In Thanksgiving to God
November 18th, 1979 @ 10:50 AM
IN THANKSGIVING TO GOD
Dr. W. A. Criswell
11-18-79 10:50 a.m.
It’s a joy not only to welcome the visitor in our gates, but also to welcome the uncounted thousands of you who are listening to this hour on television and on the two radio stations that bear it. This is the pastor of the First Baptist Church in Dallas delivering a Thanksgiving sermon entitled With Thanksgiving to God.
Not as an exposition, just as a background of the sermon; the fourth verse of the one hundredth Psalm that we now read, and heard sung: “Enter into His gates with thanksgiving and into His courts with praise: be thankful unto Him, and bless His name” [Psalm 100:4]. In that little, beautiful verse of this Psalm—of this song—twice it is mentioned that we are to come before the Lord with thanksgiving, with hearts overflowing with gratitude for the goodness of God.
On the fifth day of April in 1621, there occurred one of the most moving and poignant of all of the moments in American history. It was on that day that the little band of Pilgrims stood on the shore and watched the Mayflower—the ship upon which they had come from England—to watch the ship move out of Plymouth Harbor and into the open sea, returning to the homeland of England.
That terrible and bitter winter, in January and February, one-half of the Pilgrims had died. There were one hundred-two who came over on the Mayflower and fifty-one of them had perished in that cruel and bitter winter. They were buried on Cole’s Hill overlooking Plymouth Harbor. They were buried in a cornfield and their graves leveled with the ground lest the unfriendly Indians see how their numbers had been decimated and how few and weak they were who were remained.
And yet, on that fifth day of April in 1621, the twenty-one men who survived and the six lads who were able to work, and the little handful of women and children by their side, stood on the shore and watched the Mayflower sail to the open sea and back home to England. Not one of the Pilgrims boarded it. Not one chose to return home. They were staying in the wilderness. For they had come to build a new social order under God, and to use this England—New England, this Plymouth Colony—as a base for the missionary evangelization of the world.
They were an unusual group, those Pilgrims who came to the New America. They were devout and committed; they had nothing of this world’s goods, but they had treasures unspeakable in the wealth of their faith toward God. And when they came to America, they brought with them this Bible, the King James Version of the Word of God. It had been placed in their hands—been translated just nine years earlier—and when they built their little homes, the center of the home was that Bible. And they gathered round it every day in prayer, in reading, and in supplication.
The next thing they did was to build their little church and at the heart of the church was this Bible, the preaching of the Word of the God. And the third thing they built was their school and the textbook of the school was the immutable, and inerrant, and infallible Word of God.
If you want to know how far secular America—modern America—has departed from the foundations of our nation, look at the proscriptions and interdictions of the courts of America against any kind of Christian religion expressed in the public schools.
There is a reason why every week there are three Christian academies formed in America. There is a reason why these private Christian schools are beginning to outnumber the public schools. There is a reason why we have our First Baptist Christian Academy here in this church.
You can press people just so far; then they become desperate, and we are reaching that point in American life. Who wants his child taught that he’s an animal; that he came from a lower species; that he’s a descendant of the ape, and the anthropoid and the simian? And then taught that the values of life are altogether secular and worldly?
As for me and my house, as for this church and its children, it is our dedication to teach them that they are made in the image of Almighty God [Genesis 1:26-27]. And that the great values of life are not secular and material, they are spiritual, they are inward, they are godly and heavenward.
So the little colony began with the Christian home, built around the Bible; with a Christian church, preaching the infallible Word of God; and a school whose textbook was the King James Version of the Bible.
That year, in 1621 in the fall, Governor William Bradford—the elected governor of the little colony—announced a Thanksgiving service. The fall had brought to them food to eat and when the harvest had been gathered in, they spent three days rejoicing before God. They invited the friendly Indians who outnumbered the Pilgrims and that was the beginning of Thanksgiving in America.
Governor William Bradford, whether he knew it or not—I’m sure he did, being a man of God and a student of the Holy Scriptures—Governor William Bradford was following the spirit and the feast days and the offerings of the Bible itself when he proclaimed a Thanksgiving that first fall harvest in 1621.
For we have in the Bible, we have these wonderful feasts given to the people of God by the Lord Himself. And if you will look, in this study Bible, at the Book of Leviticus there is presented for us the meanings of those feasts; and one of them especially do I call to our remembrance. They are called peace offerings—a feast of peace—that’s what it’s called in the Bible [Leviticus 7:11-21]. When you look at it and when you study it, it is a thanksgiving offering. In fact, if I were to choose the word for it, I would use the word, “Thanksgiving.” It is a thanksgiving offering, and it is a thanksgiving sacrifice, and a thanksgiving feast. It’s the most unique of all of them. There is just one feast in which the worshiper participates and that is this thanksgiving feast. It could be offered to the Lord any time.
