A few years ago, I had the chance to walk part of the Mall in Washington, D.C., and spend time in the Lincoln Memorial. Along with the huge and stunning sculpture of this gaunt giant of a man are the full texts of two of his speeches. To his right is the Gettysburg Address. To his left is his Second Inaugural Address. It’s the second that sucked me in.
It was short and to the point, because the nation was still deeply at war with itself. This was not a time for celebrating political or military victory. It was a time for prophetic utterance. And even now, after so many years, his words still speak like those of a wild-haired Old Testament prophet or of a John the Baptizer, straight out of the desert. Lincoln is absolutely brilliant in his ability to perceive the truth of a situation, not looking down his nose at anyone, and yet seeing the judgment of God being played out.
I wish there were people who could speak like Lincoln did then to the life of our nation today.
Here’s the quote. He’s in the middle of talking about the people of the Northern and Southern states.
“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.”
“The prayers of both could not be answered. That of neither has been answered fully. The Almighty has His own purposes.”