Sect. IX.—THIS, therefore, is also essentially necessary and wholesome for Christians to know: That God foreknows nothing by contingency, but that He foresees, purposes, and does all things according to His immutable, eternal, and infallible will. By this thunderbolt, “Free-will” is thrown prostrate, and utterly dashed to pieces. Those, therefore, who would assert “Free-will,” must either deny this thunderbolt, or pretend not to see it, or push it from them. But, however, before I establish this point by any arguments of my own, and by the authority of Scripture, I will first set it forth in your words.
Are you not then the person, friend Erasmus, who just now asserted, that God is by nature just, and by nature most merciful? If this be true, does it not follow that He is immutably just and merciful? That, as His nature is not changed to all eternity, so neither His justice nor His mercy? And what is said concerning His justice and His mercy, must be said also concerning His knowledge, His wisdom, His goodness, His will, and His other Attributes. If therefore these things are asserted religiously, piously, and wholesomely concerning God, as you say yourself, what has come to you, that, contrary to your own self, you now assert, that it is irreligious, curious, and vain, to say, that God foreknows of necessity? You openly declare that the immutable will of God is to be known, but you forbid the knowledge of His immutable prescience. Do you believe that He foreknows against His will, or that He wills in ignorance? If then, He foreknows, willing, His will is eternal and immovable, because His nature is so: and, if He wills, foreknowing, His knowledge is eternal and immovable, because His nature is so.
From which it follows unalterably, that all things which we do, although they may appear to us to be done mutably and contingently, and even may be done thus contingently by us, are yet, in reality, done necessarily and immutably, with respect to the will of God. For the will of God is effective and cannot be hindered; because the very power of God is natural to Him, and His wisdom is such that He cannot be deceived. And as His will cannot be hindered, the work itself cannot be hindered from being done in the place, at the time, in the measure, and by whom He foresees and wills. If the will of God were such, that, when the work was done, the work remained but the will ceased, (as is the case with the will of men, which, when the house is built which they wished to build, ceases to will, as though it ended by death) then, indeed, it might be said, that things are done by contingency and mutability. But here, the case is the contrary; the work ceases, and the will remains. So far is it from possibility, that the doing of the work or its remaining, can be said to be from contingency or mutability. But, (that we may not be deceived in terms) being done by contingency, does not, in the Latin language, signify that the work itself which is done is contingent, but that it is done according to a contingent and mutable will—such a will as is not to be found in God! Moreover, a work cannot be called contingent, unless it be done by us unawares, by contingency, and, as it were, by chance; that is, by our will or hand catching at it, as presented by chance, we thinking nothing of it, nor willing any thing about it before.
Sect. X.—I COULD wish, indeed, that we were furnished with some better term for this discussion, than this commonly used term, necessity, which cannot rightly be used, either with reference to the human will, or the divine. It is of a signification too harsh and ill-suited for this subject, forcing upon the mind an idea of compulsion, and that which is altogether contrary to will; whereas, the subject which we are discussing, does not require such an idea: for Will, whether divine or human, does what it does, be it good or evil, not by any compulsion but by mere willingness or desire, as it were, totally free. The will of God, nevertheless, which rules over our mutable will, is immutable and infallible; as Boëtius sings, “Immovable Thyself, Thou movement giv’st to all.” And our own will, especially our corrupt will, cannot of itself do good; therefore, where the term fails to express the idea required, the understanding of the reader must make up the deficiency, knowing what is wished to be expressed—the immutable will of God, and the impotency of our depraved will; or, as some have expressed it, the necessity of immutability, though neither is that sufficiently grammatical, or sufficiently theological.
Upon this point, the Sophists have now laboured hard for many years, and being at last conquered, have been compelled to retreat. All things take place from the necessity of the consequence, (say they) but not from the necessity of the thing consequent. What nothingness this amounts to, I will not take the trouble to show. By the necessity of the consequence, (to give a general idea of it) they mean this—If God wills any thing, that same thing must, of necessity be done; but it is not necessary that the thing done should be necessary: for God alone is necessary; all other things cannot be so, if it is God that wills. Therefore, (say they) the action of God is necessary, where He wills, but the act itself is not necessary; that is, (they mean) it has not essential necessity. But what do they effect by this playing upon words? Only this, that the act itself is not necessary, that is, it has not essential necessity. This is no more than saying, the act is not God Himself. This, nevertheless, remains certain, that if the action of God is necessary, or if there is a necessity of the consequence, every thing takes place of necessity, how much soever the act be not necessary; that is, be not God Himself, or have not essential necessity. For, if I be not made of necessity, it is of little moment with me, whether my existence and being be mutable or not, if, nevertheless, I, that contingent and mutable being, who am not the necessary God, am made.
Wherefore, their ridiculous play upon words, that all things take place from the necessity of the consequence, but not from the necessity of the thing consequent, amounts to nothing more than this—all things take place of necessity, but all the things that do take place are not God Himself. But what need was there to tell us this? As though there were any fear of our asserting, that the things done were God Himself, or possessed divine or necessary nature. This asserted truth, therefore, stands and remains invincible—that all things take place according to the immutable will of God! which they call the necessity of the consequence. Nor is there here any obscurity or ambiguity. In Isaiah he saith, “My counsel shall stand, and My will shall be done.” (Isa. xlvi. 10.) And what schoolboy does not understand the meaning of these expressions, “Counsel,” “will,” “shall be done,” “shall stand?”
Sect. XI.—BUT why should these things be abstruse to us Christians, so that it should be considered irreligious, curious, and vain, to discuss and know them, when heathen poets, and the very commonalty, have them in their mouths in the most frequent use? How often does Virgil alone make mention of Fate? “All things stand fixed by law immutable.” Again, “Fixed is the day of every man.” Again, “If the Fates summon you.” And again, “If thou shalt break the binding chain of Fate.” All this poet aims at, is to show, that in the destruction of Troy, and in raising the Roman empire, Fate did more than all the devoted efforts of men. In a word, he makes even their immortal gods subject to Fate. To this, even Jupiter and Juno must, of necessity, yield. Hence they made the three Parcae immutable, implacable, and irrevocable in decree.
Those men of wisdom knew that which the event itself, with experience, proves; that no man’s own counsels ever succeeded but that the event happened to all contrary to what they thought. Virgil’s Hector says, “Could Troy have stood by human arm, it should have stood by mine.” Hence that common saying was on every one’s tongue, “God’s will be done.” Again, “If God will, we will do it.” Again, “Such was the will of God.” “Such was the will of those above.” “Such was your will,” says Virgil. Whence we may see, that the knowledge of predestination and of the prescience of God, was no less left in the world than the notion of the divinity itself. And those who wished to appear wise, went in their disputatious so far, that, their hearts being darkened, they became fools,” (Rom. i. 21-22,) and denied, or pretended not to know, those things which their poets, and the commonalty, and even their own consciences, held to be universally known, most certain, and most true.
