WITH THANKSGIVING TO GOD
Dr. W. A. Criswell
11-24-74 10:50 a.m.
On the radio, on television, we welcome you to the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas. And this is the pastor bringing the message entitled Thanksgiving To God.
Thanks be to God, He laveth the thirsty land; and the waters they rush along, they rush along [Isaiah 35:6-7]. As Elijah runs before the chariot of Ahab, there is a sound of an abundance of rain [1 Kings 18:46, 41]. The background for the message; it is not an exposition of the chapter; but just a background is in Psalm 107. It is one of the most beautiful poems ever written. Psalm 107: “O give thanks unto the Lord, for He is good: His mercy endureth for ever. Let the redeemed of the Lord say so” [Psalm 107:1-2].
Then there follows one, two, three, four; four presentations, each one of which closes with a repeated refrain. Beginning at verse 4, he is speaking of those pilgrims who wander in the wilderness of this life [Psalm 107:4]: “And they cry unto the Lord, and He delivers them” [Psalm 107:6], then the refrain, “Oh that men would praise the Lord for His goodness, and for His wonderful works to the children of men!” [Psalm 107:8]
Then beginning at verse 10, he is speaking about death:
Such as sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, being bound in affliction and iron;
Then they cried unto the Lord in their trouble, and He saved them. He brought them out of darkness and the shadow of death.
[Psalm 107:10, 13, 14]
then 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].
Then beginning at verse 18, he speaks about illness, sickness: “The one that abhors all manner of food; and draws near to the gates of death. Then they cry unto the Lord in their trouble, and He saveth them… He sent His word and healed them” [Psalm 107:18-20]. Then the refrain, “Oh that men would praise the Lord for His goodness, and for His wonderful works to the children of men!” [Psalm 107:21].
Then he speaks of those that are caught in a terrible storm at sea:
And the waves mount up, and the ship sinks down, and the sailors reel to and fro, and stagger like a drunken man.
Then they cry unto the Lord in their trouble,
And He maketh the storm a calm, and the waves thereof still.
[Psalm 107:25, 26-29]
Then the refrain; “Oh that men would praise the Lord for His goodness, and for His wonderful works to the children of men!” [Psalm 107:31].
And in the midst of this incomparably beautiful psalm, this glorious poem, there is, at verse 22, in the heart of the beautiful poem, there is this text: “Let them sacrifice their sacrifices of thanksgiving, and declare God’s works with rejoicing” [Psalm 107:22]. The whole paean of praise reflects our own heart’s desire, to lift up words of thanksgiving and glory to God, to offer the sacrifice of thanksgiving, and to declare God’s work with rejoicing.
It was one of the most pathetic and one of the saddest days in American history, the fifth day of April in 1621. At the conclusion of a harsh and terrible winter, of the one hundred two Pilgrims who came to the New World on the Mayflower, fifty-one of them had died in January and February of that year, 1621. They had been buried in a cornfield and the graves leveled, lest the hostile Indians see how their ranks had been decimated and how weak were the few survivors.
On that fifth day of April, a little band stood on the shore of the sea. There were twenty-one men; there were six lads able to help with the work, with a little company of women and children. And as they stood there, they saw the sails hoisted on the Mayflower and saw it put out to sea to return home to England. But despite their hardships and the grief of the dead whom they had buried, not a Pilgrim boarded that Mayflower to return home to England.
They had come out of bitter persecution to establish a colony in America, where they could worship God and build a base for the evangelization of the world. And those first Pilgrims, having built their homes, centered their lives around the Holy Bible. And after the little houses were built for shelter, the next thing they erected was the church, where the Bible was preached.
And immediately, the third thing they erected was the school, where the Bible was taught. The textbook of the school was the Word of God. If you attempted to do that today in the American public school system, you would be cut down and interdicted by the Supreme Court. What a new America and a different America we live in than the one that was founded by our godly forefathers.
