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THANKFULNESS to liop, As
THE SUPREME BENEFACTOR, IS A
CHARACTERISTIC OF ALL HOLY CREATURES.
THANKFULNESS is not (like repentance, and some of the other graces of the Spirit,) confined to the religion of men. 'Angels, though they have no occasion for repentance, have much for thankfulness and praise. Hence the propriety of that requisition, “Praise ye him, all his angels; praise ye him, all his hosts.” Ps. cxlviii. 2. This they do incessantly, as an expression of their unfeigned thankfulness. The inhabitants of earth, as well as of heaven, are required to be thankful. Both Testa. ments require this. In the Old Testament, the people of God are thus exhorted; “Be thankful unto him, and bless his name:"_and in the New, “ Be ye thankful.” Ps. c. 4. Col. iii. 15. One of the most unlovely features in the character of depraved men, is ingratitude ; especially, their ingratitude to God, the Supreme Benefactor. “When they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful.” It is said, that, ith the perilous times which shall come in the latter days, men shall, among
other things, be " unthankful, unholy.” Rom. i. 21. 2 Tim. iii. 2. By comparing the two passages just referred to, we learn that thankfulness is enjoined upon all, as a thing essential to goodness of character; while an unthankful spirit is considered as ir. religious and unholy. Thankfulness may be thus defined : Unfeigned love to a benefactor, accompanied with a pleasing sense of our obligation to him for the goodness manifested in his benefactions. It supposes such things as these :
1. That benefits have been received. “What,” said thankful Da. vid, “shall I render unto the Lord for all his benefits towards me ?” Ps. cxvi. 12. Were no favors conferred, no thankfulness would be demanded. Were it possible for an intelligent being to spring into existence independently of divine agency; and could such a being, in contemplating the character of God, have evidence that he possessed a benevolent heart, but none whatever that he had exhibited himself as a benefactor; a foundation would be laid for the exercise of love, but not of thankfulness.
I have said that thankfulness is to be exercised in view of benefits. Evils are to be cheerfully submitted to; but it is for good things alone that we are required to be thankful. If afflictions are ever spoken of in the scriptures as matter of praise, it is only when their salutary in. fluence is brought directly before the mind. A child may be thankful for being punished, when he considers the good which his parent in. tended to effect by it. So may a child of God give thanks for the correction which has been made the means of bringing him back from his wanderings. In view of the salutary rod, he may say, “ I know, O Lord, that thy judgments are right, and that thou in faithfulness hast afflicted me.”
2. Thankfulness is exercised in view, not only of benefits, but also of a benefactor. We may be glad of benefits, even if we should con. sider them as coming to us by chance : but it is not possible we should be grateful for them, unless we consider them as bestowed upon us by some intelligent agent. An atheist may feel glad that there is such a luminary as the sun, to give light to the earth; that there is an atmos. phere in which to breathe; and that the earth is filled with animals, vegetables, and other things adapted to the convenience of man: but he can be grateful to no one for all these benefits; for his creed (or rather his want of a creed) does not allow him to trace these streams of good back to their benevolent Fountain. No man can be under an obligation of gratitude to chance; for it is an essential attribute of that imaginary agent, that it has no intelligence and no design. To be thankful to God, we must believe that such a being exists; that he is intelligent and good ; that the blessings we enjoy are his gift-the ex. pressions of his loving kindness. “O give thanks unto the Lord, for he is good.” Ps. cxxxvi. 1. When a gift is not viewed as an expres. sion of the goodness of the giver, however glad we may be to receive it, we can not, in the truest sense, be thankful; for thankfulness im. plies the exercise of complacency, not only in the benefaction, but also in the benefactor. The Psalmist was not only pleased with hav. ing his prayer answered, but was pleased with Him who had answer. ed it; for he said, “ I love the Lord, because he hath heard my voice, and my supplications." Pg. cxvi. 1.
But how can we love any one for bestowing a gift, unless we believe that benevolent feelings prompt. ed him to do it? It is certain that we can exercise no true thankful. Dess to God, unless we view the blessings he bestows as expressions of his benevolence-unless we can, in a believing manner, adopt the words of holy David, “ The Lord is good, and doeth good.”
3. A thankful heart recognizes God as the author of all its bless. ings, whatever may have been the instrumentality through which they are received. It does not look upon him in the light of a common benefactor, or of one who confers only a part of the blessings enjoyed; but it views him as the bountiful Giver that bestows them all-as the being “from whom cometh down every good and perfect gift.” It is true that we have other benefactors. Nor does the scripture forbid us to be grateful to them for all the good they do us. But God is to be acknowledged as the SUPREME BENEFACTOR, from whom, either di. rectly or indirectly, flow all our streams of comfort.
