Please click on the link below to be taken to the Lincoln's Faith page of our new site!
Lincoln's relationship with God is a subject highly debated by historians. Some say Lincoln was an unbeliever, or at least a skeptic, of Christianity. Many say he was a "deeply religious" man that daily sought God's guidance.
Many books have been written on the subject. When one reads Lincoln's presidential speeches, filled with his pleas to the American people to seek God's aid and guidance, and demonstrative of his own dependence on God's mercy, it is difficult to comprehend any scholar that would see Lincoln as anything but a man that sincerely depended on God.
The primary reason for this debate over whether or not Lincoln was a man of faith can be summed up in two words: William Herndon. Herndon was Lincoln's young law partner while Lincoln lived in Springfield. He shared a law office with Lincoln for many years. To make a long story short, Herndon wrote a biography of Lincoln many years after Lincoln was assassinated, and in it he proclaimed Lincoln an "infidel."
There is little doubt that Lincoln, as a young man, went through a period of doubt as to the validity of Christianity. But he changed. (Herndon could never understand this.) There is some debate as to when this change took place, and to what extent it went. His wife said that he "was never a technical Christian." But what she meant about "technical" Christian is in doubt. In that day, "born again" was not a commonly used, or understood, phrase. It is likely she found his relationship with God lacking due to his reluctance to join any specific church.
It is true that Lincoln never did join a church, although he attended church services regularly while President. The reason he gave for never joining a church was that he could never be satisfied with all the dogmas and creeds that the denominational churches of his day required. On this subject Lincoln wrote:
"When any church will inscribe over its altar, as its sole qualification for membership, the Savior's condensed statement of the substance of both law and Gospel, 'Thou shalt love the lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul and thy neighbor as thyself' that church will I join with all my heart and all my soul."
One of Lincoln's earliest statements on the subject of his faith came 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....I do not think I could myself be brought to support a man for office whom I knew to be an open enemy of, or scoffer at, religion." [July 31, 1846]
Mrs. Lincoln stated that after the demise of their son Willy in early 1862, her husband drew much closer to God. No doubt. Many of Lincoln's presidential speeches are superb examples of a man seeking God. Below is one of Lincoln's many proclamations, as president, for a national day of fasting and prayer. Few ministers of the gospel could have done better:
"It is the duty of nations as well as of men to own their dependence upon the overruling power of God, and to confess their sins and transgressions in humble sorrow, yet with assured hope that genuine repentance will lead to mercy and pardon, and to recognize the sublime truth, announced in Holy Scripture, and proven by all history, that those nations only are blessed whose God is the Lord. And, insomuch (sic) as we know that by His divine law nations, like individuals, are subjected to punishments and chastisement in this world, may we not justly fear that the awful calamity of civil war which now desolates the land may be but a punishment inflicted upon us for our presumptuous sins, to the needful end of our national reformation as a whole people? We have been the recipients of the choicest bounties of Heaven; we have been preserved these many years in peace and prosperity; we have grown in numbers, wealth and power as no other nation has ever grown. But we have forgotten God. We have forgotten the gracious hand which has preserved us in peace and multiplied and enriched and strengthened us, and we have vainly imagined, in the deceitfulness of our hearts, that all these blessings were produced by some superior wisdom and virtue of our own. Intoxicated with unbroken success, we have become too self-sufficient to feel the necessity of redeeming and preserving grace, too proud to pray to the God that made us. It behooves us, then, to humble ourselves before the offended power, to confess our national sins and to pray for clemency and forgiveness." [March 30, 1863]
The following is from Lincoln's Second Inaugural Address. This address is widely