Our Day of National Thanksgiving

1 Thessalonians

Our Day of National Thanksgiving

November 19th, 1989 @ 10:50 AM

In every thing give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.
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Dr.  W.  A.  Criswell

Psalm 100

11-19-89    10:50 a.m.


The title of the message is Our Day of National Thanksgiving.  The Scriptures are replete with words of abounding remembrance of the goodnesses of God toward us.  Out of the beautiful song that you just read, the one hundredth Psalm:

Know ye that the Lord He is God: it is He that hath made us, and not we ourselves; we are His people, and the sheep of His pasture.

Enter into His gates with thanksgiving, and into His courts with praise: be thankful unto Him, and bless His name.

[Psalm 100:3-4]

And the apostle Paul, in the concluding words of his epistles, will speak of that same spirit of gratitude to God.  In the last chapter of Philippians: “Be anxious for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be known unto the Lord” [Philippians 4:6].  And in the last chapter of his letter to the church at Thessalonica: “In every thing give thanks: this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you” [1 Thessalonians 5:18].

It is a sign of the goodness of the people of America that we set aside a day proclaimed by the president, enacted by the Congress, and joyfully received by the people of our mighty nation, that this day we offer thanksgiving to God for His abounding blessings poured out upon us.  A very noble and famous Frenchman, in his visit to America, made the remark, “As long as America is good, she will be great.  But if America ever ceases to be good, she will cease to be great.”  And a sign of the goodness of America is this national day of Thanksgiving.

When we think of the beginnings of our great country, there were those who—when Columbus returned from the discovery of our continent in 1492—there were circulated throughout the country of Spain marvelous stories and legends concerning the mounting golden jewels to be found in the new country.  And the Spanish replied with great conquistadors’ explorations of our part of the earth.

Among the legends was that, in this place where we live—in the Southwestern part of the continent—there were seven cities of Cibola made out of gold and studded with jewels.  And the Spaniards came seeking gold, and seeking harems among the Indian women to be found in the new world; and in a world of other things, seeking the—the answer to their greed and their lust and their appetites.

So they came: Ferdinand Cortes, 1485-1547, searching Mexico and lower California.  Then Cabeza de Vaca, 1490-1559, explored our country of Texas and the great Southwest, seeking those seven cities of Cibola; then Francisco de Coronado, in 1500-1549, exploring especially our sister state of New Mexico.  Then Hernando de Soto, 1499-1542, and in his searching he discovered the Mississippi River; and finally, Ponce de Leon, 1460-1521, discovering Florida in his search for those cities of gold and the fountain of youth.

But while we recount these historical discoveries of those conquistadors, there’s another facet to that story.  There’s another chapter in the beginnings of our great nation of America, and it concerns what history calls the Pilgrims.  They were English Separatists.  They were schooled in the theology of John Calvin; that is, we are saved by grace [Ephesians 2:8].  And they were taught that their allegiance belongs to God and not to a prelate or to a monarchical ruler.  And they gave themselves to the theological proposition that every man is a priest [1 Peter 2:5, 9; Revelation 1:6], and as such he is to seek the face of God for himself and not according to the rules or regulations of some other state church [Hebrews 4:14-16].  And because of that, they were hounded out of the country.

Queen Elizabeth died in 1603, and she was followed by the first Stuart, James Stuart I.  And in bitter anger he said of those Puritans, “I will make them conform or I will harry them out of the land.”  Some of them they burned at the stake; some of them they hanged from gallows; some of them rotted in loathsome prisons, such as our great Baptist forefather, Thomas Helwys.

In the eastern side of England, in a little town called Scrooby, in Northamptonshire, in Nottinghamshire, there was a little congregation of those Separatist Puritans.  And fleeing their native land, they went to Leyden, Holland.  But there in Holland they were separated from the people, they were in a strange place.  And as the days passed they decided to find a new home and a new life in the new country of the new continent of America.

So they got into a ship called Speedwell, landed on the way in Plymouth; and there in the port of Plymouth, they were met by other Pilgrims in the ship called the Mayflower.  And the Speedwell and the Mayflower set out across the stormy North Atlantic to come to our new continent and the new home of America.

About three hundred miles out—because of the high waves and the fierce winds—the Speedwell lost ability and had to turn back, so they came back to Plymouth.  And there in Plymouth, about a hundred of the Pilgrims crowded into the Mayflower and in September of 1620, started again across the fierce and turbulent North Atlantic.

When finally in November of that year they arrived into the New World, they were far north.  The turbulent ocean had sent them out of their way.  And when they strove to turn back south, those same high waves, and violent storms, and the shoals that were unknown to these discoverers, kept them in the north.  So the twenty-first of December in 1620, they decided to make their home there in what today we know as Massachusetts.

That winter, fierce and tragic, fifty-one of the one hundred of those pilgrims died.  And when the springtime came and the summertime came, they were asked if they would return to England.  And John Brewster replied, “We are not men to whom small circumstances and discouragements turn them aside from their commitments under God.”

