The first picture is the Declaration of Independence, signed in Philadelphia in 1776. It prominently holds out a truth, as self evident, that “All men are created equal.” Abraham Lincoln at Gettysburg would call this our nation’s central proposition—making this country unlike anything the world had seen before.
It is a point that had to be made in 1776, because the tyrannical government that had created separate, unnatural, castes of rulers and the ruled. This point launched a revolution, in which men fought, suffered, and died.
The second piece I have is The Prayer at Valley Forge, which depicts General George Washington on bended knee in the snow in the winter of 1777. It is so cold in the scene that you can see the horse’s breath in the air. Washington stops, as was his daily habit, on his morning ride of the camp to pray, alone, in the forest, for God to deliver them. The military commander of our nation, is alone, on his knee in the snow, seeking divine direction.
Have you been to Valley Forge?
My wife and I visited a few years ago on a warm, beautiful fall afternoon. The grass was green, the air was still relatively warm, with a nice breeze, the clouds and sky looked like fall—with winter coming—but it was still comfortable.
Throughout the valley are rolling hills of grass, trees, and the old fortifications of Washington’s army. There are a few log houses the soldiers built as barracks. Through the trees you can see Washington’s house.
We got out of the car and walked on the grass and through the trees and enjoyed the whole scene.
But the scene was not the harsh winter of 1777. We had all the food and clothing we could need. If the valley got the least bit uncomfortable we could simply hop in the car and leave.
But that’s not what Washington saw. He saw his army camping throughout a winter in a valley of death. Into the valley he had marched in December with 12,000 soldiers. He would leave months later with 10,000.
2,000 men died in Valley Forge, and they weren’t even fighting. They were without enough food, shelter, clothes, or even shoes. The survivors documented the rampant frost bite and remembered seeing bloody footprints through the camp, as soldiers’ shoes had worn completely away, and men had to walk barefoot through the mud, ice, and snow.
One witness said “they had neither coats nor hats, nor shirts, nor shoes. Their feet and legs froze until they were black, and it was necessary to amputate them.”
Others died of starvation or simply froze to death while on watch in the winter nights.
It had gotten so bad that when they received word that the French military was coming to their side they actually rejoiced. Can you imagine had terribly bad your situation must be to be excited about French military aid?
In my visit, I got to enjoy the history and soak in the natural beauty of a warm fall day and I could leave when I wanted.
Their visit was pure deprivation with no sense of enjoyment even crossing their minds.
And what was all this suffering and misery for? It was for was the central idea expressed on that paper, on that earth-changing declaration, signed only 20 miles away.
“All men are created equal.”
They knew that the truth of equality and the burden of freedom required great sacrifice. They knew that they had to sacrifice for freedom.
It is that same idea that lead soldiers four score and six years later to fight on another Pennsylvania field called Gettysburg.
As before, there were many who were willing to fight to oppose equality and to force bondage on man. Mercifully, at Valley Forge and at Gettysburg, there were plenty of people that were willing to sacrifice much, if not all, for the idea of human equality and freedom.
I get asked a lot about today's election and where we now are as a nation. I don’t think one election will change everything, but it does tell us what we now think about our core ideas.
I think there are still many people that will sacrifice, but we need to call them to action and arm them with the reasons for the fight: that there is not in nature, as Thomas Jefferson said, one man born with a saddle on his back and another with spurs on his heels to ride him. There is not a man born to rule and another born to be ruled. Or as another famous author put it: There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for we are all one.
But are we willing to fight and sacrifice, and maybe even die, for that oneness today? As for our nation, I don’t know. I’m not one to say any election brings doom or gloom, or absolute hope and redemption. It is all part of an ever-waging battle. Ground is gained, and ground is lost. The politics of it all are merely an extension over the bigger battle about the fundamental ideas: freedom or bondage, equality or superiority.
As for where we are as a country—I think we’re too comfortable, resting on others’ sacrifices for freedom. It’s fall in Valley Forge, not winter. (But yet certainly don’t yet need the French military to bail us out.) But winter will come if we remain content to stay on the sidelines, safe from the deprivations of the war.
You might think this is only focused on the City of Man, the battles of this world. But, hopefully, the Christians reading this will see there is applicability to the City of God as well.
The good news there is, City of God citizens ought to be more prone to willingly suffer loss of comfort now in this life, for truth and grace to come.
The concept of fighting for freedom is not just of this world or the American Revolution. It is Christ’s very own purpose, and therefore every one of our calling and duty is to fight. Gal 5:1 says: “It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery.”
Christ went to His own Valley Forge and set us free. We now have to fight to keep our freedom He bought. We cannot do this by ignoring our duties on this earth as patriots of our country and its “proposition” of human equality; nor by ignoring our duties as citizens of the City of God.
The reality is, we must sacrifice for our freedom in this world and the next. Yet, as it says in Hebrews, we “have not yet resisted to the point of shedding blood” against that which puts us in bondage.
As the battle is on in your soul, so it is in our nation.
Thomas Paine summarized our nation’s position in 1777, so we can ours in 2008:
“these are the times that try men’s souls: The summer soldiers and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country…Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered, yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph. What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly.”
Sacrifice for your freedom,