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The Bondage of the Will Paperback – April, 1990
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Bondage of the Will is Luther's greatest work. Logic on fire. Filled with the Spirit. Only buy the Packer/Johnston version of this immensely important work. The introduction is invaluable and the translation is the best out there. Baker's the publisher. Avoid the rest, in my opinion. This translation and this introduction are worth any extra expense.
Every time I read this, I wonder what Erasmus felt on first reading it. Did he feel like he'd just walked into the 16-century version of a buzzsaw? That's what it seems like to me. Praise God for Luther's iron. His love for a sovereign God is bracing and thrilling.
C. Hugh Sharpe.
In the book Luther is responding to Erasmus, who has advocated a view of salvation which upholds the necessity of man's free will. For the first 3/4 of the book, Luther is systematically responding to Erasmus' arguments for free will. Luther's review of Erasmus' writing is scathing and while he acknowledges Erasmus massive intellect and great talent, he has no use for his arguments. Many modern readers will be put off by the tone of Luther's language, but those who read Christian works from the past will realize that many lights of Church History wrote with great passion regarding the concerns of their day. When one reads early church fathers such as Tertullian the same passionate argumentation comes forth. Indeed, when one reads the Bible strong language is often used in opposition to injustice and false doctrine. We need only think of the Old Testament prophets, or the words of Jesus ("brood of vipers", "blind guides", "whitewashed tombs"), or the words of Paul (calling false teachers dogs, calling his opponents to emasculate themselves) to realize that fiery language often comes from one who is committed to truth. Luther is determined to earnestly contend for the faith and so he attempts to decimate Erasmus' arguments.
So the book is largely concenred with Luther's interactions with Erasmus' arguments in favor of free will. In the final portion of the book Luther lays out "the Bible doctrine", his own argument from Scripture against free will. Luther's writing shines in this section as he points to his belief that human beings are saved entirely by the grace of God and by no free will or other work of their own.
It seems that one of the key differences between Luther and Erasmus is that Erasmus was more concerned about peace and unity than truth while Luther believed that true unity was impossible apart from a common commitment to truth. Luther repeatedly appeals to the text of Scripture, which he regards as the Word of God, while chiding Erasmus for his lack of careful attention to the Scriptures.
This is a challenging read for most modern readers. We are unaccustomed to careful argumentation based on texts of Scripture. We are unaccustomed (except perhaps in cyberspace) to thoroughly scathing language in our public discourse. In spite of these challenges, I still recommend The Bondage of the Will, for its content is still relevant today for those seeking to understand what the Bible teaches about how people are saved.