Sect. XLI. - AND, first of all, let us begin regularly with your definition: according to which, you define "Free-will" thus,
- "Moreover I consider Free-will in this light: that it is a power in the human will, by which, a man may apply himself to those things which lead unto eternal salvation, or turn away from the same." -
With a great deal of policy indeed, you have here stated a mere naked definition, without declaring any part of it, (as all others do); because, perhaps, you feared more shipwrecks than one. I therefore am compelled to state the several parts myself. The thing defined itself, if it be closely examined, has a much wider extent than the definition of it: and such a definition, the Sophists would call faulty: that is, when the definition does not fully embrace the thing defined. For I have shown before, that "Free-will" cannot be applied to any one but to God only. You may, perhaps, rightly assign to man some kind of will, but to assign unto him "Free-will" in divine things, is going too far. For the term "Free-will," in the judgment of the ears of all, means, that which can, and does do God-ward, whatever it pleases, restrainable by no law and no command. But you cannot call him Free, who is a servant acting under the power of the Lord. How much less, then, can we rightly call men or angels free, who so live under the all-overruling command of God, (to say nothing of sin and death,) that they cannot consist one moment by their own power.
Here then, at the outset, the definition of the term, and the definition of the thing termed, militate against each other: because the term signifies one thing, and the thing termed is, by experience, found to be another. It would indeed be more properly termed "Vertible-will," or "Mutable-will." For in this way Augustine, and after him the Sophists, diminished the glory and force of the term, free; adding thereby this detriment, that they assign vertibility to "Free-will." And it becomes us thus to speak, lest, by inflated and lofty terms of empty sound, we should deceive the hearts of men. And, as Augustine also thinks, we ought to speak according to a certain rule, in sober and proper words; for in teaching, simplicity and propriety of argumentation is required, and not highflown figures of rhetorical persuasion.
Sect. XLII. - BUT that we might not seem to delight in a mere war of words, we cede to that abuse, though great and dangerous, that "Free-will means "Vertible-will." We will cede also that to Erasmus, where he makes "Free-will" 'a power of the human will:' (as though angels had not a "Free-will" too, merely because he designed in this book to treat only on the "Free-will" of men!) We make this remark, otherwise, even in this part, the definition would be too narrow to embrace the thing defined.
We come then to those parts of the definition, which are the hinge upon which the matter turns. Of these things some are manifest enough; the rest shun the light, as if conscious to themselves that they had every thing to fear: because, nothing ought to be expressed more clearly, and more decisively, than a definition; for to define obscurely, is the same thing as defining nothing at all.
The clear parts of the definition then are these: - 'power of human will:' and 'by which a man can:' also, 'unto eternal salvation.' But these are Andabatae: - 'to apply:' and, 'to those things which lead:' also, 'to turn away.' What shall we divine that this 'to apply' means? And this 'to turn away,' also? And also what these words mean, 'which pertain unto eternal salvation?' Into what dark corner have these withdrawn their meaning? I seem as if I were engaged in dispute with a very Scotinian, or with Heraclitus himself, so as to be in the way of being worn out by a twofold labour. First, that I shall have to find out my adversary by groping and feeling about for him in pits and darkness, (which is an enterprise both venturous and perilous,) and if I do not find him, to fight to no purpose with ghosts, and beat the air in the dark. And, secondly, if I should bring him out into the light, that then, I shall have to fight with him upon equal ground, when I am already worn out with hunting after him.
I suppose, then, what you mean by the 'power of the human will' is this: - a power, or faculty, or disposition, or aptitude, to will or not to will, to choose or refuse, to approve or disapprove, and what other actions soever belong to the will. Now then, what it is for this same power 'to apply itself,' or 'to turn away,' I do not see: unless it be the very, willing or not willing, choosing or refusing, approving or disapproving; that is, the very action itself of the will. But may we suppose, that this power is a kind of medium, between the will itself and the action itself; such as, that by which the will itself allures forth the action itself of willing or not willing, or by which the action itself of willing or not willing is allured forth? Any thing else beside this, it is impossible for one to imagine or think of. And if I am deceived, let the fault be my author's who has given the definition, not mine who examine it. For it is justly said among lawyers, 'his words who speaks obscurely, when he can speak more plainly, are to be interpreted against himself.' And here I wish to know nothing of our moderns and their subtleties, for we must come plainly to close quarters in what we say, for the sake of understanding and teaching.
And as to those words, 'which lead unto eternal salvation,' I suppose by them are meant the words and works of God, which are offered to the human will, that it might either apply itself to them, or turn away from them. But I call both the Law and the Gospel the words of God. By the Law, works are required; and by the Gospel, faith. For there are no other things which lead either unto the grace of God, or unto eternal salvation, but the word and the work of God: because grace or the spirit is the life itself, to which we are led by the word and the work of God.
Sect. XLIII. - BUT this life or salvation is an eternal matter, incomprehensible to the human capacity: as Paul shews, out of Isaiah, (1 Cor. ii. 9.) "Eye hath not seen nor ear heard, neither hath it entered into the heart of man to conceive, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him." For when we speak of eternal life, we speak of that which is numbered among the chiefest articles of our faith. And what "Freewill" avails in this article Paul testifies, (1 Cor. ii. 10.) Also: "God (saith he) hath revealed them unto us by His Spirit." As though he had said, the heart of no man will ever understand or think of any of those things, unless the Spirit shall reveal them; so far is it from possibility, that he should ever apply himself unto them or seek after them.
Look at experience. What have the most exalted minds among the nations thought of a future life, and of the resurrection? Has it not been, that the more exalted they were in mind, the more ridiculous the resurrection and eternal life have appeared to them? Unless you mean to say, that those philosophers and Greeks at Athens, who, (Acts xvii. 18.) called Paul, as he taught these things, a "babbler" and a "setter forth of strange gods," were not of exalted minds. Portius Festus, (Acts xxvi. 24.) calls out that Paul is "mad," on account of his preaching eternal life. What does Pliny bark forth, Book vii.? What does Lucian also, that mighty genius? Were not they men wondered at? Moreover to this day there are many, who, the more renowned they are for talent and erudition, the more they laugh at this article; and that openly, considering it a mere fable. And certainly, no man upon earth, unless imbued with the Holy Spirit, ever secretly knows, or believes in, or wishes for, eternal salvation, how much soever he may boast of it by his voice and by his pen. And may you and I, friend Erasmus, be free from this boasting leaven. So rare is a believing soul in this article! - Have I got the sense of this definition?
Sect. XLIV. – UPON the authority of Erasmus, then, "Free-will," is a power of the human will, which can, of itself, will and not will to embrace the word and work of God, by which it is to be led to those things which are beyond its capacity and comprehension. If then, it can will and not will, it can also love and hate. And if it can love and hate, it can, to a certain degree, do the Law and believe the Gospel. For it is impossible, if you can will and not will, that you should not be able by that will to begin some kind of work, even though, from the hindering of another, you should not be able to perfect it. And therefore, as among the works of God which lead to salvation, death, the cross, and all the evils of the world are numbered, human will can will its own death and perdition. Nay, it can will all things while it can will the embracing of the word and work of God. For what is there that can be any where beneath, above, within, and without the word and work of God, but God Himself? And what is there here left to grace and the Holy Spirit? This is plainly to ascribe divinity to "Free-will." For to will to embrace the Law and the Gospel, not to will sin, and to will death, belongs to the power of God alone: as Paul testifies in more places than one.
Wherefore, no one, since the Pelagians, has written more rightly concerning "Free-will" than Erasmus. For I have said above, that "Free-will" is a divine term, and signifies a divine power. But no one hitherto, except the Pelagians, has ever assigned to it that power. Hence, Erasmus by far outstrips the Pelagians themselves: for they assign that divinity to the whole of "Free-will," but Erasmus to the half of it only. They divide "Free-will" into two parts; the power of discerning, and the power of choosing; assigning the one to reason, and the other to will; and the Sophists do the same. But Erasmus, setting aside the power of discerning, exalts the power of choosing alone, and thus makes a lame, half-membered "Free-will," God himself! What must we suppose then he would have done, had he set about describing the whole of "Free-will."
But, not contented with this, he outstrips even the philosophers. For it has never yet been settled among them, whether or not any thing can give motion to itself; and upon this point, the Platonics and Peripatetics are divided in the whole body of philosophy. But according to Erasmus, "Freewill" not only of its own power gives motion to itself, but 'applies itself' to those things which are eternal; that is, which are incomprehensible to itself! A new and unheard-of definer of "Freewill," truly, who leaves the philosophers, the Pelagians, the Sophists, and all the rest of them, far behind him! Nor is this all. He does not even spare himself, but dissents from, and militates against himself, more than against all the rest together. For he had said before, that 'the human will is utterly ineffective without grace:' (unless perhaps this was said only in joke!) but here, where he gives a serious definition, he says, that 'the human will has that power by which it can effectively apply itself to those things which pertain unto eternal salvation;' that is, which are incomparably beyond that power. So that, in this part, Erasmus outstrips even himself!
Sect. XLV. - DO you see, friend Erasmus, that by this definition, you (though unwittingly I presume,) betray yourself, and make it manifest that you either know nothing of these things whatever, or that, without any consideration, and in a mere air of contempt, you write upon the subject, not knowing what you say nor whereof you affirm? And as I said before, you say less about, and attribute more to "Free-will," than all others put together; for you do not describe the whole of "Free-will," and yet you assign unto it all things. The opinion of the Sophists, or at least of the father of them, Peter Lombard, is far more tolerable: he says, '"Free-will" is the faculty of discerning, and then choosing also good, if with grace, but evil if grace be wanting.' He plainly agrees in sentiment with Augustine, that '"Freewill," of its own power, cannot do any thing but fall, nor avail unto any thing but to sin.' Wherefore Augustine also, Book ii., against Julian, calls "Free-will" 'under bondage,' rather than 'free.' - But you make the power of "Free-will" equal in both respects: that it can, by its own power, without grace, both apply itself unto good, and turn itself from evil. For you do not imagine how much you assign unto it, by this pronoun itself, and by itself, when you say 'can apply itself:' for you utterly exclude the Holy Spirit with all His power, as a thing superfluous and unnecessary. Your definition, therefore, is condemnable even by the Sophists; who, were they not so blinded by hatred and fury against me, would be enraged at your book rather than at mine. But now, as your intent is to oppose Luther, all that you say is holy and catholic, even though you speak against both yourself and them, - so great is the patience of holy men!
Not that I say this, as approving the sentiments of the Sophists concerning "Free-will," but because I consider them more tolerable, for they approach nearer to the truth. For though they do not say, as I do, that "Free-will" is nothing at all, yet since they say that it can of itself do nothing without grace, they militate against Erasmus, nay, they seem to militate against themselves, and to be tossed to and fro in a mere quarrel of words, being more earnest for contention than for the truth, which is just as Sophists should be. But now, let us suppose that a Sophist of no mean rank were brought before me, with whom I could speak upon these things apart, in familiar conversation, and should ask him for his liberal and candid judgment in this way: - 'If any one should tell you, that that was free, which of its own power could only go one way, that is, the bad way, and which could go the other way indeed, that is, the right way, but not by its own power, nay, only by the help of another - could you refrain from laughing in his face, my friend?' - For in this way, I will make it appear, that a stone, or a log of wood has "Freewill," because it can go upwards and downwards; although, by its own power, it can go only downwards, but can go upwards only by the help of another. And, as I said before, by meaning at the same time the thing itself, and also something else which may be joined with it or added to it, I will say, consistently with the use of all words and languages - all men are no man, and all things are nothing!
Thus, by a multiplicity of argumentation, they at last make "Free-will," free by accident; as being that, which may at some time be set free by another. But our point in dispute is concerning the thing itself, concerning the reality of "Free-will." If this be what is to be solved, there now remains nothing, let them say what they will, but the empty name of "Free-will."
The Sophists are deficient also in this - they assign to "Free-will," the power of discerning good from evil. Moreover, they set light by regeneration, and the renewing of the Spirit, and give that other external aid, as it were, to "Freewill:" but of this hereafter. - Let this be sufficient concerning the definition. Now let us look into the arguments that are to exalt this empty thing of a TERM.
Sect. XLVI. - FIRST of all, we have that of Ecclesiasticus xv. 15-18. - "God from the beginning made man, and left him in the hand of his own counsel. He gave him also His commandments, and His precepts: saying, If thou wilt keep My commandments, and wilt keep continually, the faith that pleaseth Me, they shall preserve thee. He hath set before thee fire and water; and upon which thou wilt, stretch forth thine hand. Before man is life and death, good and evil; and whichsoever pleaseth him, shall be given unto him." -
Although I might justly refuse this book, yet, nevertheless, I receive it; lest I should, with loss of time, involve myself in a dispute concerning the books that are received into the canon of the Hebrews: which canon you do not a little reproach and deride, when you compare the Proverbs of Solomon, and the Love-song, (as, with a double-meaning sneer, you call it,) with the two books Esdras and Judith, the History of Susannah, of the Dragon, and the Book of Esther, though they have this last in their canon, and according to my judgment, it is much more worthy of being there, than any one of those that are considered not to be in the canon.
