Thursday, January 22, 2009

The Faith of Lincoln

Abraham Lincoln has been in the news quite a lot in the past few days. Yesterday at his inauguration, President Obama used the same Bible that Lincoln used when he was sworn in as President. And a few days prior to the inaugural President Obama took a train (as Lincoln did) into Washington, D.C.

Next month, we'll celebrate the 200th birthday of Abraham Lincoln. To remember Lincoln, for the past several weeks, I've been reading David Herbert Donald's biography of Lincoln (written in 1995).

Dr. Donald's access to Lincoln's personal letters provides a number of insights into the history and personality of our 16th president. Of interest to me was his description of Lincoln's religious beliefs.

Dr. Donald notes that Lincoln's parents were members of the Separate Baptist Church "whose members accepted traditional Baptist beliefs, like predestination and opposition to infant baptism, but refused to endorse any formal creed. Adhering to a very strict code of morality, which condemned profanity, intoxication, gossip, horse racing, and dancing, most Separate Baptists were opposed to slavery. Abraham shared his parents' view." (pg. 24)

He notes that as a young man the religious disputes in his community attracted his attention "though, like his father, he was reluctant to accept any creed. His parents' Baptist belief in predestination was deeply ingrained in his mind, though he felt more comfortable in thinking that events were foreordained by immutable natural laws than by a personal deity." (pg. 48)

Later in his life he was accused by political opponents of holding heretical beliefs because of discussions he had as a young man about the veracity of miracles, the accuracy of the Bible and because he never became a member of a Christian Church. He wrote a formal denial of these accusations during his race for Congress in 1846:

"That I am not a member of any Christian Church, is true; but I have never denied the truth of the Scriptures; and I have never spoken with intentional disrespect of religion in general, or of any denomination of Christians in particular." (pg. 49)

Interesting also was the language that Lincoln used in a letter in 1850 to his father Thomas Lincoln, who was on the verge of death:

Abraham Lincoln urged his father "to call upon, and confide in, our great, and good, and merciful Maker; who...notes the fall of a sparrow, and numbers the hairs of our heads."

Interesting words of faith from our sixteenth President.


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