51:17 - The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: a broken and
a contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise.
O, Lord, our God!
Unto Thee would we give thanks!
And we would bring unto Thee, at the close of another season, in which
Thou didst spread the beauty of Thy goodness over all Thy works, a sacrifice
of thanksgiving that is pleasing in Thy sight!
For Thou, Lord, didst lavish Thy goodness upon us, and the benefits
Thou didst bestow upon us are without number. And we would remember
before Thee this day all the abundance of Thy grace and the inestimable
riches of Thy lovingkindness!
As we look about us on this autumn-day and behold the trees of the
woods, now shedding the last remnant of their foliage that recently
clothed them in a rich garment of beautifully variegated green; and
cast a last glance at the fields, now barren, from which we might gather
into our barns a golden harvest of barley and oats, of corn and wheat;
and consider the now stripped branches of the fruit tree and the vine,
a while ago offering us their rich and luscious products; then, O Lord,
shame covereth our faces, because of the doubts and fears, the moments
of distrust and the times of murmuring and rebellion against Thee, that
so frequently caused us to sin against Thy grace in the season that
is now past. How often did we, anxiously and full of worry and care,
lift up our eyes, when day after day the sun rose with golden brightness
and the firmament spread itself over us in clearest blue, and fearfully
scan the horizon, to watch for a promise of rain! How often did we criticize
Thy work, O Lord, and complain that there would be no pasture for our
cattle, no fruit on the vine, no crops in the field, when abundant showers
did not come at our bidding and in our time! And when the clouds did
gather and the rain did descend, refreshing the thirsty creature, how
we grumbled that it was too late! And how soon, when the clouds did
not scatter and were not dispersed according to our schedule, did we
complain that whatever might still have been saved of the harvest now
would drown and rot! How distrustful we were, O God, of Thy faithfulness
and lovingkindness; how ungrateful we were in the midst of abundance;
how small and faithless we revealed ourselves when clouds of trouble
And now, O Lord...
Now, as we have reached the close of this season and count the blessings
Thou didst bestow upon us in Thy grace...
As we consider our benefits and remember Thy works, how Thou didst
do all things well, giving rain and sunshine, cold and heat, causing
the seed to sprout and the trees to bring forth their fruit, making
the season abundantly fruitful and filling our barns with Thy good things;
how Thou didst amply provide for man and beast, giving food to the hungry,
refreshment to the weary, labor for the strong, abundance for all, bread
and wine and oil; how Thou didst help in time of trouble, wert our shield
against the enemy, our comfort in sorrow, our strength in affliction;
how Thou didst reveal Thy Name unto us, always near to help and lead
us, and how Thou didst cause all things to work together for our good...
Lord, our God! Then we must cover our faces with shame. Then, on this
Thanksgiving Day, as we remember our own smallness and weakness and
frequent murmurings and distrust, we dare not lift up our eyes to heaven!
Yet, Lord, we would praise Thee for Thy goodness.
And bring Thee thanks for Thy mercy.
A sacrifice of gratitude!
Lord, our God!
But, O Lord, how shall we?
How can we express our gratitude to Thee in a manner that may meet
with Thy approval?
How shall we appear before Thee in the holiest? What sacrifice, what
gift of thanks shall we bring that is acceptable in Thy sight?
Shall we, on this day of thanksgiving prepare our feasts and rejoice,
filling ourselves with the good things Thou didst bestow upon us in
such rich abundance? And feasting shall we commemorate before Thee how
great were our efforts and how hard we have labored and toiled; how
well we deserved Thy bounties and how wisely we dealt with them? Shall
we bring into remembrance before Thy face our good works, our marvelous
achievements and mighty accomplishments, our charity and brotherly love,
in order to prove how worthy we were, in distinction from many around
us, of the abundance of Thy grace?
How foolish would be the attempt, for we have corrupted our way before
How abominable we would become in Thy sight, before Whom no flesh may
or ever can glory!
Shall we, then, attempt to remunerate Thee? Shall we bring unto Thee
our bulls and goats as a sacrifice of thanksgiving? Shall we take with
us to Thy house our money and our possessions and lay them at Thy feet
as a reward and. recompense for all Thy goodness toward us? Or shall
we pledge ourselves, our talents and power, our time and our service,
to requite Thee for all the wonders of Thy lovingkindness?
But, O Lord, how shall we bring what is not Thine?
How shall we take into Thy sanctuary a. sacrifice of thanks which Thou
didst not first bestow upon us?
Is not all the world Thine? Are not the cattle on a thousand hills
Thy possessions? Is not all the gold and the silver Thine own? Where
shall I search among my possessions for something with which I could
increase Thy riches? Nay more. Even I am Thine. My body and my soul
belong to Thee, for Thou art the Lord my God. And Thou rightfully requirest
of me that I shall love Thee with all my heart and mind and soul and
strength. Thou wilt that I shall serve Thee with all that I am and possess.