But I would briefly answer you here in your own words, 'The Scripture, in this place, is obscure and ambiguous;' therefore, it proves nothing to a certainty. But however, since I stand in the negative, I call upon you to produce that place which declares, in plain words, what "Free-will" is, and what it can do. And this perhaps you will do by about the time of the Greek Calends. - In order to avoid this necessity, you spend many fine sayings upon nothing; and moving along on the tip-toe of prudence, cite numberless opinions concerning "Free-will," and make of Pelagius almost an Evangelist. Moreover, you vamp up a four-fold grace, so as to assign a sort of faith and charity even to the philosophers. And also that new fable, a three-fold law; of nature, of works, and of faith, so as to assert with all boldness, that the precepts of the philosophers agree with the precepts of the Gospel. Again, you apply that of Psalm iv. 6. "The light of Thy countenance is settled upon us," which speaks of the knowledge of the very countenance of the Lord, that is, of faith, to blinded reason. All which things together, if taken into consideration by any Christian, must compel him to suspect, that you are mocking and deriding the doctrines and religion of Christians: For to attribute these things as so much ignorance to him, who has illustrated all our doctrines with so much diligence, and stored them up in memory, appears to me very difficult indeed. But however, I will here abstain from open exposure, contented to wait until a more favourable opportunity shall offer itself. Although I entreat you, friend Erasmus, not to tempt me in this way like one of those who say - who sees us? For it is by no means safe in so great a matter, to be continually mocking every one with Vertumnities of words. But to the subject.
Sect. XLVII. – OUT of the ONE opinion concerning "Free-will" you make THREE. You say - 'that THE FIRST OPINION, of those who deny that man can will good without special grace, who deny that it can begin, who deny that it can make progress, perfect, &c., seems to you severe, though it may be VERY PROBABLE.' And this you prove, as leaving to man the desire and the effort, but not leaving what is to be ascribed to his own power. 'That THE SECOND OPINION of those who contend, that "Free-will" avails unto nothing but to sin, and that grace alone works good in us, &c. is more severe still.' And THIRDLY 'that the opinion of those who say that "Free-will" is an empty term, for that God works in us both good and evil, is most severe. And, that, it is against these last that you profess to write.' -
Do you know what you are saying, friend Erasmus? You are here making three different opinions as if belonging to three different sects: because you do not know that it is the same subject handled by us same professors of the same sect, only by different persons, in a different way and in other words. But let me just put you in remembrance, and set before you the yawning inconsiderateness, or stupidity of your judgment.
How does that definition of "Free-will," let me ask you, which you gave us above, square with this first opinion which you confess to be, 'very probable?' For you said that "Free-will" is a power of the human will, by which a man can apply himself unto good;' whereas here, you say and approve the saying, that 'man, without grace, cannot will good!' The definition, therefore, affirms what its example denies. And hence there are found in your "Free-will" both a YEA and a NAY:" so that, in one and the same doctrine and article, you approve and condemn us, and approve and condemn yourself. For do you think, that to 'apply itself to those things which pertain unto eternal salvation,' which power your definition assigns to "Free-will," is not to do good, when, if there were so much good in "Free-will," that it could apply itself unto good, it would have no need of grace? Therefore, the "Free-will" which you define is one, and the "Free-will" you defend is another. Hence then, Erasmus, outstripping all others, has two "Free-wills;" and they, militating against each other!
Sect. XLVIII. - BUT, setting aside that "Freewill" which the definition defines, let us consider that which the opinion proposes as contrary to it. You grant, that man, without special grace, cannot will good: (for we are not now discussing what the
grace of God can do, but what man can do without grace:) you grant, then, that "Free-will" cannot will good. This is nothing else but granting that it cannot 'apply itself to those things which pertain unto eternal salvation,' according to the tune of your definition. Nay, you say a little before, 'that the human will after sin, is so depraved, that having lost its liberty, it is compelled to serve sin, and cannot recall itself into a better state.' And if I am not mistaken, you make the Pelagians to be of this opinion. Now then I believe, my Proteus has here no way of escape: he is caught and held fast in plain words: - ' that the will, having lost its liberty, is tied and bound a slave to sin.' O noble Free-will! which, having lost its liberty, is declared by Erasmus himself, to be the slave of sin! When Luther asserted this, 'nothing was ever heard of so absurd;' 'nothing was more useless than that this paradox should be proclaimed abroad!' So much so, that even a Diatribe must be written against him!
But perhaps no one will believe me, that these things are said by Erasmus. If the Diatribe be read in this part, it will be admired: but I do not so much admire it. For he who does not treat this as a serious subject, and is not interested in the cause, but is in mind alienated from it, and grows weary of it, cold in it, and disgusted with it, how shall not such an one everywhere speak absurdities, follies, and contrarieties, while, as one drunk or slumbering over the cause, he belches out in the midst of his snoring, It is so! it is not so! just as the different words sound against his ears? And therefore it is, that rhetoricians require a feeling of the subject in the person discussing it. Much more then does theology require such a feeling, that it may make the person vigilant, sharp, intent, prudent, and determined.
If therefore "Free-will" without grace, when it has lost its liberty, is compelled to serve sin and cannot will good, I should be glad to know, what that desire is, what that endeavour is, which that first 'probable opinion' leaves it. It cannot be a good desire or a good endeavour, because it cannot will good, as the opinion affirms, and as you grant. Therefore, it is an evil desire and an evil endeavour that is left, which, when the liberty is lost, is compelled to serve sin. - But above all, what, I pray, is the meaning of this saying: 'this opinion leaves the desire and the endeavour, but does not leave what is to be ascribed to its own power.' Who can possibly conceive in his mind what this means? If the desire and the endeavour be left to the power of "Free-will," how are they not ascribed to the same? If they be not ascribed to it, how can they be left to it? Are then that desire and that endeavour before grace, left to grace itself that comes after, and not to "Free-will" so as to be at the same time left, and not left, to the same "Free-will?" If these things be not paradoxes, or rather enormities, then pray what are enormities?
Sect. XLIX. - BUT perhaps the Diatribe is dreaming this, that between these two 'can will good' and 'cannot will good' there may be a medium; seeing that, to will is absolute, both in respect of good, and evil. So that thus, by a certain logical subtlety, we may steer clear of the rocks, and say, in the will of man there is a certain willing, which cannot indeed will good without grace, but which, nevertheless, being without grace, does not immediately will nothing but evil, but is a sort of mere abstracted willing, vertible, upwards unto good by grace, and downwards unto evil by sin. But then, what will become of that which you have said, that, 'when it has lost its liberty it is compelled to serve sin?' What will become of that desire and endeavour which are left? Where will be that power of 'applying itself to those things which pertain unto eternal salvation?' For that power of applying itself unto salvation, cannot be a mere willing, unless the salvation itself be said to be a nothing. Nor, again, can that desire and endeavour be a mere willing; for desire must strive and attempt something, (as good perhaps,) and cannot go forth into nothing, nor be absolutely inactive.
In a word, which way soever the Diatribe turns itself, it cannot keep clear of inconsistencies and contradictory assertions; nor avoid making that very "Free-will" which it defends, as much a bond-captive as it is a bond-captive itself. For, in attempting to liberate "Free-will," it is so entangled, that it is bound, together with "Free-will," in bonds indissoluble.
Moreover, it is a mere logical figment that in man there is a medium, a mere willing, nor can they who assert this prove it; it arose from an ignorance of things and an observance of terms. As though the thing were always in reality, as it is set forth in terms; and there are with the Sophists many such misconceptions. Whereas the matter rather stands as Christ saith, "He that is not with Me is against Me." (Matt. xii. 30.) He does not say, He that is not with Me is yet not against Me, but in the medium. For if God be in us, Satan is from us, and it is present with us to will nothing but good. But if God be not in us, Satan is in us, and it is present with us to will evil only, Neither God nor Satan admit of a mere abstracted willing in us; but, as you yourself rightly said, when our liberty is lost we are compelled to serve sin: that is, we will sin and evil, we speak sin and evil, we do sin and evil.
Behold then! invincible and all-powerful truth has driven the witless Diatribe to that dilemma, and so turned its wisdom into foolishness, that whereas, its design was to speak against me, it is compelled to speak for me against itself; just in the same way as "Free-will" does any thing good; for when it attempts so to do, the more it acts against evil the more it acts against good. So that the Diatribe is, in saying, exactly what "Freewill" is in doing. Though the whole Diatribe itself, is nothing else but a notable effort of "Free-will," condemning by defending, and defending by condemning: that is, being a twofold fool, while it would appear to be wise.
This, then, is the state of the first opinion compared with itself: - it denies that a man can will any thing good; but yet that a desire remains; which desire, however, is not his own!
Sect. L. - NOW let us compare this opinion with the remaining two.
The next of these, is that opinion 'more severe still,' which holds, that "Free-will" avails unto nothing but to sin. And this indeed is Augustine's opinion, expressed, as well in many other places, as more especially, in his book "Concerning the Spirit and the Letter;" in (if I mistake not) the fourth or fifth chapter, where he uses those very words.
The third, is that 'most severe' opinion; that "Free-will" is a mere empty term, and that every thing which we do, is done from necessity under the bondage of sin. - It is with these two that the Diatribe conflicts.
I here observe, that perhaps it may be, that I am not able to discuss this point intelligibly, from not being sufficiently acquainted with the Latin or with the German. But I call God to witness, that I wish nothing else to be said or to be understood by the words of the last two opinions than what is said in the first opinion: nor does Augustine wish any thing else to be understood, nor do I understand any thing else from his words, than that which the first opinion asserts: so that, the three opinions brought forward by the Diatribe are with me nothing else than my one sentiment. For when it is granted and established, that "Free-will," having once lost its liberty, is compulsively bound to the service of sin, and cannot will any thing good: I, from these words, can understand nothing else than that "Free-will" is a mere empty term, whose reality is lost. And a lost liberty, according to my grammar, is no liberty at all. And to give the name of liberty to that which has no liberty, is to give it an empty term. If I am wrong here, let him set me right who can. If these observations be obscure or ambiguous, let him who can, illustrate and make them plain. I for my part, cannot call that health which is lost, health; and if I were to ascribe it to one who was sick, I should think I was giving him nothing else than an empty name,
But away with these enormities of words. For who would bear such an abuse of the manner of speaking, as that we should say a man has "Free-will," and yet at the same time assert, that when that liberty is once lost, he is compulsively bound to the service of sin, and cannot will any thing good? These things are contrary to common sense, and utterly destroy the common manner of speaking. The Diatribe is rather to be condemned, which in a drowsy way, foists forth its own words without any regard to the words of others. It does not, I say, consider what it is, nor how much it is to assert, that man, when his liberty is lost, is compelled to serve sin and cannot will any thing good. For if it were at all vigilant or observant, it would plainly see, that the sentiment contained in the three opinions is one and the same, which it makes to be diverse and contrary. For if a man, when he has lost his liberty, is compelled to serve sin, and cannot will good, what conclusion concerning him can be more justly drawn, than that he can do nothing but sin, and will evil? And such a conclusion, the Sophists themselves would draw, even by their syllogisms. Wherefore, the Diatribe, unhappily, contends against the last two opinions, and approves the first; whereas, that is precisely the same as the other two; and thus again, as usual, it condemns itself and approves my sentiments, in one and the same article.
Sect. LI. - LET us now come to that passage in Ecclesiasticus, and also with it compare that first 'probable opinion.' The opinion saith, 'Freewill cannot will good.' The passage in Ecclesiasticus is adduced to prove, that "Free-will" is something, and can do something. Therefore, the opinion which is to be proved by Ecclesiasticus, asserts one thing; and Ecclesiasticus, which is adduced to prove it, asserts another. This is just as if any one, setting about to prove that Christ was the Messiah, should adduce a passage which proves that Pilate was governor of Syria, or any thing else equally discordant. It is in the same way that "Free-will" is here proved. But, not to mention my having above made it manifest, that nothing clear or certain can be said or proved concerning "Free-will," as to what it is, or what it can do, it is worth while to examine the whole passage thoroughly.
First he saith, "God made man in the beginning.'' Here he speaks of the creation of man; nor does he say any thing, as yet, concerning either "Free-will" or the commandments.
Then he goes on, "and left him in the hand of his own counsel." And what is here? Is "Freewill" built upon this? But there is not here any mention of commandments, for the doing of which "Free-will" is required; nor do we read any thing of this kind in the creation of man. If any thing be understood by "the hand of his own counsel," that should rather be understood which is in Genesis i. and ii.: that man was made lord of all things that he might freely exercise dominion over them: and as Moses saith, "Let us make man, and let him have dominion over the fishes of the sea:" nor can any thing else be proved from those words: for it is in these things only that man may act of his own will, as being subject unto him. And moreover, he calls this man's counsel, in contradiction as it were to the counsel of God. But after this, when He has said, that man was made and left thus in the hand of his own counsel - he adds,
"He added moreover His commandments and His precepts." Unto what did He add them? Certainly unto that counsel and will of man, and over and above unto that constituting of His dominion over other things. By which commandments He took from man the dominion over one part of His creatures, (that is, over the tree of knowledge of good and evil,) and willed rather that he should not be free. - Having added the commandments, He then comes to the will of man towards God and towards the things of God.
