It’s difficult to believe that it has been 160 years ago today since President Abraham Lincoln delivered one of the most famous speeches in the history of our country – the Gettysburg Address. This short speech, crafted by Lincoln himself, was delivered to an audience as the battlefield at Gettysburg was dedicated after the brutal battle that took place there – with heavy casualties suffered by both the North and the South during the Civil War.
There are five copies of the speech, in Lincoln’s own hand, in existence. Two of the copies were prepared before the dedication and an additional three copies were prepared for special people up to a year or more after the Gettysburg Address was first delivered, including one that was to be used for a fundraiser! The copies have slight variations in text but, for the most part, impart the same intent and wording.
What’s so special about the speech is that Lincoln captured the solemnity of the dedication while paying homage to those who gave the last full measure of devotion. He was wrong about one thing, however. Senator Charles Sumner, who gave a eulogy for Lincoln on June 1, 1863 after Lincoln’s untimely death, reminded the audience that the Gettysburg Address was a “monumental act” that ended up being more memorable than the actual battle that was fought there. As you may recall, Lincoln thought the nation would not remember the words or events of the day compared to the sacrifice of the fallen soldiers.
By no means was this a negative reflection on those who lost their lives in this most terrible battle. In fact, Lincoln tried to elevate the memory of what had happened on the battlefield. But the Senator was correct – the Address took on a life of its own and became one of the core documents of our American history.
In the Gettysburg Address, Lincoln calls upon the living to resolve three things: “that these dead shall not have died in vain”; “that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom”; and “that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.” … Clearly, all of these things are very important, especially during this time when our nation seems to have lost its way. Lincoln was successful in reinvigorating the American public and rededicating the effort to end slavery and the Civil War.
Several things are particularly notable about the words Lincoln chose. He talks about dedication – even consecration – and doesn’t believe that the living can add anything to what those who gave the last full measure of devotion have already done by spilling their blood on the battlefield.
He also makes a reference to God – our nation, under God! The recognition of God as supreme was something that Lincoln lived by. Many times during his life, especially during the stress of the Civil War, Lincoln was driven to his knees by his dependence on God. We could use more of that today by our country’s leaders.
Lincoln was dedicated to doing the best that he could do for the advancement of the country. He was known as leading our country through one of the darkest periods in our history. In fact, his Cabinet was comprised of people who were bitter political enemies, yet Lincoln would not be swayed by political agendas. He chose the best people for his various Cabinet positions, regardless of their political positions. To lead such a diverse group of people was nothing short of miraculous and could not have been accomplished without the help of the Holy Spirit. The day of his death, bitter adversaries wept, citing Lincoln’s fairness and incredible leadership, citing him as one of the greatest men who had ever lived.
We know from the Scripture that God instituted the idea of government and Lincoln was certainly a believer in God. Interestingly, though, he was not as interested in organized religion as we might think. In fact, there is some question as to whether or not Lincoln ever joined a church, but that is for another day!
Our verse for tonight is from the Psalms. The psalmist tells us, in Psalm 47:7-9, “For God is the King of all the earth; sing to him a psalm of praise. God reigns over the nations; God is seated on his holy throne. The nobles of the nations assemble as the people of the God of Abraham, for the kings of the earth belong to God; he is greatly exalted.”
My encouragement this evening is that God is steadfast in His love for us and will never desert us. My prayer is that we, as a nation, will have the courage and resolve to lean on God, not only in our personal lives, but through prayer to heal our country. After all, with God all things are possible. Have a great day in the Lord, grace and peace…