Monday, November 19, 2018

"A new birth of freedom"

Abraham Lincoln in 1863
November 19 is the anniversary of Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address in 1863, his most famous speech and one of the most famous in American history. He delivered the speech at the dedication of the Gettysburg National Cemetery, four months after the conclusion of the Civil War’s decisive battle. The renowned orator Edward Everett was the main speaker for the day, giving an entirely forgotten two-hour speech prior to Lincoln’s. ....

The most striking phrase of the address was Lincoln’s aspiration that, with slavery now in serious jeopardy, the nation could have “a new birth of freedom.” Some might forget that this language was unmistakably referencing Christ’s words in John chapter 3, “Verily, verily, I say unto thee, except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” The specific phrase “new birth” became a staple of Anglo-American religious rhetoric during the Great Awakening.

Lincoln grew up in a Primitive Baptist family but never joined a church. Yet because of his religious milieu, his insatiable appetite for reading, and inquisitive spiritual nature, he knew the King James Bible backward and forward, and its themes and images suffused his speeches. Here he suggests that not only individuals, but a nation itself, could experience a new birth. This was not so the nation could “see the kingdom of God,” but perhaps that the kingdom’s purposes, in the matter of slavery, could be manifested on earth. ....