Article of the Month
by Thomas Manton
“At midnight I will rise to give thanks unto thee, because of thy righteous judgments”—Psalm 119:62.
DOCTRINE 1: ONE SPECIAL DUTY WHEREIN THE PEOPLE OF GOD SHOULD BE MUCH EXERCISED IS THANKSGIVING.
This duty is often pressed upon us: “Let us offer the sacrifice of praise continually, which is the fruit of our lips” (Heb. 13:15), giving thanks unto His name. There are two words there used, praise and thanksgiving. Generally taken, they are the same; strictly taken, thanksgiving differeth from praise. They agree that we use our voice in thanksgiving, as we do also in praise, for they are both said to be the fruit of our lips. What is in the prophet Hosea, “calves of our lips” (14:2), is in the Septuagint, “the fruit of our lips.” And they both agree that they are a sacrifice offered to our supreme Benefactor or that they belong to the thank-offerings of the gospel. But they differ in that thanksgiving belongeth to benefits bestowed on ourselves or others; but in relation to us, praise [belongs] to any excellency whatsoever. Thanksgiving may be in word or deed; praise in words only.
Well then, thanksgiving is a sensible acknowledgment of favors received or an expression of our sense of them, by word and work, to the praise of the bestower. The object of it is the works of God as beneficial unto us, or to those who are related to us, or in whose good or ill we are concerned, as public persons magistrates: “I exhort, therefore, that, first of all, supplication, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks be made for all men; for kings, and for all that are in authority” (1 Tim. 2:1, 2); pastors of the church: “You also helping together by prayer for us, that for the gift bestowed upon us by the means of many persons, thanks may be given by many on our behalf” (2 Cor. 1:11); or our kindred according to the flesh or some bond of Christian duty: “Rejoice with them that do rejoice” (Rom. 12:15).
1. The necessity of being much and often in thanksgiving will appear by these two considerations: Because God is continually beneficial to us, blessing and delivering His people every day and by new mercies giveth us new matter of praise and thanksgiving: “Blessed be the Lord, who daily loadeth us with benefits, even the God of our salvation. Selah” (Psa. 68:19). He hath continually favored us and preserved us and poured His benefits upon us. The mercies of every day make way for songs which may sweeten our rest in the night; and His giving us rest by night and preserving us in our sleep, when we could not help ourselves, giveth us songs in the morning. And all the day long we find new matter of praise: our whole work is divided between receiving and acknowledging.
Some mercies are so general and beneficial that they should never be forgotten but remembered before God every day, such as redemption by Christ: “He hath made his wonderful works to be remembered” (Psa. 111:4). We must daily be blessing God for Jesus Christ: “Thanks be unto God for his unspeakable gift” (2 Cor. 9:15), [which] I understand [to be] of His grace by Christ. We should ever be thus blessing and praising Him; for the keeping of His great works in memory is the foundation of all love and service to God.
2. It is a profitable duty. The usefulness of thanksgiving appeareth with respect to faith, love, and obedience. With respect to faith. Faith and praise live and die together: if there be faith, there will be praise; and if there be praise, there will be faith. If faith, there will be praise, for faith is a bird that can sing in winter: “In God I will praise his word, in God I have put my trust; I will not fear what flesh can do unto me” (Psa. 56:4); and verse 10, “In God I will praise his word, in the Lord I will praise his word.” His word is satisfaction enough to gracious hearts; if they have His word, they can praise Him beforehand for the grounds of hope before they have enjoyment. As Abraham, when he had not a foot in the land of Canaan, yet built an altar and offered sacrifices of thanksgiving because of God’s grant and the future possession in his posterity (Gen. 13:18). Then, whether He punisheth or pitieth, we will praise Him and glory in Him. Faith entertaineth the promise before performance cometh, not only with confidence, but with delight and praise. The other part is, if praise, there will be faith; that is, supposing the praise real; for it raiseth our faith to expect the like again, having received so much grace already. If I have found Him a God hearing prayer, “I will call upon him as long as I live” (Psa. 116:2). Praise doth but provide matter of trust, and represents God to us as a storehouse of all good things and a sure foundation for dependence.
