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February 4, 2009
Column #1,432
Lincoln at 200: America's Most Spiritual President
By Mike McManus

Last summer I took a black pastor and high school students from his Kansas City church to see the Memorial to Abraham Lincoln, born 200 years ago on February 12, the man assassinated because he freed African-Americans from slavery.

It was a thrilling experience for them.  I read aloud the words chiseled in marble, and noted how many of them were inspired by Scripture.

I pointed out the irony of his stating in his address at the battlefield of Gettysburg, "The world will little note nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here."  There have been thousands of battlefields from Valley Forge to Baghdad where American soldiers "gave the last full measure of devotion," as he put it, but their sacrifice was never ennobled by words, such as those by Lincoln.

On the opposite wall I read aloud excerpts from Lincoln's Second Inaugural Address, delivered seven score and four years ago on March 4, 1865 just days before the American Civil War ended, along with slavery in America.  One would assume that, on the verge of victory, Lincoln would have been exultant.  But he spoke with sadness, not joy.

He noted that people on 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 wring their bread from the sweat of other men's faces, but let us judge not, that we not be judged. The prayers of both could not be answered. That of neither has been answered fully. The Almighty has His own purposes."

His call that the North not "judge, or you will be judged," is from Jesus' Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 7:1).

He prayed "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.'" Lincoln said in his Second Inaugural Address.

The last quote of Lincoln's is from Psalm 19:9. 

After Lincoln's death, a manuscript was found among his papers, now known as "Meditations on the Divine Will."  It demonstrated the profound spiritual insight of America's 16th President:

"The will of God prevails - in great contests each party claims to act in accordance with the will of God.  Both MAY be, and one MUST be wrong.  God cannot be FOR and AGAINST the same thing at the same time."

What we most remember about Lincoln's Second Inaugural are his closing words, which gave clear evidence that he did not intend for the North to be harsh in its treatment of the vanquished South:

"With malice toward none; with charity for all; with firmness in the right, as God gives us 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."

John Wilkes Booth attended the inauguration, but was unmoved by Lincoln's compassion.  A month later he assassinated the President on Good Friday - sparking a harsh Yankee rule of the defeated states.

The clause, "to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan," is now the motto of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

Ironically, the most Biblical of Presidents was never baptized, never joined a church, and rarely, if ever talked about Jesus.   During his 1846 race for Congress, he was attacked as an "infidel" by his opponent, a Methodist preacher.

"That I am not a member of any Christian Church is true," Lincoln responded in a handbill. "But I have never denied the truth of the Scriptures."

Indeed, he lived them. 

When a minister from the North told the president he "hoped the Lord is on our side," Lincoln responded, "I am not at all concerned about that. But it is my constant anxiety and prayer that I and this nation should be on the Lord's side."

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