Free Will, or Human Powers
1 Since a division has occurred not only between the Papists and us, but also among some theologians of the Augsburg Confession themselves, concerning free will, we shall, first of all, show exactly the points in controversy.
2 For since man with a his free will is found and can be considered in four distinct, dissimilar states, the question at present is not what was the condition of the same before the Fall, or what he is able to do since the Fall and before his conversion in external things which pertain to this temporal life; also not what sort of a free will he will have in spiritual things after he has been regenerated and is controlled by God's Spirit, or when he rises from the dead. But the principal question is only and alone, what the intellect and will of the unregenerate man is able to do in his conversion and regeneration from his own powers remaining after the Fall; whether he is able, when the Word of God is preached, and the grace of God is offered us, to prepare himself for grace, accept the same, and assent thereto. This is the question upon which, for quite a number of years now, there has been a controversy among some theologians in the churches of the Augsburg Confession.
3 For the one side has held and taught that, although man cannot from his own powers fulfil God's command, or truly trust in God, fear and love Him, without the grace of the Holy Ghost, nevertheless he still has so much of natural powers left before regeneration as to be able to prepare himself to a certain extent for grace, and to assent, although feebly; however, that he cannot accomplish anything by them, but must succumb in the struggle, if the grace of the Holy Ghost is not added thereto.
4 Moreover b, both the ancient and modern enthusiasts have taught that God converts men, and leads them to the saving knowledge of Christ through His Spirit, without any created means and instrument, that is, without the external preaching and hearing of God's Word.
5 Against both these parties the pure teachers of the Augsburg Confession have taught and contended that by the fall of our first parents man was so corrupted that in divine things pertaining to our conversion and the salvation of our souls he is by nature blind, that, when the Word of God is preached, he neither does nor can understand it, but regards it as foolishness; also, that he does not of himself draw nigh to God, but is and remains an enemy of God, until he is converted, becomes a believer c, is regenerated and renewed, by the power of the Holy Ghost through the Word when preached and heard, out of pure grace, without any cooperation of his own.
6 In order to explain this controversy in a Christian manner, according to the guidance of God's Word, and by His grace to decide it, our doctrine, faith, and confession are as follows:
7 Namely, that in spiritual and divine things the intellect, heart, and will of the unregenerate man are utterly unable, by their own natural powers, to understand, believe, accept, think, will, begin, effect, do, work, or concur in working anything, but they are entirely dead to what is good, and corrupt, so that in man's nature since the Fall, before regeneration, there is not the least spark of spiritual power remaining, nor present, by which, of himself, he can prepare himself for God's grace, or accept the offered grace, nor be capable of it for and of himself, or apply or accommodate himself thereto, or by his own powers be able of himself, as of himself, to aid, do, work, or concur in working anything towards his conversion, either wholly, or half, or in any, even the least or most inconsiderable part; but that he is the servant d of sin, John 8, 34, and a captive of the devil, by whom he is moved, Eph. 2, 2; 2 Tim. 2, 26. Hence the natural free will according to its perverted disposition and nature is strong and active only with respect to what is displeasing and contrary to God.
8 This declaration and principal e reply to the chief question and statement of the controversy presented in the introduction to this article is confirmed and substantiated by the following arguments from God's Word, and although they are contrary to proud reason and philosophy, yet we know that the wisdom of this perverted world is only foolishness before God, and that articles of faith must be judged only from God's Word.
9 For, first, although man's reason or natural intellect indeed has still a dim spark of the knowledge that there is a God, as also of the doctrine of the Law, Rom. 1, 19 ff., yet it is so ignorant, blind, and perverted that when even the most ingenious and learned men upon earth read or hear the Gospel of the Son of God and the promise of eternal salvation, they cannot from their own powers perceive, apprehend, understand, or believe and regard it as true, but the more diligence and earnestness they employ, wishing to comprehend these spiritual things with their reason, the less they understand or believe, and before they become enlightened and are taught by the Holy Ghost, they regard all this only as foolishness or fictions. 10 1 Cor. 2, 14: The natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God; for they are foolishness unto him. 1 Cor. 1, 21: For after that, in the wisdom of God, the world by wisdom knew not God, it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe. Eph. 4, 17 f.: They (that is, those not born again of God's Spirit) walk in the vanity of their mind, having the understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God through the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart. Matt. 13, 11 ff.; Luke 8, 18: Seeing they see not, and hearing they hear not, neither do they understand; but it is given unto you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven. Rom. 3, 11. 12: There is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God. They are all gone out of the way, they are all together become unprofitable, there is none that doeth good, no, not one. Accordingly, the Scriptures flatly call natural man in spiritual and divine things darkness, Eph. 5, 8, Acts 26, 18. John 1, 5: The light shineth in darkness (that is, in the dark, blind world, which does not know or regard God), and the darkness comprehendeth it not. Likewise, the Scriptures teach that man in sins is not only weak and sick, but defunct and entirely dead, Eph. 2, 1. 5; Col. 2, 13.