And if I should most perfectly comply with all Thy holy precepts and
keep them to the very last, I would still have nothing wherewith to
recompense Thy love and goodness and all the bounties Thou lavishest
upon me. I would still be an unprofitable servant and would have accomplished
merely that which was required of me! How then could we render unto
Thee anything in reward for all Thy benefits toward us?
Lord, our God, how contemptible in Thy sight must be the pretentions
of the creature who would remunerate Thee with Thine own! How displeasing
in Thy sight must be the man who would offer unto Thee gifts of gold
and silver received out of Thine own store!
No, Lord God, Thou art God and Thou alone! All sufficient art Thou
in Thyself and no creature can bring ought to Thee to increase Thy great
Thou art the sole Fountain of all good. An outward gift we cannot bring
to reward Thy kindness.
Lord, we would bring unto Thee a gift of thanks...
But how shall we?
What shall we render unto the Lord?
How shall we appear before Thee so, that Thou wilt not despise us and
cast us off?
What is the sacrifice of thanksgiving that is pleasing in Thy sight
and upon which Thou wilt look down in love and good pleasure?
A broken spirit!
A broken and a contrite heart!
It alone can please Thee, Who hast no respect to that which is merely
external, Who despisest the foolishness of insignificant and sinful
men, as they exalt themselves and would requite Thee for Thy goodness
and grace, Who desirest truth in the inward parts.
A broken spirit! A spirit, cured of the stiff necked pride and haughtiness
of sin! A contrite heart! A heart that is crushed and overwhelmed in
deep humiliation, because of a deep sense of Gods greatness and power,
of His righteousness and holiness, and of our own insignificance and
smallness, our corruption and our guilt.
A heart filled with the sorrow after God!
It alone is the sacrifice, O Lord, that is pleasing to Thee!
We will, then, approach Thee, bringing this sacrifice of thanks!
We will acknowledge that Thou only art God and the Fount of all good.
We will not rejoice in things, but in Thee alone. We will make mention
of Thy Name as we consider our filled barns and our bounteous blessings.
We will count them before Thee, one by one, not forgetting any of all
Thy benefits. And as we count them we will mention the glory of Thy
Name, we will sing of the marvel of Thy grace and of the wonder of Thy
mercy toward us. We will speak of all Thy virtues to Thee. We will mention
all Thy wonders before one another. We will speak of Thy glories and
of all Thy wondrous works in the midst of the world.
Lord, our God, we will do so, in humility and contrition of heart and
For we will acknowledge before Thee how helpless we are without Thee,
and that only when Thou dost provide for us we can live. It is Thou
and Thou alone, we will confess, that didst send the rain and the sunshine,
that didst cause the grass to grow and the seed to sprout; it is Thou
that feedest us out of Thine hand, that providest bread and water, oil
and wine; that carest for us, Thy people, in covenant-grace, that leadest
us in ways of joy and sorrow, of prosperity or adversity; it is Thou
that doest all things well. We will confess, O Lord our God, that it
was not our power or ingenuity, our labor or toil, our wisdom or efforts
that brought even the least of all these things to us. For even these,
our talents and power, our labor and efforts, our wisdom and insight,
were Thine, Thy gifts to us.
Like all Thy helpless creatures, we all wait upon Thee!
And, therefore, we will not boast in Thy presence!
We will humble ourselves before Thee, O Lord our God, on this day of
thanksgiving and confess in dust and ashes our own sin and transgressions,
and that we had forfeited a thousand times all Thy goodness toward us.
For we are guilty in Thy sight. In sin we are conceived and in iniquity
we are shaped, and also in the season, now past, in which Thou didst
display the wonders of Thy grace toward us, we only could increase our
guilt daily. Our transgressions witness against us. Evil we are and
evil we did. And, O God, if Thou shouldest mark transgressions and bring
into remembrance our sins, how could we stand before Thee?
Thus, Lord, we will come to Thee, with nothing of self and all of Thee,
pleading and boasting on nothing we might be or do for Thee, but only
in what Thou hast done for us, clinging, even as we come to Thee to
give Thee thanks and praise, to the accursed tree of our Lord Jesus
Christ, lest we should be cast out from Thy presence.
Thus, Lord, we would come.
For we would bring unto Thee the sacrifice of thanksgiving.
And praise Thy holy Name!
But, O Lord, how shall we?
How shall we be able even to bring to Thee this sacrifice of a broken
spirit, of a broken and a contrite heart?
We are by nature proud, rebellious, haughty.
And even while we were speaking unto Thee words of contrition and humility,
words of sorrow after Thee, we felt how hard and stiff necked we are
by nature, how totally incapable of humbling ourselves before Thy countenance.
