Was Abraham Lincoln a Christian? -- By: Ronald D. Rietveld

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 117:465 (Jan 1960)
Article: Was Abraham Lincoln a Christian?
Author: Ronald D. Rietveld


Was Abraham Lincoln a Christian?

Ronald D. Rietveld

[Ronald D. Reitveld is a graduate of Wheaton College, and is pursuing studies at present in Bethel Theological Seminary, St. Paul, Minnesota.]

The Lincoln family in America was of a strong Puritan background. Prominent family members bore the Biblical names of Samuel, Levi, and Mordecai. President Lincoln’s grandfather was the first Abraham Lincoln.

As a youngster, Abraham Lincoln’s training began at his mother’s knee. His mother was a woman of superior character for her time and surroundings. Nancy Hanks Lincoln had attended a school in Virginia, and was intellectually above those around her. She was especially devoted in her Christian life and sought to train up her children “in the Way.” She would read Bible stories to Abe and Sarah, and pray with them.1 Her prayers made a lifelong impression on her son; for he said, after he became President: “I remember her prayers, and they have always followed me. They have clung to me all my life.”2 At her knee, he memorized portions of Scripture which aided him his whole life through.

Thomas Lincoln, his father, was deacon in the Primitive or “Hard Shell” Baptist Church most of his adult life. In 1816, Thomas and Nancy Lincoln joined the Little Mount Baptist Church—a “separate” Baptist congregation. They were baptized in Knob Creek, near their Kentucky cabin-home. Doubtless, little Abe and his older sister Sarah witnessed the scene.

In this Primitive Baptist home he acquired several ideas. One was a unique concept of church membership and conversion. Conversion was emphasized as a strange, mysterious inner change which only Providence could work. Under no circumstances must man interfere with the mysterious impulse toward conversion, nor could any human agency promote it. Hence, Lincoln grew up without joining any church. The “call” must come before joining any church.

When Abe was nine years old, his mother died. Her death came on October 5, 1818. A witness present at the time said: “The mother knew she was going to die, and called her children

(Abe and Sarah) to her bedside. She was very weak, and the children leaned over while she gave her last message. Placing her feeble hand on little Abe’s head, she told him to be kind and good to his father and sister; to both she said, ‘Be good to one another,’ expressing a hope that they might live as they had been taught by her, to love their kindred and worship God.”3

There wa...

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