Thanks Be Unto God
November 23rd, 1958 @ 10:50 AM
THANKS BE UNTO GOD
Dr. W. A. Criswell
Psalm 107:1-9, 21-22
11-23-58 10:50 a.m.
You are sharing with us the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas. This is the pastor bringing the morning message, the Sunday before Thanksgiving, entitled Thanks Be Unto God. The reading of the Scripture is a part of the one hundred seventh Psalm:
O give thanks unto the Lord, for He is good: for His mercy endureth for ever.
Let the redeemed of the Lord say so, whom He hath redeemed from the hand of the enemy;
And gathered them out of the lands, from the east, and from the west, from the north, and from the south.
They wandered in the wilderness in a solitary way; they found no city to dwell in.
Hungry and thirsty, their souls fainted in them.
Then they cried unto the Lord in their trouble, and He delivered them out of their distresses.
He led them forth by the right way, that they might go to a city of habitation.
Oh that men would praise the Lord for His goodness, and for His wonderful works to the children of men!
For He satisfieth the longing soul, and filleth the hungry soul with goodness,
Oh that men would praise the Lord for His goodness, and for His wonderful works to the children of men!
And let them sacrifice the sacrifices of thanksgiving, and declare His works with rejoicing.
[Psalm 107:1-9, 21-22]
This is not an isolated or unusual or different kind of a passage. Hundreds of times in the Bible is the word, "praise, glory to God, thanksgiving," used; and this passage I have read is just typical. "Thanks be to God."
On the fifth day of April in 1621, there occurred one of the most moving and touching incidents in American history. It was on that day that a little band of twenty-one men and six lads old enough to help with the work and a small company of women and smaller children stood on the shores of Plymouth Bay and saw the Mayflower, the ship upon which they had come to the New World, they saw the ship go back home, pull anchor, and turn out toward the sea. That December before one hundred two of them crowded in that small little wooden ship had landed, not by design or by plan. Their purpose was to turn south and to find a home in the dominion of Virginia; but the inclement weather and the fierce and driving gales had driven them ashore above Cape Cod, in what they call Plymouth. And that winter, January, February, took a terrible and frightening toll of their number. Of the one hundred two who came on the little wooden ship, the Mayflower, that terrible winter in January and February, fifty-one of the number died. They were buried on the little hill called Cole’s Hill, overlooking Plymouth Harbor; and lest the Indians learn how many of their number had died and how few and weak were those who remained, the graves were leveled in the cornfield. That fifth day of April, 1621, the survivors, with half of their small number buried on the hill, stood at the foot of the slope and watched the ship fade away beyond the horizon and beyond the sea.
What was so moving, and so touching, and so valiant, and so courageous was that, as the little band stood there, not a one boarded the vessel, not a one sought passage back home, not a one thought to return; they had come to build a home in the wilderness, they had come to worship God, to exalt the Lord Christ, the author and founder of a new social order, a new republic, a new government, a new democracy, a new plan, a new departure, a new hope. And though they stood bowed down with grief and sorrow, and though untold privation awaited them, they stood there resolute in a common determination to build here in this wilderness a new nation under God.
They were very poor. They had practically nothing of this world’s goods and possessions. But they were rich in their souls, in their hearts. And their greatest and prized possession was something that we hardly think of today. When a man counts his riches, when a man adds up all of the things that he has acquired and he spreads them before us, and here are his possessions, deeds, stocks, and bonds, and bank accounts, we hardly think of this as a rich inheritance and gift and possession, I never heard of anybody refer to it as being something beyond any prize and any worth out of all that he had acquired: but those pilgrims were so different. They were devout people, godly people; and their most prized possessions were the copies of the King James Version of the Bible that had been published just nine years before. And that Book they treasured as all riches, all wealth, more than the world beside.
And when they built their little homes to shelter their families, that Book, a copy of which the King James Version I hold in my hand, that Book was the center of their daily family devotions. The first house they erected after building shelter for their families was a little church in which that Book was to be preached. And the next thing they did was to build a little school; and the text book of that little school is the Book I hold in my hand, the King James Version of the Bible.
That little band resolutely turned from the seaward, beyond which the Mayflower disappeared beyond the blue horizon returning home, and they set themselves to planting Indian corn. And the friendly natives showed them how to do it. And that fall, God gave them a harvest. And William Bradford, the governor of the little band, proclaimed a thanksgiving. Three days it was to be. And they invited the friendly Indian chief Massasoit, and his warriors to come with him. And the Indians, hungry and ravenous, numbered more than the Pilgrims themselves. But for three days they feasted in gratitude and thanksgiving to God that the Lord had given them recovery in strength and health and that the Lord had blessed them with enough food in the harvest for the coming harsh and trying winter. That Thanksgiving, which was proclaimed by Governor William Bradford, was a following of the precedent that he learned from this Book, the Holy Scriptures; and it set a precedent for all succeeding generations. For in this Book there are many, many things that would turn one’s soul and one’s heart toward a time designated for thanksgiving unto God.
