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President Lincoln’s Proclamations of Fasting and Prayer

President Lincoln's Proclamations of Fasting and Prayer

The inauguration of Donald Trump, the 45th President of the United States, occurred last week. The festivities of the week included a Pre-Inaugural Concert at the Lincoln Memorial. President Obama’s 2009 pre-inaugural concert was held there as well.

The fireworks scene at the end of the concert was breathtaking. I can only imagine what it must have been like to have been there in person. No matter what political party you supported in the election, I imagine if you were there in that moment, your patriotism was stirred.

As you can see in the video above, it was breathtaking! By television, no less! But I’m sure this pales in comparison to what it was like in person—fireworks lighting up the sky above the historic Lincoln Memorial … to the sound of the Battle Hymn of the Republic performed by the U.S. Army Band and U.S. Army Chorus.

The backdrop remained constant throughout the concert—the Lincoln Memorial. A new president was being honored, but never was the sixteenth president out of mind. Every scene kept his life and legacy in the forefront. This was interesting to me, given the timing of it … during our season of fasting and prayer.

Television coverage showed the president-elect and his family paying tribute to President Lincoln as they exited the Memorial, after the spectacular fireworks display that celebrated the nation.

The setting honored Abraham Lincoln. The closing song (in what must have outraged secularists) honored Christ the King and reflected the nation’s Christian heritage.

As I watched the concert and considered the significance of its location, one thing came to mind—one crucial action President Lincoln took that affected our nation’s future. The significance of this action cannot be measured. But in our modern time (with its revisionist history), very few Americans even know about it.

What is this one thing? President Lincoln led the nation to turn to God through fasting and prayer.

Yes, that’s right. This historic president whom God used to make such a difference in our nation led its inhabitants to seek God through fasting and prayer … three different times.

I wonder if the president-elect and concert viewers around the nation were aware of this as they considered the grandeur of the memorial and the man to whom it pays tribute.

The nation that was celebrated in such a spectacular way that night might very well not exist in the form it does today, were it not for President Lincoln’s proclamations appointing days of prayer and fasting. (Tweet this)

President Lincoln Knew …

Abraham Lincoln was the first Republican president. He led the Union to victory in the Civil War, which ended slavery in America. He issued the Emancipation Proclamation which began the process of freedom for America’s slaves, and he ensured congressional passage of the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, the abolition of slavery.

If you’re a U.S. citizen, you know these facts well. But they’re worth considering afresh in light of what may be a new context.

This man whom God used so greatly in our nation’s history, and Congress, who drafted the proclamations, knew Who the Source of true power and the agent of real change was. (Tweet this) They knew that only God could unite and heal the nation. (Tweet this) They knew that nothing could be accomplished apart from prayer, and that fasting deepens and strengthens prayer.

President Lincoln’s Proclamation’s for Prayer and Fasting

First Proclamation

During the Civil War, President Lincoln called the nation to fast and pray for national peace and unity. His first proclamation was to set apart the last Thursday in September, 1861. A portion read:

Whereas it is fit and becoming in all people at all times to acknowledge and revere the supreme government of God, to bow in humble submission to His chastisements, to confess and deplore their sins and transgressions in the full conviction that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and to pray with all fervency and contrition for the pardon of their past offenses and for a blessing upon their present and prospective action; and

Whereas when our own beloved country, once, by the blessing of God, united, prosperous, and happy, is now afflicted with faction and civil war, it is peculiarly fit for us to recognize the hand of God in this terrible visitation, and in sorrowful remembrance of our own faults and crimes as a nation and as individuals to humble ourselves before Him and to pray for His mercy—to pray that we may be spared further punishment, though most justly deserved; that our arms may be blessed and made effectual for the reestablishment of law, order, and peace throughout the wide extent of our country; and that the inestimable boon of civil and religious liberty, earned under His guidance and blessing by the labors and sufferings of our fathers, may be restored in all its original excellence:

Therefore I, Abraham Lincoln, President of the United States, do appoint the last Thursday in September next as a day of humiliation, prayer, and fasting for all the people of the nation. And I do earnestly recommend to all the people, and especially to all ministers and teachers of religion of all denominations and to all heads of families, to observe and keep that day according to their several creeds and modes of worship in all humility and with all religious solemnity, to the end that the united prayer of the nation may ascend to the Throne of Grace and bring down plentiful blessings upon our country. 1  (Tweet this)

Second Proclamation

Lincoln’s second proclamation, first issued by the Senate, on the 30th of March, 1863 stated that we needed to repent as a nation through prayer and fasting:

Whereas the Senate of the United States, devoutly recognizing the supreme authority and just government of Almighty God in all the affairs of men and of nations, has by a resolution requested the President to designate and set apart a day for national prayer and humiliation; and

