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Napoleon's Religious Cowardice

( Originally Published 1902 )

NAPOLEON BONAPARTE was not as large a man as he was a general and ruler. His selfishness, ambition and gigantic plans of earthly con-quest, left him little time for the enjoyment of religious sentiments or the performance of religious duties. This fact was a source of great regret when his confinement at St. Helena gave him opportunity and disposition for meditation. He has left on record the following remarkable confession:

" Upon the throne, surrounded by generals far from devout—yes, I will not deny it—I had too much regard for public opinion, and far too much timidity; and perhaps I did not dare say aloud, ` I am a believer.' I said, ` Religion is a power, a political engine,' but even then, if any one had questioned me directly, I should have replied, Yes, I am a Christian.' And if it had been necessary to confess my faith at the price of martyrdom, I should have found all my firmness. Yes, I should have endured it, rather than deny my religion ! But now that I am at St. Helena, why should I dissemble that which I believe at the bottom of my heart? Here I live for myself. I wish for a priest. I desire the communion of the Lord's Supper and to confess what I believe."

If it were not for this confession, it would scarcely be believed that the man who dared all Europe and sought the most dangerous places on the battlefield, fearing the deadly missiles no more than falling leaves or flakes of snow, could have been such a religious coward. Carlyle, in comparing Cromwell's religion with Napoleon's want of religion in public life, explains that the scepticism of France made an unfriendly atmosphere for the Emperor's faith. This moral cowardice was Napoleon's greatest mistake. If he had publicly confessed Christ, and carefully lived him during his administration, his character would have come up to the measure of his genius.

It is absolutely necessary to confess Christ if we would continue to possess him. The Holy Spirit will never continue his residence in a soul which is afraid or ashamed to confess his presence there. The dumb Christian is the dead one. So many have been paralyzed in their religious activity through fear of the criticism of unbelievers; so many have been lost by a failure to enter upon the divine life because they were afraid of the laughs and scoffs of others. There is every reason why Christ ought to be ashamed of us, and none why we ought to be ashamed of him.

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