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There is a manifest contrast among the works of God, and it seems designed to make the impression deep on the minds of intelligent creat. ures, that the good which any of them enjoy, is what could not have been justly claimed by them at the hand of their Creator, but is wholly the effect of his sovereign goodness. The first contrast which strikes the mind, is between having and not having, a place in the creation. Why, each one of us may say, am I made to differ from non-entity ? or, in other words, why do I exist? The answer is, The Creator, ac. cording to his good pleasure, saw fit to give me existence. Why am I endowed with reason? . It is God our Maker, “who teacheth us more than the beasts of the earth, and maketh us wiser than the fowls of heaven." What a contrast there is between creatures which be. long to the intelligent system ; for example-between those which kept, and those which kept not their first estate. Again—what a contrast there is between apostates. For one part, a Redeemer has been provided, and mercy's door thrown open, inviting their return; while another part, without a second probation, are reserved in chains under darkness unto the judgment of the great day. Between those of our race to whom the word of salvation is sent, and those to whom it is not sent, the contrast is great. And who can conceive what a contrast there is, and ever will be, between those to whom it is given to know, in a saving manner, the mysteries of the kingdom of God, and those to whom it is not given! Matt. xiii. 11. Of every one among those who are blessed with favorable distinctions, of whatever kind, the demand with propriety may be made, “Who maketh thee to differ from another ? and what hast thou that thou didst not receive ?” 1 Cor. iv. 7. The amount of good enjoyed by the whole is, no doubt, the greatest it could be; and the uneven distribution of it is dictated by infinite benevolence, under the guidance of that wisdom which can not err. In view of this arrangement, every intelligent creature is bound, not only to be submissive, but also to rejoice and give thanks.
In view of these affecting contrasts, to which I have alluded, let no one impute iniquity to God. As there is no wrong done to those ideal creatures which might have had existence if it had pleased the Creator; nor to those sentient creatures which he did not see fit to endow with reason; so there is no wrong done to those subjects of moral goveroment which he did not prevent from apostatizing; nor to those apostate angels for whom no Savior has been provided; nor to those of the children of Adam who are suffered to continue in their gentile state, and serve the gods they have chosen; nor to those gospel sinners, who are bidden to the marriage, and yet refuse the invitation, and so never taste of the supper.
Thankfulness is an affection of the heart, and therefore we class it with the experimental system ; but it is an affection which, like all others, tends to discover itself. If we can not express our sense of obligation to our benefactor, by requiting his kindness, we shall wish at least to express to him our grateful emotions, and the conviction we have of the obligations under which his goodness has laid us. Thank. fulness to God leads to thanksgiving and praise. With hearts enlarged with the spirit of love and gratitude, it is perfectly natural that the
giving of thanks should constitute a very material part of our worship. And this is manifestly what God expects from us. “ Be careful for nothing,” (saith the Holy Ghost in Paul,) " but in every thing by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known unto God.” A thankful spirit will lead us to call on others to praise the Lord. How repeatedly does the sweet singer of Israel express his devout wish, that men would praise the Lord for his goodness, and for his wonderful works to the children of men. See Ps. cvii. 8, 15, 21, 31. Ps. xxxiv. 3. See also five or six of the last of the Psalms entire.
It is a prominent object of this essay, to show that every part of the religion contained in the word of truth, is in itself right and fit; that it is supported by the whole weight of divine testimony; and that there is no discord between the different parts. And surely, all this will most strictly apply to the Article which is now under considera. tion. Thankfulness to God, our Supreme Benefactor, is manifestly a suitable affection of the heart; and the reverse of it is not less unrea. sonable than impious. The scriptures every where inculcate a spirit of thankfulness towards benefactors, especially towards that Benefac. tor from whom cometh down every good and perfect gift. And there can be no doubt entertained concerning the agreement between this and all the other parts of divine truth, whether experimental, doctrin. al, or practical. Its agreement with the whole system may be learned from the following sketch.
