: the Son of God loved me and gave himself for me." So He died for each individual, He created an infinite title or claim to grace for each individual. Then He could not without reason refuse it to anyone at all.