Lincoln as a social prophet; And what of Religion?
The following program is the final in a series of readings on Abraham Lincoln titled Lincoln as a social prophet. The readings in commemoration of Illinois sesquicentennial done by Marvin saying our speech instructor at Northern Illinois University. Today's reading and what a religion Mr. S. R. What about Abraham Lincoln's religion. Was he a slick fraud. Is his religion a myth or did he mature into a man's religion. Did he blossom into a religious leader any religious institution would be proud to call their own. We may be forced to confess that Lincoln was either a shrewd charlatan or a man of deep faith. I think the latter is true. Going one step further I think that Lincoln has something to offer of a prophetic sort even for our own day. Perhaps I can convince you doubters of Lincoln's prophetic religion by a careful examination of the highlights of his life. At times we will share insights from Dr. William Wolf's book the religion of Abraham Lincoln of I am a claim by the Library Journal as the most impartial and
stimulating of the many books on the religion of Lincoln. But most of the time we will study Lincoln's own communications as evidence of his religious growth. This is the same procedure which the New York Times Book Review praises so highly in Dr. Wolf's analysis of Lincoln. It is an approach which is especially desirable in Lincoln's case. According to ling Kone an expert Paul angle because Lincoln spoke his mind openly and frequently in his writings and his conversations without too much overlapping we may be able to distinguish four stages in the somewhat chronological development of Lincoln's religion. The stages are religion as inheritance as intellectual stimulation as a way of life. And as the goal of life the first stage religion as inheritance begins with Lincoln's Baptist parents Thomas and Nancy Hawke. Hanks Lincoln although they were married by Jesse had in Methodist circuit writer they apparently joined the little mount separate Baptist Church near Hodgins mill or present day Hodge and Bill Kentucky. Good things are especially interesting about
this durch. It was anti-slavery which may help explain Lincoln's statement that is father migrated to Indiana partly on account of slavery and that he himself did not recall a time when he thought slavery was right. Moreover the separate Baptist in Kentucky in contrast to the Regular Baptists accepted no creed except the Bible. Such denial of creed and emphasis on the Bible was crucial in the religion of Lincoln. The Bible in fact was probably the only volume owned by this frontier family after seven years in Kentucky the family moved to southwestern Indiana claiming the soils of the wilderness there within two years Lincoln's mother died as a victim of an epidemic. The milk sickness. The family including nine year old Abe deeply wondered why God had taken Mrs. Lincoln away when she was so desperately needed. But life was hard and Thomas Lincoln had to find another wife. He waited. Sarah Bush Johnston before a year had passed in Indiana Thomas Lincoln helped found the Pigeon Creek Baptist Church
becoming a leading member besides contributing to its upkeep he acted as moderator trustee and peacemaker in matters of Trix discipline the church was an unusual blend of conservatism and liberalism. The Bible was studied regularly by the Lincolns although exactly when and how he gained his profound understanding of its contents is debated not debatable. However it was young Lincoln's eager imitation of frontier preaching. He enjoyed mimicking the hellfire and brimstone evangelist shouting and flailing the air as if he was fighting bees. It was his first introduction to public speaking. As for prayer one of the commonest elements in Lincoln's inheritance was grace at meals. A visitor reported that the that the simple and God fearing Thomas customarily prayed fit and prepare us for life's humble service. For Christ sake Amen. But even prayer did not automatically make the Lincolns prosperous during their fourteen years in Indiana. The farm barely yielded a living and things became worse.
