Comments on De Servo Arbitrio “On the Enslaved Will” or The Bondage of Will

Tom - Augustine's reply to Pelagius on contribution

Tom - I have thought about this all weekend and am going to try to address your question more directly, the best I can and as objectively as I can. In the last part of this passage against Pelagius, Augustine says this,

    Such passages do they collect out of the Scriptures—like the one which I just now quoted, Turn ye unto me, and I will turn unto you,— as if it were owing to the merit of our turning to God that His grace were given us, wherein He Himself even turns unto us. Now the persons who hold this opinion fail to observe that, unless our turning to God were itself God's gift, it would not be said to Him in prayer, Turn us again, O God of hosts; and, You, O God, wilt turn and quicken us; and again, Turn us, O God of our salvation, — with other passages of similar import, too numerous to mention here. For, with respect to our coming unto Christ, what else does it mean than our being turned to Him by believing? And yet He says: No man can come unto me, except it were given unto him of my Father. John 6:65

In respect to the topic of the free will of man to choose God, I view this passage from Augustine (above) as entirely "congruent" with what Luther has said in his view of scripture. Augustine appears from this passage (alone) to reject the concept a person can contribute to her/his salvation. Our will isnt free enough to do anything impacting salvation, but say yes or no when God draws us. In fact he interprets the passages that speak to a matter of human will (come to me Mt 11) to be preceeded by the gift of God's grace (the Father MUST draw first Jn 6). That is, people can only turn to or reject God when God so frees the will. Turning to Christ is preceeded by God drawing one to Christ but that is internal in the form of accepting or rejecting grace through faith. I am not an expert in Augustine but he appears to reject the notion our efforts or baptism contribute anything to salvation in the form ot necessary or fitting merit. At least that is how I see it. Now, Luther will go on to discuss both types of merit as relate to the concept of free will. But unless Augustine does so elsewhere, this passage does not apepar to me to support the concept believers cooperate in their salvation with the assistance of the grace that flows from Christ through the church’s sacramental system. In fact it is passages like the one above the Reformers believed supported salvation by God's grace through faith : the depravity of humanity required it.

In Psalm 51 David writes:

    1 Have mercy upon me, O God, according to thy lovingkindness:
    According unto the multitude of thy tender mercies blot out my transgressions.
    2 Wash me throughly from mine iniquity,
    And cleanse me from my sin.
    3 For I acknowledge my transgressions:
    And my sin is ever before me.
    5 Behold, I was shapen in iniquity;
    And in sin did my mother conceive me.

Luther points out that all humans are born rotten to the core, in terms of the ability to live God's righteous demands of us. David didnt have to commit adultery and murder (free moral agent) but that freedom did not extend to being absent of sin because he was born into Adam's race. He was not free or able to perform the requirements of the Law to the level God required.


    wraps up all of human nature as in one bundle and says, “I was conceived in sin.” He is not talking about certain actions but simply about the matter, and he says: “The human seed, this mass from which I was formed, is totally corrupt with faults and sins. The material itself is faulty. The clay, so to speak, out of which this vessel began to be formed is damnable. What more do you want? This is how I am; this is how all men are.Luther, M. (1999). Vol. 12: Luther's works, vol. 12 : Selected Psalms I (J. J. Pelikan, H. C. Oswald & H. T. Lehmann, Ed.). Luther's Works (Ps 51:5). Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House.

Next Luther points out that neither required nor fitting merit have anything to do with the rotten sinner caught red handed who begs for sheer mercy at the throne of grace.

Luther adds,

    Therefore David does not merely say, “Have mercy on me, O God,” but he adds, “according to Thy steadfast love,” and he simply keeps quiet about any merit or any righteousness of works. He does not say, as did that man in the Gospel (Luke 18:12), “I fast twice a week.” He does not say, “Have mercy on me according to the merit of condignity or congruity.” What do these things have to do with mercy? ... The story is told that in the hour of death the brother of a certain king said to God, “Grant me what Thou hast promised, for I have given Thee what Thou hast commanded.” I would not want this to be my voice in the hour of death! We must speak differently (Ps. 143:2): “Enter not into judgment with Thy servant”; and again (Ps. 51:9): “Blot out my iniquity.” Of what merit can we boast that deserved even this seemingly minor blessing, that God has preserved our eyesight? David is silent about his own righteousness and merit; he wants God to deal according to His great mercy. In this way he disentangles himself not only from his own righteousness but also from the wrath of God, and he holds no picture before his eyes but that of the merciful, rejoicing, and laughing God. For he declares that God has great mercy, because of which He neither wants nor thinks anything but forgiveness and blessing.Luther, M. (1999). Vol. 12: Luther's works, vol. 12 : Selected Psalms I (J. J. Pelikan, H. C. Oswald & H. T. Lehmann, Ed.). Luther's Works (Ps 51:1). Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House.