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An apprehension of the value and importance of them.
That we view the obedience and death of Christ, as the purchasing price of them, and offer our praises to God for them, by him, as mediator. And,
That the external expressions of praise and thanksgiving, be accompanied with sincere, lively and devout affections.
1. A strong sense and thorough conviction of our unworthiness of any favors from God, are necessary in order to the due exercise of praise and thanksgiving.-Without these we shall look upon our enjoyments as our due, and the bestower of them, as acting a just and equitable, but not a merciful and gracious part. Our gratitude can be exercised, only towards a being from whom we receive unmerited kindness; a being, who out of free benignity, does us good; who is beneficent, not only in proportion to our merit, and the services we have done him, but beyond all our claims. This way of doing good, is the proper exercise of mercy; and it is the view and contemplation of mercy, that produce gratitude. We do not thank our fellow-creatures for good things received from them, if they are no more than we deserved at their hands, and might equitably demand: But we feel, if we are not strangely stupid, warm sentiments of gratitude to him who confers an important favor we had no reason to expect, unless from preconceived thoughts of his gracious disposition; a favor quite beyond our deserts, of which we are wholly unworthy. In like manner, it is necessary in order to real gratitude to God, that we view his gifts as wholly free, the effect of mere bounty and grace, of which we are altogether unworthy.-And we may, with greatest reason, entertain such conceptions of them; for we are so far from having any just claim to positive favors from the hand of God, that we deserve positive evils, and severe rebukes; for we have sinned against him, and are become guilty before him: This is the case with us, this is the case with all. "There is not a just man upon earth that doeth good, and sinneth not." Therefore a deep sense of our unworthiness may justly possess our minds, when we consider the favors of God, either public or private; and without this, we cannot give thanks to him.
2. An apprehension of the worth and importance of divine blessings, is requisite in order to our making suitable returns of praise and gratitude for them.
Our gratitude will always be in proportion to the idea formed in our mind, of the favors that produce it: The conceptions we have of their nature and importance, their seasonableness, and the need we stand in of them, will have immediate influence upon our thanksgiving, and be the measure of our praise. If we receive signal benefits from a benefactor, yet, through prejudice or inattention, they appear small in our eye, small will be our thanks for
them; for the real worth of a kindness, any further than that worth is known, produces no effect. Were we so ignorant as not to know a diamond to be of greater value than a shining bubble, our gratitude for the bestowment of them, would be equal. Hence it is, that a vain unthinking sensualist, feels a warmer exercise of gratitude (if what he feels may be called so) for some trifling things, which will feed his corrupt lusts and appetites, than for the most rational, refined, and important blessings. The great and precious favors of Heaven, therefore, can never produce grateful acknowledgments in our hearts, in any suitable manner or degree, unless we inquire into, and gain some proper, though not comprehensive, conceptions of their true value.-But I add,
3. That proper gratitude for the blessings conferred on us, supposes, that we view the obedience and death of Christ, as the price that purchased them, and offer our praises to God for them, by him, as mediator. It is I think, very evident from the word of revelation, that all blessings enjoyed by the children of men, are to be considered as the purchase of Christ; for we have by our sins, forfeited all claim to happiness; nor have we any warrant to suppose, that God could, consistent with his law and justice, confer any favors upon us, without regard had to the satisfaction of our Redeemer. Therefore, the good things which we enjoy, should be viewed, as flowing to us in this way; and should lead our praising, adoring thoughts, to the great Purchaser of them: They should fill our souls with the sincerest sentiments of gratitude for this method of showing mercy to the most unworthy objects, and dispose us to say in the words, and with the temper of the apostle, "Thanks be to God for his unspeakable gift." Nothing will better serve to exalt our ideas of the divine compassion, to heighten our esteem of God's mercies, or raise our notes of praise to a more elevated pitch, than the thought, that by our sins we have rendered ourselves utterly unworthy the least of them; that in order to restore them to us, the Son of God was made in the likeness of sinful flesh-in our room and stead, yielded perfect obedience to the law, which we had violated-died on the cross to expiate the guilt we had contracted-and so made way for the communication of blessings to us. The gratitude of Christians, should always be attended with, and animated by, such meditations as these. And whenever we render praise to God for his goodness, it should be offered by Jesus Christ, the one only mediator between God and So the word of God directs, "Whatsoever ye do in word or in deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God, and the Father by him." Col. iii. 17.-" By him therefore let us offer the sacrifice of praise to GoD continually-giving thanks to his name." Heb. xiii. 15. But I proceed to say,
4. The external expressions of praise and thanksgiving, must
be accompanied with sincere, lively and devout affections. seems strongly intimated in the devout language of our text: "Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits.” q. d. Rouse, O my soul, and all the powers of it, awake to gratitude -shake off sloth and indolence, and be not insensible of thine obligations to God.-Let a lively sense of the divine goodness warm my heart, and animate every faculty to praise-I cannot, I will not content myself, with serving God, who is an infinitely kind and beneficent spirit, barely, by bodily exercises which profit little, by external pretences to gratitude, or words of praise, suggested by a lively fancy, and uttered by flattering lips. My thanksgiving shall flow from a heart deeply impressed with a sense of divine goodness, and inflamed with divine love-Be this my sacrifice, and it shall be acceptable in the sight of God, such as he will account himself honored by.'
Now it will appear evident, that it is only by such sacrifices of praise that God is well pleased, if we consider the nature of God, and his declarations: and the nature, and properties of external pretensions to gratitude.
