With the appearance of this issue of Beacon Lights we will be in the year of our Lord 1957 and in the eleventh month of that year. And the last Thursday of this month has been designated Thanksgiving Day. With this in mind the editorial staff has asked me to pen a few thoughts about thanksgiving, which we gladly do.
Originally our national Thanksgiving Day was a home festival and not without religious character. Until well into the 18th century two church services were held on that day in which the mercies of God were recounted. And after these services a grand dinner was partaken of by separate family units. Today, the President of the United States each year delivers a Thanksgiving Proclamation. Hereby we are exhorted to attend our respective houses of worship, as it is generally said, to give thanks to “kind providence,” after which the nation gorges itself in fatness, feasting and amusements. The idea of the day has been greatly lost and the special day has deteriorated into a time of pleasure and the worship of the gods Bacchus and Mammon.
It is well then that we again pause to consider the real idea of thanksgiving.
There are several passages of Scripture which emphasize that we are to give thanks
always for all things. We read in II Cor. 4:15, “For all things are for your sakes, that the abundant grace might through the thanksgiving of many redound to the glory of God.” Again, in Eph. 5:20 we read, “Giving thanks always for all things unto God, and the Father in the Name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” In Phil. 4:6 we read: “Be careful for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God.” And to quote more, we read in I Thess. 5:18, “In everything give thanks, for this is the will of God concerning you.”
From these passages it is clear that nothing is to be excluded from our thanksgiving. Because Thanksgiving Day was instituted with a view to the in-gathered harvest, there is a danger and that is that we concentrate our attention on material things only. This danger is more than imaginary. The President’s proclamation generally emphasizes thanks for material prosperity. Many sermons are dedicated to the proposition that we are to give thanks only for an abundant harvest. And the danger is that we also begin to distinguish between the material things in which we rejoice and the things we regard as evil. The attempt is made to make us believe that we are to give thanks only for the good, not for the bitter.
But notice the all-inclusiveness of the Scriptural mandate. It enjoins us to prostrate ourselves before God and to express gratitude for whatever He sends us, — nothing excluded. There is nothing that limits the idea of everything. Surely the meaning is not that we give thanks for everything we consider good. But the word “everything” must stand in its full force. It includes whatever we receive. It includes all our experiences in this life. Regardless whether they are pleasant or unpleasant to our flesh. To be sure, this includes all that is good: our life, our gifts, our powers, our talents; our health and strength to labor; our daily bread, clothing; our homes, our schools and churches; our prosperity, peace and plenty, yes, but life is more than these. Our Baptism Form speaks of “our life is a continual death.” There is also suffering, pain and death. There is war, poverty, and famine. There are also tears, sorrows and sadness. Thanks for everything does not exclude these things that are usually denominated evils and which we know always work for good to the children of God.
Nor is thanksgiving a matter for a special occasion. Our Thanksgiving Day comes only once a year. As we already mentioned, it was originally intended as a harvest feast day. And we might conclude that thanksgiving is also a matter for special occasions, after some special good providence, such as, the end of a war, or the end of a catastrophe such as flood, famine or pestilence. Or, as it is, at the end of a successful and plenteous harvest.
Notice, however, the Scripture says “always”! Not only for all things, for the good and the bad; but all the time. That includes our entire life and walk, every day of our life, every moment of our existence.
To give thanks always for all things presupposes that we consider all things that we received were good. It means that we point to everything and say it was from God without any merit of us. It implies that we point to the Giver of all and praise His Holy Name. That we give thanks for everything always means that we give thanks because of everything and that we rejoice because of everything always, not only when the way is bright and smooth, but also when it is dark and impassable. It means that we behold in all, always, God’s mercy, love and grace to us.
But isn’t this impossible? Isn’t this quite contrary to our natural understanding?
Indeed this is quite impossible of understanding or fulfillment for the natural man. To him this is sheer foolishness. He is like the rich man in the parable whose portion is in this life. He boasts himself in the multitude of his riches. His god is his belly. In fact he does not and cannot give thanks at all. He can and does rejoice in things, but not in the Lord.
This is possible only for those who have this grace of thanksgiving, and they do it with great difficulty.
But does this mean that the child of God, the recipient of this grace, rejoices in things that are evil? Does he then set his face like flint in the midst of pain and suffering? No, of course not! When he is in agony he groans. When the clouds of evil lower he is anxious. When he is in sorrow he weeps.
But he belongs to Christ.
So the apostle would also have us give thanks for everything always, — in the Lord. That is the only answer to how it is possible to give thanks always in everything. Because Christ is Lord of all, all things have their reason in Him. To belong to Him means He is our Lord in everlasting love. We were in Him when He died and rose again. All things therefore must work for our good.
Thus, and thus only, the true believer in Christ gives thanks always for all things. He understands that what is considered evil is in reality good. He knows that evils are chastisements of love. He believes all things must be subservient to God’s eternal purpose of love and his own salvation. Thus the believer can be and is unto the praise of God in all. Thus he can truly rejoice in all things, and in everything always give thanks.