If You Can Believe In God

. . . you can believe almost anything.

Struck down on Good Friday, Lincoln, like Jesus, was viewed as a martyr who shed his blood and offered a redeeming sacrifice. Orators, editors, ministers, and statesmen across the North exalted Lincoln as the “savior of his country,” and sermons two days later on “Black Easter” and subsequent Sundays frequently compared Lincoln with Washington and Jesus. While Washington was the nation’s founder and father, ministers averred, Lincoln was its restorer and redeemer. While Christ died so that people could enjoy heaven, Lincoln died so they could have a better life on earth.

In making Lincoln the nation’s redeemer, ministers had to surmount two major difficulties: first, that he was fatally shot in a theater, an embarrassingly unsanctified place for a savior during the Victorian era. The clergy rationalized his attendance at Ford Theater, arguing that he had gone reluctantly to please his wife and gratify others.

The second, larger difficulty these pastors encountered was that Lincoln had never explicitly testified to his faith in Christ. While some pastors bitterly regretted that he did not publicly profess faith in Jesus Christ as his Lord, others countered that his actions demonstrated his faith or that he had accepted Christ as his savior in response to his son Willie’s death in 1862, or at Gettysburg in 1863, or at some other unknown time.

In their funeral sermons at Washington and Springfield respectively, the two ministers who knew Lincoln best—Phineas Gurley, the pastor of New York Avenue Presbyterian Church in Washington, which Lincoln regularly attended, and Methodist Bishop Matthew Simpson—said little about his personal faith. Gurley stressed that he had an “abiding confidence in the overruling providence of God.” Simpson emphasized that the president had “read the Bible frequently, loved . . . its profound teachings,” and sought to follow its precepts. He also claimed that Lincoln had sincerely striven to live by “the principles of revealed religion” and that no other ruler had shown as much “trust in God.”

To repeat, if Lincoln why not Obama?


26 thoughts on “If You Can Believe In God

  1. Wow, Darryl has that kind of power, for TGC to pull things like that down off the web, that fast?

    I’m impressed, yo.


  2. Search of Lincoln on TGC website yields 1870 results, some are mentions of Lincoln NE etc. but almost all are about President Lincoln. I don’t follow their site closely, but that many surprised me. I measure how much Americanism and historical naivete people have absorbed, by how they elevate Lincoln beyond a politician.


  3. Todd, I doubt it came down due to this post or objectionable content. As AB mentioned, it was probably a technical glitch – I posted the cached version so people could enjoy the American holy land and relics tour Dr. Hart mentioned.


  4. When I (all about me) visited the Lincoln Memorial, I had an eery feeling that I had never felt before.

    The text written in the memorial begins with these words: “In this temple…”

    Upon seeing the statute and reading those words, I had the distinct and unsettling impression of having trespassed w/in a pagan temple. I knew two things, 1) that this was a religious place, and 2) that this was not my religion — but one opposed to it.

    American Civil Religion is not Christianity, but is an alternative to and opponent of Christianity. The Lincoln Memorial has more in common with the Temple of Artemis than with the Church. It is paganism dressed up in Sunday clothes.


  5. proto—were there Jews writing ‘Land Letters’ to Assyrian politicians telling them what the Biblical worldview was regarding this war? Perhaps they wrote to the Egyptian allies? Did the Jews believe that the collapse of Assyria would somehow affect the Covenant? In fact did it really matter which Beast ruled over them? Granted some were better than others. Babylon probably was preferable to Assyria and Persia though still a Beast was even better



  6. To repeat, if Lincoln why not Obama?

    Repeat? As usual, his commentariat has no bloody idea what the mysterious Oracle Hart is saying/not saying, nor did they the first time. Mostly they don’t give a spit either way, Darryl.

    I find Old Life fascinating in form as a model-train version of Strauss’ Persecution and the Art of Writing: The Great Mind is leaving his esoteric messages, but unfortunately only for little toy men. [The full-size humans looking at the Old Life diorama can of course appreciate the exhibition.]

    As for the substance, the historian can tell Lincoln from Obama as can the student of theology. Where Lincoln injected the Christian principle of healing and forgiveness into his deistic [meaning = not mentioning Christ] rhetoric, Obama clothes his


    in quasi-Christian rhetoric.


  7. A good blogger wrote some more on this topic:

    Protestants confess and believe that God’s word is the place to go to try to discern God’s ways. Since the canon was closed somewhere in the first or second centuries after Christ, readers wanting to know God’s thoughts about nineteenth-century America from Scripture would be seriously disappointed. The apostles, God’s inspired writers, were hardly clairvoyant and did not know about any kind of special relationship between the United States and God or whether he would judge some republic created from former British colonies. So to know God’s purposes or will apart from Scripture is impossible (for a Protestant).
    In which case, any appeal to divine providence like Lincoln’s goes into territory that is closed thanks to the limits of divine revelation. As appealing as it may have been to find meaning in such a brutal war from thinking that God was executing his wrath, if Lincoln were really as thoughtful, profound, and biblical as his fans say he was, he should have left God out of the Second Inaugural.

    And there’s more where that comes from.


  8. DGH, your opinion of Harry Stout’s ” Upon The Altar of The Nation”? It was a heavy read for me, but at least I had a better idea after finishing it as to why people then and later took refuge in the explanations they found in popular {in today’s academy, civil) religion.


  9. different Dan, I haven’t read it entirely. But I sympathetic to the argument. War sucks. The Civil War really sucked. Turning Lincoln into a martyr doesn’t do much for me.


  10. A “patriotic heresy“:

    I’m especially mindful of this today because Lincoln’s assassination instantaneously triggered across the grieving northern states a response that should make us wince, if not shudder. Northerners hardly spoke with one voice, but a common response from northern pulpits was to speak in terms of the president’s “sacrifice” and “martyrdom,” both terms fraught with religious significance. Almost no one missed the symbolism of the timing of Lincoln’s death. Robert E. Lee had surrendered to Ulysses Grant on Palm Sunday—in an event that seemed to signal at long last a northern triumph—and now the nation’s leader was killed on Good Friday. It was child’s play, if childishly foolish, to connect the dots and begin to speak of Lincoln as the nation’s savior and messiah.

    Two days later, pastors across the North would mount their pulpits and begin to do so. So, for example, the Reverend Henry Bellows of New York City informed his congregation that “Heaven rejoices this Easter morning in the resurrection of our lost leader . . . dying on the anniversary of our Lord’s great sacrifice, a mighty sacrifice himself for the sins of a whole people.” In Philadelphia, minister Phillips Brooks assured his flock that, “If there were one day on which one could rejoice to echo the martyrdom of Christ, it would be that on which the martyrdom was perfected.”

    But not all analogies were between Lincoln and Christ. The day after Lincoln’s death, a Philadelphia newspaper editorialized, “The blood of the martyrs was the seed of the church. So the blood of the noble martyr to the cause of freedom will be the seed to the great blessing of this nation.” Here the central analogy was not between Christ and Lincoln, but between Christ’s church and Lincoln’s nation.


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