MY GRACIOUS LORD AND FRIEND, MARTIN LUTHER
Grace and peace in Christ, worshipful and honorable dear sir and friend.
When you were recently at Wittenberg at the time of the Elector’s entry, we talked of the conditions of the soldiers, and in the course of the conversation many points were raised touching matters of conscience.
Thereupon you and others asked me to publish a written opinion on this subject, because there are many who are offended by this occupation.
Some of them have doubts, others give themselves up so completely for lost that they inquire no longer about God, and cast soul and conscience to the winds. I myself have heard some of these fellows say that if they were to remember these things they could never go to war; as though war were such a great thing that we are not to think about God and the soul when war is afoot; and yet when we are in danger of death, that is the very time when we ought most to be mindful of God and the soul.
In order, then, that our best advice may be given to these weak and timid and doubting consciences, and that the heedless may receive better instruction, I complied with your request and promised this book. For if a man goes into battle with a good and well-instructed conscience, he fights well, since a good conscience never fails to make great courage and a bold heart; but when the heart is bold and the spirit confident, the fist is all the stronger, horse and man are brisker, everything turns out better, and all the chances better favor the victory which God then gives. On the other hand, if the conscience is timid and uncertain, then the heart cannot be right bold.
It is impossible for a bad conscience not to make men cowardly and fearful, as Moses says to his Jews, “If you are disobedient, God will give you a fearful heart, so that when you go out one way against your enemies, you shall be scattered seven ways, and have no good fortune.” Then horse and man are lazy and unprepared, and lack vigor for the attack, and at last are defeated. As for the rude and heedless consciences in the company, — those who are called daredevils and foolhardy fellows, — with them everything goes at haphazard, whether they win or lose. For as it turns out for those who have good or bad consciences, so it turns out for these rude beasts, too, because they are in the army. Victory is not given on their account, for they are only the shells and not the true kernel of the army.
Accordingly, I now send you this opinion of mine, given according to the power that God has granted me, so that you and others who would like to go to war in such a way as not to lose God’s favor and eternal life, may know how to arm and how to guide yourselves. God’s grace be with you.