Sect. XII.—I OBSERVE further, not only how true these things are (concerning which I shall speak more at large hereafter out of the Scriptures) but also how religious, pious, and necessary it is to know them; for if these things be not known there can be neither faith, nor any worship of God: nay, not to know them, is to be in reality ignorant of God, with which ignorance salvation, it is well known, cannot consist. For if you doubt, or disdain to know that God foreknows and wills all things, not contingently, but necessarily and immutably, how can you believe confidently, trust to, and depend upon His promises? For when He promises, it is necessary that you should be certain that He knows, is able, and willing to perform what He promises; otherwise, you will neither hold Him true nor faithful; which is unbelief, the greatest of wickedness, and a denying of the Most High God!
And how can you be certain and secure, unless you are persuaded that He knows and wills certainly, infallibly, immutably, and necessarily, and will perform what He promises? Nor ought we to be certain only that God wills necessarily and immutably, and will perform, but also to glory in the same; as Paul, (Rom. iii. 4,) “Let God be true, but every man a liar.” And again, “For the word of God is not without effect.” (Rom. ix. 6.) And in another place, “The foundation of God standeth sure, having this seal, the Lord knoweth them that are His.” (2 Tim. ii. 19.) And, “Which God, that cannot lie, promised before the world began.” (Titus i. 2.) And, “He that cometh, must believe that God is, and that He is a rewarder of them that hope in Him.” (Heb. xi. 6.)
If, therefore, we are taught, and if we believe, that we ought not to know the necessary prescience of God, and the necessity of the things that are to take place, Christian faith is utterly destroyed, and the promises of God and the whole Gospel entirely fall to the ground; for the greatest and only consolation of Christians in their adversities, is the knowing that God lies not, but does all things immutably, and that His will cannot be resisted, changed, or hindered.
Sect. XIII.—DO you now, then, only observe, friend Erasmus, to what that most moderate, and most peace-loving theology of yours would lead us. You call us off, and forbid our endeavouring to know the prescience of God, and the necessity that lies on men and things, and counsel us to leave such things, and to avoid and disregard them; and in so doing, you at the same time teach us your rash sentiments; that we should seek after an ignorance of God, (which comes upon us of its own accord, and is engendered in us), disregard faith, leave the promises of God, and account the consolations of the Spirit and the assurances of conscience, nothing at all! Such counsel scarcely any Epicure himself would give!
Moreover, not content with this, you call him who should desire to know such things, irreligious, curious, and vain; but him who should disregard them, religious, pious, and sober. What else do these words imply, than that Christians are irreligious, curious, and vain? And that Christianity is a thing of nought, vain, foolish, and plainly impious? Here again, therefore, while you wish by all means to deter us from temerity, running, as fools always do, directly into the contrary, you teach nothing but the greatest temerity, impiety, and perdition. Do you not see, then, that in this part, your book is so impious, blasphemous, and sacrilegious, that its like is not any where to be found.
I do not, as I have observed before, speak of your heart; nor can I think that you are so lost, that from your heart, you wish these things to be taught and practiced. But I would shew you what enormities that man must be compelled unknowingly to broach, who undertakes to support a bad cause. And moreover, what it is to run against divine things and truths, when, in mere compliance with others and against our own conscience, we assume a strange character and act upon a strange stage. It is neither a game nor a jest, to undertake to teach the sacred truths and godliness: for it is very easy here to meet with that fall which James speaks of, “he that offendeth in one point is guilty of all.” (James ii. 10.) For when we begin to be, in the least degree, disposed to trifle, and not to hold the sacred truths in due reverence, we are soon involved in impieties, and overwhelmed with blasphemies: as it has happened to you here, Erasmus—May the Lord pardon, and have mercy upon you!
That the Sophists have given birth to such numbers ofreasoning questions upon these subjects, and have intermingled with them many unprofitable things, many of which you mention, I know and confess, as well as you: and I have inveighed against them much more than you have. But you act with imprudence and rashness, when you liken the purity of the sacred truths unto the profane and foolish questions of the impious, and mingle and confound it with them. “They have defiled the gold with dung, and changed the good colour,” (Lam. iv. 1., as Jeremiah saith.) But the gold is not to be compared unto, and cast away with the dung; as you do it. The gold must be wrested from them, and the pure Scripture separated from their dregs and filth; which it has ever been my aim to do, that the divine truths may be looked upon in one light, and the trifles of these men in another. But it ought not to be considered of any service to us, that nothing has been effected by these questions, but their causing us to favour them less with the whole current of our approbation, if, nevertheless, we still desire to be wiser than we ought. The question with us is not how much the Sophists have effected by their reasonings, but how we may become good men, and Christians. Nor ought you to impute it to the Christian doctrine that the impious do evil. That is nothing to the purpose: you may speak of that somewhere else, and spare your paper here.
Sect. XIV.—UNDER your third head, you attempt to make us some of those very modest and quiet Epicureans. With a different kind of advice indeed, but no better than that, with which the two forementioned particulars are brought forward:—“Some things (you say) are of that nature, that, although they are true in themselves, and might be known, yet it would not be prudent to prostitute them to the ears of every one.”—
Here again, according to your custom, you mingle and confound every thing, to bring the sacred things down to a level with the profane, without making any distinction whatever: again falling into the contempt of, and doing an injury to God. As I have said before, those things which are either found in the sacred Writings, or may be proved by them, are not only plain, but wholesome; and therefore may be, nay, ought to be, spread abroad, learnt, and known. So that your saying, that they ought not to be prostituted to the ears of every one, is false: if, that is, you speak of those things which are in the Scripture: but if you speak of any other things, they are nothing to me, and nothing to the purpose: you lose time and paper in saying any thing about them.
Moreover, you know that I agree not with the Sophists in any thing: you may therefore spare me, and not bring me in at all as connected with their abuse of the truth. You had, in this book of yours, to speak against me. I know where the Sophists are wrong, nor do I want you for my instructor, and they have been sufficiently inveighed against by me: this, therefore, I wish to be observed once for all, whenever you shall bring me in with the Sophists, and disparage my side of the subject by their madness. For you do me an injury; and that you know very well.
Sect. XV.—NOW let us see your reasons for giving this advice - ‘you think, that, although it may be true, that God, from His nature, is in a beetle’s hole, or even in a sink, (which you have too much holy reverence to say yourself, and blame the Sophists for talking in such a way) no less than in Heaven, yet it would be unreasonable to discuss such a subject before the multitude.’—
First of all, let them talk thus, who can talk thus. We do not here argue concerning what are facts in men, but concerning justice and law: not that we may live, but that we may live as we ought. Who among us lives and acts rightly? But justice and the doctrine of law are not therefore condemned: but rather they condemn us. You fetch from afar these irrelevant things, and scrape together many such from all quarters, because you cannot get over this one point, the prescience of God: and since you cannot overthrow it in any way, you want, in the mean time, to tire out the reader with a multiplicity of empty observation. But of this, no more. Let us return to the point.
