People with a Vision
“If you want to know the value of freedom, ask people who only dream of having it” (Frank Sonnenberg).
Many people with vision and courage have struggled for freedom from various oppressors. Some have turned to violence while others practiced peaceful protest. The struggle began when mankind fell into the prison house of sin. Within its walls were the smaller restraints of bigotry and greed. The wealthy oppressed the poor, while one race enslaved another. Along the way a few have demanded liberty from every form of tyranny, achieving many social changes. Some doors have opened, but no one has dared claim complete victory. The world continues to suffer the influences of sin. But Christ has worked through many courageous souls in man’s journey to freedom, a process that began even before his Second Advent.
Those with the courage to protest injustice, often at life’s peril, will rejoice when Jesus fulfills their dreams more grandly than hoped for.
We here share a few examples of individuals who dedicated their lives to advance human rights. These examples are of men with weaknesses and flaws, but their contributions and noble sentiments have made the world better. The ideals they advocated are largely kingdom ideals. It is proper to recognize the good accomplished, and the influence of their words. These illustrate how God’s Kingdom will fulfill the noblest human desires.
While running for president, Lincoln agonized over slavery, and why many Christian ministers spoke against him. With a New Testament in hand he once said, “These men well know that I am for freedom in the territories, freedom everywhere as far as the Constitution and laws will permit, and that my opponents are for slavery. … Yet, with this book in their hands, in the light of which human bondage cannot live a moment, they are going to vote against me. I do not understand it at all.”
With tears in his eyes, he said: “There is a God, and … He hates injustice and slavery. I see the storm coming, and I know that His hand is in it. If He has a place and work for me — and I think He has — I believe I am ready. I am nothing, but truth is everything. I know I am right because I know that liberty is right, for Christ teaches it. … I have told them that a house divided against itself cannot stand, and Christ and reason say the same … Douglas don’t care whether slavery is voted up or voted down, but God cares, and humanity cares, and I care; and with God’s help I shall not fail. I may not see the end; but it will come … and these men will find that they have not read their Bibles aright” (1860, to Newton Bateman.)
After being elected president in 1860, seven southern states seceded to create the Confederacy, and in 1861 their attack on Fort Sumter began the American Civil War. The emancipation of slaves became part of the Union strategy, reflected in Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, enacted in 1863. The battle at Gettysburg left 50,000 casualties. Assembled to dedicate the National Cemetery of Gettysburg, Lincoln gave one of the most memorable speeches in American history. His Gettysburg Address summarized why the Civil War was fought. In December 1865, the 13th Amendment to the Constitution abolished slavery in the US. His two-minute Gettysburg Address follows.
“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.
“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 … to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that 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 remaining before us. … From these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion. … 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.”
These powerful words are now inscribed on the walls of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. Lincoln justly recognized that the sacrifice of those who died consecrated the ground, preserved the Union, and freed the slaves. Lincoln realized that after the war, healing the great rift between north and south must be undertaken. He ended his second inaugural address 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 we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.”
The principles Lincoln espoused apply on a grander scale in the plan of God. Advances gained through that conflict came through great personal sacrifices. Likewise, only with sacrifice is God’s kingdom possible. Jesus’ death provided the legal basis for the kingdom and consecrated the work of the incoming administration. “There is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself a ransom for all” (1 Timothy 2:5,6).
As those who endured the hunger, exhaustion, and war were motivated by a great ideal, so the Church has offered her life for the work of God’s Kingdom. Their sacrifices are no less noble and enduring. We must fight a good fight of faith with courage and determination. Dedication to the work of blessing mankind is a great source of inspiration. “If ye be Christ’s, then are ye Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise” (Galatians 3:29).
John F. Kennedy
During his brief presidency, Kennedy expressed some idealistic concepts. Though his life was cut short in 1963, his words conveyed optimism for what he hoped to achieve. His inability to accomplish many of his ideas shows that a fallen, sinful race cannot reach the highest ideals. Following is an excerpt from Kennedy’s Inaugural Address.
“The world is very different now. For man holds in his mortal hand the power to abolish all forms of human poverty and all forms of human life. And yet the same revolutionary beliefs for which our forebears fought are still an issue around the globe — the belief that the rights of man come not from the generosity of the state but from the hand of God. … Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship … to assure the survival and the success of Liberty. … To those people in the huts and villages of half the globe struggling to break the bonds of mass misery, we pledge our best efforts to help them help themselves, for whatever period is required — not because the communists may be doing it, not because we seek their votes, but because it is right. If a free society cannot help the many who are poor, it cannot save the few who are rich.
