Recently while preaching about the civil war recorded at the end of the records of the Jewish period of The Judges, I got to thinking about what President Lincoln said about the American Civil war. It was the start of his 2nd term at the Whitehouse. He recalled: “While the inaugural address was being delivered from this place, devoted altogether to saving the Union without war, urgent agents were in the city seeking to destroy it without war. Both parties deprecated war, but one of them would make war rather than let the nation survive, and the other would accept war rather than let it perish, and the war came.” There’s pathos in that last phrase.
He went on to blame the economic interests attached to slavery in the South as the cause for the war. It’s at this point in his speech that an astounding (by today’s standards) thing happens. Lincoln speaks of the role played by religion. He said: “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.” It takes faith to say that. We are all disposed towards easy answers.
What follows in the speech is a quotation from the Bible: "Woe unto the world because of offenses; for it must needs be that offenses come, but woe to that man by whom the offense comes." Could we suppose that Lincoln knew the Scriptures well enough to be conversant with one of its lesser known teachings? He didn’t hesitate to mix Bible doctrine in with the affairs of state! Here’s the application of the verse as he made it: “If we shall suppose that American slavery is one of those offenses which, in the providence of God, must needs come, but which 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?” Obviously Lincoln thought not.
Reader, what you have just observed is the ponderings of a man who believed that God was active in the affairs of America. If our current and future presidents quote Bible concepts in their addresses they’ll be in the company of men like Honest Abe. Can you see his faith in the next to last paragraph of the speech? He said: “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."
Perhaps you’ve never been taught about this important moment in History. Most people are only aware of Lincoln’s concluding words: “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.”
I watch C-span at times to see what’s in the talks being given by our senators and congressmen. God and the Bible are so absent from some of their opinings that you’d think He’s away on vacation. In this county we are blessed to still have representatives in the House who still value The Almighty. Pray for them. Call to encourage them.
Andrew Paton of Clinton Church of the Nazarene, born in Africa, has pastored in Hunterdon County since 1997. Before that he ministered in Durban and Bedfordview, South Africa and prior to that was an officer in The Salvation Army. He has been in full time Christian leadership since 1975. He and his wife Carol have two married sons and five grandchildren.
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