Thanks Be to God
November 20th, 1966 @ 8:15 AM
THANKS BE TO GOD
Dr. W. A. Criswell
2 Corinthians 2:14
11-20-66 8:15 a.m.
Well, I am in a good humor today as you can see. I really am. I am the best example of what it is to have Thanksgiving that you ever saw in your life. I am grateful to God for you and for all of the wonderful enrichments, and endowments, and shepherdly remembrances by which He blesses our lives.
Now we are going to have a Thanksgiving sermon this morning and I am going to preach until the time to quit. Not going to stop before. I am just going to keep on. I have a lot of things to say. My text and it is just a text, my text is in Second Corinthians chapter 2, verse 14. Second Corinthians chapter 2, verse 14: “Now thanks be unto God, who always causeth us to triumph in Christ, and maketh manifest the savor of His knowledge by us in every place” [2 Corinthians 2:14]. And the text is also the title of the message, Thanks Be to God.
The fifth day of April in 1621 brought to the stage of human history one of the most pathetic and dramatic of all the incidents in the story of the United States of America. The winter before, the Mayflower had brought to the shores of New England a little band of devout, consecrated Christians, who came to be known as Pilgrims because in one of their compacts, one of their documents, they had referred to themselves to be like Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob who confessed that they were pilgrims in the earth, seeking another land. And from that reference in the eleventh chapter of the Book of Hebrews [Hebrews 11:8-10, 13-16], that little company came to be known as Pilgrims.
In the cold of the winter in January and February half of the little number died. Out of one hundred two, fifty-one survived. There was hardly strength on the part of the fifty-one surviving to bury those who had died. And less the hostile Indians see how their little number was depleted, they dug the graves in the cornfield on Cole’s Hill overlooking Plymouth Bay and leveled the ground even that the Indian might not know how many had died. And on that fifth day of April in 1621 a little band of twenty-six men weakened by heavy illness and six boys who were big enough to kind of help with the work, and a few women and children, stood on the shore of Plymouth Bay and watched the Mayflower set sail to return to England.
Not a one, not one, not one of the surviving little band boarded ship to return home. They had come to build a kingdom of the Lord, a church, in this wilderness. And every one of them stayed. First they built their little homes, their little cottages. And the center of the little cottage, and its home, and family life was the Bible. The King James Version of the Bible had been translated just nine years before. Next they built their little church where the Word of God could be read. And third, they built a little school. And the textbook for the little school was the Word of God. Oh, how different and how far away our public school education today!
That summer God gave the little band His heavenly blessings. And when fall time came, they had enough to eat and to spare. So the elected governor, William Bradford, proclaimed a thanksgiving. And in November, for three days they gave thanks to God for His blessings in the harvest, in the health and strength to which they had recovered, and rejoiced in gratitude to the Almighty who reigns in glory.
Reading the Bible and loving the Word of God, they but reflected what they had been taught in these sacred Scriptures. If you look at the seventh chapter of the Book of Leviticus, you will find that the peace offerings which were the usual offerings—once in a while a burnt offering but mostly what is called in the Bible a peace offering [Leviticus 3:1-17; 7:11-21, 28-34]; they were actually thanksgiving offerings. And when the family came to God’s house and made the thanksgiving offering, he always invited the priest, the pastors, and the friends to eat with the family there in the court of the Lord.
And when you turn to the sixteenth chapter of the Book of Deuteronomy [Deuteronomy 16:13-17], you read of the Feast of Tabernacles which was nothing but a thanksgiving week in the fall time, praising God for the ingathering. And when you read in the lives of the apostles, and the evangelists, and God’s emissaries that spirit of rejoicing in thanksgiving to God was ever foremost in their lives. For example, in Paul’s first letter to Thessalonica, chapter 5 verse 18, “In every thing give thanks” [1 Thessalonians 5:18]; nothing excluded. The dark days as the light days, the heavy days as well as the glad days; the days of sorrow and sickness as well as the days of health and happiness; “In every thing give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you” [1 Thessalonians 5:18].
And as the days past, the spirit of gratitude and thanksgiving to God continued in the life of those first colonists. After the trial of the Revolutionary War, and after the Constitutional Congress, both houses, the Upper House, the Lower House, the Senate, and the House of Representatives, passed a resolution asking the president of the United States to proclaim a national day of thanksgiving. The year was 1789. The president was George Washington, and this is the proclamation that he made. Listen to its language and to its spirit of humble gratitude to Almighty God, I quote:
Whereas it is the duty of all Nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey his will, to be grateful for his benefits, and humbly to implore his protection and favor, and whereas both Houses of Congress have, by their joint Committee requested me to recommend to the People of the United States a day of public thanksgiving and prayer to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many signal favors of Almighty God especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness.
