Martin Luther on the Sincere Free Offer of the Gospel




Richard Muller on Martin Luther  Muller is one of the leading reformed historians in the world today.  HT: Tony Byrne.

“Predestination,” in The Oxford Encyclopedia of the Reformation, ed. Hans J. Hillerbrand (New York: Oxford University Press, 1996), 3:333.

“Luther thus juxtaposes almost paradoxically the assumptions that all things come to pass necessarily by the decree of God’s eternal will, that all human beings are foreordained to salvation or damnation, that God nonetheless genuinely wills (as scripture states) the salvation of all people, and that those who are rejected by God are rejected for their unbelief.”



The Bondage of the Will  ed. Henry Cole, 1823

pp. 153-4

It is the Gospel voice, and the sweetest consolation to miserable sinners, where Ezekiel says, “I desire not the death of a sinner, but rather, that he should be converted and live,” and it is in all respects like unto that of Ps. 30:5.; “For His wrath is but for a moment, in His willingness is life.”  And that of Ps. 36:7, “How sweet is thy loving-kindness, O God.”  Also, “For I am merciful, ” and that of Christ, (Mt 11:28) “Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”  And also that of Exodus 20:6, ” I will shew mercy unto thousands of them that love me.” 

And what is more than half of the Holy Scripture, but mere promises of grace, by which, mercy, life, peace, and salvation, are extended from God unto men?  And what else is the whole word of promise but this: — “I desire not the death of a sinner?”  Is not His saying, “I am merciful,” the same as saying, I am not angry, I am unwilling to punish, I desire not your death, My will is to pardon, My will is to spare?  And if there were not these divine promises standing, by which consciences, afflicted with a sense of sin and terrified at the fear of death and judgment, might be raised up, what place would there be for pardon or for hope!  What sinner would not sink, in despair! 

But as “Free-will” is not proved from any of the other words of mercy, of promise, and of comfort, so neither is it from this:— ” I desire not the death of a sinner,” &c.


pp. 158-9

God, therefore, is to be left to remain in His own Nature and Majesty; for in this respect, we have nothing to do with Him, nor does He wish us to have, in this respect, anything to do with Him: but we have to do with Him as far as He is clothed in, and delivered to us by, His Word; for in that He presents Himself unto us, and that is His beauty and His glory, in which the Psalmist celebrates Him as being clothed.  Wherefore, we say, that the righteous God does not ‘deplore that death of His people which He Himself works in them;’ but He deplores that death which He finds in His people, and which He desires to remove from them. For GOD PREACHED desires this:—that, our sin and death being taken away, we might be saved, “He sent His word and healed them.”  (Psalm 107:20)  But GOD HIDDEN IN MAJESTY neither deplores, nor takes away death, but works life and death and all things: nor has He, in this character, denied Himself in His Word, but has reserved unto Himself, a free power over all things.

But the Diatribe is deceived by its own ignorance, in not making a distinction between GOD PREACHED and GOD HIDDEN: that is, between the Word of God and God Himself.  God does many things which He does not make known unto us in His Word: He also wills many things which He does not in His word make known unto us that He willsThus, He does not ‘will the death of a sinner,’ that is, in His Word; but He wills it by that will inscrutable.  But in the present case, we are to consider His Word only, and to leave that will inscrutable; seeing that, it is by His word, and not by that will inscrutable that we are to be guided; for who can direct himself according to a will inscrutable and incomprehensible?  It is enough to know only, that there is in God a certain will inscrutable: but what, why, and how far that will wills, it is not lawful to inquire, to wish to know, to be concerned about, or to reach unto—it is only to be feared and adored!

Therefore it is rightly said, ‘if God does not desire our death, it is to be laid to the charge of our own will, if we perish:’ this, I say, is right, if you speak of GOD PREACHED For He desires that all men should be saved, seeing that, He comes unto all by the word of salvation, and it is the fault of the will which does not receive Him: as He saith (Mt. 23:37), “How often would I have gathered thy children together, and thou wouldest not!”  But why that Majesty does not take away or change this fault of the will in all, seeing that, it is not in the power of man to do it ; or why He lays that to the charge of the will, which the man cannot avoid, it becomes us not to inquire, and though you should inquire much, yet you will never find out: as Paul says (Rom. 9:20), “Who art thou that repliest against God?” —Suffice it to have spoken thus upon this passage of Ezekiel.  Now let us proceed to the remaining particulars.


pp. 166-167

The God Incarnate, then, here speaks thus—“I WOULD and THOU WOULDST NOT!”  [Mt. 23:37]  The God Incarnate, I say, was sent for this purpose—that He might desire, speak, do, suffer, and offer unto all, all things that are necessary unto salvation, although He should offend many, who, being either left or hardened by that secret will of Majesty, should not receive Him thus desiring, speaking, doing, and offering, as John 1:5 says, “The light shineth in darkness, and the darkness comprehended it not.”  And again, “He came unto His own, and His own received Him not.” (v. 11)  It belongs also to this same God Incarnate to weep, to lament, and to sigh over the perdition of the wicked, even while that will of Majesty, from purpose, leaves and reprobates some, that they might perish.  Nor does it become us to inquire why He does so, but to revere that God who can do, and wills to do such things

Nor do I suppose that any one will cavillingly deny that that will which here saith, “How often would I!” was displayed to the Jews, even before God became Incarnate; seeing that, they are accused of having slain the prophets, before Christ, and having thus resisted His will.  For it is well known among Christians, that all things were done by the prophets in the name of Christ to come, who was promised that He should become Incarnate: so that whatever has been offered unto men by the ministers of the word from the foundation of the world, may be rightly called, the Will of Christ.


pp. 172-3

The New Testament, properly, consists of promises and exhortations, even as the Old, properly consists of laws and threatenings. For in the New Testament, the Gospel is preached; which is nothing else than the word, by which, are offered unto us the Spirit, grace, and the remission of sins obtained for us by Christ crucified; and all entirely free, through the mere mercy of God the Father, thus favoring us unworthy creatures who deserve damnation rather than any thing else!


pp. 183-4

The meaning of John [1:12] is this.—That by the coming of Christ into the world by His Gospel, by which grace was offered, but not works required, a full opportunity was given to all men of becoming the sons of God, if they would believe.


p. 184

John, therefore, is preaching, not the power of “Free-will”, but the riches of the kingdom of God offered to the world by the Gospel; and signifying at the same time, how few there are who receive it;



Luther’s Works, trans. and ed. J Pelikan et al., 1955, 33:139.  WA 17:684-5.  As quoted by R. Scott Clark in “Janus, the Well-Meant Offer of the Gospel and Westminster Theology”, in The Pattern of Sound Doctrine: Systematic Theology at the Westminster Seminaries, Essays in Honor of Robert B. Strimple, ed. David VanDrunen, 2004

On Eze. 18:23,32

For he is here speaking of the preached and offered mercy of God, not that hidden and awful will of God whereby He ordains by his own counsel which and what sort of persons He wills to be recipients and partakers of his preached and offered mercy…  we have to argue in one way about God or the will of God as preached, revealed, offered and worshipped, and in another way about God as He is not preached, not revealed, not offered, not worshipped.  To the extent, therefore, that God hides Himself and wills to be unknown to us it is no business of ours…

God must therefore be left alone to Himself in his own majesty, for in this regard, we should have nothing to do with Him, nor has He willed that we should have anything to do with Him.  But we have something to do with Him insofar as He is clothed and set forth in his Word, through which He offers Himself to us…



Large Catechism, no page number, HT: Robert Basham

For neither you nor I could ever know anything of Christ, or believe on Him, and obtain Him for our Lord, unless it were offered to us and granted to our hearts by the Holy Ghost through the preaching of the Gospel.  The work is done and accomplished; for Christ has acquired and gained the treasure for us by His suffering, death, resurrection, etc.  But if the work remained concealed so that no one knew of it, then it would be in vain and lost.  That this treasure, therefore, might not lie buried, but be appropriated and enjoyed, God has caused the Word to go forth and be proclaimed, in which He gives the Holy Ghost to bring this treasure home and appropriate it to us.






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The Sincere Free Offer of the Gospel