The Godliness of Thanksgiving
Oh, give thanks to the LORD! Call upon His name; Make known His deeds among the peoples! 2 Sing to Him, sing psalms to Him; Talk of all His wondrous works! 3 Glory in His holy name; Let the hearts of those rejoice who seek the LORD! 4 Seek the LORD and His strength; Seek His face evermore! 5 Remember His marvelous works which He has done, His wonders, and the judgments of His mouth, 6 O seed of Abraham His servant, You children of Jacob, His chosen ones! NKJV
One Thanksgiving season a family was seated around their table, looking at the annual holiday bird. From the oldest to the youngest, they were to express their praise. When they came to the 5-year-old in the family, he began by looking at the turkey and expressing his thanks to the turkey, saying although he had not tasted it he knew it would be good. After that rather novel expression of thanksgiving, he began with a more predictable line of credits, thanking his mother for cooking the turkey and his father for buying the turkey. But then he went beyond that. He joined together a whole hidden multitude of benefactors, linking them with cause and effect.
He said, "I thank you for the checker at the grocery store who checked out the turkey. I thank you for the grocery store people who put it on the shelf. I thank you for the farmer who made it fat. I thank you for the man who made the feed. I thank you for those who brought the turkey to the store."
Using his Columbo-like little mind, he traced the turkey all the way from its origin to his plate. And then at the end he solemnly said "Did I leave anybody out?"
His 2-year-older brother, embarrassed by all those proceedings, said, "God."
Solemnly and without being flustered at all, the 5-year-old said, "I was about to get to him."
Well, isn't that the question about which we ought to think at Thanksgiving time? Are we really going to get to him this Thanksgiving?
A woman leaving the worship service said to the minister, "I enjoyed the sermon."
"Don't thank me. Thank the Lord," said the minister.
"It wasn't that good," the lady replied. -- Robert S. Smith, Kane, Pennsylvania, Christian Reader, "Lite Fare."
Now I have been a little disturbed of late concerning Thanksgiving and the attention that it receives. Thanksgiving has always been one of my favorite holidays for more than one reason. But I see a holiday that once was at least given lip service now regulated to insignificance between Halloween and Christmas.
Thanksgiving was and still should be one of our greatest religious holidays. I am disturbed by the idea that we might think that the pilgrims just had a big harvest party. As one writer put it. Turkey has become to Thanksgiving what Santa Claus is to Christmas. Looks like they got the true meaning of both, doesn't it. Even some of the official web sites such as the Mayflower web site and the Plimoth Plantation web site seem to play down the religious significance of that first Thanksgiving back in 1621.
Even the purpose of the pilgrims coming to America is obscured by modern writers. They speak as though they had come here to seek their fortunes as though, like us, money was the motivating force. In your bulletins you have the Mayflower Compact that they agreed to before the left the ship. It is more than a civil contract. It is a religious statement of their purpose. Notice in the fourth line they say, "Having undertaken for the Glory of God,, and the Advancement of the Christian Faith" was the purpose for their voyage.
And then when I see the modern historian saying that this was not really a time of thanksgiving as they did not observe it annually. It was not observed annually because these people felt that you should have a day of thanksgiving when ever you experienced the blessing of God as we will see later.
- Only a Godly people are truly thankful
- In our Psalm we see that they are thankful because they know the source of their blessings.
- Either God is to be thanked or we must attribute our blessings to another.
- If we praise God for the blessings that He gives then and only then can we be truly grateful.
- Now not all Christians are thankful but that is another message.
- But let us look at the original proclamation made by William Bradford.
- Inasmuch as the great Father has given us this year an abundant harvest of Indian corn, wheat, beans, squashes, and garden vegetables, and has made the forests to abound with game and the sea with fish and clams, and inasmuch as He has protected us from the ravages of the savages, has spared us from pestilence and disease, has granted us freedom to worship God according to the dictates of our own conscience; now, I, your magistrate, do proclaim that all ye Pilgrims, with your wives and little ones, do gather at ye meeting house, on ye hill, between the hours of 9 and 12 in the day time, on Thursday, November ye 29th of the year of our Lord one thousand six hundred and twenty-three, and the third year since ye Pilgrims landed on ye Pilgrim Rock, there to listen to ye pastor, and render thanksgiving to ye Almighty God for all His blessings. William Bradford, governor of the Plymouth Colony, 1623 --James S. Hewett, Illustrations Unlimited (Wheaton: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc, 1988) pp. 263-264.
