Thursday, March 19, 2015

WAS ABRAHAM LINCOLN A CHRISTIAN?

  A few days ago a friend of mine made the statement that in his opinion Abraham Lincoln was not a Christian. There was a time that I would have agreed with him. A few years ago I believed that he was a Deist, Universalist or an agnostic. Over the years I have studied Lincoln extensively and I believe that Lincoln went through several phases in his life. As a child Lincoln's parents were hard shell Baptists. His parents met at a revival that was going on in Kentucky in the early 1800's. Tom Lincoln  and Nancy Hanks set eyes on each other while dancing in the spirit. They were married and Lincoln came along in 1809. Nancy Hanks Lincoln read the Bible to little Abe daily and taught him the Ten Commandments. Lincoln said later that when he was tempted to do something wrong he always thought of his mother and the Ten Commandments. Lincoln once walked for miles to return a few cents to a customer that he had overcharged when he was a store clerk. As president he visited his commanding general at Falmouth Virginia. who told him that he was going to launch his campaign to capture Richmond on Sunday. Lincoln looked at him and said  "General, take a good rest and begin on Monday morning". It is true that as an adult Lincoln never formally joined a church. As a youngster he attended with his family and was friendly toward the Christian faith. He became as well grounded in Christianity as any child might that had a Christian mother or father. I can relate since I had a similar childhood. My mother taught me the Bible and prayed with me every night. She also kept me in Church on Sunday. Lincoln was probably like me in that we never accepted Christ during our mothers lifetimes but they planted the seeds for that day when we were born again. I am not in anyway comparing myself to Lincoln but we share the experience of having Godly mothers  and we both lost our mothers at very young ages. He was nine and I was twelve. His mother was thirty-eight, and my mother was thirty-nine. Lincoln like me was very close to his mother. His mother died of milk sickness and as she lay dying she called him to her bed. Her last words were  "I want you to live as I have taught you to love your Heavenly Father and keep his commandments". 

  Lincoln spent most of his childhood years in Kentucky and Indiana. As a young adult he moved to Springfield where he fell under the influence of religious skeptics. These friends gave him a volume of Volney's Ruins . A book that attacked the scriptures and had a huge negative impact on Lincoln. At this time of his life he said  "I am not a Christian. God knows I would be one". Lincoln went through a second phase of his life when he was very insecure with his looks. He looked into a mirror and said "It's a fact Abe! You are the ugliest man in the world. If ever I see an uglier man than you, I'm going to shoot him on the spot"  He was a giant of a man for the time at six foot four when the average man was much shorter. He was lanky with long arms and huge hands. During this phase of his life he began to study his mothers Bible. He studied the Sermon on the Mount and those passages that described what God intended a man to be like. You can see the influence of the Bible in his quotes and speeches like the Gettysburg Address. However in my opinion the Malice Toward None speech or his Second Inaugural Address was the greatest and most spiritual of all of his speeches. 

  The war seemed to change Lincoln. Especially the death of his son Willie from Typhoid in February 1862. A pastor friend came to visit Lincoln at the White House at the height of Lincolns grief.  The pastor bluntly told him that it was wrong to grieve this way because Willie was in heaven. Lincoln was startled by his words. Alive! Alive!"Surely you mock me".  The pastor answered "No Mr. President, it is a great doctrine of the church" Jesus himself said that God is not the God of the dead but of the living". Lincoln jumped to his feet and hugged the pastor weeping. "Alive! Alive! My boy is alive!" From that day forward even Mary Lincoln saw a change in him. An Illinois pastor asked him, "Mr. President, do you love Jesus? Lincoln answered this way.  "When I left Springfield, I asked the people to pray for me. I was not a Christian. When I buried my son, the severest trial of my life, I was not a Christian. But when I went to Gettysburg and saw the graves of thousands of our soldiers, I then and there consecrated myself to Christ. Yes, I do love Jesus. 

  A few years ago I listened to the audio book of Dorris Kearns Goodwin's book Team of Rivals. I have read many books on Lincoln but this book more than any other I have read made me realize and appreciate how Christ-like Lincoln was. Yes he was capable of ruthlessness when it came to the politics of getting elected, especially in 1860. When he suspended habeus corpus and arrested people for the purpose of saving the Union. However he would do things like write vicious letters to generals and people that had disappointed him but put the letters away in a drawer until after he had calmed down. This was for his own benefit and the letters would never be sent. On one occasion he waited at General McClellan's home for an hour to see him. When McClellan arrived he ignored Lincoln and went to bed. A lesser man would have severely reprimanded McClellan but when Lincoln was asked why he put up with such disrespect and insubordination he replied that he would hold McClellan's horse if that is what it took to win battles. At the end of the war when most Northerners wanted revenge on the South Lincoln wanted a peace based on forgiveness and reconciliation. He told Grant and Sherman to "Let them up easy". This is one of those things that truly sets America apart as an exceptional nation because of the influence of Christianity on this nation. Civil Wars are the bloodiest of all wars but we settle ours based on Christian principles. This carried over to when we made peace with Japan and Germany in World War II. We helped to rebuild both countries and men who were treated brutally by these countries, like Louis Zamperini, travelled in droves to preach the gospel to their former enemies. Lincoln was not a churchgoer and he was probably never baptized but the evidence bolsters my opinion that Lincoln was a Christian. It also shows that many people who regularly attend church, could learn something by the example set by Lincoln  
NANCY HANKS LINCOLN

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