To Force More Perfect Union

Abraham Lincoln did not have the chops to unite the Union peaceably. Part of his problem is that he loved the Union too much.

Caveats, qualifications, and disclaimer: I did not pay much attention in school as a kid. I am not a historian or a politician or a librarian. I have only read about 100 pages of Lincoln’s speeches in this collection. I did not stay at a Holiday Inn Express last night. The opinions expressed in this post do not reflect those of my employer.

So I said that Lincoln did not have the chops to hold (or reunite) the Union together apart from force. He used the tool he had, the Army, and set a precedent of Federal preeminence. His example also demonstrates the failure of secular philosophy to consolidate a diverse people.

Lincoln was not a Christian. He spoke about God but he did not worship the Father through the Son by the Holy Spirit. He valued religion only to the degree that it wouldn’t alienate voters. He said,

I do not think I could myself, be brought to support a man for office, whom I knew to be an open enemy of, and scoffer at, religion. (55)

His first inaugural speech as President revealed that he didn’t serve God, he served the Union. That doesn’t mean he couldn’t have served God by serving the Union, but that wasn’t true for him. He valued the Union above all and he vowed that he would do whatever was necessary to defend it. He personally wished for abolition but, as long as the Union survived, it didn’t really matter to him if every slave was freed or if no slave was ever freed. Liberty was a great idea until it threatened his precious.

When his god was attacked he fought back. The sovereign Union punished any who questioned it starting with South Carolina. The Constitution framers wrote of their desire “to form a more perfect union.” Lincoln chose to force one.

He took over a country in tension and he knew there were problems. Yet he used his rhetorical skills to persuade his opponents only for a while. Because Lincoln did not worship the triune God of the Bible, he did not have faith or hope in a good God which would have enabled patient work for a resolution that may (or may not) happen decades later. He could not see far enough ahead to pray for worshippers who would be Christlike disciples who would educate the next generation.

Lincoln said that he knew the appropriate political process.

[B]allots are the rightful, and peaceful successors of bullets; and that when ballots have fairly, and constitutionally, decided, there can be no successful appeal, back to bullets; that there can be no successful appeal, except to ballots themselves, at succeeding elections. (314)

Apparently he didn’t even have time to wait for politics, let alone trust anything or anyone greater.

The idea of the Union was most important. He failed to appreciate that the Union consisted of States, and the States consisted of persons. He couldn’t see it, and ended up trying to build a Union around an abstract rather than on persons or God Himself. His “success” not only left us with a heritage of overreaching presidents but also of people expecting the Federal government to rule them regardless of the brutal measures used to enforce unity.

Because Lincoln did not worship the triune God he could not see all men of all skin colors as image-bearers of God. Slaves were still property to be priced and restitution provided to their owners. Slaves only counted as 3/5th of a free man for representation purposes. Free men themselves served to fight. If they were ground up in war on behalf of the Union, so be it.

Lincoln talked about using tools other than force in order to avoid more bloodshed (363) but he couldn’t pull it off. Only the gospel of Jesus Christ and His Spirit can create true and willing unity. We will not have a perfect union apart from submission to the Lord first. This means that obedient Christians are free to be the best citizens whether the Lord grants us obvious success, sooner or later or never. Lincoln had no such confidence.

Like a Herd of Gerasene Swine

How did God do it? He is a much more disciplined writer than any human author. I can’t handle when a question hangs too long, let alone if the group’s answers are rushing down a steep bank like a herd of Gerasene swine. But He held back for what seems to us like an eternity before crushing Christ and then raising Him from the grave.

The moon and stars created on the fourth day lit the stage. The first garden and the talking serpent were a set up. The ark and Babel, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph were all harbingers. Generations went, generations came, filling the earth, rejecting their Creator, waiting for a redeemer. God gave glimpses, foreshadowed the suffering and the salvation, yet He held the climax of a loving, glorious sacrifice under wraps even for most who read the script.