- They had lost almost half of the numbers the previous winter and at times there were only seven to nine healthy enough to care for the others and to burry the dead. They had undergone great struggles and endured the first year that would involve the building of homes and trying to get in their first crop.
- If you will search our history in it original document you will find that our nations was founded by a Christian people who were ever conscious of the blessings and favor of God.
- . . . the Founders convened America's first Congress: the 1774 Provincial Congress. One of the first official acts of that Congress was to open in prayer. Yet it was not a shallow "to-whom-it-may-concern prayer; some writings indicate that it may have lasted several hours.
- When the Declaration was signed each state had to write a new constitution.
- North Carolina's constitution required:
- [N]o person who shall deny the being of God or the truth of the [Christian] religion, or the divine authority of either the Old or New Testament, or who shall hold religious principles incompatible with the freedom and safety of the state, shall be capable of holding any office, of trust... in the civil department within this state
- One of the greatest battles of the war came in October of 1777. The battle of Saratoga literally was the turning point in the war.
- Congress recognized the hand of God in the Saratoga victory and on November 1, 1777, proclaimed a national thanksgiving, explaining:
- Forasmuch as it is the indispensable duty of all men to adore the superintending providence of Almighty God, to acknowledge with gratitude their obligation to Him for benefits received and to implore such further blessings as they stand in need of; and it having pleased Him . . . to crown our arms with most signal success: It is therefore recommended [a day] . . . for solemn thanksgiving and praise; that with one heart and one voice the good people may express the grateful feelings of their hearts, and consecrate themselves to the service of their Divine Benefactor; and that together with their sincere acknowledgments and offerings, they may join the penitent confession of their manifold sins . . . and their humble and earnest supplication that it may please God, through the merits of Jesus Christ, mercifully to forgive and blot out of remembrance [and] . . . to take schools and seminaries of education, so necessary for cultivating the principles of true liberty, virtue and piety, under His nurturing hand, and to prosper the means of religion for the promotion and enlargement of that kingdom which consisteth "in righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost" [Romans 14:17]. 18
- Another very important event took place in 178o when Benedict Arnold's treason was found out. Had it not been discovered and brought to nothing the war would have ended quite differently.
- When General Nathanael Greene learned of the means and circumstances by which their well-conceived and intricately laid plan had been discovered, he saw God's fingerprints all over the discovery. On September 26, 1780, Greene reported that:
- Treason of the blackest dye was yesterday discovered. General Arnold, who commanded at West Point,. . . was about to deliver up that important post into the hands of the enemy. Such an event must have given the American cause a deadly wound, if not a fatal stab. Happily, the treason has been timely discovered to prevent the fatal misfortune. The Providential train of circumstances which led to it affords the most convincing proof that the liberties of America are the object of Divine protection.
- On receiving this report, Congress responded accordingly and on October 18,1780, proclaimed a national day of thanksgiving, explaining to America:
- Whereas it has pleased Almighty God.., to bestow blessings on the people of these States, which call for their devout and thankful acknowledgments ... in the late remarkable interposition of His watchful Providence in rescuing the person of our commander in chief, and the army, from eminent dangers at the moment when treason was ripened for execution.. It is therefore recommended [that a day] be observed as a day of public thanksgiving and prayer . to celebrate the praises of our Divine Benefactor, to confess our unworthiness .. and to offer our fervent supplications to the God of all grace. . . to cause the knowledge of Christianity to spread over all the earth.
- Our nation was a Christian nation. Can that really be true?
- Numerous other writings and Congressional acts during the Revolution provide additional confirmation of the Christian spirit behind it. For example, in 1777, because America was at war with her primary trading partner, Great Britain, there was a shortage of many items, including Bibles.
- Congress therefore appointed a special committee to investigate the shortage of Bibles, and Congress eventually decided:
- [T]hat the use of the Bible is so universal, and its importance so great . . . that Congress will order the committee of commerce to import 20,000 Bibles from Holland, Scotland, or elsewhere, into the different ports of the states of the Union.