After the summer of 1621, and the harvest was gathered in, Governor William Bradford proclaimed a day, a season of thanksgiving. And for three days the Pilgrims rejoiced before God with Indian friends who outnumbered their own group, thanking the Lord for the harvest and thanking God for the strength that He had given the survivors of the terrible and previous winter. Governor William Bradford, reading the Bible, found the spirit of that phrase in the Holy Scriptures.
In the seventh chapter of the Book of Leviticus, you have of the five offerings; you have the peace offerings described there [Leviticus 7:11]. The name hardly carries to us the connotation of the real word in its meaning; peace offering, far better if we would call it, translate it thanksgiving offering, when the man at the head of the house came with his family and invited the priest and his neighbors to rejoice with him in the goodness and blessing of the Lord [Leviticus 7:11-21]—practically all of the offerings in the temple were thanksgiving offerings. Then as the governor read in the Bible, he read of the Feast of Tabernacles in the fall time, when, at the end of the summer harvest, the people sat in booths, in tabernacles, reminding them of God’s guidance in the wilderness wonderings and reminding them of God’s favor in the fullness of the fall harvest [Leviticus 23:33-43; Deuteronomy 16:13-17].
And as the governor read the Bible, he read such passages as we shared this morning, when in the spirit of praise and gratitude, the apostles of Christ write, “Be anxious for nothing; but in everything in prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God” [Philippians 4:6]. And again, “In everything give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you” [1 Thessalonians 5:18]. And that spirit of thanksgiving continued among the hearts of our first colonial leaders.
After the Revolutionary War and after the Continental Congress and the convening of the Constitutional Convention, and after the writing of the greatest political document the world has ever known—the Constitution of the United States of America—both houses of the newly created Congress, the Senate and the House of Representatives, asked their new president to proclaim a day of national thanksgiving. And General George Washington chose the twenty-sixth of November, the fourth Thursday in November in 1789, for that day of thanksgiving and praise to God.
In that first Thanksgiving proclamation, the father of our country wrote these words: “Whereas it is the duty of all nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God”—and as I read it, I want you to notice the reference to and the deference to the great, mighty God as he writes:
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 and 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 Twenty-Sixth 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 all the good that was, that is, or that will be; and that we may then all unite in rendering unto Him our sincere and humble thanks for His care and protection of the people of this country…
Given under my hand, at the city of New York—the first capital of the United States—the third day of October, AD, 1789.
[George Washington, Thanksgiving Proclamation issued to Congress]
Isn’t that a wonderful thing? And isn’t the spirit of that as you would believe God could bless, for the language of General George Washington in private was as beautiful and devoted as that that he read in public. Had you made a tape recording of all of those private conferences by the president of the United States, they would have been devout and humble and God-fearing. The spirit of thanksgiving continued through the administration of Madison and then under Abraham Lincoln; a man about whom I have read many things and many books. I have never read anything or heard anything about Abraham Lincoln but that I admired him for it, a great, godly Christian leader. Abraham Lincoln made it a matter of national observance, once a year, the fourth Thursday of November, to render thanksgiving, and gratitude, and praise to God for His remembrance of our people and of our nation.
So we come to this hour of public worship and assembly, in the name of the Lord, also to express, with the voices of the millions of our other fellow citizens, our gratitude and thanksgiving to God first for our country, for our beloved America. There is in it so many things that we would like to change, and there is a drift in America away from the Lord. We are becoming increasingly secular and worldly, but that is the more cause, for us who name the name of Christ and who believe in the Almighty, that is greater cause for us to gather in prayer and in supplication and in praise. With all of the weaknesses of America, to me, there is no land that ever was, there is no nation ever called into existence that compares to the glory of Christian America.
There was a diplomat who resigned his place in the embassy abroad, came back and said, “I had rather hang on a lamppost and live in America, then in a palace in a foreign country.” He may have exaggerated a little bit, but I tell you truly, on some of these long missions upon which I have gone, such as a four months preaching mission around the world, when I come back to America, I feel like some of those refugees who have escaped out of concentration camps, who coming to America, bow down and kiss the soil of this new world.
