The European War in the Light of God's Word (Part II)

by August Pieper
translated by Caleb Bassett

This translation is the conclusion of Pieper’s Quartalschrift article, the first part of which was published in the previous issue of Studium (Issue #6). Please refer to the preface printed in the previous issue for introduction and practical translation notes.


  1. The War as a Chastisement of God
  2. A Sermon for Us
  3. Should We German Christians Pray for Germany’s Victory?
  4. A Sign of the Day of Rebirth

The War as a Chastisement of God

Next to pestilence, fire, and flood, war is one of the most horrible chastisements of God–win or lose. The misery that war brings even for the victorious nation defies description. Those who do not go through it themselves cannot even imagine it. Hundreds of thousands of heroes must fall in their struggle. The nations’ finest are slain in the heights and valleys. Children lament and mothers are delirious. Thousands of fathers must mourn their fallen sons: O Absalom, my son, … if God had willed it, I would have had to die for you! (cf. 2 Samuel 18:33) “War is hell,” said General Sherman. And that’s not the worst. Even more: War also fills hell. Certainly many who die during the commotion of battle go to heaven, but anyone who has listened to people who have been there in the middle of it all, or have read the truthful depictions of war authors know that most of the time commanders do not lead their troops into battle with the prayer of Gustavus Adolphus. Instead they do so with curses and oaths. Instead of in the name of the triune God, they go after the enemy “What in devil’s name, Mueller, shoot already!”1 and with other similar inflammatory remarks. It is very difficult to maintain faith and a clear conscience in the fury of battle and war. War is terribly brutal. And death holds a terrible crop–for heaven? War is the devil’s harvest festival.–To be sure, God brandishes his scourge over the belligerent nations with fearful seriousness.

It is nothing but so-called Christian nations who are at war with one another. But if anyone lumps all these nations together, they have completely trampled the gospel. Indeed, after tossing the gospel aside they fully embrace the worship of the flesh. France stands out in front as the land of all sorts of lewdness; Russia, the land of gluttony, corruption, oppression,2 and the most external of religion. There is the Serbian nation of murderers; bigoted Austria; the never-satisfied, hypocritical England; and prideful, arrogant Germany.

The land of our fathers still has millions of Christians in it, just as there are still very many in other lands. There are still those who hang onto the pure Word of God with their entire soul, whose prayer to God is a sweet fragrance. But the intellectual leaders of the people, the scientists and artists, even the most regarded theologians and pastors, the great educated masses, and the proletariat in the cities are too “scientific” about the gospel and the Scriptures. Not only that, they have practically set the gospel completely to the side, especially since the nationwide uprising of the people. They have erected the so-called culture, which is basically nothing more than the worship of the flesh and the fine pleasures of life, as mankind’s highest ideal of living. What Luther said has been fulfilled in the German people: “The Devil will kindle the light of reason and bring you from faith.” Wundt,3 Ostwald,4 Barth,5 and Häckel6 are now the great lights of German science; and Eucken,7 the hope of God’s faithful! Wellhausen,8 Delitzsch,9 Harnack10 are the great theologians; and Seeberg,11 the savior of Lutheranism!

The whole swarm of positive theologians wishes to rescue the gospel by abandoning the doctrine of verbal inspiration and basing the new-fundamentalist theology on Christian experience. It is to the point in Germany that even the elect would be tempted into error, if that were possible (cf. Matthew 24:24). Anyone wishing to be educated is swept away by the vortex of science. And absolutely no one notices or wants to notice that the most basic pillars of all their science are built on air. They don’t realize that the entire, massive building is a grand fraud. They don’t perceive the hot air12 which has fooled them about the realities of life, sin, guilt, conscience, need, death, eternity, heaven and hell. All this so that they can give themselves over to the building-up, enjoyment, and security of this life! The testimony of the positive, believing witnesses has become weak because it is infected with the same spirit of deception as their science is. It is therefore neither something half nor whole; or it was brought to life with fanatic13 elements and has thus lost its power. The Germans are hermetically sealed against the faint voice of real Lutheranism, which sounds out in isolated instances every now and then.

