American Christians are entitled to take a great deal of pride in Abraham Lincoln. He was a man of great political insight, great rhetorical skills and great biblical knowledge.
In Team of Rivals: the Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln (New York: Simon & Schuster) 2005, Doris Goodwin describes the complex politics and personalities of the era. The timing of the Proclamation of Emancipation was a key issue. In 1862, after a key battle in the Civil war, Lincoln is described as advising his cabinet colleagues as follows:
He told them that when Lee's army was in Maryland, he had decided "as soon as it should be driven out of the state, he would issue his proclamation. "I said nothing to any one; but I made the promise to myself, and (hesitating a little) to my Maker." (Page 481-482).
Later, Lincoln stated: "I can only trust in God I have made no mistake." (Page 482). He was keenly aware of the soldiers in the field, who were "... endeavouring to purchase with their blood and their lives the future happiness and prosperity of this country. Let us never forget them." (Page 482).
Lincoln certainly did not forget the soldiers. In the Gettysburg Address, he made a speech in memorial to fallen soldiers that is recited and memorized to this day. The final sentence reads as follows:
It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us-that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they here gave the last full measure of devotion-that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain-that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom-and that, government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth. (Page 586).
Lincoln did not fail to acknowledge that "this nation" was "under God." Whatever happened had to be understood as being under the providence of God.
Ronald C. White Jr. has written extensively about Lincoln's faith and in particular, his understanding of the providence of God. He points out that in the Second Inaugural Address, another of Lincoln's great speeches,
Lincoln had come to believe that where there was evil, judgment would surely follow: "until every drop of blood drawn with the lash, shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said 'the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.'"
"War and the Will of God" Christian History and Biography Issue 99, Summer 2008. (Page 22). See Psalm 19:9 (KJV).
The unavoidable yet incomprehensible tragedy of the Civil War obliged Lincoln to trust completely in the divine plan of God. Yet he did not end his speech on a harsh, judgmental note, nor was he triumphal about the imminent Union victory. He quoted Matthew 7:1 and Luke 6:37: "Let us judge not that we be not judged." He concluded with a message of charity that would be worthy of the gentlest Christian:
With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation's wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations. (White, page 21).
Lincoln's speeches indicate a man with a biblically-informed faith, a man who struggled to understand the complex and tragic world unfolding all around him. The astonishing beauty and clarity of his words suggest that he succeeded, to the greatest extent humanly possible.