News Articles

Lincoln’s stance for truth secured his place in history, pastor says

EULESS, Texas (BP)–Abraham Lincoln is undoubtedly one of history’s most compelling figures, and his life has been studied extensively by thousands of scholars, including a Southern Baptist pastor who at one time owned more than 300 books about the nation’s 16th president.

“In about 1968 I bought a book by Lord Charnwood, a Britisher, on the life of Lincoln in a book sale, and I read the book and was thoroughly intrigued,” Bill Anderson, interim pastor at First Baptist Church in Euless, Texas, told Baptist Press.

Anderson, former pastor of Calvary Baptist Church in Clearwater, Fla., said for years he has limited himself to reading just two Lincoln books per year, or else he’d be tempted to read them all the time.

“I’ve counseled young pastors through the years to pick out one life and master it — pick out any person wherever, whatever part of the world, and master it. And I chose Lincoln,” Anderson said.

Scholars have debated over the years whether Lincoln was a Christian, and his numerous public references to Scripture indicate he had a certain understanding of God’s Word. Anderson said Lincoln began as more of a deist, “but he came in the end, I believe, to conclusively become a Christian.”

“Lincoln was asked by a nurse in the last several months of his life, as he was visiting some prisoners, ‘Mr. President, are you a Christian?’” Anderson recounted. “And he said, ‘What does that mean?’ and she gave him a clear-cut description: It means to confess your sins to Jesus, to believe that He’s the Savior of the world, to invite Him into your heart personally and to take your life over.

“And he said to her, ‘If that is what it means to be a Christian, I can say that I am certainly a Christian.’”

Lincoln and his wife were regular churchgoers, Anderson said, and, as was the custom in their day, they rented pews at First Presbyterian Church in Springfield, Ill., and Fourth Presbyterian Church in Washington.

“It is not commonly known that he was to have been baptized in the Fourth Presbyterian Church in Washington the Sunday after he was killed,” Anderson noted.

One striking element of Lincoln’s life, Anderson said, was his great knowledge of the Bible.

“It’s really astonishing that a man would have enough time to learn as much of the Bible as he did. One quick reference there: When the [Civil War] was over at Appomattox, his own leaders asked him to give them freedom to go kill [Jefferson] Davis, and he quoted the obscure passage of the Old Testament where it’s the Absolom rebellion period and David is coming back on to his throne and Joab comes and says, ‘Let me kill Absolom,’ and David says, ‘What have I to do with you, you sons of Zeruiah, that you would be adversaries to me today? There shall not any blood be spilled in Israel today because do I not now know that I am the king?’” Anderson said, referring to 2 Samuel 19.

“Well, the biographer says that Lincoln yelled at one of his generals that verse — ‘What have I to do with you, you sons of Zeruiah, that you’d be adversaries to me today? Do I not know that I am the king today? Why pursue Jefferson Davis when I’m the king?’

“It’s an obscure text, but he knew it well,” Anderson said.

Also, Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address, which was very brief, was “a pure Bible lesson from start to finish,” Anderson said. In it, Lincoln discusses the tragedy of the Civil War and says, “The Almighty has His own purposes,” and reminds the nation that “the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.”

Certainly Lincoln’s life itself was a testament to his faith, Anderson said, referring to a remark by Edwin Stanton, who served as Lincoln’s secretary of war. Stanton loathed Lincoln in the early days, Anderson said, but after the president was assassinated and was laying on a bed in Petersen’s boarding house, Stanton reportedly looked at him and said, “There is the most Christ-like figure who ever lived.”

In most polls, Lincoln would rank as either the first or second greatest American president, Anderson said, with George Washington being the other. Also, the Library of Congress measures the popularity of a person by the number of articles about him and references to him, Anderson said. By that method, the top three most prominent individuals in history are Jesus of Nazareth, William Shakespeare and Abraham Lincoln, he said.

“I think, one, he is the David and Goliath story. Here’s a man who came out of nowhere,” Anderson said. “When he was interviewed about his past, he quoted Thomas Gray’s ‘Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard’ and he said, ‘My past is represented by the short and simple annals of the poor.’ He had no background.

“… Number two, he was formally uneducated. Number three, when he was elected to be president, two out of three Americans believed that slavery was permissible and advisable. He beat some great men in that presidential race, and that’s another fantastic story,” Anderson said, referring to Doris Kearns Goodwin’s bestseller “Team of Rivals,” which he is reading now.

Americans are fascinated by Lincoln too because of his morality, Anderson said.

“He said if slavery is not wrong, nothing is wrong. He was not subtle about it,” the pastor said. “In the Lincoln-Douglas debates, he said this sentence: If you believe in slavery, vote for Senator Douglas. If you’re against slavery, vote for me. It’s that clear. I think that’s the thing — his unaffected and obviously deeply -felt basic morality.”

But recently, some have tried to malign Lincoln’s morality with the charge that he was bisexual, something broadly discussed in the book “The Intimate World of Abraham Lincoln” by C.A. Tripp, who makes the case that Lincoln slept in the same bed with his law partner, William Herndon, before he was president. But, Anderson said, that was a common practice in those days when a lack of beds meant men slept with men and strangers with strangers, especially when traveling.

“That charge was never made until recently and I believe it’s preposterous and has no historical basis whatsoever,” Anderson said about the question of Lincoln’s sexuality.

What fascinates Anderson most about Lincoln is what he calls his “native genius.” Before he went to seminary, Anderson was an English teacher in a public school for a year, and he marvels at Lincoln’s mastery of the English language despite hardly any formal training.

“His English, to me, is absolutely remarkable for a man who only went to school all told less than one year,” Anderson said. “I think he was a linguistic genius.”

Anderson gave as an example Lincoln’s famous letter to Lydia Bixby, the woman who lost five sons in the Civil War.

“I feel how weak and fruitless must be any words of mine which should attempt to beguile you from the grief of a loss so overwhelming,” Lincoln wrote. “But I cannot refrain from tendering to you the consolation that may be found in the thanks of the Republic they died to save. I pray that our Heavenly Father may assuage the anguish of your bereavement, and leave you only the cherished memory of the loved and lost, and the solemn pride that must be yours, to have laid so costly a sacrifice upon the altar of Freedom.”

That letter is regarded by some to be as close to perfect English as has ever been spoken, Anderson said.

For a person who would like to start with one good book about the life of Abraham Lincoln, Anderson recommended Stephen Oates’ “With Malice Toward None.”

“A country never forgets a man who risks his life for truth. The value of a man’s life is that he’s willing to risk his life for truth,” Anderson said.

    About the Author

  • Erin Curry Roach