Remembering Gettysburg: The Cost of Liberty
Abraham Lincoln spoke about the sacrifices made for liberty and freedom in his Gettysburg Address. What does the Bible say is required for real liberty?
Abraham Lincoln gave the Gettysburg Address—his most recognized speech—150 years ago on Nov. 19, 1863. President Lincoln was speaking at the dedication of a national cemetery in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, where some 50,000 soldiers were killed or wounded in one of the bloodiest battles of the American Civil War.
President Lincoln was actually not the keynote speaker, and he even said that “the world will little note, nor long remember what we say here.” Ironically, much of America still remembers what President Lincoln said, but not what the keynote speaker said. It was President Lincoln’s few but poignant words that struck a chord with generations to come.
A nation conceived in liberty
President Lincoln began his speech, “Four score 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.”
The United States was founded on freedom—articulated by Thomas Jefferson’s words in the Declaration of Independence. The Civil War was fought partly to ensure that promise of freedom was realized by more than one race of Americans. It’s estimated that 600,000 to 750,000 were killed in this dark chapter of American history. President Lincoln said in his address that he hoped the soldiers did not die in vain and that “this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom.”
But what is the cost of true freedom? What is required to have real liberty?
Captivity and liberty
Just as Americans speak about their freedom, the Bible speaks a lot about liberty—especially being freed from captivity.
When Jesus Christ began His earthly ministry, He read from Scripture: “The Spirit of the LORD is upon Me, because He has anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor; He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives … to set at liberty those who are oppressed” (Luke 4:18, emphasis added).
These words Christ spoke referred to Himself. He was reading from an Old Testament prophecy concerning the coming Messiah (Isaiah 61:1-2).
Jesus Christ came proclaiming the gospel—the good news—of the Kingdom of God and the government of God. And it is only by living in harmony with God’s laws and His way of life that any of us can attain true liberty. God’s 10 Commandments are even referred to as “the perfect law of liberty” (James 1:25)!
God frees us from captivity
Many are familiar with the account of God freeing the ancient Israelites from their physical captivity. After they were freed from bondage in Egypt, God revealed His Ten Commandments to the Israelites to help ensure their freedom.
The ancient Israelites’ freedom from captivity is symbolic of the spiritual freedom—made possible by the death of our Savior—that God wants to give all mankind. God wants humanity to be free from the captivity of sin and its deadly consequences.
When our first parents, Adam and Eve, were created, they had freedom, as God gave them free will. But when they chose to listen to Satan the devil, instead of God, they were then spiritually kidnapped and became captives of Satan. Even today, the world is still held captive by Satan and will be until the return of Jesus Christ.
In his Gettysburg Address President Lincoln acknowledged the soldiers who sacrificed their lives for the cause of liberty and freedom. And those who choose to follow God today are spiritual soldiers, called to be living sacrifices (Romans 12:1-2).
Christians are to be ambassadors of Christ, enduring persecution and ridicule that comes because we live in a world under the influence of Satan. They keep God’s commandments, knowing true freedom will ultimately come by embedding that pattern of life in their character.
The apostle Paul said, “You therefore must endure hardship as a good soldier of Jesus Christ. No one engaged in warfare entangles himself with the affairs of this life, that he may please him who enlisted him as a soldier” (2 Timothy 2:3-4).
And Christ even told Pilate, “My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, My servants would fight … but now My kingdom is not from here” (John 18:36).
God’s Kingdom will bring real liberty
When Christ returns, He will reestablish God’s government on earth. Christ, with His army of angels, will quickly free mankind from Satan, bringing real liberty to the entire world.
With the establishment of God’s government, the entire earth will be freed. Speaking of this time, Paul wrote: “The creation itself also will be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God” (Romans 8:21).
Yes, President Lincoln hoped the sacrifices the soldiers made at Gettysburg 150 years ago would not be in vain, and he hoped that freedom would prevail. But the Bible tells us that real freedom will prevail only when Jesus Christ—the One who truly paid the ultimate sacrifice by giving His life for mankind—returns and reestablishes the Kingdom of God on earth.
It will be then that the entire world will have the “new birth of freedom” that Lincoln envisioned for the United States in his Gettysburg Address.