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As a nation of free men we will live forever or die by suicide. Sleep well, Judas. I believed in it. Sometimes I think perhaps I was.

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I approved of it; I joined in the general cry of madness and despair. I urged men to fight. I was safe because I was too old to go. I was like the rest. What did they do? Right or wrong, justifiable or unjustifiable -- which I need not discuss today -- it changed the world. For four long years the civilized world was engaged in killing men.

Christian against Christian, barbarian uniting with Christians to kill Christians; anything to kill. It was taught in every school, aye in the Sunday schools. The little children played at war. The toddling children on the street. Do you suppose this world has ever been the same since? How long, your Honor, will it take for the world to get back the humane emotions that were slowly growing before the war? How long will it take the calloused hearts of men before the scars of hatred and cruelty shall be removed? We read of killing one hundred thousand men in a day. We read about it and we rejoiced in it -- if it was the other fellows who were killed.

We were fed on flesh and drank blood. Even down to the prattling babe. I need not tell you how many upright, honorable young boys have come into this court charged with murder, some saved and some sent to their death, boys who fought in this war and learned to place a cheap value on human life. You know it and I know it. These boys were brought up in it. The tales of death were in their homes, their playgrounds, their schools; they were in the newspapers that they read; it was a part of the common frenzy -- what was a life?

It was nothing. It was the least sacred thing in existence and these boys were trained to this cruelty. This was one of the consequences of civil war. People stopped trusting each other, and every stranger became an enemy. Even people who knew you became extremely careful about how they related or spoke to you.

I gave my best to the country I love, and kept my tears till he was gone. Why should I complain, when we both have merely done our duty and will surely be the happier for it in the end? My child, the troubles and temptations of your life are beginning and may be many, but you can overcome and outlive them all if you learn to feel the strength and tenderness of your Heavenly Father as you do that of your earthly one.

Other Protestant denominations ruptured, as well. So with each political crisis, you've got ministers on both sides that can give sermons on it and can write letters and can publish tracts for and against. It is sanctioned in the Bible, in both Testaments, from Genesis to Revelation. If neither side has the sense that God is backing that up, it just becomes a human argument.

But if both sides have the sense the God is backing that up, it becomes a sort of cosmic conflagration. They shall be your bondmen forever. When his family joined a Baptist church, year-old Abraham would attend the services but refused to join. Lincoln struggles with it. Lincoln is always suspicious of emotion.

He always wants to raise the trumpet of reason in all of his thinking and acting. He might be a great watchmaker in the sky. He might be someone who sets the universe going according to its own natural laws and then stands back and lets it run without personally interfering himself.

God does not intervene directly. This is not a God with personality, not a God who is a loving God. There's a certain humility before this God, but there's also a certain sense that his ways can never be fully understood. Seven Southern states had seceded from the Union. The United States was on the brink of war, and its newly elected president would have to address the nation. ABRAHAM LINCOLN: Before entering upon so grave a matter as the destruction of our national union- before entering upon so grave a matter as the destruction of our national fabric, with all its benefits, its memories and its hopes, would it not be wise to ascertain precisely why we do it?

While he opposed slavery, he was willing to accommodate it to save what was most sacred to him, the union. He understood the future of the nation itself hung in the balance. And I think Lincoln's hopeful that there is room for compromise. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection. Unlike the U.

Constitution, their newly drafted constitution invoked "the favor and guidance of Almighty God. MARK A. The Southern way of life was being attacked. The institution of slavery that many of the Southern leaders had justified fully with a biblical defense was under assault. Southerners in general felt that the Lord was on their side.

They believed that they are God's nation. In a very profound sense, I think, they believed that they were doing God's will. It is a conflict of truth with error, of pure Christianity with Northern fanaticism. It cannot be broken. Forsake your sin. Lay down your arms. Retire from your rebellious attitude. Who is anyone to bail out of that deal? The war has come at last. Let the long crushed bondsman arise, snatch back the liberty of which he's been so long robbed and despoiled. They may be angels or they may be demons.