God is a being of unlimited knowledge, and so perfectly acquainted with the temper of our souls, and even our thoughts afar off. He is a being of integrity and impartiality, without hypocrisy ; "just and right is he:" He must therefore hate all hypocrisy, and false show. He must be far from being pleased with what we may call, agreeable external appearances, unless attended with a sincere heart, and devout affections.-For "the Lord seeth not as man seeth, for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the Lord looketh on the heart." 1 Sam. xvi. 7. Love to God is the sum and essence of the first table of the law; and without it, the highest pretences to gratitude for divine favors, are but as sacrifices without fire to enkindle them. How can it be, but that the Lord, who is always acquainted with the inmost sentiments of our souls, should be even sorely displeased, when, in return for the benefits he confers upon us, out of mere love, pity, and condescension, we offer him only a formal God I thank thee, without having our hearts touched with a sense of his wonderful love, his admirable grace and condescension?
There is much vanity in such thanksgivings, there is a show without reality, there is something that looks like an attempt to deceive the omniscient God; what then can be expected, but that they should be as a stink in his nostrils, yes, an abomination to him? But not so the praises of the upright, for they are his delight.
There may be a speculative knowledge of our dependence on divine bounty for all the good things we enjoy, and a verbal acknowledgment of our obligations to our supreme Benefactor,
where there is no real gratitude. The truly grateful man, when praising God, hath such a view of his mercy, as excites sincere love to him, and an earnest desire to advance his honor and glory.
True thankfulness to God is also distinct from that gladness, vain mirth, joy and levity, which the most irreligious may experience at the reception of divine favors.-It is a serious, rational and devout exercise of the mind. The truly grateful soul contemplates none of God's attributes, with more seriousness, reverence and godly fear, than his mercy ;* "He feareth the Lord and his goodness:" And it hath a very powerful influence upon his moral conduct: serves to make him strict and cheerful in his obedience to the divine commands, and very watchful against every sin. But what I have said must suffice for a description of the nature of true praise and thanksgiving to God. I am,
III. Thirdly, To show the propriety of recollecting and contemplating the favors which God bestows upon us, to excite us to, and animate us in, the duty of thanksgiving" Forget not all his benefits."
This is evidently necessary in order to maintain a grateful temper of soul; for our gratitude (as I observed before) will be in proportion to the sense we have of divine favors. If we do not meditate upon the worth of the blessings we receive from God, our need of them, and the benevolence of the Giver, we shall be strangers to true thankfulness.
Among the corrupt tempers which sin hath brought upon us, ingratitude is not the least.-We are too apt to be unmindful of the God who made us, who upholds, feeds and supports us: too apt to indulge an insensibility of the numberless favors he confers upon us; and so give him occasion to complain of us, as of Israel: "I have nourished and brought up children, and they have rebelled against me. The ox knoweth his owner, and the ass his master's crib But Israel doth not know, my people doth not consider." Isa. i. 2, 3.-What a shame and reproach to human nature! That the dull ox, and stupid ass, should pay regard to the hand that feeds them, and show some tokens of gratitude; when man, the noblest work of God in this lower world, is forgetful of the gracious Author of his being and support, and lets the daily kindnesses of Heaven dispensed to him, pass unnoticed.
Or if we are not wholly unmindful of the kindnesses of Providence, yet are we not in danger of terminating our views, short of the original source of them? In danger of looking upon the productions of the earth, as owing, only to a natural property in the
"Thou most indulgent, most tremendous Power!
Still more tremendous, for thy wond'rous love!"—Dr. Young.
earth, to give seed to the sower, and bread to the eater? In danger of ascribing success and prosperity in our civil or military affairs, to our own industry, prudence or courage, without extending our grateful meditations to the Great First Cause of all things; who causes the earth to yield its increase; who gives us wisdom, strength and prudence, to manage our affairs to advantage; whose invisible hand directs, governs, and manages all the operations of nature, all the scenes of Providence?
To meditate frequently on the goodness of God, to recollect any signal displays of his mercy to us, and to endeavor to keep in our minds a fresh remembrance of them, is a duty recommended by the example of David, and many other illustrious saints, of whom we read in the word of God.
God enjoined some particular observances upon the children of Israel, after their deliverance out of Egyptian bondage, to prevent their forgetting the wonders he wrought for them, to excite and continue their gratitude to him therefor; and methinks it might have a happy tendency to improve us in love and thankfulness to God, and to influence us to a suitable manifestation hereof in our lives, if we often called to mind divine favors, and dwelt with due attention on the greatness, and number of them. This is one special part of the saints' employment in heaven; and how reasonable an exercise for us here, where the mercies of God are renewed upon us every moment! Something of this should be our daily practice, and it may with propriety be done more largely and particularly at some set seasons. Which leads me to, and will justify me in, what I proposed further to offer, viz.
IV. Fourthly, To apply what has been said to the occasion of the present day, by mentioning some of the smiles of Providence in the course of the year past, which call for our thankful acknowledgment at this time; and pressing upon you all, the duty of praise and thanksgiving.
I would gladly assist your grateful meditations, in recounting the favors of God: But where shall we begin! How shall we attempt to speak of the loving kindness of the Lord, or show forth his praise? Shall we join with David, in the text, and following verses, and endeavor after the same sense of God's mercy, which appears through his animated notes of praise? "Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits. Who forgiveth all thine iniquities Who healeth all thy diseases. Who redeemeth thy life from destruction: Who crowneth thee with loving kindness, and tender mercies. Who satisfieth thy mouth with good things: So that thy youth is renewed as the eagle's. The Lord executeth righteousness and judgment for all that are oppressed. The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and plenteous in mercy.