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At Alton, Illinois, October 15th, 1858, in his closing speech of the great debate with Douglas, Mr. Lincoln said: "He (Douglas) has warred upon them (Lincoln's sentiments) as Satan wars upon the Bible."'17
Even in foreign lands, Mr. Lincoln was known as a devout Bible student, as indicated by the following from Richard Lovell, A.M., London: “Lincoln's nature was deeply religious. From boyhood he had been familiar with the Bible and as the years passed his belief and trust in God's overruling and active providence in the affairs of men and nations ever deepened.”18
As Trevena Jackson says: “The spirit of the Bible was built into Lincoln's boyhood, expanded in his young manhood, ripened in his middle age, sustained him when sorrows seared his soul, and gave to him a grip upon God, man, freedom, and immortality. The influence of the Bible upon him gave him reverence for God and His will; for Christianity and its Christ; for the Holy Spirit and its help; for prayer and its power; for praise and its purpose; for the immortal impulse and its inspiration."19
In 1901, in an address before the American Bible Society on "Reading the Bible,” former President Roosevelt made the following tender statements respecting Lincoln's familiarity with the Bible: “Lincoln, sad, patient, kindly Lincoln, who, after bearing upon his shoulders for four years a greater burden than that borne by any other man of the Nineteenth century, laid down his life for the people whom, living, he had served so well, built up his entire reading upon his study of the Bible. He had mastered it absolutely, mastered it as later he mastered only one or two other books, notably Shakespeare, mastered it so that he became almost a man of one book who knew that book, and who instinctively put into practice what he had been taught therein; and he left his life as part of the crowning work of the century just closed.”20
17 Complete Works of Abraham Lincoln, Vol. V., p. 45. 18 Abraham Lincoln, p. 16. 19 Lincoln's use of the Bible, p. 35.
Investigating the religious faith of Abraham Lincoln is like working a vein of high-grade ore, which increases in width and in richness as the work of mining progresses. It is more than five decades since I first began to prosecute my researches on this subject. These researches began during the year 1860, after Mr. Lincoln had become the republican candidate for President of the United States, being suggested by the volume published that year as a campaign document which contained not only the speeches by Lincoln and Douglas, but also some of Mr. Lincoln's most notable speeches prior and subsequent to those famous debates. In addition to his own declarations concerning religious matters I have sought, with great care, to collate information respecting his faith from the testimonies of those with whom he was most intimately associated. As this investigation has proceeded I have found the subject becoming increasingly fascinating and instructive; and with the product of my prolonged researches before me I am profoundly impressed by the clear and unequivocal evidence furnished of Mr. Lincoln's firm belief in the most vital features of Christian truth.
The first scriptural truth learned by Abraham Lincoln was doubtless that stated in the first four words of the Bible: “In the beginning God.” That truth which, as a mere child he was taught by his godly mother, became and continued to be the foundation upon which was erected his entire system of religious faith. His belief in a Supreme Being was at once fundamental and all-dominant in his faith and life. It
may be only a mere fancy, but it is exceedingly interesting and suggestive, that the earliest fragment of his autograph now known to be in existence is the following rhyme written in his copy book when he was only fourteen years old:
20 Lincoln's use of the Bible, p. 10.
It is profoundly significant that this child of destiny, at his life's early morning, in clumsy but impressive verse thus reverently coupled his own name with that of his Creator, and that the hand which afterwards wrote the Emancipation Proclamation first learned to use a pen by laboriously writing a declaration of belief in a Supreme Being.
The significance of this youthful testimony to the existence and omniscience of God is not in the least degree dependent upon his comprehension of the full meaning of what he wrote. If it be claimed that his words have a meaning beyond his own understanding it will serve only to remind us that the same has often been true of literary productions. If he employed hackneyed terms or transcribed what others before had written he was as I believe in so doing unconsciously following a deeper impulse of the heart.
He used the name of God in the most natural and unstudied manner because his belief in God pervaded his being, and he referred to the Divine omniscience as the spontaneous expression of the faith which he received from his mother's instruction.
I am not claiming for this fragment of a Lincoln manuscript any direct divine inspiration. But I cannot regard and treat it as belonging to a class with those manuscripts which simply tell of Mr. Lincoln's early educational pursuits. It is certainly more significant than are they in that it bears witness to his early matter of fact trend of thought which moved steadily in the direction of an ever-increasing comprehension of God.
That trend of thought was with him like an undeviating and unhindered approach from dawn to daylight, and resulted in an expansion of soul, enlargement of spiritual vision and deepened religious experience, until he seems to have found and rested upon a satisfying and sustaining faith.
The Scripture admonition, “Acquaint now thyself with him and be at peace" (Job 22:21), was one to which he gave constant heed. He sought to know God; to know Him as revealed “in the heavens above and in the earth beneath;" to know Him as revealed in His holy Word; to know Him as revealed in Jesus Christ, and to know Him as revealed in personal religious experience. This continued until Lincoln realized in his own being the fulfillment of the promise, “Thoushalt keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on thee because he trusteth in thee." (Isa. 26:3.) This could not be otherwise since with all his heart and soul he believed in
In his first inaugural address delivered March 4th, 1861, Mr. Lincoln said: “If the Almighty Ruler of Nations, with His eternal truth and justice, be on your side of the North, or on yours of the South, that truth and that justice will surely prevail by the judgment of this great tribunal of the American people."21
In reply to a letter from Mrs. Horace Mann, on behalf of a class of children in whom she was interested, President Lincoln on April 5th, 1864, sent the following beautiful message: "Please tell these little people that I am very glad their young hearts are so full of just and generous sympathy, and that, while I have not the power to grant all they ask, I trust they will remember that God has, and that, as it seems, He wills to do it."22
In his “Meditation on Divine Will,” which is supposed to have been written September 30th, 1862, he says: “By His (that is God's) mere great power on the minds of the now contestants, He could have either saved or destroyed the
21 Complete Works of Abraham Lincoln, Vol. VI., P. 183. 22 Ibid., Vol. X., pp. 68-69.
Union without a human contest. Yet the contest began. And, having begun, He could give the final victory to either side any day."
These declarations of Mr. Lincoln abundantly justify the following comprehensive and significant testimony of Hon. H. C. Whitney, who knew him intimately for many years: “Logically and inevitably, therefore, he believed in God; in His superintending providence; in His intervention in mundane affairs for the weal of the race. To Him he made report; from Him he took counsel; at His hands he implored current aid; he ascribed glory and thanks to Him; he recognized Him as the Supreme Good. God came to him monitorially; with succor; with good cheer; with victory. He confounded the counsels of his accusers; He made the wrath of his enemies to minister to his good; His direct intervention the President experienced in many ways. Lincoln acknowledged all with a grateful heart; he ordered national thanksgivings and praises on every suitable occasion. Therefore, he had more proofs to warrant his belief, and believed more implicitly in God, and approached nearer to Him than any man of the race since Moses, the lawgiver."24
These statements of Mr. Lincoln's belief in the omnipotence of God are not more clear or emphatic than are those concerning
"The all-wise Creator," "An all-wise Providence," and similar statements appear many times in Mr. Lincoln's writings, and bear witness to his unquestioning confidence in the infinite knowledge and wisdom of God.
On September 4th, 1864, at a time when according to his own deliberate statements he was in doubt relative to his re-election, in a letter to Mrs. Eliza P. Gurney, a devout Christian woman of the Society of Friends, he said: “The
23 Complete Works of Abraham Lincoln, Vol. VIII, p. 52. 24 Lincoln, the Citizen, pp. 203-204.