Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Lincoln's Religion

Attempting to understand the extent of the religious devotion of historic figures is almost always a precarious enterprise. Public figures are prone to make statements for public consumption, so splicing together statements made by political figures in order to try to prove their religiosity may or may not provide an accurate result.

Nonetheless, the spirituality of Abraham Lincoln has remained a matter of interest to Americans over the last century and a half. Clearly, for much of his life, Mr. Lincoln was not a religious man, and he is known to have mocked those who were. In the last years of his life, the President did not make the sorts of statements about Christ and his death that might help to understand if he was a believer in the orthodox sense. However, Mr. Lincoln did make numerous statements, such as those in his second inaugural address, that seemed to manifest a deep spiritual reflection. In particular, the President seemed to have a deeper understanding of the Christian doctrine of Providence than many of those who inhabit pews on a regular basis. Thus, he stated in his second inaugural address shortly before his death:

Neither party expected for the war the magnitude or the duration which it has already attained. Neither anticipated that the cause of the conflict might cease with or even before the conflict itself should cease. Each looked for an easier triumph, and a result less fundamental and astounding. Both read the same Bible and pray to the same God, and each invokes His aid against the other. It may seem strange that any men should dare to ask a just God's assistance in wringing their bread from the sweat of other men's faces, but let us judge not, that we be not judged. The prayers of both could not be answered. That of neither has been answered fully. The Almighty has His own purposes. "Woe unto the world because of offenses; for it must needs be that offenses come, but woe to that man by whom the offense cometh." If we shall suppose that American slavery is one of those offenses which, in the providence of God, must needs come, but which, having continued through His appointed time, He now wills to remove, and that He gives to both North and South this terrible war as the woe due to those by whom the offense came, shall we discern therein any departure from those divine attributes which the believers in a living God always ascribe to Him? Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray, that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it 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."

Marvin Olasky, who seems to believe that President Lincoln became a Christian late in life, provides a summary of the President's religious statements in their context here.

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