“There has to be a purpose to it all. I believe that I was chosen for a purpose far beyond our simple reasoning.”
In earlier, more Christian eras, men believed they were moved by a force which today—in our world of evolution and random chance—is taken for arrogance and license. It was the power of predestination, of God’s choosing and ordaining every life for a purpose. Found first in Scripture, it was expanded by Augustine, revived by the Reformers, and has since inspired generations to bold faith and action. Untold numbers have been moved to attempt what in their own strength, without the guarantee of a fixed destiny, they would never have begun.
Winston Churchill lived the first twenty-seven years of his life in the Victorian era, an age still rooted in the Christian understanding of the world. The idea of destiny, of a purpose ordained before the beginning of history, figured decisively in men’s thoughts and actions. It is not surprising, then, that Churchill, who drank as deeply as any man from the Victorian well, perceived his life in the light of an overriding providence, in terms of a divinely appointed purpose.
In My Early Life, Churchill wrote of his “conclusion upon Free Will and Predestination.” He determined, he said, “that they are identical.” It is a telling statement. The man who believes this must have already heard the drumbeat of his destiny. He must have felt it flowing through him and put it to the test. He believes that the choices he makes merely accomplish the purposes set for his life. It makes him bold and courageous. He has confidence he will achieve his destiny and that death will not come until it is fulfilled.
This was Churchill, who even in battle, when most men contemplate the frailty of life, was not shaken from his sense of destiny. During the South African War, he wrote, “These are anxious days, but when one is quite sure that one is filling one’s proper place in the scheme of the world affairs, one may await events with entire composure.” Still later, during World War I, he wrote to Clementine, “I am superior to anything that can happen to me out here. My conviction that the greatest of my work is still to be done is strong within me.” “Over me beat unseen wings,” he assured her. “I believe I am to be preserved for future things.”
Undoubtedly, Churchill’s life does suggest the influence of a guiding hand. He wrote in Thoughts and Adventures, “If we look back on our past life we shall see that one of its most usual experiences is that we have been helped by our mistakes and injured by our most sagacious decisions.” This was the story of his life. As a Harrow student taking the entrance exam for Sandhurst, he knew that geography would be a major part of the test. He decided to cut the nations of the world out of a map, put them in a hat, and choose one at random to focus on in his preparations. He chose New Zealand. On exam day, the first assignment was “Draw a Map of New Zealand,” which he did, right down to the “parks, the libraries, and even the tram lines.” He earned the full points and squeaked into Sandhurst. During his escape from a Boer prison camp in South Africa, he had the good fortune to give himself up to the one British home within miles. Any other and he would have been captured and returned—”dead or alive.” During World War I, a visiting general called him out of his billet for an unscheduled inspection. As soon as he left, shell-fire destroyed the billet and everything in the vicinity. His life was filled with such near misses and near disasters turned blessings, that it is difficult to avoid his conclusion: “This cannot be accident, it must be design.”
Moreover, Churchill’s sense of destiny was at times almost mystical.. He seemed to know when the forces of destiny were about to touch him, how a divine symmetry might shape his course. As he left for the South African War, he wrote, “I have a feeling, a sort of intuition, that if I go something will come of it.” His intuition was correct. The fame he acquired by escaping from the Boer prison camp allowed him to make a successful run for Parliament, though before the war he had been soundly defeated in the same attempt. Even more startling was when he told a friend, decades before his death, “Today is the twenty-fourth of January. It is the day my father died. It is the day that I shall die too.” And, indeed, on January 24th, 1965, his destiny fulfilled, he left this life.
Thus, when he became Prime Minister at the onset of World War II, it was no surprise that his thoughts turned to the path his life had taken up to that moment. “I felt as if I were walking with destiny,” he wrote in his Second World War, “and that all my past life had been but a preparation for this hour and for this trial.” He knew the power of destiny. He knew “that a man’s own contribution to his life story is continually dominated by an external superior power.” And because he knew it he served his nation with a brand of leadership far grander than is possible for one who sees himself merely as a product of political processes. For Churchill, leadership was much more than politics; it was the impact of everything he was destined to be upon the times in which he was destined to live.
Taken from “The Character and Greatness of Winston Churchill: Hero in a Time of Crisis” by Stephen Mansfield.