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Revenge Denied

Romans 12:20
“But if your enemy is hungry, feed him, and if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.”

Edwin Stanton was a political rival to Abraham Lincoln, and a sharp, abusive critic at the beginning of the Civil War, often referring to Lincoln publicly as the “original gorilla!” Abraham Lincoln never responded to Stanton’s criticisms. In fact, he appointed Edwin Stanton as his Secretary of War in 1862. When friends and colleagues asked why he promoted such an unkind critic to that exalted position, Lincoln simply responded, “Because he is the best man for the job.” The two men shared the burdens of war, plus the loss of a beloved child. By the end of the conflict, few men were on such intimate terms with the president as his Secretary of War. They worked together until that fateful night in Ford’s Theatre when a bullet ended the life of the beloved president. According to eyewitnesses, when Edwin Stanton looked down upon the face of the man he once bitterly resented, he was moved to tears and uttered the words, “There lies the greatest ruler of men the world has ever seen.”

Lincoln’s decision to forgive Stanton for his cruel words and elevate him to a high position in his administration revealed his lack of desire for revenge. Lincoln’s graciousness is reminiscent of the greatest leader who ever walked the earth—our Lord Jesus Christ. Even after Jesus was mocked, beaten, and nailed to a Roman cross, He lifted His eyes heavenward and prayed, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.” A centurion had been the one to carry out Pilate’s orders—in fact, he may have held the hammer himself and driven the nails into Jesus’ hands and feet. Jesus never cursed him; instead, He prayed that God would forgive the man for his ignorance. Little wonder that the centurion said as he looked upon the lifeless face of Jesus, “Truly this man was the Son of God!”

Christians who resist the opportunity to react with revenge are modeling after our Lord. The world desperately needs to witness this in us today; they won’t see it anywhere else.