Lincoln - The Lawyer, Acts As A Pastor
( Originally Published 1902 )
VISITING Captain Gilbert J. Greene at his home in Washingtonville, N. Y., I said : " Captain, what do you think of Lincoln's religion? There is evidence which satisfies me that he was a thoroughly religious man, and a Christian." He answered : " You are correct in your opinion. At one time in his life he was an unbeliever, and through life he held some religious views peculiar to himself, but in the cardinal doctrines of Christianity he was sound. One night he said to me, then a boy about nineteen, calling me by my first name,' Gilbert, you have to stand at your printer's case all day and I have to sit all day, let us take a walk.' As we walked on the country road out of Springfield he turned his eyes to the heavens full of stars, and told me their names and their distance from us and the swiftness of their motion. He said the ancients used to arrange them so as to make monsters, serpents, animals of one kind or another out of them, but said he, ` I never behold them that I do not feel that I am looking in the face of God. I can see how it might be possible for a man to look down upon the earth and be an atheist, but I cannot conceive how he could look up into the heavens and say there is no God.' The information and inspiration received that night during the walk I shall never forget.
" To my certain knowledge Lincoln was a faithful student of the Bible. There was a copy of the New Testament with a flexible cover which laid on his table. I often took it in my hands and examined it. It was worn almost through with the rail-splitter's fingers. He once recited to me Christ's Sermon on the Mount without making a mistake. He said to me more than once that he considered Paul's sermon on Mars' Hill the ablest and most eloquent literary production ever spoken by mortal lip, or recorded by human pen.
" One day he said to me, ` Gilbert, there is a woman dangerously sick living fifteen miles out in the country, who has sent for me to come and write her will. I should like to have you go along with me; I would enjoy your company, and the trip would be a little recreation for you.' I cheerfully accepted the invitation. We found the woman worse than we expected. She had only a few hours to live. When Lincoln had written the will and it had been signed and witnessed, the woman said to him : ` Now I have my affairs for this world arranged satisfactorily. I am thankful to say that long before this I have made preparation for the other life I am so soon to enter. I sought and found Christ as my Saviour, who has been my stay and comfort through the years and is now near to me to carry me over the river of death. I do not fear death ; I am really glad that my time has come, for loved ones have gone be-fore me and I rejoice in the hope of meeting them so soon.' Mr. Lincoln said to her, ` Your faith in Christ is wise and strong, your hope of a future life is blessed. You are to be congratulated on passing through this life so usefully and into the future so happily.' She asked him if he would not read a few verses out of the Bible to her. They offered him the Book, but he did not take it, but began reciting from memory the 23d Psalm, laying especial emphasis upon 'Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.' Without the Book he took up the first part of the 14th of John. ` In my Father's house are many mansions ; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself.' After he had given these and other quotations from the Scriptures he recited several hymns, closing with ` Rock of Ages, Cleft for Me.' I thought at the time I had never heard any elocutionist speak with such ease or power as he did. I am an old man now, but my heart melts as it did then in that death chamber, as I remember how, with almost divine pathos, he spoke the last stanza :
"While I draw this fleeting breath,
" A little while after the woman passed to her reward. As we rode home in the buggy, I expressed surprise that he should have acted pastor as well as attorney so perfectly, and he replied, ` God and eternity were very near to me to-day.' "
In concluding the interview, I said to Captain Greene, " You have done the memory of the martyred President and the Christian public a service in opening this new window on the religious side of Lincoln's nature. How-ever much the mind may be tempted to doubt, there are times when the heart must believe. The religion of the dying woman and of the ministering attorney is the need of the universal heart and will become the religion of the world."