The 2012 film Lincoln was a box office success grossing over $275 million dollars and was nominated for twelve Academy Awards including Best Picture. Daniel Day-Lewis won the Oscar for his portrayal of Abraham Lincoln by capturing the many dimensions of this American legend.
On screen and in life, Lincoln was very successful and esteemed by many, but if he were living today, would he garner the same level of admiration from his countrymen? Would he be catapulted from obscurity to the heights of power and prestige? Given his propensity for quoting the Bible and his conservative moral standards, it is more likely he would be mocked for his looks and branded a “right-wing extremist.”
One need only consider how Isaac N. Arnold, one of Lincoln’s oldest and closest friends, described the path Lincoln traversed from youth to manhood. Arnold said, “While his days were spent in hard manual labor, and his evenings in study, he grew up strong in body, healthful in mind, with no bad habits, no stain of intemperance, profanity or vice of any kind. He used neither tobacco nor intoxicating drinks, and, thus living, he grew to be six feet four inches high, and a giant in strength.”1
As we pan the horizon of modern American society, we see people far more moderate than Lincoln branded as threats to so-called freedoms guaranteed under the Constitution, merely because they seek to incorporate a prayer or a Bible quote during a publicly funded activity or continue to uphold a traditional American value on a given issue. Surely, many who claim to love the Lincoln of old would disdain this same Lincoln if they crossed paths today. He would be heckled and hounded for continually pushing his religious views on others and his narrow- minded bigotry.
Consider for a moment some of the standards Lincoln embraced and shared with others.
- You cannot escape the responsibility of tomorrow by evading it today.2
- My great concern is not whether you have failed, but whether you are content with your failure.3
- I believe it is an established maxim in morals that he who makes an assertion without knowing whether it is true or false, is guilty of falsehood; and the accidental truth of the assertion, does not justify or excuse him. 4
- Intelligence, patriotism, Christianity, and a firm reliance on Him, who has never yet forsaken this favored land, are still competent to adjust, in the best way, all our present difficulty.5
- All the good the Saviour gave to the world was communicated through this book. But for it we could not know right from wrong. All things most desirable for man’s welfare, here and hereafter, are to be found portrayed in it.6
- Sir, my concern is not whether God is on our side; my greatest concern is to be on God’s side, for God is always right.7
Abraham Lincoln was called “honest Abe” because he put honesty above all else. Thus, when he shared these quotes, he not only meant them, but he strove to live them out as he matured and grew as a man.
With the massive debt the last two presidential administrations and Congress have built, in practice they have not embraced Lincoln’s view of responsibility, “You cannot escape the responsibility of tomorrow by evading it today.”
In that vein, Lincoln also said, “My great concern is not whether you have failed, but whether you are content with your failure.” With the ever increasing number of working age people needlessly driving this debt by living off the government, clearly millions of American citizens are “content” with failure.
No doubt there are some who are using the system merely as a temporary safety net; they are not content to remain in this state and will move on from it. Yet there are others who will say that the deck has been stacked against them and the ability to succeed is beyond them. Some will say that because of their lineage, because of where they grew up, because of the poor economy, because of the poor school systems…, they are endlessly stuck in a cycle of poverty and despair. Don’t tell that to Lincoln. The man was born in a one-room log cabin and grew up on the frontiers. His mother died when he was nine years old. He didn’t have the benefit of a standard public education. Things such as books were very difficult to come by. He was obliged to contribute his earnings to his father until the age of 21, and the list goes on.
By virtue of his humble beginnings, if anyone had the deck stacked against him in terms of achieving greatness, it was Lincoln. Even the poorest among us today have more opportunity and resources at our disposal than Lincoln did. Like all of us, Abraham Lincoln failed at times, but unlike so many today, he was never content with failure.
How many speeches, debates and Congressional laws cease to be if today’s leaders followed principles Lincoln embraced. For example, Lincoln said, “I believe it is an established maxim in morals that he who makes an assertion without knowing whether it is true or false, is guilty of falsehood.”
Inferences and insinuations are regularly made about this or that by our once trustworthy media. Lincoln would deem much of today’s chatter as the individuals being “guilty of falsehood.” Sadly, due to a lack of integrity, many just don’t care.
More than ever, America needs men and women of Lincoln-like substance, but as the prophet of old stood before Ahab, disdained and rejected, so too are the voices of godly reason and morality. In the mind of Ahab, Elijah was out of touch with current trends; he was nothing more than a stick-in-the mud troublemaker. To Ahab, Elijah was unworthy to represent truth and reason, for Ahab and many others were deaf to God and His Word (1 Kings 18:17-18).