Now therefore I do recommend and assign Thursday the 26th day of November next to be devoted by the People of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being, who is the beneficent Author of the good that was, that is, or that will be–That we may then all unite in rendering unto him our sincere and humble thanks–for his kind care and protection of the People of this Country…
to protect and guide all Sovereigns and Nations…to bless them with good government, peace, and concord–To promote the knowledge and practice of true religion and virtue, and the encrease of science among them and us–and generally to grant unto all Mankind such a degree of temporal prosperity as he alone knows to be best. Given under my hand, at the city of New York,
the capital of the United States then, “Given under my hand, at the city of New York, the third day of October, A.D. 1789.”
The spirit of the Pilgrim Fathers continued in those Revolutionary War days and the days of the framing of the Constitution. And it continued in the spirit of the nation, though for half a century there were no more public proclamations such as had been made by President George Washington. Then in the dark and cruel days of the War Between the States, Abraham Lincoln made the first Thanksgiving proclamation; on a yearly basis, that it was to be established as a national institution and that every year we would have a service and a day of thanksgiving to Almighty God. And from the days of Abraham Lincoln until now, there has been from the president a national proclamation calling our people to public, stated, national gratitude to God for His blessings upon us. There are some things about this development in the life of the nation that I wish to speak of.
First is this: they thanked God and we thank God for our country, for our land, for our government, and for the protection of our people. This is a blessing from heaven. May I illustrate it? A nation is not made great by its fruitful acres, but by the men who till them. A nation is made great not by its vast forests, but by the men who use them. A nation is made great not by its vast continental expanse, and its railroads, and its bustling industry, but by the men who build them. America was a great land when Columbus discovered it. Americans have made of it a great nation. The life that we live, the government under which we abide, and the processes of justice and peace and prosperity are all the work of the hands of men under God. And we in this land, have every cause to be filled with thanksgiving for the marvelous goodnesses of the Lord to us who live in free America. And may we thank God for the Book that those Pilgrims loved, brought with them on the Mayflower, made the textbook of their school, and preached from their pulpit.
It is the fashion of the new America to look upon the Bible as you would a collection of myth as you might read “Jason and the Golden Fleece”; as you might read Aesop’s Fables; as you might read the legendary stories in the Iliad and the Odyssey. So the new America has come to look upon the Bible as a collection of myths and legends, but not so the men and women who founded this nation. For there would have been no America without the strength that came to their souls from God; believing this Holy Word and this blessed and precious Bible.
One of the gloriously incomparable visions of the prophet Ezekiel was the flowing of the river of life from the sanctuary down through the wilderness and down to Dead Sea. And as Ezekiel looked upon that glorious vision it came to pass that every thing lived whithersoever the river came. And by the river upon the banks thereof, on this side and on that side, grew trees for meat and leaves for the healing of the people. And that tree, and that leaf, and that river, says Ezekiel, is the Word of God [Ezekiel 47:1-12].
I read this very week again of a man who had entered the Soviet Union time after time and had in his little car a compartment in which he had placed Bibles. And he was carrying Bibles into the Soviet Union. And the authorities caught him; sentenced him. And when they asked him, “Why do you such a thing?” He replied, “It was the Word of God that brought life to me, and there can be no life apart from the Word of God. And I have been bringing the Word of God to the hungry-hearted, desperate people enslaved in this communist world.” There is in history no such thing as a free people whom God has not made free. And there is no continuing liberty where people have denied the revelation of God. And if America continues in its secular denial of the revelation from Heaven, America some day will find itself in tyranny and slavery like the other nations of the earth who have denied the presence and the sovereignty of Almighty God.
I have a third, and we shall thank God for the hardships, and the trials, and the difficulties that they faced and that we face. I pointed out to you, and it is with an attempt in great meaning that I did it and do it again—I tried to point out to you, that these thanksgiving proclamations were made in times of great distress and darkness; those terrible beginning days on the shores of this New World in the wilderness; those trying days of the American Revolutionary War and the framing of the Constitution; and those dark and heavy days of the War Between the States.
“Well, pastor, are we to thank God for the tears in life, and the sobs in our lives, and the frustrations and disappointments and despairs in our lives? Are we to thank God for the trials in our lives?” The answer from heaven is an emphatic and everlasting, Yea; “In every thing give thanks unto God” [1 Thessalonians 5:18]. Even for the trials and for the heavy burdens and heartaches, we’re to thank God for them all. “Well, pastor, I just don’t know whether such a thing is possible or not. How can I thank God for death, or thank God for illness, or thank God for the disappointments and the broken dreams?” That’s what it is to be a child of the King, and that’s what it is to be a Christian.
Why, an infidel can give thanks to God for the affluences, and for the gladnesses, and for the lightsome things, and for the ameliorating things; the good things. Why, anybody could thank God. But can you sing songs in the night? And can you be like Job? “The Lord gave, the Lord took away; blessed be the name of the Lord” [Job 1:21]. Can you do that? Can you glorify God in the stress, and illness, and defeat? Can you? Can you thank God in a dark day and a heavy hour? That’s what it is to be a Christian.
