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Religious Quotations by Abraham LincolnWhat did Abraham Lincoln say about spiritual matters? Although we cannot quiz him today about theology, we can review the many references to Biblical passages and religious faith in his speeches and writings. The small list shown here is gathered from the multi-volume Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln, the most reliable source of Lincoln documents available.
The quotations come from many types of sources and range from formal addresses to casual comments. They differ from reminiscences by Lincoln's contemporaries, which is another large, and sometimes disputed, source of information. You will see a volume and page reference after each quotation as well as an online link to the entire document on the Collected Works website.
Partial List of Quotations Before the PresidencyThat I am not a member of any Christian Church, is true; but I have never denied the truth of the Scriptures; and I have never spoken with intentional disrepect of religion in general, or of any denomination of Christians in particular.
Handbill Replying to Charges of Infidelity on July 31, 1846 (CWAL I:382)
Such a man the times have demanded, and such, in the providence of God was given us. But he is gone. Let us strive to deserve, as far as mortals may, the continued care of Divine Providence, trusting that, in future national emergencies, He will not fail to provide us the instruments of safety and security.
Eulogy on Henry Clay, July 6, 1852 (CWAL II:132)
Near eighty years ago we began by declaring that all men are created equal; but now from that beginning we have run down to the other declaration, that for SOME men to enslave OTHERS is a "sacred right of self-government." These principles can not stand together. They are as opposite as God and mammon; and whoever holds to the one, must despise the other.
Speech at Peoria, Illinois, on October 16, 1854 (CWAL II: 275)
[regarding Stephen Douglas]: He says I have a proneness for quoting scripture. If I should do so now, it occurs that perhaps he places himself somewhat upon the ground of the parable of the lost sheep which went astray upon the mountains, and when the owner of the hundred sheep found the one that was lost, and threw it upon his shoulders, and came home rejoicing, it was said that there was more rejoicing over the one sheep that was lost and had been found, than over the ninety and nine in the fold. [Great cheering, renewed cheering.] The application is made by the Saviour in this parable, thus, "Verily I say unto you, there is more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner that repenteth, than over ninety and nine just persons that need no repentence. [Cheering.] And now, if the Judge claims the benefit of his parable, let him repent. [Vociferous applause.] Let him not come up here and say: I am the only just person; and you are the ninety-nine sinners! Repentence, before forgiveness is a provision of the Christian system, and on that condition alone will the Republicans grant his forgiveness. [Laughter and cheers.]
Speech at Springfield, Illinois, on July 17, 1858 (CWAL II:510)
[regarding the framers of the Declaration of Independence]: These communities, by their representatives in old Independence Hall, said to the whole world of men: "We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness." This was their majestic interpretation of the economy of the Universe. This was their lofty, and wise, and noble understanding of the justice of the Creator to His creatures. [Applause.] Yes, gentlemen, to all His creatures, to the whole great family of man. In their enlightened belief, nothing stamped with the Divine image and likeness was sent into the world to be trodden on, and degraded, and imbruted by its fellows. They grasped not only the whole race of man then living, but they reached forward and seized upon the farthest posterity. They erected a beacon to guide their children and their children's children, and the countless myriads who should inhabit the earth in other ages. Wise statesmen as they were, they knew the tendency of prosperity to breed tyrants, and so they established these great self-evident truths, that when in the distant future some man, some faction, some interest, should set up the doctrine that none but rich men, or none but white men, were entitled to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, their posterity might look up again to the Declaration of Independence and take courage to renew the battle which their fathers began -- so that truth, and justice, and mercy, and all the humane and Christian virtues might not be extinguished from the land; so that no man would hereafter dare to limit and circumscribe the great principles on which the temple of liberty was being built.
Speech at Lewistown, Illinois, on August 17, 1858 (CWAL II:546)
Certainly there is no contending against the Will of God; but still there is some difficulty in ascertaining, and applying it, to particular cases.
Fragment on Pro-Slavery Theology ca. October 1, 1858 (CWAL III:204)
The Bible says somewhere that we are desperately selfish. I think we would have discovered that fact without the Bible.
