If you’re a Civil War buff like I am, then you may know that today is the 152nd anniversary of the delivery of the Gettysburg Address by then President Abraham Lincoln. He was invited to attend the dedication of the Soldiers’ National Cemetery give some brief remarks to commemorate the battle that took place just months before (July 1-3, 1863) where almost 30,000 Americans (Union and Confederate) gave their lives for their respective causes. Though Edward Everett, a great orator of the time, served as the keynote speaker and spoke for over two hours, Lincoln’s speech took only ten sentences and landed shy of 300 words, Everett recognized that Lincoln captured the spirit of the times better in two minutes than he did in two hours.
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 this 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 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, and for the people, shall not perish from the earth.
So why speak about this on a blog regarding expositional preaching? Simply put, Lincoln engaged in exposition himself. He sought to expose the meaning, not of Bible as we preachers aim to do, but of the Declaration of Independence. He started off, “Four score and seven years ago.” This 87 year marker took the listeners back not to the Constitution’s ratification (1787–only 76 years prior), but to 1776 when the Declaration of Independence was signed. Lincoln sought to take the readers ‘ad fontes’–to the source of the nation that declared that all men were “created equal.” This issue did not simply go toward the South, but to also the Northerners who struggled with the ethics and rationale behind the war. Racism was not relegated to the Confederacy. The issue of slavery was left untouched by the Founders and the foundational documents of our nation, but the idea of all men begin created equal had far reaching ramifications.
Expositors take our document (the Bible) and preach not simply to expose the Bible, but to expose the hearts that listen to the Bible. For many, a disconnect exists between His Word and our world–just like the disconnect existed between the Declaration of Independence and the declaration of most citizens living under that document. And it took a Civil War to bring these issues to a head. Did “a new nation conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal” really come to pass?
Lincoln in his exposition called for an invitation, if you will. While he recognized that the purpose of the dedication was for the fallen soldiers on that battlefield, he turns this on his listeners Though quoted above, let’s isolate this understanding:
“It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought her have thus so far nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here 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 dedicated of freedom.
Lincoln knew that if he left this as simply something they did as soldiers, it would be left in the dustbin of history. But he put it to the people–they fought, will we? Will we move forward in such a way that the cost they paid would be worth it? Or would it be all for nothing. It’s up to you.
Pastors, we must not preach the Scriptures as a historic artifact, but preach it in such a way that the price that Christ paid on the cross and His work in being raised from the dead is worth the price as He is raised in us (Romans 6:1-4). The price that the martyrs paid will not be in vain. The sacrifices made for the cause of Christ would not be in vain.
What hath the Gettysburg Address to do with exposition? Lincoln exposed the meaning of the text (the Declaration of Independence) and exposed the worldview of the listeners’ hearts. Will we, having the power of the Spirit to lead and aid, do no less with the inspired text of Scripture?