“Make your life here good and enjoyable; there is no other side, no reunion!” Rejection of the gospel creates this maxim. It comes from the materialistic crudeness of the violence-hungry working masses. It is what the upper class enjoys with fine manners, but would consider crass to actually say. It is one of those euphemistic phrases behind which the educated hide.

Many Germans–even some of the educated–still have faith in God. It is harder to make Germans into atheists than any other nationality. But the god in whom both the educated and uneducated masses of Germany believe is no longer the God of the Bible. Their god is not the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who visits14 the sins onto the third and fourth generation and has set sin aside through Christ and forgives and calls all the weary and heavy laden to himself through the Gospel in order to heal them with his grace. Instead, it is a god outside of Christ and without Christ, about whom everyone thinks what he wants, to whom one still cries when in need, but whom one leaves in peace as long as he thinks he can help himself. –And Germany followed the English example and got it in their heads to win the ways and richness of this world. And what’s more, the French sin has taken hold and spread in German cities. –And that is not mudslinging;15 it is merely intimating the actual religious and moral conditions. All this from the people whom God designated in the Reformation, just as Israel once was: “This people I formed for myself that they may proclaim my praise” (cf. Isaiah 43:21). As soon as Luther saw contempt towards the gospel among the German people, he announced and predicted with holy oaths that God would drown Germany in its own blood. We know how terribly God made that true during the Thirty Years War.

Let us look away from what God punishes and visits upon the warring nations. He has reason to chastise our dear fatherland above all because they have abandoned the God of the Reformation, of the pure Gospel, of grace in Christ, who is revealed in Scripture. Instead they have turned to the dumb idols of reason, science, their own worth and strength, material wealth, and lust. Will they recognize that God the Lord is striking them? Whoever observed the mood of the people at the beginning of the war in Germany and our own land as it was published in the public announcements, speeches, sermons, poems, private reports and newspapers must have been amazed at how everybody seemed to call on God and to rely on his presence on the side of the just cause. Gerhard Hauptmann16 himself became pious, and secular German newspapers which otherwise did not even care for prayer called out on the editorial pages for God to help the German fatherland. The abandoned churches of Germany were filled again with people praying. Whenever possible, German regiments deployed into the field from the houses of God where they had heard the sermon, confessed their sins and savored the Holy Supper. The words of the Kaiser serve as a case in point, “Now go to your churches and pray! Do not remain without fruit.” In the entire German land Wednesday prayer hours are held up to this day and are heavily attended everywhere. The churches are said to be full every Sunday. The preaching of even the negative pastors is said to string a completely different tone as before. Even in the cathedral of Bremen, a well-known site of blasphemy by unfaithful pastors (one of whom preached the entire year on texts from Schiller instead of from the Bible) a regiment was dismissed with a blessing in the name of Jesus after celebrating confession and the Lord’s Supper. Professor Dr. Hunzinger at St. Michael’s in Hamburg, the elder Dryander in the Berlin cathedral, and elsewhere other pastors faithful to Christ delivered sound, Christian sermons for the deployment of troops. The private letters which come here from overseas and are published in secular German newspapers have for the most part a pious tone and a great deal of prayer and sighing to God for help. –Thus the war has affected the German people. The god Knowledge and Ability could not hold its ground in such a crisis. The god Wealth had fled over the mountains. All human strengths were no match for the three overpowering, enormous world empires and the four minor powers. It became exceedingly clear to everyone: Only God can help us; and Germany turned back to its God. And now the misery is still lingering. The first great victorious campaign, which seemed to promise a prompt victory, was soon hemmed in. Even if fresh victories have come, Germany’s fate still hangs in the balance on both the eastern and western fronts. Each new day can bring horrific losses or the fateful decision. Therefore, while the army is on the battlefield struggling with great effort for victory, Germany is at home kneeling in prayer.