Debate at Alton, Illinois, on October 15, 1858 (CWAL III:310)
Judge Douglas ought to remember when he is endeavoring to force this policy upon the American people that while he is put up in that way a good many are not. He ought to remember that there was once in this country a man by the name of Thomas Jefferson, supposed to be a Democrat -- a man whose principles and policy are not very prevalent amongst Democrats to-day, it is true; but that man did not take exactly this view of the insignificance of the element of slavery which our friend Judge Douglas does. In contemplation of this thing, we all know he was led to exclaim, "I tremble for my country when I remember that God is just!" We know how he looked upon it when he thus expressed himself. There was danger to this country -- danger of the avenging justice of God in that little unimportant popular sovereignty question of Judge Douglas. He supposed there was a question of God's eternal justice wrapped up in the enslaving of any race of men, or any man, and that those who did so braved the arm of Jehovah -- that when a nation thus dared the Almighty every friend of that nation had cause to dread His wrath. Choose ye between Jefferson and Douglas as to what is the true view of this element among us.
Speech at Columbus, Ohio, on September 16, 1859 (CWAL III:410)
The good old maxims of the Bible are applicable, and truly applicable to human affairs, and in this as in other things, we may say here that he who is not for us is against us; he would gathereth not with us scattereth.
Speech at Cincinnati, Ohio, on September 17, 1859 (CWAL III:462)
I think that if anything can be proved by natural theology, it is that slavery is morally wrong. God gave man a mouth to receive bread, hands to feed it, and his hand has a right to carry bread to his mouth without controversy.
Speech at Hartford, Conn., on March 5, 1860 (CWAL IV: 3)
Remembering that Peter denied his Lord with an oath, after most solemnly protesting that he never would, I will not swear I will make no committals; but I do think I will not.
Letter to Lyman Trumbull on June 5, 1860 (CWAL IV:71)
Trusting in Him, who can go with me, and remain with you and be every where for good, let us confidently hope that all will yet be well. To His care commending you, as I hope in your prayers you will commend me, I bid you an affectionate farewell.
Farewell Address on February 11, 1861 (CWAL IV:190)
I turn, then, and look to the American people and to that God who has never forsaken them.
Address to the Ohio Legislature on February 13, 1861 (CWAL IV: 204)
Partial List of Quotations During the PresidencyIntelligence, patriotism, Christianity, and a firm reliance on Him, who has never yet forsaken this favored land, are still competent to adjust, in the best way, all our present difficulty.
First Inaugural Address on March 4, 1861 (CWAL IV:271)
We must remember that the people of all the States are entitled to all the privileges and immunities of the citizen of the several States. We should bear this in mind, and act in such a way as to say nothing insulting or irritating. I would inculcate this idea, so that we may not, like Pharisees, set ourselves up to be better than other people.
Reply to a Pennsylvania Delegation on March 5, 1861 (CWAL IV:274)
And having thus chosen our course, without guile, and with pure purpose, let us renew our trust in God, and go forward without fear, and with manly hearts.
Message to Congress in Special Session on July 4, 1861 (CWAL IV:441)
The President responded very impressively, saying that he was deeply sensible of his need of Divine assistance. He had sometime thought that perhaps he might be an instrument in God's hands of accomplishing a great work and he certainly was not unwilling to be. Perhaps, however, God's way of accomplishing the end which the memorialists have in view may be different from theirs.
Remarks to a Delegation of Progressive Friends on June 20, 1862 (CWAL V:279)
The will of God prevails. In great contests each party claims to act in accordance with the will of God. Both may be, and one must be wrong. God can not be for and against the same thing at the same time.
Meditation on the Divine Will ca. September 2, 1862 (CWAL V:403)
The subject presented in the memorial is one upon which I have thought much for weeks past, and I may even say for months. I am approached with the most opposite opinions and advice, and that by religious men, who are equally certain that they represent the Divine will. I am sure that either the one or the other class is mistaken in the belief, and perhaps in some respects both. I hope it will not be irreverent for me to say that if it is probable that God would reveal his will to others, on a point so connected with my duty, it might be supposed he would reveal it directly to me; for, unless I am more deceived in myself than I often am, it is my earnest desire to know the will of Providence in this matter. And if I can learn what it is I will do it! These are not, however, the days of miracles, and I suppose it will be granted that I am not to expect a direct revelation. I must study the plain physical facts of the case, ascertain what is possible and learn what appears to be wise and right. The subject is difficult, and good men do not agree.