What then is your intention, in observing that there are some things which ought not to be spoken of openly? Do you mean to enumerate the subject of “Free-will” among those things? If you do, the whole that I have just said concerning the necessity of knowing what “Free-will” is, will turn round upon you. Moreover, if so, why do you not keep to your own principles, and have nothing to do with your Diatribe? But, if you do well in discussing “Free-will,” why do you speak against such discussion? and if it is a bad subject, why do you make it worse? But if you do not enumerate it among those things, then, you leave your subject-point; and like an orator of words only, talk about those irrelevant things that have nothing to do with the subject.
Sect XVI.—NOR are you right in the use of this example; nor in condemning the discussion of this subject before the multitude, as useless—that God is in a beetle’s hole and even in a sink! For your thoughts concerning God are too human. I confess indeed, that there are certain fantastical preachers, who, not from any religion, or fear of God, but from a desire of vain-glory, or from a thirst after some novelty, or from impatience of silence, prate and trifle in the lightest manner. But such please neither God nor men, although they assert that God is in the Heaven of Heavens. But when there are grave and pious preachers, who teach in modest, pure, and sound words; they, without any danger, nay, unto much profit, speak on such a subject before the multitude.
Is it not the duty of us all to teach, that the Son of God was in the womb of the Virgin, and proceeded forth from her belly? And in what does the human belly differ from any other unclean place? Who, moreover, may not describe it in filthy and shameless terms? But such persons we justly condemn; because, there are numberless pure words, in which we speak of that necessary subject, even with decency and grace. The body also of Christ Himself was human, like ours. Than which body, what is more filthy? But shall we, therefore, not say what Paul saith, that God dwelt in it bodily? (Col. ii. 9.) What is more unclean than death? What more horrible than hell? Yet the prophet glorieth that God was with him in death, and left him not, in hell. (Ps. xvi 10, Ps. cxxxix. 8.)
The pious mind, therefore, is not shocked at hearing that God was in death and in hell: each of which is more horrible, and more loathsome, than either a hole or a sink. Nay, since the Scripture testifies that God is every where, and fills all things, such a mind, not only says that He is in those places, but will, of necessity learn and know that He is there. Unless we are to suppose that if I should at any time be taken and cast into a prison or a sink, (which has happened to many saints,) I could not there call upon God, or believe that He was present with me, until I should come into some ornamented church. If you teach us that we are thus to trifle concerning God, and if you are thus offended at the places of His essential presence, by and by you will not even allow that He dwells with us in Heaven. Whereas, “the Heaven of Heavens cannot contain Him,” (1 Kings viii. 27.); or, they are not worthy. But, as I said before, you, according to your custom, thus maliciously point your sting at our cause, that you may disparage and render if hateful, because you find it stands against you insuperable, and invincible.
Sect. XVII.—IN the example concerning confession and satisfaction, it is wonderful to observe with what dexterous prudence you proceed. Throughout the whole, according to your custom, you move along on the tiptoe of caution, lest you should seem, neither plainly to condemn my sentiments nor to oppose the tyranny of the Popes: a path which you found to be by no means safe. Therefore, throwing off, in this matter, both God and conscience, (for what are these things to Erasmus? What has he to do with them? What profit are they to him?) you rush upon the external bugbear, and attack the commonalty.
—‘That they, from their depravity, abuse the preaching of a free confession and of satisfaction, to an occasion of the flesh. But, nevertheless, (you say) by the necessity of confessing, they are, in a measure, restrained.’—
O memorable and excellent speech! Is this teaching theology? To bind souls by laws, and, (as Ezekiel saith, xiii. 18,) to hunt them to death, which are not bound by God! Why, by this speech you bring upon us the universal tyranny of the laws of the Popes, as useful and wholesome; because, that by them also the depravity of the commonalty is restrained.
But I will not inveigh against this place as it deserves. I will descant upon it thus briefly.—A good theologian teaches, that the commonalty are to be restrained by the external power of the sword, where they do evil: as Paul teaches. (Rom. xiii. 1-4.) But their consciences are not to be fettered by false laws, that they might be tormented with sins where God wills there should be no sins at all. For consciences are bound by the law of God only. So that, that intermediate tyranny of Popes, which falsely terrifies and murders the souls within, and vainly wearies the bodies without is to be taken entirely out of the way. Because, although it binds to confession and other things, outwardly, yet the mind is not, by these things restrained, but exasperated the more into the hatred both of God and men. And in vain does it butcher the body by external things, making nothing but hypocrites.—So that tyrants, with laws of this kind, are nothing else but ravening wolves, robbers, and plunderers of souls. And yet you, an excellent counselor of souls, recommend these to us again: that is, you are an advocate for these most barbarous soul-murderers, who fill the world with hypocrites, and with such as blaspheme God and hate Him in their hearts, in order that they may restrain them a little from outward sin. As though there were no other way of restraining, which makes no hypocrites, and is wrought without any destroying of consciences.
Sect. XVIII.—HERE you produce similitudes (in which you aim at appearing to abound, and to use very appropriately); that is,—‘that there are diseases, which may be borne with less evil than they can be cured: as the leprosy, &c.’ You add, moreover, the example of Paul, who makes a distinction between those things that are lawful, and those that are not expedient. “It is lawful (you say) to speak the truth; but, before every one, at all times, and in every way, it is not expedient.”—
How copious an orator! And yet you understand nothing of what you are saying. In a word, you treat this discussion, as though it were some matter between you and me only, about the recovering of some money that was at stake, or some other trivial thing, the loss of which, as being of much less consideration than the general peace of the community, ought not so to concern any one, but that he may yield, act and suffer upon the occasion, in any way that may prevent the necessity of the whole world being thrown into a tumult. Wherein, you plainly evince, that this peace and tranquility of the flesh, are, with you, a matter of far greater consideration than faith, than conscience, than salvation, than the Word of God, than the glory of Christ, than God Himself! Wherefore, let me tell you this; and I entreat you to let it sink deep into your mind—I am, in this discussion, seeking an object solemn and essential; nay, such, and so great, that it ought to be maintained and defended through death itself; and that, although the whole world should not only be thrown into tumult and set in arms thereby, but even if it should be hurled into chaos and reduced to nothing.—If you cannot receive this, or if you are not affected by it, do you mind your own business, and allow us to receive it and to be affected by it, to whom it is given of God.
