21 01 2013

In the United States, this is a national holiday honoring the late Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

On August 28th of 1963, during a large rally in Washington DC, Dr. King delivered a speech both inspired and inspirational that quickly became famous, the speech commonly known as I Have A Dream.  Here are the last lines:

When we let freedom ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to 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 are at least two songs that Dr. King may have had in mind, one quite similar to the other. The one that comes closest to his quote is this:

Free at last, free at last,
Thank God Almighty, I’m free at last.

The very time I thought I was lost, 
Thank God Almighty, I’m free at last;
My dungeon shook and my chains fell off,
Thank God Almighty, I’m free at last,
This is religion, I do know, 
Thank God Almighty, I’m free at last;
For I never felt such a love before, 
Thank God Almighty, I’m free at last.

As for what the song’s writer had in mind, the background story follows:

Setting sail therefore from Troas, we made a straight course to Samothrace, and the day following to Neapolis, and from thence to Philippi, which is a city of Macedonia, the first of the district, a Roman colony. We were in this city tarrying certain days.

On the sabbath day we went forth without the gate by a river side, where we supposed there was a place of prayer, and we sat down and spake unto the women that were come together.

A certain woman named Lydia, a seller of purple of the city of Thyatira, one that worshipped God, heard us: whose heart the Lord opened to give heed unto the things which were spoken by Paul. When she was baptized, and her household, she besought us, saying, “If ye have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come into my house, and abide there.” And she constrained us.

It came to pass, as we were going to the place of prayer, that a certain maid having a spirit of divination met us, who brought her masters much gain by soothsaying. The same following after Paul and us cried out, saying, “These men are servants of the Most High God, who proclaim unto you the way of salvation.” This she did for many days.

Paul, being sore troubled, turned and said to the spirit, “I charge thee in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her.” And it came out that very hour.

But when her masters saw that the hope of their gain was gone, they laid hold on Paul and Silas, and dragged them into the marketplace before the rulers. When they had brought them unto the magistrates, they said, “These men, being Jews, do exceedingly trouble our city, and set forth customs which it is not lawful for us to receive, or to observe, being Romans.”

The multitude rose up together against them. The magistrates rent their garments off them, and commanded to beat them with rods. And when they had laid many stripes upon them, they cast them into prison, charging the jailor to keep them safely. Having received such a charge, he cast them into the inner prison, and made their feet fast in the stocks.

But about midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns unto God, and the prisoners were listening to them. Suddenly there was a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison-house were shaken, and immediately all the doors were opened, and every one’s bands were loosed.

The jailor, being roused out of sleep and seeing the prison doors open, drew his sword and was about to kill himself, supposing that the prisoners had escaped.

But Paul cried with a loud voice, saying, “Do thyself no harm, for we are all here.”

And he called for lights and sprang in, and, trembling for fear, fell down before Paul and Silas, and brought them out and said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?”

And they said, “Believe on the Lord Jesus, and thou shalt be saved, thou and thy house.” And they spake the word of the Lord unto him, with all that were in his house.

And he took them the same hour of the night, and washed their stripes, and was baptized, he and all his, immediately. He brought them up into his house, and set food before them, and rejoiced greatly, with all his house, having believed in God.

When it was day, the magistrates sent the sergeants, saying, “Let those men go.”

The jailor reported the words to Paul, saying, “The magistrates have sent to let you go: now therefore come forth, and go in peace.”

But Paul said unto them, “They have beaten us publicly, uncondemned, men that are Romans, and have cast us into prison. Do they now cast us out privily? Nay verily; but let them come themselves and bring us out.”

The sergeants reported these words unto the magistrates, and they feared when they heard that they were Romans. They came and besought them, and when they had brought them out, they asked them to go away from the city.

They went out of the prison, and entered into the house of Lydia. When they had seen the brethren, they comforted them, and departed.

(From the Bible’s Acts of the Apostles, chapter 16, as adapted from the American Standard Version.)



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