“O give thanks unto the Lord; for he is good: for his mercy endureth for ever.” – Psalm 136:1
Many times in the Scriptures we are told to give thanks to God. This is because thanksgiving is meaningless without God, and the observance of Thanksgiving Day futile save in connection with the acknowledgment of our debts to Him.
There is no one who has not many things for which to be thankful. Gratitude is one of the virtues and is possible on all planes of life. From the lowest to the highest all can give thanks. The natural man can give thanks for blessings received. He is grateful for the good things of life. He gives thanks to God for his food and clothing and for worldly success. And this is proper. How much better it is that one should thus recognize his Heavenly Father in these things than that with indifference to their source he should partake of the material blessings of life, appropriating to his own use whatever appeals to his appetites without a thought beyond their gratification! It is good for him to give thanks for his blessings, for it leads him to look outside of himself, and to recognize and love the source of his blessings.
The Psalmist, after recounting how God had avenged him against his enemies, exclaims: “Therefore will I give thanks unto thee, O Lord.” There are many types of thanksgiving. They extend from natural and even selfish motives – as the selfish Pharisee in his conceit thanked God that he was not like other men – to the spiritual, through all the planes of life in this world and to the highest angels in the heavens; and as these changes take place, the character of the thanksgiving changes. It is one thing with the natural man and another thing with the spiritual man. Every higher expression of gratitude is from a higher ground and embodies continually more unselfish thoughts and feelings, a more heavenly state of life.
Our thanksgiving ought to be more than gratitude for natural good things. It should bring to mind what the Lord has done for us spiritually as well as naturally. The Lord not only provides for our natural wants and needs in the life of the body but, what is more, He provides all the means for the development of our spiritual life. Probably most people, if asked what thanksgiving is, would say that it is gratitude to God for the blessings of life, meaning by blessings the good things which they have received and which they prize. We should indeed be thankful for these things. Yet our text points to something higher. “O give thanks unto the Lord; for he is good: for his mercy endureth for ever.” In a word, true thanksgiving is a recognition of the goodness and mercy of God. It is the acknowledgment from the heart that all good and truth are from the Lord, and consequently all intelligence, wisdom, and happiness.
Spiritual thanksgiving lifts one out of the limitations of natural thought concerning the giving of thanks into a much larger realm. The natural good things that we have received cease to be the boundary or the inspiration of our gratitude. It is for the infinite goodness and mercy of the Lord that we give thanks.
The Lord provides for our natural wants – our needs in the life of the body – and also the means for the development of our spiritual life. He has given the Word and revealed in it the truths for the development of our spiritual life, that by conduct in accordance with this truth we may come into a life of good, which is the final end for which the Word is given.
No one in his right mind would challenge the fact that God is good, or think that God could do more for us than He has done. We give thanks to God because He is good when this truth is not merely a matter of intellectual thought or intelligence but when we come to love Him. The sense of gratitude for material blessings is a very small and limited affair compared to the deep feeling of gratitude, of rest, and of peace which belongs to giving thanks to God because He is good. It is for the Divine goodness and mercy that we are thankful.
While we live in this world our thanksgiving cannot be separated from the hourly and daily events that take place in our lives. In our occupations, in family life we find the means of our spiritual development. We do this when we value the blessings of this life for their spiritual uses and employ them for the accomplishment of these uses. If we are grateful to God for a happy home because such a home is a center of natural comfort, that is merely natural gratitude. But if we thank the Lord for that same happy home because of its service to the spiritual life of mankind, then we are spiritually grateful for it.
We give natural thanks for prosperity when we are grateful for the personal advantage it brings us. We are spiritually grateful when we find in our prosperity the means of greater service and usefulness to the world. In this way we may go over all the good things of life – the things we naturally call good. We may be thankful for them in this spiritual way by recognizing their relation to spiritual life and prizing them for this use. In such a case they are of service to us first for coming into an appreciation of the Divine love, and secondly for making that love felt in the world. And when we make this use of them, we are thanking the Lord not because He has given these good things to us, but because He is good.
But the thanksgiving of the spiritual man does not limit itself to the things that the natural man calls good. In fact he does not in any special degree connect his happiness with the things of this life. The things which we from a natural point of view call evil, the things from which we are withheld, and the misfortunes which sometimes come upon us are included by the spiritual man in his conception of the Lord’s goodness. The spiritual man sees the Lord’s goodness as really present in misfortune as in prosperity. His mercy is always over us, seeking to teach us the things of Divine wisdom.
If we could now see or be told what qualities of character have come to us through the things we had counted as our burdens, we should be utterly amazed. The Psalmist writes: “Surely the wrath of man shall praise thee; the remainder of wrath shalt thou restrain.” Whether we think of the pleasant or of the hard things of life, we should know that the purpose within them is our eternal welfare, if only we make proper use of them. Thus the spiritual giving of thanks rises far above our questions concerning the events of our external experience to the recognition of the Lord’s constant presence with us and care over us.
We are apt to acknowledge the existence of God very much as we acknowledge the nebular hypothesis – as doubtless true, but very far from our present concern and interest. But as we learn to thank the Lord because He is good, we come into the realization that He has a direct and immediate relationship with everything that we say and do.
To acknowledge His providence as always with us in life, arranging everything for our best and eternal interests, to trust in His wisdom, to believe in Him and to keep His commandments is spiritually to give thanks unto God because He is good.
Such a thanksgiving is conjunction with the Lord. And he who thus gives thanks is thankful to the center of his being. His gratitude is above all the vicissitudes of life. Whatever his outward condition may be, continually in his soul he is giving thanks to the Lord because He is good.