Whereas it is the duty of nations as well as of men to own their dependence upon the overruling power of God, to confess their sins and transgressions in humble sorrow, yet with assured hope that genuine repentance will lead to mercy and pardon, and to recognize the sublime truth, announced in the Holy Scriptures and proven by all history, that those nations only are blessed whose God is the Lord;

And, insomuch as we know that by His divine law nations, like individuals, are subjected to punishments and chastisements in this world, may we not justly fear that the awful calamity of civil war which now desolates the land may be but a punishment inflicted upon us for our presumptuous sins, to the needful end of our national reformation as a whole people? We have been the recipients of the choicest bounties of Heaven; we have been preserved these many years in peace and prosperity; we have grown in numbers, wealth, and power as no other nation has ever grown. But we have forgotten God. We have forgotten the gracious hand which preserved us in peace and multiplied and enriched and strengthened us, and we have vainly imagined, in the deceitfulness of our hearts, that all these blessings were produced by some superior wisdom and virtue of our own. Intoxicated with unbroken success, we have become too self-sufficient to feel the necessity of redeeming and preserving grace, too proud to pray to the God that made us.

It behooves us, then, to humble ourselves before the offended Power, to confess our national sins, and to pray for clemency and forgiveness.

Now, therefore, in compliance with the request, and fully concurring in the views of the Senate, I do by this my proclamation designate and set apart Thursday, the 30th day of April, 1863, as a day of national humiliation, fasting, and prayer. And I do hereby request all the people to abstain on that day from their ordinary secular pursuits, and to unite at their several places of public worship and their respective homes in keeping the day holy to the Lord and devoted to the humble discharge of the religious duties proper to that solemn occasion.2 (Tweet this)

Third Proclamation

Lincoln’s third proclamation was the first Thursday of August, 1864. He made a special plea for those in positions of authority to seek God with fasting and prayer.

That the President of the United States be requested to appoint a day for humiliation and prayer by the people of the United States; that he request his constitutional advisers at the head of the Executive Departments to unite with him as Chief Magistrate of the nation, at the city of Washington, and the members of Congress, and all magistrates, all civil, military, and naval officers, all soldiers, sailors, and marines, with all loyal and law-abiding people, to convene at their usual places of worship, or wherever they may be, to confess and to repent of their manifold sins; to implore the compassion and forgiveness of the Almightyto implore Him, as the Supreme Ruler of the World, not to destroy us as a people, nor suffer us to be destroyed by the hostility or connivance of other nations or by obstinate adhesion to our own counsels, which may be in conflict with His eternal purposes, and to implore Him to enlighten the mind of the nation to know and do His will, humbly believing that it is in accordance with His will that our place should be maintained as a united people among the family of nations;

Now, therefore, I, Abraham Lincoln, President of the United States, cordially concurring with the Congress of the United States in the penitential and pious sentiments expressed in the aforesaid resolution and heartily approving of the devotional design and purpose thereof, do hereby appoint the first Thursday of August next to be observed by the people of the United States as a day of national humiliation and prayer.

I do hereby further invite and request the heads of the Executive Departments of this Government, together with all legislators, all judges and magistrates, and all other persons exercising authority in the land, whether civil, military, or naval, and all soldiers, seamen, and marines in the national service, and all the other loyal and law-abiding people of the United States, to assemble in their preferred places of public worship on that day, and there and then to render to the almighty and merciful Ruler of the Universe such homages and such confessions….3 (Tweet this)

For Repentance

Did you notice the wording in the second proclamation? President Lincoln (and the men of the senate, like so many of our founding fathers and early statesmen) knew that the blessings of the nation had been given to its citizens by God.

Knowing this, he recognized when the nation had “forgotten God” and “vainly imagined, in the deceitfulness of our hearts, that all these blessings were produced by some superior wisdom and virtue of our own.”

Therefore, he proclaimed a fast so that the nation could return to God, confess its national sins, and ask God for forgiveness. So that they might do what 2 Chronicles 7:14 instructs:

“If My people who are called by My name will humble themselves, and pray and seek My face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land” (2 Chronicles 7:14). (Tweet this)

Each proclamation called for the nation to repent, confess its sins, and pray for forgiveness.

The United States Today

Today in the United States, we have forgotten God. We’ve vainly imagined in the deceitfulness of our hearts that all the blessings we enjoy were somehow produced by our own abilities and gifts. Intoxicated with success and self-sufficiency, we feel we don’t need God’s redeeming and keeping grace. We’re too arrogant to pray to the God that made us, let alone confess and repent of our “manifold,” “national” sins. (Tweet this)

So we elevate our own gods and worship them with abandon. We toss our heads in pride, worship self-interest, and success, and convenience, and all that is temporal … and slaughter millions of babies in the womb, a genocide whose casualties far outweigh those of the Civil War. Pouring violently over their banks, rivers of innocent blood pollute the land.