11 Now, just as a man who is physically dead cannot of his own powers prepare or adapt himself to obtain temporal life again, so the man who is spiritually dead in sins cannot of his own strength adapt or apply himself to the acquisition of spiritual and heavenly righteousness and life, unless he is delivered and quickened by the Son of God from the death of sin.
12 Therefore the Scriptures deny to the intellect, heart, and will of the natural man all aptness, skill, capacity, and ability to think, to understand, to be able to do, to begin, to will, to undertake, to act, to work or to concur in working anything good and right in spiritual things as of himself. 2 Cor. 3, 5: Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to think anything as of ourselves, but our sufficiency is of God. Rom. 3, 12: They are together become unprofitable. John 8, 37: My Word hath no place in you. John 1, 5: The darkness comprehendeth (or receiveth) it not f. 1 Cor. 2, 14: The natural man receiveth not (or, as the Greek word properly signifies, grasps not, comprehends not, accepts not) the things of the Spirit, that is, he is not capable of spiritual things; for they are foolishness unto him; neither can he know them. 13 Much less will he truly believe the Gospel, or assent thereto and regard it as truth. Rom. 8, 7: The carnal mind, or the mind of the natural man, is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the Law of God, neither indeed can be. And, in a word, it remains eternally true what the Son of God says, John 15: 5: Without Me ye can do nothing. And Paul, Phil. 2, 13: It is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of His good pleasure. 14 To all godly Christians who feel and experience in their hearts a small spark or longing for divine grace and eternal salvation this precious passage is very comforting; for they know that God has kindled in their hearts this beginning of true godliness, and that He will further strengthen and help them in their great weakness to persevere in true faith unto the end.
15 Here belong also all the prayers of the saints in which they pray that they may be taught, enlightened, and sanctified by God, and by this very act declare that they cannot obtain those things which they ask of God from their own natural powers; as, in Ps. 119 alone David prays more than ten times that God would impart to him understanding, that he might rightly comprehend and learn the divine doctrine. g similar prayers are in the writings of Paul, Eph. 1, 17; Col. 1, 9; Phil. 1, 9. These prayers and passages concerning our ignorance and inability have been written for us, not for the purpose of rendering us idle and remiss in reading, hearing, and meditating upon God's Word, but, first, that we should thank God from the heart that by His Son He has delivered us from the darkness of ignorance and the captivity of sin and death, and through Baptism and the Holy Ghost regenerated and illumined us.
16 And after God through the Holy Ghost in Baptism has kindled and effected a beginning of the true knowledge of God and faith, we should pray Him without ceasing that through the same spirit and His grace, by means of the daily exercise of reading and practising God's Word, He would preserve in us faith and His heavenly gifts, strengthen us from day to day, and keep us to the end. For unless God Himself be our schoolmaster, we can study and learn nothing that is acceptable to Him and salutary to ourselves and others.
17 Secondly, God's Word testifies that the intellect, heart, and will of the natural, unregenerate man in divine things are not only turned entirely away from God, but also turned and perverted against God to every evil; also, that he is not only weak, incapable, unfit, and dead to good, but also is so lamentably perverted, infected, and corrupted by original sin that he is entirely evil, perverse, and hostile to God by his disposition and nature, and that he is exceedingly strong, alive, and active with respect to everything that is displeasing and contrary to God. Gen. 8, 22: The imagination of man's heart is evil from his youth. Jer. 17, 9: The heart of man is deceitful and desperately wicked, or perverted and full of misery, so that it is unfathomable. This passage St. Paul explains Rom. 8: The carnal mind is enmity against God. Gal. 5, 17: The flesh lusteth against the spirit; and these are contrary the one to the other. Rom. 7, 14: We know that the Law is spiritual; but I am carnal, sold under sin. And soon after, 18, 23: I know that in me, that is, in my flesh, dwelleth no good thing. For I delight in the Law of God after the inward man, which is regenerate by the Holy Ghost; but I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin.
18 Now, if in St. Paul and in other regenerate men the natural or carnal free will even after regeneration strives against God's Law, it will be much more obstinate and hostile to God's Law and will before regeneration. Hence it is manifest (as it is further declared in the article concerning original sin, to which we now refer for the sake of brevity) that the free will from its own natural powers, not only cannot work or concur in working anything for its own conversion, righteousness, and salvation, nor follow h, believe, or assent to the Holy Ghost, who through the Gospel offers him grace and salvation, but from its innate, wicked, rebellious nature it resists God and His will hostilely, unless it be enlightened and controlled by God's Spirit.
