Having finally finished Luther's masterful Commentary on Galatians (which I will read again and again if the Lord gives me the years), I am now plunging into The Bondage of the Will, the masterpiece of the Reformation where Luther takes the humanist Erasmus to task over the issue of "free will", so-called. The introduction is co-authored by the venerated J.I. Packer and O.R. Johnston. They contend (rightly, I believe) that the very semi-Pelagianism espoused by Erasmus has slowly crept it's way back into our current evangelical churches due, in part, to compromises in doctrine along the way:
These things* need to be pondered by Protestants today. With what right may we call ourselves children of the Reformation? Much modern Protestantism would be neither owned nor even recognized by the pioneer Reformers. The Bondage of the Will fairly sets before us what they believed about the salvation of lost mankind. In the light of it, we are forced to ask whether Protestant Christendom has not tragically sold it’s birthright between Luther’s day and our own. Has not Protestantism to-day become more Erasmian than Lutheran? De we not too often try to minimize and gloss over doctrinal differences for the sake of inter-party peace? Are we innocent of the doctrinal indifferentism with which Luther charged Erasmus? Do we still believe that doctrine matters? Or do we now, with Erasmus, rate a deceptive appearance of unity as of more importance than truth? Have we not grown used to an Erasmian brand of teaching from our pulpits – a message that rests on the same shallow synergistic conception which Luther refuted, picturing God and man approaching each other almost on equal terms, each having his own contribution to make to man’s salvation and each depending on the dutiful co-operation of the other for the attainment of that end? – as if God exists for man’s convenience, rather than man for God’s glory? Is it not true, conversely, that it is rare to-day to hear proclaimed the diagnosis of our predicament which Luther – and Scripture – put forward: that man is hopeless and helpless in sin, fast bound in Satan’s slavery, at enmity with God, blind and dead to the things of the Spirit? And hence, how rarely do we hear faith spoken of as Scripture depicts it – as it is expressed in the cry of self-committal with which the contrite heart, humbled to see its need and made conscious of its own utter helplessness even to trust, casts itself in the God-given confidence of self-despair upon the mercy of Christ Jesus – ‘Lord, I believe; help Thou my unbelief!” Can we deny the essential rightness of Luther’s exegesis of the texts? And if not, dare we ignore the implications of his exposition?
- J.I. Packer & O.R. Johnston, from Historical and Theological Introduction, The Bondage of the Will, (Revell, 1957), pp. 59-60.
*In the previous paragraph, Packer & Johnston ask the question "What is the source and status of faith?" and go on to explain the view of the Reformers that man is unable to produce faith apart from a sovereign work of God.