For, by the grace of God, I am not so great a fool or madman, as to have desired to sustain and defend this cause so long, with so much fortitude and so much firmness, (which you call obstinacy) in the face of so many dangers of my life, so much hatred, so many traps laid for me; in a word, in the face of the fury of men and devils—I have not done this for money, for that I neither have nor desire; nor for vain-glory, for that, if I wished, I could not obtain in a world so enraged against me, nor for the life for my body, for that cannot be made sure of for an hour.—Do you think, then, that you only have a heart that is moved by these tumults? Yet, I am not made of stone, nor was I born from the Marpesian rocks. But since it cannot be otherwise, I choose rather to be battered in temporal tumult, happy in the grace of God, for God’s word’s sake, which is to be maintained with a mind incorrupt and invincible, than to be ground to powder in eternal tumult, under the wrath of God and torments intolerable! May Christ grant, what I desire and hope, that your heart may not be such—but certainly your words imply, that, with Epicurus, you consider the Word of God and a future life, to be mere fables. For, in your instructions, you would have us, for the sake of the Popes, the heads, and the peace of the community, to put off, upon an occasion, and depart from the all-certain word of God: whereas, if we put off that, we put off God, faith, salvation and all Christianity together. How far different from this is the instruction of Christ: that, we should rather despise the whole world!
Sect. XIX.—BUT you say these things, because you either do not read or do not observe, that such is most constantly the case with the word of God, that because of it, the world is thrown into tumult. And that Christ openly declares: “I came not (says He) to send peace but a sword.” (Matt. x. 34.) And in Luke, “I came to send fire upon the earth.” (Luke xii. 49.) And Paul, (2 Cor. vi. 5,) “In tumults,” &c. And the Prophet, in the Second Psalm, abundantly testifies the same: declaring, that the nations are in tumult, the people roaring, the kings rising up, and the princes conspiring against the Lord and against His Christ. As though He had said, multitude, height, wealth, power, wisdom, righteousness, and whatever is great in the world, sets itself against the word of God.
Look into the Acts of the Apostles, and see what happened in the world on account of the word of Paul only (to say nothing of the other apostles): how he alone throws both the Gentiles and Jews into commotion: or, as the enemies themselves express it, “turns the world upside down.” (Acts xvii. 6.) Under Elijah, the kingdom of Israel was thrown into commotion: as king Ahab complains. (1 Kings xviii. 17.) What tumult was there under the other prophets, while they are all either killed at once or stoned to death; while Israel is taken captive into Assyria, and Judah also to Babylon! Was all this peace? The world and its god (2 Cor. iv. 4,) cannot and will not bear the Word of the true God: and the true God cannot and will not keep silence. While, therefore, these two Gods are at war with each other, what can there be else in the whole world, but tumult?
Therefore, to wish to silence these tumults, is nothing else, than to wish to hinder the Word of God, and to take it out of the way. For the Word of God, wherever it comes, comes to change and to renew the world. And even heathen writers testify, that changes of things cannot take place, without commotion and tumult, nor even without blood. It therefore belongs to Christians, to expect and endure these things, with a stayed mind: as Christ says, “When ye shall hear of wars and rumours of wars, be not dismayed, for these things must first come to pass, but the end is not yet.” (Matt. xxiv. 6.) And as to myself, if I did not see these tumults, I should say the Word of God was not in the world. But now, when I do see them, I rejoice from my heart, and fear them not: being surely persuaded, that the kingdom of the Pope, with all his followers, will fall to the ground: for it is especially against this, that the word of God, which now runs, is directed.
I see indeed, my friend Erasmus, that you complain in many books of these tumults, and of the loss of peace and concord; and you attempt many means whereby to afford a remedy, and (as I am inclined to believe) with a good intention. But this gouty foot laughs at your doctoring hands. For here, in truth, as you say, you sail against the tide; nay, you put out fire with straw. Cease from complaining, cease from doctoring; this tumult proceeds, and is carried on, from above, and will not cease until it shall make all the adversaries of the word as the dirt of the streets. Though I am sorry that I find it necessary to teach you, so great a theologian, these things, like a disciple, when you ought to be a teacher of others.
Your excellent sentiment, then, that some diseases may be borne with less evil than they can be cured applies here: which sentiment you do not appositely use. Rather call these tumults, commotions, perturbations, seditions, discords, wars, and all other things of the same kind with which the world is shaken and tossed to and fro on account of the Word of God,—the diseases. These things, I say, as they are temporal, are borne with less evil than inveterate and evil habits; by which all souls must be destroyed if they be not changed by the word of God: which being taken away, eternal good, God, Christ, and the Spirit, must be taken away with it.
But how much better is it to lose the whole world, than to lose God the Creator of the world, who can create innumerable worlds again, and is better than infinite worlds? For what are temporal things when compared with eternal? This leprosy of temporal things, therefore, is rather to be borne, than that every soul should be destroyed and eternally damned, and the world kept in peace, and preserved from these tumults, by their blood and perdition: whereas, one soul cannot be redeemed with the price of the whole world!
You certainly have command of elegant and excellent similitudes, and sentiments: but, when you are engaged in sacred discussions, you apply them childishly, nay, pervertedly: for you crawl upon the ground, and enter in thought into nothing above what is human. Whereas, those things which God works, are neither puerile, civil, nor human, but divine; and they exceed human capacity. Thus, you do not see, that these tumults and divisions increase throughout the world, according to the counsel, and by the operation of God; and therefore, you fear lest heaven should tumble about our ears. But I, by the grace of God, see these things clearly; because, I see other tumults greater than these that will arise in the age to come in comparison of which, these appear but as the whispering of a breath of air, or the murmuring of a gentle brook.
Sect. XX.—BUT, the doctrine concerning the liberty of confession and satisfaction, you either deny, or know not that there is the Word of God.—And here arises another inquiry. But we know, and are persuaded, that there is a Word of God, in which the Christian liberty is asserted, that we might not suffer ourselves to be ensnared into bondage by human traditions and laws. This I have abundantly shewn elsewhere. But if you wish to enter the lists, I am prepared to discuss the point with you, and to fight it out. Though upon these subjects I have books extant not a few.
But,—“the laws of the Popes (you say,) may at the same time be borne with and observed, in charity; if perchance thus, eternal salvation by the word of God, and the peace of the world, may together consist, without tumult.”—
I have said before, that cannot be. The prince of this world will not allow the Pope and his high priests, and their laws to be observed in liberty, but his design is, to entangle and bind consciences. This the true God will not bear. Therefore, the Word of God, and the traditions of men, are opposed to each other with implacable discord; no less so, than God Himself and Satan; who each destroy the works and overthrow the doctrines of the other, as regal kings each destroying the kingdom of the other. “He that is not with Me (saith Christ) is against Me.” (Luke xi. 23.)
And as to—“a fear that many who are depravedly inclined, will abuse this liberty”—
This must be considered among those tumults, as a part of that temporal leprosy which is to be borne, and of that evil which is to be endured. But these are not to be considered of so much consequence, as that, for the sake of restraining their abuse, the word of God should be taken out of the way. For if all cannot be saved, yet some are saved; for whose sake the word of God is sent; and these, on that account, love it the more fervently, and assent to it the more solemnly. For, what evils did not impious men commit before, when there was no word? Nay, what good did they do? Was not the world always drowned in war, fraud, violence, discord, and every kind of iniquity? For if Micah (vii. 4) compares the best among them to a thorn hedge, what do you suppose he would call the rest?
