VIDEO Celebrate Freedom – Abraham Lincoln and the Meaning of July Fourth

Abraham Lincoln and the Meaning of July Fourth

By Dr. Caleb Verbois | July 2, 2020

When we think of the Fourth of July, we often think of backyard barbecues with friends, baseball, and maybe a beer or two.

This year, with COVID-19, maybe we can at least have the beer. But Independence Day was originally more than just a party, and the Fourth ought to be something more to us. It commemorates the signing of the Declaration of Independence, our first national statement of beliefs. We need to consider this year, perhaps more than most, if we still believe in its principles:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.”

The Founding Fathers meant something specific by these words, and they really believed the Declaration was true. Alexander Hamilton wrote in the Federalist Papers that to say something is self-evident means that if you understand the language, and have a properly functioning mind, you must assent to it. That is what the Founders meant when they said it was self-evident that all men are created equal with certain rights. They meant that for all time, and in all places, men are equal.

But it is not clear that we still believe this. Some think that rights are different in different cultures, or perhaps in different times. Others think the Founders were a bunch of frauds—hypocrites, because after all, when they signed the Declaration, slavery existed and many of the Founders owned slaves. In this, our modern critics of the founding would find themselves, rather unwillingly, in a strange partnership with pro-slavery southern secessionists before the Civil War who argued that the Declaration was just a bunch of “glittering generalities” that were obviously untrue, or that they had only ever been intended to apply to white men, because only white men were equal and free in 1776.

Abraham Lincoln disagreed. He claimed that this interpretation misunderstood both the Founders themselves and the purpose of the Declaration. Lincoln argued that most of the Founders opposed slavery and worked to eliminate it. They wrote the Declaration of Independence, they passed the Northwest Territory Ordinance, forbidding the extension of slavery into the territory north and west of the Ohio River, and they passed legislation in 1807, to take effect in 1808, to end the slave trade, the very first year allowed under the Constitution.

Lincoln also pushed back against the notion that a principle can be proven false simply on the basis that its supporters are hypocrites. It is true that some Founders owned slaves, and some, like Jefferson, never freed them. But that does not negate their principles. We are all hypocrites about something. Where is the man or woman who always lives up to his or her principles?

Lincoln claimed that the fact that all men were not legally equal and free at the time of the Declaration did not falsify it, because after all, the United States was also not independent at the time the Declaration of Independence was written. The Declaration was not declaring what was, but what ought to be: it declared political, philosophical, and even theological principles. It was an argument that because all men are created equal, and endowed by their Creator with the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, that the colonies ought to be independent, and that all men, and indeed all women, ought to be free. It created a principle that the country would forever strive to reach. Lincoln believed the heart of America is not a race, a language, a geography, or even the Constitution – it is the principles enshrined in the Declaration.

The question today, much as in Lincoln’s time, is whether we as a people still believe the Declaration is true. And if it is not true, what, other than economic and political power, both of which look rather doubtful these days, really holds us together as a people?

We have a choice to make.

We can abandon any pretense of believing in shared principles, and conclude that our shared democratic life is really just about power, in which case just about any character issues, abuses of power, or injustices can be forgiven, if they are made by “our side.” Or we can conclude that there are certain principles that we all ought to believe, because they are True, even if we have not yet figured out how to put them into practice fully. And then, just maybe, we can work on improving some of our practices to bring them more into line with our principles. That would be worth celebrating over a beer or two in the backyard.

Dr. Caleb Verbois is an assistant professor of political science at Grove City College and an affiliated scholar at the John Jay Institute. He teaches American Politics and Political Theory and specializes in American constitutional thought.

Celebrate Freedom Sunday


Just a Spark

The tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts.  James 3:5


“We’re in the library, and we can see the flames right outside!” She was scared. We could hear it in her voice. We know her voice—the voice of our daughter. At the same time we knew her college campus was the safest place for her and her almost 3,000 fellow students. The 2018 Woolsey Fire spread more quickly than anyone anticipated—most of all fire personnel. The record heat and dry conditions in the California canyon, along with the legendary Santa Ana winds, were all the rather small sparks needed to ultimately burn 97,000 acres, destroy more than 1,600 structures, and kill three people. In the photos taken after the fire was contained, the usual lush coastline resembled the barren surface of the moon.