Jezebel, king Ahab’s wife, believed she was hip and in touch with reality, in control, and willing to defy God Himself. But when push came to shove, she fell from her lofty perch to her demise (1 Kings 18:4; 2 Kings 9:33-37).
When John Wilkes Booth put a gun to Lincoln’s head and pulled the trigger, he thought he was in control. He thought he was taking Lincoln down, but in the process, Booth helped Lincoln rise higher than he ever could have risen on his own.
There are many today who think they are in control. Like Jezebel, they think they are hip and in touch because for a moment in time God, in His grace, allows them to mock and turn their back on Him. But just as Jezebel fell, they will likewise fall if they continue down her path.
Why do today’s Ahab’s and Jezebel’s want to suppress the Word of God? Why do so many want to send Him packing from the hearts and minds of millions of Americans? Lincoln summed it up by saying, “Men are not flattered by being shown that there has been a difference of purpose between the Almighty and them.”
Everyone is fine with a “God” who is warm and fuzzy, a Santa Claus “God”, a genie in the bottle “God”, one who is there to serve them and fulfill their whims and desires, a “God” who keeps them from trouble, no matter how much they invite it. People have never wanted a righteous and holy God who demands His children to embrace truth and high moral standards. That God isn’t cool, fashionable or hip. He-is-a-buzz-kill!
The living God is not satisfied with our failures, nor our satisfaction with failure. He sets high standards and expects us to meet them. Fact is, no one would invent this sort of God, because He is way too demanding for any man or woman’s taste–regardless of time or place in history.
Man, by nature, wants to do things his own way. God gives man the freedom to do so, but man is accountable nonetheless. Why is he accountable? He is not sovereign over God or His patterns of order.
Lincoln was right on when he said, “Men are not flattered by being shown that there has been a difference of purpose between the Almighty and them.” As a result, when someone reminds them of God’s expectations and their failure to meet them, it rubs them the wrong way. It even drives some to hate or deny His existence. It drives some to hate and want to do harm to those who remind them of this God and the “difference of purpose between the Almighty and them.”
Psalm 14:1 “The fool has said in his heart, ‘There is no God.’”
Embracing the heart of a fool has little to do with ones intellect, abilities, accomplishments and upbringing. One can have a high IQ, be blessed with amazing skills, do astonishing things and come from the finest of families, yet think and act like a fool.
Psalm 111:10 says, “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom; A good understanding have all those who do His commandments.”
The “fear” spoken of here is not one of a badly beaten child cowering in the corner, but “fear” as in one who is reverent in heart and humble in spirit.
While thinking about the concept of fearful respect and its ability to humble, my thoughts went back to September 11, 2001, the day the World Trade Center buildings came down at the hands of Islamic terrorists. As I sat there watching TV, the thought came to mind, I wonder how Comedy Central (the TV network) is handling this? I had no interest in watching any of their programs, rather I was interested in what a company like that would do under such dire circumstances.
Shortly after I found the station, The Daily Show, with Jon Stewart, came on. I had not watched Stewart much; just enough to get a feel for the show’s format and the style he used to influence his audience. Most of what I had seen in the past focused on sarcasm and cutting humor directed at Republican politicians and the like.
On that night, Stewart wasn’t laughing or taking shots at anyone. Rather, I saw a man who had a moment of clarity, a man who was humbled by the events of the day, a man with a special reverence for the moment. On that day, he sat in his chair and wrestled with the shallowness of his purpose in life and whether it was something that he could continue to do in light of the day’s events. On that day, Stewart had an awakening of just how insignificant his role in life was when held up to the events earlier that day.
As I sat there, I was amazed by the transformation and could not help but think of how refreshing it was to see someone put everything on the line and bear their soul before whoever happened to be watching—my guess is that there were not many people watching, for few things are more distasteful amid tragedy than someone ignoring the moment or making light of it.
I began to think that one day when man stands before God in judgment, many will exhibit a broken and humble spirit as well. Many will for the first time realize how insignificant their life was and how they chose the lesser of two paths.
Christ spoke of this when He said in Luke 13:27-28, “But He will say, ‘I tell you I do not know you, where you are from. Depart from Me, all you workers of iniquity.’ 28 There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth, when you see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God, and yourselves thrust out.”
The Lord sums it up in John 3:19-21 when He says, “And this is the condemnation, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. 20 For everyone practicing evil hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed. 21 But he who does the truth comes to the light, that his deeds may be clearly seen, that they have been done in God.”