But now the Gospel is come, men begin to impute unto it, that the world is evil. Whereas, the truth is, that by the good Gospel, it is more manifest how evil it was, while, without the Gospel, it did all its works in darkness. Thus also the illiterate attribute it to learning, that, by its flourishing, their ignorance becomes known. This is the return we make for the word of life and salvation! - And what fear must we suppose there was among the Jews, when the Gospel freed all from the law of Moses? What occasion did not this great liberty seem to give to evil men? But yet, the Gospel was not, on that account, taken away; but the impious were left, and it was preached to the pious, that they might not use their liberty to an occasion of the flesh. (Gal. v. 13.)
Sect. XXI.—NOR is this part of your advice, or your remedy, to any purpose, where you say—“It is lawful to speak the truth but it is not expedient, either before every one, or at all times, or in every manner.” And ridiculously enough, you adduce Paul, where he says, “All things are lawful for me, but all things are not expedient.”—(1 Cor. vi. 12.)
But Paul does not there speak of teaching doctrine or the truth; as you would confound his words, and twist them which way you please. On the contrary, he will have the truth spoken every where, at all times, and in every manner. So that he even rejoices that Christ is preached even through envy and strife. Nay, he declares in plain words, that he rejoices, let Christ be preached in any way. (Phil. i. 15-18.)
Paul is speaking of facts, and the use of doctrine: that is, of those, who, seeking their own, had no consideration of the hurt and offence given to the weak. Truth and doctrine, are to be preached always, openly, and firmly, and are never to be dissembled or concealed; for there is no offence in them; they are the staff of uprightness.—And who gave you the power, or committed to you, the right, of confining the Christian doctrine to persons, places, times, and causes, when Christ wills it to be proclaimed, and to reign freely, throughout the world? For Paul saith, “the Word of God is not bound,” (2 Tim. ii. 9,) but Erasmus bounds the word. Nor did God give us the word that it should be had with respect of places, persons, or times: for Christ saith, “Go ye out into the whole world,”: He does not say, as Erasmus does,—go to this place and not to that. Again, “Preach the Gospel to every creature.” (Mark xvi. 15.) He does not say—preach it to some and not to others. In a word, you enjoin, in the administration of the word of God, a respect of persons, a respect of places, a respect of customs, and a respect of times: whereas, the one and especial part of the glory of the word consists in this,—that, as Paul saith, there is, with it, no respect of persons; and that God is no respecter of persons. You see therefore, again, how rashly you run against the Word of God, as though you preferred far before it, your own counsel and cogitations.
Hence, if we should demand of you that you would determine for us, the times in which, the persons to whom, and the manner in which, the truth is to be spoken, when would you come to an end? The world would sooner compute the termination of time and its own end, than you would settle upon any one certain rule. In the meantime, where would remain the duty of teaching? Where that of teaching the soul? And how could you, who know nothing of the nature of persons, times, and manner, determine upon any rule at all? And even if you should know them perfectly, yet you could not know the hearts of men. Unless, with you, the manner, the time, and the person be this:—teaching the truth so, that the Pope be not indignant, Caesar be not enraged, and that many be not offended and made worse! But what kind of counsel this is, you have seen above.—I have thus rhetorically figured away in these vain words, lest you should appear to have said nothing at all.
How much better is it for us wretched men to ascribe unto God, who knoweth the hearts of all men, the glory of determining the manner in which, the persons to whom, and the times in which the truth is to be spoken. For He knows what is to be spoken to each, and when, and how it is to be spoken. He then, determines that His Gospel which is necessary unto all, should be confined to no place, no time; but that it should be preached unto all, at all times and in all places. And I have already proved, that those things which are handed down to us in the Scriptures, are such, that they are quite plain and wholesome, and of necessity to be proclaimed abroad; even as you yourself determined in your Paraclesis was right to be done; and that, with much more wisdom than you advise now. But let those who would not that souls should be redeemed, such as the Pope and his adherents—let it be left to them to bind the Word of God, and hinder men from life and the kingdom of heaven, that they might neither enter in themselves nor suffer others to enter:—to whose fury you, Erasmus, by this advice of yours, are perniciously subservient.
Sect. XXII.—OF the same stamp with this, is that prudence of yours also, with which you next give it as your advice—‘that, if any thing were settled upon, in the councils, that was wrong, it ought not to be openly confessed: lest, a handle should be thereby afforded, for contemning the authority of the fathers.’—
This, indeed, is just what the Pope wished you to say! And he hears it with greater pleasure than the Gospel itself, and will be a most ungrateful wretch, if he do not honour you in return, with a cardinal’s cap together with all the revenues belonging to it. But in the mean time, friend Erasmus, what will the souls do that shall be bound and murdered by that iniquitous statute? Is that nothing to you? But however, you always think, or pretend to think, that human statutes can be observed together with the Word of God, without peril. If they could, I would at once go over to this your sentiment.
But if you are yet in ignorance, I tell you again, that human statutes cannot be observed together with the Word of God: because, the former bind consciences, the latter looses them. They are directly opposed to each other, as water to fire. Unless, indeed, they could be observed in liberty; that is, not to bind the conscience. But this the Pope wills not, nor can he will it, unless he wishes his kingdom to be destroyed and brought to an end: for that stands only in ensnaring and binding those consciences, which the Gospel pronounces free. The authority of the fathers, therefore, is to be accounted nought: and those statutes which have been wrongly enacted, (as all have been that are not according to the Word of God) are to be rent in sunder and cast away: for Christ is better than the authority of the fathers. In a word, if it be concerning the Word of God that you think thus, you think impiously; if it be concerning other things, your verbose disputing about your sentiment is nothing to me: I am disputing concerning the Word of God!
Sect. XXIII.—IN the last part of your Preface, where you deter us from this kind of doctrine, you think your victory is almost gained.
“What (you say) can be more useless than that this paradox should be proclaimed openly to the world—that whatever is done by us, is not done by Free-will, but from mere necessity. And that of Augustine also—that God works in us both good and evil: that He rewards His good works in us, and punishes His evil works in us.” (You are mightily copious here in giving, or rather, in expostulating concerning a reason.) “What a flood-gate of iniquity (you say) would these things, publicly proclaimed, open unto men! What bad man would amend his life! Who would believe that he was loved of God! Who would war against his flesh!”
I wonder, that in so great vehemency, and contending zeal, you did not remember our main subject, and say—where then would be found “Free-will.”
My friend, Erasmus! here, again, I also say, if you consider that these paradoxes are the inventions of men, why do you contend against them? Why are you so enraged? Against whom do you rail? Is there any man in the world, at this day, who has inveighed more vehemently against the doctrines of men, than Luther! This admonition of yours, therefore, is nothing to me! But if you believe that those paradoxes are the words of God, where is your countenance, where is your shame, where is, I will not say your modesty, but that fear of, and that reverence which is due to the true God, when you say, that nothing is more useless to be proclaimed than that Word of God! What! shall your Creator, come to learn of you His creature, what is useful, and what not useful to be preached? What! did that foolish and unwise God, know not what is necessary to be taught, until you His instructor prescribed to Him the measure, according to which He should be wise, and according to which He should command? What! did He not know before you told Him, that that which you infer would be the consequence of this His paradox? If, therefore, God willed that such things should be spoken of and proclaimed abroad, without regarding what would follow,—who art thou that forbiddest it?