19 On this account the Holy Scriptures also compare the heart of the unregenerate man to a hard stone, which does not yield to the one who touches it, but resists, and to a rough block, and to a wild, unmanageable beast; not that man since the Fall is no longer a rational creature, or is converted to God without hearing and meditating upon the divine Word, or in external, worldly things cannot understand, or of his free will do, or abstain from doing, anything good or evil.
20 For, as Doctor Luther says Ps. 90: "In worldly and external affairs; which pertain to the livelihood and maintenance of the body, man is cunning, intelligent, and quite active; but in spiritual and divine things, which pertain to the salvation of the soul, man is like a pillar of salt, like Lot's wife, yea, like a log and a stone, like a lifeless statue, which uses neither eyes nor mouth, neither sense nor heart. 21 For man neither sees nor perceives the terrible and fierce wrath of God on account of sin and death i, but ever continues in his security, even knowingly and willingly, and thereby falls into a thousand dangers, and finally into eternal death and damnation; and no prayers, no supplications, no admonitions, yea, also no threats, no chiding, are of any avail, yea, all teaching and preaching is lost upon him, until he is enlightened, converted, and regenerated by the Holy Ghost, 22 for which j, indeed, no stone or block, but man alone, was created. And although God, according to His just, strict sentence, has utterly cast away the fallen evil spirits forever, He has nevertheless, out of special, pure mercy, willed that poor fallen human nature might again become and be capable and participant of conversion, the grace of God and eternal life; not from its own natural, active k skill, aptness, or capacity (for the nature of man is obstinate enmity against God), but from pure grace, through the gracious efficacious working of the Holy Ghost." 23 And this Dr. Luther calls capacitatem (non activam, sed passivam), which he explains thus: Quando patres liberum arbitrium defendunt, capacitatem liberatatis eius praedicant, quod scilicet verti potest ad bonum per gratiam Dei et fieri revera liberum, ad quod creatum est. That is: When the Fathers defend the free will, they are speaking of this, that it is capable of freedom in this sense, that by God's grace it can be converted to good, and become truly free, for which it was created is the beginning. (Tom. 1, p. 236.) To like effect also Augustine has written, lib. 2, Contra Iulianum. Doctor Luther on Hosea 6; also in the Church-Postil on the Epistle for Christmas; also on the Gospel for the third Sunday after Epiphany.
24 But before man is enlightened, converted, regenerated, renewed, and drawn by the Holy Ghost, he can of himself and of his own natural powers begin, work, or concur in working in spiritual things and in his own conversion or regeneration just as little as a stone or a block or clay. For although he can control the outward members and hear the Gospel, and to a certain extent meditate upon it, also discourse concerning it, as is to be seen in the Pharisees and hypocrites, nevertheless he regards it as foolishness, and cannot believe it. And in this respect he acts even worse than a block, inasmuch as he is rebellious and hostile to God's will, unless the Holy Ghost is efficacious in him, and kindles and works in him faith and other virtues pleasing to God, and obedience.
25 Thirdly, in this manner, too, the Holy Scriptures ascribe conversion, faith in Christ, regeneration, renewal, and all that belongs to their efficacious beginning and completion, not to the human powers of the natural free will, neither entirely nor half, nor in any, even the least or most inconsiderable part, but in solidum, that is, entirely, solely, to the divine working and the Holy Ghost, as also the Apology teaches.
