WITH THANKSGIVING TO GOD
Dr. W. A. Criswell
11-24-74 8:15 a.m.
On the radio we welcome you sharing this service of the First Baptist Church in Dallas, and this is the pastor bringing the message entitled With Thanksgiving to God. Just as a background for the message, we are going to look at the one hundred-seventh Psalm.
This is a psalm, a song, a poem. No one knows who wrote it, but it is a beautiful, beautiful expression of devotion to our great God. I just want to show you how it is made, how it is put together. It begins, Psalm 107 begins: “O give thanks unto the Lord, for He is good: because His mercy endureth for ever. Let the redeemed of the Lord say so” [Psalm 107:1-2].
Then beginning at verse 4 through the following few verses, he is speaking of God’s goodness in guiding us through our pilgrimage, through the wilderness of this world [Psalm 107:4-7]. Then in verse 8, he says: “Oh that men would praise the Lord for His goodness, and for His wonderful works to the children of men!” [Psalm 107:8].
Now that’s going to be a refrain, and you look for it. Now in verse 10 through verse 15, he is going to speak of God’s goodness to us in the hour of death [Psalm 105:10-15]. “Such as sit in darkness and in the shadow of death”—14—“He brought them out of darkness and the shadow of death” [Psalm 107:14]. Now the refrain: “Oh that men would praise the Lord for His goodness, and for His wonderful works to the children of men!” [Psalm 107:15].
Now in verse 18 he is going to speak about sickness:
So ill that their soul abhorreth food; and they draw near unto the gates of death.
And there at the threshold of death, they cry unto the Lord, and He saveth them.
And He sent His word, and healed them.
Now the refrain again, “Oh that men would praise the Lord for His goodness, and for His wonderful works to the children of men!” [Psalm 107:21].
Now beginning at verse , he’s going to speak about those who, on a stormy sea, face inevitable destruction [Psalm 107:23-25]:
The waves mount up and the ship goes down unto the depths:
And the sailors reel to and fro, and stagger like drunken men.
Then in the hour of their need, they cry unto the LORD in their trouble;
And God maketh the storm a calm, and the waves are still.
Then the refrain again, “Oh that men would praise the Lord for His goodness, and for His wonderful works to the children of men!” [Psalm 107:31].
That’s the way the beautiful poem is put together. It is a marvelous paean of praise, a song of thanksgiving for God’s goodnesses to us. Now the background text: in the very middle of the beautiful psalm is verse 22. Having said these things; how God is good to us, and oh, that men would praise the Lord for His goodness and for His wonderful works [Psalm 107:21], now verse 22: “Let them sacrifice the sacrifices of thanksgiving, and declare His works with rejoicing” [Psalm 107:22].
That is the whole spirit of the people of the Lord. It has been, it is, it will be that forever—the spirit of praise and thanksgiving, declaring God’s wonderful goodnesses to us [Psalm 107:21-22].
One of the most pathetic and touching of all of the incidents in American history took place on the fifth of April in 1621. It was at the conclusion of the first hard winter among the Pilgrims who came to the new shores of America; there to find a new home and a place to worship God. The little band had been so cruelly persecuted in England under the king and under the rigorous, religious parliamentarian hand of an oppressive state.
And the little band had come to the shores of the new world, there to worship God, and there to build a community, as they said, for the evangelization of the whole world. But that first winter decimated their ranks. Out of the one hundred and two who came on the Mayflower, fifty-one of them died in January and in February. They buried them in a cornfield and leveled the graves, lest the hostile Indians would know how few were left and how weak they were.
Well, on that fifth day of April in 1621, the little remaining band of twenty-one men and six lads and a little company of women and children stood on the shore and saw the Mayflower; the ship in whence they had crossed over the ocean, they saw the Mayflower hoist sail and leave the shore of America and out the harbor to return to England.
Each one of the Pilgrims had opportunity to board the ship and to go back home. Not a one of them did, not one. Hurt, and grieved, and weak, and full of sorrow for the hard and harsh winter of suffering, and sickness, and death, they nevertheless, everyone, resolved to stay and to build that Christian community. So they turned themselves to the building of their little homes in which the Bible was faithfully read. And then they built the little church in which the Bible was faithfully preached. And then they built their little school, where the Bible was faithfully taught. Isn’t that something? The textbook of the school was the Bible. If you had a textbook today [of] the Bible, the Supreme Court would close the school down. This is a new and a different America than the one founded by our Pilgrim Fathers.
