How Can We Give Thanks in Everything? - by William CooperArticles on the Christian Walk, Systematic Theology and Practical Theology
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“In every thing give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you”—1 Thessalonians 5:18.
QUERY: WHY AND HOW WE DO GIVE THANKS IN AND FOR AFFLICTIONS?
Answer 1: We must give thanks for good: afflictions are not evil, but good—David tells you so: (Psa. 119:67, 68, 71), which every child of God also finds. To this agrees that of the Schools, that crosses are not evil, but good: 1. because inflicted by the Lord, who is the Chief Good; 2. because suffered by the Lord Jesus, who is the Chief Good; 3. they conform us to the Lord, who is the Chief Good; [and] 4. they prepare us for communion with the Lord in heaven, which is our chief good. Therefore, be thankful for crosses.
Answer 2: We must thank God for every token of His fatherly love. But now crosses and troubles are such fatherly love- tokens. “Whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth” (Heb. 12:6). Therefore, give thanks for them, as well for the rod as for bread. “This is thankworthy.” This is acceptable to God. God will thank us for suffering patiently; therefore we must thank Him for inflicting it as a tender Father on beloved sons (1Pe 2:19, 20). Would you be counted bastards? Alexander cashiered one of his name that would not fight; the eagle is said to cast off those young ones that cannot bear the sight of the sun; and some Germans counted such children spurious brats that could not swim: so our heavenly Father will never own them for His children that will not submit to His rod and kiss it too. “Lord, when thou strokest, and when thou strikest, thou art alike a Father,” saith St. Austin.
Answer 3: The Lord by afflicting His people doth prevent sin and purge it—therefore, give thanks for it, for this is good because it frees us from the greatest evil: 1. He prevents sin by it—“Lest,” saith Paul, “I should be exalted above measure, there was given to me a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan to buffet me” (2 Cor. 12:7). 2. He purgeth sin by it—“By this,” saith the prophet, “shall the iniquity of Jacob be purged” (Isa. 27:9).
Now, do we not thank and pay the surgeon that lets out our bad blood, that lanceth our festered sores, that cuts out our proud and rotten flesh? Yes, surely, we do thank him. Do we not also thank the physician that keeps us to a strict diet, confines us to our chamber, gives us bitter pills and potions, and crosses our appetites? Yes, we do thank him. For hereby he cures a disease, defends and preserves both our health and life. Now, what else, I beseech you, doth the Lord do, more or less, by all that we suffer at His hands? And doth not He deserve our thanks, as well as the physician and surgeon?
“Withhold not correction from the child: for if thou beatest him with the rod, he shall not die. Thou shalt beat him with the rod, and shalt deliver his soul from hell” (Pro 23:13, 14). O blessed rod that can do this! God’s rod doth it surely. “Then it is better to go to God’s house of correction, than to the place of torment.” Happy children, then, who have the Lord for their Father and for their Physician! This He takes for one of His eminent titles, “The Lord thy Physician” (Exo. 15:26). He doth it skillfully, easily, safely, quickly, thoroughly, according to all the properties of the best artists. Therefore, thank Him.
Answer 4: We must thank the Lord for afflicting us and for laying the cross upon us because it is so far below what we deserve at His hands—what is a drop of wormwood sweetened to the gall of bitterness? To the lake of fire and brimstone? Hear what Zophar tells Job: “O that God would speak, and open his lips against thee; and that he would show thee the secrets of wisdom, that they are double to that which is! Know therefore that God exacteth of thee less than thine iniquity deserveth” (Job 11:5, 6). The like saith holy Ezra. And then surely we have much more cause to say so; and is not this ground of thankfulness? “If thou suffer a thousand evils, thou wilt never suffer what thou meritest,” saith that Father.
Jesus Christ drank off the dreggy part of the cup for us. We do but as it were sip for fashion that we may seem to pledge; for to drink as He drank it we cannot, we need not (Matt. 20:22). Thank God then, that thou hast so little a share of it, when all was thy portion by right and justice. This is thankworthy.