Thankfully, God in His mercy has provided a remedy for us. John 3:16-19 says, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. 17 For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved. 18 He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.”
Interestingly enough, I recently searched online for the September 11, 2001 Daily Show and they don’t include it in their list of programs. Of course, it is no wonder given the unbridled truth that poured forth from the satirist that day?
The primary lesson we learn from the life of Abraham Lincoln is during his life he too had moments of brokenness, moments of clarity, moments of running from God and moments of running to Him. When push came to shove, when it counted most, Lincoln turned to God and His Word, not from it.
Push is coming to shove in this country. Will we learn from Lincoln or turn from it?
When Lincoln said, “America will never be destroyed from the outside. If we falter and lose our freedoms, it will be because we destroyed ourselves,” he was considering the most dreadful speculation possible – the destruction of our nation. As we continue to make our way down history’s pathway, the beginning of the end will center on the demise of our spiritual, ethical and moral base. The further we turn our back on the moral foundation the country was built on, the closer we get to self-destruction.
Those who say, “It doesn’t matter what you believe as long as you believe something,” when it comes to morality and spirituality are misguided. No one would apply such thinking when it comes to mathematics, medicine, law, aeronautics, business, and the like. Why then do so many believe it’s acceptable when it comes to ones theology, spirituality and faith? It matters what you believe. The truth is out there. It is simply a matter of if we have or have not embraced it.
Christ said in Matthew 7:24-27, “Therefore whoever hears these sayings of Mine, and does them, I will liken him to a wise man who built his house on the rock: 25 and the rain descended, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house; and it did not fall, for it was founded on the rock. 26 Now everyone who hears these sayings of Mine, and does not do them, will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand: 27 and the rain descended, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house; and it fell. And great was its fall.”
Lincoln understood the importance of a strong moral foundation, and that foundation helped him accomplish things that should have been impossible for someone from his background to do. Lincoln attributed his ability to succeed to God’s Word saying, “All the good the Saviour gave to the world was communicated through this book. But for it we could not know right from wrong. All things most desirable for man’s welfare, here and hereafter, are to be found portrayed in it.”
What about you? What does your foundation consist of? Will it stand or crumble when truly tested?
For those who are tempted to believe that what they do doesn’t matter, because the problems of this country are far too great, please don’t say that to a man like Lincoln. He rose from the lowliest of the low to make the greatest of differences.
Each of us is like a brick in the great wall of this country. The more of us that crumble, the more likely the great wall will collapse and be destroyed, not because of outside forces as Lincoln said, but because we, the people, have lost our moral and spiritual bearings.
The same God who gave birth to this nation, can raise it up once again, but this will only happen as people choose to follow God’s leadership and teachings. The Lord has no interest in robots or forcing people to follow Him. But likewise, He is not bound to bless a nation that has slowly turned its back on Him.
During one of the most trying times in our history as a nation, Lincoln said, “Intelligence, patriotism, Christianity, and a firm reliance on Him, who has never yet forsaken this favored land, are still competent to adjust, in the best way, all our present difficulty.” These words of wisdom held true during his presidency and they continue to hold true today, but we, the people, must set our priorities in order. We must get our spiritual, ethical and moral house in order. We must remember the foundation on which this great country was built and sustained. We, the people, must once again turn our hearts, our minds and our purpose back to the God who raised us up and gave us life, liberty and the ability to pursue happiness.
If you have already entered into a true relationship with Him, take some time to pray to the Lord for strength and guidance in helping you to honestly reassess your walk with Him and shore up areas of inconsistency. As you do this, put time aside to pray for our leaders and all citizens of this land that God would grant us one more great awakening, that we would once again be a spiritual and moral light to the world.
If you have never embraced Christ as Lord and Savior we invite you to read the Keys To Success.
1 Osborn H. Oldroyd, The Lincoln Memorial: Album-Immortelles (New York: G.W. Carleton & Co. Publishers) 34. Copyright 1882.
2 Lincoln Archives http://lincolnarchives.com/LincolnQuotes.php
3 Think Exist http://thinkexist.com/quotation/my_great_concern_is_not_whether_you_have_failed/12575.html
4 Letter to Allen N. Ford – August 11, 1846
5 First Inaugural Address – March 4, 1861.
6 Reply to Loyal Colored People of Baltimore upon Presentation of a Bible – September 7, 1864
7 Think Exist http://thinkexist.com/quotation/sir-my_concern_is_not_whether_god_is_on_our_side/164075.html