So hearing of the fabulous fertility of the Illinois soil and being frightened of another milk sickness epidemic the Lincolns moved westward in the spring of 1830. They settled ten miles west of the New Town of the theater where Lincoln now 21 years of age helped plough plant and fence and the following spring of 1831 Lincoln struck out on his own in the front of your hamlet of New Salem Illinois. This was the beginning of stage two in Lincoln's religious development. Up till now he largely inherited ideas from his environment including his Baptist parents who incidentally became members of the Disciples of Christ Church in Illinois. Emphasis on anti-slavery. The Bible and prayer especially girded Lincoln for later life. In Illinois however religion acted as a mental stimulation for Lincoln like the Sleeping Giant he began to awaken up to this point he had only heard the backwoods preachers who were crude emotional and usually substituted debate and scientific understanding for condemnation but especially in
Springfield where Lincoln would later move. He listened to college trained and settled pastors who endeavor to reconcile current scientific and historical knowledge with the Bible. What bothered Lincoln were the revivalist who made the rounds including New Salem. His keen sense of humor and his reserve in spiritual matters rejected the primitive emotionalism of these gatherings. What disturbed him perhaps even more was the violent feuding between the nominations for instance one form of Baptist opinion maintain that its church members were destined by God for heaven whereas the vast majority of humanity was destined for hell. That Dishon method is even denounced each other on whether the path to heaven passed over dry earth or water. Benjamin Thomas rather nicely sums up Lincoln's reactions to his religious environment at New Salem. He entered with zest into the theological discussions of the community and profited by the niceties of thought the subtle distinctions and the fine spun argument that they necessitated. Yet while he enjoyed them as a mental exercise and while he
eventually attained to a deep faith emotionally the bitterness of sectarian prejudice must have been repellent to him and was probably a cause of his lasting reluctance to affiliate with any sect. Another reason of course was Lincoln's on willingness to accept in long creedal statement God and Christ in the Bible were proper for him but not involved theological creeds. So Lincoln never joined a church in Illinois or anywhere else later in life. If Lincoln had any reservations about the sectarian Christianity of New Salem he would have found encouragement from a neighborhood group called the infidels. According to Lincoln's most prominent biographer Herndon Lincoln identified himself with them but many of them were not atheists of the usual order. They simply did not have an Orthodox faith. Moreover in 1941 a discovery was made of Lincoln's own statement which denied in substance that he had ever embraced the infidel position. This view is further strengthened by an account from Mentor Graham Lincoln's New Salem
Baptist tutor and reputed assistant in early speech composition. Abraham Lincoln was living at my house in New Salem going to school studying English grammar and surveying in the year 1833. One morning he said to me Graham what do you think about the anger of the Lord. I replied I believe the Lord never was angry or mad and never would be that his loving kindness endures for ever that he never changes. Said Lincoln. I have a little manuscript written which I will show you and stated he thought of having it published offering it to me. He said he had never showed it to anyone and still thought of having it published. The size of the manuscript it was about one half quire of foolscap written in a very plain hand on the subject of Christianity and it events of universal salvation. The commencement of it was something respecting the God of the universe never being excited mad or angry. I had the manuscript in my possession some week or ten days. I have read many books on the subject of theology and I don't think in point of perspicuity and plainness of reasoning
I ever read one to surpass it. I remember well his argument. 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. One of Lincoln's on Orthodox positions was this belief in universal salvation a belief not to popular then. This meant that God would eventually redeem everybody. Perhaps two factors led Lincoln to this conclusion. First the predestinarian back to back ground of his youth convinced him that Christ's death would effectively save all persons. It got a degree this it would transpire. In addition to predestinarian ism Lincoln believed in reason after proper human Reformation salvation would be open to all as rationalism required basic justice between deity and man or as he liked to phrase it in a rhyme about the Indian Johnny Connell pot. Here lies poor
Johnny Kang about. Have mercy upon him Grace is God as he would do if he was God. And you were Johnny con upon so Lincoln's second level of religious development was one of intellectual stimulation. Theologically he benefited from the college trained ministers and the on Orthodox persons who accept the debate and critical inquiry is relatively open mind concluded from predestinarian ism and rationalism against the common belief that Christ's death would be efficacious for all of God's children. Beyond Lincoln's religion as inheritance and as intellectual ism there's a third stage religion as a way of life becoming involved with a family facing death confronting social evils and accepting the responsibility of public office are for good reasons for Lincoln's growth in this area. The first of these reasons family involvement begins with Lincoln's romantic difficulties possibly because of the attraction of opposites. Lincoln and Mary Todd hit it off at once
