Luther’s Doctrine Of Predestination -- By: James Edward McGoldrick
RAR 8:1 (Winter 1999) p. 81
Luther’s Doctrine Of Predestination
Although it has become almost customary to associate the doctrine of predestination with John Calvin (1509–64), even to the point that uninformed people regard him as the progenitor of that concept, the most vigorous assertion of predestination in the era of the Protestant Reformation came from Martin Luther (1483–1546). The Wittenberg theologian studied the works of early church fathers such as Augustine of Hippo (354–430) and medieval authors such as Thomas Aquinas (c. 1225–74), in whose treatises he found extensive expositions of that doctrine, and Luther’s own experience of the grace of God confirmed his belief in the sovereignty of God over salvation. In affirming his belief in predestination, that is, election to eternal life, Luther introduced no novelty but rather maintained a traditional but neglected teaching of the Bible.
Concern about predestination was for Luther, at one time, a spiritual problem which caused him deep anxiety about the prospect that he might not have been among the elect—those God had chosen for salvation. In the judgment of a modern biographer, Luther felt this dilemma more deeply “than any other theologian since the days of Augustine.”1 In the preface to a collection of his Latin writings, which appeared in 1545, Luther related his concern:
Though I lived as a monk without reproach, I felt that I was a sinner before God with an extremely disturbed conscience. I
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would not believe that He was placated by satisfaction. I did not love, yes I hated the righteous God who punished sinners, and secretly, if not blasphemously, ... I was angry with God....I raged with a fierce and troubled conscience.2
As a new professor at the University of Wittenberg, Luther lectured on the epistle to the Romans in 1515–16, and his intensive study of that Pauline treatise led him to new insights which enabled him eventually to rejoice in the “sweet comfort” of predestination.3 In order to appreciate Luther’s understanding of this doctrine, it is necessary to examine his treatment of it in several of his major writings—Lectures on Romans, The Bondage of the Will, Table Talk, and some items from his sermons and pastoral correspondence.
1. Predestination In Lectures On Romans
Luther’s exposition of Paul’s masterpiece expresses the Reformer’s view of sin and salvation clearly, especially as it relates to the condition of human nature since the Fall and the exercis...
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