So they began.  And at the end of that first summer, they had a little church.  They had a little street.  They had seven little homes lining that street.  They had twenty-one cleared acres.  And they had a harvest from the hands of God.  And William Bradford their governor proclaimed at the fall time a day of Thanksgiving, praising God for His bountiful gift of a gracious harvest.  That was our first Thanksgiving.

When we cross the years and the decades to America of today, it is hard for us to realize, in the present might and power and greatness of our nation, that our beginnings and our initiations were so very tiny and so infinitesimally small.

            But it is good for us to look back, and to resurvey, and remember the foundations upon which our great nation has been built.

Those old prophets in the Bible had a habit of saying, “Look unto the rock from whence you are hewn, and to the hole of the pit from whence you are digged” [Isaiah 51:1].  And that is in keeping with the will of God for us today; that we turn back, and look back, and remember those foundations upon which our nation has been built.

I think of the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Victoria in 1877.  The great British Empire was at its height, in its glory, and the world had never seen—and has never seen since—the pageantry of that celebration of the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Victoria.  From the seven continents of the planet and from the great extensive might and glory of the British Empire, they gathered there in England, celebrating the glorious Diamond Jubilee of their wonderful Queen Victoria.  At the end of that glorious celebration, like a lightning bolt out of the sky of heaven, came the poem of Rudyard Kipling:

Lord God of our fathers, known of old—

Lord of our far-flung battle line—

Beneath Whose awful hand we hold

Dominion over palm and vine—

Lord God of hosts, be with us yet,

Lest we forget—lest we forget!

The tumult and the shouting dies—

The captains and the kings depart—

Still stands Thine ancient sacrifice,

An humble and a contrite heart.

Lord God of hosts, be with us yet,

Lest we forget—lest we forget!

Far called, our navies melt away;

On dune and headland sinks the fire:

Though all our pomp of yesterday

Is one with Nineveh and Tyre!

Lord God of hosts, be with us yet

Lest we forget—lest we forget!

If, drunk with sight of power, we loose

Wild tongues that hold not Thee in awe—

Such boasting as the Gentiles use,

Or lesser breeds without the law—

Lord God of hosts, be with us yet,

Lest we forget—lest we forget!

[“Recessional,” Rudyard Kipling]


I think of America today, with the multitudinous, uncounted, astronomical blessings God has bestowed upon us, and the great and the might of our nation; we face a moral, inward disintegration and collapse that is almost unthinkable and indescribable.  I do not fear for the safety of our America because of foes on the outside.

However great Russia may or may not be, and however the thrust and the march of communism to the length and breath of our planet; I have no fear of the lack of the strength of America to defend its people.  My fear lies in the disintegration and the moral collapse of our nation on the inside: the drugs, and the drunkenness, and the debauchery, and the violence seen in every area of our life; whether it be in the headlines of the paper, or in the articles in the magazines, or depicted there before the eyes of our children on television.

I suppose the greatest history that’s ever been penned by man is Edward Gibbon’s The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire.  He gives five reasons for the collapse of that great, mighty empire of the years past.  And not one of them is on the outside.  All five of them are within: the great, mighty Roman Empire decayed on the inside.

I think alike of America—not the foes on the outside will ever destroy us—we will destroy ourselves on the inside; forgetting God and forgetting our foundation, forgetting our roots and our heritage, forgetting where we came from and why we are here.

As you know, the South has been famous for its orators.  A Southern orator is a cliché that’s common in any history book.  And out of those great Southern orators, none was more gifted than Henry W. Grady, editor of the Atlanta Constitution.  In one of his marvelous orations, he was describing the strength, and the glory, and the might of America.  He said, “I stood on Hampton Roads and I saw, on the land, the marching armies of our great nation.  And I saw, on Hampton Roads, our might navy pass by.  And as I looked at the army and as I looked at the great navy, I said, ‘Surely the strength and the might and the glory of America lies in its armies and in its navies.’”

Then he said, “Afterward, I stood under the Capitol dome in Washington, D.C., and I saw there our Congress in session.  And as I looked at the legislative processes and our democratic government, I then said, ‘No.  The strength and the might of America lies in its government, in its representative legislative process in behalf of all the people.’”

“Then,” the great orator said, “I was a guest in a humble home of a farmer in Georgia.  And at the close of the day, he gathered round him his family: his wife and his children.  And he opened God’s Book and read out of the Word of the Lord.  And he knelt down with his family in prayer.”

And the great orator said, “As I looked upon that humble man, bowing down in his home with his wife and with his children,” he said, “the great armies and the great navies of America faded from sight; the Capitol dome, and its Congress, and its representatives faded from sight.  And as I looked on that humble farmer bowed in prayer with his family, I said, ‘The strength, and the might, and the glory of America is not in her armies and navies, and it’s not in their representative government.  It lies in the godliness of her people.’”

That orator’s presentation of the strength and might of America is no less true today.  We are as great as our people are good.  And if we ever cease to be good, we will cease to be great.

Our future lies not in all of these magnificent accumulations of fortunes, and the great marching armies, and the sailing navies of our defense.  It will not lie in all the political acumen of which our wonderful men are gifted.  But it will lie in the devotion of our people to God.

God bless America!  God bless America; and that is our prayer for our people, and for our nation, and for the unfolding days that lie before us and our children.