First. It is in harmony with the other branches of Christian Et. perience. Some may
think that thankfulness, when exercised in view of favors which have been conferred on ourselves, must be of a selfish nature, and therefore at variance with the first Article of this series, which represents all genuine religion of the heart to consist in disinterested affections. It is acknowledged that there is a thing called thankful. ness, which is wholly of a selfish nature; but that is not the affection which the scriptures thus denominate, and which it has been the ob. ject of this Article to describe. That thankfulness which forms a part of the Christian character, is not pleased with the giver, unless his gift be considered as the fruit of benevolence; and when it is thus considered, it is grateful for all his gifts, on whomsoever they may have been conferred. Surely, it is not necessary to suppose that we are selfish, merely because we are thankful to God for the favors which he bestows on ourselves and our friends. If we were not thankful for them, it would be a decided proof of selfishness and hardness of heart. While we are bound to be thankful to God for all his favors, it is with these that we are best acquainted, and therefore they impose on us a very special debt of gratitude. Every man is as much bound to render a tribute of thanksgiving for his own mercies, as he is to pay his own debts.
The present Article accords with the second. The complacence
we have in benevolent beings, renders easy the exercise of gratitude towards them, when they display the amiableness of their character in works of beneficence. In proportion as we delight ourselves in the Lord, the Supreme Benefactor, it will become natural to us to give him thanks for those unnumbered benefits with which we are daily loaded. Its agreement with the third is no less evident; for if we can love our Father with the correcting rod in his hand, it will not be hard to love and praise him when he assumes the place of a benefactor and showers his blessings around us. That temper of heart which prepared the prodigal son for the most unconditional submission to pa. ternal authority, was a good preparation for the exercise of gratitude, in view of all that exuberance of kindness which was shown him on his return to his father's house.
Repentance and faith, which are treated on in the next two Articles, are certainly not discordant with the spirit of thankfulness. A heart which is under the dominion of sin, can be glad of the favors which God bestows, while it is an utter stranger to that thankfulness which he requires : but repentance for sin will always open the heart to the exercise of this precious grace. And what can more evidently har. monize with it than faith, whose province it is to realize an invisible God as ever present, controlling every event, and giving us richly all things to enjoy? It is also the province of faith to receive and depend upon the almighty Redeemer, who is the appointed channel for the communication of all other blessings. A true believer in Jesus Christ can not be destitute of gratitude. He that is unthankful, is also un. believing.
The grace described in this Article, has a manifest agreement with hope. It is the province of hope to contemplate that good which is in prospect ; and it is a good which exceeds all we can ask or think. In view of this unbounded mercy, grateful hearts are prepared to say, We give thanks to God for the hope which is laid up for us in heaven. Col. i. 3, 5.
With the grace of humility, thankfulness has a connection which is very intimate. Were we once divested of pride, it would prepare the way for a constant flow of gratitude. It is not owing to a deficiency of mercies and blessings, that we are not very thankful creatures ; and that we are not so continually. Pride makes us imagine we de. serve much better things than we enjoy. They who walk humbly with God will see matter for gratitude and praise, where proud spirits will think they do well to be angry. Indeed, the grand cause why heaven will be so much more full of thankfulness than earth, is to be attributed to the greater humility of its inhabitants, rather than to the greater number of its blessings.
Secondly. Passing by the other Articles of experimental religion, with which the present Article can certainly have no disagreement, I shall now turn to the doctrinal series.
Thankfulness has nothing atheistical in it; for while it receives favors, it is disposed to acknowledge the hand from which they come. It therefore accords with our first Article ; That, there is a God in. finitely intelligent and kind.. Gratitude contemplates the created universe as a favor, which depended on the will of Him who is from
everlasting; and through this manifestation of his goodness, it is led to the enjoyment of Him who is its all-sufficient source.
But if we were to leave out of our creed the second and last Articles in the series, there would be no foundation on which to build our obli. gation to the exercise of thankfulness. If the good which is brought to us by the existence of such a world, and by such a course of events, is not the fruit of the benevolent design and mighty operation of Je. hovah, then no reason can be shown why he should receive our thanks for all the good which is derived from the existence of this world and this course of events. If we have a single favor which he did not design to bestow, or which he has not actually bestowed upon us, either by his own hand, or by such an instrument as he chose to make use of, then gratitude is not due to Him for such a favor. ·Not a few of our favors come to us from the hands of creatures that are destitute of benevolence. Now if we do not believe that God rules the hearts of such, as well as of others, we must hesitate in rendering thanks to him for this class of benefits. It appears that Ezra had no such hesitancy in blessing the God of his fathers, for putting it into the heart of a heathen prince to beautify the house of the Lord. See Ez. vii. 27. They who have any true gratitude to God for the existence of intelli. gent creatures, are also grateful to him for establishing a moral govern. ment over them, and for giving them such a pure and perfect law as that which he has revealed in the sacred scriptures. [See Part I. Art. III.] They are thankful for it as the basis of divine government, and as that which is essential to the existence of a holy and blessed society among intelligent beings, whether on earth or in heaven.
