With Malice Toward None

In honor of the bicentennial of Abraham Lincoln’s birth today, I figured I would repost this entry that I wrote a couple years ago.

Abraham Lincoln delivering his Second Inaugural Address. John Wilkes Booth, who would assassinate Lincoln just over a month later, is in the balcony above him.

On March 14th, 1865, President of the United States Abraham Lincoln gave one of the most important speeches in his country’s history. As he was being inaugurated for the second time, the Southern War for Independence was all but over, and Lincoln had the daunting task of beginning the reconstruction of a nation torn asunder. Speaking to a crowd made up mostly of Northerners who blamed the South for the long bloody war, Lincoln crafted a message focused on forgiveness and healing that ended with one of the most eloquent passages of any presidential speech:

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.

As I read these words, I cannot help but think that they are still relevant today, especially to the Church. Obviously Lincoln was not directing this address towards believers in his day much less 21st century Christians, but we can still find instruction and encouragement in his words.

let us strive on to finish the work we are in:

Lincoln knew that the North had been tempted to give up on the abolition of slavery and preservation of the Union throughout the Civil War. There were some who believed freeing the slaves was not worth fighting for. There were some who believed that the Union was not worth fighting for. He also knew that the return to the status quo would continue to be a temptation as the war came to an end and the long healing process began. The nation needed to be reminded of the importance of the work it was in.

As Christians we also sometimes need this reminder. During the various trials in life, it can be alluring to think of a return to our previous lifestyles without accountability or responsibility. It can be enticing to become lazy in our walk and to stop striving for holiness. But perseverance in our daily lives is even more important than the work of which Lincoln spoke. Our future lives and rewards rest upon our persevering. Our testimony to the world is dependent upon our persevering. Let us therefore strive to finish the work we are in:

But the seed in the good soil, these are the ones who have heard the word in an honest and good heart, and hold it fast, and bear fruit with perseverance. (Luke 8:15)

And not only this, but we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; (Rom. 5:3-4)

therefore, we ourselves speak proudly of you among the churches of God for your perseverance and faith in the midst of all your persecutions and afflictions which you endure. (2 Thess. 1:4)

This command I entrust to you, Timothy, my son, in accordance with the prophecies previously made concerning you, that by them you fight the good fight, keeping faith and a good conscience, which some have rejected and suffered shipwreck in regard to their faith. (1 Tim. 1:18-19)

Fight the good fight of faith; take hold of the eternal life to which you were called, and you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses. (1 Tim. 6:12)

I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith; (2 Tim. 4:7)

With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right:

Lincoln tells his listeners to do something that we as Christians are called to do: balance truth with kindness. The victorious North would be kind, gracious, and forgiving to the South, but it would not compromise its principles. Lincoln had made up his mind by March of 1865 that slavery would be abolished. The issue was no longer up for discussion. But his belief in the evil of slavery would not stop him from welcoming the previously slave-owning Southerners back into the Union. As Christians we have an incredibly hard time doing this. It is difficult to be firm in our convictions, exclusive in our beliefs on salvation, and yet loving towards those who disagree. This, however, is extremely vital. Lincoln knew that the reconstruction of the South would be much more difficult if the North rubbed their noses in their defeat (unfortunately, his death made it certain this would happen). The South would not be open to what the North was saying as long as they were shown malice. The same holds true for our dealings with secular world. We need to find some way to be open and welcoming without compromising the truth.

If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men. (Rom. 12:18 )

Therefore I, the prisoner of the Lord, implore you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing tolerance for one another in love, being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. (Eph. 4:1-3)

Pursue peace with all men, and the sanctification without which no one will see the Lord. (Heb. 12:14)

to bind up the nation’s wounds:

Christians are in a unique position to help heal the wounds between two warring parties because we can offer a relationship with him who is able to break down any barrier, whether it be political, philosophical, or racial. We should be able to be bipartisan in our politics and indiscriminate in our treatment of people. And we’ve already seen that we must show kindness when discussing truth.

For He Himself is our peace, who made both groups into one and broke down the barrier of the dividing wall, (Eph. 2:14)

to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan:

This line is interesting because in the context of the address, Lincoln is not referring only to Union soldiers and their families. He expected the nation as a whole to care for the military as a whole. The North was not simply to take care of its own dead and wounded, but the South’s as well. One of the ways healing was to come to the country was by the victorious side caring for those on the enemy side who had been most greatly affected by the war. Lincoln understood the timeless truth that you attract more flies with honey than vinegar. The division between North and South would be mended by acts of servitude.

Imagine if the Church followed this practice. Imagine how much suffering would be alleviated if the Church provided not only for their own widows and orphans, but for those in the community as well. Imagine a Church full of Mother Teresas, caring for those who cannot give anything in return. Those acts of servitude would perhaps have a greater impact on the world than all of our PowerPoint slides, light displays, and Christian rock music ever could:

Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world. (James 1:27)

to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations:

This is where Abraham Lincoln reveals his endgame. The war that was entering its fifth year and the attempt at a just settlement of that war were not whimsical acts that had no forethought behind them. The war had been about more than just ending an outdated, unjust, inhumane institution. It was about more than earning a temporary peace. The war had been fought to bring about as permanent a peace as possible, both within the Union and within its international relations.

Christians know that true world peace will only come when all has been brought under the Lordship of Jesus Christ, but we should strive to work towards peace (in as much as it is possible) on this earth. Peace between countries, between people, and between a person and God is worth our time and effort.

So then we pursue the things which make for peace and the building up of one another. (Rom. 14:19)

”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”

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