The great respect it hath to love. Praise and thanksgiving are acts of love, [which] cherish and feed love. They are acts of love to God; for if we love God, we will praise Him. Prayer is a work of necessity, but praise a mere work of duty and respect to God. We would exalt Him more in our own hearts and in the hearts of others: “I will hope continually, and will yet praise thee more and more” (Psa. 71:14). We pray because we need God, and we praise Him because we love Him. Self-love will put us upon prayer, but the love of God upon praise and thanksgiving; then we return to give Him the glory. Those that seek themselves will cry to Him in their distress; but those that love God cannot endure that He should be without His due honor. In heaven, when other graces and duties cease, which belong to this imperfect state, [such as] faith and repentance, yet love remaineth. And because love remaineth, praise remaineth, which is our great employment in the other world. So it feedeth and cherisheth love, for every benefit acknowledged is a new fuel to keep in the fire: “I will love thee, O Lord, my strength” (Psa. 18:1); “I love the LORD, because he hath heard my voice and my supplications” (Psa. 116:1); “That thou mayest love the Lord, who is thy life, and the length of thy days” (Deut. 30:20).The soul by praise is filled with a sense of the mercy and goodness of God, so that hereby He is made more amiable to us.
With respect to submission and obedience to His laws and providence.
(1.) His laws. The greatest bond of duty upon the fallen creature is gratitude. Now grateful we cannot be without a sensible and explicit acknowledgment of His goodness to us. The more frequent and serious in that, the more doth our love constrain us to devote ourselves to God: “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present yourselves a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service” (Rom. 12:1). To live to Him: “For the love of Christ constraineth us, because we thus judge, that if one died for all, then were all dead, and that he died for all, that they which live should not henceforth live unto themselves, but unto him which died for them, and rose again” (2 Cor. 5:14, 15). And therefore praise and thanksgiving [are] greater helps to the spiritual life than we are usually aware of; for working in us a sense of God’s love and an actual remembrance of His benefits (as it will do if rightly performed), it doth make us shy of sin [and] more careful and solicitous to do His will. Shall we offend so good a God? God’s love to us is a love of bounty; our love to God is a love of duty, when we grudge not to live in subjection to Him: “His commandments are not grievous” (1 John 5:3).
(2.) Submission to His providence. There is a querulous and sour spirit which is natural to us, always repining and murmuring at God’s dealing and wasting and vexing our spirits in heartless complaints. Now this fretting, quarrelling, impatient humor, which often showeth itself against God even in our prayers and supplications, is quelled by nothing so much as by being frequent in praises and thanksgivings: “The Lord hath given, and the Lord hath taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord” (Job 1:21). It is an act of holy prudence in the saints, when they are under any trouble, to strain themselves to the quite contrary duty of what temptations and corruptions would drive them unto. When the temptation is laid to make us murmur and swell at God’s dealings, we should on the contrary bless and give thanks. And therefore the Psalmist doth so frequently sing praises in the saddest condition. There is no perfect defeating the temptation but by studying matter of praise and to set seriously about the duty. So Job 2:10: “Shall we receive good at the hand of God, and shall we not receive evil?” Shall we receive so many proofs of the love of God and [yet] quarrel at a few afflictions that come from the same hand and rebel against His providence when He bringeth on some needful trouble for our trial and exercise? As we receive good things cheerfully and contentedly, so must we receive evil things submissively and patiently.