But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. (Galatians 4:4–5)

He was foreknown before the foundation of the world but was made manifest in the last times for the sake of you who through him are believers in God, who raised him from the dead and gave him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God. (1 Peter 1:20–21)

The plot called for rebels, for a virgin, for a tree, for a perfect, spotless lamb. The rebels were easy to cast, but the Father had to give His only begotten Son as the substitute.

God knew from the beginning and we are still talking about how we didn’t see it coming, yet are so glad it did. The greatest chapter has been written; it is finished. But the final chapter hasn’t gone to press. The communion meal reminds us of one night when our Lord was betrayed, and it anticipates that feast coming up at a marriage supper of the Lamb. Everything is going according to the script, and the bread and cup are more than props.

Shooting Whales in a Barrel

We’ve been working through our church’s What We Believe statement on Sunday evenings and last Lord’s day Pastor Jim took us through the section on the Saving Work of the Holy Spirit. Our Life to Life small group had a spirited discussion about the function and fruit of the Spirit on Friday night.

Finding errors in the thinking and practice of pneumatologically challenged Christians may be easier than shooting whales in a barrel, and may excoriate a similar amount of blubber. But us “Bible” people are called to be “Spirit” people in the Bible, and how will we know if we are getting the Spirit right?

The list is long, even inspired, found in the New Testament regarding the Spirit’s effect; section eight in “What We Believe” hammers a good number of sentence nails into our mental walls in order to balance the picture. We must also look for evidence of the Spirit in our sanctification. The “Spirit of life” (Romans 8:2) makes killers out of us, that is, the Spirit causes us to put to death the deeds of the flesh. Paul wrote to the Romans:

For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. (Romans 8:13)

Die now by the Spirit or die later without Him. For all those seeking the gifts of the Spirit, we must always make sure that our desire for the gift of mortification is near the top. Before seeking to speak in an unknown tongue, are we speaking with kindness in the tongue we know? The Spirit heals, and are we seeking the healing of broken relationships caused by sin? These are the sorts of behaviors that match the “holy” ones we should be with the Holy Spirit living inside of us.

Be Cheered!

Over her Christmas break from college, Katie Herrington came to our Life to Life group after one of the messages on worship. The question for discussion related to any general thoughts on our Sunday morning liturgy. Katie said that while she enjoyed having communion each week, and while she appreciated the glad attitude we bring to it, she also had a difficult time not imagining us lifting our cups toward each other and saying “Cheers!”

There are differences, to be sure, between men in a bar clinking glasses for another round, or guests at a wedding reception toasting the couple, and the ordinance of communion. The difference is that it is okay not to be truly glad in the bar or at the reception. We will be judged for being half-hearted in our joy at this Table.

We won’t start saying “Cheers!” as part of our liturgy, but can we not look around when we drink the cup that shows the price of our freedom from sin and think, “Be cheered, soul! Be cheered, neighbor! Be cheered, little Christian!”? All of our true cheer, all of our lasting happiness originates in the grace of God, and that grace radiated most clearly at the sacrifice of God’s Son on the cross.

Be cheered, believer! He has accomplished Your redemption and will finish the good work He began in you. That is something to eat and drink about.

Ongoing Application

We believe that God saves sinners. We believe that the Father elected a people for His Son forever ago, that the Son laid down His life to pay for the sins of His people a while ago, and that the Holy Spirit grants new life and repentance and faith any time ago. Our sovereign, triune God designed, obtained, and fulfills all His saving work when He wants.

Because we believe that God drives salvation and that His eternal will cannot be derailed, we might ask, “When is a man saved?” Is he saved when God chose him? Is he saved when Christ rose from the grave for him? Is he saved when he confesses Christ as Lord and Savior? Is he saved when Christ returns and takes him to glory?

A man elected by God cannot not be saved. But from that man’s perspective, he cannot know that he is in that group unless he believes in Jesus. He can’t claim redemption without repentance. John Murray distinguishes between two works of God in his book, Redemption: Accomplished and Applied. Christ does not need to die again, but the Holy Spirit does need to apply Christ’s work at the appointed time. How will we know when it has been applied? The sign is repentance and faith in Jesus.