In the book of James, the author names some small but powerful things: “bits [in] the mouths of horses” and the rudders of ships (3:3–4). And while familiar, these examples are somewhat removed from us. But then he names something a little closer to home, something small that every human being possesses—a tongue. And while this chapter is first directed specifically to teachers (v. 1), the application quickly spreads to each of us. The tongue, small as it is, can lead to disastrous results.

Our small tongues are powerful, but our big God is more powerful. His help on a daily basis provides the strength to rein in and guide our words.

By:  John Blase

Reflect & Pray

When was the last time your tongue got away from you? What will help you keep a tight rein on your words in God’s strength?

Jesus, I’ve been on the receiving end of words that burn. And my words have hurt others. Help me to keep a tight rein on my tongue.

To learn more about the book of James, visit



A Nation That Honors God

Psalm 72

Because government is instituted by God as His “minister … for good” (Rom. 13:3-4), it functions best when leaders honor and obey Him. Throughout Israel’s history, God commended kings who followed His laws and worshipped only Him. The course of the nation was influenced by each king’s beliefs and behavior. Since this principle is still applicable today, righteous leaders have tremendous potential to affect their nation in a positive way. The Lord will guide and support God-fearing leaders who seek His wisdom and direction for their decisions.

As important as rulers are in determining a nation’s future, its citizens also play a vital role, especially in democracies where leaders arise from within the populace. Christians who share their faith and raise children in God’s ways can influence their nation’s values and choice of rulers. When both leaders and citizens align their views with God’s, the helpless are protected, the guilty are punished, and the innocent are vindicated.

Looking at our nation today, you might feel discouraged. But you can make a difference in your circle of influence by living compassionately and sharing the good news of Christ. The more the love and freedom of Jesus is understood, the more our nation can be blessed by its citizens.

The Powers of God

“I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the ending, saith the Lord, which is, and which was, and which is to come, the Almighty.” (Revelation 1:8)

In these days of rampant humanism, blatant materialism, and effete religionism, the very concept of an all-powerful God who created, controls, and judges all things seems anachronistic, but God is still there and is still the Almighty.

Three Greek words are translated “power” in Scripture— exousia (“authority”), dunamis (“ability”), and kratos (“strength”). Each is attributed in unlimited extent to God the Creator as incarnate in Christ the Redeemer. “All power [‘authority’] is given unto me in heaven and in earth” (Matthew 28:18). “For thine is the kingdom, and the power [‘ability’], and the glory, for ever” (Matthew 6:13). “That ye may know… the exceeding greatness of his power [‘ability’] to us-ward who believe, according to the working of his mighty power [‘strength’], which he wrought in Christ, when he raised him from the dead, and set him at his own right hand in the heavenly places, far above all principality, and power [‘authority’], and might, and dominion” (Ephesians 1:18-21).

He is the “Almighty God” of Abraham (Genesis 17:1), “the everlasting God, the LORD, the Creator of the ends of the earth” (Isaiah 40:28). “Our God is in the heavens: he hath done whatsoever he hath pleased” (Psalm 115:3).

God can do whatever He pleases, except anything contrary to His nature. He “cannot lie” (Titus 1:2), for He is “the truth” (John 14:6). His inspired Word is inerrant—“the scripture of truth” (Daniel 10:21). We can be certain that He did not “create” the world by evolution, for that would be contradicted both by His infallible Word and by His omnipotence. Being all-powerful, God would surely not create by such a cruel, inefficient process as evolution. HMM

Avoid Low Moral Enthusiasm

And in every work that he began in the service of the house of God, and in the law, and in the commandments, to seek his God, he did it with all his heart, and prospered.

—2 Chronicles 31:21


Were some watcher or holy one from the bright world above to come among us for a time with the power to diagnose the spiritual ills of church people, there is one entry which I am quite sure would appear on the vast majority of his reports: Definite evidence of chronic spiritual lassitude; level of moral enthusiasm extremely low….