If a man wanted to praise God for His wonderful remembrance, he went up to the house of the Lord, brought an offering. It was sacrificed and prepared by the ministering priest and it was eaten on the grounds by the family, by the friends they invited, and by the officiating minister [Leviticus 7:15-16]; a thanksgiving feast, just praising God for his wonderful goodness to the children of men.
There was one other feast—annually given to the children of the Lord in the old covenant—it’s called the Feast of Tabernacles. They sat in booths for a week in remembrance of God’s providential, guardian care during the wilderness journey. But it actually was a feast of thanksgiving, of gratitude for the ingathering of the harvest. In the Fall time, the people observed it [Leviticus 23:33-43, Numbers 20:12-38, Deuteronomy 16:13-17].
No less so do the apostles of the new covenant lay upon us the beautiful assignment and service of thanksgiving. The Apostle Paul would write in 1 Thessalonians 5:18: “In every thing give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you”; in everything give thanks.”
And he will write again in Philippians 4:6:
Be anxious for nothing—not burdened down with ceaseless care—be anxious for nothing—not filled with worry—be anxious for nothing; but in every thing in prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your request be made known unto God.
The Christian faith is that: always reflecting our gratitude to God for His wonderful goodnesses to us. So it was that in 1789—after the terrible days of the Revolutionary War, and after the Continental Congress had framed the Constitution of the United States—the first thing the two houses of Congress did—the Senate and the House of Representatives—the first thing they did was to request the president of the United States, George Washington, to proclaim a national day of thanksgiving.
I read that first Thanksgiving proclamation:
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 favour; 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 PUBLICK THANSGIVING and PRAYER, to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many and signal favors of Almighty God…
NOW THEREFORE, do I 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; 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…
Given under my hand at the City of New York—the then-capital of the nation—the third day of October, A.D. seventeen [hundred] eighty-nine.
Thus began our first national proclamation of Thanksgiving, which under Abraham Lincoln was made into a national holiday. So we come to one of the unique institutions of America; it is found in no other land, among no other people, a national day of gratitude and thanksgiving. We shall thank God first for our country and for our people. It was a little band that began these Christian institutions.
It was a small nation of less than four million people, who under George Washington shared in that first November Thanksgiving feast. It has grown into a great nation and a great people. And at this time, in this season of the year, how earnestly and prayerfully do we do, as the Apostle Paul adjured us to do, “let our requests be made known unto God with thanksgiving” [Philippians 4:6].
Lord, with infinite gratitude for our forefathers—for the sacrifices they have made, the hardships they have endured, the death they have died in behalf of our country—Lord, in infinite gratitude for the days that are past, dear Mighty God, remember us now. And in the days that unfold for us and our children, may our nation not turn aside from the great commitment made for it by those first Pilgrims.
May we not be a secular, and worldly, and communist, and atheist,, and socialistic people. May our values not be written down and measured by the materialities of life. Help us, Lord, to realize that the great values of life are always in the character and in the quality of our people. We can be poor and be great; we can have nothing and praise and worship God. We don’t need an abounding abundance of material possessions to walk in the light of the knowledge of the glory of God [2 Corinthians 4:6].
With thanksgiving to God for all that our forefathers have placed in our hands, a heritage incomparably dear, Oh, Lord, may we not lose—in all of these things that bind up the interest of modern American people—may we not lose those pristine virtues and those great, heavenly, spiritual dedications that made them, and our nation, great. We thank God for our nation; we thank God for the church that they loved, and the Gospel that they preached, and the Bible by which they lived.
Those hearty pioneers—beginning in Plymouth and spreading finally throughout the eastern seaboard—pressed over the Alleghenies; into the wilderness of Kentucky and Tennessee; pressing ever westward. Finally across the broad prairies of the heartland of America; finally, out there in the West, where I grew up as a boy, listening to those pioneer preachers.
Without education, without instruction; their library is but a Bible and a hymn book, but they preached the gospel with fervor and with zeal and with great evangelistic compassion. Those are the men who founded all of our institutions, including Baylor University. Those are the men who organized our churches and who taught those hard, rough frontiers men the faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Thank God for the institutions they built. Thank God for the churches they built. And thank God for the grace and mercy of the Lord that reached down even to me.
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 given
Till toils and cares shall end.
[“I Love Thy Kingdom, Lord”;Timothy Dwight, 1752-1817]
Thanksgiving to God for our church, and for our Bible, and for the preaching of the Gospel that the Lord hath permitted unto us. And we shall thank our dear God for all of the providences of life, and they’re not all easy, and they’re not all full of things that we sometimes covet and desire. We shall thank God for the hardships, and the tears, and the sorrows that we know in our lives. “In everything,” the apostle said, “give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” [1 Thessalonians 5:18] In everything—Lord, that’s hard; that’s hard.