"If thou wilt keep the commandments they shall preserve thee," &c. From this part, therefore, "If thou wilt," begins the question concerning "Free-will." So that, from Ecclesiasticus we learn, that man is constituted as divided into two kingdoms. - The one, is that in which he is led according to his own will and counsel, without the precepts and the commandments of God: that is, in those things which are beneath him. Here he has dominion and is lord, as "left in the hand of his own counsel." Not that God so leaves him to himself, as that He does not co-operate with him; but He commits unto him the free use of things according to his own will, without prohibiting him by any laws or injunctions. As we may say, by way of similitude, the Gospel has left us in the hands of our own counsel, that we may use, and have dominion over all things as we will. But Moses and the Pope left us not in that counsel, but restrained us by laws, and subjected us rather to their own will. - But in the other kingdom, he is not left in the hand of his own counsel, but is directed and led according to the Will and Counsel of God. And as, in his own kingdom, he is led according to his own will, without the precepts of another; so, in the kingdom of God, he is led according to the precepts of another, without his own will. And this is what Ecclesiasticus means, when he says, "He added moreover His commandments and His precepts: saying, If thou wilt,"& c.
If, therefore, these things be satisfactorily clear, I have made it fully evident, that this passage of Ecclesiasticus does not make for "Freewill," but directly against it: seeing that, it subjects man to the precepts and will of God, and takes from him his "Free-will." But if they be not satisfactorily clear, I have at least made it manifest, that this passage cannot make for "Freewill;" seeing that, it may be understood in a sense different from that which they put upon it, that is, in my sense already stated, which is not absurd, but most holy and in harmony with the whole Scripture. Whereas, their sense militates against the whole Scripture, and is fetched from this one passage only, contrary to the tenor of the whole Scripture. I stand therefore, secure in the good sense, the negative of "Free-will," until they shall have confirmed their strained and forced affirmative.
When, therefore, Ecclesiasticus says, "If thou wilt keep the commandments, and keep the faith that pleaseth Me, they shall preserve thee," I do not see that "Free-will" can be proved from those words. For, "if thou wilt," is a verb of the subjunctive mood, which asserts nothing: as the logicians say, 'a conditional asserts nothing indicatively:' such as, if the devil be God, he is deservedly worshipped: if an ass fly, an ass has wings, so also, if there be "Free-will," grace is nothing at all. Therefore, if Ecclesiasticus had wished to assert "Free-will," he ought to have spoken thus: - man is able to keep the commandments of God, or, man, has the power to keep the commandments.
Sect. LII. - BUT here the Diatribe will sharply retort - "Ecclesiasticus by saying, "if thou wilt keep," signifies that there is a will in man, to keep, and not to keep: otherwise, what is the use of saying unto him who has no will, "if thou wilt?" Would it not be ridiculous if any were to say to a blind man, if thou wilt see, thou mayest find a treasure? Or, to a deaf man, if thou wilt hear, I will relate to thee an excellent story? This would be to laugh at their misery" –
I answer: These are the arguments of human reason, which is wont to shoot forth many such sprigs of wisdom. Wherefore, I must dispute now, not with Ecclesiasticus, but with human reason concerning a conclusion; for she, by her conclusions and syllogisms, interprets and twists the Scriptures of God just which way she pleases. But I will enter upon this willingly, and with confidence, knowing, that she can prate nothing but follies and absurdities; and that more especially, when she attempts to make a shew of her wisdom in these divine matters.
First then, if I should demand of her how it can be proved, that the freedom of the will in man is signified and inferred, wherever these expressions are used, 'if thou wilt,' 'if thou shalt do,' 'if thou shalt hear;' she would say, because the nature of words, and the common use of speech among men, seem to require it. Therefore, she judges of divine things and words according to the customs and things of men; than which, what can be more perverse; seeing that, the former things are heavenly, the latter earthly. Like a fool, therefore, she exposes herself, making it manifest that she has not a thought concerning God but what is human.
But, what if I prove, that the nature of words and the use of speech even among men, are not always of that tendency, as to make a laughing stock of those to whom it is said, 'if thou wilt,' 'if thou shalt do it.' 'if thou shalt hear?' - How often do parents thus play with their children, when they bid them come to them, or do this or that, for this purpose only, that it may plainly appear to them how unable they are to do it, and that they may call for the aid of the parent's hand? How often does a faithful physician bid his obstinate patient do or omit those things which are either injurious to him or impossible, to the intent that, he may bring him, by an experience, to the knowledge of his disease or his weakness? And what is more general and common, than to use words of insult or provocation, when we would show either enemies or friends, what they can do and what they cannot do?
I merely go over these things, to shew Reason her own conclusions, and how absurdly she tacks them to the Scriptures: moreover, how blind she must be not to see, that they do not always stand good even in human words and things. But the case is, if she see it to be done once, she rushes on headlong, taking it for granted, that it is done generally in all the things of God and men, thus making, according to the way of her wisdom, of a particularity an universality.
If then God, as a Father, deal with us as with sons, that He might shew us who are in ignorance our impotency, or as a faithful physician, that He might make our disease known unto us, or that He might insult His enemies who proudly resist His counsel; and for this end, say to us by proposed laws (as being those means by which He accomplishes His design the most effectually) 'do,' 'hear,' 'keep,' or, 'if thou wilt,' 'if thou wilt do,' 'if thou wilt hear;' can this be drawn herefrom as a just conclusion - therefore, either we have free power to act, or God laughs at us? Why is this not rather drawn as a conclusion - therefore, God tries us, that by His law He might bring us to a knowledge of our impotency, if we be His friends; or, He thereby righteously and deservedly insults and derides us, if we be His proud enemies.' For this, as Paul teaches, is the intent of the divine legislation. (Rom. iii. 20; v. 20. Gal. iii. 19, 24.) Because human nature is blind, so that it knows not its own powers, or rather its own diseases. Moreover, being proud, it self-conceitedly imagines, that it knows and can do all things. To remedy which pride and ignorance, God can use no means more effectual than His proposed law: of which we shall say more in its place: let it suffice to have thus touched upon it here, to refute this conclusion of carnal and absurd wisdom: - 'if thou wilt' - therefore thou art able to will freely.
The Diatribe dreams, that man is whole and sound, as, to human appearance, he is in his own affairs; and therefore, from these words, 'if thou wilt,' 'if thou wilt do,' 'if thou wilt hear,' it pertly argues, that man, if his will be not free, is laughed at. Whereas, the Scripture describes man as corrupt and a captive; and added to that, as proudly contemning and ignorant of his corruption and captivity: and therefore, by those words, it goads him and rouses him up, that he might know, by a real experience, how unable he is to do any one of those things.
Sect. LIII. - BUT I will attack the Diatribe itself. If thou really think, O Madam Reason! that these conclusions stand good, 'If thou wilt - therefore thou hast a free power,' why dost thou not follow the same thyself? For thou sayest, according to that 'probable opinion,' that "Free-will" cannot will any thing good. By what conclusion then can such a sentiment flow from this passage also, 'if thou wilt keep,' when thou sayest that the conclusion flowing from this, is, that man can will and not will freely? What! can bitter and sweet flow from the same fountain? Dost thou not here much more deride man thyself, when thou sayest, that he can keep that, which he can neither will nor choose? Therefore, neither dost thou, from thy heart, believe that this is a just conclusion, 'if thou wilt - therefore thou hast a free power,' although thou contendest for it with so much zeal, or, if thou dost believe it, then thou dost not, from thy heart, say, that that opinion is 'probable,' which holds that man cannot will good. Thus, reason is so caught in the conclusions and words of her own wisdom, that she knows not what she says, nor concerning what she speaks: nay, knows nothing but that which it is most right she should know - that "Free-will" is defended with such arguments as mutually devour, and put an end to each other; just as the Midianites destroyed each other by mutual slaughter, when they fought against Gideon and the people of God. Judges vii.
Nay, I will expostulate more fully with this wisdom of the Diatribe. Ecclesiasticus does not say, 'if thou shalt have the desire and the endeavour of keeping,' (for this is not to be ascribed to that power of yours, as you have concluded) but he says, "if thou wilt keep the commandments they shall preserve thee." Now then, if we, after the manner of your wisdom, wish to draw conclusions, we should infer thus: - therefore, man is able to keep the commandments. And thus, we shall not here make a certain small degree of desire, or a certain little effort of endeavour to be left in man, but we shall ascribe unto him the whole, full, and abundant power of keeping the commandments. Otherwise, Ecclesiasticus will be made to laugh at the misery of man, as commanding him to 'keep,' who, he knows, is not able to 'keep.' Nor would it have been sufficient if he had supposed the desire and the endeavour to be in the man, for he would not then have escaped the suspicion of deriding him, unless he had signified his having the full power of keeping.
But however, let us suppose that that desire and endeavour of "Free-will" are a real something. What shall we say to those, (the Pelagians, I mean) who, from this passage, have denied grace in toto, and ascribed all to "Free-will?" If the conclusion of the Diatribe stand good, the Pelagians have evidently established their point. For the words of Ecclesiasticus speak of keeping, not of desiring or endeavouring. If, therefore, you deny the Pelagians their conclusion concerning keeping, they, in reply, will much more rightly deny you your conclusion concerning endeavouring. And if you take from them the whole of "Free-will," they will take from you your remnant particle of it: for you cannot assert a remnant particle of that, which you deny in toto. In what degree soever, therefore, you speak against the Pelagians, who from this passage ascribe the whole to "Freewill," in the same degree, and with much more determination, shall we speak against that certain small remnant desire of your "Free-will." And in this, the Pelagians themselves will agree with us, that, if their opinion cannot be proved from this passage, much less will any other of the same kind be proved from it: seeing, that if the subject be to be conducted by conclusions, Ecclesiasticus, above all makes the most forcibly for the Pelagians: for he speaks in plain words concerning keeping only, "If thou wilt keep the commandments:" nay, he speaks also concerning faith, "If thou wilt keep the faith:" so that, by the same conclusion, keeping the faith ought also to be in our power, which, however, is the peculiar and precious gift of God.
In a word, since so many opinions are brought forward in support of "Free-will," and there is no one that does not catch at this passage of Ecclesiasticus in defence of itself; and since they are diverse from, and contrary to each other, it is impossible but that they must make Ecclesiasticus contradictory to, and diverse from themselves in the self same words; and therefore, they can from him prove nothing. Although, if that conclusion of yours be admitted, it will make for the Pelagians against all the others; and consequently, it makes against the Diatribe; which, in this passage, is stabbed by its own sword!
Sect. LIV. - BUT, as I said at first, so I say here: this passage of Ecclesiasticus is in favour of no one of those who assert "Free-will," but makes against them all. For that conclusion is not to be admitted, 'If thou wilt - therefore thou art able;' but those words, and all like unto them, are to be understood thus: - that by them man is admonished of his impotency; which, without such admonitions, being proud and ignorant, he would neither know nor feel.
For he here speaks, not concerning the first man only, but concerning any man: though it is of little consequence whether you understand it concerning the first man, or any others. For although the first man was not impotent, from the assistance of grace, yet, by this commandment, God plainly shews him how impotent he would be without grace. For if that man, who had the Spirit, could not by his new will, will good newly proposed, that is, obedience, because the Spirit did not add it unto him, what can we do without the Spirit toward the good that is lost! In this man, therefore, it is shewn, by a terrible example for the breaking down of our pride, what our "Free-will" can do when it is left to itself, and not continually moved and increased by the Spirit of God. He could do nothing to increase the Spirit who had its first-fruits, but fell from the first-fruits of the Spirit. What then can we who are fallen, do towards the first-fruits of the Spirit which are taken away? Especially, since Satan now reigns in us with full power, who cast him down, not then reigning in him, but by temptation alone! Nothing can be more forcibly brought against "Free-will," than this passage of Ecclesiasticus, considered together with the fall of Adam. But we have no room for these observations here, an opportunity may perhaps offer itself elsewhere. Meanwhile, it is sufficient to have shewn, that Ecclesiasticus, in this place, says nothing whatever in favour of "Free-will" (which nevertheless they consider as their principal authority), and that these expressions and the like, 'if thou wilt,' 'if thou hear,' 'if thou do,' shew, not what men can do, but what they ought to do!
Sect. LV. - ANOTHER passage is adduced by our Diatribe out of Gen. iv. 7.: where the Lord saith unto Cain, "Under thee shall be the desire of sin, and thou shalt rule over it." - "Here it is shewn (saith the Diatribe) that the motions of the mind to evil can be overcome, and that they do not carry with them the necessity of sinning." -
These words, 'the motions of the mind to evil can be overcomes' though spoken with ambiguity, yet, from the scope of the sentiment, the consequence, and the circumstances, must mean this: - that "Free-will," has the power of overcoming its motions to evil; and that, those motions do not bring upon it the necessity of sinning. Here, again; what is there excepted which is not ascribed unto "Free-will?" What need is there of the Spirit, what need of Christ, what need of God, if "Free-will" can overcome the motions of the mind to evil! And where, again, is that 'probable opinion' which affirms, that "Free-will" cannot so much as will good? For here, the victory over evil is ascribed unto that, which neither wills nor wishes for good. The inconsiderateness of our Diatribe is really - too - too bad!