Reply to Chicago Christians on September 13, 1862 (CWAL V:420)
I am glad of this interview, and glad to know that I have your sympathy and prayers. We are indeed going through a great trial -- a fiery trial. In the very responsible position in which I happen to be placed, being a humble instrument in the hands of our Heavenly Father, as I am, and as we all are, to work out his great purposes, I have desired that all my works and acts may be according to his will, and that it might be so, I have sought his aid -- but if after endeavoring to do my best in the light which he affords me, I find my efforts fail, I must believe that for some purpose unknown to me, He wills it otherwise. If I had had my way, this war would never have been commenced; If I had been allowed my way this war would have been ended before this, but we find it still continues; and we must believe that He permits it for some wise purpose of his own, mysterious and unknown to us; and though with our limited understandings we may not be able to comprehend it, yet we cannot but believe, that he who made the world still governs it.
Reply to Eliza Gurney on October 26, 1862 (CWAL V:478)
And while it has not pleased the Almighty to bless us with a return of peace, we can but press on, guided by the best light He gives, trusting that in His own good time, and wise way, all will yet be well.
Annual Message to Congress on December 1, 1862 (CWAL V:518)
But I must add that the U.S. government must not, as by this order, undertake to run the churches. When an individual, in a church or out of it, becomes dangerous to the public interest, he must be checked; but let the churches, as such take care of themselves. It will not do for the U.S. to appoint Trustees, Supervisors, or other agents for the churches.
Letter to Samuel Curtis on January 2, 1863 (CWAL VI:34)
Relying, as I do, upon the Almighty Power, and encouraged as I am by these resolutions which you have just read, with the support which I receive from Christian men, I shall not hesitate to use all the means at my control to secure the termination of this rebellion, and will hope for success.
Reply to Members of the Presbyterian General Assembly on June 2, 1863 (CWAL VI:245)
I am very glad indeed to see you to-night, and yet I will not say I thank you for this call, but I do most sincerely thank Almighty God for the occasion on which you have called.
Response to a Serenade on July 7, 1863 (CWAL VI:319)
Let us diligently apply the means, never doubting that a just God, in his own good time, will give us the rightful result.
Letter to James Conkling on August 26, 1863 (CWAL VI:410)
Nevertheless, amid the greatest difficulties of my Administration, when I could not see any other resort, I would place my whole reliance on God, knowing that all would go well, and that He would decide for the right.
Remarks to Baltimore Presbyterian Synod on October 24, 1863 (CWAL VI:536)
Submitted to the Sec. of War. On principle I dislike an oath which requires a man to swear he has not done wrong. It rejects the Christian principle of forgiveness on terms of repentance. I think it is enough if the man does no wrong hereafter.
Note to Edwin Stanton on February 5, 1864 (CWAL VII:169)
I claim not to have controlled events, but confess plainly that events have controlled me. Now, at the end of three years struggle the nation's condition is not what either party, or any man devised, or expected. God alone can claim it. Whither it is tending seems plain. If God now wills the removal of a great wrong, and wills also that we of the North as well as you of the South, shall pay fairly for our complicity in that wrong, impartial history will find therein new cause to attest and revere the justice and goodness of God.
Letter to Albert G. Hodges on April 4, 1864 (CWAL VII:282)
The petition of persons under eighteen, praying that I would free all slave children, and the heading of which petition it appears you wrote, was handed me a few days since by Senator Sumner. Please tell these little people I am very glad their young hearts are so full of just and generous sympathy, and that, while I have not the power to grant all they ask, I trust they will remember that God has, and that, as it seems, He wills to do it.
