Not the labour of my hands, can fulfill Thy law’s demands.
Could my zeal no respite know, could my tears for ever flow?
All for sin could not atone, Thou must save and Thou alone.
In the grey light of an October morning in 1915, Nurse Edith Cavell faced a firing squad of German soldiers with a calmness and dignity which won the admiration of the world. The chaplain who was present with her at the end carefully noted her last words, “I am not afraid or apprehensive. I have seen death so often that it does not seem to me strange or terrible. I want to say now that I face God and eternity, that I realize that patriotism is not enough. I must not hate or feel bitter towards anybody.”
Edith Louisa Cavell, then not quite 50 years of age, was a British nurse. She is celebrated for saving the lives of soldiers from both sides without discrimination and in helping some 200 Allied soldiers escape from German-occupied Belgium during the First World War, for which she was arrested. She was subsequently court-martialed, found guilty of treason and sentenced to death. Despite international pressure for mercy, she was shot by a German firing squad. Her execution received worldwide condemnation and extensive press coverage.
Her father was rector of the village for over fifty years, but did not live, as his wife did, to mourn with pride the tragic end of their daughter.
She was a special child of God. Indeed, as a child she early revealed a fondness and natural ability for nursing the sick. The story is told that when on one occasion she was missing from her home all night; the next morning was found in the house of a sick neighbor whom she had attended to throughout the night. She was subsequently appointed the first Matron of the Berkendael Medical Institute, Brussels, which became a Red Cross hospital on the outbreak of the First World War
Edith Cavell set the highest possible example of selfless and devoted care for the wounded and broken soldiers who were brought to the hospital. She did more: when the country was overrun by the Germans she played a leading part in helping many English and French soldiers to reach the Dutch frontier.
But the brave British woman soon fell under suspicion, and on 5th August, 1915, she was arrested and put into prison for having sheltered and helped to the frontier some two hundred soldiers. A court-martial was held on 7th and 8th October, at which she was sentenced to death. All efforts to obtain a reprieve were unsuccessful, and on 12th October, 1915, Nurse Cavell walked serenely to her appointment with death.
On the base of her memorial statue, which stands opposite the National Portrait Gallery in London, her last historic words are inscribed:
“Patriotism Is Not Enough.”
There are many people who have never learned that patriotism, or the observance of any other duty, however excellent, is not enough with which to face God and eternity. But the Bible makes it clear that the only way to obtain that necessary inward peace and assurance is through acceptance of Christ’s atoning sacrifice.
Have you rested your soul alone and entirely upon Christ?