but his near marriage to Mary Owens and especially the death of an Rutledge were not easy to forget. Most of us who have seriously contemplated marriage realize this sometimes agonizing moments before the choice is made. Well summarizes from Ruth Randall's book courtship of Mr. Lincoln his growing sense of dependence on God often to reoccur in the future. It often happens that people who have come through a long baffling siege of the Spirit are grappling with problems that seem to have no solution. Unable to decide which course of action to take See struggling to turn to their religious faith and rest their weary souls in waiting for a revelation of divine guidance such as Lincoln St. now. He was a man of deep religious feeling. All the rest of his life one finds incidents in which he placed his reliance on the will of God perhaps more trying then seeking a mate is actually living the married life. This was certainly true for Lincoln Wolf incisively describes the Lincoln
family in these words while the marriage was stable and blessed with mutual affection and comfort. There was also a darker side to it. Mary had a towering rage was unduly concerned over little things and seemed unable to achieve satisfactory relationship to the children. Now indulging them too much and now dealing far too harshly with them. There were already in Mary some of the tragic symptoms that after her cruel bereavements of three children and husband would require institutional care Lincoln adored his children to the point of indulging them. At times he had to leave the house when Mary's anger and hysteria became too sharp. It earned forbearance and forgiveness not just doctrines but in practice. Through it all Lincoln achieved a Serina t of faith and a deep and understanding far beyond the level of his wives. She had perhaps greater initial commitment to the Christian faith than he had might of the tragedy of Mary Todd is that she did not have her husband's capacities for Growth limited by the structure of an abnormal personality. Her own faith seems brittle.
Besides the flowering of he is no less significant than maturation in family life was a maturation which comes via death. Lincoln's reputation as a lawyer was broadening and such success brought self-confidence only to be suddenly shaken by the sad death of Eddie Abraham and Mary suffered with their second son through an illness of 52 days until he died on February 1st 1850 unable to locate the Episcopalian minister who had married them and whose church they occasionally attended. They turned to the Reverend James Smith of the First Presbyterian Church so impressed were they with Reverend Smith that they regularly attended his church from then on. And Mrs. Lincoln transferred her membership from the biscuit Paine church to it. Lincoln had known death before. His mother had died when he was nine. His sister died shortly after her marriage and Ann Rutledge an early sweetheart died in on timely death but little Eddie turned his father's thoughts to the immense queery of life after death. Several days after Eddie's funeral the Illinois journal contained this unsigned poem
titled Little Eddie the Angel of Death was hovering 9 and the lovely boy was called to die. Bright is the home to him now given for of such is the kingdom of heaven. Perhaps these words were penned by Mr. or Mrs. Lincoln particularly since they had the words of such is the kingdom of heaven engraved on A.D. Lincoln's white marble tombstone the most lucid communication of Lincoln's attitude toward eternal life occurred less than a year after his son's death. In a letter to John Johnston his step brother when Lincoln heard of his father's serious illness the correspondence closes in this manner. I sincerely hope father may yet recover his health. But at all events tell him to remember to call upon and confide in our great and good and merciful maker who will not turn away from him in any extent. He notes the fall of a sparrow and numbers the hairs of our heads and he will not forget the dying man who
puts his trust in him. I say to him that if we could meet now it is doubtful whether it would not be more painful than pleasant. But that if it is to be his lot to go now he will soon have a joyous meeting with many loved ones gone before and where the rest of us through the help of God hope ere long to join them. So Lincoln grew religiously through experiences in his family and in death. A third way religion became a way of life for him was via facing social wrongs. Perhaps the most prominent of these being slavery slavery. How does the mature Christian deal with it. It is arresting to compare Thomas Jefferson and Abraham Lincoln on this point. Although Jefferson may have bequeath political philosophy to Lincoln Lincoln was by far the profounder in religious matters. Lincoln went beyond Jefferson self-evident truths that all men are created equal even went beyond Jefferson's rather deistic phrase and Dollard by their Creator or their creator to Lincoln was the Living God of the Bible revealed in history whose
