Abraham Lincoln

[Many of you have heard me often quote the English writing F.W. Boreham as among many favorites. Here is an edited version of one of his fine essays, penned nearly half a century ago. It is taken from his book A Temple of Topaz.—R.Z.]The massive personality of Abraham Lincoln is like a granite boulder torn from a rugged hillside. Too gigantic to be localized. He bursts all the bounds of nationality and takes his place in history as a huge cosmopolite. As Edward Stanton so finely exclaimed, in announcing that the last breath of the assassinated President had been drawn, "He belongs henceforth to the ages!" He piloted the civilization of the West through the most momentous crisis of its history; and, in so doing, he established principles which will stand as the landmarks of statecraft as long as the world endures.

He was an immense human.... Some men arc far mightier than their achievement. What they do is great; but what they are is infinitely greater. Abraham Lincoln is the outstanding example of the men of this towering and gigantic cast. The world contains millions of people who know little of American history, and who have but the haziest notions as to the issues at stake in the Civil War, yet upon whose ears the name of Abraham Lincoln falls like an encrusted tradition, like a golden legend, like a brave, inspiring song.

In view of this, an analysis of the rise and progress of Lincoln's faith is particularly alluring. It divides itself into three distinct phases....


Lincoln climbed Mount Sinai with Moses: That was how the Iron Age began. Abraham Lincoln's young mother died when he was barely nine. Her husband had to nurse her, close her eyes, make her coffin, and dig her grave. Abraham helped him carry that melancholy burden from the desolated cabin to its lonely resting-place in the woods. He never forgot that mother of his. "All that I am," he used to say, "my angel-mother made me!" And the memory that lingered the longest was the thought of her as she sat in the old log-cabin teaching him the Ten Commandments. Many a time afterwards, when he was asked how he had found the courage to decline some tempting bribe, or to resist some particularly insidious suggestion, he said that, in the critical hour, he heard his mother's voice repeating once more the old, old words: "I am the Lord thy God; thou shalt have no other gods before Me."

He treasured all through life her last words: "I am going away from you, Abraham, and shall not return. I know that you will be a good boy, and you will be kind to your Father. I want you to live as I have taught you, to love your Heavenly Father and to keep His commandments."


Lincoln climbed Mount Carmel with Elijah: That was how the Age of Clay—the plastic age—began. Elijah learned on Mount Carmel that his loneliness in the midst of unscrupulous foes mattered little so long as the God who Answereth by Fire was with him. Lincoln learned identically the same lesson when, in 1860, h.' left his old home at Springfield and turned his face towards Washington. It was for him the hour of destiny.

President McKinley has told us how, in that fateful hour, Lincoln received a flag from one of his admirals. On its silken folds he read, beautifully worked, the words: "Be strong and of good courage; be not afraid, neither be thou dismayed: For the Lord thy God is with thee whithersoever thou goest. There shall not any man be able to stand before thee all the days of thy life. As I was with Moses, so shall I be with thee."

The words inscribed on the flag became the keynote of this second phase of his experience. He regarded himself as a Man with a Mission. Indeed, he had two missions—one immediate and one remote . The immediate mission was the preservation of the Union; the remote mission was the abolition of slavery. On both issues he was in deadly earnest; for either cause he was prepared to die. And he knew perfectly well that death was not improbable. Plots were laid to assassinate him before he could reach Washington. But he never wavered; the words on the flag were constantly in his mind. At every wayside station crowds gathered to greet him. And Dr. Hill points out that, in addressing each of these groups, he declared emphatically that he was going forth in the name of the Living God....

Like Moses he would be clay in the hands of the divine Potter; and, by those Unseen Hands, he would be molded and shaped and fashioned. It is for this reason that I have called this second phase the Age of Clay. It is the plastic, pliable, formative period of Lincoln's inner life. Yet it is by no means the climax.


Lincoln climbed Mount Calvary with John: That was how the Golden Age began. But before Calvary comes Gethsemane; and certainly Lincoln passed through that Garden of Anguish. Mr. H.C. Whitney says that, during the war, Lincoln's companions would leave him by the fireside at night and find him still there—elbows on knees and face in hands—when they came down in the morning. "Father," he would moan again and again, "Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me!" Late one Sunday night he called on Henry Ward Beechen, looking "so bowed with care, so broken by the sorrows of the nation, that it was difficult even to recognize him. A look of weariness had crept into his sunken eyes. "I think," he confided to a friend, "I think I shall never be glad again." Yet, as Dr. Hill points out, it was this discipline of suffering that rendered his faith irresistible and triumphant. But how?

The greatest grief of his life was the death of his son. As the boy lay dying, Lincoln's reason seemed in peril. Miss Ida Tarbell has told the sad story with great delicacy and judgment. When the dread blow fell, the nurse and the father stood with bowed heads beside the dead boy, and then the nurse, out of her own deep experience of human sorrow and of divine comfort, pointed the weeping President to her Savior.

The work that this private sorrow began, the public sorrow completed. Lincoln had long yearned for a fuller, sweeter, more satisfying faith. "I have been reading the Beatitudes," he tells a friend, "and can at least claim the blessing that is pronounced upon those who hunger and thirst after righteousness." He was to hunger no longer. A few days before his death he told of the way in which the peace of heaven stole into his heart. "When I left Springfield," he said, not without a thought of the flag and its inscription, "I asked the people to pray for me; I was not a Christian. When I buried my son—the severest trial of my life—I was not a Christian. But when I went to Gettysburg, and saw the graves of thousands of our soldiers, I then and there consecrated myself to Christ." From that moment, Dr. Hill says, the habitual attitude of his mind was expressed in the words: "God be merciful to me, a sinner!" With tears in his eyes he told his friends that he had found the faith that he had longed for. He realized, he said, that his heart was changed, and that he loved the Savior. The President was at the Cross!

Happily, he lived to see the sunshine that followed the storm. He lived to see Peace and Union and Emancipation triumphant. His last hours were spent amidst services of thanksgiving and festivals of rejoicing. One of these celebrations was being held in Ford's Theater at Washington. The President was there, and attracted as much attention as the actors. But his mind was not on the play. Indeed, it was nearly over when he arrived. He leaned forward, talking, under his breath, to Mrs. Lincoln. Now that the war was over, he said, he would like to take her for a tour of the East. They would visit Palestine—would see Gethsemane and Calvary—would walk together the streets of Jeru___!

But before the word was finished, a pistol shot - "the maddest pistol - shot in the history of the ages" - rang through the theater. And he who had climbed Mount Sinai with Moses, Mount Carmel with Elijah, and Mount Calvary with John, had turned his pilgrim feet towards the holiest heights of all.

Find more thoughtful content on these topics in RZIM Answers.

Get our free , every other week, straight to your inbox.

Your podcast has started playing below. Feel free to continue browsing the site without interrupting your podcast!