Answer 5: We must give thanks in everything, even in and for afflictions, under the rod and cross because thereby the Lord doth discipline us and [teach] us much which else we never would have learned—by this David learned God’s commandments, and they became dearer to him “than thousands of gold and silver” (Psa. 119:71, 72). By this the Lord “opens the ear to discipline,” saith Elihu, even when men are “bound in fetters, and be holden in cords of affliction; then he showeth them their work, and their transgressions that they have exceeded. He openeth also their ear to discipline, and commandeth that they return from iniquity” (Job 36:8-10). For as wax, unless it be heated and softened, takes no impression of the seal; so no man, unless exercised with much affliction, will receive the prints of divine wisdom.
Paideia, the word commonly used by the Holy Ghost in the New Testament for “chastise” signifies properly “to teach a child as a schoolmaster or father, with a rod” (Heb. 12:5-12; Luke 23:22). This is God’s way of teaching, and the best scholars in Christ’s college have come by their learning this way. “It is good for a man that he bear the yoke in his youth” (Lam. 3:27). I am sure this is the choicest saints’ academy.
Answer 6: Give thanks in and for afflictions because hereby the Lord fits us for heavenly glory—saints are called “vessels of mercy, prepared unto glory” (Rom. 9:23). But how do men make and prepare vessels? If it be a vessel of earth, the potter beats the clay to make it well-tempered, then he molds it on the wheel, then he bakes it in the oven, and then it is fit for use. If it be a vessel of wood, it hath many a turn and many a cut before it is fit. If it be a vessel of gold or silver, it hath both heats and knocks before it be complete. So must every vessel of mercy be served before it be fit for glory.
“We must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God” (Act 14:22). Thus the Apostle Peter tells us also “that the trial of our faith, being much more precious than of gold,” will be “found unto the praise and honor and glory” of God (1Pe 1:7). For the cross is the whetstone of faith, and all other grace sets an edge and luster upon it. It is the awakening of the northwind and south-wind to make these spices flow (Song 4:16). The stone that is most hewed, cut, carved, and polished is usually set in the chiefest part of the building. So are suffering saints prepared for the highest degrees of glory.
Those only that were beheaded or slain “for the witness of Jesus,” reigned with Christ a thousand years (Rev 20:4). So that it may be said of the Lord’s sufferers, as David speaks: “Though ye have lien among the pots, yet shall ye be as the wings of a dove covered with silver, and her feathers with yellow gold” (Psa. 58:13). This may be truly said, when the Lord shall “change our vile bodies, and fashion them like to his glorious body.” Therefore give thanks in and for thy afflictions.
Answer 7: It is a very high privilege for a Christian to be conformed to Christ—to be conformists to Christ is to be nonconformists to the world (Rom. 12:2). But now, what doth more conform us unto Christ than the cross? Therefore give thanks for it. “That I may know the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death” (Phil. 3:11). This is part of that excellent knowledge for which he accounted all other worldly privileges but dung. To this conformity in afflictions unto Christ we are predestinated (Rom. 8:29). This privilege appears in verse 17: “If we suffer with him, we shall be glorified together.” This way Christ entered into glory: “Ought not Christ to have suffered these things, and to enter into his glory?” (Luke 24:26). Now if we will enter with Him, we must follow after Him. How? By taking up His cross. Christ, like a good physician, first tasted the medicine that He gave His patient. The cross of Christ sweetens our sufferings in the bitterness of them; as that piece of wood sweetened the waters of Marah, being cast into them. Therefore, John wrote to the saints as partakers together of a great privilege, when he said, “Companion in tribulation, and in the kingdom and patience of Jesus Christ” (Rev 1:9). Then never hope to go another way than the Captain of our salvation hath led us; for if we balk7 His track, we are lost. Must we not then give thanks for affliction that conforms us to our Head?