Will the affliction bring for the German people a real, lasting and all-around return to “the God of his fathers” (cf. 2 Kings 21:22), the living, one true God, the God of the Bible, Jesus Christ, the “Lord of Sabaoth–and there is no other God” (cf. CW 200, st. 2)? Will the distress strip away the unbelief of German science and theology? Will it do away with their fraud and deception while bringing them down to humility? Will it in time break the trust in their own strength and competence as well as their boastful speech? Will a repentant, humble, refined people arise out of this hardship? Will this war bring the spiritual and moral rebirth of the entire German nation, as Dr. Hunzinger called for in his sermons?

The entire German nation? Hardly. The true gospel has already fled too far away among large portions of the German people for that to happen. Even Dr. Hunzinger’s sermon, (which belongs among the best) as we read in German newspapers, completely lacks a clear and exact tone. Our Lord Jesus Christ was not once mentioned. He sought to apply his beautiful text, “If anyone competes, etc.” (cf. 2 Timothy 2:5) to the situation and called for mental (not once spiritual) and moral rebirth; a return to “the God of our fathers,” the “God of the Germans,” the “living God.” He made reference to Kaiser Wilhelm’s repetition of the Bismarckian dictum: “We Germans fear God etc.” But not a single word about who God is, what he is called, repentance or faith! He who does not point his sermon to Christ can not “know what is played on the pipe or harp,” 1 Corinthians 14. If the green tree does not bring better fruit, what can be expected from a dead one? The same indeterminateness and ignorance about the God upon whom they call and rely is indicated by omissions in the private letters and public secular and ecclesiastical publications which come from overseas. It is as if they no longer know their Savior nor are able to find their way back to him, so their prayer and speech gropes around on the wall. – And right along with the godly speech and expression there are a great number of such insolent, shameless, defiant, and provoking people who blaspheme the God of the Christians just as before, even during this greatest of crises that has ever befallen Germany. They ridicule Christianity and all prayer as superstition while publicly summoning Germany to rely not on the Christian God, whom they say was imposed on them by foreigners, but instead upon the German primal god of German antiquity: German power and German virtue, the German sword and German fraternal loyalty, which have so gloriously proven themselves here again.–For this reason there is no hope for a spiritual and moral rebirth of the entire German nation. The words of the prophet will come true concerning many, many people in Germany:

You struck them, but they felt no pain;
you crushed them, but they refused correction.
They made their faces harder than stone
and refused to repent. (cf. Jeremiah 5:3)

Indeed, the Napoleonic war also brought a large number of Germans back to their Savior, but it didn’t stem the tide of rationalism.17 Although it was confined for a time, the surge later breached all the dams and flooded the German church in the new form of naturalism like an all-engulfing sea, just as it is today. Nevertheless, the rod of God will not strike in vain. The prophecy will not apply to all:

Why should you be beaten anymore?
Why do you persist in rebellion? (cf. Isaiah 1:5)

Many will repent and find the true God, Christ, their Savior. They will kiss his rod and follow his true shepherd’s staff again. They will gain eternal life. May God grant that through this trouble the prophecy may also come true again in the German-Lutheran church:

In days to come Jacob will take root,
Israel will bud and blossom
and fill all the world with fruit.
Has the LORD struck her
as he struck down those who struck her?
Has she been killed
as those were killed who killed her?
By warfare and exile you contend with her-
with his fierce blast he drives her out,
as on a day the east wind blows.
By this, then, will Jacob’s guilt be atoned for,
and this will be the full fruitage of the removal of his sin.
(Isaiah 27:6-9)