We love our country and we are grateful to God for our beautiful America. And we are thankful to God for our church and for the Bible, the Word of God, that He hath placed in our hands, the right to assemble without secret service men watching everything we do, listening to everything we say, writing our names down who attend the assemblies; the freedom to come with a Bible in our hands instead of taking it out of a heavy overcoat and showing it to me, as a man did in Communist Russia, the proudest possession of his life. Instead of living furtively, and clandestinely, and secretly, oh, how glorious the liberty to gather openly with our families and our fellow Christians, and to name the name of Christ our Lord in praise and gratitude; what an infinite blessing and how dear to us who come down to this sacred place and Sunday by Sunday share in the singing and in the praying and in the exposition of God’s Word.
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 cares be giv’n
Till toils and cares shall end.
[from “I Love Thy Kingdom, Lord,” Timothy Dwight]
Praising and thanking God for our country, our America, and thanking God for our church, and our Book, and our freedom to assemble and to worship in the name of our Lord; and we no less having grown in grace, we no less thank God for the trials, and the troubles, and the sorrows, and the disciplines that we have learned in life. Immaturity at one time mislead us, and deceived us, and caused us to be restive in the hand of God, but having grown in grace and becoming more mature in the Lord, we praise Him for the sorrows and the tears that we have known in our lives.
There were two farmers, and one of them said to the other, he said, “You know, despite all they say there at the church and all that religion is supposed to teach us, I still don’t see how it is that He who runs this universe, that He blesses the wicked, and the righteous are in poverty and want. And I still don’t understand how it is that the wicked seem to have such a good time and God’s people live in wretchedness.
“Why,” said the farmer to his friend, “take old man Monroe who lives down there on the creek. That’s one of the godliest men that I have ever known. He’s a good man, but look at him; look at him. He works and works and works and strives and strives and strives to get money to educate his children, and he can’t do it. He’s poorer now than he ever was. And look at old man Monroe, this godly man. He prays for his little boy, Charlie, that the little fellow get well, and the little boy gets worse every day. Look at old man Monroe, the godliest man that I know. Lightening came down our of heaven and killed one of his horses, and he had just two. And last summer a tornado blew down his barn, and his cow was drowned in the creek. I don’t understand.”
And the farmer to whom he was talking said to him, “Neighbor, have you known old man Monroe all through the years that have passed?”
“No,” he said, “no, I’ve just known him since he came here and lived these years in our community.”
“Well,” said the man to his neighbor, “I have known old man Monroe for the years passed. I knew him when he was a wastrel and a drunkard. What little he made, he wasted, and I have seen his family cold without shelter, and I have seen his children hungry without food, and I and some of the other people brought food to him and the family in those days passed. Then, what you know today as old man Monroe, then he found the Lord, then he was converted, then he was saved, and he became a Christian man. And,” he said, “I grant you that he doesn’t have much of this world’s goods, but he has a house and a home now in which his family is housed out of the cold. And he has food now for his wife and for his children. And he has moved here out in the country where the air is pure and where the world is at peace. And by the way, neighbor, have you talked to old man Monroe since the lightening killed his horse?”
“Well, did you hear the old man complain? Did you see him lose heart because the lightening killed his horse?”
“No,” said the neighbor, “come to think of it, no, no I didn’t.”
“Let me ask you something else. Have you talked to old man Monroe since the wind blew down his barn?”
“Yes, several times.”
“Well, tell me, did you hear him find fault with providence or did you hear him complain and was he down in heart?” And the man said, “No, come to think of it, no he didn’t complain and he wasn’t down in his heart.” And the neighbor said, “I grant you, sir, that old man Monroe does not have much of this world’s goods, but he’s rich toward God.”
I don’t care how much a wicked man may have. The poorest of the poor saints is nobler and richer and has a finer life than he. There is a nobility about a man who accepts as from God’s hands—in the words of Job—that which is evil, or hurtful, or sad, or trying as well as that which is good, and to praise God for it all [Job 2:10].