Answer 8: The cross is a Christian’s banner, his honor, and the special favor of the Lord towards him—therefore be thankful for it. Let not this seem a riddle or paradox. “I have you,” saith the Apostle, “in my heart; inasmuch as both in my bonds, and in the defence and confirmation of the gospel, ye all are partakers of my grace” (Phil. 1:7). Hence, he saith again a little after, “Unto you it is given in the behalf of Christ, not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for his sake” (Phil. 1:29). This he accounts a peculiar gift of God to them, whereof but few in comparison do partake. Hence saith one upon that place, “It is a most noble, yea, and almost divine, thing to suffer for the Lord Jesus.” For the Lord gave Christ Himself on this very account, “a name which is above every name” (Phil. 2:9). Mark what the apostle Peter saith: “If ye be reproached for the name of Christ, happy are ye; for the spirit of glory and of God resteth upon you” (1Pe 4:14). Which words must be understood emphatically the highest manifestation and operation of the Spirit of God. God’s Spirit manifesteth itself variously in several subjects; but in sufferers for Christ, the very spirit and quintessence of glory seems to be extracted and poured on them.
Upon all these accounts and many more such, we are to thank God for crosses and corrections, because the good of them doth flow from God’s goodness, not from their nature. When the horse-leech, by the physician’s direction, sucks our blood, and thereby performs a cure, the horse-leech is not to be thanked, but the physician for his application. So the Lord can make the bloody persecutors of His people to be instruments of good to His people: no thanks to them, but to Him for it.
QUERY: HOW SHALL A CHRISTIAN BRING HIS HEART TO THIS HOLY AND HEAVENLY FRAME, SO AS IN EVERY THING TO GIVE THANKS?
Answer: Hearken to these few directions, lay them up in your hearts, and draw them out in your constant practice.
1. Pray earnestly for the Spirit of God—without that Spirit thou canst never pray or praise God duly because not spiritually. None can sanctify the Lord God in his heart (which is the first principle of this work), but he whose heart the Lord God hath sanctified. The Holy Spirit breathing in a man makes him a living organ, tuned to and sounding out His praise. “Praise is comely for the upright” (Psa. 33:1), but as uncomely in a carnal mouth as a jewel in a swine’s snout. The pompous dresses and melodious choirs of Magnificats without the Spirit of God breathing among them are but as “a sounding brass and a tinkling cymbal.” For indeed, without the Spirit of God in men, they neither can nor will remember the Lord’s mercies, nor consider them, nor value them, nor be affected with them, nor blaze the praise of them. “The dead,” saith David, “praise not the LORD” (Psa. 115:17). Dead hearts produce dead works: it is the Spirit that quickens. 2. Labor to get a continual quick sight and sense of sin—this will make thee sensible of every mercy and thankful for it. So the provocation and merit of sin is nothing but curses, death, and wrath being due to it. That yet thou shouldest be so tenderly spared and instead of miseries shouldest enjoy blessings! How shouldest thou be affected with this, as Mephibosheth was with David’s kindness to him! A humble, broken heart is the most thankful heart. This was most eminent in the most eminent saints: Jacob (Gen. 32:10), David (in the Psalms), Paul, etc. (1 Tim. 1:12-17). He that knows he hath forfeited all knows he deserves nothing but the reward of that forfeiture, which is wrath. And he that deserves nothing thanks God for everything, even for the least drop and crumb. Behold every mercy coming to thee in the stream of Christ’s blood and through the covenant of grace—this gives the mercy both an estimate and a relish. This doth both sanctify it, and sweeten it, and sublimate it. A crust of brown bread coming thus is better than a purse full of gold another way, as that king’s kiss to one friend was said to be better gold than a cup of gold which he gave another friend. “He sent redemption unto his people: he hath commanded his covenant for ever: holy and reverend is his name” (Psa. 111:9). The deliverance there was, in David’s account and that truly, the more thankworthy, as being upon a covenant-account. For thus every mercy is a token of the Lord’s favor to his favorite: it is that which makes common mercies to become special mercies.
