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Martin Luther and Warfare

 

Behold the works of the Lord, what desolations he hath made in the earth. He maketh wars to cease unto the end of the earth; he breaketh the bow, and cutteth the spear in sunder; he burneth the chariot in the fire (Psalm xlvi. 8-9).

 

When I look at war, how it punishes the wicked, slays wrongdoers and makes such desolation in the earth, it appears to be a very unchristian thing and altogether contrary to Christian love. But when I consider how it defends the godly and protects wife and child, house and home, earthly possessions and honour and keeps them in peace, it is seen to be a good and godly thing. For if the sword did not defend and maintain peace, everything in the world would go to rack and ruin. Therefore such a war is nothing but a short absence of peace to prevent everlasting and unbounded strife; a small misery preventing a great misery.

 

What is said and written about war as a terrible plague is all true, but it should be remembered at the same time how much greater is the plague which war prevents. If people were saintly and willing to keep peace, then war would be the greatest plague on earth. But do you not see that the world is evil, that people do not desire to live in peace but want to rob and steal, and kill and abuse your wife and child, and take away your honour and possessions? All over the world man fights man. No single person could save himself from this unending strife unless the little strife which is called war should check it. Therefore God has honoured the sword so highly that He calls it His own ordinance, and does not will that we should say or think that man has invented it and ordained it. For the hand which holds this sword and kills with it is no longer a human hand, but the hand of God, so that it is not man but God that hangs, breaks human limbs on the wheel, hacks off heads, slays, and makes war. It is all His work and judgement.

 

Martin Luther, On whether soldiers can be saved (1526. W.A. [Weimar Edition] 19.626; repr. in Day by Day We Magnify Thee, Fortress Press, Philadelphia, 1982, p. 307).

 

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