In the apocalyptic vision, John describes a war in heaven. Such is the struggle now in the United States. Douglass is one of those angels. Many Americans considered the war an apocalyptic event unleashed by God, a belief embodied in a new hymn that became a Northern anthem. And out of it is going to come something better, or newer or bigger.

STOUT: You have to ask yourself the question that most people in the 19th century asked with great interest, "How do you think the world's going to end? What about everything we read in the Book of Revelation, where the forces of Christ and his followers mass against the forces of Antichrist? For Protestants, this was as certain as July is warmer than December. There would not be a swift and decisive conclusion to the war: Union soldiers killed at Bull Run, casualties at Rich Mountain, more than 2, at Wilson's Creek. Lincoln read them day and night.

Slavery alongside Christianity

Let's not make it," you know, "the certainty Christians on one side and the certainty Christians on the other side killing each other over their certain views of God. They line up in the hallway. He has to pass through this crowd of visitors just to get from his living space to his office.

One thing to change: Anecdotes aren’t data

But the war was demonstrating that death came to people regardless of whether they were good or bad. Lincoln's third and favorite son, Willie, died of typhoid fever. He was just 11 years old. Lincoln found a measure of consolation in the eulogy delivered by a Presbyterian minister, Phineas Gurley, at Willie's funeral. Let us acknowledge his hand and hear his voice and inquire after his will and seek his holy spirit as our counselor and guide, and all, in the end, will be well.

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There's none of that in this sermon. Some years ago the historian William Clebsch singled out Bushnell for special commendation as offering a serious theological interpretation of the Civil War. Bushnell's biographer, Barbara Cross, made a similar observation shortly before Clebsch published his pioneering essay. To Bushnell the war was a blood sacrifice of atonement that would transform America's fragmented, self-seeking atomism into an organic, redeemed social unity forever preserved from the threats of secularism, greed, and disharmony.

What seems clearer now, more than a generation after Clebsch and Cross published their fine work, however, is that Bushnell's romantic nationalism of the redeemed Volk was as liable to be corrupted as it was to promote the millennium Bushnell anticipated. Robert Lewis Dabney was as great a man, in his virtues and his errors, as was Horace Bushnell. Dabney, a professor at a small Presbyterian seminary in Virginia, enjoyed a well-deserved reputation as a clear-eyed exponent of traditional Calvinism. After the death of James Henley Thornwell of South Carolina, Dabney gained repute as the southern apologist with the greatest intellectual integrity and most consistently forceful exposition of confessional Christian faith.

The northern Old School Presbyterians at Princeton Theological Seminary had been so impressed with Dabney that they tried to recruit him for their faculty on the very eve of the war. Dabney had argued strenuously against secession during and into , but when Virginia joined the Confederacy, Dabney gave his heart and soul to defend the conservative, hierarchical way of life that he felt was imperiled by the unchecked currents of northern mobocracy, northern industrial capitalism, and northern religious frivolity.

For a time he served as Stonewall Jackson's chief of staff, but his most important service to the Confederacy was his constant, passionate, tightly reasoned writing on behalf of the South's way of life. When Dabney wrote to General Oliver O. Howard, head of the U. Freedman's Bureau, on September 12, , he was already deeply engaged in the effort, which would dominate the rest of his long life, to defend the antebellum South as a cynosure of divinely ordered civilization devastated by a wantonly vicious North.

The burden of the letter was to remind Howard of the responsibility, which the North had taken upon itself by conquest, to do more for the liberated bondsmen than the South had done for them while they were slaves. A great mind with great rhetorical skills was displayed in this letter but also a monumental self-righteousness that is hard today to read without disgust.

The South so shielded the negro against destitution, that from the Potomac to the Gulf not one negro pauper was ever seen, unless he were free, and not one African poorhouse existed or was needed She has secured to every African slave capable of labor, without even one exception among all her millions, remunerative occupation at all times, and amid all financial convulsions and depressions of business She taught the whole of them some rudiments of civilization She has diffused among the blacks a pure gospel She gave him a part in every house of worship built throughout her border She has given him evangelical preaching, unmingled with the poisons of Universalism, Millerism, Socinianism, Mormonism, or with the foreign and disastrous elements of politics.