A young fellow named Tom was talking to an old pilgrim—an old soldier of the cross named Mr. George Burton—up there at the head of the hollow. And the young fellow said to the old pilgrim, the old soldier of Jesus, he said to him, “I don’t see any good in this religion. Seems to me that people who pray and read the Bible and go to church are no better off than those who don’t; I don’t see that it does any good. Religion, praying, singing, worshipping God, going to church, I don’t see that it does any good. People who do it are no better off than those who don’t do it.” I don’t see it does any good.
And the young fellow said to that old pilgrim, he said, “You look at old man Monroe who lives right down the creek. All of his life he’s prayed for money by which he could send his children to school and he’s never had any. For days and years now, he’s prayed every day for his little boy Charles, that the little fellow might be well and he’s still sick. And not only that, Mr. Burton, but last year, lightning killed one of his horses and he had only two. And this spring—and this spring—a wind blew down his barn. I don’t see that he’s any better off than anybody else. I don’t see that religion helps anybody.” That’s what the young fellow said to the old pilgrim.
And Mr. Burton said to the young man, he said, “Son, have you talked to old man Monroe since the lightning killed his horse? And since the wind blew down his barn, have you talked to him?”
“Yes, sir,” said the young fellow, “Yes, sir, I have.”
And the old soldier of the cross said, “Son, when you talk to him, did he complain?”
“No,” said the young fellow, “no sir, he didn’t.”
“When you talked to him, son, was he bitter that other people, his neighbors, no lightning bolt struck their horse and no wind blew down their barn? Was he bitter about the providence that overwhelmed him? Was he bitter?”
And the boy replied, “No, sir, Mr. Burton; no, sir, he wasn’t.”
“Son, when you talked to him, did he give thanks and was he grateful for the blessings that he did have? Was he?”
And the young fellow said, “Yes, sir; yes, he was.”
And the old soldier of Jesus said, “Son, you’ve been looking in the wrong place. I knew Monroe when he was a vile and evil man. He had no place for his family to live. And we, his neighbors, took care of his children. Then he was wonderfully saved, converted. And since that time, he has worked. And he’s built a home for his family. And he takes care of them. They have food to eat; clothes to wear and a place to live.”
And the old soldier of Jesus said, “Son, you’re looking in the wrong place. You’re looking on the outside. That’s no place to look—you look on the inside—and you look at old man Monroe in his heart.”
“Son,” said the old soldier of Jesus, “the outside doesn’t change. The world still has its famines, and its suffering, and its hurricanes, and its winds, and its storms, and its lightnings; the outside stays just the same. Jesus changes the inside. It’s how a man faces when the lightning strikes down his horse and the wind blows down his barn. It’s how he faces it. That’s the man that God changes, and helps, and strengthens.”
The outside has been as we see it since the fall in the Garden of Eden. The ground raises thorns and thistles [Genesis 3:18]; and Cain murders Abel [Genesis 4:8-9]. And the very ground is crimsoned with human blood [Genesis 4:10]. And the toils, and the tears, and the sorrows of human heart and human life are beyond what poet could describe or song could sing.
But the difference that Jesus makes is in us; it’s on the inside. When the day of sorrow comes, and the tears unbidden fall, do I see the face of Jesus through my crying? And can I praise God as did old Job—when the wind blew his house away and the lightning destroyed his flocks and his herds—and he lifted up his voice and praised God? He gave: He took away; blessed be the name of the Lord [Job 1:13-21]. For our inheritance is not here, it’s there [1 Peter 1:4]. Our home is not here, it’s there. Our house is so temporary. Our mansion is up there [John 14:2-3].
O Lord, that we might learn to walk in the goodness and the grace of God, being thankful in everything, praising His name through every providence [Psalm 100:4]; that’s what God can do with the human heart. May we stand together?
Our Lord in heaven we confess to Thee that in our pilgrim journey we have ofttimes been filled with grievance, sometimes with bitterness, and ofttimes with frustration and despair. We need not be. Our Heavenly Father, who watches over even the sparrow [Matthew 10:29-31], is the guardian angel who cares for us [Psalm 91:11; Matthew 18:10]. And our Lord, in every trial and sorrow of life may we look up and find grace and help in the time of need [Hebrews 4:16]. Dear Lord in heaven, give us that commitment of life and that holiness of faith that makes us shine in a dark place, gives us hope in a trying hour, and promises us Thy sustenance and grace every step of the remaining way.
In this moment of prayer and appeal, somebody you, to give your heart to Jesus: “Pastor, today I take the Lord as my Savior, and here I am.” A family you, to come into the fellowship of our dear church; a couple you, “Pastor, today, God’s Holy Spirit has spoken to me, and I am answering with my life.” To believe in the Lord, to be baptized as God has spoken in His Holy Word [Matthew 28:19], to put your life with us in the church, to answer any appeal the Spirit presses in your soul, would you make the decision now? And in a moment when we sing, answer with your life, down that stairway, down this aisle, “I’m on the way, preacher. Here I am.” God bless and speed you as you come, while we wait, while we pray, while we sing.