Ought we to be any less thankful to God for our daily bread, which he gives us by means of the fertility of the earth, than if it were to be sent us directly from heaven? Our bread, when obtained in the ordinary way, comes directly from the earth, and by means of labor performed by ourselves and our beasts. But let us inquire, Who gave the earth its fertile nature, and covered it with all the vegetable and animal tribes? or who gave the ox his strength and his patience to labor? or who gives to man his skill and power, not only to labor, but also to control and direct the whole operation ? Why should we con. sider ourselves any less obliged to the Supreme Agent, when he aids us by instruments, than when he does it without them? Does the use he makes of our own instrumentality to help ourselves, diminish, int
the least degree, our obligation to him? In case he sees the favor will be greater to us, to be obtained by our own, rather than by any other instrumentality, then, instead of diminishing, it must enhance the obli. gation. If, under our present circumstances, it be better for us to eat our bread by the sweat of our face, than to have it rained down around our dwellings, or placed upon our tables, more thanks are due to our heavenly Benefactor for giving it to us in this way.
When any of our favors come to us directly from the hands of our fellow men, as the fruit of their concern for our welfare, we are, without doubt, under obligation to be grateful to them; but this should not diminish aught of our gratitude to God, from whom they received all their ability and disposition to help us. Thus Paul evidently view. ed the matter, when he said to the Corinthians, “ Thanks be to God, who put the same earnest care into the heart of Titus for you." % Cor. viii. 16. The apostle felt grateful for the favor which they had received by the instrumentality of Titus; he also admired that earnest care for their best interests, which was manifested by this servant of Christ; but he most heartily thanked God, both for the favor itself, and also for that earnest care manifested by the man whom he had used as his instrument in conferring it.
They who have a grateful spirit, will feel under obligation to be thankful to God at all times, and for all things—that is, for all favors. Such is the apostolic direction to the Ephesians: “Giving thanks al. ways for all things unto God.” Eph. v. 20. In the exercise of grate. ful emotions, David exclaims, “ Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits ! He no doubt meant by this, to charge his soul to forget none of the Lord's benefits, but to be grateful for them all. It also implied a determination to keep his mind awake to the discovery of new causes of gratitude. The work of creation presents innume. rable objects to excite thankful emotions; and the work of providence furnishes claims to our gratitude, which are still more wonderful and glorious. The earth, when contemplated geographically as a terra. queous globe, is full of the riches of goodness; but when contemplated as a scene of God's moral government, and of the glorious work of redemption, the causes for gratitude and praise become more numerous and more affecting. There is one of these mercies, which is greater than all those of the other class taken together. It was this which led to the exclamation, Thanks be to God for his unspeakable gift. 2 Cor. ix. 15.
Benefits, which are secured by promises, furnish the same ground for thankfulness as those which are already, received. When, in Rom. vii. 25, the apostle says, “ I thank God, through Jesus Christ our Lord," he renders thanks for a future blessing, which he clearly saw was made sure by the covenant of grace. In the epistle to the saints at Colosse, he says, “ We give thanks to God for the hope which is laid up for you in heaven.” Col. i. 3, 5. Their heaven was secured to them by promise, (if they were, indeed, the saints of the Lord,) and though they had not come into possession of their inheritance, yet in prospect of it, he and his brethren were even now employed in giving thanks to God.
4. It is important to be distinctly noticed, that thankfulness, such
o Let every
as is the fruit of the Spirit, is not restricted to the favors which are con. ferred on ourselves and our friends, but is also drawn forth by the fa. vors which are bestowed on others. Gratitude is not of a selfish nature, any more than self-denial, It loves God for all the favors he bestows on fellow creatures, both in this and other worlds, (as far as it becomes known,) and feels itself laid under obligation to praise him for all this profusion of his goodness.