Dabney's colleague, John Adger, was not as well known as Bushnell or as highly regarded as Dabney himself. But this longtime editor of the Southern Presbyterian Review was still a formidable figure. He had once been a missionary in Constantinople and would later defend Woodrow Wilson's uncle when James Woodrow was accused of tainting traditional belief with an admixture of evolutionary science. Late in , Adger used the columns of his Review to rebut the charge that the southern pulpit had lapsed into political propaganda during the war. Speaking, however, of the Southern Presbyterian pulpit in general, we feel very confident that it did not ring with any other sound than the preaching of the Cross.

Bushnell, Dabney, and Adger were well-trained theologians. Each was a master of the scriptures. Each was deeply committed to the comprehensive morality of the Christian faith. Each, regrettably, was entirely typical of the moral casuistry of American theologians during and after the Civil War. In volumes of learned, scripturally laden prose, none said anything that even approached the sagacity of Lincoln's moral commentary in the second inaugural, a commentary that was as profoundly accurate in its empirical observation as it was uniquely reserved in its unwillingness to pass final judgment: "Both read the same Bible, and pray to the same God; and each invokes His aid against the other.

It may seem strange that any men should dare to ask a just God's assistance in wringing their bread from the sweat of other men's faces; but let us judge not that we be not judged [Matt. The prayers of both could not be answered; that of neither has been answered fully. If Lincoln advanced beyond contemporary theologians in his moral discernment, he did so to an even greater degree in his view of divine Providence. Almost alone among public figures in his era, [14] Lincoln's concept of Providence combined the conventions of his age with a much more primordial vision.

What is the Christian perspective on war?

To be sure, earlier in his presidency Lincoln sounded very much like the priest of an American civil religion. At his first inaugural in , he talked of divine realities as if their main purpose was a utilitarian one to serve the nation. At this time his trust in America had been nearly complete: "Why should there not be a patient confidence in the ultimate justice of the people?

Is there any better, or equal, hope in the world? But before the war had progressed very far, Lincoln evidently began to rethink these conventional views. As early as , another theme rose in Lincoln's consciousness. It was the idea that perhaps the will of God could not simply be identified with American efforts to preserve the Union. Such thoughts he committed to paper in September , at one of the darkest moments of the conflict. The Union had suffered another defeat at Bull Run, and Lincoln had seriously begun to ponder the radical step of proclaiming the emancipation of southern slaves.

At that time, he penned a "Meditation on the Divine Will," which his secretaries later recalled was meant for Lincoln's eyes alone: 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. In the present civil war it is quite possible that God's purpose is something different from the purpose of either party —and yet the human instrumentalities, working just as they do, are of the best adaptation to effect His purpose.

I am almost ready to say this is probably true—that God wills this contest, and wills that it shall not end yet.

American Civil War

By his mere quiet power, on the minds of the now contestants, He could have either saved or destroyed the Union without a human contest. Yet the contest began. And having begun He could give the final victory to either side any day. Yet the contest proceeds. The reasoning that led to this private meditation evidently continued, for it was the reasoning that pervaded the second inaugural.

That reasoning shared the traditional opinion that God ruled over all events. But to this conventional belief Lincoln added two most unconventional convictions. Second was Lincoln's belief that the ways of Providence might be obscure, difficult to fathom, hedged in by contingencies, or otherwise not open to immediate understanding and manipulation. This combination of convictions—confidence in Providence along with humble agnosticism about its purposes—transformed the central section of the second inaugural into a theological statement of rare insight. Lincoln begins by stating a thesis: "The Almighty has His own purposes.

Fondly do we hope—fervently do we pray—that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Finally, Lincoln concludes by acknowledging that the progress of the United States is as nothing compared to the mysterious will of God: "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' [Ps.

America's best theologians joined Lincoln in believing that God was the disposer of all events. But they also continued to affirm the two principles that Lincoln had come to doubt. Almost universally, they maintained the long-treasured axiom that the United States had enjoyed, and would continue to enjoy, a unique destiny as a divinely chosen people.

