As we approached the hundred & forty-forth anniversary of the passing of Abraham Lincoln, I began to take a look at his faith. It was a faith that transformed a nation, yet not wrapped in the traditions and doctrines of men that make the voice of God to this world of no effect. But a transforming faith that truly reaches the heart of God. He was not a man who would put on public demonstrations of prayer, yet I remember as a boy back in ’76 going through the Freedom Train in celebration of the bicentennial anniversary of this great nation and seeing Lincoln’s private prayer mat with holes worn in it from its excessive use.
So what was it about Lincoln’s faith that led America through just as troubling of a time as today, yet brought such magnificent hope?
As I began to look into this, I found countless resources portraying President Lincoln in the light of true godly passion. Not having the faith of a religionist, but embracing the same faith that this country was founded upon. God’s all encompassing love and restitution of all mankind. Out of all the resources I found, there was one that I believe caught the heart of a great leader of this nation.
Below is the article that most clearly portrayed Abraham Lincolns spiritual walk to me.
Many may know that Abraham Lincoln was one of our most deeply religious Presidents. Very few know how well he knew the scriptures--even better than some of the most prominent clergy of his day. Almost no one knows that he believed in the doctrine of universal salvation.
Here are a few excerpts taken from “The Almost Chosen People” by William J. Wolf (Doubleday & Company Inc, 1959).
"One of Lincoln’s associates, Mentor Graham, tells of Lincoln: 'He took the passage, ‘As in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive,’ and followed up with the proposition that whatever the breach or injury of Adam’s transgressions to the human race was, which no doubt was very great, was made just and right by the atonement of Christ.'" (page 47)
"...Lincoln wrote an essay about 1833 on predestinated universal salvation in criticism of the orthodox doctrine of endless punishment. It is also consistent with the evidence that in 1850, Lincoln, through the reading of his pastor's The Christian's Defense and his own wrestling with the problem, became convinced intellectually of the validity of the biblical revelation. Lincoln's conviction that God would restore the whole of creation as the outcome of Christ's atonement would have been in itself a bar to membership in the Springfield church he attended." (pages 103-104)
"Another associate, Isaac Cogdal, tells of a discussion on religion in Lincoln’s office in 1859: 'Lincoln expressed himself in about these words: He did not nor could not believe in the endless punishment of any one of the human race. He understood punishment for sin to be a Bible doctrine; that the punishment was parental in its object, aim, and design, and intended for the good of the offender; hence it must cease when justice is satisfied. He added that all that was lost by the transgression of Adam was made good by the atonement: all that was lost by the fall was made good by the sacrifice.'" (page 104)
"The second statement was one dictated by Jonathan Harnett of Pleasant Plains, describing a theological discussion in 1858 in Lincoln's office. 'Lincoln covered more ground in a few words than he could in a week, and closed with the restitution of all things to God, as the doctrine taught in the scriptures, and if anyone was left in doubt in regard to his belief in the atonement of Christ and the final salvation of all men, he removed those doubts in a few questions he answered and propounded to others. After expressing himself, some one or two took exceptions to his position, and he asked a few questions that cornered his interrogators and left no room to doubt or question his soundness on the atonement of Christ, and salvation finally of all men. He did not pretend to know just when that event would be consummated, but that it would be the ultimate result, that Christ must reign supreme, high over all. The Saviour of all; and the supreme Ruler, he could not be with one out of the fold; all must come in, with his understanding of the doctrine taught in the scriptures.'" (pages 105-106)
Headed for Heaven or Hell?
How would Lincoln answer? His political opponent, a famous frontier preacher, wanted to know.
Abraham Lincoln ran for Congress in 1846, and he faced a formidable opponent: Peter Cartwright. Cartwright, a raw-boned, circuit-riding Methodist preacher, was known throughout Illinois. During his sixty-five years of riding the circuit, he would baptize nearly ten thousand converts.
During the intense 1846 Congressional campaign, some of Cartwright's followers accused Lincoln of being an "infidel." In response, Lincoln decided to meet Cartwright on his own ground and attend one of his evangelistic rallies.
Carl Sandburg, in Abraham Lincoln: The Prairie Years, tells the story this way:
In due time Cartwright said, "All who desire to lead a new life, to give their hearts to God, and go to heaven, will stand," and a sprinkling of men, women, and children stood up. Then the preacher exhorted, "All who do not wish to go to hell will stand." All stood up—except Lincoln. Then said Cartwright in his gravest voice, "I observe that many responded to the first invitation to give their hearts to God and go to heaven. And I further observe that all of you save one indicated that you did not desire to go to hell. The sole exception is Mr. Lincoln, who did not respond to either invitation. May I inquire of you, Mr. Lincoln, where are you going?"
And Lincoln slowly rose and slowly spoke. "I came here as a respectful listener. I did not know that I was to be singled out by Brother Cartwright. I believe in treating religious matters with due solemnity. I admit that the questions propounded by Brother Cartwright are of great importance. I did not feel called upon to answer as the rest did. Brother Cartwright asks me directly where I am going. I desire to reply with equal directness: I am going to Congress." He went.
I close with "The Creed of Abraham Lincoln in His Own Words:"
ü "I believe in God, the Almighty Ruler of Nations, our great and good and merciful Maker, our Father in heaven, who notes the fall of a sparrow, and numbers the hairs of our heads.
ü I believe in His eternal truth and justice.
ü I recognize the sublime truth announced in the Holy Scriptures and proven by all history that those nations only are blest whose God is the Lord.
ü I believe that it is the duty of nations as well as of men to own their dependence upon the overruling power of God, and to invoke the influence of His Holy Spirit; to confess their sins and transgressions in humble sorrow, yet with assured hope that genuine repentance will lead to mercy and pardon.
ü I believe that it is meet and right to recognize and confess the presence of the Almighty Father equally in our triumphs and in those sorrows which we may justly fear are a punishment inflicted upon us for our presumptuous sins to the needful end of our reformation.
ü I believe that the Bible is the best gift which God has ever given to men. All the good from the Saviour of the world is communicated to us through this book.
ü I believe the will of God prevails. Without Him all human reliance is vain. Without the assistance of His divine Being, I cannot succeed. With that assistance I cannot fail.
ü Being a humble instrument in the hands of our Heavenly Father, I desire that all my works and acts may be according to His will; and that it may be so, I give thanks to the Almighty, and seek His aid.
I have a solemn oath registered in heaven to finish the work I am in, in full view of my responsibility to my God, with malice toward none; with charity for all; with firmness in the right as God gives me to see the right. Commending those who love me to His care, as I hope in their prayers they will comend me, I look through the help of God to a joyous meeting with many loved ones gone before."
The last portion of this article was taken from http://www.tentmaker.org/biographies/lincoln.htm.