Anyway, that fall, after the first harvest, in rejoicing and praise and thanksgiving to God for the food that the fertile land had produced, William Bradford, who was the governor of the little colony, proclaimed a Thanksgiving Day. It lasted for three days, and they cooked and prepared the feast, and friendly Indians, more in number than the Pilgrims, came and they rejoiced together in God’s harvest and God’s gracious blessings and the strength that was given to those who remained and lived through the previous difficult winter.
In that thanksgiving to God, Governor William Bradford, who was a devout man, had the example of all of the Holy Scriptures before him. In the seventh chapter in the Book of Leviticus you read about peace offerings. Of the five offerings, one is a peace offering [Leviticus 7:11].
The word peace offering does not carry to us the real connotation of the word, so let’s call it a word that would mean more descriptively meaningful to us. Let’s call it the thanksgiving offering. And practically all of the offerings, though we think of the burnt offering as being so inclusive, yet it was practically insignificant in number compared to the other offerings. The all-pervading, much-repeated offering was the thanksgiving offering, when a family came, and invited the priest, and invited the friends, and they sat down together, having made the sacrifice to God, and ate it [Leviticus 7:11-21]. If I could call sacrifice any one thing above anything else, I would call it a communal meal. The sacrifice was the offering of an animal that was eaten by the priest, by the offerer, and by his friends and neighbors [Leviticus 7:11-21]. And when you have in the church a wonderful program of agape, of the breaking of bread together, you’re in keeping with the whole spirit of the Word of God.
So when they had that Thanksgiving service and that three-day feast of gratefulness to God, they were following the spirit of the Bible in the seventh chapter of Leviticus, the thanksgiving offerings [Leviticus 7]. Then in the Holy Scriptures, in the Old Testament, they had the Feast of Tabernacles [Leviticus 23:33-43; Deuteronomy 16:13-17]. That was the feast of the fall ingathering, when the people rejoiced in God’s goodnesses to them at the close of the summer.
And in the New Testament, in the writings of the apostles and disciples of Jesus, you have that same wonderful spirit in the passage that we read together: “Be anxious for nothing: but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving, with thanksgiving, with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God” [Philippians 4:6]. And once again, “In everything with thanks, with thanks, give thanks: this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you” [1 Thessalonians 5:18].
Now, that spirit of thanksgiving continued to characterize the story of early America. After the trying days of the Revolutionary War, and after the convening of the Continental Congress and the Constitutional Assembly, they hammered out the greatest political document that the world has ever known, the Constitution of the United States of America. And after the war was over, and after the Constitution was framed, the assembled houses of Congress, both the Senate and the House of Representatives, asked the president of the new republic to proclaim a day of thanksgiving, and General George Washington proclaimed that day, the twenty-sixth of November in 1789, and the first Thanksgiving proclamation by our nation’s first president read like this: “Whereas”—now, I’m reading it just to show you the spirit of religion in early America. You watch his references to God.
Whereas it is the duty of all nations to acknowledge the providences of Almighty God, to obey His will, to be grateful for His benefits, and humbly to implore His protection and favor.
Isn’t that wonderful? Don’t you wish you had politicians and statesmen like that today? Not lip service, not words, but General George Washington was like that in his private life. Had you made tapes of the private conversations of General George Washington, he would have sounded like that.
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 and signal favors of Almighty God, now therefore, I do assign Thursday, the twenty-sixth day of November, to be devoted by the people of these states to the service of that great and glorious Being who is the beneficent Author of all 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 this country. Given under my hand, at the city of New York—which was the first capital of America—the third day of October, AD 1789.
