November 18, 2013

And when I came to you, I did not come with superiority of speech or of wisdom, proclaiming to you the testimony of God. For I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified…And my message and my preaching were not in persuasive words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, that your faith should not rest on the wisdom of men, but on the power of God.  1 Corinthians 2:1-2, 4-5

Tomorrow, November 19, marks the 150th anniversary of one of history’s most famous speeches, the Gettysburg Address.

The Dedication Day ceremony begins with a wreath laying at 10:00 a.m. in the Soldiers’ National Cemetery at Gettysburg National Military Park, with Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell in attendance. If you can’t make it in person, you can catch the broadcast via Livestream starting at 9:30 a.m.

You’ll find information about other anniversary events taking place this week—including a salute to U.S. Colored Troops, a book signing by filmmaker Ken Burns (both also on the 19th), and Nov. 23rd’s annual Remembrance Day Illumination—here.

The 3-day battle between Union and Confederate forces in July 1863 was the bloodiest ever of the Civil War. A temporary cemetery situated on a town hillside became the final resting place for most of the dead, until prominent citizens became concerned about the graves’ poor condition. Eventually Gettysburg lawyer David Wills was appointed to coordinate the establishment of a soldiers’ cemetery, designed by noted landscape architect William Saunders. Removal of the Union dead began in the fall of 1863, but wasn’t completed until long after the grounds were dedicated on November 19 of that year (the Confederate dead were moved to the South, most interred in Richmond, Virginia).

According to Abraham Lincoln Online, David Wills invited Lincoln to give the concluding remarks at the ceremony, following the main address by Edward Everett (both men were guests in his home the night of November 18). According to his Congressional biography, Everett was an ordained minister, professor, politician, diplomat and speaker. He received his education at Harvard, and later taught at and was president of that institution. He served in both chambers of Congress, and as a governor of Massachusetts, envoy to Great Britain, Secretary of State under Millard Fillmore and unsuccessful vice presidential candidate in 1860. If you’d like to know more about him, Google has the book, A Memorial of Edward Everett, as a free download.

Everett’s speech to the 10,000-20,000 who attended the dedication ceremony lasted two hours, not an unusual length due to the oratorical style of the day. President Lincoln also was known for long speeches, but not on this day:

Fourscore and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation or any nation so conceived and so dedicated can long endure. We are met on a great battlefield of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field as a final resting-place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this. But in a larger sense, we cannot dedicate, we cannot consecrate, we cannot hallow this ground. The brave men, living and dead who struggled here have consecrated it far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living rather to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve 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.

(Contrary to popular lore, Lincoln did not whip up his remarks on the back of an envelope. He wrote at least half on White House stationery before his trip, and apparently finished it at the Wills house. The Library of Congress notes that there are five known manuscripts of the Gettysburg Address; it has two, one from each of his private secretaries.)

Everett sent Lincoln a short note the next day, asking for a copy of the speech (his copy resides at the Illinois State Historical Library; the other two copies are at Cornell University and in the Lincoln Room of the White House). He also wrote: “Permit me also to express my great admiration of the thoughts expressed by you, with such eloquent simplicity & appropriateness at the consecration of the cemetery. I should be glad, if I could flatter myself that I came as near to the central idea of the occasion, in two hours, as you did in two minutes.”

Lincoln didn’t need many words to capture the feelings of a torn Union that day—solemnity and sorrow, mingled with resolve and hope. Nor do we need a lot to communicate the Bible’s central point, as the apostle Paul reiterated to his Corinthian readers. It is a very simple one, perhaps best expressed in one of the most beloved, well-known passages in all Scripture: “For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).

The whole of the Bible is really just a further explanation of that promise. Sure, God could have provided us with much more information, He could have gone on and on, but He chose not to. As the apostle John concluded in his Gospel, “There are also many other things which Jesus did, which if they were written in detail, I suppose that even the world itself would not contain the books which were written” (John 21:25). Ditto for every book in the Bible.

What we do have is the assurance that we have everything we need to live a life pleasing to God (2 Peter 1:3), not because we know it all but because of the power of the God who does.

A short but sweet message indeed!

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