The apostle Paul, in his Epistle to the Romans, discourses on these same things, not “in a corner,” but in public and before the whole world, and that with a freely open mouth, nay in the harshest terms, saying, “whom He will He hardeneth.” (Rom. ix. 18.) And again, “God, willing to shew forth His wrath,” &c. (Rom ix. 22.) What is more severe, that is to the flesh, than that word of Christ “Many are called but few chosen?” (Matt. xxii. 14.) And again, “I know whom I have chosen?” (John xiii. 18.) According to your judgment then, all these things are such, that nothing can be more uselessly spoken; because that by these things, impious men may fall into desperation, hatred, and blasphemy.
Here then, I see, you suppose that the truth and the utility of the Scripture are to be weighed and judged of according to the opinion of men, nay, of men the most impious; so that, what pleases them or seems bearable, should be deemed true, divine, and wholesome: and what has the contrary effect upon them, should at once be deemed useless, false, and pernicious. What else do you mean by all this, than that the words of God should depend on, stand on, and fall by, the will and authority of men? Whereas the Scripture, on the contrary saith, that all things stand and fall by the will and authority of God: and in a word, that “all the earth keeps silence before the face of the Lord.” (Hab. ii. 20.) He who could talk as you do, must imagine that the living God is nothing but a kind of trifling and inconsiderate pettifogger [shyster] declaiming on a certain rostrum, whose words you may if you be disposed, interpret, understand, and refute as you please, because He merely spoke as He saw a set of impious men to be moved and affected.
Here you plainly discover how much your advice above,—‘that the majesty of the judgments of God should be reverenced,’—was from your heart! There, when we were speaking of the doctrines of the Scripture only, where there was no need of reverencing things abstruse and hidden, because there were no such doctrines, you awed us, in the most religious terms, with the darkness of the Corycian cavern, lest we should rush forward with too much curiosity; so that, by the awe, you well nigh frightened us from reading the Scriptures altogether; (to the reading of which Christ and His apostles urge and persuade us, as well as you do yourself elsewhere.) But here, where we are come not to the doctrines of the Scripture, nor to the Corycian cavern only, but to the very, and greatly to be reverenced secrets of the divine Majesty, viz., why He works thus?—here, as they say, you burst open all bars and rush in; all but, openly blaspheming! What indignation against God do you not discover, because you cannot see His reason why, and His design in this His counsel! Why do you not here frame, as an excuse, obscurity and ambiguity? Why do you not restrain yourself, and deter others from prying into these things which God wills should be hidden from us, and which He has not delivered to us in the Scriptures? It is here the hand is to be laid upon the mouth, it is here we are to reverence what lies hidden, to adore the secret counsels of the divine Majesty, and to exclaim with Paul, “Who art thou, O man, that contendest with God?” (Rom. ix. 20.)
Sect. XXIV.—“WHO (you say) will endeavour to amend his life?”—I answer, No man! no man can! For your self-amenders without the Spirit, God regardeth not, for they are hypocrites. But the Elect, and those that fear God, will be amended by the Holy Spirit; the rest will perish unamended. Nor does Augustine say, that the works of none, nor that the works of all are crowned, but the works of some. Therefore, there will be some, who shall amend their lives.
“Who will believe (you say) that he is loved of God?”—I answer, no man will believe it! No man can! But the Elect shall believe it; the rest shall perish without believing it, filled with indignation and blaspheming, as you here describe them. Therefore, there will be some who shall believe it.
And as to your saying that—“by these doctrines the flood-gate of iniquity is thrown open unto men”—be it so. They pertain to that leprosy of evil to be borne, spoken of before. Nevertheless, by the same doctrines, there is thrown open to the Elect and to them that fear God, a gate unto righteousness,—an entrance into heaven—a way unto God! But if, according to your advice, we should refrain from these doctrines, and should hide from men this Word of God, so that each, deluded by a false persuasion of salvation, should never learn to fear God, and should never be humbled, in order that through this fear he might come to grace and love; then, indeed, we should shut up your flood-gate to purpose! For in the room of it, we should throw open to ourselves and to all, wide gates, nay, yawning chasms and sweeping tides, not only unto iniquity, but unto the depths of hell! Thus, we should not enter into Heaven ourselves, and them that were entering in we should hinder.
—“What utility therefore (you say) is there in, or necessity for proclaiming such things openly, when so many evils seem likely to proceed therefrom?”—
I answer. It were enough to say—God has willed that they should be proclaimed openly: but the reason of the divine will is not to be inquired into, but simply to be adored, and the glory to be given unto God: who, since He alone is just and wise, doth evil to no one, and can do nothing rashly or inconsiderately, although it may appear far otherwise unto us. With this answer those that fear God are content. But that, from the abundance of answering matter which I have, I may say a little more than this, which might suffice;—there are two causes which require such things to be preached. The first is, the humbling of our pride, and the knowledge of the grace of God. The second is, Christian faith itself.
First, God has promised certainly His grace to the humbled: that is, to the self-deploring and despairing. But a man cannot be thoroughly humbled, until he comes to know that his salvation is utterly beyond his own powers, counsel, endeavours, will, and works, and absolutely depending on the will, counsel, pleasure, and work of another, that is, of God only. For if, as long as he has any persuasion that he can do even the least thing himself towards his own salvation, he retain a confidence in himself and do not utterly despair in himself, so long he is not humbled before God; but he proposes to himself some place, some time, or some work, whereby he may at length attain unto salvation. But he who hesitates not to depend wholly upon the good-will of God, he totally despairs in himself, chooses nothing for himself, but waits for God to work in him; and such an one, is the nearest unto grace, that he might be saved.
These things, therefore, are openly proclaimed for the sake of the Elect: that, being by these means humbled and brought down to nothing, they might be saved. The rest resist this humiliation; nay, they condemn the teaching of self desperation; they wish to have left a little something that they may do themselves. These secretly remain proud, and adversaries to the grace of God. This, I say, is one reason—that those who fear God, being humbled, might know, call upon, and receive the grace of God.
The other reason is—that faith is, in things not seen. Therefore, that there might be room for faith, it is necessary that all those things which are believed should be hidden. But they are not hidden more deeply, than under the contrary of sight, sense, and experience. Thus, when God makes alive, He does it by killing; when He justifies, He does it by bringing in guilty: when He exalts to Heaven, He does it by bringing down to hell: as the Scripture saith, “The Lord killeth and maketh alive, He bringeth down to the grave and raiseth up,” (I Sam. ii. 6.); concerning which, there is no need that I should here speak more at large, for those who read my writings, are well acquainted with these things. Thus He conceals His eternal mercy and loving-kindness behind His eternal wrath: His righteousness, behind apparent iniquity.
