By Henry J. Raymond
HIS RELIGIOUS EXPERIENCE.
There is a very natural and proper desire, at this time, to know something of the religious experience of the late President. Two or three stories have been published in this connection, which I have never yet been able to trace to a reliable source, and I feel impelled to say here, that I believe the facts in the case--if there were such--have been added unto, or unwarrantably embellished. Of all men in the world, Mr. Lincoln was the most unaffected and truthful. He rarely or never used language loosely or carelessly, or for the sake of compliment. He was the most utterly indifferent to, and unconscious of, the effect he was producing, either upon official representatives, or the common people, of any man ever in public position.
Mr. Lincoln could scarcely be called a religious man, in the common acceptation of the term, and yet a sincerer Christian I believe never lived. A constitutional tendency to dwell upon sacred things; an emotional nature which finds ready expression in religious conversation and revival meetings; the culture and development of the devotional element till the expression of religious thought and experience becomes almost habitual, were not among his characteristics. Doubtless he felt as deeply upon the great questions of the soul and eternity as any other thoughtful man, but the very tenderness and humility of his nature would not permit the exposure of his inmost convictions, except upon the rarest occasions, and to his most intimate friends. And yet, aside from emotional expression, I believe no man had a more abiding sense of his dependence upon God, or faith in the Divine government, and in the power and ultimate triumph of Truth and Right in the world. In the language of an eminent clergyman of this city, who lately delivered an eloquent discourse upon the life and character of the departed President, "It is not necessary to appeal to apocryphal stories, in circulation in the newspapers--which illustrate as much the assurance of his visitors as the simplicity of his faith-for proof of Mr. Lincoln's Christian character." If his daily life and various public addresses and writings do not show this, surely nothing can demonstrate it.
But while inclined, as I have said, to doubt the truth of some of the statements published on this subject, I feel at liberty to relate an incident, which bears upon its face unmistakable evidence of truthfulness. A lady interested in the work of the Christian Commission had occasion, in the prosecution of her duties, to have several interviews with the President of a business nature. He was much impressed with the devotion and earnestness of purpose she manifested, and on one occasion, after she had discharged the object of her visit, he said to her: "Mrs. -----, I have formed a very high opinion of your Christian character, and now, as we are alone, I have a mind to ask you to give me, in brief, your idea of what constitutes a true religious experience." The lady replied at some length, stating that, in her judgment, it consisted of a conviction of one's own sinfulness and weakness, and personal need of the Saviour for strength and support; that views of mere doctrine might and would differ, but when one was really brought to feel his need of Divine help, and to seek the aid of the Holy Spirit for strength and guidance, it was satisfactory evidence of his having been born again. This was the substance of her reply. When she had concluded, Mr. Lincoln was very thoughtful for a few moments. He at length said, very earnestly, "If what you have told me is really a correct view of this great subject, I think I can say with sincerity, that I hope I am a Christian. I had lived," he continued, "until my boy Willie died, without realizing fully these things. That blow overwhelmed me. It showed me my weakness as I had never felt it before, and if I can take what you have stated as a test, I think I can safely say that I know something of that change of which you speak; and I will further add, that it has been my intention for some time, at a suitable opportunity, to make a public religious profession!"
A clergyman, writing to the Friends' Review of Philadelphia, gives the following interesting incident:--
"After visiting schools, and holding meetings with the freed-people, and attending to other religious service south of Washington and in that city, I felt that I must attend to manifest duty, and offer a visit in Gospel love to our noble President; it was immediately granted, and a quarter past six that evening was fixed as the time. Under deep feeling I went; my Heavenly Father went before and prepared the way. The President gave us a cordial welcome, and after pleasant, instructive conversation, during which he said, in reference to the freedmen, 'If I have been one of the instruments in liberating this long-suffering, down-trodden people, I thank God for it'--a precious covering spread over us. The good man rested his head upon his hand, and, under a precious, gathering influence, I knelt in solemn prayer. He knelt close beside me, and I felt that his heart went with every word as utterance was given. I afterwards addressed him, and when we rose to go, he shook my hand heartily, and thanked me for the visit."
Mr. Noah Brooks, one of Mr. Lincoln's most intimate personal friends, in an admirable article in Harper's Magazine, gives the following reminiscence of his conversation:--
"Just after the last Presidential election he said, 'Being only mortal, after all I should have been a little mortified if I had been beaten in this canvass before the people; but that sting would have been more than compensated by the thought that the people had notified me that all my official responsibilities were soon to be lifted off my back.' In reply to the remark that he might remember that in all these cares he was daily remembered by those who prayed, not to be heard of men, as no man had ever before been remembered, he caught at the homely phrase, and said, 'Yes, I like that phrase "not to be heard of men," and guess it is generally true as you say; at least, I have been told so, and I have been a good deal helped by just that thought.' Then he solemnly and slowly added, 'I should be the most presumptuous blockhead upon this footstool, if I for one day thought that I could discharge the duties which have come upon me since I came into this place, without the aid and enlightenment of One who is stronger and wiser than all others.'"
