In those days, people would travel for hours to hear a rousing speech, much like people today would travel long distances to attend a sporting event or concert. Edward Everett arrived in an expensive carriage. He was escorted to the platform to rousing ovation. The audience was captivated as Everett delivered his message.
Another man, who arrived on horseback, was scheduled to give few dedicatory remarks after Everett’s speech. He sat quietly off to the side of the dais. As Everett spoke—a message that lasted nearly two hours—the other man humbly and patiently waited.
When Everett concluded his speech, the audience burst into applause. When the ovation finally died down, the other man approached podium. He spoke for less than three minutes.
It was reported that at the conclusion of his message he sat down to smattering of applause. Edward Everett was clearly the star of this show.
The second speaker was unaffected by the response of the audience. He did not take the disparity as a slight. Truth be known, he had no desire to be in the spotlight. He was a man who personified humility.
Humility doesn’t seem to be valued much in our culture anymore, particularly in the world of politics. We want our leaders to be bold, outspoken, in-your-face. We are drawn to leaders who exhibit no-nonsense, no-holds-barred, nothing-is-going-to-stand-in-my-way rhetoric. We have somehow equated being humble with being weak.
Yet, in the eyes of God, there is perhaps no greater character quality to have than a humble spirit.
Humility is truly a Christ-like trait. Even though Jesus was the Son of God, the long-awaited Messiah, the Savior of the world, the King of kings, he was born to an unwed mother surrounded by barnyard animals. When He walked this earth He associated with people who were considered the dregs of society. His chosen friends were commoners, yet He washed their feet. And then, in the ultimate act of humility, He gave up his life in the most degrading and shameful manner—just so we sinners could be awarded entrance into heaven to spend eternity with Him.
The Bible tells us that those who humble themselves will be exalted. People of humility bring honor to God. While pride says, look at how awesome I am, humility says, look at how awesome God is. We are never more like Christ than when we operate out of a deep sense of humility.
Now back to the story. Amazingly enough, not many history books even mention Edward Everett, let alone contain any of his famous speeches. But that concluding message given after his speech at the cemetery—the one that wasn’t even three minutes long, the one that most people that day considered incidental, the one that most people didn’t even applaud that day—has somehow found a place in history. As has the humble, unassuming man who gave it.
The man’s name was Abraham Lincoln. The little speech he gave that day began with the words:
“Fourscore and 7 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.”
Perhaps more amazing than speech itself was the fact that Lincoln—who happened to be president at the time—didn’t insist on being the main speaker. He didn’t need to be transported by a big, fancy carriage. He didn’t come expecting red carpet treatment.
Abraham Lincoln was man of character. He is thought of as one of most respected, revered leaders this world has ever seen. That’s what God can do with a humble spirit.