3. It is amost delightful work to remember the many thousand mercies God hath bestowed on the church, ourselves, and friends. To remember His gracious word and all the passages of His providence; is this burdensome to us? “Praise ye the LORD: for it is good to sing praises unto our God; for it is pleasant; and praise is comely” (Psa. 147:1); and “Praise the LORD; for the LORD is good: sing praises unto his name; for it is pleasant” (Psa. 135:3). No profit so great as spiritual; is not to be measured by the good things of this world or a little pelf or the great mammon, which so many worship. But spiritual and divine benefit, which tendeth to make us spiritually better, more like God, more capable of communion with Him, that is true profit. It is an increase of faith, love, and obedience. So for pleasure and delight—that which truly exhilarateth the soul [and] begets upon us a solid impression of God’s love—that is the true pleasure. Carnal pleasures are unwholesome for you . . . but this holy delight that resulteth from the serious remembrance of God and setting forth His excellences and benefits is safe and healthful and doth cheer us, but [does] not hurt us. Means or directions: Heighten all the mercies you have by all the circumstances necessary to be considered. [First, consider] the nature and kind of them: spiritual, eternal blessings [come] first. The greatest mercies deserve greatest acknowledgment: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ” (Eph. 1:3)—[i.e.], Christ’s Spirit, pardon of sins, heaven, the way of salvation known, accepted, and the things of the world as subordinate helps. “Notwithstanding in this rejoice not, that the spirits are subject to you, but rather rejoice because your names are written in heaven” (Luke 10:20). Then consider your sense in the [absence] of mercies: what high thoughts had you then of them? The mercies are the same when you have them and when you want them; only your apprehensions are greater. If affectionately begged, they must be affectionately acknowledged; else you are a hypocrite either in the supplication or gratulation.
Consider the person giving: God—so high and glorious! A small remembrance from a great prince—no way obliged, no way needing me, to whom I can be no way profitable—a small kindness melts us: a gift of a few pounds, a little parcel of land. Do I court him and observe him? There is less reason why God should abase Himself to look upon us or concern Himself in us: “Who humbleth himself to behold the things that are in heaven, and in the earth!” (Psa. 113:6). We have all things from Him.
Consider the person receiving: so unworthy: “I am not worthy of the least of all the mercies and of all the truth which thou hast showed unto thy servant” (Gen. 32:10). “Who am I, O Lord God, and what is my house, that thou hast brought me hitherto? (2 Sam. 7:18).
Consider the season: our greatest extremity is God’s opportunity. “In the mount of the Lord it shall be seen” (Gen. 22:14), when [Abraham’s] knife was at the throat of his son. “We had the sentence of death in ourselves, that we should not trust in ourselves, but in God, which raiseth the dead, who delivered us from so great a death, and doth deliver; in whom we trust, that he will yet deliver us” (2 Cor. 1:9, 10).
Consider the end and fruit of His mercy: it is to manifest His special love to us and engage our hearts to Himself: “Thou hast in love to my soul delivered it from the pit of corruption” (Isa. 38:17), or “Thou hast loved me from the grave.” Otherwise God may give things in anger.
Consider the means by which He brought them about, when unlikely, weak, insufficient, unexpected in themselves. The greatest matters of providence hang many times upon small wires: a lie brought Joseph. into prison, and a dream fetched him out; he was advanced, and Jacob’s family fed. Consider the number of His mercies: “How precious also are thy thoughts unto me, O God! How great is the sum of them!” (Psa. 139:17)—the many failings pardoned, comforts received, dangers prevented, deliverances vouchsafed. How He began with us before all time, conducted us in time, and hath been preparing for us a happiness which we shall enjoy when time shall be no more.
From “Sermon LXX” included in Several Sermons upon Psalm 119 in The Complete Works of Thomas Manton, Vol 7, reprinted by Maranatha Publishers.
Thomas Manton (1620-1677): Non-Conformist Puritan preacher and Oxford graduate who preached until forbidden by the Act of Uniformity of 1662. From 1662 to 1670 he preached in his own house, but was arrested and imprisoned for six months. He later became the preacher for London merchants in Pinners’ Hall. James Ussher called him “one of the best preachers in England.” Born in Lawrence- Lydiat, county of Somerset, England.
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