Kindness is the only service that will stand the storm of life and not wash out.
I’ve learned a lot from Lincoln.
I’ve written before about his amazing humility. About how freely Lincoln admitted mistakes. How, as a congressman, he gently declined the title of “Hon,” as in “Honorable,” and later, as our 16th President, delicately refused a “supply of elephants” from the King of Siam.
He also taught me about the best ways to give and receive criticism. That we’d best not criticize unless we have a heart to help and to always look for the kernel of truth.
Lincoln’s endurance in difficult relationships is legendary. Abraham Lincoln embraced the pain in both his private and public life. I’ve learned about persevering and pressing on from Lincoln.
Over the slow fires of misery that he learned to keep banked and under heavy pressure deep within him, his innate qualities of patience, tolerance, forbearance, and forgiveness were tempered and refined.” (Tony Reinke, Learning from Lincoln’s Flawed Marriage)
But there’s an important part of kindness that I’ve been learning from Lincoln lately.
Any Excuse to Pardon a Man
A man who is kind benefits himself, but a cruel man hurts himself. Proverbs 11:17
Journalist David Locke has noted,
No man on earth hated blood as Lincoln did, and he seized eagerly upon any excuse to pardon a man when the charge could possibly justify it. The generals always wanted an execution carried out before it could possibly be brought before the President.
It is kind when creatures with incomplete knowledge assume the best about fellow creatures who falter and fail us. Kindness reminds us that everyone is fighting a hard battle.
Lincoln embodied such kindness in pardoning deserters, men whose “cowardly legs…couldn’t help running away,”
“If a man had more than one life, I think a little hanging would not hurt this one; but after he is once dead we cannot bring him back, no matter how sorry we may be; so the boy shall be pardoned,” President Lincoln said about one case of desertion.
Then there was the case of Henry M. Luckett. When his daughter came to beg pardon, Lincoln asked,
Did you say he was to be shot day after to-morrow? No, no! There will be no shooting nor hanging in this case. Henry M. Luckett! There must be something wrong with him, or he wouldn’t be in such a scrape as this. I don’t know what more I can do for him, but you can rest assured, my child,’ turning to Mrs. Bullitt, ‘that your father’s life is safe.’
There must be something wrong with him, or he wouldn’t be in such a scrape as this.
It is kindness when we creatures assume the best of fellow flawed and fallen creatures.
Do you give the benefit of the doubt?
Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. Ephesians 4:32
Do you assume the best about others? Or are you more likely to presume the worst and presuppose ill intent?
When your friend is 20 minutes late for a date, what pops in your head? Is it more like, She’s so selfish (or careless) with her time? Or, Something must have come up with the kids or God forbid, something bad happened on the road.
Are the people in your life more often innocent until proven guilty or guilty until proven innocent? Do you ever actually try to find a way to excuse another when they fail and or let you down?
Do you, as Matthew Henry put it centuries ago,
[H]ave your ear always open to the first proposals and overtures of satisfaction, submission, and reconciliation? He that is of a meek spirit will be forward to forgive injuries, and to put up with affronts, and has some excuses or other ready wherewith to extenuate and qualify the provocation which an angry man will industriously aggravate.
Here are a few questions I’ve been asking myself lately. Honestly as I do, I keep coming back to the Golden Rule: Do unto others as you’d have them do unto you.
- Is my “ear always open to overtures of reconciliation? Even if the offending party doesn’t express it exactly how I would, am I responsive at the first sign of repentance and regret?
- Am I “forward to forgive injuries”? In other words, am I eager to be restored to relationship, to cover the fault and move on?
- Do I “extenuate and qualify” the word or action that provoked me? Do I assume bad motive or give the benefit of the doubt?
Henry wrote this more than a century before Abraham Lincoln was born, but his description of a meek man reads like a line from a Lincoln biography. “There is no great harm done, or, if there be, there was none intended… and so the offense…is easily past by.”
A.W. Tozer tells about a time when an advisor came to Lincoln as he sat staring out the window and over the lawn below, “Mr. President,” the man said, “you seem very serious today.”
“Yes,” he said, “today is ‘butcher day.’ They’re going to shoot a lot of boys today in the army for retreating under fire or doing something else in wartime. I don’t blame those boys; they weren’t cowards. Their legs did it.” Over his tears he said, “I’m going over the list, and I’m going to save every one that I can.”
Tozer concludes,”That’s why we love Lincoln, not just because he freed the slaves or saved the Union, but because he had a big heart.”
Kind to the Wicked and Ungrateful
But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful. (Luke 6:35-36)
Kindness means useful and profitable. It’s more than sentiment. It’s a quality of being helpful and beneficial, of seeking to improve and bless others. Even wicked and ungrateful others.
In Titus 2 verse 3, we read about what we all were before we knew Christ. We were foolish, disobedient, led astray, salves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another. That’s what we were: wicked and ungrateful, you could safely say.
We had made our bed.
But in his love and kindness, God said we said we didn’t have to lie in it.
The Kindest Man
But when the loving kindness of God our Savior appeared… he saved us. Titus 3:4
Not that we were so distressed about our sinfulness that we longed after Him, but because God in infinite kindness reached down to where we were. “The love of God our Saviour toward man,” is literally, “the philanthropy of God.”
God is a lover of men, and because He so loved He sent His Son to save us from our sins. God was moved by his own kindness at the sight of man’s misery and wretchedness.
Matthew Henry, commenting on Titus 3:4, explains
Sin bringing that misery, wrath might have issued out rather than compassion- but God, knowing how to adjust all with his own honour and perfections, would pity and save rather than destroy.
This divine kindness to miserable, condemned rebels actually sounds a lot like President Lincoln pardoning the deserters whose legs had run off.
It’s not at all surprising then, that Tozer once wrote, I suppose one of the kindest men in America was Lincoln. For it is kind indeed when we creatures assume the best of fellow, fallen creatures without knowing, for sure, their worst.
But it is the pinnacle of kindness when the Creator offers us his best- his only Beloved Son- to pardon us, when He knows full well our very worst.