Every display of the Creator's glory is a favor to the intelligent creation, particularly to that part which is holy; therefore every new display serves to increase the obligation of creatures to be thankful. It seems hardly proper to thank the Lord for being what he is, that is, infinitely great and good; since it would suppose he might have been otherwise than infinitely great and good ;-which supposition is inadmissible. It is proper, however, to rejoice in God for being what he necessarily is, and to render thanks to him for all the mani. festations of his goodness, which he has made for the benefit of his creatures, and the gratification of his own benevolent feelings. Every intelligent creature is under obligation to thank him for all the good. ness he has manifested, so far as its manifestation shall come to his knowledge. Each is bound to give thanks in behalf of all the rest ; for he is required to love them all as he does himself. In view of this manifestation of divide goodness, heaven and earth are called on to praise the Lord : « Praise ye him, all his angels.” thing that hath breath praise the Lord.”
That we are under obligation to be thankful for blessings which are bestowed on others, as well as for those granted to ourselves, is evident. Paul appeared to be as unfeignedly thankful for favors conferred on others, as for those he himself received. In his epistle to the Corin. thians, he says, “ I thank my God always on your behalf, for the grace which is given you by Jesus Christ :"_to the Philippians, “ I thank my God upon every remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mide for you all, making request with joy, for your fellowship in the gospel, from the first day until now:"_to the Thessalonians, “We are bound to thank God always for you, brethren, as it is meet, be. cause that your faith groweth exceedingly, and the charity of every one of you all toward each other aboundeth." He was unfeignedly ihankful for the good accomplished by the instrumentality of other men, as well as for that which was accomplished by his own. To the Colossians he writes, “We give thanks to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, praying always for you, since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus, and the love which ye have to all the saints.” Merely to hear of their faith, and love, and hope, drew forth his grati. tude and praise to God. The holy angels give us an example of dis. interested gratitude, in the song of praise which they sang at the birth of the Redeemer. They needed not his redemption; but they rejoiced in this manifestation of God's good will towards men: and they now rejoice over every sioner that repenteth.
5. Thaukfulness not only supposes favors received, but also that these favors are unmerited, that is, that they are such favors as could not be claimed on the ground of justice. When the lender receives back his loan, it is a real favor; but it is not of such a nature as to
bring him under the obligation of gratitude to the borrower. Let me receive ever so many good things of another, if I give him an equiva. lent for them, (as in the case of commerce,) there is no debt of grati. tude lying on me, any more than if I had not received them.
If servitude be considered in any instance as a lawful thing, (and in the case of minors, and criminals who have forfeited their liberty, its lawfulness will not be disputed,) it will be obvious, that servants have no claim to thanks from their masters, for the most perfect faithfulness in their service. “ Doth he thank that servant," said the divine Teacher, “ because he did the things that were commanded him? 1 trow not.” Luke xvii. 9. If the servant be the property of his master, so are his services : they are the master's due. While, therefore, they deserve to be approved, they can lay no claim to thanks. Creatures are servants to their Creator, in the highest possible sense. They are his property complete, and are therefore bound to honor him wiih all the powers they possess. The children of men are bound to glorify him in their body and spirit, which are His. Those creatures who do this to perfection, deserve and will receive his entire approbation; and they who do it imperfectly, but sincerely, will, through the atone. ment and advocacy of the Redeemer, be acknowledged with a well dono good and faithful servants. But creatures, whether imperfect or per. fect, have no claim to thanks from God. He receives nothing from them except that which he has first given them: and their entire love and obedience are his due, and are therefore most properly termed their duty. 6 When have done all those things which are commanded you, say, We are unprofitable servants; we have done that which was our duty to do."
While no thanks are due from the Creator to his creatures, they are under obligation to be thankful to Him for all the good which has hitherto been enjoyed, and which his promise assures them will yet be enjoyed in the creation ; for all this good is unmerited favor; it is that for which there was no claim. Our very existence depended on his good pleasure; and this is clearly a favor of such a nature, that we could have no claim to it before it was conferred. In the hun. dredth Psalm, which seems to have been composed on purpose to ex. cite gratitude to God, this is mentioned as one reason for its exercise:
— It is He that hath made us, and not we ourselves.” Angels that never sinned, are bound to give thanks for their existence, their rational natures, and their preservation from apostacy. When these sinless creatures, in the day of the revelation of God's righteous judgment, shall stand acquitted, their obligation to gratitude will differ, in some respects, from theirs, who receive a free justification by faith in the Redeemer. They will not be under obligation to give thanks for their acquittal, since they could not have been condemned, in consist. ence with justice : but they will be under obligation to give thanks to Him, who had long before made them to differ from the angels which sinned, in upholding them by his free Spirit: while believers in Christ will be under obligation to give thanks for every thing their existence—the atonement provided for them as fallen creatures-a heart to accept of this provision and justification unto life after this provision had been accepted,