The past cannot judge the present, but it can, if we are willing, provide a measuring bar by which we can make our own judgments.. So, as we approach the inauguration of a new president, it makes sense to read again Abraham Lincoln’s Second Inaugural address. His words echo across the years – just seven hundred and three of them, without bombast, boast or bragging. Many of us know the concluding sentence by heart; surely it is time now to speak them once again, loud and strong:
With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation's wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.
Yet the sentence before this one gives, perhaps, a clearer sense of the mind behind the words:
Yet, if God wills that [this war] continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman's two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said "the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether."
The theology of the passage I do not fully comprehend, but I think I recognize English prose when I hear it, and the connection between speech and thought; the ability to comprehend complexity underlies both. The two go hand in hand, supporting, nourish one another, sustain the mind of the speaker and the spirit of those who listen, then and now.