Reflections on a Martyr on Independence Day


Just finishing the last pages of Eric Metaxas’ masterful biography on one of my heroes, Pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer, entitled, Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy. Fittingly, today, July 4, a day in which we American’s celebrate our nation’s birth, I close the book reading of Bonhoeffer’s execution at Flossenbürg concentration camp. Bonhoeffer was the greatest of patriots for his country. And on a day in which life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness are celebrated in America, I rejoice in the knowledge of the greater freedom found in Christ, and pursued by the martyrs of the ages such as Bonhoeffer, who, believing death to be the “gateway to our homeland,” died well. It was for God’s honor and glory that he willingly offered his life to the cause of promoting God’s righteousness and lifting high the cross of Christ among his fellow Germans in the face of the evil which was Hitler’s Nazi regime. He fought for freedom from tyranny, and the tyrant, Hitler, had him murdered for it.

But in his death Bonhoeffer gained the greatest independence of all—one far greater than could be achieved by shots heard around the world or bombs bursting in air. I suppose there was a time when Bonhoeffer believed Germany to be a place of freedom and blessing. Who could have imagined it would turn into such a nightmare? May we in Amerca never take for granted the gifts that we have, yet, come what may, I could only hope and pray that I would live and die as nobly as he. Consider the following poem of his, entitled, “Stations on the Road to Freedom.”


If you set out to seek freedom, then learn above all things
to govern your soul and your senses, for fear that your passions
and longing may lead you away from the path you should follow.
Chaste be your mind and your body, and both in subjection,
obediently, steadfastly seeking the aim set before them;
only through discipline may a man learn to be free.


Daring to do what is right, not what fancy may tell you,
valiantly grasping occasions, not cravenly doubting—
freedom comes only through deeds, not through thoughts taking wing.
Faint not nor fear, but go out to the storm and the action,
trusting in God whose commandment you faithfully follow;
freedom, exultant, will welcome your spirit with joy.


A change has come indeed. Your hands, so strong and active,
are bound; in helplessness now you see your action
is ended; you sigh in relief, your cause committing
to stronger hands; so now you may rest contented.
Only for one blissful moment could you draw near to touch freedom;
then, that it might be perfected in glory, you gave it to God.


Come now, thou greatest of feasts on the journey to freedom eternal;
death, cast aside all the burdensome chains, and demolish
the walls of our temporal body, the walls of our souls that are blinded,
so that at last we may see that which here remains hidden.
Freedom, how long we have sought thee in discipline, action, and suffering;
dying, we now may behold thee revealed in the Lord.

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