judgments and blessings were continuously xed on the tablets of history and recorded in man's conscience. The great debates of 1858 clearly reveal Lincoln's theological view on the slavery problem on this very point Douglas attacked him three times once for instance at Ottawa. He accused Lincoln of having learned by heart parson Lovejoy's catechism in the seventh and last debated. Alton Douglas mercilessly stated his own standard. I care more for the great principle of self government. The right of the people to rue than I do for all the Negroes in Christendom I would not endanger the perpetuity of this union. I would not blot out the great inalienable rights of white men for all the negroes that ever existed. In his Chicago speech Lincoln repudiated this view pressing for a dynamic and progress even Tirpak ation of man which is to say that God's freedom for man was meant to be increased through the positive legislation of states or in Lincoln's
words. My friend has said to me that I am a poor hand to quote scripture. I will try it again however it is said in one of the admonitions of the Lord as your Father in Heaven is perfect be also perfect the Savior I suppose did not expected any human creature could be perfect as the Father in heaven. But he said as your Father in Heaven is perfect be also perfect. He set that up as a standard and he who did most towards reaching that standard attained the highest degree of moral perfection. So I say in relation to the principle that all men are created equal. Let it be as nearly reached as we can. Family death and slavery were no less significant in religion as a way of life for Lincoln than was his acceptance of heavy political responsibility. According to Wolfe Lincoln's religious development in the Springfield period are summed up in Lincoln's moving farewell speech to his friends at Springfield stabber 11th 1861 the political weight was noticeable as was the sense of
personal loss which we just discussed. He knew that seven states already were in secession and many union forts and arsenals had been captured in the south. Lincoln was living the life of an instrument of God when he humbly said these brief words. My friends no one not in my situation can appreciate my feeling of sadness at this parting to this place in the kindness of these people I owe everything. Here I have lived a quarter of a century and have passed from a young to an old man. Here my children have been born and one is buried. I now leave not knowing when or whether ever I may return with that task before me greater than that which rested upon Washington without the assistance of that divine being who ever attended him. I cannot succeed with that assistance I cannot fail trusting in Him who can go with me and remain with you and be everywhere for good. Let us confidently hope that all will yet to be well to his care commending you as I hope in your prayers you will
commend me. I bid you an affectionate farewell. Family death slavery and presidential responsibility. These were all ways in which Lincoln live the religious life but more was yet to come. Beyond the stages of religion as inheritance intellectual ism and life Lincoln approached the realm where only the true prophets of God have dwelt seeing religion or the will of God as the end or goal of life. No person probably dwells very long in this area but Lincoln could indeed be an American Jeremiah Isaiah or Saint Paul at least two agonizing experiences helped him to develop in this sense. The first was a time of bereavement and 1862 their son Willy became dangerously ill. The last four or five days of delirium and suffering with AB himself sharing the night watch ended on February 20th in death. Although tad also was seriously ill he recovered both President and Mrs. Lincoln were utterly crushed by the sorrow
words of comfort came through Mrs. Rebecca Pomeroy who acted as a special nurse for Willie and Tad. She assured Lincoln that the prayers of Christians sought to console him in his loss. He replied according to Mrs. Pomeroy I am glad to hear that. I want them to pray for me. I need their prayers. I will try to go to God with my sorrows. I wish I had that childlike faith you speak of and I trust he will give it to me. I had a good Christian mother and her prayers have followed me thus far through life. From this time on Lincoln often was seen with bible in hand and he is known to have prayed frequently prayer increasingly became a source of strength to him and surprisingly yet in good prophetic tradition he began to speak with less embarrassment and more openly about prayer. He once remarked for example to his newspaper friend Nora Brooks I have been driven many times upon my knees by the overwhelming conviction that I had nowhere else to go. That was the case in Lincoln's personal losses as it was in the civil war. This
second agonizing experience was no easier to bear than the death of Little Willie. How could this favored land allow a brother to kill a brother and father to kill son. What was God's will. How do you find it. Should Lincoln go this way or that way in guiding the day by day responsibilities of a nation divided. As Wolf portrays Lincoln he sought to avoid both the futility and the rebellion of opposing God's purposes in history. He would not use his axe vainly to split across the grain. The problem was to know the direction of the grain when so many honest men disagreed humor helped of course as it does for all of us. Once when he was reading a report from ward to the cabinet he glanced up to notice a circle of solemn and uncomprehending faces he said. Gentleman Why don't you laugh. If I didn't laugh under the strain that is upon me day and night I should go mad. And you need that medicine as well as I. But answers from God were forthcoming during a conversation
