Monday, December 8, 2008

If "free will" isn't free, is it really free will?

You make the power of free will to be "that certain small degree of power which, without the grace of God, is utterly ineffective."...Therefore, to say, that the will is free, and that it has indeed power, but that it is ineffective, is what the Sophists call "a direct contrariety." As if one should say, free will is that which is not free.

Who would not laugh at, or rather hold up to hatred, that most untimely innovator of terms, who, contrary to all established use, should attempt to introduce a mode of speaking, as by the term beggar, to have understood "wealthy"; not because such a one has any wealth himself, but because some king may, perchance, give him his wealth? And what if such a one should really do this, not by any figure of speech, as by periphrasis or irony, but in plain serious meaning? In the same way, speaking of one "sick unto death," he may wish to be understood as meaning one in "perfect health"; giving this as his reason, because the one may give the other his health. So also, he may, by "illiterate idiot," mean "most learned"; because some other may perchance give him his learning. Of precisely the same nature is this: man has a free will, for this reason, if perchance God should give him His. By this abuse of the manner of speaking, anyone may boast that he has anything: that He is the Lord of heaven and earth, if perchance God should give this unto him. But this is not the way in which theologians should proceed; this is the way of stage players and public informers. Our words ought to be proper words, pure and sober; and, as Paul says, "sound speech, that cannot be condemned" (Titus 2:8).

But, if we do not like to leave out this term altogether (which would be most safe, and also most religious), we may, nevertheless, with a good conscience teach, that it be used so far as to allow man a free will, not in respect of those which are above him, but in respect only of those things which are below him: that is, he may be allowed to know, that he has, as to his goods and possessions the right of using, acting, and omitting, according to his free will; although, at the same time, that same free will is overruled by the free will of God alone, just as He pleases; but that, God-ward, or in things which pertain unto salvation or damnation, he has no free will, but is a captive, slave, and servant, either to the will of God, or to the will of Satan.

Martin Luther, The Bondage of the Will (Section 26)

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