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HOME > Short Stories > The Soul of Abraham Lincoln > CHAPTER XXIII THE CREED OF ABRAHAM LINCOLN
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 Abraham Lincoln made no effort, so far as we know, to formulate a creed. It would have been an exceedingly difficult thing for him to have accomplished. His utterances on religious subjects were not made as dogmatic affirmations. He merely uttered as occasion seemed to him to demand such sentiments and principles as expressed those aspects of truth which he felt and believed to need expression at those particular times. Nevertheless, these utterances together cover a somewhat wide range; and while they were not intended to epitomize any system of Christian doctrine, they make a nearer approach to an epitome of this character than on the whole might reasonably have been expected. It will be interesting and profitable to close this study with a series of short quotations from documents, letters, and addresses, certified as authentic and touching directly upon points of Christian doctrine. In most instances these have been quoted already, with their context, but they are here brought together in briefer form in order to facilitate our inquiry whether they afford any material out of which might be made some approach to a statement of Christian faith.
Materials for a Lincoln creed:
I sincerely hope father may 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 extremity. 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.... If it be his lot to go now he will soon have a joyous meeting with many loved ones gone before, and where the rest of[Pg 292] us with the help of God hope ere long to join them.—Letter to his dying father, January 12, 1851. Complete Works, I, 165.
Without the assistance of that Divine Being who ever attended him [Washington] I cannot succeed. With that assistance, I cannot fail. Trusting in His care who can go with me, and remain with you, and be everywhere for good, let us confidently hope that all will yet be well. To His care commending you, as I hope in your prayers you will commend me, I bid you an affectionate farewell.—Farewell Address, Springfield, February 11, 1861. Complete Works, I, 672.
If the Almighty Ruler of Nations, with His eternal truth and justice, be on our side of the North, or on yours of the South, that truth and that justice will surely prevail by the judgment of this great tribunal of the American people.... Intelligence, patriotism, Christianity, and a firm reliance on Him who has never yet forsaken this favored land, are still competent to adjust in the best way all our present difficulty.... My dissatisfied fellow countrymen ... you have no oath registered in heaven to destroy the government, while I have the most solemn one to preserve, protect, and defend it.—First Inaugural, March 4, 1861. Complete Works, II, 7.
May God give you that consolation which is beyond all earthly power.—Letter to parents of Colonel Elmer Ellsworth, May 25, 1861. Complete Works, II, 52.
And having thus chosen our course, without guile and with pure purpose, let us renew our trust in God and go forward without fear and with manly hearts.—First Message to Congress, July 4, 1861. Complete Works, II, 66.
Whereas it is fit and becoming in all people, at all times, to acknowledge and revere the supreme government of God; to bow in humble submission to His chastisements; to confess[Pg 293] and deplore their sins and transgressions, in the full conviction that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom; and to pray with all fervency and contrition for the pardon of their past offenses, and for a blessing upon their present and prospective action:
And whereas when our own beloved country, once, by the blessing of God, united, prosperous, and happy, is now afflicted with factions and civil war, it is particularly fit for us to recognize the hand of 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.—National Fast Day Proclamation, August 12, 1861. Complete Works, II, 73.
In the midst of unprecedented political troubles we have cause of great gratitude to God for unusual health and most abundant harvest.... The struggle of today is not altogether for today—it is for a vast future also. With a reliance on Providence all the more firm and earnest, let us proceed to the great task which events have devolved upon us.—Annual Message to Congress, December 3, 1861. Complete Works, II, 93 and 106.
Whereas it has seemed to me probable that the unsuccessful application made for the commutation of his sentence may have prevented the said Nathaniel Gordon from making the necessary preparation for the awful change which awaits him: Now therefore be it known that I, Abraham Lincoln, President of the United States, have granted and do hereby grant unto him, the said Nathaniel Gordon, a respite of the above recited sentence, until Friday, the 21st of February, A.D. 1862.... In granting this respite it becomes my painful duty to admonish the prisoner that, relinquishing all expectation of pardon by human authority, he refer himself alone to the mercy of the common God and Father of all men.—Proclamation of Respite for a Convicted Slave Trader, February 4, 1862. Complete Works, II, 121-22.
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Being a humble instrument in the hands of our Heavenly Father, as I am, and as we all are, to work out His great purposes, I have desired that all my works and acts may be according to His will; and that it might be so, I have sought His aid.—Reply to Mrs. Gurney and Deputation from Society of Friends, September [28?], 1862. Complete Works, II, 243.
In full view of my great responsibility to my God and to my country, I earnestly beg the attention of Congress and the people to the subject.—Message to Congress recommending Emancipation with Compensation to Owners, March 6, 1862. Complete Works, II, 130.
It has pleased Almighty God to vouchsafe signal victories to the land and naval forces.... It is therefore recommended to the people of the United States that at their next weekly assemblages ... they especially acknowledge and render thanks to our Heavenly Father for these inestimable blessings; that they then and there implore spiritual consolation in behalf of all who have been brought into affliction by the casualties and calamities of sedition and civil war; and that they reverently invoke the Divine guidance to our national counsels, to the end that they may speedily result in restoration of peace, harmony, and unity.—Special Thanksgiving Proclamation, April 10, 1862. Complete Works, II, 143.
The will of God prevails. In great contests each party claims to act in accordance with the will of God. Both may be, and one must be, wrong. God cannot be for and against the same thing at the same time. In the present civil war it is quite possible that God's purpose is something different from the purpose of either party; and yet the human instrumentalities, working just as they do, are of the best adaptation to effect His purpose. I am almost ready to say that this is probably true; that God wills this contest, and wills that it shall not end yet. By His mere great power on the minds of the now contestants, He could have either saved or destroyed the union without a human contest. Yet the contest[Pg 295] began. And, having begun, He could give the final victory to either side any day. Yet the contest proceeds.—A Meditation on the Divine Will in the handwriting of Mr. Lincoln, formulated about September 30, 1862, and not written for the eye of men but apparently in the effort to define the moral aspects of the subject and to clarify his own spiritual outlook.—Complete Works, II, 243-44.
Whereas it is the duty of nations as well as of men to own their dependence upon the overruling power of God; 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 the Holy Scriptures and proved by all history, that those nations only are blest whose God is the Lord; And inasmuch as we know that by His Divine law nations, like individuals, are subjected to punishments and chastisements 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?—Fast Day Proclamation, March 30, 1863. Complete Works, II, 319.
It is meet and right to recognize and confess the presence of the Almighty Father and the power of His hand equally in these triumphs and in these sorrows.... I invite the people of the United States ... to render the homage due to the Divine Majesty for the wonderful things He has done in the nation's behalf, and invoke the influence of his Holy Spirit to subdue the anger which has produced and so long sustained a needless and cruel rebellion.—Thanksgiving Proclamation, July 15, 1863. Complete Works, II, 370.
In regard to the Great Book, I have only to say, it is the best gift which God has ever given man. All the good from the Saviour of the world is communicated to us through this book.—Response to Presentation of Bible. Complete Works, Nicolay and Hay's new and enlarged edition, twelve volumes, N. Y., 1905, X, 217-18.
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Signal successes ... call for devout acknowledgment to the Supreme Be............
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