Take the truth of the matter in a few words. As I have before observed, by such passages as these, it is shewn to man what he ought to do, not what he can do. It is said, therefore, unto Cain, that he ought to rule over his sin, and to hold its desires in subjection under him. But this he neither did nor could do, because he was already pressed down under the contrary dominion of Satan. - It is well known, that the Hebrews frequently use the future indicative for the imperative: as in Exod. xx. 1-17. "Thou shalt, have none other gods but Me," "Thou shalt not kill," "Thou shalt not commit adultery," and in numberless other instances of the same kind. Otherwise, if these sentences were taken indicatively, as they really stand, they would be promises of God; and as He cannot lie, it would come to pass that no man could sin; and then, as commands, they would be unnecessary; and if this were the case, then our interpreter would have translated this passage more correctly thus: - "let its desire be under thee, and rule thou over it," (Gen. iv. 7.) Even as it then ought also to be said concerning the woman, "Be thou under thy husband, and let him rule over thee," (Gen. iii. 16.) But that it was not spoken indicatively unto Cain is manifest from this: - it would then have been a promise. Whereas, it was not a promise; because, from the conduct of Cain, the event proved the contrary.
Sect. LVI. – THE third passage is from Moses, (Deut. xxx. 19.) "I have set before thy face life and death, choose what is good, &c." - "What words (says the Diatribe) can be more plain? It leaves to man the liberty of choosing." -
I answer: What is more plain, than, that you are blind? How, I pray, does it leave the liberty of choosing? Is it by the expression 'choose'? - Therefore, as Moses saith 'choose,' does it immediately come to pass that they do choose? Then, there is no need of the Spirit. And as you so often repeat and inculcate the same things, I shall be justified in repeating the same things also. - If there be a liberty of choosing, why has the 'probable opinion' said that "Freewill" cannot will good? Can it choose not willing or against its will? But let us listen to the similitude, -
- "It would be ridiculous to say to a man standing in a place where two ways met, Thou seest two roads, go by which thou wilt, when one only was open." -
This, as I have before observed, is from the arguments of human reason, which thinks, that a man is mocked by a command impossible: whereas I say, that the man, by this means, is admonished and roused to see his own impotency. True it is, that we are in a place where two ways meet, and that one of them only is open, yea rather neither of them is open. But by the law it is shewn how impossible the one is, that is, to good, unless God freely give His Spirit; and how wide and easy the other is, if God leave us to ourselves. Therefore, it would not be said ridiculously, but with a necessary seriousness, to the man thus standing in a place where two ways meet, 'go by which thou wilt,' if he, being in reality impotent, wished to seem to himself strong, or contended that neither way was hedged up.
Wherefore, the words of the law are spoken, not that they might assert the power of the will, but that they might illuminate the blindness of reason, that it might see that its own light is nothing, and that the power of the will is nothing. "By the law (saith Paul) is the knowledge of sin," (Rom. iii. 20.): he does not say - is the abolition of, or the escape from sin. The whole nature and design of the law is to give knowledge only, and that of nothing else save of sin, but not to discover or communicate any power whatever. For knowledge is not power, nor does it communicate power, but it teaches and shows how great the impotency must there be, where there is no power. And what else can the knowledge of sin be, but the knowledge of our evil and infirmity? For he does not say - by the law comes the knowledge of strength or of good. The whole that the law does, according to the testimony of Paul, is to make known sin.
And this is the place, where I take occasion to enforce this my general reply: - that man, by the words of the law, is admonished and taught what he ought to do, not what he can do: that is, that he is brought to know his sin, but not to believe that he has any strength in himself. Wherefore, friend Erasmus, as often as you throw in my teeth the Words of the law, so often I throw in yours that of Paul, "By the law is the knowledge of sin," - not of the power of the will. Heap together, therefore, out of the large Concordances all the imperative words into one chaos, provided that, they be not words of the promise but of the requirement of the law only, and I will immediately declare, that by them is always shewn what men ought to do, not what they can do, or do do. And even common grammarians and every little school-boy in the street knows, that by verbs of the imperative mood, nothing else is signified than that which ought to be done, and that, what is done or can be done, is expressed by verbs of the indicative mood.
Thus, therefore, it comes to pass, that you theologians, are so senseless and so many degrees below even school-boys, that when you have caught hold of one imperative verb you infer an indicative sense, as though what was commanded were immediately and even necessarily done, or possible to be done. But how many slips are there between the cup and the lip! So that, what you command to be done, and is therefore quite possible to be done, is yet never done at all. Such a difference is there, between verbs imperative and verbs indicative, even in the most common and easy things. Whereas you, in these things which are as far above those, as the heavens are above the earth, so quickly make indicatives out of imperatives, that the moment you hear the voice of him commanding, saying, "do," "keep," "choose," you will have, that it is immediately kept, done, chosen, or fulfilled, or, that our powers are able so to do.
Sect. LVII. - IN the fourth place, you adduce from Deuteronomy xxx. many passages of the same kind which speak of choosing, of turning away from, of keeping; as, 'If thou shalt keep,' 'if thou shalt turn away from,' 'if thou shalt choose.' - "All these expressions (you say) are made use of preposterously if there be not a "Free-will" in man unto good" -
I answer: And you, friend Diatribe, preposterously enough also conclude from these expressions the freedom of the will. You set out to prove the endeavour and desire of "Free-will" only, and you have adduced no passage which proves such an endeavour. But now, you adduce those passages, which, if your conclusion hold good, will ascribe all to "Free-will."
Let me here then again make a distinction, between the words of the Scripture adduced, and the conclusion of the Diatribe tacked to them. The words adduced are imperative, and they say nothing but what ought to be done. For, Moses does not say, 'thou hast the power and strength to choose.' The words 'choose,' 'keep,' 'do,' convey the precept 'to keep,' but they do not describe the ability of man. But the conclusion tacked to them by that wisdom-aping Diatribe, infers thus: - therefore, man can do those things, otherwise the precepts are given in vain. To whom this reply must be made: - Madam Diatribe, you make a bad inference, and do not prove your conclusion, but the conclusion and the proof merely seem to be right to your blind and inadvertent self. But know, that these precepts are not given preposterously nor in vain; but that proud and blind man might, by them, learn the disease of his own impotency, if he should attempt to do what is commanded. And hence your similitude amounts to nothing where you say.
- "Otherwise it would be precisely the same, as if any one should say to a man who was so bound that he could only stretch forth his left arm, - Behold! thou hast on thy right hand excellent wine, thou hast on thy left poison; on which thou wilt stretch forth thy hand" -
These your similitudes I presume are particular favourites of yours. But you do not all the while see, that if the similitudes stand good, they prove much more than you ever purposed to prove, nay, that they prove what you deny and would have to be disproved: - that "Free-will" can do all things. For by the whole scope of your argument, forgetting what you said, 'that "Free-will" can do nothing without grace,' you actually prove that "Free-will" can do all things without grace. For your conclusions and similitudes go to prove this: - that either "Free-will" can of itself do those things which are said and commanded, or they are commanded in vain, ridiculously, and preposterously. But these are nothing more than the old songs of the Pelagians sung over again, which even the Sophists have exploded, and which you have yourself condemned. And by all this your forgetfulness and disorder of memory, you do nothing but evince how little you know of the subject, and how little you are affected by it. And what can be worse in a rhetorician, than to be continually bringing forward things wide of the nature of the subject, and not only so, but to be always declaiming against his subject and against himself?
Sect. LVIII. - WHEREFORE I observe, finally, the passages of Scripture adduced by you are imperative, and neither prove any thing, nor determine any thing concerning the ability of man, but enjoin only what things are to be done, and what are not to be done. And as to your conclusions or appendages, and similitudes, if they prove any thing they prove this: - that "Free-will" can do all things without grace. Whereas this you did not undertake to prove, nay, it is by you denied. Wherefore, these your proofs are nothing else but the most direct confutations.
For, (that I may, if I can, rouse the Diatribe from its lethargy) suppose I argue thus - If Moses say, 'Choose life and keep the commandment', unless man be able to choose life and keep the commandment, Moses gives that precept to man ridiculously. - Have I by this argument proved my side of the subject, that "Free-will" can do nothing good, and that it has no external endeavour separate from its own power? Nay, on the contrary, I have proved, by an assertion sufficiently forcible, that either man can choose life and keep the commandment as it is commanded, or Moses is a ridiculous law-giver? But who would dare to assert that Moses was a ridiculous law-giver? It follows therefore, that man can do the things that are commanded.
This is the way in which the Diatribe argues throughout, contrary to its own purposed design; wherein, it promised that it would not argue thus, but would prove a certain endeavour of "Freewill;" of which however, so far from proving it, it scarcely makes mention in the whole string of its arguments; nay, it proves the contrary rather; so that it may itself be more properly said to affirm and argue all things ridiculously.
And as to its making it, according to its own adduced similitude, to be ridiculous, that a man 'having his right arm bound, should be ordered to stretch forth his right hand when he could only stretch forth his left.' - Would it, I pray, be ridiculous, if a man, having both his arms bound, and proudly contending or ignorantly presuming that he could do any thing right or left, should be commanded to stretch forth his hand right and left, not that his captivity might be derided, but that he might be convinced of his false presumption of liberty and power, and might be brought to know his ignorance of his captivity and misery?
The Diatribe is perpetually setting before us such a man, who either can do what is commanded, or at least knows that he cannot do it. Whereas, no such man is to be found. If there were such an one, then indeed, either impossibilities would be ridiculously commanded, or the Spirit of Christ would be in vain.
The Scripture, however, sets forth such a man, who is not only bound, miserable, captive, sick, and dead, but who, by the operation of his lord, Satan, to his other miseries, adds that of blindness: so that he believes he is free, happy, at liberty, powerful, whole, and alive. For Satan well knows that if men knew their own misery he could retain no one of them in his kingdom: because, it could not be, but that God would immediately pity and succour their known misery and calamity: seeing that, He is with so much praise set forth, throughout the whole Scripture as, being near unto the contrite in heart, that Isaiah lxi. 1-3, testifies, that Christ was sent "to preach the Gospel to the poor, and to heal the broken hearted."
Wherefore, the work of Satan is, so to hold men, that they come not to know their misery, but that they presume that they can do all things which are enjoined. But the work of Moses the legislator is the contrary, even that by the law he might discover to man his misery, in order that he might prepare him, thus bruised and confounded with the knowledge of himself, for grace, and might send him to Christ to be saved. Wherefore, the office of the law is not ridiculous, but above all things serious and necessary.
Those therefore who thus far understand these things, understand clearly at the same time, that the Diatribe, by the whole string of its arguments effects nothing whatever; that it collects nothing from the Scriptures but imperative passages, when it understands, neither what they mean nor wherefore they are spoken; and that, moreover, by the appendages of its conclusions and carnal similitudes it mixes up such a mighty mass of flesh, that it asserts and proves more than it ever intended, and argues against itself. So that there were no need to pursue particulars any further, for the whole is solved by one solution, seeing that the whole depends on one argument. But however, that it may be drowned in the same profusion in which it attempted to drown me, I will proceed to touch upon a few particulars more.
Sect. LIX. - THERE is that of Isaiah i. 19., "If ye be willing and obedient, ye shall eat the fat of the land:" - 'Where, (according to the judgment of the Diatribe,) if there be no liberty of the will, it would have been more consistent, had it been said, If I will, if I will not.'
The answer to this may be plainly found in what has been said before. Moreover, what consistency would there then have been, had it been said, 'If I will, ye shall eat the fat of the land?' Does the Diatribe from its so highly exalted wisdom imagine, that the fat of the land can be eaten contrary to the will of God? Or, that it is a rare and new thing, that we do not receive of the fat of the land but by the will of God.
So also, that of Isaiah xxx. 21. "If ye will inquire, inquire ye: return, come." - "To what purpose is it (saith the Diatribe) to exhort those who are not in any degree in their own power? It is just like saying to one bound in chains, Move thyself to this place." -
Nay, I reply, to what purpose is it to cite passages which of themselves prove nothing, and which, by the appendage of your conclusion, that is, by the perversion of their sense, ascribe all unto "Free-will," when a certain endeavour only was to be ascribed unto it, and to be proved?
- "The same may be said (you observe) concerning that of Isaiah xlv. 20. "Assemble yourselves and come." "Turn ye unto me and ye shall be saved." And that also of Isaiah lii. 1-2. "Awake! awake!" "shake thyself from the dust," "loose the bands of thy neck." And that of Jeremiah xv. 19. "If thou wilt turn, then will I turn thee; and if thou shalt separate the precious from the vile, thou shalt be as My mouth." And Malachi more evidently still, indicates the endeavour of "Free-will" and the grace that is prepared for him who endeavours, "Turn ye unto Me, saith the Lord of hosts, and I will turn unto you, saith the Lord.' (Mal. iii. 7.)
