Yesterday I referred to the faith of America’s Presidents, and today I wanted to follow up with an interesting story about Lincoln. He was, of course, assassinated on Good Friday in the year 1865, so the following Sunday was Easter. Instead of a day of joy, it was a Sunday of mourning across the United States.
In Bridgeport, Connecticut, Rev. John Fulkner Blake brought the sermon at Christ Church. It was titled, “A Sermon on the Services and Death of Abraham Lincoln.” He said, “We are accustomed at Easter to come to the house of God, and, while our souls are overflowing with joy, to mingle our glad voices in triumphant songs…. But on this Easter, His hand is so heavy upon us that we are constrained to hang our harps upon the willows and sit down and weep.”
Blake had feared for Lincoln’s life, and he recalled how nervous he had felt at the President’s inauguration. “I was in the crowd,” he said, “and I well remember the intense anxiety which was felt. I recall too that the Lieutenant-General sank exhausted on his chair in the evening, saying, ‘Thank God the day has passed without bloodshed.'”
But, now, the unspeakable had occurred. “The leader and liberator of the American people has fallen by the dastardly hand of an assassin…. Our beloved President is dead! Lost forevermore to us! Lost forevermore to his country!”
During his sermon, Rev. Blake told of Lincoln’s conversion, saying: “A gentleman, having recently visited Washington on business with the President, was, on leaving home, requested by a friend to ask Mr. Lincoln whether he loved Jesus. The business being completed the question was kindly asked. The President buried his face in his handkerchief, turned away, and wept. He then turned and said, ‘When I left home to take this chair of State, I requested my countrymen to pray for me; I was not then a Christian. When my son died, the severest trial of my life, I was not then a Christian. But when I went to Gettysburg and looked on the graves our dead heroes who had fallen in defense of their country, I then and there consecrated myself to Christ. Yes, indeed, I do love Jesus.'”
We remember Gettysburg as a tragic battlefield, a vast cemetery, and the location of Lincoln’s most famous speech. But it also seems to have been the place of new life and rebirth for the man we remember as our Sixteenth President.
The full text of Rev. Blake’s sermon, including several interesting glimpses of Lincoln’s faith, is available from the archives of Emory University here.