Signed: George Washington
That is where we came from. And that has been the strength of the new nation. President Madison also proclaimed a day of national thanksgiving. Then for fifty years, no president did so, and finally, Abraham Lincoln, who also was a devout and humble servant of Christ, a man of God—I’ve never read anything about Abraham Lincoln but that I admired what I read, what he was, what he said, what he did; another man that, in his private conversation, was devout; a strong man of virtue and courage and Christian commitment—Abraham Lincoln made it an annual observance in the life of the American people. This is the one holiday, the one feast day, the one glorious day that is typically American. Thanksgiving Day came from America. Thanksgiving Day was born in the heart of devout men of God who gave their lives to freeing our nation and to lay its foundation in the faith of Christ, a Christian people.
So we come to this present season. I do not know of any assignment that I could have more precious, more beautiful, more meaningful, more significant, more in keeping with the hearts of all of us in divine presence than to share these words of thanksgiving, and gratitude and praise to the bountiful beneficent; to the sweet and heavenly remembrance of our Lord Christ for us who look up to Him in faith and in prayer.
We are grateful to God for our country, for our people, and pray, and we do work, that it might remain a Christian country, a godly people, a place where the name of our Lord is honored and revered. I am like that diplomat who resigned his place and came back home to America saying, “I had rather hang on a lamppost and live in America than in any palace provided in any other country of the world.”
Every time I go abroad, and especially on those long journeys that sometimes have taken me on preaching missions of four months duration, every time I go abroad, when I come back home, I feel like those men who come out of concentration and refugee camps and kneel down on the shores of America and kiss the American soil. However some other place, however some other country, however some other civilization, however some other nation, I love home; America. And I thank God for our nation.
We have so many problems, I know. But they are still problems in our hands. We are under no tyrannical dictatorship. We are under no totalitarian regime. We still have the right to choose our rulers. And if we will vote, and if we will share in the processes of government, we can choose those who make the laws that govern us. We can still vote for the executives who rule over us.
We thank God for America, and we do pray that the Lord will help us to make it more Christian. And we thank God for our Book, our great foundation for the faith, and for the hope, and for the promise, and we thank God for the open assembly into which we can join to sing God’s praises, to name God’s name, and to preach God’s gospel. No one to interdict, no secret service men scattered through the audience to hear what we say, nobody checking and writing the names of those who call upon the name of the Lord, no furtive looking as a man takes out of his heavy overcoat a Bible to show what a rich possession he has; just openly, freely, to assemble ourselves and to call upon the name of the Lord. We thank God for our Book, for our faith, and for our church.
I love Thy kingdom, Lord,
The house of Thine abode,
The church our blest Redeemer saved
With His own precious blood.
I love Thy church, O God!
Her walls before Thee stand,
Dear as the apple of Thine eye,
And graven on Thy hand.
For her my tears shall fall;
For her my prayers ascend;
To her my toils and prayers be given,
Till toils and prayers shall end.
[from “I Love Thy Kingdom, Lord,” Timothy Dwight]
We thank God for our church, and for our Book, and for our freedom of assembly. And we thank God for the trials and the troubles and the sorrows that we have known in our lives, for out of them come God’s richest blessings. It’s hard, but it’s best.
There were two farmers who were talking, and one of those farmers said to his friend and neighbor, he said, “You know, sometimes I have a hard time with this religion business, saying that the troubles we have in our lives are God’s goodnesses to us.” He said, “I have a hard time with it! I have difficulty believing it.” He said, “You know, we are supposed to think that God gives His best gifts to those who trust in Him, but I sometimes have difficulty receiving it.” He said, “I see the wicked prosper, and I see God’s people poor.”
He said, “I see the wicked having a good time, and God’s people living in wretchedness. Why,” he said, “take old man Monroe who lives down there close to the creek. Old man Monroe is one of the best men I ever knew. He’s a godly man. But you look at old man Monroe. He’s tried these years to save up money to educate his children and he doesn’t succeed. He doesn’t have anything to educate them with. He prays for his little boy, Charlie, that he might be well, and the little lad gets worse all the time. Not only that, but lightning struck one of his horses and he had only two of them. And not only that, but last spring, the wind blew down his barn; and not only that, but his cow drowned in the creek, and yet old man Monroe is one of the best men and one of the godliest men that I know, and I don’t understand,” said the old farmer, “how that is being good and how God is blessing old man Monroe. I don’t understand it.”
And his friend said to him, he said, “Neighbor, have you known old man Monroe all through the years of his life?”
“No,” said the farmer, “No.”