Sect. LX. - IN these passages, our friend Diatribe makes no distinction whatever, between the voice of the Law and the voice of the Gospel: because, forsooth, it is so blind and so ignorant, that it knows not what is the Law and what is the Gospel. For out of all the passages from Isaiah, it produces no one word of the law, save this, 'If thou wilt;' all the rest is Gospel, by which, as the word of offered grace, the bruised and afflicted are called unto consolation. Whereas, the Diatribe makes them the words of the law. But, I pray thee, tell me, what can that man do in theological matters, and the Sacred Writings, who has not even gone so far as to know what is Law and what is Gospel, or, who, if he does know, condemns the observance of the distinction between them? Such an one must confound all things, heaven with hell, and life with death; and will never labour to know any thing of Christ. Concerning which, I shall put my friend Diatribe a little in remembrance, in what follows.
Look then, first, at that of Jeremiah and Malachi "If thou wilt turn, then will I turn thee:" and, "turn ye unto me, and I will turn unto you." Does it then follow from "turn ye" - therefore, ye are able to turn? Does it follow also from "Love the Lord thy God with all thy heart" - therefore, thou art able to love with all thine heart? If these arguments stand good, what do they conclude, but that "Free-will" needs not the grace of God, but can do all things of its own power? And then, how much more right would it be that the words should be received as they stand - 'If thou shalt turn, then will I also turn thee?' That is; - if thou shalt cease from sinning, I also will cease from punishing; and if thou shalt be converted and live well, I also will do well unto thee in turning away thy captivity and thy evils. But even in this way, it does not follow, that man can turn by his own power, nor do the words imply this; but they simply say, "If thou wilt turn;" by which, a man is admonished of what he ought to do. And when he has thus known and seen what he ought to do but cannot do, he would ask how he is to do it, were it not for that Leviathan of the Diatribe (that is, that appendage, and conclusion it has here tacked on) which comes in and between and says, - 'therefore, if man cannot turn of his own power, "turn ye" is spoken in vain:' But, of what nature all such conclusion is, and what it amounts to, has been already fully shewn.
It must, however, be a certain stupor or lethargy which can hold, that the power of "Free-will" is confirmed by these words "turn ye," "if thou wilt turn," and the like, and does not see, that for the same reason, it must be confirmed by this Scripture also, "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thine heart," seeing that, the meaning of Him who commands and requires is the same in both instances. For the loving of God, is not less required than our conversion, and the keeping of all the commandments; because, the loving of God is our real conversion. And yet, no one attempts to prove "Free-will" from that command 'to love,' although from those words "if thou wilt," "if thou wilt hear," "turn ye", and the like, all attempt to prove it. If therefore from that word, "love the Lord thy God with all thy heart," it does not follow that "Free-will" is any thing or can do anything, it is certain that it neither follows from these words, "if thou wilt," "if thou wilt hear," "turn ye," and the like, which either require less, or require with less force of importance, than these words "Love God!" "Love the Lord!"
Whatever, therefore, is said against drawing a conclusion in support of "Free-will" from this word "love God," the same must be said against drawing a conclusion in support of "Free-will" from every other word of command or requirement. For, if by the command 'to love,' the nature of the law only be shewn, and what we ought to do, but not the power of the will or what we can do, but rather, what we cannot do, the same is shewn by all the other Scriptures of requirement. For it is well known, that even the schoolmen, except the Scotinians and moderns, assert, that man cannot love God with all his heart. Therefore, neither can he perform any one of the other precepts, for all the rest, according to the testimony of Christ, hang on this one. Hence, by the testimony even of the doctors of the schools, this remains as a settled conclusion: - that the words of the law do not prove the power of "Free-will," but shew what we ought to do, and what we cannot do.
Sect. LXI. - BUT our friend Diatribe, proceeding to still greater lengths of inconsiderateness, not only infers from that passage of Malachi iii. 7., "turn ye unto me," an indicative sense, but also, goes on with zeal to prove therefrom, the endeavour of "Free-will," and the grace prepared for the person endeavouring.
Here, at last, it makes mention of the endeavour and by a new kind of grammar, 'to turn,' signifies, with it, the same thing as 'to endeavour:' so that the sense is, "turn ye unto me," that is, endeavour ye to turn; "and I will turn unto you," that is, I will endeavour to turn unto you: so that, at last, it attributes an endeavour even unto God, and perhaps, would have grace to be prepared for Him upon His endeavouring: for if turning signify endeavouring in one place, why not in every place?
Again, it says, that from Jeremiah xv. 19., "If thou shalt separate the precious from the vile," not the endeavour only, but the liberty of choosing is proved; which, before, it declared was 'lost,' and changed into a 'necessity of serving sin.' You see, therefore, that in handling the Scriptures the Diatribe has a "Free-will" with a witness: so that, with it, words of the same kind are compelled to prove endeavour in one place, and liberty in another, just as the turn suits.
But, to away with vanities, the word TURN is used in the Scriptures in a twofold sense, the one legal, the other evangelical. In the legal sense, it is the voice of the exactor and commander, which requires, not an endeavour, but a change in the whole life. In this sense Jeremiah frequently uses it, saying, "Turn ye now every one of you from his evil way:" and, "Turn ye unto the Lord:" in which, he involves the requirement of all the commandments; as is sufficiently evident. In the evangelical sense, it is the voice of the divine consolation and promise, by which nothing is demanded of us, but in which the grace of God is offered unto us. Of this kind is that of Psalm cxxvi. 1, "When the Lord shall turn again the captivity of Zion;" and that of Psalm cxvi. 7, "Turn again into thy rest, O my soul." Hence, Malachi, in a very brief compendium, has set forth the preaching both of the law and of grace. It is the whole sum of the law, where he saith, "Turn ye unto me;" and it is grace, where he saith, "I will turn unto you." Wherefore, as much as "Free-will" is proved from this word, "Love the Lord," or from any other word of particular law, just so much is it proved from this word of summary law,
"TURN YE." It becomes a wise reader of the Scriptures, therefore, to observe what are words of the law and what are words of grace, that he might not be involved in confusion like the unclean Sophists, and like this sleepily-yawning Diatribe.
Sect. LXII. NOW observe, in what way the Diatribe handles that single passage in Ezekiel xviii. 23, "As I live, saith the Lord, I desire not the death of a sinner, but rather that he should turn from his wickedness and live." In the first place - "if (it says) the expressions "shall turn away," "hath done," "hath committed," be so often repeated in this chapter, where are they who deny that man can do any thing?" -
Only remark, I pray, the excellent conclusion! It set out to prove the endeavour and the desire of "Free-will," and now it proves the whole work, that all things are fulfilled by "Free-will! "Where now, I pray, are those who need grace and the Holy Spirit? For it pertly argues thus: saying, 'Ezekiel says, "If the wicked man shall turn away, and shall do righteousness and judgment, he shall live." Therefore, the wicked man does that immediately and can do it.' Whereas Ezekiel is signifying, what ought to be done, but the Diatribe understands it as being done, and having been done. Thus teaching us, by a new kind of grammar, that ought to be is the same as having been, being exacted the same as being performed, and being required the same as being rendered.
And then, that voice of the all-sweet Gospel, "I desire not the death of a sinner," &c., it perverts thus: - "Would the righteous Lord deplore that death of His people which He Himself wrought in them? If, therefore, He wills not our death, it certainly is to be laid to the charge of our own will, if we perish. For, what can you lay to the charge of Him, who can do nothing either of good or evil?"
It was upon this same string that Pelagius harped long ago, when he attributed to "Free-will" not a desire nor an endeavour only, but the power of doing and fulfilling all things. For as I have said before, these conclusions prove that power, if they prove any thing; so that, they make with equal, nay with more force against the Diatribe which denies that power of "Free-will," and which attempts to establish the endeavour only, than they do, against us who deny "Free-will" altogether. - But, to say nothing of the ignorance of the Diatribe, let us speak to the subject.
It is the Gospel voice, and the sweetest consolation to miserable sinners, where Ezekiel saith, "I desire not the death of a sinner, but rather, that he should be converted and live," and it is in all respects like unto that of Psalm xxx. 5.; "For His wrath is but for a moment, in His willingness is life." And that of Psalm xxxvi. 7., "How sweet is thy loving-kindness, O God." Also, "For I am merciful," And that of Christ, (Matt. xi. 28.) "Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest." And also that of Exodus xx. 6, "I will shew mercy unto thousands of them that love me."
And what is more than half of the Holy Scripture, but mere promises of grace, by which, mercy, life, peace, and salvation, are extended from God unto men? And what else is the whole word of promise but this: - "I desire not the death of a sinner?" Is not His saying, "I am merciful," the same as saying, I am not angry, I am unwilling to punish, I desire not your death, My will is to pardon, My will is to spare? And if there were not these divine promises standing, by which consciences, afflicted with a sense of sin and terrified at the fear of death and judgment might be raised up, what place would there be for pardon or for hope! What sinner would not sink in despair! But as "Free-will" is not proved from any of the other words of mercy, of promise, and of comfort, so neither is it from this: - "I desire not the death of a sinner," &c.
But our friend Diatribe, again making no distinction between the words of the law, and the words of the promise, makes this passage of Ezekiel the voice of the law, and expounds it thus: - "I desire not the death of a sinner:" that is, I desire not that he should sin unto death, or should become a sinner guilty of death; but rather, that he should be converted from sin, if he have committed any, and thus live. For if it do not expound the passage thus, it will make nothing to its purpose. But this is utterly to destroy and take away that most sweet place of Ezekiel, "I desire not the death." If we in our blindness will read and understand the Scriptures thus, what wonder if they be 'obscure and ambiguous.' Whereas God does not say, "I desire not the sin of man, but, I desire not the death of a sinner," which manifestly shews that He is speaking of the punishment of sin, of which the sinner has a sense on account of his sin, that is, of the fear of death; and that He is raising up and comforting the sinner lying under this affliction and desperation, that He might not "break the bruised reed nor quench the smoking flax," but raise him to the hope of pardon and salvation, in order that he might be further converted, that is, by the conversion unto salvation from the fear of death, and that he might live, that is, might be in peace and rejoice in a good conscience.
And this is also to be observed, that as the voice of the law is not pronounced but upon those who neither feel nor know their sins, as Paul saith, "By the law is the knowledge of sin;" (Rom. iii. 20,) so, the word of grace does not come but unto those, who, feeling their sins, are distressed and exercised with desperation. Therefore, in all the words of the law, you will find sin to be implied while it shews what we ought to do; as on the contrary, in all the words of the promise, you will find the evil to be implied under which the sinners, or those who are raised up, labour: as here, "I desire not the death of a sinner," clearly points out the death and the sinner, both the evil itself which is felt, and the sinner himself who feels it. But by this, 'Love God with all thine heart,' is shewn what good we ought to do, not what evil we feel, in order that we might know, how far we are from doing good.
Sect. LXIII. - NOTHING, therefore, could be more absurdly adduced in support of "Free-will" than this passage of Ezekiel, nay, it makes with all possible force directly against "Free-will." For it is here shewn, in what state "Free-will" is, and what it can do under the knowledge of sin, and in turning itself from it: - that is, that it can only go on to worse, and add to its sins desperation and impenitency, unless God soon come in to help, and to call back, and raise up by the word of promise. For the concern of God in promising grace to recall and raise up the sinner, is itself an argument sufficiently great and conclusive, that "Free-will," of itself, cannot but go on to worse, and (as the Scripture saith) 'fall down to hell:' unless, indeed, you imagine that God is such a trifler, that He pours forth so great an abundance of the words of promise, not from any necessity of them unto our salvation, but from a mere delight in loquacity! Wherefore, you see, that not only all the words of law stand against "Free-will," but also, that all the words of the promise utterly confute it; that is, that, the whole Scripture makes directly against it.
Hence, you see, this word, "I desire not the death of a sinner," does nothing else but preach and offer divine mercy to the world, which none receive with joy and gratitude but those who are distressed and exercised with the fears of death, for they are they in whom the law has now done its office, that is, in bringing them to the knowledge of sin. But they who have not yet experienced the office of the law, who do not yet know their sin nor feel the fears of death, despise the mercy promised in that word.
Sect. LXIV. - BUT, why it is, that some are touched by the law and some are not touched, why some receive the offered grace and some despise it, that is another question which is not here treated on by Ezekiel; because, he is speaking of THE PREACHED AND OFFERED MERCY OF GOD, not of that SECRET AND TO BE FEARED WILL OF GOD, who, according to His own counsel, ordains whom, and such as He will, to be receivers and partakers of the preached and offered mercy: which WILL, is not to be curiously inquired into, but to be adored with reverence as the most profound SECRET of the divine Majesty, which He reserves unto Himself and keeps hidden from us, and that, much more religiously than the mention of ten thousand Corycian caverns.
But since the Diatribe thus pertly argues - "Would the righteous Lord deplore that death of His people, which He Himself works in them? This would seem quite absurd" -
I answer, as I said before, - we are to argue in one way, concerning the WILL OF GOD preached, revealed, and offered unto us, and worshipped by us; and in another, concerning GOD HIMSELF not preached, not revealed, not offered unto us, and worshipped by us. In whatever, therefore, God hides Himself and will be unknown by us, that is nothing unto us' and here, that sentiment' stands good - 'What is above us, does not concern us.'