Letter to Mrs. Horace Mann on April 5, 1864 (CWAL VII:287)
At the beginning of the war, and for some time, the use of colored troops was not contemplated; and how the change of purpose was wrought, I will not now take time to explain. Upon a clear conviction of duty I resolved to turn that element of strength to account; and I am responsible for it to the American people, to the christian world, to history, and on my final account to God.
Address at Baltimore Sanitary Fair on April 18, 1864 (CWAL VII:302)
While we are grateful to all the brave men and officers for the events of the past few days, we should, above all, be very grateful to Almighty God, who gives us victory.
Response to a Serenade on May 9, 1864 (CWAL VII:334)
God bless the Methodist Church -- bless all the churches -- and blessed be God, Who, in this our great trial, giveth us the churches.
Response to Methodists on May 18, 1864 (CWAL VII:351)
To read in the Bible, as the word of God himself, that "In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, ["] and to preach there-from that, "In the sweat of other mans faces shalt thou eat bread," to my mind can scarcely be reconciled with honest sincerity.
Reply to Delegation of Baptists on May 30, 1864 (CWAL VII:368)
We accepted this war for an object, a worthy object, and the war will end when that object is attained. Under God, I hope it never will until that time.
Speech at Philadelphia Sanitary Fair on June 16, 1864 (CWAL VII:395)
I am much indebted to the good christian people of the country for their constant prayers and consolations; and to no one of them, more than to yourself. The purposes of the Almighty are perfect, and must prevail, though we erring mortals may fail to accurately perceive them in advance. We hoped for a happy termination of this terrible war long before this; but God knows best, and has ruled otherwise. We shall yet acknowledge His wisdom and our own error therein. Meanwhile we must work earnestly in the best light He gives us, trusting that so working still conduces to the great ends He ordains. Surely He intends some great good to follow this mighty convulsion, which no mortal could make, and no mortal could stay.
Letter to Eliza Gurney on September 4, 1864 (CWAL VII:535)
In regard to this Great Book, I have but to say, it is the best gift God has given to man. All the good the Savior gave to the world was communicated through this book. But for it we could not know right from wrong. All things most desirable for man's welfare, here and hereafter, are to be found portrayed in it.
Reply to Loyal Colored People of Baltimore upon Presentation of a Bible on September 7, 1864 (CWAL VII:542)
God bless the soldiers and seamen, with all their brave commanders.
Response to a Serenade on October 19, 1864 (CWAL VIII:53)
While I am deeply sensible to the high compliment of a re-election; and duly grateful, as I trust, to Almighty God for having directed my countrymen to a right conclusion, as I think, for their own good, it adds nothing to my satisfaction that any other man may be disappointed or pained by the result.
Response to a Serenade on November 10, 1864 (CWAL VIII:101)
On thursday of last 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 till friday, when they came again; and were again put off to saturday. At each of the interviews one of the ladies urged that her husband was a religious man. On saturday the President ordered the release of the prisoners, and then 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 that 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 on the sweat of other men's faces, is not the sort of religion upon which people can get to heaven!"
Story Written for Noah Brooks ca. December 6, 1864 (CWAL VIII:154)
Fondly do we hope -- fervently do we pray -- that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue, until all the wealth piled by the bond-man's two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until 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."
Second Inaugural Address on March 4, 1865 (CWAL VIII:333)
Men are not flattered by being shown that there has been a difference of purpose between the Almighty and them. To deny it, however, in this case, is to deny that there is a God governing the world. It is a truth which I thought needed to be told; and as whatever of humilation there is in it, falls most directly on myself, I thought others might afford for me to tell it.
Letter to Thurlow Weed on March 15, 1865 (CWAL VIII:356)
The evacuation of Petersburg and Richmond, and the surrender of the principal insurgent army, give hope of a righteous and speedy peace whose joyous expression can not be restrained. In the midst of this, however, He, from Whom all blessings flow, must not be forgotten. A call for a national thanksgiving is being prepared, and will be duly promulgated.
Last Public Address on April 11, 1865 (CWAL VIII:399)
Source: Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln, edited by Roy P. Basler.
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Lincoln's writings are in the public domain; this introduction, photo and quotation collection © 2014 Abraham Lincoln Online.