If, in the lively exercise of gratitude, we look at the rebellion of angels and men, we shall exclaim, How wrong thus to despise the goodness of God! What an immense evil to be left destitute of his image and favor to all eternity! But when we proceed to take a view of the work of redemption, which excels every other work of God in glory, our gratitude is not diminished by our knowledge of that dread. ful apostacy. (See Part I. Art. IV. and v.] When the apostle was taking a connected view of these two doctrines, the apostacy, and the redemption of man, he exclaimed, “God be thanked that ye were ser. vants of sin ; but ye have obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine which was delivered you.” Rom. vi. 17.
The Christian's thankfulness is promoted by that view of truth which is presented in the sixth Article. The proffer of eternal life on terms so gracious, demands eternal gratitude and praise. And since he fully believes the humiliating doctrine contained in the seventh, his heart is enlarged with thankfulness to God for causing that infinitely desirable change, which forms the subject of the eighth. When he takes a view of this change as being not according to his works, but according to God's own purpose and grace which were given him in Christ Jesus before the world began, it has a wonderful effect to en. large his heart to give thanks to God for his unmerited and distinguish. ing grace. [See Part I. Art. ix. and x.]
A free justification by faith in the Redeemer, and a covenant ensuring the continuance of the gracious operations of the Spirit in the renovated heart, (which subjects furnish the matter of the eleventh and
twelfth Articles,) contribute very much to augment the thankfulness of the heirs of promise.
There is a sweet harmony between those grateful emotions which the Spirit of God has enkindled in the hearts of the saints, and that heavenly state for which they are designed, and which was treated of in the thirteenth Article. These grateful emotions will prepare them to join in the song of Moses and the Lamb: but devoid of these, they would have no meetness for the employments of the heavenly world. The unthankful and unholy, (and this is the character of all the unre. generate,) are wholly unmeet for heaven ; and except their character shall become essentially altered, they must be excluded from the world of praise.
1. The practice of giving thanks at our meals, is as rational as it is scriptural. It is the natural dictate of a grateful heart. Without food, our animal natures can not be sustained ; and without the care of our heavenly Father, we can not be supplied with food. How suitable is it, that creatures who know whence they receive these supports, should, in connection with their reception, expressly acknow. ledge their Benefactor, and not eat until they have given him thanks. When all the families of the earth shall become thankful for their daily bread, they will spontaneously imitate the example of the primitive Christians, and of Christ their supreme Pattern, in connecting an open acknowledgment of God with their social meals. See Rom. xiv. 6. Acts xxvii. 35. John vi. 11.
2. There seems, also, a manifest propriety in the observance of a public Thanksgiving, after the fruits of the earth have been gathered into our barns and store houses. Of this nature, was the feast of tab. ernacles in the ancient church. Moses, among other directions he gave to Israel before his death, said, “ Thou shalt observe the feast of iabernacles seven days, after that thou hast gathered in thy corn and wine. Thou shalt rejoice in thy feast-because the Lord thy God shall bless thee in all thy increase, and in all the works of thy hands, therefore thou shalt surely rejoice.” Deut. xvi. 13—15. When the productions of the earth are gathered in, we are presented with all the provisions, on which both men and beasts depend for their sustenance fill the return of another harvest : and though they are gathered from a multitude of fields, and deposited in many different store houses, they are received from the hand of one common Benefactor ; and do they not claim one common acknowledgment of thankful praise ?While we return thanks for the fruits of the earth, we should not for. get the obligations we are laid under, by all our natural and civil ad. vantages ; and more especially our gospel privileges. If the meat that perisheth demands a thank-offering at our hand, how much more, that which endureth unto everlasting life.
While a public thanksgiving seems to be a proper expression of gratitude for common mercies, is it not a manifest perversion of such à day, (a day designed as a religious feast—a time of general and public acknowledgment of our indebtedness to God,) to devote its hours