“To our sister republics south of our border, we … pledge to convert our good words into good deeds, in a new alliance for progress, to assist free men and free governments … cast off the chains of poverty. …
“Let both sides explore what problems unite us instead of belaboring those problems which divide us. … Let both sides seek to invoke the wonders of science instead of its terrors. Together let us explore the stars, conquer the deserts, eradicate disease, tap the ocean depths, and encourage the arts and commerce. Let both sides unite to heed, in all corners of the earth, the command of Isaiah, to ‘undo the heavy burdens … and let the oppressed go free.’
“… With a good conscience our only reward, with history the final judge … asking His blessing and His help, but knowing that here on earth God’s work must truly be our own.”
These noble values are largely based on godly principles. These ideas will be wrapped into the work of God’s Kingdom. Jesus said, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me … to preach the gospel to the poor … heal the brokenhearted … preach deliverance to the captives … to set at liberty them that are bruised” (Luke 4:18, 19). The desires of honorable people will be granted in the Kingdom (Matthew 6:10).
Martin Luther King, Jr.
Martin Luther King advocated for African Americans during the Civil Rights Movement in the US. He began a series of peaceful protests in the South that changed many laws dealing with inequality. As a Christian minister, he weaved Biblical concepts through his many speeches. In 1964 King was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. Though assassinated in 1968, at age 39, his influence continues to this day. His moving words express principles at the foundation of God’s Kingdom.
“An individual has not started living until he can rise above the narrow confines of his individualistic concerns to the broader concerns of all humanity. Everybody can be great … because anybody can serve. You don’t have to have a college degree to serve. You don’t have to make your subject and verb agree to serve. You only need a heart full of grace. A soul generated by love.
“Mankind is [not] so tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war that the bright daybreak of peace and brotherhood can never become a reality. … Unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word.
“We will not be satisfied until justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream. I have the audacity to believe that peoples everywhere can have three meals a day for their bodies, education and culture for their minds, and dignity, equality, and freedom for their spirits.”
“When we let freedom ring … from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will … speed up that day when all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, ‘Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!’
“There is a final reason I think that Jesus says, ‘Love your enemies.’ It is this: that love has within it a redemptive power. And there is a power there that eventually transforms individuals. Just keep being friendly to that person. Just keep loving them … Oh, they react in many ways in the beginning. They react with guilt feelings, and sometimes they’ll hate you a little more at that transition period, but just keep loving them. And by the power of your love they will break down under the load. That’s love, you see. It is redemptive, and this is why Jesus says love. There’s something about love that builds up and is creative. There is something about hate that tears down and is destructive. So love your enemies.
“I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made straight and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed and all flesh shall see it together.
“I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave-owners will be able to sit down together at a table of brotherhood.”
Nelson Mandela led the resistance to South Africa’s apartheid, and was incarcerated for 18 years. In 1993 he won the Nobel Peace Prize, with president F. W. DeKlerk. Mandela became the first black president of South Africa, from 1994 to 1999. He was apparently a man of great faith, who kept his Christian beliefs discreet in his life work of reconciliation.
In his autobiography, Long Walk to Freedom, Mandela wrote, “No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.”
This important principle is the reason God’s Kingdom will be able to reform the hearts of those formerly filled with hatred. The difficulties people are born into, the influences they endure, sometimes teach them to hate others. When God pours His spirit upon all flesh, hate-filled hearts will learn to love.
“A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit … I will take away the stony heart … I will give you an heart of flesh” (Ezekiel 36:26).
Mandela also wrote, “During my lifetime I have dedicated myself to this struggle of the African people. I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But, if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die. … I have walked that long road to freedom. I have tried not to falter; I have made missteps along the way. But … after climbing a great hill, one only finds that there are many more hills to climb. I have taken a moment here to rest, to steal a view of the glorious vista that surrounds me, to look back on the distance I have come. But I can only rest for a moment, for with freedom comes responsibilities, and I dare not linger, for my long walk is not ended. … As I walked out the door toward the gate that would lead to my freedom, I knew if I didn’t leave my bitterness and hatred behind, I’d still be in prison.”
Mandela’s ideals reflect scriptural reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5:20). Though South Africa has progressed, the divide is not fully healed. Greater reconciliation, with God, must occur. “It behoved him to be made like unto his brethren, that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest … to make reconciliation for the
sins of the people” (Hebrews 2:17).
The principle of this text is a building block for the Kingdom. “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28).
A peaceful society with equal opportunity is what God plans. “This is … God’s merciful purpose for the government of the world when the times are ripe for it — the purpose which He has cherished in His own mind of restoring the whole creation … in heaven and … on earth” (Ephesians 1:7-10 Weymouth). Under Christ, world government will reflect his goodness in every law, every act, and in every willing heart.
Mandela understood a powerful kingdom principle when he wrote, “with freedom comes responsibilities.” True freedom is liberty from the burden of selfishness, pride, and hatred — prisons of the heart.
For all who have devoted themselves to removing the shackles of sin, we thrill to imagine their joy when God’s Kingdom brings greater freedom than they could have imagined.