This is the highest degree of faith—to believe that He is merciful, who saves so few and damns so many; to believe Him just, who according to His own will, makes us necessarily damnable, that He may seem, as Erasmus says, ‘to delight in the torments of the miserable, and to be an object of hatred rather than of love.’ If, therefore, I could by any means comprehend how that same God can be merciful and just, who carries the appearance of so much wrath and iniquity, there would be no need of faith. But now, since that cannot be comprehended, there is room for exercising faith, while such things are preached and openly proclaimed: in the same manner as, while God kills, the faith of life is exercised in death. Suffice it to have said thus much upon your PREFACE.
In this way, we shall more rightly consult for the benefit of those who dispute upon these paradoxes, than according to your way: whereby, you wish to indulge their impiety by silence, and a refraining from saying any thing: which is to no profit whatever. For if you believe, or even suppose these things to be true, (seeing they are paradoxes of no small moment,) such is the insatiable desire of mortals to search into secret things, and the more so the more we desire to keep them secret, that, by this admonition of yours, you will absolutely make them public; for all will now much more desire to know whether these paradoxes be true or not: thus they will, by your contending zeal, be so roused to inquiry, that not one of us ever afforded such a handle for making them known, as you yourself have done by this over-religious and zealous admonition. You would have acted much more prudently, had you said nothing at all about being cautious in mentioning these paradoxes, if you wished to see your desire accomplished. But, since you do not directly deny that they are true, your aim is frustrated: they cannot be concealed: for, by their appearance of truth, they will draw all men to search into them. Therefore, either deny that they are true altogether, or else hold your own tongue first, if you wish others to hold theirs.
Sect XXV.—AS to the other paradox you mention,—that, ‘whatever is done by us, is not done by Free-will, but from mere necessity’—
Let us briefly consider this, lest we should suffer any thing most perniciously spoken, to pass by unnoticed. Here then, I observe, that if it be proved that our salvation is apart from our own strength and counsel, and depends on the working of God alone, (which I hope I shall clearly prove hereafter, in the course of this discussion,) does it not evidently follow, that when God is not present with us to work in us, every thing that we do is evil, and that we of necessity do those things which are of no avail unto salvation? For if it is not we ourselves, but God only, that works salvation in us, it must follow, whether or no, that we do nothing unto salvation before the working of God in us.
But, by necessity, I do not mean compulsion; but (as they term it) the necessity of immutability, not of compulsion; that is, a man void of the Spirit of God, does not evil against his will as by violence, or as if he were taken by the neck and forced to it, in the same way as a thief or cut-throat is dragged to punishment against his will; but he does it spontaneously, and with a desirous willingness. And this willingness and desire of doing evil he cannot, by his own power, leave off, restrain, or change; but it goes on still desiring and craving. And even if he should be compelled by force to do any thing outwardly to the contrary, yet the craving will within remains averse to, and rises in indignation against that which forces or resists it. But it would not rise in indignation, if it were changed, and made willing to yield to a constraining power. This is what we mean by the necessity of immutability:—that the will cannot change itself, nor give itself another bent; but rather the more it is resisted, the more it is irritated to crave; as is manifest from its indignation. This would not be the case if it were free, or had a “Free-will.” Ask experience, how hardened against all persuasion they are, whose inclinations are fixed upon any one thing. For if they yield at all, they yield through force, or through something attended with greater advantage; they never yield willingly. And if their inclinations be not thus fixed, they let all things pass and go on just as they will.
But again, on the other hand, when God works in us, the will, being changed and sweetly breathed on by the Spirit of God, desires and acts, not from compulsion, but responsively, from pure willingness, inclination, and accord; so that it cannot be turned another way by any thing contrary, nor be compelled or overcome even by the gates of hell; but it still goes on to desire, crave after, and love that which is good; even as before, it desired, craved after, and loved that which was evil. This, again, experience proves. How invincible and unshaken are holy men, when, by violence and other oppressions, they are only compelled and irritated the more to crave after good! Even as fire, is rather fanned into flames than extinguished, by the wind. So that neither is there here any willingness, or “Free-will,” to turn itself into another direction, or to desire any thing else, while the influence of the Spirit and grace of God remain in the man.
In a word, if we be under the god of this world, without the operation and Spirit of God, we are led captives by him at his will, as Paul saith. (2 Tim. ii. 26.) So that, we cannot will any thing but that which he wills. For he is that “strong man armed,” who so keepeth his palace, that those whom he holds captive are kept in peace, that they might not cause any motion or feeling against him; otherwise, the kingdom of Satan, being divided against itself, could not stand; whereas, Christ affirms it does stand. And all this we do willingly and desiringly, according to the nature of will: for if it were forced, it would be no longer will. For compulsion is (so to speak) unwillingness. But if the “stronger than he” come and overcome him, and take us as His spoils, then, through the Spirit, we are His servants and captives (which is the royal liberty) that we may desire and do, willingly, what He wills.
Thus the human will is, as it were, a beast between the two. If God sit thereon, it wills and goes where God will: as the Psalm saith, “I am become as it were a beast before thee, and I am continually with thee.” (Ps. lxxiii. 22-23.) If Satan sit thereon, it wills and goes as Satan will. Nor is it in the power of its own will to choose, to which rider it will run, nor which it will seek; but the riders themselves contend, which shall have and hold it.
Sect. XXVI.—AND now, what if I prove from your own words, on which you assert the freedom of the will, that there is no such thing as “Free- will” at all! What if I should make it manifest that you unknowingly deny that, which, with so much policy, you labour to affirm. And if I do not this, actually, I vow that I will consider all that I advance in this book against you, revoked; and all that your Diatribe advances against me, and aims at establishing, confirmed.
You make the power of “Free-will” to be—‘that certain small degree of power, which, without the grace of God, is utterly ineffective.’
Do you not acknowledge this?—Now then, I ask and demand of you, if the grace of God be wanting, or, if it be taken away from that certain small degree of power, what can it do of itself? ‘It is ineffective (you say) and can do nothing of good.’ Therefore, it cannot do what God or His grace wills. And why? because we have now separated the grace of God from it; and what the grace of God does not, is not good. And hence it follows, that “Free-will,” without the grace of God is, absolutely, not FREE; but, immutably, the servant and bond-slave of evil; because, it cannot turn itself unto good. This being determined, I will allow you to make the power of “Free- will,” not only a certain small degree of power, but to make it evangelical if you will, or, if you can, to make it divine: provided that, you add to it this doleful appendage—that, without the grace of God, it is ineffective. Because, then you will at once take from it all power: for, what is ineffective power, but plainly, no power at all?