A Sermon for Us

We ought to ponder Luke 13:1-9 and take to heart how it relates to what we ourselves are experiencing. It is truly not our own merit that has allowed us to enjoy undisturbed peace in our land for the past fifty years. The development of our nation, like that of our church, has advanced moral and spiritual ruin for quite some time now. We have come just as far in sin in two centuries as Europe did in two millennia. America is not a hair more virtuous than the lands of Europe and is less Christian than the warring nations overseas. The third of our nation who still hold outwardly to the church has forfeited just as much fervor toward Christ and his gospel and grace while taking possession of the sins of this world: greed, Epicureanism, and haughty nature. Even we in the Lutheran church have become highly weary and tired of the Word of grace, and languid and dull in good works. So often we walk with the world in the same desert character, and have forgotten our Christian calling and position in life. Instead of impelling God’s work with united strength and in one mind and opinion we argue among ourselves who should be the greatest. For in the end all disagreements come down to that. The one injures, and the other feels injured. So iniquity gets the upper hand and love grows cold and the kingdom of God is neglected. Therefore we have no reason to elevate ourselves like Pharisees because of our relatives and comrades in faith over in Germany. Instead we ought to take the word of the Lord to heart: “Unless you do not amend your ways, you will all die.” We are not safe from war and other plagues for even a moment. Not only could our land still get enveloped in this war; we could shortly be in an internal revolution. The Lutheran church in America, and likewise our entire land, is a fig tree in the garden of God, as Israel once was, on which the Lord looks for fruit each year. If the fruit fails to appear, then the command will sound out: Cut it down! Why should it hinder the land? But until then the faithful gardener will dig around us and fertilize us and visit on us chastisements and new blessings, even if we do not wish to bear fruit. The secular and spiritual blessings that have come upon us have had no end, even up to this hour. The Lord has showered streams of love upon us. We cannot truthfully say that the goodness of God would have directed us to repentance. Let us only consider the chastisements. They will not fail to appear. Thus we desire to improve so that we do not all–for so it is written, all–therefore die.

Should We German Christians Pray for Germany’s Victory?

Meanwhile we have been and still are praying that God may control the bloodshed and allow peace to return soon. But as surely as we know that God hears this and all our prayers favorably, we also know that peace will not return before God has accomplished his goal with the chastisement. This is all we pray for. And we Germans can hardly resist the desire for God to grant victory to the German people. We are convinced of the justice on the German side. The facts and documents speak so loudly and clearly. But along those lines, let us not forget that this preliminary finding is still human and fallible. We don’t know with certainty what has gone on behind the scenes of diplomacy. For the time being we must concede that the Christians in England, and especially the Lutherans in Russia, have as much a right to pray for victory as do the Germans, ourselves included. Let us examine ourselves in case it is primarily our Germanic heritage that invokes us to pray for the German victory. National interests truly have no place in prayer. A French or Russian Christian is more to me than a German unbeliever or mocker. Here there is neither Jew nor Greek, man nor woman; instead they are all one in Jesus Christ. We of course know what Peter had to learn first: God does not esteem the person. In all kinds of people, the one who fears him and does what is right is pleasing to Christ. As Christians we will of course not lapse into the unbelieving German nationalism that “the world must again be restored by German character.” We know that for as many glorious aspects the German character has, it displays its ugly sides as well. It is of this world and therefore no different and just as doomed as any other nation. In truth, there is no difference before God and the gospel. “For all have sinned and fall short of the Glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus” (cf. Romans 3:23-24). For us Christians there is one wish, one prayer on the top of our list: the prayer for the Church. “If I forget you, O Jerusalem, may my right hand forget its skill” (cf. Psalm 137:5). The Jerusalem above is the mother of us all. We wish her happiness, that her white stones be prepared, there must be peace inside her walls and happiness in her palaces! For Zion’s sake our prayers should not go silent. For Jerusalem’s sake we do not want to keep quiet until her righteousness shines out like the dawn, her salvation like a blazing torch. Indeed, we pray Isaiah 62 in its entirety, even if our homeland must perish as well. For we are Christians first and then Germans, no matter how much one might slander that. We know that the world, as well as the German character, cannot be restored by German or English character, but by the Christian substance alone: the gospel. –What is better for Germany’s restoration to the Gospel; victory or defeat? What is better for the Christian restoration of the world; the continuation of British dominance in the world or the emergence of Germany? The russification of Europe or the enlargement and strengthening of the Roman bulwark of Austria? –Where does the Lutheran church have more freedom to exist and work; in Russia or in felix Austria?18 Where has she remained truer; in Russia or her homeland? These questions should not be answered here one way or another, they’ve just been thrown out there to display that as Christians we cannot pray for the victory of Germany’s weapons (which we may desire as Germans) without further consideration. We don’t know what advantages or disadvantages the victory of either party may bring for the gospel. Prussia’s victories of 1864 and 1866 and its ascendancy in the North German Union (Norddeutsche Bund) actually brought great detriment not only to the Lutheran church, but to all Germanic Christendom. The German victories of 1870 and 1871 did not aid the Gospel or the church in Germany. In fact, unbelief, materialism, and self-deification have risen to never-before-seen highs since then. To be sure, post hoc is not propter hoc;19 and that is not what is meant here. It is simply this: the national rise of the German people does not yet involve a promotion of the gospel or the Christian church. Even apart from the pan-Germanistic agitation, the founding of the German Empire has caused an intense national consciousness, indeed, self-confidence, to emerge. They now have faith in their own strength and capability, as well as coarse arrogance. And not only does this put off other nations and awake antipathy (as it turns out is the case in this war), it threatens to slam the door shut on the gospel as a national Phariseeism. If we Germans can do nothing but wish victory for our people, then we must nevertheless fear that a victory over the three largest superpowers as well as the smaller states allied to them would go straight to the Germans’ heads and cause the belief in their own capability and “the German nature” to climb to immeasurable levels. We already hear more of that than a Christian ear can bear to hear. Self-trust is the gospel’s strongest enemy. Cursed are they who rely on men, consider flesh to be their strength, and deviate from the Lord. On the other hand a humiliation of our people, which would go against all of our national feelings and wishes, could indeed serve to prepare a way for the gospel in their hearts. “Lord, when affliction is there, they seek you. When you discipline them, they cry out in distress” (cf. Isaiah 26.16). Let the trials teach us to observe the Word.

