I was much impressed this week as once again I came across the proclamation by Abraham Lincoln when faced with national chaos in the midst of the American civil war. I was struck by the sheer spiritual stature of the man and equally struck by the spiritual stature of the members of the American Senate. It was a remarkable outburst of the spiritual DNA of so many of the first settlers on that Atlantic sea board: that DNA was a simple but real faith in the God who brought them to, and watched over them in their new land. It is printed in full for your consideration, some parts are highlighted in bold print, and at the end I have made a few concluding comments. I hope it speaks to you and challenges you afresh in the same way I found it challenging me. It is much more than just a bit of history!
By the President of the United States of America
For a Day of Prayer and National Humiliation
Fasting and Prayer *
(* This was made in 1863 in the middle of the very bitter American Civil War)
Whereas, the Senate of the United States, devoutly recognizing the Supreme Authority and just Government of Almighty God, in all the affairs of men and of nations, has, by a resolution, requested the President to designate and set apart a day for National prayer and humiliation.
And whereas it is the duty of nations as well as of men, to own their dependence upon the overruling power of God, to confess their sins and transgressions, in humble sorrow, yet with assured hope that genuine repentance will lead to mercy and pardon; and to recognize the sublime truth, announced in the Holy Scriptures and proven by all history, that those nations only are blessed whose God is the Lord.
And, insomuch as we know that, by His divine law, nations like individuals are subjected to punishments and chastisements in this world, may we not justly fear that the awful calamity of civil war, which now desolates the land, may be but a punishment, inflicted upon us, for our presumptuous sins, to the needful end of our national reformation as a whole People? We have been the recipients of the choicest bounties of Heaven. We have been preserved, these many years in peace and prosperity. We have grown in numbers, wealth and power, as no other nation has ever grown. But we have forgotten God. We have forgotten the gracious hand which preserved us in peace, and multiplied and enriched and strengthened us; and we have vainly imagined, in the deceitfulness of our hearts, that all these blessings were produced by some superior wisdom and virtue of our own. Intoxicated with unbroken success, we have become too self-sufficient to feel the necessity of redeeming and preserving grace, too proud to pray to the God that made us!
It behoves us then, to humble ourselves before the offended Power, to confess our national sins, and to pray for clemency and forgiveness.
Now, therefore, in compliance with the request, and fully concurring in the views of the Senate, I do, by this my proclamation, designate and set apart Thursday, the 30th. day of April, 1863, as a day of national humiliation, fasting and prayer. And I do hereby request all the People to abstain, on that day, from their ordinary secular pursuits, and to unite, at their several places of public worship and their respective homes, in keeping the day holy to the Lord, and devoted to the humble discharge of the religious duties proper to that solemn occasion.
All this being done, in sincerity and truth, let us then rest humbly in the hope authorized by the Divine teachings, that the united cry of the Nation will be heard on high, and answered with blessings, no less than the pardon of our national sins, and the restoration of our now divided and suffering Country, to its former happy condition of unity and peace.
In witness whereof, I have hereunto set my hand and caused the seal of the United States to be affixed.
Done at the City of Washington, this thirtieth day of March, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, and of the Independence of the United States the eighty seventh.
By the President: Abraham Lincoln William H. Seward, Secretary of State.
As the President stated, blessing on any nation is tied to its acknowledgment that God is its Lord. This is the same for individuals. Faith and trust in God accompanied by obedience to the standards he has set before humanity is the royal road and only road to blessing, national or personal. When we jettison God we jettison our blessing, for God rules the world and its nations on his own principles. This is as true for “Christian” nations as for others. Indeed for those who have known and walked in God’s ways and then deliberately turn from them and forget God, the inevitable outcome of judgement is even greater.
This is precisely the matter that the Proclamation faces up to; “We have been preserved, these many years in peace and prosperity. We have grown in numbers, wealth and power, as no other nation has ever grown. But we have forgotten God”. Lincoln is speaking for the nation as a whole, the nation as it had become before the outbreak of hostilities. He clarifies the situation with the words, “We have forgotten the gracious hand which preserved us in peace, and multiplied and enriched and strengthened us; and we have vainly imagined, in the deceitfulness of our hearts, that all these blessings were produced by some superior wisdom and virtue of our own. Intoxicated with unbroken success, we have become too self-sufficient to feel the necessity of redeeming and preserving grace, too proud to pray to the God that made us!”
There could not be a more prescient and accurate statement to describe our own present situation in our own nation at this time in its history. We are not in the midst of a civil war, but we are certainly in the midst of something akin to political civil war with turmoil, confusion “drawn daggers” and treachery. The hope of strong leadership that did seem to be present at one point has now been broken. The outlook is very bleak and threatening. The real tragedy, however, is that there is at this time no one of the spiritual ilk of Lincoln in national leadership, no phalanx of spiritual thinking such as was present in the U.S. Senate when it formulated the Proclamation and laid bare the real heart of the national problem. With us there has been not only a forgetting of God and his ways, but a deliberate embracing of a secular anti-God position along with a dilution and discarding of his moral commands. Indeed the marginalisation of our Christian heritage has begun and is fast increasing. Judgement stares us in the face, judgement that could cost Christians dearly.
This presents the church of God with a massive challenge, for there is nothing left but the church. There is no room for a “National Day of Prayer” of the kind Lincoln proclaimed; we simply do not have the required spiritual capital left at the national level. The church has to step in. It requires two things of the church: a prophetic voice in the nation that refuses to be silenced and a recourse to prayer of a kind we have not been generally used to. The real danger, however, is that we have not yet fully woken up to a full grasp of what the current chaos will lead to. Until we do wake up to the position the motivation to such prayer will simply not be there.
To be continued