And that no one might think that this distinction is my own, I follow Paul, who, writing to the Thessalonians concerning Antichrist, saith, (2 Thess. ii. 4.) "that he should exalt himself above all that is God, as preached and worshipped:" evidently intimating, that any one might be exalted above God as He is preached and worshipped, that is, above the word and worship of God, by which He is known unto us and has intercourse with us. But, above God not worshipped and preached, that is, as He is in our own nature and majesty, nothing can be exalted, but all things are under His powerful hand.
God, therefore, is to be left to remain in His own Nature and Majesty; for in this respect, we have nothing to do with Him, nor does He wish us to have, in this respect, anything to do with Him: but we have to do with Him, as far as He is clothed in, and delivered to us by, His Word; for in that He presents Himself unto us, and that is His beauty and His glory, in which the Psalmist celebrates Him as being clothed. Wherefore, we say, that the righteous God does not 'deplore that death of His people which He Himself works in them;' but He deplores that death which He finds in His people, and which He desires to remove from them. For GOD PREACHED desires this: - that, our sin and death being taken away, we might be saved; "He sent His word and healed them." (Psalm cvii. 20.) But GOD HIDDEN IN MAJESTY neither deplores, nor takes away death, but works life and death and all things: nor has He, in this Character, defined Himself in His Word, but has reserved unto Himself, a free power over all things.
But the Diatribe is deceived by its own ignorance, in not making a distinction between GOD PREACHED and GOD HIDDEN: that is, between the word of God and God Himself. God does many things which He does not make known unto us in His word: He also wills many things which He does not in His word make known unto us that He wills. Thus, He does not 'will the death of a sinner,' that is, in His word; but He wills it by that will inscrutable. But in the present case, we are to consider His word only, and to leave that will inscrutable; seeing that, it is by His word, and not by that will inscrutable, that we are to be guided; for who can direct himself according to a will inscrutable and incomprehensible? It is enough to know only, that there is in God a certain will inscrutable: but what, why, and how far that will wills, it is not lawful to inquire, to wish to know, to be concerned about, or to reach unto - it is only to be feared and adored!
Therefore it is rightly said, 'if God does not desire our death, it is to be laid to the charge of our own will, if we perish:' this, I say, is right, if you speak of GOD PREACHED. For He desires that all men should be saved, seeing that, He comes unto all by the word of salvation, and it is the fault of the will which does not receive Him: as He saith. (Matt. xxiii. 37.) "How often would I have gathered thy children together, and thou wouldest not!" But WHY that Majesty does not take away or change this fault of the will IN ALL, seeing that, it is not in the power of man to do it; or why He lays that to the charge of the will, which the man cannot avoid, it becomes us not to inquire, and though you should inquire much, yet you will never find out: as Paul saith, (Rom. ix, 20,) "Who art thou that repliest against God!" - Suffice it to have spoken thus upon this passage of Ezekiel. Now let us proceed to the remaining particulars.
Sect. LXV. - THE Diatribe next argues - "If what is commanded be not in the power of every one, all the numberless exhortations in the Scriptures, and also all the promises, threatenings, expostulations, reproofs, asseverations, benedictions and maledictions, together with all the forms of precepts, must of necessity stand coldly useless." -
The Diatribe is perpetually forgetting the subject point, and going on with that which is contrary to its professed design: and it does not see, that all these things make with greater force against itself than against us. For from all these passages, it proves the liberty and ability to fulfil all things, as the very words of the conclusion which it draws necessarily declare: whereas, its design was, to prove 'that "Free-will" is that, which cannot will any thing good without grace, and is a certain endeavour that is not to be ascribed to its own powers.' But I do not see that such an endeavour is proved by any of these passages, but that as I have repeatedly said already, that only is required which ought to be done' unless it be needful to repeat it again, as often as the Diatribe harps upon the same string, putting off its readers with a useless profusion of words.
About the last passage which it brings forward out of the Old Testament, is that of Deut. xxx. 11-14. "This commandment which I command thee this day, is not above thee, neither is it far off. Neither is it in heaven, that thou shouldest say, Who of us shall ascend up into heaven and bring it down unto us, that we may hear it and do it. But the word is very nigh unto thee, in thy mouth and in thy heart, that thou mayest do it." The Diatribe contends - 'that it is declared by this passage, that what is commanded is not only placed in us, but is down-hill work, that is, easy to be done, or at least, not difficult.' -
I thank the Diatribe for such wonderful erudition! For if Moses so plainly declare, that there is in us, not only an ability, but also a power to keep all the commandments with ease, why have I been toiling all this time! Why did I not at once produce this passage and assert "Free-will" before the whole world! What need now of Christ! What need of the Spirit! We have now found a passage which stops the mouths of all, and, which not only plainly asserts the liberty of the will, but teaches that the observance of all the commandments is easy! - What need was there for Christ to purchase for us, even with His own blood, the Spirit, as though necessary, in order that He might make the keeping of the commandments easy unto us, when we were already thus qualified by nature! Nay, here, the Diatribe itself recants its own assertions, where it affirmed, that '"Freewill" cannot will any thing good without grace,' and now affirms, that "Free-will" is of such power, that it can, not only will good, but keep the greatest, nay, all the commandments, with ease.
Only observe, I pray, what a mind does, where the heart is not in the cause, and how impossible it is that it should not expose itself! And can there still be any need to confute the Diatribe? Who can more effectually confute it, than it confutes itself! This truly, is that beast that devours itself! How true is the proverb, that 'A liar should have a good memory!'
I have already spoken upon this passage of Deuteronomy, I shall now treat upon it briefly; if indeed, there be any need so far to set aside Paul, who, Rom. x. 5-11, so powerfully handles this passage. - You can see nothing here to be said, nor one single syllable to speak, either of the ease or difficulty, of the power or impotency of "Free-will" or of man, either to keep or not to keep the commandments. Except that those, who entangle the Scriptures in their own conclusions and cogitations, make them obscure and ambiguous to themselves, that they might thus make of them what they please. But, if you cannot turn your eyes this way, turn your ears, or feel out what I am about to say with your hands. - Moses saith, "it is not above thee," "neither is it far from thee," "neither is it in heaven," "neither is it beyond the sea." Now, what is the meaning of this, "above thee?" What, of this "far from thee?" What, of this "in heaven?" What, of this "beyond the sea?" Will they then make the most commonly used terms, and even grammar so obscure unto us, that we shall not be able to speak any thing to a certainty, merely that they might establish their assertion, that the Scriptures are obscure?
According to my grammar, these terms signify neither the quality nor the quantity of human powers, but the distance of places only. For "above thee" does not signify a certain power of the will, but a certain place which is above us. So also "far from thee," "in heaven," "beyond the sea," do not signify any thing of ability in man, but a certain place at a distance above us, or on our right hand, or on our left hand, or behind us, or over against us. Some one may perhaps laugh at me for disputing in so plain a way, thus setting, as it were, a ready-marked-out lesson before such great men, as though they were little boys learning their alphabet, and I were teaching them how to put syllables together - but what can I do, when I see darkness to be sought for in a light so clear, and those studiously desiring to be blind, who boastingly enumerate before us such a series of ages, so much talent, so many saints, so many martyrs, so many doctors, and who with so much authority boast of this passage, and yet will not deign to look at the syllables, or to command their cogitations so far, as to give the passage of which they boast one consideration? Let the Diatribe now go home and consider, and say, how it can be, that one poor private individual should see that, which escaped the notice of so many public characters, and of the greatest men of so many ages. This passage surely, even in the judgment of a school-boy, proves that they must have been blind not very unfrequently!
What therefore does Moses mean by these most plain and clear words, but, that he has worthily performed his office as a faithful law-giver; and that therefore, if all men have not before their eyes and do not know all the precepts which are enjoined, the fault does not rest with him; that they have no place left them for excuse, so as to say, they did not know, or had not the precepts, or were obliged to seek them elsewhere; that if they do not keep them, the fault rests not with the law, or with the law-giver, but with themselves, seeing that the law is before them, and the law-giver has taught them; and that they have no place left for excusation of ignorance, only for accusation of negligence and disobedience? It is not, saith he, necessary to fetch the laws down from heaven, nor from lands beyond the sea, nor from afar, nor can you frame as an excuse, that you never had them nor heard them, for you have them nigh unto you; they are they which God hath commanded, which you have heard from my mouth, and which you have had in your hearts and in your mouths continually; you have heard them treated on by the Levites in the midst of you, of which this my word and book are witnesses; this, therefore only remains - that you do them. - What, I pray you, is here attributed unto "Free-will?" What is there, but the 'demanding that it would do the laws which it has, and the taking away from it the excuse of ignorance and the want of the laws?
These passages are the sum of what the Diatribe brings forward out of the Old Testament in support of "Free-will," which being answered, there remains nothing that is not answered at the same time, whether it have brought forward, or wished to bring forward more; seeing that, it could bring forward nothing but imperative, or conditional, or optative passages, by which is signified, not what we can do, or do do, (as I have so often replied, to the so often repeating Diatribe) but what we ought to do, and what is required of us, in order that we might come to the knowledge of our impotency, and that there might be wrought in us the knowledge of our sin. Or, if they do prove any thing, by means of the appended conclusions and similitudes invented by human reason, they prove this: - that "Free-will" is not a certain small degree of endeavour or desire only, but a full and free ability and power to do all things, without the grace of God, and without the Holy Spirit.
Thus, nothing less is proved by the whole sum of that copious, and again and again reiterated and inculcated argumentation, than that which was aimed at to be proved, that is, the PROBABLE OPINION; by which, "Free-will" is defined to be of that impotency, 'that it cannot will any thing good without grace, but is compelled into the service of sin; though it has an endeavour, which, nevertheless, is not to be ascribed to its own powers.' - A monster truly! which, at the same time, can do nothing by its own power, and yet, has an endeavour within its own power: and thus, stands upon the basis of a most manifest contradiction!
Sect. LXVI. - We now come to the NEW TESTAMENT, where again, are marshalled up in defence of that miserable bondage of "Free-will," an host of imperative sentences, together with all the auxiliaries of carnal reason, such as, conclusions, similitudes, &c., called in from all quarters. And if you ever saw represented in a picture, or imagined in a dream, a king of flies attended by his forces armed with lances and shields of straw or hay, drawn up in battle array against a real and complete army of veteran warriors - it is just thus, that the human dreams of the Diatribe are drawn up in battle array against the hosts of the words of God!
First of all, marches forth in front, that of Matt. xxiii. 37-39, as it were the Achilles of these flies, "O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, how often would I have gathered thy children together, and thou wouldest not." - "If all things be done from necessity (says the Diatribe) might not Jerusalem here have justly said in reply to the Lord, Why dost thou weary thyself with useless tears? If thou didst not will that we should kill the prophets, why didst thou send them? Why dost thou lay that to our charge, which, from will in thee, was done of necessity by us?" - thus the Diatribe. -
I answer: Granting in the mean time that this conclusion and proof of the Diatribe is good and true, what, I ask, is proved thereby? - that 'probable opinion,' which affirms that "Freewill" cannot will good? Nay, the will is proved to be free, whole, and able to do all things which the prophets have spoken; and such a will the Diatribe never intended to prove. But let the Diatribe here reply to itself. If "Free-will" cannot will good, why is it laid to its charge, that it did not hear the prophets, whom, as they taught good, it could not hear by its own powers? Why does Christ in useless tears weep over those as though they could have willed that, which He certainly knew they could not will? Here, I say, let the Diatribe free Christ from the imputation of madness, according to its 'probable opinion,' and then my opinion is immediately set free from that Achilles of the flies. Therefore, that passage of Matthew either forcibly proves "Free-will" altogether, or makes with equal force against the Diatribe itself, and strikes it prostrate with its own weapon!
But I here observe as I have observed before, that we are not to dispute concerning that SECRET WILL of the divine Majesty; and that, that human temerity, which, with incessant perverseness, is ever leaving those things that are necessary, and attacking and trying this point, is to be called off and driven back, that it employ not itself in prying into those secrets of Majesty which it is impossible to attain unto, seeing that, they dwell in that light which is inaccessible; as Paul witnesseth. (1 Tim. vi. 16.) But let the man acquaint himself with the God Incarnate, or, as Paul saith, with Jesus crucified, in whom are all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge - but hidden! for in Him, there is an abundance both of that which he ought to know, and of that which he ought not to know.
The God Incarnate, then, here speaks thus - "I WOULD and THOU WOULDST NOT!" The God Incarnate,- I say, was sent for this purpose - that He might desire, speak, do, suffer, and offer unto all, all things that are necessary unto salvation, although He should offend many, who, being either left or hardened by that secret will of Majesty, should not receive Him thus desiring, speaking, doing, and offering: as John i. 5, saith, "The light shineth in darkness, and the darkness comprehended it not." And again, "He came unto His own, and His own received Him not." (11.) It belongs also to this same God Incarnate, to weep, to lament, and to sigh over the perdition of the wicked, even while that will of Majesty, from purpose, leaves and reprobates some, that they might perish. Nor does it become us to inquire why He does so, but to revere that God who can do, and wills to do, such things.