By the Act of Emancipation Mr. Lincoln built for himself forever the first place in the affections of the African race in this country. The love and reverence manifested for him by many of these poor, ignorant people has, on some occasions, almost reached adoration. One day Colonel McKaye, of New York, who had been one of a committee to investigate the condition of the freedmen, upon his return from Hilton Head and Beaufort, called upon the President, and in the course of the interview mentioned the following incident:--
He had been speaking of the ideas of power entertained by these people. They had an idea of God, as the Almighty, and they had realized in their former condition the power of their masters. Up to the time of the arrival among them of the Union forces, they had no knowledge of any other power. Their masters fled upon the approach of our soldiers, and this gave the slaves the conception of a power greater than their masters exercised. This power they called "Massa Linkum." Colonel McKaye said that their place of worship was a large building which they called "the praise house," and the leader of the "meeting," a venerable black man, was known as "the praise man." On a certain day, when there was quite a large gathering of the people, considerable confusion was created by different persons attempting to tell who and what "Massa Linkum" was. In the midst of the excitement the white-headed leader commanded silence. "Brederin," said he, "you don't know nosen' what you'se talkin' 'bout. Now, you just listen to me. Massa Linkum, he ebery whar. He know eberyting." Then, solemnly looking up, he added: "He walk de earf like de Lord!"
Colonel McKaye told me that Mr. Lincoln was very much affected by this account. He did not smile, as another might have done, but got up from his chair and walked in silence two or three times across the floor. As he resumed his seat, he said, very impressively, "It is a momentous thing to be the instrument, under Providence, of the liberation of a race!"
"At another time, he said cheerfully, 'I am very sure that if I do not go away from here a wiser man, I shall go away a better man, for having learned here what a very poor sort of a man I am.' Afterwards, referring to what he called a change of heart, he said he did not remember any precise time when he passed through any special change of purpose, or of heart; but, he would say, that his own election to office, and the crisis immediatly following, influentially determined him in what he called 'a process of crystallization,' then going on in his mind. Reticent as he was, and shy of discoursing much of his own mental exercises, these few utterances now have a value with those who knew him, which his dying words would scarcely have possessed."
Says Rev. Dr. Thompson, of New York:--"A calm trust in God was the loftiest, worthiest characteristic in the life of Abraham Lincoln. He had learned this long ago. 'I would rather my son would be able to read the Bible than to own a farm, if he can't have but one,' said his godly mother. That Bible was Abraham Lincoln's guide."
"Mr. Jay states that, being on the steamer which conveyed the governmental party from Fortress Monroe to Norfolk, after the destruction of the Merrimac, while all on board were excited by the novelty of the excursion and by the incidents that it recalled, he missed the President from the company, and, on looking about, found him in a quiet nook, reading a well-worn Testament. Such an incidental revelation of his religious habits is worth more than pages of formal testimony."
When Mr. Lincoln visited New York in 1860, he felt a great interest in many of the institutions for reforming criminals and saving the young from a life of crime. Among others, he visited, unattended, the Five Points' House of Industry, and a teacher in the Sabbath-school there gives the following account of the event:--
"One Sunday morning I saw a tall, remarkable-looking man enter the room and take a seat among us. He listened with fixed attention to our exercises, and his countenance expressed such genuine interest that I approached him and suggested that he might be willing to say something to the children. He accepted the invitation with evident pleasure; and, coming forward, began a simple address, which at once fascinated every little hearer and hushed the room into silence. His language was strikingly beautiful, and his tones musical with intense feeling. The little faces would droop into sad conviction as he uttered sentences of warning, and would brighten into sunshine as he spoke cheerful words of promise. Once or twice he attempted to close his remarks, but the imperative shout of 'Go on! O, do go on!' would compel him to resume. As I looked upon the gaunt and sinewy frame of the stranger, and marked his powerful head and determined features, now touched into softness by the impressions of the moment, I felt an irrepressible curiosity to learn something more about him, and while he was quietly leaving the room I begged to know his name. He courteously replied, 'It is Abraham Lincoln, from Illinois.'"
In the article in Harper's Magazine already quoted from above, Mr. Brooks says:--
"On Thursday of a certain week, two ladies, from Tennessee, came before the President, asking the release of their husbands, held as prisoners of war at Johnson's Island. They were put off until Friday, when they came again, and were again put off until Saturday. At each of the interviews one of the ladies urged that her husband was a religious man. On Saturday, when the President ordered the release of the prisoner, he said to this lady, 'You say your husband is a religious man; tell him, when you meet him, that I say I am not much of a judge of religion, but that in my opinion the religion which sets men to rebel and fight against their Government, because, as they think, that Government does not sufficiently help some men to eat their bread in the sweat of other men's faces, is not the sort of religion upon which people can get to heaven.'"
The Western Christian Advocate says:--"On the day of the receipt of the capitulation of Lee, as we learn from a friend intimate with the late President Lincoln, the cabinet meeting was held an hour earlier than usual. Neither the President nor any member was able, for a time, to give utterance to his feelings. At the suggestion of Mr. Lincoln all dropped on their knees, and offered, in silence and in tears, their humble and heartfelt acknowledgments to the Almighty for the triumph He had granted to the National cause."