“Well,” he said, “I have. I knew the old man in the days and the years past when he was worthless. He was a drunk. He was a ne’er-do-well. He couldn’t keep a job, and what little he had he wasted, and his family was cold with no place to live. And his family was hungry with nothing to eat, and some of us fed the children and took care of his wife.” And he said, “Did you know old man Monroe found the Lord, and he was saved?”
“Now,” said the farmer friend, “he doesn’t have a whole lot, but he has a house that keeps him warm. And he has food, and he’s now living in our community where the air is pure and the world is at peace. By the way,” said the farmer to his friend, “have you talked to old man Monroe since the lightning struck his horse?”
“Yes,” said the farmer, “yes, I have.”
“Well, tell me, did he complain? Did he find fault?”
“No,” said the old man farmer friend, “no he didn’t. No, by the way, he didn’t.”
“Have you talked to old man Monroe since the wind blew his barn down? Have you talked to him since then?”
“Yes, yes, I’ve talked to him several times.”
“Well, tell me, tell me, did he find fault with the providence and was he down in his heart?”
“You know, come to think of it, he wasn’t. He wasn’t down, and he wasn’t finding fault.” And the farmer friend said to his neighbor, “That’s old man Monroe today. He’s praising God, he is loving the Lord, he’s serving Jesus. And he may not be rich down there on the creek where he lives, but he has treasures in heaven, and he’s rich toward God.”
There may be many things that are denied to us who serve Jesus. But my sweet friend and brother, and my prayer partner and sister, it’s a thousand times more blessed to love God and to praise the Lord in the providences of life than it is to live any other kind of a life in this world. Old man Monroe, since he found Jesus, he doesn’t find fault anymore. And he doesn’t say words of desecration against the unkind providences of life anymore. He just sees the hand of God in it all, and He praises the Lord for His blessings. That is great!
I have time just to try to illustrate that in one other way. I was invited, in a certain state, to bring the closing address at a Brotherhood convention; just a throng of men present. And just before I spoke, the moderator of the meeting presented to the men four inmates in the state penitentiary. The four men from the state penitentiary, brought up there under guards, just guards all around the place; the four men were serving sentences of over two hundred years! That’s an average of fifty years apiece. All four of those men stood up there under guard, brought there from the state penitentiary, and they gave their testimony. You should have heard it. There was a common denominator in everything those four men said.
I don’t know whether they got together and said we are going to say it just like this or not, I don’t know. I just know as I listened to them, all four of them had one thing in common. You know what it was? It was this. Every one of them said, in one way or another in their language and in their way, that the things that they thought they wanted, and for which they committed those crimes to get—money, egotistical aggrandizement, pleasures, whatever it was—that now those things seemed as nothing to them. But that what they wished that they could have now was—and they named things like this: the privilege to walk down a country road and look at the trees and to hear the birds sing; the privilege of seeing the faces of smiling neighbors and friends; and above all, to go home to be with family and friends. When those four inmates who had found the Lord in prison, when they got through, that feeling I had in my heart burned itself in my memory forever. Actually, the wonderful and marvelous things of life are for the most part things that we take for granted, don’t even pause to thank God for. Let’s do it today.
Thank You, Lord, for the small blessings of life; to hear a bird sing, to see a sunset, to look at the clouds in the sky, to look at the smile on a child’s face, to get to come home, to eat dinner together, to look into the face of someone you love; the little things that make life wonderful. And Lord, if I don’t have those big things that so many people seek for—fame, or fortune, or possessions—if I don’t have them, fine. I have these things that sometimes money couldn’t buy. And I have Jesus in my heart. I have God in my soul. And I have His promised blessing forever and forever.
Could I close as I began? “Oh that men would praise the Lord for His goodness, and for His wonderful works to the children of men!” [Psalm 107:8]. To me, that is nobility of character, a life of praise and thanksgiving to God. Our time is far spent, and we must sing our hymn of appeal.
And somebody you, thus to give his heart in gratitude to God, a family to put life and letter here in the church, however the blessed Spirit shall press the appeal to your heart, make the decision now, and then on the first note of the first stanza, come. Stand up walking down that stairway or walking down this aisle. May angels attend you in the way as you come, while we stand and while we sing.