22nd Sunday after Pentecost
November 10, 2019
536th Birthday of Martin Luther
“Can Soldiers Be Saved?”
Grace to you and peace in the name of God our Father and our Good Shepherd Jesus. Today, as we celebrate the 536th birthday of Martin Luther and our annual commemoration of Veteran’s Day, I thought that in place of one of my sermons, you should hear what Martin Luther had to say about whether or not soldiers can be saved.
My dear friends,
When I write a sermon, I do so using 14 point font and double spacing and that normally fills 5 pages of text to then be preached. When Martin Luther wrote about the salvation of soldiers, using the same formatting, it took 61 pages! 61 pages! Needless to say, I had to do some MAJOR editing. So, what follows is a heavily edited version of what Martin Luther taught about the salvation of soldiers. Since Luther didn’t use PowerPoint, I won’t either.
In the first place, a distinction must be made between an occupation and the man who is in it, between a work and the doer of it. An occupation or a work can be good and right in itself and yet be bad and wrong if the man in the occupation, or the doer of the work is not good and right, or does not do his duty rightly. It is the same way with the occupation or work of the soldier; in itself it is right and godly, but we must see to it that the persons who are in the occupation and who do the work are the right kind of persons, godly and upright. This we shall hear.
To put it plainly, I am dealing here with such questions as these, — to be a soldier, go to war and slay and stab, rob and burn, as one does to enemies in times of war; whether this work is sin or wrong; whether a Christian must only do good and love, and kill no one, nor do anyone any harm. I say that this office or work, even though it were godly and right, can nevertheless become bad and wrong, if the person engaged in it is wrong and bad.
That the sword has been instituted of God to punish the evil and protect the good and preserve peace, (Romans 13:1, 1 Peter 3:1) is proof, powerful and sufficient, that fighting and slaying and the other things that war-times and martial law bring with them, have been instituted by God. What else is war than the punishment of wrong and evil? Why does anyone go to war, except because he desires peace and obedience? Although slaying and robbing do not seem to be a work of love, yet in truth even this is a work of love.
There are some who abuse this office, and slay and smite needlessly, for no other reason than because they want to; but that is the fault of the persons, not of the office, for where is there an office or a work or any other thing so good that self-willed, wicked people do not abuse it?
Paul in 1 Timothy 2:1, teaches Christians to pray for rulers. Solomon teaches everywhere in his Proverbs and Ecclesiastes to obey the king and be subject to him. Now no one can deny that if subjects set themselves against their rulers, they make themselves judges, which is not only against the ordinance and command of God, who will have judgment and vengeance belong to Him, but also against all natural law and justice.
Here you will say, perhaps, “Yes, if everything is to be endured from the tyrants, you give them too much and their wickedness only becomes stronger and greater by such teaching.” I reply: My teaching is not for you, if you are willing to do whatever you think good and whatever pleases you. Follow your own notion and slay all your lords, and see what good it does you. My teaching is only for those who would like to do right.
Look at the real soldiers, those who have been in the game. They do not draw sword suddenly, do not brag, have no desire to smite; but when they are compelled, so that they have to do it, then beware of them; they do not jest; their sword is tight in the sheath, but if they have to draw, it does not return bloodless to the scabbard. On the other hand, the crazy fools who are the first to fight wars make a fine start and are the first to draw their swords; but they are also the first to run away and to put up their swords.
Let this be, then, the first thing to be said on this point, — War is not right, even between equal and equal, unless it is fought with such a good conscience that one can say, “My love for my neighbor compels and forces me to fight for them, though I would rather avoid it.” In that case, it can be called not only war, but due protection and self-defense.
For a distinction must be made among wars. Some are begun out of a desire and will to fight before one is attacked, others are forced by necessity and compulsion after the attack has been made by the other party. The first kind can be called wars of desire, the second wars of necessity. The first kind are of the devil; God give him no good fortune! The second kind are human misfortunes; God help in them! Be instructed, therefore, dear lords! Keep yourselves from war, unless you have to defend and protect yourselves and the office which you bear compels you to fight.
When the battle begins, soldiers should commend themselves simply to God’s grace and adopt a Christian attitude. Since no good work saves men, every soldier should say this exhortation in his heart or with his lips, — “Heavenly Father, here I am, according to Thy divine will, in the external work and service of my lord, which I owe first to Thee and then to my lord for Thy sake. I thank Thy grace and mercy that Thou hast put me into a work of which I am sure that it is not sin, but right and pleasing obedience to Thy will. But because I know and have learned from Thy gracious Word that none of our good works can help us and no one is saved as a soldier but only as a Christian, therefore, I will rely not at all on this obedience and work of mine, but put myself freely at the service of Thy will and believe from the heart that only the innocent blood of Thy dear Son, my Lord Jesus Christ, redeems and saves me, and this He has shed for me in obedience to Thy holy will. On this I stay; on this I live and die; on this I fight and do all. Dear Lord God the Father, preserve and strengthen this faith in me by Thy Spirit. Amen.” If then you want to say the Creed and the Lord’s Prayer, you may do so, and let that be enough. Thus commit body and soul to His hands, and draw sword, and smite in God’s name.
Here I shall let this rest for this time. I commend you all to God.