The Civil War has been called “the greatest man-made disaster in American history.” Between 1861 and 1865, about 1 out of 11 American men of service age was killed—an estimated 623,000 total. By comparison, 37,000 Americans died in the Korean War; 58,000, in the Vietnam War. In World War i, 117,000 American soldiers died. In World War ii, 405,000 died. In proportion to the population, deaths during the Civil War were equivalent to America losing 2½ million men in World War ii. Nearly every home was touched by death and despair.
The man who led the United States during its bloodiest war was Abraham Lincoln.
The first three days of July in 1863, the Battle of Gettysburg was waged. It ended up being a critically important victory for the North, as Robert E. Lee and the Confederate soldiers retreated across the Potomac River into Virginia. Yet it came at a horrifying cost: Nearly a third of the men who fought there became casualties—28 percent of the Union Army and over 37 percent of the Confederates. More than 33,000 men were wounded, over 10,000 went missing, and 7,058 were killed.
And though Union Maj. Gen. George Meade was praised for his victory, Lincoln harshly criticized him because he didn’t finish off the Confederate soldiers—he allowed them to retreat! Lincoln knew how badly they needed to conclude the war, yet he despaired because it felt as if there were no end in sight.
On November 19 of that year, the Soldiers National Cemetery was dedicated in Gettysburg. It was a prominent national event. Edward Everett, considered the greatest orator in America at the time, spoke for two hours.
Then Lincoln got up and spoke. When you understand what was at stake, you recognize that delivering that address was a heavy burden.
In Lincoln’s Mentors, Michael Gerhardt writes, “[H]onoring the battle was secondary to Lincoln. He had his eyes on the bigger picture. What had happened at Gettysburg was monumental, but it was only part of the larger Civil War, which remained unsettled.”
The burning question in so many people’s minds was: Why must this horrendous war continue? Lincoln was well aware that people were asking this. It was an agonizing question! It was foremost in his mind as well. And at Gettysburg, he had to explain why the war was necessary.
He spoke for less than three minutes. But Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address is one of the finest speeches in American history.
All Men Are Created Equal
Why did the Civil War have to continue? Lincoln answered in the first sentence of his address: “Fourscore and seven years ago, our fathers brought forth upon this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.”
“Fourscore and seven years ago,” he said—87 years before 1863. Lincoln was referring to the Declaration of Independence, signed on July 4, 1776.
He was not speaking of the United States Constitution. Why did Lincoln want so much to talk about the Declaration of Independence?
Just after the victory at Gettysburg, on July 7, 1863, Lincoln told a crowd gathered outside the White House that the Declaration of Independence was “the first time in the history of the world a nation by its representatives, assembled and declared as a self-evident truth that ‘all men are created equal.’”
The fact that Lincoln was so focused on the Declaration of Independence upset a lot of people. Some of the newspapers at the time condemned him, saying: You don’t need to talk about equality; just talk about liberty! Saying “all men are created equal” was shocking to some, especially people in the South. They believed the slaves were property; they didn’t want to discuss equality or all men being “under God.”
Lincoln linked the Declaration of Independence to the Constitution and showed an unbreakable connection between the two. Without the Declaration, there would be no Constitution. And the Constitution was crafted to realize the ideals articulated in the Declaration.
All men are created equal—what a powerful statement. And the Declaration of Independence was the first time in history that a nation declared it. How amazing that the Founding Fathers proclaimed it to the world! They sought to make this new country an example to the world. They shouted this out to the nations: All men are created equal! And then Lincoln connected that declaration with the Constitution.
The Gettysburg Address reached deeper than any other speaker had ever reached on this subject. Just the introduction showed that Lincoln saw something about history, and about America, that Edward Everett didn’t even touch on in his two-hour speech.
Gabor Boritt writes that “Lincoln’s speech rose to be American gospel, the good news, for it was not that at birth” (The Gettysburg Gospel). Because slavery existed, the nation didn’t live up to its founding principle.
