Sect. 23.—IN the last part of your Preface, where you deter us from this kind of doctrine, you think your victory is almost gained.
"What (you say) can be more useless than that this paradox should be proclaimed openly to the world—that whatever is done by us, is not done by Free-will, but from mere necessity. And that of Augustine also—that God works in us both good and evil: that He rewards His good works in us, and punishes His evil works in us." (You are mightily copious here in giving, or rather, in expostulating concerning a reason.) "What a flood-gate of iniquity (you say) would these things, publicly proclaimed, open unto men! What bad man would amend his life! Who would believe that he was loved of God! Who would war against his flesh!"
I wonder, that in so great vehemency, and contending zeal, you did not remember our main subject, and say—where then would be found "Free-will.[?]"
My friend, Erasmus! here, again, I also say, if you consider that these paradoxes are the inventions of men, why do you contend against them? Why are you so enraged? Against whom do you rail? Is there any man in the world, at this day, who has inveighed more vehemently against the doctrines of men, than Luther! This admonition of yours, therefore, is nothing to me! But if you believe that those paradoxes are the words of God, where is your countenance, where is your shame, where is, I will not say your modesty, but that fear of, and that reverence which is due to the true God, when you say, that nothing is more useless to be proclaimed than that Word of God! What! shall your Creator, come to learn of you His creature, what is useful, and what not useful to be preached? What! did that foolish and unwise God, know not what is necessary to be taught, until you His instructor prescribed to Him the measure, according to which He should be wise, and according to which He should command? What! did He not know before you told Him, that that which you infer would be the consequence of this His paradox? If, therefore, God willed that such things should be spoken of and proclaimed abroad, without regarding what would follow,—who art thou that forbiddest it? (Bondage of the Will, The Sovereignty of God, Section 23).
Erasmus admitted the clear and plain teaching of God's Word in Romans 9, the passage to which Luther is referring. So Luther flat scolds Erasmus for daring to lecture God! Luther clearly had Scripture on his side:
The apostle Paul, in his Epistle to the Romans, discourses on these same things, not "in a corner," but in public and before the whole world, and that with a freely open mouth, nay in the harshest terms, saying, "whom He will He hardeneth." (Rom. 9:18.) And again, "God, willing to shew forth His wrath," &c. (Rom. 9:22.) What is more severe, that is to the flesh, than that word of Christ "Many are called but few chosen?" (Matt. 22:14.) And again, "I know whom I have chosen?" (John 13:18.) According to your judgment then, all these things are such, that nothing can be more uselessly spoken; because that by these things, impious men may fall into desperation, hatred, and blasphemy.
Here then, I see, you suppose that the truth and the utility of the Scripture are to be weighed and judged of according to the opinion of men, nay, of men the most impious; so that, what pleases them or seems bearable, should be deemed true, divine, and wholesome: and what has the contrary effect upon them, should at once be deemed useless, false, and pernicious. What else do you mean by all this, than that the words of God should depend on, stand on, and fall by, the will and authority of men? Whereas the Scripture, on the contrary saith, that all things stand and fall by the will and authority of God: and in a word, that "all the earth keeps silence before the face of the Lord." (Hab. 2:20.) He who could talk as you do, must imagine that the living God is nothing but a kind of trifling and inconsiderate pettifogger declaiming on a certain rostrum, whose words you may if you be disposed, interpret, understand, and refute as you please, because He merely spoke as He saw a set of impious men to be moved and affected. (The Sovereignty of God, Section 23).
