We can all agree that people take different paths when arriving to faith in Jesus Christ. The trouble is, we often discredit a person’s testimony if it doesn’t have certain qualifications that constitute a credible testimony. This is certainly true of President Abraham Lincoln. Recently, I finished a book entitled Lincoln’s Battle with God by Stephen Mansfield. In the book Mansfield chronicles Lincoln’s faith from his humble beginnings in Kentucky to his war torn years as President of the United States. Within Christendom, Lincoln is widely assumed to have been a born-again, Bible believing, Jesus loving, Christian. However, he never officially joined a church, was never baptized, and never made a public profession of faith.
Many would be surprised to know that in his early years, Lincoln was a professing atheist. He felt that God, if there was one, had set out to punish him. This comes as no surprise because he lost his mother at age nine and good friend when he was a young man. Lincoln’s life was filled with tragedy. The loss he suffered would draw anyone into the deep depression, which so often haunted him. Yet, his loss began to soften his heart toward spiritual matters. After the death of his son Edward, Lincoln began reading a book titled The Christian Defense by Rev. James Smith, a Presbyterian minister in Springfield, IL. Lincoln met with Rev. Smith and became more persuaded by Christian ideology.
As he entered the White House, Lincoln became more and more dependant on his ever-growing faith. He and his family attended New York Avenue Presbyterian Church in D.C., though he never officially joined. He was not, however, merely a Sunday morning attendee. Lincoln would often join in on evening prayer meetings. His faith was forced to grow as the nation entered the civil war. Lincoln increasingly mentioned prayer, fasting, and meditation on Scripture as guides to helping him lead the war effort. He wanted the Union to be saved and the sin of slavery to be wiped from the pages of American history. As we know from history, however, Lincoln was not given the chance to see the rebuilding of his beloved nation. His life was tragically cut short at the hands of John Wilkes Booth on April 14, 1865 at Ford’s Theater.
This leads us to ask the question was Lincoln truly a Christian? The evidence from his early life overwhelming indicates that he was not. Yet, the beauty of the gospel is that it changes lives! Lincoln was clearly on a path to every increasing faith. Even when his wife, Mary Todd Lincoln, turned to occultic practices, he warned her of the dangers in which she was involved. I would argue that by the end of his life, most likely Abraham Lincoln was a Christian.
This leads to the question, “Can a person truly be saved if they do not make a public profession of faith?” Many today would argue that based on the facts from his life, Abraham Lincoln may not have been a Christian. As stated earlier he never joined a church, prayed a Sinner’s Prayer, nor was baptized. But Scripture is clear that church membership, a prayer, or baptism does not save a person. Salvation is by grace alone, through faith in Jesus Christ alone (Eph. 2:8-9). Lincoln was a private man, who had a private struggle for faith. After Lincoln’s death his pastor at New York Avenue Presbyterian Church made mentioned that the president had intention of making his faith public and likely would have been baptized. However, he was not given this opportunity.
Whether or not he would have made such a public profession, history will never know. But I do not think that it matters. The thief on the cross was never given such opportunity, yet he was told by Jesus, “today you will be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:43). As to the faith of Abraham Lincoln we should be thankful that his salvation is not dependent on the record of history, but on the Sovereign Lord who truly knew his heart.