Nor do I suppose that any one will cavillingly deny, that that will which here saith, "How often would I!" was displayed to the Jews, even before God became Incarnate; seeing that, they are accused of having slain the prophets, before Christ, and having thus resisted His will. For it is well known among Christians, that all things were done by the prophets in the name of Christ to come, who was promised that He should become Incarnate: so that, whatever has been offered unto men by the ministers of the word from the foundation of the world, may be rightly called, the Will of Christ.
Sect. LXVII. - BUT here Reason, who is always very knowing and loquacious, will say, - This is an excellently invented scape-gap; that, as often as we are pressed close by the force of arguments, we might run back to that to-be-revered will of Majesty, and thus silence the disputant as soon as he becomes troublesome; just as astrologers, do, who, by their invented epicycles, elude all questions concerning the motion of the whole heaven. -
I answer: It is no invention of mine, but a command supported by the Holy Scriptures. Paul, (Rom. ix. 19,) speaks thus: "Why therefore doth God find fault; for who hath resisted His will? Nay, but O man, who art thou that contendest with God?" "Hath not the potter power?" And so on. And before him, Isaiah lviii. 2, "Yet they seek Me daily, and desire to know My ways, as a nation that did righteousness: they ask of Me the ordinances of justice, and desire to approach unto God."
From these words it is, I think, sufficiently manifest that it is not lawful for men to search into that will of Majesty. And this subject is of that nature, that perverse men are here the most led to pry into that to-be-revered will, and therefore, there is here the greatest reason why they should be exhorted to silence and reverence. In other subjects, where those things are handled for which we can give a reason, and for which we are commanded to give a reason, we do not this. And if any one still persist in searching into the reason of that will, and do not choose to hearken to our admonition, we let him go on, and, like the giants, fight against God; while we look on to see what triumph he will gain, persuaded in ourselves, that he will do nothing, either to injure our cause or to advance his own. For it will still remain unalterable, that he must either prove that "Free-will" can do all things, or that the Scriptures which he adduces must make against himself. And, which soever of the two shall take place, he vanquished, lies prostrate, while we as conquerors "stand upright!"
Sect. LXVIII. - ANOTHER passage is that of Matt. xix. 17,) "If thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments." - "With what face, (says the Diatribe,) can "if thou wilt" be said to him who has not a Free-will?' -
To which I reply: - Is, therefore, the will, according to this word of Christ, free? But you wish to prove, that "Free-will" cannot will any thing good; and that, without grace, it of necessity serves sin. With what face, then, do you now make will wholly free?
The same reply will be made to that also - "If thou wilt be perfect," "If any one will come after me," "He that will save his life," "If ye love me," "If Ye shall continue." In a word, as I said before, (to ease the Diatribe's labour in adducing such a load of words) let all the conditional ifs and all the imperative verbs be collected together. - "All these precepts (says the Diatribe) stand coldly useless, if nothing be attributed to the human will. How ill does that conjunctive if accord with mere necessity?" -
I answer: If they stand coldly useless, it is your fault that they stand coldly useless, who, at one time, assert that nothing is to be attributed to "Free-will," while you make "Free-will" unable to will good, and who, on the contrary, here make the same "Free-will" able to will all good; nay, you thus make them to stand as nothing at all: unless, with you, the same words stand coldly useless and warmly useful at the same time, while they at once assert all things and deny all things.
I wonder how any author can delight in repeating the same things so continually, and to be as continually forgetting his subject design: unless perhaps, distrusting his cause, he wishes to overcome his adversary by the bulk of his book, or to weary him out with the tedium and toil of reading it. By what conclusion, I ask, does it follow, that will and power must immediately take place as often as it is said, 'If thou wilt,' 'If any one will,' 'If thou shalt?' Do we not most frequently imply in such expressions impotency rather, and impossibility? For instance. - If thou wilt equal Virgil in singing, my friend Mevius, thou must sing in another strain. - If thou wilt surpass Cicero, friend Scotus, instead of thy subtle jargon, thou must have the most exalted eloquence. If thou wilt stand in competition with David, thou must of necessity produce Psalms like his. Here are plainly signified things impossible to our own powers, although, by divine power, all these things may be done. So it is in the Scriptures, that by such expressions, it might be shewn what we cannot do ourselves, but what can be done in us by the power of God.
Moreover, if such expressions should be used in those things which are utterly impossible to be done, as being those which God would never do, then, indeed, they might rightly be called either coldly useless, or ridiculous, because they would be spoken in vain. Whereas now, they are so used, that by them, not only the impotency of "Free-will" is shewn, by which no one of those things can be done, but it is also signified, that a time will come when all those things shall be done, but by a power not our own, that is, by the divine power; provided that, we fully admit, that in such expressions, there is a certain signification of things possible and to be done: as if any one should interpret them thus: - "If thou wilt keep the commandments, (that is, if thou shalt at any time have the will to keep the commandments, though thou wilt have it, not of thyself, but of God, who giveth it to whom He will,) they also shall preserve thee."
But, to take a wider scope. - These expressions, especially those which are conditional, seem to be so placed also, on account of the Predestination of God, and to involve that as being unknown to us. As if they should speak thus: - "If thou desire," "If thou wilt:" that is, if thou be such with God, that he shall deign to give thee this will to keep the commandments, thou shalt be saved. According to which manner of speaking, it is given us to understand both truths. - That we can do nothing ourselves; and that, if we do any thing, God works that in us. This is what I would say to those, who will not be content to have it said, that by these words our impotency only is shewn, and who will contend, that there is also proved a certain power and ability to do those things which are commanded. And in this way, it will also appear to be truth, that we are not able to do any of the things which are commanded, and yet, 'that we are able to do them all: that is, speaking of the former, with reference to our own powers, and of the latter, with reference to the grace of God.
Sect. LXIX. - THE third particular that moves the Diatribe is this: - "How there can be (it observes) any place for mere necessity there, where mention is so frequently made of good works and of bad works, and where there is mention made of reward, I cannot understand; for neither nature nor necessity can have merit." -
Nor can I understand any thing but this: - that that 'probable opinion,' asserts 'mere necessity' where it affirms that "Free-will" cannot will any thing good, and yet, nevertheless, here attributes to it even 'merit.' Hence, "Free-will" gains ground so fast, as the book and argumentation of the Diatribe increases, that now, it not only has an endeavour and desire of its own, 'though not by its own powers,' nay, not only wills good and does good, but also merits eternal life according to that saying of Christ, (Matt. v. 12,) "Rejoice and be exceeding glad, for great is your reward in heaven." "Your reward," that is, the reward of "Free-will." For the Diatribe so understands this passage, that Christ and the Spirit of God are nothing. For what need is there of them, if we have good works and merit by "Free-will!" I say these things, that we may see, that it is no rare thing for men of exalted talent, to be blind in a matter which is plainly manifest even to one of a thick and uninformed understanding; and that we may also see, how weak, arguments drawn from human authority are in divine things, where the authority of God alone avails.
But we have here to speak upon two things. First, upon the precepts of the New Testament. And next, upon merit. We shall touch upon each briefly, having already spoken upon them more fully elsewhere.
The New Testament, properly, consists of promises and exhortations, even as the Old, properly, consists of laws and threatenings. For in the New Testament, the Gospel is preached; which is nothing else than the word, by which, are offered unto us the Spirit, grace; and the remission of sins obtained for us by Christ crucified; and all entirely free, through the mere mercy of God the Father, thus favouring us unworthy creatures, who deserve damnation rather than any thing else.
And then follow exhortations, in order to animate those who are already justified, and who have obtained mercy, to be diligent in the fruits of the Spirit and of righteousness received, to exercise themselves in charity and good works, and to bear courageously the cross and all the other tribulations of this world. This is the whole sum of the New Testament. But how little Erasmus understands of this matter is manifest from this: - it knows not how to make any distinction between the Old Testament and the New, for it can see nothing any where but precepts, by which, men are formed to good manners only. But what the new-birth is, the new-creature, regeneration, and the whole work of the Spirit, of all this it sees nothing whatever. So that, I am struck with wonder and astonishment, that the man, who has spent so much time and study upon these things, should know so little about them.
This passage therefore, "Rejoice, and be exceeding glad, for great is your reward in heaven," agrees as well with "Free-will" as light does with darkness. For Christ is there exhorting, not "Free-will," but His apostles, (who were not only raised above "Free-will" in grace, and justified, but were stationed in the ministry of the Word, that is, in the highest degree of grace,) to endure the tribulations of the world. But we are now disputing about "Free-will," and that particularly, as it is without Grace; which, by laws and threats, or the Old Testament, is instructed in the knowledge of itself only, that it might flee to the promises presented to it in the New Testament.
Sect. LXX. - AS to merit, or a proposed reward, what is it else but a certain promise? But that promise does not prove that we can do any thing; it proves nothing more than this: - if any one shall do this thing or that, he shall then have a reward. Whereas, our subject inquiry is, not what reward is to be given, or how it is to be given, but, whether or not we can do those things, for the doing of which the reward is to be given. This is the point to be settled and proved. Would not these be ridiculous conclusions? - The prize is set before all that run in the race: therefore, all can so run as to obtain. - If Cæsar shall conquer the Turks, he shall gain the kingdom of Syria: therefore, Cæsar can conquer, and does conquer the Turks. - If "Free-will" shall gain dominion over sin, it shall be holy before the Lord: therefore "Free-will' is holy before the Lord.
But away with things so stupid and openly absurd: (except that, "Free-will' deserves to be proved what it is by arguments so excellent) let us rather speak to this point: - 'that necessity, has neither merit nor reward.' If we speak of the necessity of compulsion, it is true: if we speak of the necessity of immutability, it is false. For who would bestow a reward upon, or ascribe merit to, an unwilling workman? But with respect to those who do good or evil willingly, even though they cannot alter that necessity by their own power, the reward or punishment follows naturally and necessarily: as it is written "thou shalt render unto every man according to his works." (Pro. xxiv. 12.) It naturally follows - if thou remain under water, thou wilt be suffocated; if thou swim out, thou wilt be saved.
To be brief: As it respects merit or reward, you must speak, either of the worthiness or of the consequence. If you speak of the worthiness, there is no merit, no reward. For if "Free-will" cannot of itself will good, but wills good by grace alone, (for we are speaking of "Free-will" apart from grace and inquiring into the power which properly belongs to each) who does not see, that that good
will, merit, and reward, belong to grace alone. Here then, again, the Diatribe dissents from itself, while it argues from merit the freedom of the will; and with me, against whom it fights, it stands in the same condemnation as ever; that is, its asserting that there is merit, reward, and liberty, makes the same as ever directly against itself; seeing that, it asserted above, that it could will nothing good, and undertook to prove that assertion.
If you speak of the consequence, there is nothing either good or evil which has not its reward. And here arises an error, that, in speaking of merits and rewards, we agitate opinions and questions concerning worthiness, which has not existence, when we ought to be disputing concerning consequences. For there remains, as a necessary consequence the judgment of God and a hell for the wicked, even though they themselves neither conceive nor think of such a reward for their sins, nay, they utterly detest it; and, as Peter saith, execrate it. (2 Pet. ii. 10-14.)
In the same manner, there remains a kingdom for the just, even though they themselves neither seek it nor think of it; seeing that, it was prepared for them by their Father, not only before they themselves existed, but before the foundation of the world. Nay, if they should work good in order to obtain the Kingdom, they never would obtain it, but would be numbered rather with the wicked, who, with an evil and mercenary eye, seek the things of self even in God. Whereas, the sons of God, do good with a free-will, seeking no reward, but the glory and will of God only; ready to do good, even if (which is impossible) there were neither a Kingdom nor a hell.
These things are, I believe, sufficiently confirmed even from that saying of Christ only, which I have just cited, Matt. xxv. 34, "Come, ye blessed of my Father, receive the kingdom which was prepared for you from the foundation of the world." - How can they merit that, which is theirs, and prepared for them before they had existence? So that we might much more rightly say, the kingdom of God merits us its possessors; and thus, place the merit where these place the reward, and the reward where these place the merit. For the kingdom is not merited, but before prepared: and the sons of the kingdom are before prepared for the kingdom, but do not merit the kingdom for themselves: that is, the kingdom merits the sons, not the sons the kingdom. So also hell more properly merits and prepares its sons, seeing that, Christ saith, "Depart, ye cursed, into eternal fire, prepared for the devil and his angels." (Matt. xxv. 41.)