Even as believers who worship by confessing our sins each week, we don’t do it because we are uncertain about the outcome of Christ’s sacrifice. We seek forgiveness and restoration to fellowship as an ongoing application of the Son’s work. Humble admission demonstrates the Spirit’s ongoing work, and that should encourage us that God’s eternal plan is alive and being written out among us.

The Tyrant’s Life

A single mom with eight year-old triplet sons went to Starbucks one afternoon for a break. She had spent her day not only making meals, cleaning spills, and overseeing homeschool assignments, but also arguing with her sons about the reasonableness of her directions, defending her authority, and trying to maintain order. One of her young lawyers said something to the effect, “It feels like we’re in prison.” She took this final straw with her to sip some coffee.

A mother carries and births and nurses new life. She has earned her place of authority. Even more than a mother, God gives life and breath to every being. And like so many ornery, short-sighted sons, humanity despises His gifts, ignores His instructions, and cries that His laws are oppressive.

Because God created the world He has authority; the Potter shapes pots. Some pots hate the arrangement and talk about throwing off the tyrant’s rules. We know that is actually impossible, but for a thought experiment, would it even be good to be free from God’s law?

What if the mom in our illustration ordered one too many shots of espresso and didn’t stop after the drive thru for a few hours? The twelve year-old sister at home stands no chance of keeping things together. How long would it be before the brothers became combatants against one another instead of co-belligerents? Would not each brother soon begin to fight for his own opportunity to try the tyrant’s life? This would lead to black eyes if not burning the house down.

When we come to our knees before our Maker and acknowledge His commandments, we ought to be thankful for how good His rules are. It is impossible for us to have no rules at all, and the ones He gives are for life. We ought rather have Him as God than so many fellow creatures talking about freedom while trying to wear His crown.

The Nature of Things

Knowing the nature of things is quite valuable and surprisingly elusive. When the church assembles on the Lord’s day and meets God in worship, confessing our sin, hearing His Word, praying and singing to Him, we are being reminded of how things really are.

Remembrance also happens at His Table, too. Jesus Christ is risen from the dead. He lives, He lives, Christ Jesus lives today. Everything was given change orders when He walked out of the tomb, or given warning that time was running out if it would not submit to the new order.

That order is Jesus Christ as Lord. That order is forgiveness for all who eat His flesh and drink His blood. That order is the certainty of His return and he fulfillment of every one of His outstanding promises, to the Jew first and also to the Gentile.

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. (2 Corinthians 5:17–19)

He is making all things new (Revelation 21:5). So even though we do not see Him now, we know the nature of things and we love Him. Though we do not see Him now, we rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory. The reality is that all who believe in Jesus Christ will reign with Him on earth and that day is closer than ever.

An Airtight Case

The only thing required to be guilty before God is to do nothing. Men transgress God’s law on purpose more than the evening news has time to report. But they can and do sin before getting out of bed in the morning and when they crawl under the covers after a day of ignoring God.

One of the scariest paragraphs in the Bible covers a legal ramification of creation. While the author of Hebrews acknowledges that we only understand that God made the world by faith, Paul warns that every man who doesn’t praise God for making the world is guilty in his unbelief.

For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. (Romans 1:19–21)

God can be and is known by everyone at some level. His invisible attributes, at least in His power and divine personhood, have been clearly perceived in the visible world. Every man who breathes has an airtight case against him. All he has to do to deserve wrath is nothing, to fail to honor God or give Him thanks. Many men talk a good game about their earthly knowledge and give one another honorary PhDs, but “claiming to be wise, they become fools.”

How much more ought Christians, a people of faith, a people alive to God, a people who serve righteousness, to live godly and righteous in the present age by honoring and thanking God? This is part of what it means for us to live by faith. We cannot be satisfied doing nothing, and our confidence in six day creation and our apologetics against evolution will not please God if we don’t worship Him.