Can We Count On Our Better Angels?

by Kevin Burton

   From Shakespeare to Lincoln to Susan Ashton come thoughts today of “better angels.”

   “Better angels of our nature,” was the phrase Lincoln used in his first inaugural address.  That speech was a plea, ultimately ignored, for unity in a nation divided over the issue of slavery.

   We think Lincoln got the phrase from the Shakespeare play Othello. Susan Ashton has a song called “Better Angels Of Our Nature” on the album “Angels of Mercy.” That is my point of reference.

   Yes, I spend more time with Susan Ashton than with Shakespeare.  Sorry.

   Let’s hear from David Blankenhorn, writing on

   “No one knows with certainty how Lincoln first encountered the phrase “better angels.” But based on available evidence, one possible source stands out as the most likely: William Shakespeare’s play, Othello, written about 1603,” Blankenhorn writes.

   “For Shakespeare, as for Lincoln, “better angels” were neither individual people nor supernatural beings, but instead aspects of temperament.  A better angel, in this construal, is a composite of those praiseworthy traits within us that exist alongside of, and contest with, unworthy traits.”

   As Lincoln found out, a so-called better angel is nothing to hang your hat on; nothing to rely upon to stave off war or even to share the pizza. 

   This is because everyone born under the sun after Adam and Eve disobeyed God, has a sin nature.

   “The sin nature is that aspect in man that makes him rebellious against God,” reads a passage on “When we speak of the sin nature, we refer to the fact that we have a natural inclination to sin; given the choice to do God’s will or our own, we will naturally choose to do our own thing.”

   “Proof of the sin nature abounds. No one has to teach a child to lie or be selfish; rather, we go to great lengths to teach children to tell the truth and put others first. Sinful behavior comes naturally,” the passage reads.
   “The news is filled with tragic examples of mankind acting badly. Wherever people are, there is trouble. Charles Spurgeon said, ‘As the salt flavors every drop in the Atlantic, so does sin affect every atom of our nature. It is so sadly there, so abundantly there, that if you cannot detect it, you are deceived.’”

   A better angel then, if you even consider it to be a thing, represents the best I can muster in my own strength, fighting against my sin nature, to do good. 

   Flimsy and fleeting, melted when the heat rises, better angels can’t be counted on. Best intentions are just that.

   Given enough time and proximity to me, I will let you down. If I have never let you down in any way, it must be that the relationship was a minor one, indeed. 

   What you and I need is a Savior to allow us out of this cycle.

   “There is only one Person in the history of the world who did not have a sin nature: Jesus Christ. His virgin birth allowed Him to enter our world while bypassing the curse passed down from Adam,” the passage reads.

   “Jesus then lived a sinless life of absolute perfection. He was “the Holy and Righteous One” (Acts 3:14) who “had no sin” (2 Cor. 5:21). This allowed Jesus to be sacrificed on the cross as our perfect substitute, “a lamb without blemish or defect” (1 Peter 1:19).”

   “John Calvin puts it in perspective: ‘For certainly, Christ is much more powerful to save than Adam was to ruin.’”

   “We don’t lose our sin nature once we receive Christ. The Bible says that sin remains in us and that a struggle with that old nature will continue as long as we are in this world,” the passage reads. “Paul bemoaned his own personal struggle in Romans 7:15–25. But we have help in the battle—divine help. The Spirit of God takes up residence in each believer and supplies the power we need to overcome the pull of the sin nature within us.”

   “It is through Christ that we are born again. ‘That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit’ (John 3:6). When we are born of Adam, we inherit his sin nature; but when we are born again in Christ, we inherit a new nature: ‘Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!’ (2 Cor. 5:17).”

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