The reason that Luther is so adamant about his denial of free will is that Luther knows certainly that to deny the sovereignty of God in both election and reprobation is to undermine the security of the believer. If salvation is left to the capricious wills of men, then there can be no assurance of salvation:
And how can you be certain and secure, unless you are persuaded that He knows and wills certainly, infallibly, immutably, and necessarily, and will perform what He promises? Nor ought we to be certain only that God wills necessarily and immutably, and will perform, but also to glory in the same; as Paul, (Rom. 3:4,) "Let God be true, but every man a liar." And again, "For the word of God is not without effect." (Rom. 9:6.) And in another place, "The foundation of God standeth sure, having this seal, the Lord knoweth them that are His." (2 Tim. 2:19.) And, "Which God, that cannot lie, promised before the world began." (Titus 1:2.) And, "He that cometh, must believe that God is, and that He is a rewarder of them that hope in Him." (Heb. 11:6.)The Van Tilians who say that Scripture is full of apparent "paradoxes" are really just trying to soften God's Word so the Arminians and others will not be offended by the plain teaching of Scripture. They are openly rebuked by Luther along with Erasmus himself. Essentially, the Van Tilians and Neo-Calvinists cannot bring themselves to accept the plain teaching of Scripture in regards to the absolute sovereignty of God, and must therefore attempt to appease the objections of men rather than simply turning the world upside down:
If, therefore, we are taught, and if we believe, that we ought not to know the necessary prescience of God, and the necessity of the things that are to take place, Christian faith is utterly destroyed, and the promises of God and the whole Gospel entirely fall to the ground; for the greatest and only consolation of Christians in their adversities, is the knowing that God lies not, but does all things immutably, and that His will cannot be resisted, changed, or hindered. (Bondage of the Will, The Sovereignty of God, Section 12).
How much better is it for us wretched men to ascribe unto God, who knoweth the hearts of all men, the glory of determining the manner in which, the persons to whom, and the times in which the truth is to be spoken. For He knows what is to be spoken to each, and when, and how it is to be spoken. He then, determines that His Gospel which is necessary unto all, should be confined to no place, no time; but that it should be preached unto all, at all times and in all places. And I have already proved, that those things which are handed down to us in the Scriptures, are such, that they are quite plain and wholesome, and of necessity to be proclaimed abroad; even as you yourself determined in your Paraclesis was right to be done; and that, with much more wisdom than you advise now. But let those who would not that souls should be redeemed, such as the Pope and his adherents—let it be left to them to bind the Word of God, and hinder men from life and the kingdom of heaven, that they might neither enter in themselves nor suffer others to enter:—to whose fury you, Erasmus, by this advice of yours, are perniciously subservient. (Sovereignty of God, Section 21).
Luther is not speaking about the "free offer" here! He is rebuking Erasmus for forbidding the preaching of the bondage of the will and double predestination! If predestination and the double decrees of God are plainly taught in Scripture, why forbid to preach what God plainly wants to be preached to the whole world?!
Paul is speaking of facts, and the use of doctrine: that is, of those, who, seeking their own, had no consideration of the hurt and offence given to the weak. Truth and doctrine, are to be preached always, openly, and firmly, and are never to be dissembled or concealed; for there is no offence in them; they are the staff of uprightness.—And who gave you the power, or committed to you, the right, of confining the Christian doctrine to persons, places, times, and causes, when Christ wills it to be proclaimed, and to reign freely, throughout the world? For Paul saith, "the Word of God is not bound," (2 Tim. 2:9,) but Erasmus bounds [binds] the word. Nor did God give us the word that it should be had with respect of places, persons, or times: for Christ saith, "Go ye out into the whole world,": He does not say, as Erasmus does,—go to this place and not to that. Again, "Preach the Gospel to every creature." (Mark 16:15.) He does not say—preach it to some and not to others. (Section 21).
That the entire treatise is devoted to predestination, God's sovereignty, and the doctrine of depravity and the bondage of the will logically requires that these doctrines not be hidden but openly proclaimed from every pulpit. Sadly, that is not the case today. Most of the neo-Calvinists today are nothing more than crypto-Arminians.
There is a war raging against God's Word. Those who stand for the doctrines of sovereign grace can expect persecution by those who claim to be "tolerant." But they are not tolerant. They hate God's Word and do all they can in their power to hinder it and silence it:
Look into the Acts of the Apostles, and see what happened in the world on account of the word of Paul only (to say nothing of the other apostles): how he alone throws both the Gentiles and Jews into commotion: or, as the enemies themselves express it, "turns the world upside down." (Acts 17:6.) Under Elijah, the kingdom of Israel was thrown into commotion: as king Ahab complains. (1 Kings 18:17.) What tumult was there under the other prophets, while they are all either killed at once or stoned to death; while Israel is taken captive into Assyria, and Judah also to Babylon! Was all this peace? The world and its god (2 Cor. 4:4) cannot and will not bear the Word of the true God: and the true God cannot and will not keep silence. While, therefore, these two Gods are at war with each other, what can there be else in the whole world, but tumult? (Section 19).