DR. NIEMOLLER’S ANSWER TO THE STATE*
[* From the August 16, 1937 issue of Dawn.]
It is a privilege to be able to reproduce (from the Church Times) the last utterance of Dr. Niemoller in
from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
It was an extremely critical moment in the life of the Church. The Apostles had defied the prohibition to speak [that] which had been laid upon them; yes, indeed, they had made the formal confession: “We must obey God rather than men.” They had even taken the offensive and accused their judges of murdering the Saviour sent by God, and had gone on to make known to them the promise of atonement and forgiveness of sins. And then came the words: “But they, when they heard this, were cut to the heart and were minded to slay them.” At this moment Gamaliel rose to his feet; and we must recognize that it was thanks to his intervention that the Apostles were freed, and that it was possible for the community to go on living and working. What we feel about him is certainly therefore some sort of thankfulness; undoubtedly he was a clever, upright and pious man, and our wish would be for such another in these critical days of the Church through which we are now living - for some man “had in reputation among all the people,” some one who, as an intelligent man, would appeal for caution; as an upright man would appeal for honour; as a pious man would appeal for reverence to God. Perhaps in our time, too, such a voice would command a hearing!
The Prussian Council of
Brethren will define their position and I will just say this one word - as
I can do no other. When it is said:‑ “Yet another parson has
escaped arrest by flight,” no doubt it is Pastor Asmussen who is meant, who has
We have no more thought of using our own powers to escape the arm of the authorities than had the Apostles of old. No more are we ready to keep silence at man’s behest, when God commands us to speak. For it is, and must remain, the case that we must obey God rather than men. The case to-day is the same as of old, and under these circumstances Gamaliel’s counsel is a wise counsel, for it is unwise to create martyrs in a cause which one wishes to defeat. It is, moreover, good and proper counsel, for it is unrighteous to use the power of the sword to fight men’s convictions. It is also a pious counsel, as it is impious to forestall the judgment of God, which we do not yet know.
The question is therefore: Would a new Gamaliel and a decree conferring real freedom of faith and of conscience help us in the end? My dear brethren, do not let us deceive ourselves! The Supreme Council accepted Gamaliel’s advice as regards freedom of conscience, and released the prisoners, though not without beating them and renewing the embargo on their speech. “They charged the Apostles not to speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go.” And in the very next chapter of the Acts, there breaks out the lightning flash of the first persecutions which are associated with the name of Stephen, and where the driving force was Saul, himself a pupil of Gamaliel.
It is clear that tolerance, for which a lance is now being broken, can by no means be carried out as regards Christian Faith and Christian Confession. It is clear that one cannot in this case adopt a position of tentative neutrality and wait to see how things turn out before one makes a final decision. For all his cleverness, uprightness and piety, Gamaliel makes a mistake, for he imagines the case of Jesus of Nazareth is already settled, just as the other cases which he cited of Theudas and Judas were settled. And now again in the case of the Apostles a movement was concerned, the success of which could not yet be foretold. As a matter of fact, the Apostles preach exactly the opposite of what Gamaliel believes and acts upon. They preach Him Who was crucified and rose again. They preach that as regards their affairs the decision of God has already been made, and that any apparent success or failure makes no difference to this at all; that the crucified Jesus is the living Christ and Lord of His Church; that the decision whether He should be recognized or rejected cannot possibly be made dependent on what the future may bring forth.
He who fails to make his decision of faith for the Lord when the Word of the Cross is spoken to him, he makes the decision against Him at the very moment when he thinks he has avoided committing himself. It is a case of “He who is not with me is against me,” and this renders all neutrality in practice impossible. It is the message of the Cross which places before us the question Yes or No, belief or unbelief, salvation or destruction. Thus all neutrality, even that which is well meant, turns one into an enemy; even if God may use one - as everything must work to His service for the carrying out of His Will upon earth. For us Christians, however, the counsel of Gamaliel, however well and honestly he may have meant it (and even if God used him, and still to-day may use him for the help of the community), nevertheless this counsel may represent a serious temptation to us in prevailing upon us to look at success, to look at appearances, and to base our faith in any way on our experiences. This temptation has more power over us than perhaps we find easy to admit, for it is all too easy in the suffering and in the hardship which we have to go through to draw the conclusion - after all, God is not with us; after all, the work for which we stand is not of God; it is no use, therefore, to trouble about it further! All is in vain! Dear friends, let us not forget that God offers us salvation in the Cross of His Son; that it is in the hearing and believing of this message that He gives us salvation, and that there is nothing else in Heaven or on earth upon which we can rest or build our faith.
