Since it was his birthday that set the celebration, let’s let Washington speak. President Washington was fresh from leading our fledgling nation in its struggle for independence when on the occasion of his First Inaugural Address, he commented:
“No people can be bound to acknowledge and adore the indivisible hand which conducts the affairs of men more than the people of the United States. Every step by which they have advanced to the character of an independent nation seems to have been distinguished by some token of providential agency ... We ought to be no less persuaded that the propitious smiles of heaven cannot be expected on a nation that disregards the eternal rules of order and right, which heaven has ordained.”
Though an imperfect man, Washington often spoke nearly perfect words such as these he prayed.
“I earnestly pray that the Omnipotent Being who has not deserted the cause of America in the hour of its extremist hazard, will never yield so fair a heritage of freedom a prey to ‘Anarchy’ or ‘Despotism.’”
Our generation would do well to join him in praying such a prayer.
There is a dramatic difference in the religious restrictions currently imposed on our military and the aspiration for them stated by President Washington.
“The General hopes and trusts that every officer and man will endeavor to live and act as becomes a Christian solider defending the dearest rights and liberties of his country.”
Lincoln, our 16th president, deserves to be heard also. Thousands stood in the mud on the Capitol grounds along Pennsylvania Avenue as Mr. Lincoln delivered his Second Inaugural Address and noted:
“The judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.’ With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive to finish the work we are in.”
These are today among his words etched in the Lincoln Memorial.
In his first Inaugural Address delivered March 4, 1861, he noted these four components needed to being the best nation we can be. “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 difficulties.”
Several thousand people gathered in Springfield, Ill., to see President-elect Lincoln depart for Washington. In response, he made this impromptu statement from the train:
“Trusting in Him, who can go with me, and remain with you and be everywhere for good, let us confidently hope that all will yet be well. To His care commending you, as I hope in your prayers you will commend me. I bid you an affectionate farewell.”
This sage wisdom for President Washington is worthy advice for all. “Make sure you are doing what God wants you to — and do it with all your strength.”
That is a parallel to the verse of scripture that has been the byword for my life.
“...whatever you do, do it heartily, as to the Lord and not to men” (Colossians 3:23).
The Rev. Dr. Nelson Price is pastor emeritus of Roswell Street Baptist Church.