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Bismarck's Religion

( Originally Published Early 1900's )

IT has been seldom in ancient or modern times that Providence has allowed any one man to be so potential in founding a nation as Bismarck, in the creation of the German Empire. His colossal brain, his political sagacity, his peerless diplomacy, his real genius, his irresistible will have been emphasized as elements of his greatness and success. He had other elements of character not so often noticed, but just as essential. They were his love for his wife and children, his devotion to his country, his simple, sincere faith in God, and his sense of personal responsibility for time and eternity. If his intellect was a mountain losing its head in the sky, if his will was a storm sweeping everything before it, his heart was a deep, blue sea.

Bismarck's religion was dominant in his individual character and public life. If the chain with which he bound the German Empire together could be discovered, it would be found fastened to the throne of God. In one of the ablest speeches he ever made in the Reichstag, he reached the climax in " The Germans fear God and nothing else in the world." The old Bismarck coat-of-arms was a shield with a crown above it, out of which came two buffalo horns, with the black eagle of Prussia to the left and the eagle of Brandenburg on the right, and this motto at the bottom, " In Trinitate Robur " (" My strength in the Trinity "), referring to the three-leaf clover and the three oak leaves in the shield, and especially to the Trinity of God.

At the Easter of 183o, on his sixteenth birthday, Bismarck was confirmed in the Trinity church, of Berlin, by the celebrated Schleiermacher, and remained a member of the Lutheran Church to the day of his death. While in college, he became somewhat sceptical, to which fact he refers regretfully in a letter to his wife from his college town:

" I visted Wiesbaden, the scene of my former follies. How many of those with whom I flirted, and drank and gambled are now under ground ! What changes my views of life have undergone in the fourteen years since then! I cannot imagine how a man who thinks at all about himself, and yet refuses to hear anything about God, can endure life without weariness and self-abhorrence. I can't think how I endured it formerly ! If I had to live now, as then, without God, without you, without children, I don't know why I should not throw off this life like a filthy garment."

Through his long life, he not only believed in a God above him, but openly professed the presence of God in his soul. He had implicit faith in the Scriptures, and with them he often tried to win his friends from scepticism. After one of the most exquisite descriptions of a swim in the Rhine by moonlight, he wrote :

I sat with Lynar on the balcony, with the Rhine beneath us, the starry sky about us, and my little Testament brought to us religious topics, and I tried for a long while to shake the tendency of his mind to the moral teaching of Rousseau."

Bismarck had implicit faith in Divine Providence. He said in a critical time in his history, " I am ready for anything God may send." At another time he said, " If God will continue to give health 'to my wife and children, in thirty years from now it will not make any difference whether I play the part of the diplomatist or country squire." His wife was very much afraid of his assassination, and he wrote her : " Trust in God, dear heart ; there is more danger to be apprehended for the king's life than for mine, but this also is in God's hands." In a gloomy period of the nation's history he wrote, " Thank God my health is good; but one needs an humble faith in God not to despair about the future of our country. May he grant the king good health above all." Bismarck's faith in the providence of God over Prussia and the German nation was a part of his life. He said : " Sooner or later, the God who directs our battles, will throw down the iron dice which will give the final decision." After a most graphic description of Napoleon's humiliation at Sedan and of his conference with him, he wrote :

" These two days cost France 100,000 men and an Emperor. If I did not believe in the Divine government of the world, I would not serve my king another hour. If I did not obey God and put my trust in him, my respect for earthly rulers would be but small. Title and decorations have no charm for me. Take my faith from me and you take my country, too."

Bismarck had a vital faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. We remember to have read nowhere a clearer or more powerful exposition of the relation of Christ's teachings to the State than in one of Bismarck's addresses. He hard:

" If the State wishes to secure its own duration, and to prove its right to exist, it must be established on a religious foundation. Christian rulers are princes intended to use the sceptre God has lent them to carry out his will on earth. I recognize as God's will what is revealed to us in the Holy Gospels, and I believe that the realization of Christian doctrine is the object of the State. Gentlemen, do not let us give the people a narrow view of Christianity by showing them that it is not indispensable to their law-givers ; let us not take from them the belief that Christianity is the source from which our legislation is drawn, and that the State aims at the realization of Christianity."

A man with such a faith in the life of Christ in the foundation and progress of his nation, deserved to build one of the greatest empires, and had a right to the fame his services secured.

A meddlesome scribbler wrote to Bismarck, charging upon him a want of spirituality. In his answer the Chancellor defines his religion, expressing his faith in Providence, in prayer, in the atonement, and breathing a spirit of humility becoming so great a man.

" There are numbers of Christians far beyond me on the road to salvation with whom, from my public position, I am compelled to live in conflict. Would to God I had no other sins on my soul but those which are known to the world, and for which can only hope to be forgiven by faith in Christ's blood. It is often so difficult to attain that clearness of conviction which is the foundation of trust in God. If I stake my life in a cause I do it in that faith which has been rooted in me by long and hard struggles and by sincere and humble prayer to God. I hope in the dangers and difficulties of my calling to be enabled, by God's grace, to hold fast that staff of humble faith by which I find my way."

His faith in a future life and one of joy to those who belong to Christ was a part of his very being. In a letter to his wife he said:

" We must not cling to the world or make ourselves too much at home in it. If I believed this to be the end of it all, it would not be worth the dressing and undressing."

We do not pretend that Bismarck was free from faults, or from sins; that in his public administration he always adhered to the highest standards of equity. No one was more conscious of those mistakes or sins than he, and he made free confession of them to his God. We do claim that there was a deep religious undercurrent which made his character largely what it was, and brought him to the destiny which he achieved.

Emperor William I., Bismarck's master, was a man of the same sterling faith in God and a future life.

The brains of the world are not going from but coming to the Cross of Jesus Christ.

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