Sect. LXXI. - BUT, says the Diatribe - "what then mean all those Scriptures which promise a kingdom and threaten hell? Why is the word reward so often repeated in the Scriptures; as, "Thou hast thy reward," "I am thy exceeding great reward?" Again, "Who rendereth unto every man according to his work;" and Paul, Rom. ii. 6, "Who by patient continuance in well doing, seek for eternal life," and many of the same kind?" (Rom. ii. 6,7.) -
It is answered: By all these passages, the consequence of reward is proved and nothing else, but by no means the worthiness of merit: seeing that, those who do good, do it not from a servile and mercenary principle in order to obtain eternal life, but they seek eternal life, that is, they are in that way, in which they shall come unto and find eternal life. So that seeking, is striving with desire, and pursuing with ardent diligence, that, which always leads unto eternal life. And the reason why it is declared in the Scriptures, that those things shall follow and take place after a good or bad life, is, that men might be instructed, admonished, awakened, and terrified. For as "by the law is the knowledge of sin" (Rom. iii. 20,) and an admonition of our impotency, and as from that, it cannot be inferred that we can do any thing ourselves; so, by these promises and threats, there is conveyed an admonition, by which we are taught, what will follow sin and that impotency made known by the law; but there is not, by them, any thing of worthiness ascribed unto our merit
Wherefore, as the words of the law are for instruction and illumination, to teach us what we ought to do, and also what we are not able to do; so the words of reward, while they signify what will be hereafter, are for exhortation and threatening, by which the just are animated, comforted, and raised up to go forward, to persevere, and to conquer; that they might not be wearied or disheartened either in doing good or in enduring evil; as Paul exhorts his Corinthians, saying, "Be ye steadfast, knowing that your labour is not in vain in the Lord." (1 Cor. xv. 58.) So also God supports Abraham, saying "I am thy exceeding great reward." (Gen. xv. 1.) Just in the same manner as you would console any one, by signifying to him, that his works certainly pleased God, which kind of consolation the Scripture frequently uses; nor is it a small consolation for any one to know, that he so pleases God, that nothing but a good consequence can follow, even though it seem to him impossible.
Sect. LXXII. - TO this point pertain all those words which are spoken concerning the hope and expectation, that those things which we hope for will certainly come to pass. For the pious do not hope because of these words themselves, nor do they expect such things because they hope for them. So also the wicked by the words of threatening, and of a future judgment, are only terrified and cast down that they might cease and abstain from sin, and not become proud, secure, and hardened in their sins.
But if Reason should here turn up her nose and say - Why does God will these things to be done by His words, when by such words nothing is effected, and when the will can turn itself neither one way nor the other? Why does He not do what He does without the Word, when He can do all things without the Word? For the will is of no more power, and does no more with the Word, if the Spirit to move within be wanting; nor is it of less power, nor does it do less without the Word, if the Spirit be present, seeing that, all depends upon the power and operation of the Holy Spirit.
I answer: Thus it pleaseth God - not to give the Spirit without the Word, but through the Word; that He might have us as workers together with Him, while we sound forth in the Word without, what He alone works by the breath of His Spirit within, wheresoever it pleaseth Him; which, nevertheless, He could do without the Word, but such is not His will. And who are we that we should inquire into the cause of the divine will? It is enough for us to know, that such is the will of God; and it becomes us, bridling the temerity of reason, to reverence, love, and adore that will. For Christ, (Matt. xi. 25-26,) gives no other reason why the Gospel is hidden from the wise, and revealed unto babes, than this: - So it pleased the Father! In the same manner also, He might nourish us without bread; and indeed He has given a power which nourishes us without bread, as Matt. iv. 4, saith, "Man doth not live by bread alone, but by the Word of God:" but yet, it hath pleased Him to nourish us by His Spirit within, by means of the bread, and instead of the bread used without.
It is certain, therefore, that merit cannot be proved from the reward, at least out of the Scriptures; and that, moreover, "Free-will" cannot be proved from merit, much less such a "Free-will" as the Diatribe set out to prove, that is, 'which of itself cannot will any thing good!' And even if you grant merit, and add to it, moreover, those usual similitudes and conclusions of reason, such as, 'it is commanded in vain,' 'the reward is promised in vain,' 'threatenings are denounced in vain,' if there be no "Free-will:" all these, I say, if they prove any thing, prove this: - that "Free-will" can of itself do all things. But if it cannot of itself do all things, then that conclusion of reason still remains - therefore, the precepts are given in vain, the promises are made in vain, and the threatenings are denounced in vain.
Thus, the Diatribe is perpetually arguing against itself, as often as it attempts to argue against me. For God alone by His Spirit works in us both merit and reward, but He makes known and declares each, by His external Word, to the whole world; to the intent that, His power and glory and our impotency and vileness might be proclaimed even among the wicked, the unbelieving, and the ignorant, although those alone who fear God receive these things into their heart, and keep them faithfully; the rest despise them.
Sect. LXXIII. - IT would be too tedious to repeat here each imperative passage which the Diatribe enumerates out of the New Testament, always tacking to them her own conclusions, and vainly arguing, that those things which are so said are 'to no purpose,' are 'superfluous,' are 'coldly useless,' are 'ridiculous,' are 'nothing at all,' if the will be not free. And I have already repeatedly observed, even to disgust, that nothing whatever is effected by such arguments; and that if any thing be proved, the whole of "Free-will" is proved. And this is nothing less than overthrowing the Diatribe altogether; seeing that, it set out to prove such a "Free-will" as cannot of itself do good, but serves sin; and then goes on to prove such a "Free-will" as can do all things; thus, throughout, forgetting and not knowing itself.
It is mere cavillation where it makes these remarks - "By their fruits, saith the Lord, 'ye shall know them.' (Matt. vii. 16, 20.) He calls works fruits, and He calls them ours, but they are not ours if all things be done by necessity." -
I pray you, are not those things most rightly called ours, which we did not indeed make ourselves, but which we received from others? Why should not those works be called ours, which God has given unto us by His Spirit? Shall we then not call Christ ours, because we did not make Him, but only received Him? Again: if we made all those things which are called ours - therefore, we made our own eyes, we made our own hands, we made our own feet: unless you mean to say, that our eyes, our hands, and our feet are not called our own! Nay, "What have we that we did not receive," saith Paul. (1 Cor. iv. 7.) Shall we then say, that those things are either not ours, or else we made them ourselves? But suppose they are called our fruits because we made them, where then remain grace and the Spirit? - Nor does He say, "By their fruits, which are in a certain small part their own, ye shall know them." This cavillation rather is ridiculous, superfluous, to no purpose, coldly useless, nay, absurd and detestable, by which the holy words of God are defiled and profaned.
In the same way also is that saying of Christ upon the cross trifled with, "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do." (Luke xxiii. 34.) Here, where some assertion might have been expected which should make for "Free-will," recourse is again had to conclusions - "How much more rightly (says the Diatribe) would He have excused them on this ground - because they have not a Free-will, nor can they if they willed it, do otherwise." -
No! nor is that "Free-will" which 'cannot will any thing good,' concerning which we are disputing, proved by this conclusion either; but that "Free-will" is proved by it which can do all things; concerning which no one disputes, to except the Pelagians.
Here, where Christ openly saith, "they know not what they do," does He not testify that they could not will good? For how can you will that which you do not know? You certainly cannot desire that of which you know nothing! What more forcible can be advanced against "Free-will", than that it is such a thing of nought, that it not only cannot will good, but cannot even know what evil it does, and what good is? Is there then any obscurity in this saying, "they know not what they do?" What is there remaining in the Scriptures which may not, upon the authority of the Diatribe, declare for "Free-will," since this word of Christ is made to declare for it, which is so clearly and so directly against it? In the same easy way any one might affirm that this word declares for "Free-will" - "And the earth was without form and void:" (Gen. i. 2.) or this, "And God rested on the seventh day:" (Gen. ii. 2,) or any word of the same kind. Then, indeed, the Scriptures; would be obscure and ambiguous, nay, would be nothing at all. But to dare to make use of the Scriptures in this way, argues a mind that is in a signal manner, a contemner both of God and man, and that deserves no forbearance whatever.
Sect. LXXIV. - AGAIN the Diatribe receives that word of John i. 12, "To them gave He power to become the sons of God," thus - "How can there be power given unto them, to become the sons of God, if there be no liberty in our will?" -
This word also, is a hammer that beats down "Free-will," as is nearly the whole of the evangelist John, and yet, even this is brought forward in support of "Free-will." Let us, I pray you, just took into this word. John is not speaking concerning any work of man, either great or small but concerning the very renewal and transformation of the old man who is a son of the devil, into the new man who is a son of God. This man is merely passive (as the term is used), nor does he do any thing, but is wholly made: and John is speaking of being made: he saith we are made the sons of God by a power given unto us from above, not by the power of "Free-will" inherent in ourselves.
Whereas, our friend Diatribe here concludes, that "Free-will" is of so much power, that it makes us the sons of God; if not, it is prepared to aver, that the word of John is ridiculous and stands coldly useless. But who ever so exalted "Freewill" as to assign unto it the power of making us the sons of God, especially such a "Free-will as cannot even will good, which "Free-will" it is that the Diatribe has taken upon itself to establish? But let this conclusion be gone after the rest which have been so often repeated; by which, nothing else is proved, if any thing be proved at all, than that which the Diatribe denies - that "Free-will" can do all things.
The meaning of John is this. - That by the coming of Christ into the world by His Gospel, by which grace was offered, but not works required, a full opportunity was given to all men of becoming the sons of God, if they would believe. But as
to this willing and this believing on His name, as "Free-will" never knew it nor thought of it before, so much less could it then do it of its own power. For how could reason then think that faith in Jesus as the Son of God and man was necessary, when even at this day it could neither receive nor believe it, though the whole Creation should cry out together - there is a certain person who is both God and man! Nay it is rather offended at such a saying, as Paul affirms. (1 Cor. i. 17-31.) so far is it from possibility that it should either will it, or believe it.
John, therefore, is preaching, not the power of "Free-will," but the riches of the kingdom of God offered to the world by the Gospel; and signifying at the same time, how few there are who receive it; that is, from the enmity of the "Free-will" against it; the power of which is nothing else than this: - Satan reigning over it and causing it to reject grace, and the Spirit which fulfils the law. So excellently do its 'endeavour' and 'desire' avail unto the fulfilling of the law.
But we shall hereafter shew more fully what a thunderbolt this passage of John is against "Freewill." Yet I am not a little astonished that passages which make so signally and so forcibly against "Free-will" are brought forward by the Diatribe in support of "Free-will;" whose stupidity is such, that it makes no distinction whatever between the promises, and the words of the law: for it most ridiculously sets up "Free-will" by the words of the law, and far more absurdly still confirms it by the words of the promise. But how this absurdity is, may be immediately solved, if it be but considered with what an unconcerned and contemptuous mind the Diatribe is here disputing: With whom, it matters not, whether grace stand or fall, whether "Free-will" lie prostrate or sit in state, if it can but, by words of vanity, serve the turn of tyrants, to the odium of the cause!
Sect. LXXV. - AFTER this, it comes to Paul also, the most determined enemy to "Free-will," and even he is dragged in to confirm "Free-will;" "Or despisest thou the riches of His goodness, and patience, and long-suffering, not knowing that the goodness of God leadeth to repentance?" - (Rom. ii. 4.) - "How (says the Diatribe) can the despising of the commandment be imputed where there is not a Free-will? How can God invite to repentance, who is the author of impenitence? How can the damnation be just, where the judge compels unto evil doing?" -
I answer: Let the Diatribe see to these questions itself. What are they unto us! The Diatribe said according to that 'probable opinion.' 'that "Free-will" cannot will good, and is of necessity compelled to serve sin.' How, therefore, can the despising of the commandment be charged on the will, if it cannot will good, and has no liberty, but is necessarily compelled to the service of sin? How can God invite to repentance who is the author of the reason why it cannot repent, while it leaves, or does not give grace to, that, which cannot of itself will good? How can the damnation be just, where the judge, by taking away his aid, compels the wicked man to be left in his wickedness who cannot of his own power do otherwise?
All these conclusions therefore recoil back upon the head of the Diatribe. Or, if they prove any thing, as I said, they prove that "Free-will" can do all things: which, however, is denied by the Diatribe and by all. Thus these conclusions of reason torment the Diatribe, throughout all the passages of Scripture: seeing that, it must appear ridiculous and coldly useless, to enforce and exact with so much vehemence, when there is no one to be found who can perform: for the apostle's intent is, by means of these threats, to bring the impious and proud to a knowledge of themselves and of their impotency, that he might prepare them for grace when humbled by the knowledge of sin.
And what need is there to speak of, singly, all those parts which are brought forward out of Paul, seeing that, they are only a collection of imperative or conditional passages, or of those by which Paul exhorts Christians to the fruits of faith? Whereas the Diatribe, by its appended conclusions, forms to itself a power of "Free-will," such and so great, which can, without grace, do all things which Paul in his exhortations prescribes. Christians, however, are not led by "Free-will," but by the Spirit of God (Rom. viii. 14): and to be led, is not to lead, but to be impelled, as a saw or an axe is impelled by a carpenter.
And that no one might doubt whether or not Luther asserted things so absurd, the Diatribe recites his own words; which, indeed, I acknowledge. For I confess that that article of Wycliffe, 'all things take place from necessity, that is, from the immutable will of God, and our will is not compelled indeed, but it cannot of itself do good,' was falsely condemned by the Council of Constance, or that conspiracy or cabal rather. Nay the Diatribe itself defends the same together with me, while it asserts, 'that Free-will cannot by its own power will any thing good,' and that, it of necessity serves sin: although in furnishing this defence, it all the while designs the direct contrary.
Suffice it to have spoken thus in reply to the FIRST PART of the Diatribe, in which it has endeavoured to establish "Free-will." Let us now consider the latter part in which our arguments are refuted, that is, those by which "Free-will" is utterly overthrown. - Here you will see, what the smoke of man can do, against the thunder and lightning of God!