Of course, all of this is not ours to determine. We do not sit in God’s counsel. We have no instruction to give him. He alone is wise. He can control the hearts of men like streams of water with or without war, through happiness and distress, through means or without. Therefore we cannot pray that he crush ours or another nation so that the gospel might enter in. Nor can we pray that he lift up ours or another nation so that the unbelief on earth might be controlled. Instead we pray that even during this war his name be hallowed, his kingdom come, and his holy, gracious will be done.

A Sign of the Day of Rebirth

The culture which the world idolizes was said to have made such a war impossible. Carnegie with his millions and the Haag Tribunal believed they had secured eternal peace in the world. Sect preachers not able to distinguish between pure human culture and Christian morals regarded the acceptance of outward Christian lifestyles by “Christian” nations and their governments as the dawning of the Millennium. They believed that the misunderstood “Peace on Earth” had nearly become reality. Then along came this most terrible of wars; this world war of the civilized, “Christian” nations and hurled them back down to earth. They had been deceived by outward appearances. Washing ourselves with soap, wearing a white shirt, and going to bed without boots on may be civilization, but it is still no proof that we are better people than the cannibals. Standing on the heights of science and demonstrating with full satisfaction that we descended from apes–enjoying an opera by Strauss with pure lust; being deeply outraged over a public gaffe, or the ability to keep pace in societal commerce may indicate a high level of culture, but it does not offer any guarantee that one man will not have an affair with the wife of another. And the fact that we are filling the world with “charitable institutions” and are building a peace palace in the Haag may look like Christian morality, but in doing so we have not proven that we acquired the money for it in an honest way or are incapable of further exploiting the poor, ruining our competitors in business, or launching a sneak-attack against our enemy at any given moment. All those people who considered this war impossible and are disgusted to their inmost being by it have made a double mistake. First, they didn’t recognize the depth of human depravity in original sin. Second, they convinced themselves that civilization, culture, and Christian lifestyles are moral powers that are able to make angels out of beastly humans. It is not deception, but a fact that impure thoughts, murder, adultery, prostitution, thievery, false testimony, and blasphemy dwell in the human heart and never cease to flow from it. And it is just as bitterly true that no civilization, culture, and outward Christian manner can make the human nature better–not one iota better. It is all nothing more than a glistening and deceptive outward complexion which covers the decay; a sheep’s clothing that conceals the ferocious wolf.