Quoting the Declaration of Independence cut a lot deeper in 1863 than before because that supported the Emancipation Proclamation, which Lincoln had passed on January 1 of that year. This declared some 3.5 million slaves in the Confederate states to be free. That changed the character of the whole war.
Many people supported the Emancipation Proclamation. Slavery was a worldwide problem. The African authorities themselves sold their people as slaves. There was no better place in the world to pursue happiness than in America. Many people agreed with Lincoln and wanted to eradicate slavery.
Lincoln repeatedly referenced Genesis 3:19, which says: “In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground ….” In Lincoln Unbound, Rich Lowry says Lincoln saw in that scripture “the most elementary justice. It was simply wrong for anyone to take the fruits of someone else’s labor, someone else’s property.” Every man has a right to receive what he worked for with the sweat of his brow.
Lincoln was working toward a new birth of freedom! He wanted to do what the founders established when they declared independence for the nation. He reaffirmed that all men are created equal and then established the Emancipation Proclamation to begin to make it reality. Slavery would no longer be tolerated in the rebellious states and not much longer in the rest of the Union. Lincoln was taking freedom to the highest level. He was a real leader of men.
Abraham Lincoln had to explain to the people why they had to continue this bloody war, and he told them—in three minutes. What a mighty accomplishment!
In November: Lincoln’s Elegy at Gettysburg, Kent Gramm writes: “If we Americans can’t find Lincoln, we are lost.” That is oh so true. Do we really abhor slavery today? Are we truly convicted that this founding principle of America—actually a fundamental absolute truth—that all men are created equal, is a great thing?
So many people today brand America as racist. Yet think on this: Seventy-three percent of players in the National Basketball Association are black. They make millions of dollars playing their games in China—that is, if they will keep their mouths shut about the Uyghurs. The Uyghurs are slaves in China. They are treated barbarically and abused unmercifully. Their women are raped. Yet the nba willingly stays quiet about this atrocity! There is simply too much money to be made there.
The same is true of all the technology companies and corporations. They make billions of dollars by doing business with China. Therefore, they dare not say anything about the Uyghurs or China’s plan to take over Taiwan.
What would Abraham Lincoln think of that? There is much we have yet to learn from the Gettysburg Address.
Do we really believe all men are created equal? That is not just Abraham Lincoln’s view or Thomas Jefferson’s. That is God’s view! America’s founders got that from the Bible!
Lincoln simply read the Bible and believed it. He wouldn’t even attend church because he didn’t hear the preachers speaking what the Bible actually says.
Lincoln made clear that emancipation was an ideal the world ought to teach and uphold and even fight for! He called slavery as it was widely practiced in America a sin because God calls it a sin! That is clear in the Bible. God’s law shows that God does not intend people to be owned by other people. He wants all men to be free! His law is a law of liberty (Exodus 20:2; James 1:25; 2:12). But as Lincoln said, how can you even know what is right from wrong if you don’t know the Bible? Lincoln knew the Bible.
Boritt writes: “[W]hatever expectations he may have taken to Gettysburg, however reluctant he was to make a personal profession of Christianity, much of what Lincoln said carried the rhythms of the Bible.” Lincoln’s language and his beliefs were rooted in the Bible; that’s why this address was so powerful!
Why did Lincoln say, “Fourscore and seven years ago,” rather than “87 years”? Psalm 90 records “A prayer of Moses the man of God.” The King James Version renders verse 10, “The days of our years are threescore years and ten; and if by reason of strength they be fourscore years, yet is their strength labour and sorrow; for it is soon cut off, and we fly away.” Lincoln knew his address would be scrutinized. He evoked this biblical poetry because he sought to bring the weight of Scripture into it. “Fourscore and seven years ago”—only Lincoln would have phrased it that way.
