“Not unto us, O Lord, not unto us, but unto thy name give glory, for thy mercy, and for thy truth’s sake.” – Psalm 115:1
The first harvest which the New England colonists reaped upon our shores was made the occasion of special thanksgiving and prayer to God. The importance of this first harvest, which meant that the colonists had gained a foothold in the new land, increased as its significance became better understood until, under President Lincoln in 1863, it was made a permanent national celebration.
From a very small beginning we have grown to become the richest and most powerful nation that the world has ever seen. The harvest is from the Lord’s hand. So today we celebrate that first harvest in recognition of the Lord as God over the destiny of nations as well as of individuals.
One of the cardinal virtues is thankfulness or gratitude. Without this grace no manly or beautiful character can exist, nor any true happiness. When we consider how innumerable are the good things that the Lord continually bestows upon us, we see that we should give thanks to Him for His ceaseless love and kindness. For all things are really from His hand. That we might be happy here He created the universe and all the beautiful things in it. He has provided for every possible need of the body, and if one region suffers, He provides that through commerce the produce of the rest of the earth may be at hand to supply want. And through commerce also He provides that the fruits of the milder regions of the earth may be available to those who live in severer climes.
And not only are needful and pleasant things for the body provided for us by the Lord. He even more carefully provides for the needs and requirements of human souls. He provides for each soul the love that it needs for its happiness, the truth that it needs for its growth and development. All that is needful is that we heed the invitation, “Let him that is athirst come. And whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely.” And not only are all the necessary good things for the mind and body in this life provided, but an ever richer supply to all eternity, for “His mercy endureth forever.”
A spirit of thankful acknowledgment of the goodness of the Lord is a blessing at all times. In temporary affliction it helps us to bear our ills as we consider the many blessings that are ours. And in times of prosperity a spirit of thankfulness keeps us humble, for then we ascribe success neither to our own intelligence nor to our own goodness, but to the mercy of the Lord, and so all the blessings are enlarged and rendered more heavenly because we acknowledge in them our Heavenly Father’s love.
Though we are so frequently enjoined in the Word to give thanks to the Lord and to praise Him, we often neglect this duty or do it in such a half-hearted way that we receive but little benefit ourselves, nor can it be an acceptable offering to the Lord. The essence of all thankfulness is humility of heart. A proud man attributes everything to himself and deems himself to be excellent and worthy; he thinks the whole world should be subject to himself and that nothing that can be given or offered to him will exceed his own great merits. Gratefulness or thankfulness on his part is therefore only an external gesture, the heart having no share in it and even objecting to the trouble of giving thanks.
It is different with the humble. They are conscious that they deserve nothing, that of themselves they would tend to every evil, and that it is only by the mercy of the Lord that they are drawn upward and enabled to overcome their hereditary nature and receive of the Divine love and wisdom. Such are truly thankful because they are truly humble. They see in every flower and fruit and in everything that they enjoy something given them by the hand of the all-wise and omnipotent Divine love. It is so with all the angels of heaven, and the writings teach us that those in the highest heavens are the wisest of all because they are in the deepest acknowledgment that of themselves they have no wisdom or goodness whatever.
The essence of all thankfulness, therefore, is humility of heart and soul, acknowledgment that we are unworthy, and gratitude that the Lord continues to care for us, to bless us, and to love us.
Some are neglectful of thanking the Lord because troubles, difficulties, and trials envelop them. It is strange that many people think that the pathways of others are sunny and pleasant while their own paths are full of troubles and temptations. If they would only look a little more deeply, they would find that everyone has his burdens and his troubles, and that if these should keep men from thanking the Lord, no one would offer Him thanksgiving. But they will also find that everyone has his blessings and his joys, which he ought thankfully to acknowledge and confess before the Lord.
We should also remember that troubles and trials are in their way as useful for man’s eternal welfare as good fortune and prosperity. The reason why trials and temptations are necessary for our spiritual progress is that only through them can the arch-enemies of our salvation – self-conceit and pride – be broken, and the blessings of love to the Lord and to the neighbor be acquired. It is only as self-trust is put away and one learns to subdue himself that he is delivered from self-worship and introduced into the love and worship of the Lord. It is in order that we may come into this heavenly state that we are so frequently commanded to give thanks to the Lord and to praise Him.
The angels of heaven see and feel that not only all external blessings but also all the good of love and all the truth of wisdom flow from the Lord, and that only by the mercy of the Lord are they continually restrained from evil and kept in good, and this with a mighty power. With men it is just the same, only they do not see and feel this Divine power operating in them. Nevertheless the Lord is always working for our good, drawing the wicked away from worse evils, and striving to draw all men upward, according to His promise in John: “And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me.”
Israel was commanded to celebrate yearly a feast of thanksgiving to the Lord, and this was to be a statute forever throughout all their generations. This is the law of happiness. Sometimes we hear it said, “Cannot I do what I please with my own?” Yes, we can, but not without suffering the consequences. One may write a book and it may be popular, but if it is written only for profit with no thought of helping mankind, there is no real profit to the author. There may be a temporary delight, but it is touched with insanity.
The Lord in His life on earth gave us the example. We can never have any but the faintest idea of the infinite love of the Lord Jesus Christ toward all men and all spirits. It was exemplified by His life of self-sacrifice on earth and in the passion of the cross. From His own love He took upon Himself our troubles, met all our enemies, and overcame them. So He became our Redeemer.
This same love which saved the world from destruction in the past attends us even now from the time of our birth even to eternity. All our states have been seen and provided for even before we were born, and this same loving-kindness attends our every step. “Whither shall I go from thy spirit? or whither shall I flee from thy presence?”
When we consider the watchful love of our Heavenly Father thus continually extended over us, providing for the child the care of loving parents, for the youth instruction, and for the adult support and guidance, especially through the truths of the opened Word, and when we further consider that even our seeming misfortunes are turned by a loving providence into blessings, as the selfish inclinations which would bar us from heaven are thereby modified and broken – as we thus survey the Lord’s loving dealings with us, we can say from the heart:
“Not unto us, O Lord, not unto us, but unto thy name give glory, for thy mercy, and for thy truth’s sake.”