by Charles Henrickson
“A Day of Publick Thanksgiving and Prayer” (Psalm 67)
May God be gracious to us and bless us
and make his face to shine upon us,
that your way may be known on earth,
your saving power among all nations.
Let the peoples praise you, O God;
let all the peoples praise you!
Let the nations be glad and sing for joy,
for you judge the peoples with equity
and guide the nations upon earth.
Let the peoples praise you, O God;
let all the peoples praise you!
The earth has yielded its increase;
God, our God, shall bless us.
God shall bless us;
let all the ends of the earth fear him!
Psalm 67 (ESV)
“Let the peoples praise you, O God; let all the peoples praise you! Let the nations be glad and sing for joy, for you judge the peoples with equity and guide the nations upon earth.” Including this nation, the United States of America! And so this day is a Day of National Thanksgiving, a day set aside to do just what the psalmist declares. On this day the people of our nation gladly and joyfully praise God for his many blessings on this good land he has given us.
Well, at least that’s the idea. How many still bother to thank God on Thanksgiving Day is a question I’d rather not know the answer to! I’m sure the number would be distressingly small. But if other folks are failing to fulfill the purpose of Thanksgiving Day, that’s their problem, they’re the ones who are missing out. In any case, we are here, you are here, and you have come to give thanks to God. So please, let’s do!
The practice in America of setting aside a day to thank God for his goodness to us--this goes back to the days of the Pilgrims in the early 1620s. But as far as a National Day of Thanksgiving, the first one we had as the United States of America was in 1789, just shortly after our Constitution went into effect. The proclamation was issued by President George Washington during his first year in office.
I want to read this proclamation to you, because it makes pretty much the same points I was planning to make today anyways. And that’s because the things called for in this proclamation are basically what the Bible calls us to do. These are laudable goals we find here. So now I’ll read the proclamation--you have it there on your bulletin insert--and then I’ll expand on it. This is to proclaim, as President Washington calls it, “A Day of Publick Thanksgiving and Prayer”:
By the President of the United States of America
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 have, by their joint committee, requested me “to recommend to the people of the United States a DAY of PUBLICK THANKSGIVING and PRAYER, to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many and signal favours of Almighty God, especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness”;
Now therefore, I do recommend and assign Thursday, the twenty-sixth 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 previous to their becoming a nation; for the signal and manifold mercies and the favorable interpositions of his Providence in the course and conclusion of the late war; for the great degree of tranquility, union, and plenty which we have since enjoyed; for the peaceable and rational manner in which we have been enable to establish Constitutions of government for our safety and happiness, and particularly the national one now lately instituted; for the civil and religious Liberty with which we are blessed, and the means we have of acquiring and diffusing useful knowledge; and, in general, for all the great and various favours which he has been pleased to confer upon us.
And also, that we may then unite in most humbly offering our prayers and supplications to the great Lord and Ruler of Nations and beseech him to pardon our national and other transgressions; to enable us all, whether in publick or private stations, to perform our several and relative duties properly and punctually; to render our national government a blessing to all the people by constantly being a government of wise, just, and constitutional laws, discreetly and faithfully executed and obeyed; to protect and guide all sovereigns and nations (especially such as have shewn kindness unto us); and to bless them with good government, peace, and concord; to promote the knowledge and practice of true religion and virtue, and the increase of science among them and us; and generally, to grant unto all mankind such a degree of temporal prosperity as he alone knows to be best.
Given under my hand, at the city of New-York, the third day of October, in the year of our Lord, one thousand seven hundred and eighty-nine.
And now for four brief points on how we can apply this proclamation, in accordance with biblical teaching, to our observance of Thanksgiving Day today.
First, remember that this is a Day of National Thanksgiving, a Day of “Publick Thanksgiving,” as Washington calls it. Many people, if they think of this as a day for thanking God at all, think more in terms of private blessings, what they’re thankful for as an individual or as a family--good health, the fact that they got a job or graduated from school, that they had a new baby or a grandchild, and so on. Now being thankful for those things is certainly good, right, and salutary. You should thank God for his many kindnesses to you personally, and to your family. But Thanksgiving Day is more than that. The purpose of this day is especially to thank God for his blessings to us as a nation. What can we thank God for in that regard? How has God blessed this country, the United States of America? That’s the first point.
And it leads us to a second point. Today think of, and speak of, specific things you’re thankful for. Don’t leave your thankfulness as just a vague thought or nebulous feeling. Instead, name some of those blessings. Say them out loud. Activate your tongue and let God know, and let other people know, what it is you’re giving thanks for. Today we want to praise God with our lips, with singing to the Lord, and with speaking to others--your friends and family around the dinner table, perhaps.
