Lincoln as Theologian

 

Abraham Lincoln has been described by some as our greatest President.  I will leave that judgment to you.  But there is no question that Lincoln was exactly the leader the country needed in its darkest hour.  With both decisiveness and a deep and abiding faith in God, he led the nation through a terrible Civil War.

What many fail to recognize is that Lincoln was steeped in the language of the Bible.  This in itself was not unusual.  On the frontier there were few libraries or bookstores; but one book could be found in almost every home: the Holy Bible.  Lincoln’s distinction is that he was not only familiar with the Bible, but reflected on it in a profoundly spiritual way.  His wonderful Second Inaugural Address tackles the question of human suffering in a way unequaled by any other political leader, past or present.  His reflections on the inscrutability of God’s judgments emerge at the end of the address.

Both (sides) read the same Bible and pray to the same God and each invokes His aid against the other. It may seem strange that any men should dare to ask a just God’s assistance in wringing their bread from the sweat of other men’s faces but let us judge not that we be not judged. The prayers of both could not be answered ~ that of neither has been answered fully. The Almighty has His own purposes.

“Woe unto the world because of offenses, for it must needs be that offenses come but woe to that man by whom the offense cometh.” If we shall suppose that American slavery is one of those offenses which in the providence of God must needs come but which having continued through His appointed time He now wills to remove and that He gives to both North and South this terrible war as the woe due to those by whom the offense came, shall we discern therein any departure from those divine attributes which the believers in a living God always ascribe to Him?

Fondly do we hope ~ fervently do we pray ~ that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman’s two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago so still it must be said “the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.”

With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in: to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan ~ to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.

 

Like the first Abraham, whose faith was tested by God, so the second Abraham was called to lead his country through an equally terrible time of testing.  What seems to unite these two men, separated by some 3,700 years, is the rock solid belief that “the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether”.  In the end, their trust in God led them both through the fiery ordeal, firm in the belief that “the Almighty has His own purposes”.  We may not be able to discern those purposes in the time of crisis, but we trust ourselves to the God who created us, and knows us, and loves us.

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