Of the feasts of the Levitical rite and code, the Mosaic legislation, of all those feasts, one of the most beautiful and meaningful is called the peace offering; really, we would call it a thanksgiving offering, a celebration of gratitude to God. And in the peace offering, I’d call it a thanksgiving offering, the family came, and, with what God had blessed them, they offer it unto the Lord at the great altar, and they invite the priests and they invite their friends to come and to eat before the Lord in gratitude for what God had done for them. And I can just see that in my mind’s eye. In the tabernacle grounds, there are families bringing thanksgiving offerings, feasting unto the Lord with the priests and with their friends, thanking God for the bounties of His merciful remembrances [Leviticus 3:1-17, 7:11-21, 28-34].
In this Bible is described the Feast of the Tabernacles, which came in the fall time, and which lasted seven days, and which was a feast of the harvest. At that time, the whole nation came together; and dwelling in booths, tabernacles, they thanked God and turned unto the Lord in gratitude the sacrifice of thanksgiving. The fall had come, the harvest had been gathered, and now the Lord who gave it was to be remembered in deepest gratitude [Leviticus 23:33-43; Numbers 29:12-38; Deuteronomy 16:13-17]. So when Governor William Bradford made his thanksgiving proclamation for that fall of 1621, he set a precedent that in the providence of God has been followed by the American people through the years since.
After the bitter and terrible trial of the Revolutionary War and after the fashioning of the instrument by which those colonies could find a common denominator, a federal government, the first Congress in both houses, Senate and Representatives, passed a joint resolution asking the president of the United States to proclaim a national day of thanksgiving. The year was in 1789. The president was General George Washington. And I have a copy of that Thanksgiving Proclamation here in my hand. I had proposed to read it, but I ought not to take time for it. It is one of the beautifully worded documents of our American archives. And it is inbreathed with the spirit of humility and gratitude to God, calling the people to the remembrance of the Lord on the twenty-sixth day of November, Thursday, 1789.
The next proclamation was promulgated by Madison, President Madison. Then for half a century, there were no other proclamations until Abraham Lincoln, a God fearing, humble man; Abraham Lincoln promulgated a proclamation calling the nation annually to a day of Thanksgiving. And from that day of Abraham Lincoln, until this, every year the president of our glorious republic calls the people to a day of remembrance, the fourth Thursday of November of each succeeding year.
That week of gratitude to God is the week into which we now enter; of which this is the first day. And Thursday is the actual day set aside for a time of gratitude and remembrance to the Lord God who made us for the sustaining care by which He has guided and kept us.
Now, in a few moments that remain, may I speak of three things for which we are at this time to be especially grateful? First: thanks be to God for the nation that the Pilgrim Fathers founded; thanks be to God for the Christian civilization, the Christian heritage that we have received from their hands. As they came to the New World, they brought the church with them. In fact, it was a little church that came. And they came for the purpose of building godly homes and of building a church in the wilderness. Thanks be to God for the foundation that they laid, upon which all succeeding generations in America have built, whether wittingly or unwittingly. When you go back and down and deep, and probe and ferret out into the basic underlying foundations of the political, governmental, economic, social, cultural institutions of America, you will find they all have their source in the Christian forefathers who laid deep and broad the principles upon which the country has been built.
Not only in little Plymouth colony, but as the colonies grew, and as they expanded, and as the civilization pressed beyond the Allegany Mountains, and always west and to the west, there you would find the pioneer preacher. He might be a man of no education. His only library might be a Bible and a song book. He might have had no place to preach but under the stars, or under the shades of a tree, or on the broad expanse of the prairie, or in a log cabin. But wherever the civilization of the American democracy pressed westward, there you found the pioneer preacher, there you found the evangelistic sermon, there you found the gospel of the grace of the Son of God, there you found the strong doctrines of the Christian faith, there you found the church, and there you found the institutions of the church. This whole Republic, from side to side, from ocean to ocean, was built upon the Christian faith, the Christian religion, and this Holy Book that I hold in my hand.
