Presented as a speech on November 15, 1964 at the First Protestant Reformed Church
“Praised be the Lord, the Almighty, the King of Creation!” The heart and soul of thanksgiving lies in these words, for when we give thanks, we are rendering homage to the true King of Creation. This is thanksgiving.
This is also one of the prime occasions for thanksgiving. How little we actually realize of God’s true greatness, yet it is all around us. Each morning we awake to a world created by God with a breath of eternity; each night we fall asleep without fear, safe in the knowledge that God controls life in its cycle until the end of time. How great is our God!
Yet, His greatness extends still further. Look in the pew in front of you. There lies the Bible like the Sword of Truth. On the outside it appears to be a simple book, like the sword is a simple piece of metal; but put it to its proper use, and it will destroy evil in its preservation of good. God’s special revelation is the masterpiece which transcends eternity to touch time. Its riches are so understandable, yet so deep, that we can comprehend but a little through the eyes of the Holy Spirit. Surely, God’s greatness is an occasion for our thanksgiving. God’s love is another occasion for our thanksgiving. How miserably proud we are in our sins. We are striving toward the moon, the stars, and beyond; we are able to sing, speak, think, and do a thousand other things. And we dare to kneel down and pray as if we really believed that we merit God’s listening ear. We are born in sin, we live in sin, and we die in sin. Every act, even our very being is intrinsically the picture of sin itself. Compare then what God is. He is totally without sin. By the essence of His very being, He is good—all good. We, who are evil, are by nature centered on this evil, for we are self-centered; while God, who is all Goodness, is centered on this goodness, for He is God-centered. How great then, was His love when He sent His Son to lift us up from the mire of our own sin. Most certainly, God’s love is reason for our thanksgiving.
As if His greatness and love were not ample occasion for our thanksgiving, God has showered us with unbelievable physical blessings. In this land of plenty we are neither cold nor starving. We have a roof over our heads, a fine building in which to worship—actually, we have more than we need and can ever fully use. The Lord has truly given us the fruit of the earth in abundance. For this we must render our thanks.
And, were it humanly possible, this thanks ought to be rendered continuously. Obviously, the prime object of this thanksgiving will be God, in His greatness, love, and blessings; but the secondary object will be man.
In himself, man is not meritorious of even our meager thanksgiving; but insofar as he is one of God’s children, and insofar as he is created in the image of Almighty God, we will give him our thanksgiving. This, by its very condition of election to the household of God, excludes the reprobate from being the object of our thanksgiving.
However, the thanksgiving which one Christian renders to another is basically different from the thanksgiving which the Christian must render toward God. When we render God thanks, we, as lesser beings, are paying homage to the Great Being; while when we give thanks to our fellow man, we are thanking each other as peers, equals in the sight of God.
But how then, do we render thanks to God?
In the first place, this thanksgiving must be spontaneous. Thanksgiving which is a product of custom, or which is rendered out of a sense of duty or pride, is not real thanksgiving. The Lord does not delight in an empty formalism, but rather condemns it. If we must force ourselves to give thanks, we are not being Christians, but hypocrites, for all we are giving ourselves is an outward gratitude which has no inward existence. This does not mean that our emotions must be churned to a state of near hysteria before we are prepared to render thanks, but rather that our praise be an expression of the true gratitude that fills our hearts. While it is essential that our thanksgiving be spontaneous, it must also be sincere. This sincerity must be based on understanding. Our hearts cannot be filled with a nameless gratitude only when we offer thanks, for, in spite of its spontaneity, this thanksgiving does not have the gratitude based on knowledge of what is true, and it is therefore not sincere. Here, too, thanksgiving is an empty form, for it is based on emotionalism, not on truth. Thus, when we render thanks to God, it must be done sincerely, with the knowledge of the occasion for our thanksgiving.
But what is perhaps the most important element of our thanksgiving is still missing. This is humility. Without humility we cannot realize our many blessings and therefore can neither be sincere nor spontaneous in thanksgiving. While we render thanks to our fellow Christian as equal to equal, we cannot thank God in this way. He is the Omnipotent, Omniscient, Omnipresent Lord of the Universe; while we are but His footstool. We were created to honor and glorify Him, to serve Him, and render homage to Him. He is the Great Being, we are lesser beings. We were created in His image, not He in ours. And therefore, we must render thanks to Him in humility, as servant to Master. We thank God in humility because of all His many blessings toward us, and because we can never give Him anything that He does not already have. Thus, to be truly thankful, we must be truly humble.
Thanksgiving, then, is spontaneously, sincerely, humbly rendering homage to God for what He is and for what He has given us.
However, even though we know what thanksgiving truly is, we do not render it right. The feeling of gratitude is not easily achieved, for we lack humility.
In the world today, man has replaced the Almighty Lord with “almighty” man. Huge bands of concrete tie ocean to ocean, tunnels and wires tie continent to continent; great rockets blast man away from earth’s surface while probes dig deep into its crust. Often the Christian finds himself enmeshed in “man’s” achievements, forgetting that these are all God’s handiwork. Science is queen and man is her lord, yet he cannot scratch the heavens and find God. Nevertheless, man’s achievements are a stumbling block to a Christian’s true humility.
But man’s achievements are not the only obstacle to true humility. Sometimes the very fact that we are the elect of God can be a block to our humility. Often we find ourselves looking down on the world around us as if we really were better than they. It is so easy to forget that we did not first choose God, but that He chose us. Were it not for this choice, we would be as the rest of the world: Locked in darkness without the Lord. Rather than give us a sense of pride, our election should give us humility in awe of God’s greatness.
Let us then strive continuously to humble ourselves before the throne of God, not man; and let us ever more realize that we were chosen of God, not His of us.
Therefore, this Thanksgiving Day, and each day of our lives; let us, in humility “Praise the Lord, the Almighty, the King of Creation”—and let us give thanks.