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Thanksgiving for Mercies Received - by John Flavel (1630–1691)

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How do Christian’s respond to God’s eternal mercy in their providences?

“They shall call the people unto the mountain; there they shall offer sacrifices of righteousness: for they shall suck of the abundance of the seas, and of treasures hid in the sand”—Deuteronomy 33:19.

Doctrine: That it is the special duty of seamen, when God returns them to their habitations in peace, thankfully to acknowledge and bless His name, for all the preservations and mercies they have received from His hand. These are mercies indeed which are obtained from God by prayer, and returned to Him again by praise. When we have received our mercies God expects His praises. After the Psalmist had opened the hazards and fears of seamen upon the stormy ocean, and the goodness of God in bringing them to their desired haven (Psa. 107:30), He presently calls upon them for this duty, “O that men would praise the Lord for his goodness, and for his wonderful works to the children of men!” (107:31) O that men would! Why, how is it imaginable they should not? He hath the heart of a beast, not of a man, that would not. Did I say the heart of a beast? Give me that word again. There is a kind of gratitude even in beasts to their benefactors: “The ox knoweth his owner, and the ass his master’s crib” (Isa. 1:3).

1. The nature of the duty needs opening, for few understand what it is. Alas! It is another manner of thing than a customary, formal, cold “God be thanked.” Now if we search into the nature of this duty, we shall find that whoever undertakes this angelic work must, First, be a heedful observer of the mercies he receives. This is fundamental to the duty. Where no observations of mercies have been made, no praises for them can be returned. God was never honored by His unobserved mercies. When David had opened the providences of God to the several degrees and orders of men in various administrations and called upon them distinctly to praise God for them, he adds in the close of all, “Whoso is wise, and will observe these things, even they shall understand the lovingkindness of the LORD” (Psa. 107:43). It is God’s charge against Israel, “She did not know that I gave her corn, and wine, and oil, and multiplied her silver” (Hos. 2:8), i. e., she did not observe and take notice of these mercies as coming from My hand, but only looked at the next cause. Thus it is with many; they think not upon their own mercies. Others can observe them, but they cannot; they can quickly observe what troubles befall them, but take little notice of their own mercies. Such men can never be thankful.

Secondly, the thankful man must not only observe what mercies he hath and from whom they come; but must particularly consider them in their natures, degrees, seasons, and manner of conveyance. There is much of God’s glory and our comfort lost for want of this. “The works of the Lord are great, sought out of all them that have pleasure therein” (Psa. 111:2). And indeed, there is no employment in all the world that yields more pleasure to a gracious soul, than the anatomizing of providence doth. How sweet is it to observe the mutual respects, coincidences, and introductive occasions of our mercies; every minute circumstance hath its weight and value here. He hath little pleasure in his meat that swallows it whole without chewing.

Thirdly, the thankful person must duly estimate and value his mercies. It is impossible that man can be thankful for mercies he little esteems. Israel could not praise God for that angels’ food with which He fed them, whilst they despised it in saying, “But now our soul is dried away: there is nothing at all, beside this manna, before our eyes” (Num. 11:6). And surely it shows the great corruption of our nature, that those things which should raise the value of mercies with us cause us the more to slight them: yet thus it falls out. The commonness or long-continuance of mercies with us, which should endear them the more and every day increase our obligation to God, causes them to seem but cheap and small things. And therefore doth God so often threaten them, yea, and remove them, that their worth and excellency may thereby be acknowledged.

Fourthly, the thankful person must faithfully record His mercies; else God cannot have His due praise for them. “Bless the LORD, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits” (Psa. 103:2). Forgotten mercies bear no fruit: a bad memory in this case makes a barren heart and life. I confess the mercies of God are such a multitude, that a memory of brass cannot retain them. “But as for me, I will come into thy house in the multitude of thy mercy,” saith David (Psa. 5:7). They are called “showers of blessings” (Ezek. 34:26). And as it is impossible to recount all our mercies, [so it is impossible] to number the drops of rain that fall in a shower! Nevertheless, it hath been the pious care and endeavor of the people of God to preserve and perpetuate His mercies by using all the helps to memory they could. Therefore, they have kept registers (Exo. 17:14); endited Psalms, to bring to remembrance, [as the title of] Psalm 70; denominated places from the mercies received there. Thus Jacob called the place where he found so much mercy, Bethel. Hagar named the well, where God unexpectedly relieved her, Beer-lahai-roi, the well of Him that liveth and looketh upon me (Gen. 16:13, 14).