In this time of very special trial and struggle we must bear in mind that every attempt to gain security by some other means, every turning of our eyes after some other source of strength and support, works exactly in the opposite way to that which we intended; in fact, that it will cause us shipwreck, and we shall sink! The Cross of Jesus; yes, that does indeed seem the end of all things and abandonment by God. Our eyes can see nothing else in it. If we hold with Gamaliel, we come to this – man’s counsel and man’s activities! But the Gospel says: It is just at this point that the love of God triumphs and that it reveals itself to the faithful.
The suffering of our community, the shame which we have to bear when we take our stand beside the Crucified One, that is indeed a heavy burden and hardship; we feel the weight of it, and doubt finds its way into our soul; what of our faith? Or in the end is it to be a case of man’s counsel and man’s help? But Jesus says: “Blessed are ye when men shall reproach you and persecute you.” The ear of faith hears this promise, clings to it, and finds joy and comfort.
We note to-day that neither we nor anyone else is helped by pious words mingled with a little Protestant enthusiasm and with our customary measure of healthy optimism. The pressure is growing; anyone who has gone through the fiery ordeal of the tempter in these last days - I think, for instance, how on Wednesday the Secret Police penetrated into the closed Church of Friedrich Werder and arrested at the altar eight members of the Council of Brethren who were assembled there, and took them away; I think how yesterday, at Saarbrucken, six women and a trusted man of the Evangelical Community were arrested because they had circulated an election leaflet of the Confessional Church at the direction of the Council of Brethren - I repeat, he who has indeed suffered all this cannot be far from the words of the Prophet; he also would like to say: “It is enough, now, 0 Lord, take away my life.”
And anyone who, like myself last Friday evening, had no one beside him at the Communion Service except three young Gestapo men, who have to inform upon the Community of Jesus in their praying, in their singing, and in their teaching; young men who certainly were once baptized in the Name of Jesus, and who certainly have pledged their faith to the Saviour, who are now laying traps for His flock. One cannot easily save oneself from the shame of the Church – “Lord have mercy!”
There is, indeed, no hope except to hold firm to the Crucified One, and to learn to say in simple and therefore certain faith, “In the bottom of my heart Thy Name and Cross alone shine forth at all times and in all hours, and therefore I can be glad.” It may still be a long way until we are truly glad, like those who, with the Apostles, were accounted worthy to bear shame for Jesus’ sake. The way will not be opened to-day or tomorrow; and that may be good, so that we may learn not to take passing moods for real faith, and, in the seriousness of the struggle, learn to depend on the word of our Lord, and that we may not cease to learn the message of the Cross, the Gospel of Jesus Christ (now, perhaps, for the first time aright), and to teach it, and to hear it and to preach it; for our faith lives in this word, and our joy flows from this word.
1. A tall and haggard figure, Dr.
Martin Niemoeller, the head of the German Pastor’s Emergency League,
ministers to the richest and most distinguished Protestant congregation in
- The Library Digest.
Niemoeller, the most fearless man of God in
“However hard, however dark, however hopeless from a human standpoint our way may be, we cannot now turn back. Let us give ear only to the promises of Christ, and the dark way, if it is with Him, is the best of all.”
- The German Apostacy -Dawn, April, 15, 1937.
3. I would like to tell you that I am not only unbroken after six weeks of imprisonment, but am full of joy and gratitude for God’s gracious guidance. … It is one of our Lord’s unfathomable truths that His trust upholds our peace of mind in all situations of life. It really seems as though nothing at all had happened, precisely because everything has happened, everything that had to happen everywhere.
I am now resting in peace after the abundant turmoil of the last few years and am waiting, patient and full of confidence, if the Lord will again need me for service outside these walls. When and How? It is not for me to worry. … I know that I and many others whom God has committed to solitary places are carried by many prayers.
A Letter from
Dr. Niemoller in