The Christian Broadcasting Network

Charles Colson
Spiritual Life

More Church History

More Perspectives

More from Spiritual Life

Charles Colson

Breakpoint with Chuck Colson

Prison Fellowship


Lincoln's Spiritual Legacy

By Charles Colson

Thanks to the mass media, few Americans are spared public displays of presidential piety. Every modern president ends his speeches with the words, "God bless America." On Sundays, the TV cameras reveal the president heading off to church, his Bible clutched firmly in hand. Sadly, over the decades however, we've had more and more reason to doubt the sincerity of some of these displays.

But there's one place in Washington where we can see a moving display of genuine presidential piety: the National Cathedral. If you visit the cathedral you will find a statue of Abraham Lincoln poised on his knees.

The statue's pose represents a type of moral leadership that is, sadly, in short supply these days.

Many Americans don't realize that Lincoln actually instituted many forms of public recognition of God that we take for granted today. During his presidency, he declared more days of prayer, fasting, and thanksgiving than any president before or since. And, few realize that our traditional Thanksgiving celebration became a national holiday only after Lincoln's proclamation in 1863.

Yet, despite this pious pedigree, Lincoln was not actually committed to orthodox Christianity until close to the end of his life.

As a young man, Lincoln openly questioned the truth of Scripture, we learn from Marvin Olasky's book, The American Leadership Tradition. Even after he became president, Olasky writes, Lincoln's "god in 1861 and 1862 was [the] Union," not Jehovah.

Then, in 1862, Lincoln's life took a dramatic turn. The war was not going well for the Union, and Lincoln was being savaged in both the Yankee and Confederate press. Personal tragedy struck as well, when his beloved son Willie died suddenly. Lincoln's wife, Mary Todd, turned to spiritism and seances -- but her husband instead sought his solace in the Bible. Confronted with the loss of little Willie and yet another devastating Union defeat at the second Battle of Manassas, a humbled Lincoln finally embraced Christ. "My own wisdom seemed insufficient," he wrote to a friend. I was "driven many times upon my knees by the overwhelming conviction that I have nowhere else to go."

Lincoln then became a regular church attendee. He became so impressed with the importance of worship that he even refused to permit some churches to be converted into badly needed hospitals.

Facing disunion and slavery, Lincoln saw no easy answers. He became convinced that blame for the war lay on both sides. Faced with the realities of the miserable conflict, he resigned himself to God's providence.

It was the horrors of war that forced him to seek refuge in God; there, he found true peace. Lincoln's words speak for themselves. He told a friend: "When everyone seemed panic-stricken, I got down on my knees before Almighty God and prayed. Soon a sweet comfort crept into my soul."

Today many parents are looking desperately for examples of moral leadership -- for people they can hold up as examples for their children to imitate. We need to teach our kids to look beyond the outward signs of piety -- like carrying a Bible in front of TV cameras -- and look for more authentic signs of Christian commitment.

One great example comes from one of our greatest presidents -- the man who was converted to Christ in office -- and sought answers to the most pressing dilemma of the day on his knees.

Order your copy of Marvin Olasky's book, The American Leadership Tradition.

More Perspectives

More Church History

More from Spiritual Life

Chuck ColsonBreakPoint with Chuck Colson is a radio ministry of Prison Fellowship Ministries. © Prison Fellowship Ministries. Reprinted with permission. For more information

  • Translate
  • Print Page

Are you seeking answers in life? Are you hurting?
Are you facing a difficult situation?

A caring friend will be there to pray with you in your time of need.

Do You Know Jesus
Grow In Your Faith

Need Prayer?

Call 1-800-700-7000
Email your prayer request

Email iconSign up for E-mail Updates Full List