Andrew Ferguson: Lincoln and the Will of God

“I don’t know anything about Lincoln’s religion,” a longtime friend, David Davis, remarked after Lincoln’s death, “and I don’t believe anybody knows anything about it.” Though Davis’ skepticism should give pause to more historians than it has, he overstated the case. We will never know for sure whether Lincoln held orthodox Christian beliefs, whether he believed in the Trinity, the divinity of Christ or his resurrection, the life everlasting, the forgiveness of sins, the inerrant word of God as revealed in the Old Testament or the New.

But perhaps the country has benefited from not knowing. The uncertainty has made Lincoln our common property, whoever we are, from Robert Ingersoll to Cardinal Mundelein to Nettie Maynard. It may be indeed that Lincoln’s is the only kind of religious expression that will travel in a free country like ours. His religion has lasted a century and a half and has appealed to believers of all kinds, and to skeptics too, exactly because of its generality. Yet it still means something definable and concrete: The country, Lincoln believed, is the carrier of a precious cargo, a proposition that is the timeless human truth, and the survival of this principle will always be of providential importance. We assent to Lincoln’s creed, wide open as it is, when we think of ourselves as Americans.

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Posted in * Culture-Watch, * Economics, Politics, Politics in General, Religion & Culture

4 comments on “Andrew Ferguson: Lincoln and the Will of God

  1. Timothy Fountain says:

    Lincoln is amazing – an inexhaustible source of study and writing on all aspects of his life.
    Certainly, his speeches and thoughts are shot through with Biblical language, but this was a common American trait for the longest time. So were allusions to “The Savior”, even by folks who were not all that convincingly Christian.
    I once heard the late Dr. Kennedy preach, taking the “Lincoln was a born again Christian” direction. Wasn’t all that convincing… as this article shows, most attempts to “enlist” Lincoln require one to ignore all kinds of contradictory evidence.

  2. Adam 12 says:

    To me, Joshua Speed’s observations seem to show a deepening of Lincoln’s faith during the Civil War:

    “I have often been asked what were Mr. Lincoln’s religious opinions. When I knew him, in early life, he was a skeptic. He had tried hard to be a believer, but his reason could not grasp and solve the great problem of redemption as taught. He was very cautious never to give expression to any thought or sentiment that would grate harshly upon a Christian’s ear. For a sincere Christian he had great respect. He often said that the most ambitious man might live to see every hope fail; but, no Christian could live to see his fail, because fulfillment could only come when life ended. But this was a subject we never discussed.

    “The only evidence I have of any change, was in the summer before he was killed. I was invited out to the Soldier’s Home to spend the night. As I entered the room, near night, he was sitting near a window intently reading his Bible.

    “Approaching him I said, ‘I am glad to see you so profitably engaged.’

    “‘Yes,’ said he, ‘I am profitably engaged.’

    “‘Well,’ said I, ‘If you have recovered from your skepticism, I am sorry to say that I have not.’

    “Looking me earnestly in the face, and placing his hand on my shoulder, he said, ‘You are wrong Speed, take all of this book upon reason that you can, and the balance on faith, and you will live and die a happier and better man.'”

  3. John Wilkins says:

    It would probably be wrong to assume Lincoln had demonstrably Orthodox Christian beliefs. It would have been easy for him to have said such in the culture at the time if he was. Instead, he was always very quiet about it, and allusive.

    More likely he was in the tradition of American Transcendentalism (as explored, especially, but Catherine Albanese), a transcendentalism mixed with his Christian culture.

  4. Harvey says:

    Over 140 years ago we were blessed to have a man like Lincoln lead us through a Civil War only to have a crazy idiot assinate him. But Lincoln did finish the job and America was blessed to have him as President. I don’t know what faith he claimed but again he led us through a trying time and I for one am grateful. No one is going to take that regard for him from me.