Lincoln’s understanding of the relationship between the Declaration and Independence was enriched by Proverbs 25:11: “A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in pictures of silver.” Lincoln wrote a note in 1861 about how this verse applied to America’s founding. He likened the principle in the Declaration of “liberty to all” to the word fitly spoken, the golden apple, while the Constitution was the silver frame. “The Union and the Constitution are the picture of silver, subsequently framed around it [the Declaration],” he wrote. “The picture was made not to conceal or destroy the apple, but to adorn and preserve it. The picture was made for the apple—not the apple for the picture.” He then implored the nation to ensure that neither the picture nor the apple become broken or bruised.
Lincoln brought the Bible into his speeches. And he brought God into the Civil War.
Lincoln’s speech continued: “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.” Those thousands of men died so America could continue its progress toward freedom and equality.
In essence, Lincoln was asking, Do you want those soldiers to die in vain? Is that to be the end result of all this bloodshed? Will you allow that to happen? How convicted are you that all men are created equal?
Look at America today, and you must acknowledge that the “unfinished work” of which Lincoln spoke remains unfinished. There is terrible confusion about liberty in the world today. Freedoms are being eroded and trampled—sometimes in the name of causes like “equality.” In America, to give just one example, government authorities are investigating and attacking parents who question the perverse curricula being pushed on their children in public school! That is insanity when you think about it in terms of what Abraham Lincoln was teaching. These authorities are trashing the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence!
The vital truth is, Satan has been cast down, and he is orchestrating this attack on liberty (Revelation 12:9). The people he is inspiring have no interest in freedom or true equality—they want to blot out the name of Israel! (2 Kings 14:26-27).
Lincoln spoke of an “unfinished work” to which they needed to dedicate themselves. The cruel war had to continue! Jesus Christ said, “My meat is to do the will of him that sent me, and to finish his work” (John 4:34). We too have a work to do.
Many people likely would have preferred that Lincoln had said, I suppose it best that we end this war—even if it means dividing the country. To live up to a sublime ideal like “all men are created equal” is exceedingly difficult. It requires supreme conviction. Few have the requisite character. It is far easier to proclaim that ideal and fall short of it.
As America’s founders said, if the people lack religious character, the Constitution will never work. It was not designed for an immoral people. Lincoln understood that.
But the Gettysburg Address spoke of a “new birth of freedom.” The Civil War afforded the opportunity to finally get it right and fulfill the ideals America had proclaimed to the world!
It takes leadership to say such things. Lincoln was quite a leader, one of the greatest America has ever had.
A New Birth of Freedom
Lincoln concluded: “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.”
Apparently he added “under God” the night before he spoke. For a government to truly succeed, Lincoln said, it must be “under God.” Of course, America’s government is flawed because it is of men, but it was built upon many biblical principles. Lincoln knew the Bible, and he knew the founders’ thinking and was passionate about it.
Lincoln felt responsible to safeguard the survival of a government that defended freedom—to ensure it didn’t perish from the Earth! He wanted that type of government to reach the whole world! Tragically, the noble type of government of which Lincoln spoke, “for the people,” has perished from the Earth today! America no longer exemplifies that ideal: People can’t even vote in this country without evil men stealing the election. And the illegitimate leaders are imposing policies terribly destructive to the people they are supposed to serve. That “new birth of freedom” isn’t coming from America today.
At Gettysburg, thousands of soldiers fought and forfeited their lives so America could enjoy freedom and equality. But in Satan’s world, that will not last! It cannot last unless you bring God into the picture, which Lincoln was trying to do as he understood it.
Lincoln said this was a government for the people. It’s not for some tyrant or dictator to rule over us. Such a man will not treat all men as equal under the law, and he is certain to take your freedom! The Uyghurs mean nothing to China—nor to the big tech corporations or the nba. Those people couldn’t care less as long as they are not enslaved. In fact, they like slavery when they can enslave other people.
If people really understood and believed in government for the people, they would never accept a dictator like they have for two tenures in the Oval Office, and a third at this time as well. That is the direct opposite of what Abraham Lincoln believed and was willing to die for.
Thankfully, God is about to stop slavery forever! It is biblical that all men are created equal. That is the law of God—the very love of God! God is enacting a plan to bring about a new birth of freedom for all mankind who have ever lived. That is His promise in Scripture. You can read about it in our free booklet The Wonderful World Tomorrow—What It Will Be Like. God is about to establish a government that truly is for the people, and which shall not perish from the Earth. That is quite a vision!
