Offer unto God thanksgiving. - Psalms 1:14.
THAT there is a God all nature attests. We see proofs of his existence all around us. Tho fool alone says in his heart, "There is no God;" and in so saying, he gives evidence both of folly and impiety. The Being whom we term God, is the Creator of all things, himself uncreated. The period was when he existed in solitary and independent majesty. There were no worlds, no angels, no men. Pursuant to a decree of his own mind, he caused worlds, angels and men to emerge from the abyss of nothingness and occupy the stations assigned them. It is not more evident that God is the Maker of all things, than that he is the Preserver of all things. Some superficial thinkers seem to suppose that creative operations are alone worthy of God, and that having performed these he retired within the pavilion of his glory, not condescending to assume the supervision of the works of his hand. This is an absurd sentiment. It is surely credible that Jehovah superintends what he creates. Whatever
* Preached on Thanksgiving Day, November 29, 1855.
considerations would preclude his superintendence of an object, would have precluded his creation of that object. Jehovah is the God of Providence. He concerns himself with the affairs of the universe - with the affairs of this world. He presides over secondary agencies, himself the Supreme agent. Kingdoms do not rise without his permission, nor sparrows fall. He numbers the hairs of our heads. It is a proof of the greatness of the Divine mind that it takes, within the range of its contemplations, things great and small. Nothing is too lofty and nothing too humble for its notice.
God's ceaseless agency in bestowing blessings upon us, shows the propriety of the thanksgiving enjoined in the text. We should devoutly thank him for all he has done for us. We should do this individually, collectively, nationally. There should be a public recognition of the Divine goodness, such as is contemplated in the observance of days of thanksgiving.
It would be well for the people of the several States of this happy Union to give, at least once a year, a public expression of their gratitude to God. We have met to-day to thank the Author of our mercies for the blessings of the year.
Permit me to specify a few of the blessings which should excite our gratitude and call forth our thanksgiving.
1. The preservation of life. - Our days have been prolonged. Others have died - we live. And how do we live? Paul, speaking to the Athenians
of the God of heaven, said, "In him we live, and move, and have our being." This language is very expressive. It does not merely indicate that life, motion and existence came originally from God, but that his creatures now live, and move, and have their being in him. Cut off from him, there would be an instant abstraction of life, and a consequent cessation of action, the evidence of life. "We stand in so intimate a relation to the God who made us, that we have our being in him - have no existence apart from him. How manifest, then, is it that we are dependent on God for the preservation of life. Daniel the prophet said to the impious Belshazzar, "The God in whose hand thy breath is, thou hast not glorified." I know of no portion of Scripture which shows more clearly than this the absolute and constant dependence of creatures on God. Our breath is in his hand. Deprived of breath, we are deprived of life. It is, of course, optional with him when we shall draw our last breath. He has given us breath during the year. We can recognize him in his scriptural character as the "Preserver of men." Let us offer to him the incense of our thanksgiving for the preservation of our lives.
2. Health. - Not only have our lives been preserved, but we have had such a degree of health as to enjoy life. Our health is such as permits us to be here to-day. What a blessing is health! And yet we never appreciate it properly till deprived of it. What strange creatures we are.
The possession rather than the deprivation of a blessing should induce its appreciation. This, however, is not the case. Many, in the sadness of their hearts, have said, with the author of "Night Thoughts," "How blessings brighten as they take their flight!"
The value of health may be seen in the fact, that without it no other temporal blessings can be enjoyed. What is the wealth of the world to those who have no health? Can gold extinguish pain, or raise the emaciated form from the bed of languishing? Do not "crown-jewels" lose their attractions, when the hand through disease becomes too feeble to sway the scepter? What are secular honors and preferments to the man who can never say, "I am well?" But I will not enlarge upon this point. Health is a precious blessing, and its preciousness is seen in the fact that it qualifies for the enjoyment of other blessings. God has given us health this year. No epidemic has prevailed among us. Yellow fever, so fatal in Norfolk, Virginia, and in other places, has selected no victims in our community. Asiatic Cholera, the scourge of nations, has passed us by. And the ordinary diseases of the country have yielded more readily than usual to medical treatment. Health is certainly to be numbered with the blessings of this year. In view of this fact, I call on you to offer to God thanksgiving.
3. A plentiful year. - Since the settlement of the country by our fathers, the rays of the sun have never fallen so genially on our soil, as
during the present year, nor has there ever been so prolific a virtue in the showers of heaven.
Agricultural industry receives a rich reward. The barns of the farmer are full to overflowing. Never before did so large a quantity of golden grain fall before the reaper. All the great staples of the country are abundant. Providence seems to have ordered suitable proportion in the crops of the country. Indeed, the fruitfulness of the season reminds us of the language of God, by the mouth of the prophet: "I will open the windows of heaven and pour you out a blessing that there shall not be room enough to receive it."
Fruitful seasons come from God. What said Paul and Barnabas to the inhabitants of Lystra, Acts xiv: "God left not himself without witnesses, in that he did good, and gave rain from heaven, and fruitful seasons, filling our hearts with food and gladness." We see from this language that a fruitful season is the gift of God. He causes the sun to rise, and the showers to fall. Will you not offer thanksgiving to God, that your barns are filled with plenty? Take care, and do not say with the rich man, in forgetfulness of the good providence of God, "What shall I do, because I have no room where to bestow my fruits?" Recognize the hand of the Almighty in prosperity.