Thanks be to God for the second thing, one I’ve already mentioned, thanks be to God that we have the opportunity to read for ourselves the Word and the revelation of our Father in heaven. I need no priest! I need no mediator but my Lord God in heaven! I can read the passage for myself! I can learn for myself! I can study and pray and go to God for myself! I am free! My soul is free! My mind is free! My heart is free! My life is free! I can choose for myself! There is no heavy hand of tyranny. There is no dark persuasion alien to my own soul of authority to interdict my choice. I can love God for myself! I can worship God for myself! I can ask the forgiveness of God for myself! I can go to God for myself! I can worship and follow the dictates of what God whispers in my heart through Jesus Christ for myself! I have it writ large here in the Book that I hold in my hand! And wherever in this earth there is a people and a nation who know and read this Book, it is impossible to enslave that nation and that people! This Book was, as I tried to explain, the treasured possession of those Pilgrims who came to build a new nation in the wilderness.
In the mystic river that Ezekiel saw, everything lived, whither the river came, flowing out of the throne of God [Ezekiel 47:1-12].
And he showed me a pure river of the water of life, clear as crystal, proceeding out of the throne of God and of the Lamb; that river of life is the holy Word of God, brought to us by the living Spirit of the Lord, the leaves of the trees growing on either side of the river, for the healing of the nations.
An enlightened people, a God fearing, God loving people, a people of the Book, a people of the Word of God.
Thanks be to God in this last moment that remains, thanks be to God for the hardships that they overcame in the grace and mercy and providence of the Lord and Savior whom they loved and worshiped. Isn’t that a strange thing? Thanks be to God for their toils, for their troubles, for their difficulties. Thanks be to God for the winds that they braved, for the storms that they faced, for the trials and the tribulations that they endured. Thanks be to God for the burdens God laid upon them and the heavy illimitable challenges to which God had called them. Out of those privations, out of those storms and tribulations, out of those burdens and those griefs, came the fiber that has made our people great. As Lyman Abbot said, "America was a great land before Columbus discovered it. It was Americans who made it a great nation and a great people."
I have not opportunity here. I wanted to illustrate this in our lives. May I summarize this, and then we shall close. Thanks be to God for the troubles in life, the hardships. What this is, is a most unusual thing. It’s a conversation between two men. And one of them says: "I don’t see how the heavenly Father takes care of that man down the creek from me. He’s become a Christian. He’s given his heart to the Lord. And since he’s become a Christian and given his heart to the Lord, last year lightning struck one of his horses, and he only had two. He prays every day that Charlie, his boy, might get well; but he gets worse all the time. And his only cow was drowned in a freshet. How do you account for that, if God is good to him?"
And the reply is made: "Have you talked to old man Monroe down the creek? Have you talked to him since the lightning struck his horse, and since the freshet drowned his cow, and since his boy’s got worse? Have you talked to him?"
"Yes," the man says, "yes, I have."
"Well, how’d you find him?"
"Oh," says the man, "I can’t explain it, I can’t explain it. He didn’t speak bitterly. He didn’t use a curse or an oath. I can’t explain it, but he was sweet, and gracious, and trusting, and says it’s in the hands of God, and the Lord knows best. I can’t explain it." Then the man replies, "That’s what I’m telling you about. That’s what I’m talking about. That’s what God is able to do for a man."
It is not that we who are Christians – and I’m thinking now of the Plymouth Pilgrims and all of us since – it is not that we who are Christians are delivered thereby from the trial, and the trouble, and the disease, and the age, and the suffering, and the sorrow, and the death, it comes to us as it comes to everybody else. I am just saying that the Pilgrims and the Christian disciples of Jesus, who’ve followed in His steps ever since, have found a secret: God is able. And out and through and beyond and over and above all of the trials that they experienced, and all of the troubles that overwhelmed them like a flood, there did they find all sufficient grace; they were a new people, they were given to a new hope and a new departure. That’s the way we glorify God. I may be blue, and I may be sick, and I may be old, and I may be feeble, and I may be tired, and I may be oppressed, and I may be troubled, and I may have fallen into difficulties and tribulations; thanks be to God who delivereth us from them all, who makes us to triumph in every place in Jesus Christ. Those were the people who built the church, who built the nation, and who have bequeathed to us this glorious heritage, for which this morning in this feeble and humble way we are seeking to render thanksgiving unto God.
May the Lord grant to us we be worthy to follow in their train.
Now, we stand and sing our hymn. And while we sing it, in this balcony around, somebody you, give your heart to the Lord, come into the fellowship of the church. The stairwells at the back, the stairwells at the front, in this great host of people on this lower floor, into the aisle and down here to the front; a family you, to put your life with us in the church; or one somebody you, as God shall call, shall open the way, shall say the word, would you come? "Pastor, I give you my hand, I give my heart to God; I take Jesus as my Savior." Or, "We’re putting our lives in the fellowship of this precious and wonderful church." Would you come now? While we stand and while we sing.