I have been to D.C. only twice in my life, both times as a tourist. The first time Bill Clinton was president; so it had been a while. Of all the monuments, memorials and museums to visit in D.C., the Lincoln Memorial has always been my favorite, not because of the impressive statue but because of one of the speeches engraved on the wall.
As you stand to look at the enormous Lincoln statue, carved into the wall to the left is America’s most famous speech – the Gettysburg Address, but it is the engraving on the wall to the right that has always drawn my wonder and amazement. It is Lincoln’s second inaugural address.
I was born during the Eisenhower administration, and I have not heard any political speech close to this speech in my lifetime. To hear anything close to Lincoln’s second inaugural address, you need to be in a church. On that day, Lincoln gave the nation the truth, and he sounds more like a preacher than a politician.
Lincoln quotes Matthew 7:1, Matthew 18:7, and Psalm 19:9 and alludes to Genesis 3:19 and Ephesians 4:31-32 in his address. Would any politician today quote the Bible as the authority behind his words? Politicians will quote a verse from time to time, but Lincoln was using the scripture as the authority behind his words – to prove his point.
Lincoln referred to slavery as an “offense” and quoted Jesus, “Woe unto the world because of offences! for it must needs be that offences come; but woe to that man by whom the offence cometh!” Lincoln states that the war is the “woe” God is giving the country because of the offense of slavery, “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.”
Could you imagine any politician alive making the claim that as a nation we have sinned, and our problems are a judgment from God? If a politician did this how much longer would his political career last? Would the American people fall with a contrite heart before God or would we scream, “separation of church and state” and force the individual out of politics?
Lincoln goes on to suggest the Civil War would continue as long as Almighty God wants it to last, “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.’”
Can you even dream of a political figure that after telling us we must suffer because of the providence of God that wouldn’t be crucified by the media and a majority of the American public?
Lincoln concludes the speech by proclaiming the nation should unite, no longer be enemies and look toward one another’s needs with benevolent hearts, “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.”
Over time, people change and therefore nations will change. Obviously, Lincoln spoke of God, sin, judgment and forgiveness in the most public of arenas. If a speech similar to Lincoln’s was given today, would it be chiseled into a memorial, preserved for the ages or be torn to shreds? I think most of you know the answer.
Why would a speech such as this not be accepted today? Earlier I said that you would need to be in a church to hear a speech like Lincoln’s; sadly, that that may be difficult because not many ministers preach on sin, judgment and the providence of God anymore.
Could it be that in the 1860s people wanted to hear the truth regardless of how much it may hurt, but here in the early part of the 21st century, we only want to listen to what is pleasant and we agree with?
Could it be that the best Lincoln could do today would be an attorney in Springfield Ill.?
Preacher Tim Johnson is the pastor of Countryside Baptist Church in Parke County, Ind. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org and visit preacherjohnson.com.