-Wir sein pettler. Hoc est verum.--"We are beggars. This is true."--Martin Luther-

[ Home ] [ Originals ] [ Words of Ones Wiser ] [ Odds and Ends ]

Friday, October 3, 2008

The Will in Conversion

From all the previous it may be asked, "If, on the one hand, the entirely corrupted nature of man is in rebellion to God, and thus the will is completely incapable of choosing the good, and on the other, we are to maintain that the will is never forced to do that which it does not will, how is man converted?" And, "Doesn't it stand, because the unregenerate man only fights against God, that God converts man by force, that is, against his will?"

These are some of the questions that were arising in the Lutheran Church before (and after) the publication of the Formula of Concord.

This is what led Melanchthon to abandon a monergistic understanding of conversion for a synergistic one. He was trying to answer the question: "why are some saved and some not saved." He was not able to reconcile a monergistic understanding of conversion without saying at the same time that God predestines some to be saved and some to damnation. As he saw it, if there is one force, the Holy Spirit working through the Word, fighting against another force, unregenerate man's rebellion against and rejection of that Word, how does it come to pass that one is saved and one is not. This led him to adopt a synergistic argument that says there are three causes of conversion. These are 1) the Word, 2) the Holy Spirit, and 3) the human will. He believed that in the struggle between God and unregenerate, unbelieving man, there must be some factor, however small, that tips the scale one way or another. This, he believed, was human will. There must be something in man, however small, that contributes to his either being saved or condemned.

This teaching spread in the Lutheran Church, especially among the Philippists. This is the occasion for why Article II of the Formula of Concord was written. In a footnote, in the Kolb Wengert edition, it is noted: "Luther, writing against Erasmus in On the Bondage of the Will of 1525, defined the topic at hand as a "bondage" of the ability of the human will to choose. Melanchthon's students, following, for example, the Augsburg Confession, defined the problem instead of the potential of the will's freedom." This is important to note.

Broadly speaking, Article II is addressed against two errors of opposite extremes: enthusiasm, and synergism.

Against the synergists, which I have already given an outline, Article II gives a strong rebuttal. In the opening, after they outline the errors that had been taking place, they make the strong and clear statement:

"That in spiritual and divine matters, the mind, heart, and will of the unreborn human being can in absolutely no way, on the basis of its own natural powers, understand, believe, accept, consider, will, begin, accomplish, do, effect, or cooperate. Instead, it is completely dead to the good--completely corrupted. This means that in this human nature, after the fall and before rebirth, there is not a spark of spiritual power left or present with which human beings can prepare themselves or to prepare themselves for the grace of God or accept grace as it is offered...Nor do they have the ability, on the basis of their own powers, to help, act, effect, or cooperate--completely, halfway, or in the slightest, most insignificant way--in their own conversion." (SD, Art II, Par. 7)

Article II's arguments against the enthusiasts are more to the point of the questions that we raised at the beginning of this post, namely, if the will is only opposed to conversion, aren't we saved against our will? With the implication that conversion denies free will.

The Formulators frame the questions in this way:

"Now, finally, on the basis of this thorough explanation of the entire teaching on the free will, it will be possible to resolve the questions that have arisen and been disputed in the churches of the Augsburg Confession for quite a few years now: whether people before, in, or after conversion resist the Holy Spirit, and whether they do absolutely nothing but simply endure what God effects in them. Again, whether they behave and act like a block of wood in conversion. Or again, whether the Holy Spirit is given to those who resist him. Likewise, whether conversion takes place by compulsion, in a manner in which God compels people against their will by force to be converted, etc." (SD, Art. II, Par. 73)

I will address these questions one by one.

1) "Whether people before, in, or after conversion resist the Holy Spirit"
The simple and not explained answer: yes, yes, yes; there is always a part that resists the Holy Spirit. This is not quite what they mean though, maybe a better question is: "Is there a part of man, before, in, or after conversion, that does not resist the Holy Spirit?" Answer: Before) no, In) complicated , After) yes. Before, we completely resist the Holy Spirit. In, well...Let's put it this way: There is never a time when we are converted that we completely resist the Holy Spirit (it is a matter of defining what we mean by in, and also determining the "point" of conversion). After, quote: "There is never a time when we are converted that we completely resist the Holy Spirit."

2) "Whether they do absolutely nothing but simply endure what God effects in them."
Answer: Yes, we simply endure (qualified with the answer to the next question).

3) "Whether they behave and act like a block of wood in conversion."
Yes, to the previous question, but this does not mean that God simply snaps his finger and we are converted. The formulators say, no, not like a block of wood because: 1) "a stone or block of wood does not resist the person who moves it." (Par. 59), 2) "neither does [a block of wood] understand or feel what is being done to it." (Par. 59), 3) because man is a rational creature, unlike a block of wood, God's modus agendi is through means, that is, through Word and Sacrament (see Pars. 19; 60-62), 4) The Holy Spirit in conversion is "working through the Word in the mind, will, and heart of the human being tanquam in subjecto patiente [as in a subject acted upon] (that is, because the human being does and effects nothing but only endures what is done). This happens not like a picture being etched in stone or a seal being pressed in wax; these things do not know or feel or will anything." (Par. 89) (But...we are like a block of wood in that we can accomplish and do nothing in our conversion).

4) "Whether the Holy Spirit is given to those who resist him."
Answer: "People resist God the Lord with their will UNTIL they are converted." (Par. 59) Though he is never present AFTER conversion, where he is rejected (see Par. 83).

5) "Whether conversion takes place by compulsion, in a manner in which God compels people against their will by force to be converted."
Answer: "Conversion is such a change in the human mind, will, and heart effected by the activity of the Holy Spirit that the human being, through this activity of the Holy Spirit, can accept the grace offered." (Par. 83) Being that I am not able to be saved while at the same time rejecting salvation with my will, I can not be saved against my will. It is not as if I am primarily saved against my will, and then, after that point, I need to preserve that salvation by desiring to be saved.


Article II makes it clear that we are not saved against our will, rather, conversion itself is a conversion of "mind, will, and heart." (Par. 83.) This is not through coactio (compulsion) but through a captivation, as Gerhard Forde might say, through the Holy Spirit's administration of Word and Sacrament. And this is completely the work of God, alone; the Formulators write: "For just as the resuscitation in the physical resurrection of the body is to be ascribed to God alone, so the conversion of our corrupted will, which is nothing other than an awakening of this will from spiritual death, is wholly and alone God's doing." (Par. 87)

No comments: