When one studies Luther on the doctrine of predestination, it quickly becomes apparent that he believed in what has been called “double predestination.” In this teaching, it is recognized that the same God who sovereignly predestined the elect to salvation also sovereignly passed over others.
Martin Luther is best remembered today as the Reformer who defended the doctrine of justification by faith alone against the constant assaults of the Roman Catholic Papacy. However, this was but one conflict that Luther was engaged in during his lifetime. Another significant conflict of Luther’s day involved the doctrine of divine predestination and would, in part, lead to one of Luther’s greatest works, The Bondage of the Will. At the end of this work, which is a rebuttal to Erasmus’ writings and part of a debate concerning God’s election of sinners and man’s free-will (or lack thereof), Luther writes:
Moreover, I give you [Erasmus] hearty praise and commendation on this further account—that you alone, in contrast with all others, have attacked the real thing, that is, the essential issue. You have not wearied me with those extraneous issues about the Papacy, purgatory, indulgences, and such like—trifles, rather than issues—in respect of which almost all to date have sought my blood (though without success); you, and you alone, have seen the hinge on which all turns, and aimed for the vital spot.
While justification is the “doctrine upon which the Church stands or falls,” Luther saw the doctrine of God’s sovereignty and predestination as the “hinge on which all turns.”
The doctrine of predestination teaches that God, in His perfect sovereignty, has both elected a certain number of sinners to salvation and has ordained all that comes to pass. Not one thing is outside of His sovereign and controlling decrees. For many, this is a doctrine of great comfort; the Triune God reigns, and so we can rejoice. Our election to salvation is certain because God has predestined all that comes to pass. But, for others, there is perhaps no stranger and no more hated doctrine than this. Some have even gone so far as to say that they would not worship a God who predestined all we experience in this life. A large question that many ask is, “If God has predestined all things, whatsoever they may be, then can man be truly free?” Luther was at the center of this argument in the sixteenth century and defended the sovereign, predestining decrees of God over and against those who lauded the free-will of man above God’s power.