- In 1781, a second shortage of Bibles occurred. This time, Robert Aitken of Philadelphia approached Congress with a plan of how to prevent future shortages: publish the Bibles here in America. As the publisher of a large magazine, he offered his presses, explaining to Congress on January 21, 1781, that the proposed Bible would be "a neat edition of the Holy Scriptures for the use of schools."
- Congress approved his request and "The Bible of the Revolution" rolled off his presses. That Bible is now extremely rare, being the first purely American printed Bible in the English language. Significantly, Congress issued an endorsement placed in the front of that Bible which read:
- Resolved that the United States in Congress assembled, highly approved the pious and laudable undertaking of Mr. Aitken... [T]hey recommend this edition of the Bible to the inhabitants of the United States, and hereby authorize him to publish this recommendation in the manner he shall think proper.
- Later that year, the American Revolution was effectively ended with the surrender of the British at Yorktown. However, even though British arms were laid down, it was not until two years later that a formal treaty was finalized and signed in Paris by john Adams, Benjamin Franklin, and John Jay. The opening line placed in the final treaty is still another indication of the spirit so often displayed during the American Revolution. The first line announces:
- "In the name of the most holy and undivided Trinity. Amen."
Let it never be said that America was founded by secular people. It was founded by Christian people and established for Christian people. That is why we have such lawlessness in our land. Our laws and our government were devised for a godly people, a people who were ruled by God in their hearts not laws on the books.
This Thanksgiving let us roll the years back to a time when people were conscious of God's blessings and were truly thankful.
John Henry Jowett, a British preacher of an earlier generation, said this about gratitude: "Gratitude is a vaccine, an antitoxin, and an antiseptic." What did he mean? He meant that gratitude, like a vaccine, can prevent the invasion of a disgruntled, discouraged spirit. Like an antitoxin, gratitude can prevent the affects of the poisons of cynicism, criticalness, and grumbling. Like an antiseptic, a spirit of gratitude can soothe and heal the most troubled spirit.
-- John Yates, "An Attitude of Gratitude," Preaching Today, Tape No. 110.
A man whom many believe was the greatest American president is a good example. When he was 7 years of age, his family was forced out of their home, and he went to work. When he was 9, his mother died. He lost his job as a store clerk when he was 20. He wanted to go to law school, but he didn't have the education. At age 23 he went into debt to be a partner in a small store. Three years later the business partner died, and the resulting debt took years to repay.
When he was 28, after courting a girl for four years, he asked her to marry him, and she turned him down. On his third try he was elected to Congress, at age 37, but then failed to be re-elected. His son died at 4 years of age. When this man was 45, he ran for the Senate and lost. At age 47 he ran for the vice-presidency and lost. But at age 51 he was elected president of the United States.
The man was Abraham Lincoln, a man who learned to face discouragement and move beyond it. Did you know that it was Abraham Lincoln who, in the midst of the Civil War, in 1863, established the annual celebration of Thanksgiving? Lincoln had learned how important it is to stop and thank God in the midst of great difficulties.
-- John Yates, "An Attitude of Gratitude," Preaching Today, Tape No. 110.
The year that is drawing towards its close, has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added, which are of so extraordinary a nature, that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever watchful providence of Almighty God. In the midst of a civil war of unequalled magnitude and severity, which has sometimes seemed to foreign States to invite and to provoke their aggression, peace has been preserved with all nations, order has been maintained, the laws have been respected and obeyed, and harmony has prevailed everywhere except in the theatre of military conflict; while that theatre has been greatly contracted by the advancing armies and navies of the Union. Needful diversions of wealth and of strength from the fields of peaceful industry to the national defence, have not arrested the plough, the shuttle, or the ship; the axe had enlarged the borders of our settlements, and the mines, as well of iron and coal as of the precious metals, have yielded even more abundantly than heretofore. Population has steadily increased, notwithstanding the waste that has been made in the camp, the siege and the battle-field; and the country, rejoicing in the consciousness of augmented strength and vigor, is permitted to expect continuance of years with large increase of freedom.
No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy. It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and voice by the whole American People. I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens. And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to his tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquillity and Union.
This message was preached at FBC Toulon, by Albert Harmon. See it at http://toulonbaptist.com