They have stamped the mercies upon the days in which they received them. Thus the Jews called those days in which God wrought their deliverance, Purim, after the name Pur, signifying the lot Haman had cast for their lives (Esth. 9:26). Yea, they have called their mercies upon their children (1 Sam. 1:20). Thus thankful souls have striven to recognize their mercies, that God might not lose the praise or themselves the comfort of them.

Fifthly, the thankful person must be suitably affected with the mercies he receives. It is not a speculative, but an affectionate remembrance that becomes us. Then God hath His glory, when the sense of His mercies melts our hearts into holy joy, love, and admiration. Thus David sits down before the Lord like a man astonished at His goodness to Him: “And what can David say more? for thou Lord knowest thy servant” (2 Sam. 7:20). The mercies of God have made the saints’ hearts leap for joy within them: “Thou, Lord, hast made me glad through thy works; therefore will I triumph in the works of thy hands” (Psa. 92:4). Mercies are not mercies, deliverances are not deliverances to us, if we that receive them are not glad of them.

Sixthly, the thankful person must order his conversation suitably to the engagements that his mercies have put him under. When we have said all, it is the life of the thankful, that is the very life of thankfulness. Obedience and service are the only real manifestations of gratitude. “Whoso offereth praise glorifieth me: and to him that ordereth his conversation aright will I shew the salvation of God” (Psa. 50:23). Set down this for an everlasting truth, that God was never praised and honored by an abused mercy. God took it ill from Hezekiah: “But Hezekiah rendered not again according to the benefit done unto him; for his heart was lifted up: therefore there was wrath upon him, and upon Judah and Jerusalem” (2 Chro. 32:25). He that is truly thankful will say as David, “What shall I render to the Lord for all his benefits?” (Psa. 116:12). We then glorify God with His mercies when we employ them to right ends, when we thankfully take our own share of comfort from them, receiving them with thanksgiving as from the hand of a father. Mr. Swinnock tells of a young man, who lying upon his sick-bed, was always calling for meat. But as soon as it was brought him, he shook and trembled dreadfully at the sight of it, and so continued till it was taken away; and before his death acknowledged God’s justice, [because] in his health he ordinarily received his meat without thanksgiving.

Use all God’s mercies with thankfulness; God will remember them in fury, who forget Him in His favors.

And think not what God bestows upon you is wholly for your own use; but honor God with your mercies by clothing the naked and feeding the hungry, especially such as are godly. This is a due improvement of your estates. Thus you may make to yourselves friends of the mammon of unrighteousness (Luke 16:1-9). Ah, how little do we consider what praise, what glory we may occasion from others this way to the name of God! Thus honor the Lord with your substance; look upon all you have as your Master’s talents, for which you must give an account: use and employ them for God that you may give up your account with joy. Then you will show yourselves thankful indeed. Thus you see what is included in real thankfulness. O, it is another matter than we take it to be.

From “The Seaman’s Return,” a sermon originally included in The Seaman’s Companion: Wherein the Mysteries of Providence, relation to Seamen, are opened; their Sins and Dangers discovered; their Duties pressed, and their several Troubles and Burdens relieved in The Works of John Flavel, Vol 5, reprinted by Banner of Truth.

John Flavel (c. 1630-1691): English Presbyterian and minister at Dartmouth, Devonshire, England. Voluminous writer of Evangelical works such as The Fountain of Life Opened and Keeping the Heart. His vivid word pictures resulted in memorable, lifechanging sermons. One of his hearers said “that person must have a very soft head, or a very hard heart, or both, that could sit under his ministry unaffected.” Born at Bromagrove, Worcester, England.

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