4. Exemption from war. - During this year no nation has declared war against us, nor has our government declared war against any other
nation. "War is a satire on civilization - a reproach on humanity. It is legalized butchery It is the employment of the resources of government to destroy life. It is a systematic attempt to create a necessity for as many premature graves as possible - to abbreviate the day of mercy - and hurry souls with terrific velocity into the eternal world. O, how monstrous is war! How much blood have belligerent armies shed! How effective has been the artillery of death! How many millions of human bodies have fallen on fields of battle! And yet wars have been waged on the slightest and most ridiculous pretexts. National sensitiveness has been excited by childish misunderstandings, and kingdoms have been thrown into deadly antagonism. The apostolic exclamation has been sadly verified, "Bebold how great a matter, a little fire kindleth!" During the present year, Russia, Turkey, England, and France have imbrued their hands in blood. Officers and soldiers have fallen in fierce combat. Tidings from the field of action have carried sorrow to many hearts, and clothed many families in the habiliments of mourning. The telegraph, unconscious of its sad office, has with terrible rapidity transmitted messages of grief and woe. And what have those hostile nations gained? But little; very little. Knowing how dreadful are the desolations of war, how thankful should we be for national peace! None of the swords of the government have been drawn from their scabbards,
none of its bayonets have glistened in the sun light - none of its cannon have emitted their thundering roar. Peace has spread its balmy wings over our happy country, and no invading foe has made our people afraid. Lift up your hearts with your voices, in thanksgiving to God for our national tranquillity. Praise him that there are no American widows made such by the operations of war during this year, and that there is no parental grief over sons, the victims of battle.
5. The enjoyment of civil and religious liberty. - The Declaration of American Independence teaches that among the inalienable rights of man are "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness." Civil liberty imposes restraints on natural liberty, so far as an abridgement of the latter is necessary to the public good. Men, in a state of nature, enjoy the unrestrained exercise of their natural rights. In forming the social state - in coming under the dominion of civil government, they surrender these rights as far as the welfare of the community may demand. In this country we have civil constitutional liberty. In the general government, and in the state governments, the liberties of American citizens are provided for. We have the advantage of written constitutions. The revolutionary struggle resulted favorably. Our fathers boldly said they would not submit to taxation without representation. They were right, though in the works of Dr. George Campbell, I find a sermon preached on a "Fast Day, appointed by the king, on account
Rebellion in America," in which the learned doctor earnestly contends that taxation without representation is no violation of justice. Most great men have some weak points. Against the arbitrary claim of England our ancestors fought. I believe it was Mr. Webster who said "they fought seven years against a declaration." They did not fight to throw off the yoke of bondage, but to prevent the mother country from placing that yoke on their necks. They were a band of noble patriots. In pledging their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor, to the maintenance of the principles of the Declaration of Independence, they levied a tax on the admiration of the lovers of liberty everywhere - a tax which is most cheerfully paid. How highly should we prize our civil constitutional liberty, knowing, as we do, its connection with the blood of our fathers. Truly, it was bought with blood. And I know no better way for us to show our appreciation of this liberty, than by transmitting it unimpaired to our posterity. This liberty we have enjoyed during this year. No conquering foe has taken it from us, and placed on our necks the yoke of oppression. Our liberty, also, is too well regulated to degenerate into licentiousness. Let us offer to God thanksgiving for civil liberty. And thanksgiving is likewise due to him for religious liberty. We have the right to espouse such religious views as we think the Bible authorizes, and to worship God as our judgments, enlightened by his Word, may dictate. For many
long and gloomy centuries this subject was not understood by governments. The colonies in Massachusetts and Virginia did not understand it, nor did Maryland and Pennsylvania. Roger Williams in the little state of Rhode Island, was, according to Bancroft, the first man, who, in modern times, asserted the doctrine of religious liberty in all its plenitude. He insisted that every man is responsible to God for his religious sentiments, and that civil government has no right to come between God and the conscience. The doctrine had been promulgated by the Baptists in London years before, but to Rhode Island was reserved the glory of announcing it fully in the audience of the civilized world, and of first carrying it into effect. Deprivation of religious liberty had much to do in preparing the Virginia colony for the Revolution. But I can not enlarge. We have enjoyed religious liberty this year as in former years. None have interfered with that freedom of the soul for which Williams so earnestly contended. We have access to an open Bible. Neither tyrant nor priest has interposed to prevent its perusal. It is one of the bright glories of these United States that the Bible is an accessible book - its pages open, and inviting consultation. We have enjoyed the privileges of the Sanctuary during this year. The door of the temple of God has been wide open. We have been permitted to enter and worship the everliving Jehovah. We have heard the messages of salvation. The privileges of the
Lord's day have been ours. When we take into account our advantages, civil and religious, we may say of God, in the language of the Psalmist, "He hath not dealt so with any nation." We occupy a high preeminence among the nations of the earth. We inhabit the best country in the world. The sun shines on no portion of the globe so highly favored as these United States. Let us remember that the many blessings we enjoy call loudly for the gratitude of our hearts and the thanksgiving of our lips. Let us individually say, "Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits."
[From J. M. Pendleton, Short Sermons on Important Subjects, 1859. This book is from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary Library, Wake Forest, NC via ILL through Boone County Public Library, Burlington, KY. Scanned and formatted by Jim Duvall.]
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