Let me tell you. This is a country story up in the mountains. But there was a young father and husband talking to an older man up there at the end of the hollow. And the young man said to his older friend, he said, “You know, there’s so much I can’t understand. I’ve been taught all my life that the heavenly Father takes care of us. But I don’t see it. I don’t see it.” The young man said to the older friend, he says, “I see the wicked prosper and the righteous go hungry. And I see the evil happy and I see the good in distress. Why,” said the younger man, “look at old man Monroe down the creek here, one of the best men in all the earth. He wants enough money to send his children to school, but he never has it. He prays for his little sick boy, crippled, but the lad’s never well but worse. And last year, lightning killed one of his horses. He had only two. And this spring a wind blew down his barn. How do you account for that?”
And the older man said to his younger friend, he said, “I know that’s true. Old man Monroe down the creek has a hard time. I know. But,” he said, “you didn’t know him before he became a Christian, did you?”
“No,” said the young man, “no.”
“Well,” said the old man, “I knew him before he was a Christian. He was mean, and he was wicked, and he beat his family, and he wasted what he had in drink. And winter after winter I and my neighbors fed the children. Then,” he said, “Monroe was saved and became a Christian.” He said, “It’s true they haven’t much money. But if you’ve ever been in their home, they have a happy home, and a Christian home, and they have enough to eat, and they have a dry roof over their head. And I’ve heard him give thanks for it many times.”
Then the older man said to his younger friend, “By the way, have you talked to old man Monroe since the lightning struck his horse and since the wind blew down his barn? Have you?” And the young man said, “Why, yes.” The older man said to him, “Did he complain?”
“Had he lost heart?”
“Was he bitter against providence of God?”
“No, he wasn’t.”
The older man said, “There is your answer.” The young fellow said, “But I don’t understand.” And the older man said, “Son, when we’re saved, when we’re born again, when we become Christians things on the outside don’t change. There is war, famine, pestilence, failure, disease, death! That is all the same. But the difference is on the inside. When a man is born again, when a man is saved, when he becomes a Christian there’s a new light in him, and a new spirit in him, and a new heart in him, and a new courage in him. And God lives in him, for every exigency, and every hour, and every trial. That is the difference.”
So we shall thank God as Christian people for the dark things, as well as the light things; for the frustrations, and disappointments, and despairs, as well as for the sweet things and the precious things of our lives. They did, and we shall in everything giving thanks to God [1 Thessalonians 5:18].
Well, it’s not quite time yet for us to have the benediction, so I’ve got something else. I have something else. Oh my, one of the joys of heaven is going to be if I can get me a congregation on some planet somewhere, we just going on, and on, and on! We are never going to have a benediction. Let me kind of sum it up, what I want to say, and then we’ll give our appeal.
Monday a week ago, I brought the closing address at the State Brotherhood meeting down there at that Memorial Auditorium. And I was preceded in the address— many of you were there—I was preceded in the address by four men from the state penitentiary. They were lined up there on the platform, one, two, three, four, and the men together had sentences of about two hundred years; those four men. And they stood up there one at a time and told the story that led them to those tragic sentences.
Then after all four of them had spoken, one of them came back and said, “Did you notice?” And he used that word, “Did you notice, and may I point out to you?” And then he said something that will stay in my memory as long as I shall live. He said, “When we walk down those concrete corridors, and we hear the clanking of those steel doors, and we live in those tiny iron cells, you know what we think about? What we long for?” He said, “For not one of those things that we thought we wanted.”
You see they were robbing banks for money. They were killing people for game. They described themselves, “Some of us wanted to shine as egotists and be the head of the gang.” He said, “Not a one of those things, not one do we want or do we think about.” He says, “You know what we think about when we walk down those concrete corridors into those steel cells?” He says, “we think about how sweet it would be if I could walk down a country road and hear a bird sing or the wind blowing through a tree and a vista of the hills beyond. How sweet it would be to go home, to see a child smile, or a baby cry. How wonderful it would be just to live a humble, precious life. Things that you have that you never think about, but they’re the things that we think about all the time.”
Let’s not forget. We shall thank God for the trees, and the hills, and the birds that sing. We shall thank God for the family hearth, for the child, for the home, for the family, for the bread. We shall thank God for the little things in our lives. Take them for granted now, yes we do. But maybe this Thanksgiving season we shall remember them in gratitude before God. “O Lord, we are so indebted, so indebted. God help us to remember. Thanks be unto God” [2 Corinthians 2:14].
Now we must sing our song, and as we sing it, in this balcony round, you, the great throng of people on this lower floor, you, putting your life in the church, giving your heart to Jesus; how ever God shall press the appeal to your soul, come now. Stand by me here at the front. “Preacher, I give you my hand. I have given my heart to the Lord” [Romans 10:8-13]. Or, “We want to put our lives in this dear church” [Hebrews 10:24-25]. As God shall press the appeal, come. Make it this morning, a happy glorious moment, this moment. Do it now, while we stand and while we sing.