Lincoln’s Finest Sermon
Lincoln loved the Bible. Biographer William E. Barton wrote that Lincoln “read the Bible, honored it, quoted it freely, and it became so much a part of him as visibly and permanently to give shape to his literary style and to his habits of thought.”
Commentators refer to his Second Inaugural as a sermon. In that address, he said, “Both [North and South] read the same Bible and pray to the same God; and each invokes His aid against the other. It may seem strange that any men should dare to ask a just God’s assistance in wringing their bread from the sweat of other men’s faces; but let us judge not, that we be not judged [quoting Luke 6:37]. The prayers of both could not be answered—that of neither has been answered fully. The Almighty has His own purposes.” He then read Matthew 18:7: “Woe unto the world because of offences! for it must needs be that offences come; but woe to that man by whom the offence cometh!” Lincoln labeled slavery a terrible offense that had brought the nation justly deserved woe, permitted by the “living God.”
That was strong meat he was giving America! He was talking about the living God. This is a horrendous warning even for us today. We need to learn from Lincoln. He was correcting the whole nation! He said, This nation must be under God. We must let God speak!
“Fondly do we hope—fervently do we pray—that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away,” he said. “Yet if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondman’s 250 years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said 3,000 years ago, so still it must be said, ‘The judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.’”
What a message! When Lincoln asked Stephen Douglas what he thought of it, Douglas called it a “sacred effort.” Indeed it was!
Lincoln concluded by saying, “With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work ….” Let’s finish the work! That is similar to the message of God’s Church much of the time.
Ronald C. White writes, “The Bible occupied a more prominent role in this [Second Inaugural] speech than in any other that Lincoln gave. Here Lincoln declared slavery a sin, mentioned God 14 times, quoted scripture four times, and invoked prayer four times.”
Charles Francis Adams Jr. said, “This inaugural strikes me in its grand simplicity and directness as being for all times the historical keynote of this war.” That message is for all times. And what a message it has for us today.
It was clear that by stating these truths so vehemently, Lincoln was putting his life on the line. Lincoln was a soldier too. He wouldn’t dare be less courageous than those soldiers who died at Gettysburg. He was determined to finish the work—and to keep fighting until he extracted unconditional surrender.
It took such a man to bind the wounds of the nation. And he was teaching us lessons today in many ways. We have to find Lincoln, or we are lost.
Lincoln was a powerful president and commander in chief, like this nation always needs. He, like those soldiers, was willing to surrender his life for a noble cause. He knew there were people who wanted to kill him. And he did end up sacrificing his life. Some people hated him so much that a crazed criminal shot him, and as Secretary of War Edwin Stanton said, “now he belongs to the ages.”
But oh, what a message he delivered. He was telling the people that this bloody war had to be won, or those soldiers would have died in vain! Lincoln knew clearly why the war had to continue: It was about bringing true freedom to all Americans of every race—and proclaiming that to the whole world!
Americans have shamefully abandoned that ideal. Today, toxic ideas like critical race theory are promoted, which is rank racism! Do they really hate slavery? The radical left doesn’t—they love slavery as long as they can be the slaveholders. That is evident in all they say and do, if you’re really listening. It is vile and obscene, and it is sin.
We today must fight for freedom! We must clearly see what we are doing and have the proper vision. God’s people are going to help Christ free the whole world and the universe. All men are created equal—and at that time, everybody will uphold that truth! There will be love for everybody! We will extend freedom and equality and love throughout the universe. That is what we are working to achieve. The greatest emancipation proclamation is just around the corner. If you want to know how to get the picture and vision you need, study Mystery of the Ages (request your free copy).
Today, we must understand our quest to bring true freedom to this world! We have a vital message to proclaim and a work to do. And it is all about “a new birth of freedom”! We will usher in “a new nation, conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.” How real is that future to you?