Why All Should be Thankful - 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. The lesson, which the Holy Ghost would have us learn in the text, is thus summed up: it is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning Christians that in everything they give thanks; that they be thankful, as our word is more proper to our purpose.
For though we have nothing of our own that is good to give God but thanks, yet neither do we properly give Him that, seeing both our giving and the right manner of doing it are of the Lord (1 Cor. 4:7; 1 Chr. 29:14; Phil. 2:13). Our continual praying shows that we are always beggars, and our continual thanksgiving shows us always debtors. Our thanks then, indeed, is the rebound of mercy heavenward, whence it came, and a holy reflection of the warm sun-beams of God’s benefits shining on us.
QUERY I: WHO ARE OR OUGHT TO BE THANKFUL?
ANSWER: The Lord hath a return and tribute of praise due to Him from all creatures. David names animate and inanimate creatures and bids them sing hallelujah (Psa. 147), as if all the world were but one concert of musical instruments tuned to God’s glory. But He looks for it principally from men and angels; from all men.
It is charged as an inexcusable sin, incapable of any apology, upon natural men, “that when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful” (Rom. 1:21).
The law of thankfulness is written upon the hearts of Heathens as may be proved at large, not only from heathen instances, but [from] Scripture also: as the Philistines, when they had taken Samson and killed Saul (Jud. 16:24; 1Sa 31:9); and Belshazzar, who “praised the gods of silver, and gold, of brass, iron, wood, and stone” (Dan. 5:23); which although it be enough to shame unthankful Christians, yet it signified little. For all wicked men, though they have cause, yet they have no heart to this work, at least not often nor at all as it should be.
The persons engaged and most bound to this duty are the Thessalonians that believed and all the faithful upon the same account.
THANKFULNESS DESCRIBED: all the service we perform to God—worship, the duties of both Tables, yea, and the whole work of our Christian obedience in a holy conversation—be but a return of thankfulness unto God. Yet thanksgiving, in the text and doctrine, is taken more strictly for a particular part of God’s worship distinct from prayer, which sometimes includes praise and thanks too, by which we render due praise to God for all or any of His benefits promised or bestowed, and that with our hearts, lips, and lives.
Some affirm that much of religion is seen in piety to parents, observance to our betters, and thankfulness to our benefactors. God is indeed all these to us. Yet the proper notion of our thankfulness refers to God as our benefactor, [and] every benefit from God makes the receiver a debtor. Thankfulness is rather the confessing of our debt than the payment of it; and forasmuch as we are bound always to be thankful, it doth acknowledge we are always beholden to God and always insolvent.
Now, a child of God is bound to be thankful to God above all men because,
1. He is more competent than any other—by acts of reason and grace too. All that the Scripture speaks as to the duty of thankfulness may be referred to these heads: 1. to know and acknowledge the Lord’s mercies; 2. to remember them, that is, to record and commemorate them; 3. to value and admire them; and 4. to blaze and proclaim them. In all which a gracious soul is much more competent than a mere natural man, though endued with quick understanding, strong memory, and great eloquence. For the Spirit of God hath enlightened [the believer’s] soul, and taught him this lesson: he is principled for it; he is a well-tuned instrument; his heart boileth with good matter; and his “tongue is the pen of a ready writer,” as David speaks on this occasion, when he spake of the praises of the king in his “Song of loves” (Psa. 45:1).
This Spirit of God in a thankful soul is as the breath of the organ, without which the pipes make no sound; yea, as the breath of the trumpeter, by which the trumpet gives a certain and melodious sound.
This is [what] makes that noble evangelical spirit, yea, that heavenly angelical spirit in Christians. “Be not drunk with wine, wherein is excess; but be filled with the Spirit; speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns; giving thanks always for all things unto God and the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Eph. 5:18-20), [which shows] that what wine doth in poets and good-fellows—it makes them sing and roar out catches by which they make music to the devil— so the Spirit of God in saints is the principle of all true thankfulness and holy joy towards God. And indeed there was a very gracious frame of spirit this way in primitive Christians.
2. He is more concerned than any other—as having received more than others. “Unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required” (Luke 12:48), [meaning] a proportion of duty [is due] according to the degree of every portion of mercy, whether you consider what is given or what is forgiven you. 2
There are two things which every gracious soul will acknowledge: “No man,” saith he, “in the world hath deserved less of God than I; and none hath received more of God than I. How much then, am I concerned to be thankful!”
I have read of a holy man, that was seen once standing still with tears in his eyes and looking up to heaven. And being asked by one that passed by why he did so, said, “I admire the Lord’s mercy to me that did not make me a toad,” that vermin being then casually at his feet.
The least common mercy affects a gracious soul that knows [he deserves] nothing but misery. Mephibosheth “bowed himself, and said, What is thy servant, that thou shouldest look upon such a dead dog as I am?” (2 Sam. 9:8), when David had told him he should have his lands and eat bread at his table. When the Lord spares our lives and gives us common mercies, we must admire and adore His goodness.
