When Martin Luther wrote his famous polemic, De Servo Arbitrio known to us as The Bondage of the Will. Luther keyed in on a characteristic of Erasmus that some may overlook. Luther’s chief complaint, of course, was the doctrine of his opponent’s book, De Libero Arbitrio or On Free Will. Luther, in his opposition towards Erasmus, simply affirmed Scriptural teaching regarding man’s “will”. Man is spiritually dead (Ephesians 2:1-3), and therefore his will is imprisoned and can only choose that which is wicked. People who are dead in sin may do things that seem good in our sight – even noble, but are wicked in God’s sight, as they are done from a heart that is impure and evil. (Genesis 6:5;Jeremiah 13:23;Job 14:4;Psalms 58:3;Isaiah 64:6) Basically, Luther was giving Erasmus an introductory course on the Scriptural truth of total depravity.
Something often overlooked, though, is Luther’s complaint against Erasmus himself. Against Erasmus the man. Luther saw him as a coward! He wanted to make lofty claims and assertions, while at the same time denying the concept of assertions. Erasmus, like all false teachers, was being slippery. He wanted confusion. Luther saw this for what it was. It was the sophistry of pagan philosophy. One of Luther’s most famous quotes against Erasmus reads,
“Leave us free to make assertions, and to find in assertions our satisfaction and delight; and you may applaud your Skeptics and Academics…The Holy Spirit is no Skeptic, and the things He has written in our hearts are not doubts or opinions, but assertions – surer and more certain than sense and life itself.” pg. 70
Erasmus’ attitude was patronizing and arrogant. He thought that a discussion concerning man’s will was unnecessary. That such a discussion is not relevant to the needs of Christians. Luther throughout demolishes that line of thinking.
This book is a “must read.” This is powerful ammunition against the postmodernism of our age that denies the concept of truth altogether! Luther is scorching in his critique of Erasmus’s teaching. (teaching that would later morph into what we know as Arminianism.) Though he is scorching, his argumentation is brilliant, and rooted firmly in Scripture.