President’s Day, Lincoln, and the Bible

HE weekend edition of The Wall street Journal carried a story by the title, “What the Bible Taught Lincoln About America.” Author Rabbi Soloveichik, director of the Straus Center for Torah and Western Thought at Yeshiva University, outlines how Lincoln, once indifferent to religion, turned into a “theologian of liberty” during the Civil War.

One of the interesting comments in the article is a warning against ignorance regarding the influence of Christian Scripture in our nation’s history. “But in an age of declining biblical literacy,” Soloveichik writes, “we are in danger of losing touch with a key source of [Lincoln’s] greatness.” Where did Lincoln find rich references for his lasting rhetoric? From the King James Bible, the WSJ article argues.

For example, Lincoln’s opening words of the Gettysburg Address are thought to be inspired by the King James language in the Psalms, “The days of our years are threescore years and ten; and if by reason of strength they be four score years.” Consider another example, Lincoln’s commentary on Civil War as a judgment on slavery that concluded with another line from the Psalms, “the judgements of the Lord are true and righteous all together.” Lincoln used the Pslams to put words to the experiences of his nation. In short, he evaluated their moment in history from the standpoint of Scripture.

So, this President’s Day, think about the influence of the Bible and give thanks for the role of Scripture in our nation’s history. But also see a warning. If we forget God’s Word we will lose  the central influence of Lincoln’s famous speeches—and more importantly—the heart of what it is necessary to know and please God. The WSJ article concludes with this apt caution, “America is an exceptional nation only if it remains ever loyal to the covenant of its founding, the ideals for which Washington fought and Lincoln died.”