QUERY II: WHY AND UPON WHAT GROUNDS ARE CHRISTIANS BOUND TO GIVE THANKS IN EVERYTHING?
Answer 1: It is the will of God in Christ Jesus. The will of God in Christ Jesus is the clearest rule and the highest obligation to any soul for the performance of any duty. O that men would nowadays study more, act by, and hold fast to this rule, [asking] conscience in the performance of every duty, “Is this the will of God in Christ Jesus?”
It was meet that this duty of thankfulness should be pressed and practiced under the Gospel because it argues a spiritual and noble frame of soul, the highest pitch of grace, which is a true Gospel-frame.
David, under the Old Testament, had a New Testament heart in this particular: his Psalms, which were all penned upon emergent occasions, are all tehilla and tephilla, “prayer and praise.” His heart and harp were so tuned to the praises of God, to “Psalms of Degrees,” to “Hallelujahs,” that some have thought the Lord is praised with those psalms in heaven. Yet is it promised under the Gospel, that “he that is feeble among them at that day shall be as David” (Zech. 12:8), which some understand as to praise and thanksgivings upon the account of Gospel grace.
More punctually,3 “this is the will of God in Christ Jesus,” that is, Jesus Christ shows us the duty of thankfulness both by pattern and by precept; for He was not only ushered into the world with songs of thanksgiving by angels, by Zachary, by Mary, by Simeon, by the shepherds (Luke 1:46, 68; 2:13, 14, 20, 29); but the Lord Jesus Himself was a great Pattern and Precedent of thankfulness all His life long and in this also was a true Son of David. He thanked God frequently and fervently: “I thank thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them unto babes” (Matt. 11:25), when His disciples preached and cast out devils. Thus also when He raised Lazarus: “Father, I thank thee that thou hast heard me” (John 11:41). When He was to eat common bread, He blessed it with giving of thanks (Mark 8:6), much more consecrated bread (Luke 22:19). Thus was He a pattern of thankfulness: He did “in every thing give thanks.”
In like manner we find Him reproving the nine lepers for their unthankfulness (Luke 17:17, 18), which shows that He held out thankfulness as a duty. Personally, He gave a pattern and precept for it.
Now, though this were enough to show it [to be] “the will of God in Christ Jesus,” yet these words reach further, namely, to show that it is the strain of the Gospel in the Apostles’ doctrine and practice. For they through their commission and the great measure of God’s Spirit in them declared “the will of God in Christ Jesus.” “They worshipped him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy: and were continually in the temple, praising and blessing God. Amen” (Luke 24:52, 53).
What the Apostle Paul’s spirit was in this, by whom so much of “the will of God in Christ Jesus” is revealed and penned, I need not rehearse; for all his Epistles breathe out the praises of God’s grace.
Answer 2: Thanks and praise is the homage we owe to God for all we have and are— therefore, in everything to be rendered. We live precariously and at mercy: “But by the grace of God I am what I am” (1 Cor. 15:10). God in His sovereignty might have left us in the womb of nothing and never made us have crushed us into nothing as soon as He made us, for “hath not the potter power over the clay?” (Rom. 9:21) Every moment we depend on Him and hold all from Him (Acts 17:28); His power over us is arbitrary and infinite; to this sovereign God we owe all and therefore our thanks: “Who hath first given to him, and it shall be recompensed unto him again? For of him, and through him, and to him, are all things: to whom be glory for ever. Amen” (Rom. 11:35, 36). For not considering this, Belshazzar smarted: “The God in whose hand thy breath is, and whose are all thy ways, hast thou not glorified” (Dan. 5:23). The birds that lift up their bills at every drop they take may mind us of this duty. Common and constant mercies deserve special thanks, because constant.
ANSWER 3: Christians must give thanks in every thing because they have spiritual mercies innumerable and invaluable superadded to common mercies—special and spiritual mercies in Christ Jesus: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly things in Christ” (Eph. 1:3). “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, which according to his abundant mercy hath begotten us again unto a lively hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance incorruptible” (1 Pet. 1:3, 4). “Blessed be God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies, and the God of all comfort; who comforteth us in all our tribulation” (2 Cor. 1:3, 4).
The decreeing and sending of Jesus Christ to and for poor sinners; the opening a fountain of grace in and by Him; the making and ratifying a covenant of grace, whereof the Lord Jesus is the Angel and Mediator; the precious promises, both absolute and conditional, thereupon; with all other choice Gospel-privileges of grace and glory, as far as God’s all- sufficiency, and the infinite merit, satisfaction, and righteousness of the Son of God can reach: this deserves a suitable proportion of thanks and blessing from us both here and in heaven. “Because thy loving-kindness is better than life, my lips shall praise thee” (Psa. 63:3), that is, I will render special and continual praise for this above all other things.
From Puritan Sermons 1659-1689, Being the Morning Exercises at Cripplegate, Vol 1, reprinted by Richard Owen Roberts, Publisher.
William Cooper was a Puritan divine of whom little is known. He published several sermons, some appearing in Annesly’s Morning Exercises of Cripplegate and annotated the book of Daniel in Poole’s Commentary.