We worship sin and self-gratification … and light up the White House in rainbow colors, marking in grievous imagery just how far the nation has fallen and just how high she hoists her idols. (Tweet this)

It is a forbidden danger to whisper the name of Jesus or bend a knee in the public square. … While scarcely is there one among us who doesn’t fall prostrate before murder, and immorality, and perversion, and pornography, and wickedness of every unimaginable sort. … Satan relishes his accomplishment, rubbing cupped hands in delicious delight. Good is evil and evil is good. (Tweet this)

The One True God has not changed. His good has not become evil. Neither has His light become darkness nor his sweet become bitter.

The God who by His favor established this nation and allowed its charter to agree with the purposes and principles of government ordained by Him in Scripture—His instruction remains the same:

“If My people who are called by My name will humble themselves, and pray and seek My face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land” (2 Chronicles 7:14). (Tweet this)

What If …

We will never know what would have become of the nation without the leadership of Abraham Lincoln, and that of the men in the House and Senate who drafted these proclamations. It’s impossible to go back in time, choose an alternate route, and see what would have occurred in the midst and in the wake of the Civil War had God not blessed America with leaders who knew how crucial it was that we humble ourselves before God in fasting and prayer as a nation.

But thank God, we don’t have to know. Thank God for raising up Abraham Lincoln and the men of the congress “for such a time as this.”

Today, we’re in desperate need of for-such-a-time-as-this leaders across the nation.

May the examples of the godly, courageous leadership of President Lincoln and the Congress spur us to pray that the same knowledge, and wisdom, and courage, and Spirit be upon our current president, vice-president, and all government leaders from the local to national level.

May united prayer from the nation once again “ascend to the Throne of Grace, and bring down plentiful blessings upon our country.” (Tweet this)

May we recognize, as our founding fathers and early statesmen did, that it is God who gave us life and liberty.

“Can the liberties of a nation be thought secure when we have removed their only firm basis, a conviction in the minds of the people that these liberties are the gift of God? That they are not to be violated but with his wrath? Indeed I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just: that his justice cannot sleep for ever . . . .”

~ Thomas Jefferson, used in Jefferson Memorial inscription

May we understand that we are one nation under God, created and kept by Him and Him alone. And in a fresh awareness of this, may we turn to the One and Only who can forgive, heal, bless, and prosper the nation and her people. May we turn to Him, confess our manifold, national sins and ask Him to heal our land.

Battle Hymn of the Republic

Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord;
He is trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored;
He hath loosed the fateful lightning of His terrible swift sword:
His truth is marching on.

Glory, glory, hallelujah!
Glory, glory, hallelujah!
Glory, glory, hallelujah!
His truth is marching on.

I have seen Him in the watch-fires of a hundred circling camps,
They have builded Him an altar in the evening dews and damps;
I can read His righteous sentence by the dim and flaring lamps:
His day is marching on.

Glory, glory, hallelujah!
Glory, glory, hallelujah!
Glory, glory, hallelujah!
His day is marching on.

In the beauty of the lilies Christ was born across the sea,
With a glory in His bosom that transfigures you and me.
As He died to make men holy, let us die to make men free
While God is marching on.

More Tweetables

  • The USA might very well not exist as it does today if not for President Lincoln’s proclamations of fasting and prayer. > Tweet
  • President Lincoln & the 37th & 38th Congress knew the importance of fasting & prayer. > Tweet
  • During the Civil War, President Lincoln proclaimed a fast for national peace and unity. > Tweet
  • The U.S. had forgotten God & become too proud to pray to God who made them. So President Lincoln proclaimed a fast. >Tweet
  • We’ve slaughtered millions of babies in the womb, a genocide whose casualties far outweigh those of the Civil War. > Tweet
  • Intoxicated with success & self-sufficiency, as a nation we feel we don’t need God’s redeeming and keeping grace. > Tweet
  • Pouring violently over their banks, rivers of innocent blood pollute the land. > Tweet
  • If My people … will humble themselves, pray, seek My face, and turn from their wicked ways… ~ 2 Chronicles 7:14. > Tweet
  • May we understand that we are one nation under God, created and kept by Him and Him alone. > Tweet
  • May we turn to the One and Only who can forgive, heal, bless, and prosper the nation and her people. > Tweet
  • May we turn to God, confess our manifold, national sins & ask Him to heal our land. > Tweet

Questions:

  • Did you know that President Lincoln had proclaimed three fasts?
  • What do you think the impact of those fasts were on the Civil War and on the healing of the nation in its wake?
  • What impact would a presidential proclamation for fasting, prayer, and repentance have upon our nation today?

__________

  1. http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/index.php?pid=69979
  2. http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/?pid=69891
  3. http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/index.php?pid=69994

 

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