26 Reason and free will are able to a certain extent to live an outwardly decent life; but to be born anew, and to obtain inwardly another heart, mind, and disposition, this only the Holy Ghost effects. He opens the understanding and heart to understand the Scriptures and to give heed to the Word, as it is written Luke 24, 45: Then opened He their understanding that they might understand the Scriptures. Also Acts 16, 14: Lydia heard us; whose heart the Lord opened that she attended unto the things which were spoken of Paul. He worketh in us both to will and to do of His own good pleasure, Phil. 2, 13. He gives repentance, Acts 5, 31; 2 Tim. 2, 25. He works faith, Phil. 1, 29: For unto you it is given, in behalf of Christ, not only to believe on Him. Eph. 2, 8: It is the gift of God. John 6, 29: This is the work of God, that ye believe on Him whom He hath sent. He gives an understanding heart, seeing eyes, and hearing ears, Deut. 29, 4; Matt. 13, 15. He is a Spirit of regeneration and renewal, Titus 3, 5. 6. He takes away the hard heart of stone, and gives a new tender heart of flesh, that we may walk in His commands, Ezek. 11, 19; Deut. 30, 6; Ps. 51, 10. He creates us in Christ Jesus to good works, Eph. 2, 10, and makes us new creatures, 2 Cor. 5, 17; Gal. 6, 15. And, in short, Every good gift is of God, Jas. 1, 17. No one can come to Christ unless the Father draw him, John 6, 44. No one knoweth the Father, save him to whom the Son will reveal Him, Matt. 11, 27. No one can call Christ Lord except by the Holy Ghost, 1 Cor. 12, 3. Without Me, says Christ, ye can do nothing, John 15, 5. All our sufficiency is of God, 2 Cor. 3, 5. What hast thou that thou didst not receive? Now, if thou didst receive it, why dost thou glory as if thou hadst not received it? 1 Cor. 4, 7. 27 Accordingly, St. Augustine particularly writes of this passage that by it he was convinced that he must lay aside his former erroneous opinion, when he had maintained the following in his treatise De Praedestinatione, chap. 3: Gratiam Dei in eo tantum consistere, quod in praeconio veritatis Dei voluntas nobis revelaretur; ut autem praedicato nobis evangelio consentiremus, nostrum esse proprium et ex nobis esse. Item erravi (inquit), cum dicerem, nostrum esse credere et velle; Dei autem, dare credentibus et volentibus facultatem operandi. That is: I erred in this, that I held that the grace of God consists only in this, that God in the preaching of the truth reveals His will; but that our consenting to the preached Gospel is our own work, and is within our own powers. Likewise, St. Augustine writes further: I erred when I said that it is within our own power to believe the Gospel and to will; but it is God's work to give to them that believe and will the power to effect something.
28 This doctrine is founded upon God's Word, and conformable to the Augsburg Confession and other writings above mentioned, as the following testimonies prove.
29 In Article XX the Confession says as follows: Because through faith the Holy Ghost is given, the heart thus becomes fit for doing good works. For before, because it is without the Holy Ghost, it is too weak, and, besides, is in the devil's power, who drives poor human nature into many sins. l And a little afterward: For without faith and without Christ human nature and ability m are much too weak to do good works n.
30 These passages clearly testify that the Augsburg Confession does not at all recognize o the will of man in spiritual things as free, but says that he is the devil's captive; how, then, is he to be able of his own powers to turn himself to the Gospel or Christ?
31 The Apology (Art. XVIII) teaches thus of free will: p We also say that reason has, to a certain extent, a free will; for in the things which are to be comprehended by reason q we have a free will r. And a little after: For such hearts as are without the Holy Ghost are without the fear of God, without faith, without trust s; they do not believe that God hears them, that He forgives their sins, and helps them in troubles; therefore they are godless. 32 Now, "a corrupt tree cannot bring forth good fruit," and "without faith it is impossible to please God." Therefore, although we concede that it is within our ability to perform such an outward work t, nevertheless, we say that in spiritual things u the free will and reason have no ability, etc. Here it is clearly seen that the Apology ascribes no ability to the will of man, either for beginning good or for operating of itself.
33 In the Smalcald Articles (Of Sin) also the following errors concerning the free will are rejected: That man has a free will to do good and omit evil, etc. And shortly afterward it is also rejected as an error when men teach: That it is not founded upon Scripture, that for a good work the Holy Ghost with His grace is necessary.
34 Furthermore, we read in the Smalcald Articles (Of Repentance), as follows: And in Christians this repentance continues until death, because through the entire life it contends with sin remaining in the flesh, as Paul, Rom. 7, 23, testifies that he wars with the Law in his members, etc., and that not by his own powers, but by the gift of the Holy Ghost, which follows the remission of sins. This gift daily cleanses and sweeps out the remaining sins, and works so as to render man truly pure and holy. These words say nothing whatever of our will, or that even in regenerate men it works anything of itself, but ascribe it to the gift of the Holy Ghost, which cleanses man and makes him daily more godly and holy; and our own powers are entirely excluded therefrom.
36 In the Large Catechism of Dr. Luther (the Third Article of the Christian Faith) it is written thus: And I am also a part and member of the same, a sharer and joint owner of all the goods it possesses, brought to it and incorporated into it by the Holy Ghost, by having heard and continuing to hear the Word of God, which is the beginning of entering it. 37 For formerly, before we had attained to this, we were altogether of the devil, knowing nothing of God and of Christ. Thus, until the last day, the Holy Ghost abides with the holy congregation or Christendom, by means of which He brings us to Christ, and which He employs to teach and preach to us the Word, whereby He works and promotes sanctification, causing v daily to grow and become strong in the faith and the fruits of the Spirit, which He produces. 38 In these words the Catechism does not mention our free will or cooperation with a single word, but ascribes everything to the Holy Ghost, namely, that through the office of the ministry He brings us into the Christian Church, wherein He sanctifies us, and brings it about that we daily grow in faith and good works.