with his register of the Treasury eaten done. Lincoln confessed these answers that the Almighty does make use of human agencies and directly intervenes in human affairs is one of the plainest statements in the Bible. I have had so many evidences of his direction so many instances when I have been controlled by some other power than my own will that I cannot doubt that this power comes from above. I frequently see my way clear to a decision when I am conscious that I have no sufficient facts upon which to found it. But I cannot recall one instance in which I have followed my own judgment founded upon such a decision when the results were on satisfactory whereas in almost every instance when I have yielded to the views of others I have had occasion to regret it. I am satisfied that when the Almighty wants me to do or not to do a particular thing he finds a way of letting me know it. As might be expected Lincoln's knowledge of the Bible more thorough than that of any other president or even of most
present day clergyman was carefully interwoven with his state papers. No president is equal to his biblical emphasis in such documents. We have already noticed this in our past readings of his communications. A few reminders will suffice. Take Lincoln's annual message to Congress on December 1st 1862. There he pictures the unique destiny of America unshackled from slavery as a means to the advancement of democracy and freedom over the entire earth. This was the purpose of God then being forged in the fires of civil rebellion. And such a purpose. God must for ever bless. Then there is this second inaugural address which is the climax and Lincoln's expression of Biblical faith. It sounds like a supplement to the Bible. He makes 14 references to God quotes from the Scriptures four times Genesis Psalms and Matthew and alludes at times to other biblical teaching in the inaugural Lincoln plainly admitted that the Civil War was God's judgment upon the evil of slavery. Both sides would suffer
because the South had the slaves and the North prospered from the cheap southern raw materials for its factories. In spite of the true and righteous judgment Lincoln closed with an assurance of compassion almost a paraphrase of Christ's summary of the law and of St. Paul's noted chapter on love with malice toward none with charity for all. As for action it is there too with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right Lincoln's own remarks about the second inaugural bear repeating in a letter to Thurlow weed he wrote. I expect the latter to wear as well as perhaps better than anything I have produced but I believe it is not immediately popular. Men are not flattered by being shown that there has been a difference of purpose between the Almighty and them to deny it however in this case is to deny that there is a god governing the world. It is a truth which I thought needed to be told and as whatever of humiliation there is in it falls directly on myself. I thought
others might afford for me to tell it. This is Lincoln as instrument in the hands of God. We have said then in our analysis of Lincoln's religion that there were four approximate levels of development. First from his parents and background antislavery the Bible and Prayer second from the educated clergyman and on Arthur docs individuals. A searching of the scriptures and a correlation with modern beliefs and in unusual commitment to universal salvation. Third from confrontation in family death slavery and the presidency a willingness to seriously try out the Christian life and forth from the further sorrow of death and of the Civil War a willingness to go with God all the way. So Lincoln's religion was one of inheritance intellectual ism life. And finally almost utter abandonment to follow the will of God. Perhaps in our series on Lincoln is social profit. It might be fitting to close with books perceptive description of Abraham Lincoln. Lincoln was a biblical prophet who saw himself as an instrument of
God and His country is God's almost chosen people called the World responsibility. We might say in a final note that although we no longer have a living Lincoln to shape our future we still are called to World responsibility. America is still calling. Lincoln as social prophet the final program in a series of readings on Abraham Lincoln commemorating the Illinois Centennial today's reading by Northern Illinois University speech instructor Marvin S. was entitled. A production of WNYC Radio in Northern Illinois University.
This program was distributed by the national educational radio network.
- Lincoln as a social prophet
- And what of Religion?
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- Northern Illinois University
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- University of Maryland (College Park, Maryland)
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- Chicago: “Lincoln as a social prophet; And what of Religion?,” 1968-07-01, University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed March 3, 2024, http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-500-0v89m70b.
- MLA: “Lincoln as a social prophet; And what of Religion?.” 1968-07-01. University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. March 3, 2024. <http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-500-0v89m70b>.
- APA: Lincoln as a social prophet; And what of Religion?. Boston, MA: University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-500-0v89m70b