Look at how Washington names some particular blessings he’s grateful for: He mentions, among other things: the “opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for our safety and happiness”; “the great degree of tranquility, union, and plenty which we have enjoyed”; “the civil and religious Liberty with which we are blessed”; and, in general, “all the great and various favours which God has been pleased to confer upon us.”
This is a good pattern for us to follow, to name the things we’re thankful for, to put into words what we’re grateful to God for as a nation. I think, for example, of the rich natural resources with which we have been blessed, combined with the human skill and the drive to work the land. I think of the great vegetable crops in the valleys of California, the citrus fruits in Florida, the deep black soil of Illinois and Iowa, the amber waves of grain. I think of Great Lakes and great rivers. It’s amazing the abundance of food that America is able to produce, more than enough, so that we can even share with others. In spite of the recent economic downturn, this is still the richest, most blessed nation in the history of the world.
We are way more blessed than we have any right to be! And that leads to the third point, prayer. As Washington says in the proclamation, not only is it a day for thanksgiving, it is also a time for prayer--humble, repentant prayer. “That we may then unite in most humbly offering our prayers and supplications to the great Lord and Ruler of Nations and beseech him to pardon our national and other transgressions.” Certainly, America has many transgressions in need of pardon! Think of the rampant sins of divorce and cohabitation, the gradual acceptance of homosexuality, the horrors of legalized abortion, a general loosening of morals, violence and crime, greed and corruption--America’s sins cry out to the heavens! Surely we have gotten far better than we deserve! Let us repent in humility for our part in the decline and the decadence.
And let us pray, positively, for God’s continued and renewed guidance and blessing for our country! How we need it! Pray for our governmental leaders, that God would grant them wisdom. Pray for truthful education, honest industry, for our arts and science and culture, that these would enlighten and inform and elevate our people.
So those are the first three points. One, that this is a day of national thanksgiving, not just personal and private. Two, that we name and speak aloud the blessings we’re thankful for. And three, that we pray to God in repentance and in supplication for our nation. And now the fourth and final point, and that is, that we give thanks . . . to God! I know that sounds obvious, but from what I’ve seen, we can’t take it for granted. A lot of people say they’re grateful or thankful, but they don’t say who it is they’re thankful to! It’s like they have all these good things in their life, but they don’t acknowledge the one who gave those blessings to them. The truth is, it’s God! So name him! Thank him!
And here is where I think we can do better than Washington. You’ll notice that Washington speaks about God as “that great and glorious Being who is the beneficent Author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be.” As “the great Lord and Ruler of Nations.” Well, that’s true, as far as it goes. But we can go further. We can say, with much greater specificity, who this God is. For he has revealed himself to us. In his word, in the gospel, the one true God tells us who he is. He is the triune God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. We know the Father through his Son, Jesus Christ, our Savior. And we know Christ by the Holy Spirit, working through the word to give us that knowledge. This is how we know the God who does indeed pardon transgressions. God’s own Son, Jesus Christ, has won our pardon, our forgiveness, through his death on the cross--not just for our sins, but for the sins of the whole world. We know a merciful God in Christ, who died and rose again and who is coming again. This is much more than just a vague, generic God, some Higher Power up in the sky. This is the God who comes down to earth to rescue and redeem us. You know this God. And even more, he knows you. And he loves you.
Now you know, and can put a name to, this great God, the Almighty God whose Providence has guided and blessed America for all these years. This is the God who hears our prayers for Christ’s sake, who gives us better than we deserve for Christ’s sake. He has given us this good land, and he has given us churches and the freedom to preach the gospel here, in order that our fellow countrymen may likewise hear the good news and believe and be saved. Yes, this is the God to whom we give our thanks today.
“Let the peoples praise you, O God; let all the peoples praise you! Let the nations be glad and sing for joy.” Our nation today praises God. It’s Thanksgiving Day! Washington said it well: It’s a day to give thanks as a nation. It’s a day to say, with our mouths, what we’re thankful for. It’s a day to pray for our nation, asking God’s mercy upon us. And, on this day, we direct our thanks and our prayers to Almighty God. Well done, Mr. President. But dear Christian friends, let’s take our thanksgiving one step further and name the God that we’re thanking, the God we know in Christ. A most fitting proclamation for this “Day of Publick Thanksgiving and Prayer”!
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