Second, the theologians continued to speak as if the ways of Providence were transparent, that it was a relatively easy matter to say what God was doing in the disposition of contemporary events. Moreover, what was clearly seen could also be controlled; knowing what God was about gave theologians the confidence that they could determine the course of events. On these points, the chorus of theologians sang with one voice. At the Yale commencement, Bushnell confidently asserted a far different outcome than the one Lincoln contemplated.

So the unity now to be developed, after this war-deluge is over, I can only say that [these fallen alumni] having taken the sword to be God's ministers, and to vindicate the law as his ordinance, they have done it even the more effectively in that they have died for it Bitter has been the cost of our pitifully weak philosophy [that imagined government to be a trifle]. In these rivers of blood we have now bathed our institutions, and they are henceforth to be hallowed in our sight. Government is now become Providential,—no more a mere creature of our human will, but a grandly moral affair We have not fought this dreadful war to a close, just to put our government upon a par with these oppressive dynasties [of old Europe]!

We scorn the parallel they give us; and we owe it even to them to say, that a government which is friendly, and free, and right, protecting all alike, and doing the most for all, is one of God's sacred finalities, which no hand may touch, or conspiracy assail, without committing the most damning crime, such as can be matched by no possible severities of justice. John Williamson Nevin of the German Reformed Seminary in Mercersburg, Pennsylvania, is the one American theologian of his era whom many twentieth-century students rank with Bushnell.


  1. Hawaiian Eye;
  2. A Reporters World;
  3. Religious violence;

To Nevin, it was as easy as it would be for Bushnell to say what God had been about: The war, reaching out to the world-astounding issue in which it has now come to its close, stands revealed to our faith emphatically as God's work, just because it has been to so small an extent the result of any commensurate wisdom, or calculation, or plan on the part of men; and just because so large an amount of human corruption and error, to say nothing of Satanic wickedness, has entered into it all along, as to make it truly wonderful that the better powers still involved in it should ever have been able to triumph as they have done in the end But rightly apprehended, the success of the war carries with it the promise of success also for all that is yet required to make our national deliverance complete.

The past stands pledged for the prosperity of what is still to come. God has done great things for us, whereof we are glad; and this, itself, is our best reason for believing that he will do for us, still greater things hereafter. He will not forsake the work of his own hands. For more than a decade Nevin had been teamed with Philip Schaff at the tiny seminary in Mercersburg. A great American thinker who shared much of Nevin's and Schaff's romantic view of the world but who had long since passed beyond the boundaries of traditional Christianity nonetheless also saw matters very much as did the Christian theologians.

For their annual memorial lecture on April 19, , the citizens of Concord, Massachusetts, called upon this native son, Ralph Waldo Emerson. As might be expected, Emerson's remarks did not focus so much on the great event that had taken place at Concord Green ninety years before, but on the American president who had been slain only five days earlier. In his closing words, Emerson betrayed no doubts about his certainty that Lincoln had been divinity's agent to bring all of the human race toward perfection: The ancients believed in a serene and beautiful Genius which ruled in the affairs of nations; which, with a slow but stern justice, carried forward the fortunes of certain chosen houses, weeding out single offenders or offending families, and securing at last the firm prosperity of the favorites of Heaven.

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It was too narrow a view of the Eternal Nemesis. There is a serene Providence which rules the fate of nations, which makes little account of time, little of one generation or race, makes no account of disasters, conquers alike by what is called defeat or by what is called victory, thrusts aside enemy and obstruction, crushes everything immoral as inhuman, and obtains the ultimate triumph of the best race by the sacrifice of everything which resists the moral laws of the world.

It makes its own instruments, creates the man for the time, trains him in poverty, inspires his genius, and arms him for his task. The major American theologian who stood furthest removed from the sentiments of Ralph Waldo Emerson was Charles Hodge, doughty champion of traditional Calvinism at Princeton Theological Seminary. As the Civil War unfolded, Hodge had written for the Biblical Repertory and Princeton Review , which he edited, the most responsible series of theological reflections to be found anywhere in the United States.

The eulogy he offered for Lincoln in the July number shared many of the virtues of his earlier essays, but it could not escape the American quest for beneficent certainty.