A Sermon After the Assassination of Abraham Lincoln
by Rev. David T Myers
For all of our subscribers, they probably can remember where they were, and what they were doing when the infamous “Nine-eleven” hijackers crashed their people-loaded airplanes into the Twin Towers in Manhattan, New York. Such a terrorist catastrophe as that is not easily forgotten. In response, Christians all over the country opened up their churches for prayer and consolation over such a terrible event. In addition, ministers on the following Lord’s Day sought to give some sense of the terrible event in the light of God’s Word, the Bible.
This author was one of those pastors who sought to teach God’s people in his Presbyterian congregation of how all this fit into the sovereignty of God. In so doing, I was not alone in American history in trying to make sense of what our God and King has allowed to occur at desperate times. Such was also the case in 1865 at the close of the Civil War when President Abraham Lincoln was assassinated by John Wilkes Booth. On the following Sundays, the clergy of the land, including many Presbyterians, gave messages on this tragic event. Some sermons are found here.
Of the sermons following that murder of our chief executive which this author has read, the one by church historian and Presbyterian pastor Rev. Dr. William Sprague of the Second Presbyterian Church in Albany, New York on this Lord’s Day, April 16, 1865, stands out. He had five points, of which we will only summarize from the sermon.
First, he portrays how manifest it is that clouds and darkness were found around Jehovah’s throne in the assassination of this sixteenth chief executive of the United States. By this, he speaks of “the demon in human form” who would engage in this terrible act of murder.
It is interesting that at the time of his sermon, he was in the dark as to who this “demon” was. It was only later that the culprit’s name was revealed to be a known Washington, D.C. actor by the name of John Wilkes Booth, who led a small band of people to engage in this plot.
Dr. Sprague speaks of “the adoration of the unsearchable depths of divine counsel” and urges his listeners to “reverently await for the light from God’s throne to illuminate” the matter before the nation and church.
Next, he brings out the full depravity of the human heart being illustrated by this murder. He applies all this as a warning to the members of his congregation, and especially the youth of the Albany church to deny sin in their hearts before it breaks out into sinful actions.
Third, he acknowledges such an event teaches all people everywhere that no one has the ability to look into the future. He briefly surveys the progress of the Civil War, noting that at that time in 1865, Abraham Lincoln had seen the defeated capitol of the Confederacy, Richmond Virginia, in person, after the rebel forces there had abandoned it. He has sat in the chair of Confederate President Jefferson Davis. It looked as if the Confederacy would soon surrender. Yet he spoke the truth of James 4 that “we will never know on what ground the next step may place us.” He urged that all his members to “keep their hearts filled with the love of God.”
Fourth, he observed “the strange commingling of good and evil, of joy and sorrow which affects human life” on this earth. On one hand, the people in the North were rejoicing that the cruel war may soon be over. On the other hand, this event had just taken place which brought with it uncertain times.
Last, he rebuked his listeners for having put too much confidence in an arm of flesh, and charging us to trust in the living God only.
This was a most interesting point in his sermon of this author. He cautioned his listeners against the idolatry of leaders and generals. He acknowledges the temptation of the political and military leadership conducting battles in the spirit of practical atheism, with not enough trust in God.
In application, he urged his listeners to not despair of the divine aid which was available to them during this sad time and charges them to lift their eyes upward.
Words to Live By:
When there is a national event such as this, God’s pastors and people ought to see it in the light of God’s Word, the Bible. Certainly, God was not surprised by the murder of Abraham Lincoln. It was within His permissive will to occur. We need to see the events of history, even those unpleasant events to our minds and hearts, all within His sovereign will, and trust in Him all the more for life and liberty.