November 30, 2014

Martin Luther (1483–1546) on the Will of God and Matthew 23:37

The Diatribe is deceived by its own ignorance in that it makes no 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 show us in His Word, and He wills many things which He does not in His Word show us that He wills. Thus, He does not will the death of a sinner--that is, in His Word; but He wills it by His inscrutable will. At present, however, we must keep in view His Word and leave alone His inscrutable will; for it is by His Word, and not by His inscrutable will, that we must be guided. In any case, who can direct himself according to a will that is inscrutable and incomprehensible? It is enough simply to know that there is in God an inscrutable will; what, why, and within what limits It wills, it is wholly unlawful to inquire, or wish to know, or be concerned about, or touch upon; we must only fear and adore!

So it is right to say: 'If God does not desire our death, it must be laid to the charge of our own will if we perish'; this, I repeat, is right if you spoke of God preached. For He desires that all men should be saved, in that He comes to all by the word of salvation, and the fault is in the will which does not receive Him; as He says in Matt. 23: 'How often would I have gathered thy children together, and thou wouldst not!' (v. 37). But why the Majesty does not remove or change this fault of will in every man (for it is not in the power of man to do it), or why He lays this fault to the charge of the will, when man cannot avoid it, it is not lawful to ask; and though you should ask much, you would never find out; as Paul says in Rom. 11: 'Who are thou that repliest against God?' (Rom. 9.20).
Martin Luther, The Bondage of the Will, trans. by J. I. Packer & O. R. Johnston (Grand Rapids: Fleming H. Revell, 2003), 170–171.
Here, God Incarnate says: 'I would, and thou wouldst not.' God Incarnate, I repeat, was sent for this purpose, to will, say, do, suffer, and offer to all men, all that is necessary for salvation; albeit He offends many who, being abandoned or hardened by God's secret will of Majesty, do not receive Him thus willing, speaking, doing and offering. As John says: 'The light shineth in darkness, and the darkness comprehendeth it not' (John 1.5). And again: 'He came unto His own, and His own received Him not' (v. 11). It belongs to the same God Incarnate to weep, lament, and groan over the perdition of the ungodly, though that will of Majesty purposely leaves and reprobates some to perish. Nor is it for us to ask why He does so, but to stand in awe of God, Who can do, and wills to do, such things. I do not think anyone will raise the quibbling objection that this will, of which it is said: 'How often would I!', was displayed to the Jews even before God was incarnate, inasmuch as they are accused of having slain the prophets before Christ, and of resisting His will thereby. For it is well known among Christians that all that was done through the prophets was done in the name of the coming Christ, Who had been promised, that he might become God Incarnate. Thus all that has been offered to men through the ministry of the Word from the beginning of the world may rightly be called the will of Christ.
Ibid., 176.


Rightly did Muller say:
Luther thus juxtaposes almost paradoxically the assumptions that all things come to pass necessarily by the decree of God's eternal will, that all human beings are foreordained to salvation or damnation, that God nonetheless genuinely wills (as scripture states) the salvation of all people, and that those who are rejected by God are rejected for their unbelief.
Richard A. Muller, "Predestination," in The Oxford Encyclopedia of the Reformation, ed. Hans J. Hillerbrand (New York: Oxford University Press, 1996), 3:333. One wishes that Muller would speak just as clearly and explicitly about Calvin believing the very same thing, since Calvin is just as clear as Luther on God's revealed desire for the salvation of all men.

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