There is a stature that a man reaches that is like the angels in heaven when he can look up in praise to the Lord and say, “The Lord gave, and the Lord took away; blessed be the name of the Lord [Job 1:21]. And though He slay me, yet will I trust Him” [Job 13:15]. That’s greatness unrivaled, unapproachable, unexcelled by these who don’t name the name of our Lord. Look, could I say that in just a little different turn?
Upon a day, I was invited to bring the closing address to a state men’s meeting, a Brotherhood convocation. And they did something I never had heard of or thought of. Surrounded by heavy guards with guns, there were four inmates of the state penitentiary brought to that convocation. And they were introduced to the men’s meeting, and they stood side by side, four of them, and one at a time, the chaplain in the penitentiary introduced each one of those four men.
The four men were serving out sentences of over two hundred years; that averages fifty years each man. They were supposed to be hardened criminals. They were Christians now. They were there testifying in their different kind of language and way to the grace of God.
As I sat there to speak after the four men, I listened, of course, intently to what they had to say. And all four of them had a common denominator. There was something all four of them said. I don’t know whether they agreed beforehand, but just listening to them, it sounded to me, as though without thought for what the other one might say, each one spoke out of his heart. But however it was, they all four had one common denominator. Do you know what it was? You’d be amazed at it. All four of those men; who were spending the rest of their lives behind bars, behind stone walls; all four of those men said, “Back yonder in those years, we were grasping for money and sought to take it, and we were seeking pleasure, and egotistic self-aggrandizement, and superiority, and furtherance.” And that’s why they were in the penitentiary. They were taking and killing and shooting in order to seize what they thought they wanted. And they described how it was when they thought they wanted those things. Then all of them said that after these years in the penitentiary, do you know what we would like? Do you know what we would want more than anything in the earth?
Money wasn’t mentioned. All of those supernal pleasures were not mentioned. All of those furtherance’s in life that they were grasping for and seeking to take were not mentioned. Do you know what they said? They said, “What we would love would be just to have the privilege of walking down a country road just to look at the hills and the trees and to hear a wild bird sing. What we would like most of all would be to see the smiles on the faces of friendly neighbors. And what we would love most of all would be to go home, just to go home to a father or a mother, if he was young; to a wife and the children if he had a family.”
You know, that has stayed in my heart, indelibly written in my mind. Isn’t it unbelievable how we give ourselves to things that absolutely don’t matter? Money, possessions, pleasures, all of the things you see men reach for; when all the time what really enriches us would be to notice one of God’s sunsets, or to see the clouds pass by, or to listen to the song of a mockingbird, or to greet a neighbor with a smile, or just to go home, just to go home.
Who thinks anything about praising God just to go home? That’s why we need the service today. That’s why we need the pastor’s presence today. Lord, in these little things that we never notice and we take for granted, Lord, in these things, make us thankful. Fill us with remembrance of them, every time we pray, may it be, “Dear God, thank Thee for those little blessings that we so oft forget now, but were they denied us, would mean more than life itself.”
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]. You’re rich and blessed if you have God in your heart and if you love Jesus in your soul; then life is nothing other than a paean of praise, and an ever outflowing stream of glory and thanksgiving.
We’re going to stand in a moment and sing our hymn of appeal, and while we sing it, a family you to put your life with us in this dear church, come, and welcome; a somebody you to give himself to Jesus. At the 8:15 service this morning, I was overwhelmed by the number of people who were confessing the Lord as their Savior and coming into the church by baptism. It was just heavenly to look upon it. Does God bid you to the faith, to the glory of the Lord? Then respond with your life: “Lord, Lord, here I am, and here I come!” In the balcony, down one of those stairways; in the press of people on this lower floor, down one of these aisles: “I make the decision now! I’ve got it in my heart to do it. I’m coming now!” and may the angels attend you as you come, while we stand and while we sing.