Therefore, to say, that the will is FREE, and that it has indeed power, but that it is ineffective, is what the sophists call ‘a direct contrariety.’ As if one should say, “Free-will” is that which is not free. Or as if one should term fire cold, and earth hot. For if fire had the power of heat, yea of the heat of hell, yet, if it did not burn or scorch, but were cold and produced cold, I should not call it fire, much less should I term it hot; unless, indeed, you were to mean an imaginary fire, or a fire represented in a picture.—But if we call the power of “Free-will” that, by which a man is fitted to be caught by the Spirit, or to be touched by the grace of God, as one created unto eternal life or eternal death, may be said to be; this power, that is, fitness, or, (as the Sophists term it) ‘disposition-quality,’ and ‘passive aptitude,’ this I also confess. And who does not know, that this is not in trees or beasts? For, (as they say) Heaven was not made for geese.
Therefore, it stands confirmed, even by your own testimony, that we do all things from necessity, not from “Free-will:” seeing that, the power of “Free-will” is nothing, and neither does, nor can do good, without grace. Unless you wish efficacy to bear a new signification, and to be understood as meaning perfection: that is, that “Free-will” can, indeed, will and begin, but cannot perfect: which I do not believe: and upon this I shall speak more at large hereafter.
It now then follows, that Free-will is plainly a divine term, and can be applicable to none but the divine Majesty only: for He alone “doth, (as the Psalm sings) what He will in Heaven and earth.” (Ps. cxxxv. 6.) Whereas, if it be ascribed unto men, it is not more properly ascribed, than the divinity of God Himself would be ascribed unto them: which would be the greatest of all sacrilege. Wherefore, it becomes Theologians to refrain from the use of this term altogether, whenever they wish to speak of human ability, and to leave it to be applied to God only. And moreover, to take this same term out of the mouths and speech of men; and thus to assert, as it were, for their God, that which belongs to His own sacred and holy Name.
But if they must, whether or no, give some power to men, let them teach, that it is to be called by some other term than Free-will”; especially since we know and clearly see, that the people are miserably deceived and seduced by that term, taking and understanding it to signify something far different from that which Theologians mean and understand by it, in their discussions. For the term, “Free-will,” is by far too grand, copious, and full: by which, the people imagine is signified (as the force and nature of the term requires) that power, which can freely turn itself as it will, and such a power as is under the influence of, and subject to no one. Whereas, if they knew that it was quite otherwise, and that by that term scarcely the least spark or degree of power was signified, and that, utterly ineffective of itself, being the servant and bond-slave of the devil, it would not be at all surprising if they should stone us as mockers and deceivers, who said one thing and meant something quite different; nay, who left it uncertain and unintelligible what we meant. For “he who speaks sophistically (the wise man saith) is hated,” and especially if he does so in things pertaining to godliness, where eternal salvation is at stake.
Since, therefore, we have lost the signification of so grand a term and the thing signified by it, or rather, never had them at all, (which the Pelagians may heartily wish had been the case, being themselves illuded [tricked] by this term,) why do we so tenaciously hold an empty word, to the peril and mockery of the believing people? There is no more wisdom in so doing, than there is in kings and potentates retaining, or claiming and boasting of, empty titles of kingdoms and countries, when they are at the same time mere beggars, and any thing but the possessors of those kingdoms and countries. But however, this is bearable, since they deceive and mock no one thereby, but only feed themselves on vanity without any profit. But here, is a peril of salvation, and the most destructive mockery.
Who would not laugh at, or rather hold up to hatred, that most untimely innovator of terms, who, contrary to all established use, should attempt to introduce such a mode of speaking, as by the term ‘beggar,’ to have understood, ‘wealthy;’ not because such an one has any wealth himself, but because some king may, perchance, give him his wealth? And what if such an one should really do this, not by any figure of speech, as by periphrasis or irony, but in plain serious meaning? In the same way, speaking of one ‘sick unto death,’ he may wish to be understood as meaning, one in ‘perfect health:’ giving this as his reason, because the one may give the other his health. So also, he may, by ‘illiterate idiot,’ mean ‘most learned;’ because some other may perchance give him his learning. Of precisely the same nature is this:—man has a “Free-will:” for this reason, if perchance God should give him His. By this abuse of the manner of speaking, any one may boast that he has any thing: that He is the Lord of heaven and earth—if perchance God should give this unto him. But this is not the way in which Theologians should proceed, this is the way of stage-players and public informers. Our words ought to be proper words, pure and sober; and, as Paul saith, “sound speech that cannot be condemned.” (Titus ii. 7-8.)
But, if we do not like to leave out this term altogether, (which would be most safe, and also most religious) we may, nevertheless, with a good conscience teach, that it be used so far as to allow man a “Free-will,” not in respect of those which are above him, but in respect only of those things which are below him: that is, he may be allowed to know, that he has, as to his goods and possessions the right of using, acting, and omitting, according to his “Free-will;” although, at the same time, that same “Free-will” is overruled by the Free-will of God alone, just as He pleases: but that, God-ward, or in things which pertain unto salvation or damnation, he has no “Free-will,” but is a captive, slave, and servant, either to the will of God, or to the will of Satan.
Sect. XXVII.—THESE observations have I made upon the heads of your PREFACE, which, indeed, themselves, may more properly be said to embrace the whole subject, than the following body of the book. But however, the whole of these observations in reply, might have been summed up and made in this one short compendious answer to you.—Your Preface complains, either of the Words of God, or of the word of men. If of the words of men, the whole is written in vain; if of the Words of God, the whole is impious. Wherefore, it would have saved much trouble, if it had been plainly mentioned, whether we were disputing concerning the Words of God, or the words of men. But this, perhaps, will be handled in the EXORDIUM which follows, or in the body of the discussion itself.
But the hints which you have thrown together in the conclusion of your Preface, have no weight whatever.
—Such as, your calling my doctrines ‘fables, and useless:’ and saying, ‘that Christ crucified should rather be preached, after the example of Paul: that wisdom is to be taught among them that are perfect that the language of Scripture is attempered to the various capacities of hearers: and your therefore thinking, that it should be left to the prudence and charity of the teacher, to teach that which may be profitable to his neighbour’—
All this you advance senselessly, and away from the purpose. For rather do we teach anything but Christ crucified. But Christ crucified, brings all these things along with Himself, and that ‘wisdom also among them that are perfect:’ for there is no other wisdom to be taught among Christians, than that which is ‘hidden in a mystery:’ and this belongs to the ‘perfect,’ and not to the sons of the Jewish and legal generation, who, without faith, glory in their works, as Paul, 1 Cor. ii., seems to think! Unless by preaching Christ crucified, you mean nothing else but calling out these words—Christ is crucified!
And as to your observing—‘that, God is represented as being angry, in a fury, hating, grieving, pitying, repenting, neither of which, nevertheless, ever takes place in Him’—
This is only purposely stumbling on plain ground. For these things neither render the Scriptures obscure, nor necessary to be attempered to the various capacities of hearers. Except that, many like to make obscurities where there are none. For these things are no more than grammatical particulars, and certain figures of speech, with which even school-boys are acquainted. But we, in this disputation, are contending, not about grammatical figures, but about doctrines of truth.