Pioneers of Menard & Mason Counties
Including Personal Reminiscens of Abraham Lincoln & Peter Cartwright
By T.G. Onstot, 1902

Lincoln's Religious Belief

Page 92

Public men are not as a general thing, noted for their pretty talk. The average politician and his life, doings and conversation, are not much in accordance with the Christian religion. He puts Christ and salvation in the background, and yet in the last hours he generally leaves some testimony as to what he thought of the future. So the last words of noted men are treasured. Stephen A. Douglas' last words were supposed to be addressed to his sons, directing them to understand the constitution and laws, and to obey them. Daniel Webster when about to expire said, "I still live." These words are supposed to be prophetic and sound beautiful. An old colored preacher used the same meaning when he said: "My breden, what did Daniel Webster say when his friends were standin' 'roun' and thought he was gone? He jus rized up and said, 'I ain't dead yet.'" This sounded ridiculous, but expressed the same meaning as the words spoken by Webster himself.

While Lincoln did not discuss theology, nor even make a public profession of religion, he was always a very moral and exemplary man. One day a minister remarked to him that he believed he was a Christian man and asked him why he did not join some church. Mr. Lincoln replied, that if he could find some church whose creed and requirements could be simmered down to the condensed statement, "Thou shalt love the Lord, thy God, with all thy heart, with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and they neighbor as thyself," he would join that church was his heart and soul.

In 1851 Mr. Lincoln learned that his father was not expected to live and as he had sickness in his own family and could not go he wrote to his half brother. "I sincerely hope that father will recover, but, at all events, tell him to remember to call upon and confide in our great, good and merciful maker, who will not turn away from him. He notices the fall of the sparrows and numbers of hairs of our head, and He will not forget the dying man who places his trust in Him. Say to him, that if we could meet now, it is doubtful whether it would be more painful or pleasant, but if it be his lot to go he will have a joyful meeting with the loved ones gone before and the rest of us will hope, through the help of God, to join them e'er along." It will be remembered that when he was going from Springfield to Washington, to be inaugurated, he addressed a crowd from the cars as he was leaving his old home and he spoke as follows: "A duty devolves on me, which is perhaps, greater than has devolved on any other man since the days of Washington. He would never have succeeded except for the aid of Divine Providence upon which he at all times relied. I feel that I cannot succeed without the same divine aid, and in the same Almighty Being I place my reliance for support and I hope that you, my friends, will all pray that I may receive that divine aid without which I cannot succeed, but with which success is certain." At another time, when our armies were meeting with reverses and the destiny of the nation seemed hanging in a balance, President Lincoln appointed a day for prayer for the success of our armies in the following words:

"Whereas, When our beloved country once by the blessings of God united, prosperous and happy, is now afflicted with factions and civil wars, it is fit for us to recognize the handoff God in this terrible visitation and in sorrowful remembrance of our own faults and crimes as a nation and as individuals, to humble ourselves before Him and to pray for His mercy - to pray that we may be spared further punishment (though most justly deserved), that our armies may be helped and be made effectual for the re-establishment of law and order and peace throughout the country, and that the inestimable boon of civil and religious liberty, earned under His guidance and blessing, by the labor and suffering of our fathers, may be restored in all its original excellence.

"Therefore I, Abraham Lincoln, president of the United States, do appoint the last Thursday in September next, as a day of humiliation, prayer and fasting, for all the people of the nation, and I do earnestly recommend to all the people and especially to all ministers and teachers of religion, of all denominations, and to all the heads of families, to keep that day according to their several creeds and modes of worship, in all humility and with all religious solemnity to the end that the united prayers of the nation may ascend to the throne of grace and bring down plentiful blessings upon our country. - Abraham Lincoln, President of the United States"

The above proclamation shows his dependence upon a higher power. No president ever showed such faith in Almighty God during such a momentous crisis as the one he was called to pass through. A calm trust in God was the loftiest characteristic in the life of Abraham Lincoln. He had learned this long ago. "I would rather my son would be able to read the bible than to own a farm if he can have but one," said his mother. The bible was Abraham Lincoln's guide.

A lady who was interested in religious work had occasion to have several interviews of a business nature with Lincoln. He was very much impressed with the earnestness of purpose which she manifested and on one occasion after she had accomplished the object of her visit he said to her: "I have formed a very high opinion of your Christian character and now as we are alone I have a mind to ask you to give me in brief your idea of what constitutes a born religious experience." The lady replied at some length that in her judgment it consisted of a conviction of one's own sinfulness and weakness and personal need of the Savior for strength and support. She said that views of mere doctrine might and would differ, but when one was really brought to feel the need of divine help and to seek the aid of the Holy Spirit for strength and guidance it was satisfactory evidence that he had been born again." This was the substance of her reply. When she had concluded Mr. Lincoln was thoughtful for a few minutes and then said very earnestly: "If what you have told me is a correct view of this great subject I can say with sincerity that I hope I am a Christian. I had lived until my boy Willie died without fully realizing these things. That blow overwhelmed me and showed me my weakness as I had never felt it before, and if I can take what you have told me as a test, I think I can safely say that I know something of that change you speak of. I will further add that it has been my intention for some time at a suitable opportunity, to make a public religious profession." This shows his deep religious conviction.

Take Abraham Lincoln and judge him by what standard you will and he stands head and shoulders above his fellows. He was born for a great mission and well did he fill it. He fought the good fight and kept the faith.

Transcribed by:Brenda Hamilton Johnson



1902 Index

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Illinois Ancestors