I once asked my grandfather why his grandfather left Germany in 1875 to come to America. Grandpa said that the old emigrant told him that Germany was always getting into wars and drafting all the young men, and he did not want to die as a soldier in some fight that did not concern him. He wanted to farm, and he wanted to get married and raise a family. I thought of that when I read this quote by Otto von Bismarck (1815-1898), the leader of the German empire at that time. Late in life he had this to say:
I have a burden on my soul. During all my long life, I did not make anyone happy, neither my friends, nor my family, nor even myself. I have done many evil things… I was the cause of the beginning of three big wars. About 800,000 people were killed because of me on the battlefields, and their mothers, brothers, and widows cried for them. And now this stands between me and God.
That makes me think about three things. First of all, if my great-great-grandfather had not left Germany when he did, he would have perhaps been among the 800,000 killed– and then, where would I be now?
Secondly, that makes me think about all of today’s temporary tyrants with their brief hold on power, using it to cause so much death and destruction and heartache around the world. Someday soon they will perish like all tyrants do, and then all their deeds will stand between them and God.
Third, it makes me think about all that I have done that now stands between me and God. And that makes me give thanks for Jesus Christ who died and rose from the dead for the forgiveness of my sins, for only by faith in Him can I hope to stand before God.
Job 31:13-15 — If I have denied justice to any of my servants, whether male or female, when they had a grievance against me, what will I do when God confronts me? What will I answer when called to account? Did not he who made me in the womb make them? Did not the same one form us both within our mothers?
Hosea 7:2 — (God says), “They do not realize that I remember all their evil deeds. Their sins engulf them; they are always before me.”
Proverbs 11:7 — When a wicked man dies, his hope perishes; all he expected from his power comes to nothing.
Colossians 1:21-23 — Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior. But now He has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation— if you continue in your faith, established and firm, and do not move from the hope held out in the gospel. This is the gospel that you heard and that has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven, and of which I, Paul, have become a servant.
Almighty and merciful Father, whose clemency I now presume to implore, after a long life of carelessness and wickedness, have mercy upon me. I have committed many trespasses; I have neglected many duties. I have done what thou hast forbidden, and left undone what Thou hast commanded. Forgive, merciful Lord, my sins, negligences, and ignorances, and enable me, by the Holy Spirit, to amend my life according to thy Holy Word, for Jesus Christ’s sake. Amen.
–Samuel Johnson (1709-1784)