It is true that there is a lot of religious activity among us: interchurch basketball tournaments, religious splash parties followed by devotions, weekend camping trips with a Bible quiz around the fire. Sunday school picnics, building fund drives and ministerial breakfasts are with us in unbelievable numbers, and they are carried on with typical American gusto. It is when we enter the sacred precincts of the heart’s personal religion that we suddenly lose all enthusiasm.

So we find this strange and contradictory situation: a world of noisy, headlong religious activity carried on without moral energy or spiritual fervor.   OGM003-004

In the busyness of spiritual leadership and church activity, keep me, Lord, from boredom or burn-out. Help me to stay personally fresh in my enthusiasm for You, so that in turn I can pass that genuine enthusiasm on to the people with whom I minister. Amen.


Love Righteousness, Hate Iniquity

For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him.

—2 Corinthians 5:21


I am happy to tell everyone that the power of the Spirit is glad power! Our Savior, Jesus Christ, lived His beautiful, holy life on earth and did His healing, saving deeds of power in the strength of this oil of gladness.

We must admit that there was more of the holy oil of God on the head of Jesus than on your head or mine—or on the head of anyone else who has ever lived. That is not to say that God will withhold His best from anyone. But the Spirit of God can only anoint in proportion to the willingness He finds in our lives.

In the case of Jesus, we are told that He had a special anointing because He loved righteousness and hated iniquity. That surely gives us the clue we need concerning the kind of persons we must be in order to receive the full anointing and blessing from Almighty God. JMI063-064

I claim nothing and my testimony is the same as Martin Luther’s prayer: “Oh, Lord Jesus, Thou art my righteousness I am Thy sin!” The only sin Jesus had was mine, Luther’s and yoursand the only righteousness we can ever have is His. ITB135


The Potter and the Clay

Jeremiah 18:1-10

God often uses the commonplace to teach His divine truths. He chose a common scene of Jeremiah’s day for a classic parable on His sovereignty.

“This is the word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord: ‘Go down to the potter’s house, and there I will give you My message'” (Jeremiah 18:1). Jeremiah went down as the Lord commanded. He watched the skillful hands of the potter knead the clay and form it into a beautiful vessel. But, before the prophet’s eyes, the potter suddenly broke it.

Jeremiah observed that the potter did not discard the clay, but once more took the shapeless mass and kneaded and pummeled and shaped it on his wheel until he fashioned it into an exquisite vessel.

Then the Lord gives His message to the prophet. God, as the Potter, is the Sovereign of our lives. We are the clay, the vessel in the making. Clay has no intrinsic worth. It is not valued for itself but for its potential. We are but puny creatures on a pygmy planet that is but a speck in the universe. But in the hands of the divine Potter we can become a vessel of eternal worth.

The potter had a pattern, a design in his mind. But something went awry. The design miscarried. Perhaps a foreign substance got into the clay. Something went wrong with the clay of humanity. An impurity entered into mankind by the Fall of our first parents. God had destined humankind for holy living, but sin marred the design.

“So the potter formed it into another pot, shaping it as seemed best to him”

(Jeremiah 18:4). What an eloquent statement of the indomitable patience of the divine Potter who has not cast us aside. At Calvary, the divine Craftsman atoned for our flaws and provided a second chance to be made over again.

The potter had to break the marred vessel before he could make it over. God has to break us before He can make us. He has to break our stubborn will, crumble our pride, shatter our selfishness, demolish our sin. God’s fashioning begins with the difficult step of allowing Him to break down our resistance and reservations to His will.

The divine Potter dips into His palette and adorns life with the rich hues of His love, joy, peace, patience, goodness, and strength. After all the preparation, the pottery is ready to be put to use. It is created, not for itself, but to be put into service, where in Jewish homes vessels of pottery were extremely useful.

We too may become “an instrument for noble purposes, made holy, useful to the Master and prepared to do any good work” (2 Timothy 2:21).