3. Look on thy mercies as answers to thy prayers and bless the Lord for them on that account—for that is double mercy: (1) that God hath inclined and directed thine heart to beg such a mercy; this is a special act of the Spirit of adoption (Rom. 8:26, 27); (2) that He hath answered such prayers; for this is a sign [that] He accepts thee in Christ. Many blessings come unasked for and unlooked for, yet these require thankfulness. But when the Lord is inquired of for the things we have and doth grant them to us, this is a blessing upon His own institution and a seal to His promise. Hear David: “Come and hear,” saith he, “and I will declare what he hath done for my soul. I cried unto him with my mouth, and he was extolled with my tongue” (Psa. 66:16, 17), as if he had said, “This was a signal favor for the Lord to grant what I petitioned Him for and therefore deserves a special acknowledgment.” For this, Hannah calls her son, Samuel, that is, “asked of God” (1 Sam. 1:20); and Leah calleth her second son, Simeon, that is, “hearing,” because God heard her prayer for him (Gen. 29:33). And Rachel called her son, Naphtali, that is, “wrestling,” because she wrestled for him (Gen. 30:8). Now as Samuels should be Lemuels, that is, “dedicated to God,” so all our mercies we get by prayer should be the more solemnly dedicated to the Lord by thanksgiving. And such a frame of a thankful heart is a spiritual frame.
4. When any of God’s dealings do either draw us or drive us nearer to God, this is a special mercy—when we consider that well, we cannot but be greatly affected with it and will be accordingly thankful for the mercy; for the dispensation is thereby the more merciful. Mercies are drawing-cords; afflictions are whip-cords to drive us. By both we are brought nearer to God: thank Him. If the chief Shepherd hunts us together, keeps us from straggling, and brings us under command, this is a mercy to Christ’s sheep. If the Lord “hedge up our way with thorns,” that we cannot find our lovers, this is a mercy. And if the Lord recovers His mercies from us, that in the want of them we may know He was the Founder and Fountain of them, [then] this is a mercy (Hos. 2:6-9). That storm that sinks and splits some ships, drives others faster into the haven: so do the troubles of this world make a true Christian’s voyage towards Heaven the speedier. 5. That soul that is truly and spiritually thankful will so order his whole conversation that God may have the glory of it—the Psalmist, who was well skilled in this art, seems to point at this often. “Whoso offereth praise glorifieth me: and to him that ordereth his conversation aright will I show the salvation of God” (Psa. 50:23). We cannot better glorify God than by a well-ordered conversation. This is in everything to give thanks indeed. So likewise in Psalm 106:1: “Praise ye the Lord! Hallelujah. O give thanks unto the Lord; for he is good: for his mercy endureth for ever.” There is (1) the 24
doxology; (2) invitation; [and] (3) the reason that we should and why we should give thanks always. But “who can utter the mighty acts of the Lord? who can shew forth all his praise?” (Psa. 106:2b). That is, it is impossible for any man in the world to do this great duty as he should. “Blessed are they that keep judgment, and he that doeth righteousness at all times” (Psa. 106:3). As if he had said, “This indeed is a vast duty; but yet he makes the best essay towards it that sets himself constantly to serve God and keep His commandments.” Now, this no man can do, neither perfectly, but only by the merits and in the strength of Christ. He, making it the desire of his soul to serve the Lord, is accepted though endeavors fall short; and therefore is pronounced blessed. For to be “a doer of the work” by evangelical obedience makes him “blessed in his deed” (Jam 1:25). Labor then to bless the Lord not only in words but in deed, and you shall be blessed.
6. If we would offer thanks to the Lord acceptably, let us do it “in the name of the Lord Jesus” (Eph. 5:20)—Thus are we directed by the Spirit of God, (1) because all mercy comes to us by Him; (2) because nothing is accepted but in Him; [and] (3) because it is one part of His priestly office to receive the prayers and praises of the saints in His golden censer upon the golden altar with much incense (Rev 8:3, 4). “By him therefore let us offer the sacrifice of praise to God continually, that is, the fruit of our lips giving thanks to his name” (Heb. 13:15), alluding to that of the prophet, who calls it “the calves of our lips” (Hos. 14:2). Through Christ’s propitiatory sacrifice our eucharistical sacrifices are accepted, and we must offer these under the gospel “continually.” From Puritan Sermons 1659-1689, Being the Morning Exercises at Cripplegate, Vol 1, reprinted by Richard Owen Roberts, Publisher.