327) Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address

      March 4, 1865; 149 years ago today.  Within five weeks after Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address the Civil War would be over (April 9th), and six days after that, Lincoln would be dead.  This political speech, one of the greatest in American history, is worth meditating on in the context of our Christian faith.   While relunctant to pass judgement on others (even quoting Matthew 7:1), Lincoln speaks of the war as God’s righteous judgement on the entire nation for the ‘offense’ of slavery.  He seeks God’s guidance in the task of healing the nation’s wounds.  And he calls for charity, care for the widows and orphans, reconciliation, and peace, often with phrases right out of the King James Version of the Bible. 

     Abraham Lincoln delivering his Second Inaugural Address, March 4, 1865

     FellowCountrymen: At this second appearing to take the oath of the Presidential office there is less occasion for an extended address than there was at the first.  Then a statement somewhat in detail of a course to be pursued seemed fitting and proper.  Now, at the expiration of four years, during which public declarations have been constantly called forth on every point and phase of the great contest which still absorbs the attention and engrosses the energies of the nation, little that is new could be presented.  The progress of our arms, upon which all else chiefly depends, is as well known to the public as to myself, and it is, I trust, reasonably satisfactory and encouraging to all.  With high hope for the future, no prediction in regard to it is ventured.

    On the occasion corresponding to this four years ago all thoughts were anxiously directed to an impending civil war.  All dreaded it, all sought to avert it.  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—seeking to dissolve the Union and divide effects by negotiation.  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.

    One-eighth of the whole population were colored slaves, not distributed generally over the Union, but localized in the southern part of it.  These slaves constituted a peculiar and powerful interest.  All knew that this interest was somehow the cause of the war.  To strengthen, perpetuate, and extend this interest was the object for which the insurgents would rend the Union even by war, while the Government claimed no right to do more than to restrict the territorial enlargement of it.  Neither party expected for the war the magnitude or the duration which it has already attained.  Neither anticipated that the cause of the conflict might cease with or even before the conflict itself should cease.  Each looked for an easier triumph, and a result less fundamental and astounding.  Both 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.


Psalm 19:9  —  The fear of the Lord is clean, enduring for ever: the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.

Matthew 7:1-2  —  (Jesus said), “Do not judge, or you too will be judged.  For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. 

Matthew 18:7  —   (Jesus said), “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!” 

    Lord God Almighty, you have made all the peoples of the earth for your glory, to serve you in freedom and peace:  Give to the people of our country a zeal for justice and the strength of forbearance, that we may use our liberty in accordance with your gracious will; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.   —Book of Common Prayer

13) Between Me and God

     I remember asking my grandfather why his grandfather left Germany to come to this country.  Grandpa said that the old emigrant told him that Germany was always getting into wars and drafting all the young men, and he did not want to die as a soldier in some fight that did not concern him.  He wanted to farm, and he wanted to get married and raise a family.  I thought of that when I read this quote by Otto von Bismarck (1815-1898), the leader of the German empire at that time.  Late in life he had this to say:

“I have a burden on my soul.  During all my long life, I did not make anyone happy, neither my friends, nor my family, nor even myself.  I have done many evil things… I was the cause of the beginning of three big wars.  About 800,000 people were killed because of me on the battlefields, and their mothers, brothers, and widows cried for them.  And now this stands between me and God.”

     That makes me think about three things.  First of all, if my great-great-grandfather had not left Germany when he did, he would have perhaps been among the 800,000 killed– and then, where would I be now?
     Secondly, that makes me think about Mahmoud Ahmadinejab, Kim Jong-un, Joseph Kony, Bashar al-Assad and all of today’s other temporary tyrants with their brief hold on power, using it to cause so much death and destruction and heartache around the world.  Someday soon they will perish like all tyrants do, and then all their deeds will stand between them and God.
     Thirdly, it makes me think about all that I have done that now stands between me and God.  And that makes me give thanks for Jesus Christ who died and rose from the dead for the forgiveness of my sins, for only by faith in Him can I hope to stand before God.


Job 31:13-15 — If I have denied justice to any of my servants, whether male or female, when they had a grievance against me, what will I do when God confronts me? What will I answer when called to account? Did not he who made me in the womb make them? Did not the same one form us both within our mothers?

Hosea 7:2 — (God says), “They do not realize that I remember all their evil deeds.
Their sins engulf them; they are always before me.”

Proverbs 11:7 — When a wicked man dies, his hope perishes; all he expected from his power comes to nothing. (NIV, 1984)

Colossians 1:21-23 — Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior.  But now He has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation— if you continue in your faith, established and firm, and do not move from the hope held out in the gospel.  This is the gospel that you heard and that has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven, and of which I, Paul, have become a servant.


     Almighty and merciful Father, whose clemency I now presume to implore, after a long life of carelessness and wickedness, have mercy upon me.  I have committed many trespasses; I have neglected many duties.  I have done what thou hast forbidden, and left undone what Thou hast commanded.  Forgive, merciful Lord, my sins, negligences, and ignorances, and enable me, by the Holy Spirit, to amend my life according to thy Holy Word, for Jesus Christ’s sake.  Amen.
                                                                           –Samuel Johnson (1709-1784)