Abraham Lincoln, in his Second Inaugural Address, quoted Matthew 7:1-3, a scripture which has become inextricably linked to the papacy of Pope Francis:
“Let us judge not, that we be not judged.”
Lincoln sought to move this nation forward with as little hate as possible; and so he repeated that “judge not” line when Senator Charles Sumner of Massachusetts called for Jefferson Davis, President of the Confederate States, to be hanged.
In 1858, speaking in Springfield, he delivered what has become known as his “House Divided” speech. In it, he quoted the words of Christ,
“A house divided against itself cannot stand.” And why did he begin his Gettysburg Address“Four score and seven years ago” instead of using the more familiar “eight-seven years”? Like many other speeches and letters from America’s 16th president, the speech is colored with biblical references and learning. The Old Testament uses the term “two score” instead of “forty” and “four score” instead of “eighty”; and Lincoln had immersed himself in Scripture throughout his lifetime.
I’ve been reading Lincoln’s Daily Devotional, a small book with an Introduction by Carl Sandburg. The tiny book includes a scriptural meditation for every day of the year. For June 10, for example, the meditation is:
Seek the Edification of Our Neighbour
Let every one of us please his neighbour for his good to edification. –Rom. xv. 2.
May I from every act abstain,
That hurts or gives another pain:
Still may I feel my heart inclin’d
To be the friend of all mankind.
I imagine President Lincoln opening the pages of the book each morning and reading that brief scripture and prayer, then recalling it throughout the day–making the Word of God his constant companion and guide.
In his Introduction to Lincoln’s Daily Devotional, Sandburg includes a meditation by William Eleazar Barton, a clergyman, historian, and author of books such as Parables of a Country Parson and The Soul of Abraham Lincoln. Barton brought together Lincoln’s scriptural references to create a statement of faith in Lincoln’s own words. Barton sometimes changed the text, transposing pronouns from plural to singular, and prefixing the words “I believe.” The result was almost liturgical, containing expressions like these:
“I believe in penitential and pious sentiments, in devotional designs and purposes, in homages and confessions, in supplications to the Almighty, solemnly, earnestly, reverently.
I believe in blessings and comfort from the Father of Mercies to the sick, the wounded, the prisoners, and to the orphans and widows.
I believe it pleases Almighty God to prolong our national life, defending us with His guardian care.
I believe in His eternal truth and justice.
I believe the will of God prevails; without Him all human reliance is vain; without the assistance of that Divine Being I cannot succeed; with that assistance I cannot fail.
I believe I am a humble instrument in the hands of our Heavenly Father; I desire that all my works and acts may be according to His will; and that it may be so, I give thanks to the Almighty and seek His aid.
I believe in praise to Almighty God, the beneficent Creator and Ruler of the Universe.
Image: Abraham Lincoln by Alexander Gardner