There is only one power in the world which really heals; one power that turns the tiger into a lamb: the gospel; the preaching of the grace of God through the death of the Son of God and Man. Anything that has ever been converted and amended on this earth was accomplished through this gospel. Everything that did not allow itself to be healed by the gospel has since died: unaltered, depraved, and condemned. And the people who are mauling each other back and forth in this war have heard, possessed, and rejected this one and only means of healing. They have thrown the wheat away and kept a little bit of chaff. But for the rest they have sought and found the so-called higher culture as a panacea for all the ills of society. Because they considered themselves wise, they have become fools and devoted themselves to all the things about which St. Paul speaks in Romans chapter one (cf. vv. 18-32). So they clash against one another and the guilty parties carry on in their self-prepared ruin. That is their self-inflicted judgment.

Therefore all wars, also this world war, are signs and heralds of the Day of Rebirth, the last, great judgment of the world. “You will hear of wars and rumors of wars…Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. See to it that you are not alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come” (cf. Matthew 24:6). The Lord is now going through the world with the tribunal of his rod. Where the world is vain, he will come with the judgment of perdition. May God grant that we hear his footsteps.

  1. German: “in drei D— —s Namen, Müller, so schießen Sie doch!” The exact meaning of this phrase remains a mystery. 

  2. German: Knute. English: knout. A whip or lash of leather thongs twisted with wire which is used for flogging purposes. 

  3. Wilhelm Wundt, (1832-1920). German philosopher and scientist. He is referred to as “The Father of Experimental Psychology” or “The Founder of Modern Psychology.” 

  4. Wilhelm Ostwald, (1853-1932). German chemist and winner of the Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 1909. 

  5. Karl Barth, (1886-1968). German theologian who was committed to the Religious Socialist movement. He argued against the historical and scientific accuracy of the Bible. 

  6. Ernst Häckel, (1834-1919). German biologist and philosopher who made Darwin’s work popular in Germany. It was discovered that he forged some of his findings to support his evolutionary theories. 

  7. Rudolf Eucken, (1864-1926). German philosopher whose work advocated a quest toward an elevated spiritual level. He received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1908. 

  8. Julius Wellhausen, (1844–1918). Leading German biblical scholar of the 19th century. Famous for his documentary hypothesis which sought to account for both the composition of the Pentateuch (Genesis–Deuteronomy) and for the development and history of Judaism. His Prolegomena to the History of Israel (1883; tr. 1885) is the best known of his many biblical studies. 

  9. 1813–90, German Lutheran theologian and Hebraist. He was professor of theology at Rostock from 1846 to 1850, at Erlangen until 1867, and later at Leipzig. He was the author of many commentaries on books of the Bible. 

  10. German theologian, historian, and leading scholar on the early Church Fathers; he was recognized also for his scientific endeavours. 

  11. Rheinhold Seeberg, (1859,1935) German theologian of the moder-positive movement. He was an active participant of the social church movement in Germany. 

  12. German: Luftschlösser

  13. German: schwärmerischen

  14. German: heimsucht. For more on the word “heimsuchen,” cf. “The War as a Visitation of God.” Studium Excitare, Issue #6. Also cf. Deuteronomy 5:9 in the KJV. 

  15. German: schwarzmalerei. Pieper is pointing out that he is not just “painting the other nations black.” He is pointing out the overall, general spiritual conditions of the various nations and how they had changed over the years. 

  16. Gerhard Hauptmann, (1862-1946). Winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1912, Hauptmann was one of the founders of German Naturalism. 

  17. Rationalism is the philosophical and theological notion that human reason establishes religious truth instead of God’s revelation. 

  18. This is a reference to the Latin phrase, “Alii bella gerunt, tu felix Austria nube.” “Others wage wars, but happy Austria–you marry.” It refers to how the Hapsburg dynasty gained their power and land through marriage while others had to fight bitter wars. 

  19. “After it” does not mean, “because of it.” In other words, the correlation does not necessarily equal causation. 

August Pieper points to a Christian outlook during the time of war.

 Aug 4, 2006