Lincoln's Battle with God

A president's struggle with faith and what it meant for America

Reviewed by Rollin Shoemaker, DMin, STM, a retired pastor living in Berrien Springs, Michigan, United States.

Stephen Mansfield’s Lincoln’s Battle With God is divided into five chapters,followed by an epilogue titled“Purposes of the Almighty,” and closeswith “Thoughts on Lincoln, Religion,and Sources,” plus an appendix and aselected bibliography.

Lincoln began his presidency, as his first inaugural address indicates, with the purpose of preserving the Union. Nevertheless, as the war was being prosecuted, his view changed. Lincoln came to believe that “God wills the contest” (162). In fact, Lincoln writes, “I have been controlled by some other power than my own will. . . . I frequently see my way clear to a decision when I am conscious that I have no sufficient facts upon which to found it. . . . He [God] finds a way of letting me know [what to do]” (150). Lincoln states, “I made a solemn vow before God, that if General Lee was driven back from Pennsylvania, I would crown the result by the declaration of freedom to the slaves” (165). When Lincoln met with Major General Daniel Edgar Sickles, Lieutenant Colonel Rusling wrote down what Lincoln told the general. “In the pinch of your campaign there, when everybody seemed panic-stricken and nobody could tell what was going to happen, oppressed by the gravity of our affairs, I went into my room one day and locked the door and got down on my knees before Almighty God and prayed to him mightily for victory at Gettysburg. I told him this was his war and our cause, his cause, but that we could not stand another Fredericksburg or Chancellorsville. And I then and there made a solemn vow to Almighty God that if he would stand by our boys at Gettysburg, I would stand by him. And he did, and I will. And after that, I don’t know how it was and I can’t explain it, but soon a sweet comfort crept into my soul that things would go all right at Gettysburg, and this is why I had no fears about you” (169).

At Lincoln’s second inaugural address, he indicated that it was God’s judgment against slavery that brought on the war. Lincoln came to believe that “the war was an act of judgment of an offended God—an act of judgment on the nation as a whole” (167). Lincoln requested that Americans pray that the season of judgment pass quickly, “if God wills that it [the war] continue, until all the wealth piled up by the bond-man’s two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and 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’ (Ps 19:9)” (185). Lincoln came to believe that God orchestrates all things according to His will, that the “will of God prevails” (163).

The book also mentions the Fox sisters and the rise of spiritualism and Lincoln’s brief encounter with it. However, his wife, Mary, apparently continued to follow spiritualism to the end of her life.

I found this book of great interest because I have been told a number of times and have also read that Lincoln was a confirmed atheist. Anyone who wants a more balanced view of Lincoln’s journey of faith should read this book.

—Reviewed by Rollin Shoemaker, DMin, STM, a retired pastor living in Berrien Springs, Michigan, United States.

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Reviewed by Rollin Shoemaker, DMin, STM, a retired pastor living in Berrien Springs, Michigan, United States.

March 2014

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