Sinful we are and in darkness. Inclined to maintain ourselves over
against Thee, to seek self and our own glory, to forget Thee and trample
the glory of Thy Name in the dust. Even while our mouth would speak
words of contrition and humility, our heart would exalt itself against
Thee. For so deceitful and wicked we are. And we know that Thou demandest
truth in the inward parts. Even as the outward sacrifices of bulls and
goats, or of our vows and gifts could not please Thee and be acceptable
in Thy sight, so Thou hatest the mere word of our lips if our hearts
do not humbly seek Thee.
And, therefore, O Lord God, even here we are helpless.
We have no humble heart to offer unto Thee!
We cannot appear in brokenness of spirit before Thy face! Unless even
this contrite spirit and heart Thou wilt first bestow upon us by Thy
And, therefore, Lord, God, we pray Thee: humble all our pride! Renew
us by the Spirit of our Lord Jesus Christ! Create within us, even now,
a broken heart, filled with sorrow after Thee. Search our hearts and
minds, and see whether there is any remnant of this evil haughtiness
within us, and cleanse us from all our horrible corruption.
Then, Lord, we will come!
Then we will bring to Thee our contrite hearts, Thy gifts to us!
Then we will thank and praise Thy holy Name for all Thy wonders and
the abundance of Thy 1ovingkindness.
And having brought our sacrifice we will thank Thee still.
Praise Thee that we might express our gratitude!
Thank Thee for the offering of thanks we might bring!
And thine be the glory alone!
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By Prof. David J. Engelsma
From the November 1989 edition of the Standard
more articles by this author
A national Day of Thanksgiving notwithstanding, giving thanks is not
everybody's business. Not even giving thanks for food, freedom, and
family is everybody's business. For this intensely spiritual (and rare!)
activity, sound doctrine is necessary. The ground from which thanksgiving
grows is not a fertile field of wheat, but a heart plowed, cultivated,
and watered by the Holy Spirit with the Word of God. Many a farmer in
the United States whose acreage and livestock produced abundantly this
past season will miserably fail to give thanks to God next week (as
many a Canadian counterpart failed to do last month), while some whose
fig trees did not blossom, whose vines were fruitless, whose fields
were barren, and whose flocks diminished rejoice in the Lord God.
Thanksgiving - precious fruit to God of His own labor of salvation!
- depends squarely upon good, solid, Reformed doctrine.
None gives thanks to the true God except the man or woman who believes
creation. "The earth is the LORD's and the fulness thereof" (Psalm
24:1). Rain and sunshine, food and drink, health and job, marriage
and government are creatures of God, made and upheld by the triune God,
as the Belgic Confession says, "for the service of mankind." The Creator
deserves thanks for our use and enjoyment of His bounties. Denying creation,
the evolutionist has no reason to give thanks, and no God to thank;
for him, Thanksgiving Day is a day for self-congratulation, or a day
to keep his fingers crossed. No small part of the iniquity of those
in Reformed churches presently gutting the (Biblical) truth of creation
is their destruction of the Reformed life of thankfulness with regard
to earthly things.
The truth of creation promotes thanksgiving by enabling the believer
freely to use and wholeheartedly to enjoy "the earth and its fulness."
The various elements of earthly life in this world, as creatures of
God - beef, wine, music - are good, not evil; the getting and enjoying
of them - work, business, money, eating, attending the concert - are
lawful, not illicit; the ordinances of human life - marriage, family,
labor, government - are to be received by the Christian, not shunned.
A thankful use and enjoyment of all things earthly is the rule for the
Christian life, not abstinence for them, in which case, of course, there
could be no thanksgiving for them.
The error of a gloomy renunciation of earthly things and "fleshly"
pleasures, parading itself as superior holiness, has plagued the church
down the ages. The apostles had to contend with it, as is evident in
Timothy 4:1ff.: "...seducing spirits ...forbidding to marry, and
commanding to abstain from meats, which God hath created to be received
with thanksgiving of them which believe and know the truth. For every
creature of God is good, and nothing to be refused..." The early church
fell into it, regarding marriage with suspicion and disdain and extolling
the virtue of the ascetic life of the monk. Always there is found in
the church the mentality that is fearful of the enjoyments of earthly
life; that nervously calls the membership to abstain; and that condemns
those who eat and drink as gluttons and winebibbers. Luther resisted
this error; and he did so on the basis of the doctrine of creation:
If our Lord is permitted to create nice, large pike and good Rhine
wine, presumably I may be allowed to eat and drink.
Similarly, Calvin, foe of all intemperance and champion of self-discipline
that he was, refused to honor austerity as the Reformed way of life:
If a man begins to doubt whether he may use linen for sheets, shirts,
handkerchiefs, and napkins, he will afterward be uncertain also about
hemp; finally, doubt will even arise over tow. For he will turn over
in his mind whether he can sup without napkins, or go without a handkerchief.
If any man should consider daintier food unlawful, in the end he will
not be at peace before God, when he eats either black bread or common
victuals, while it occurs to him that he could sustain his body on
even coarser foods. If he boggles at sweet wine, he will not with
clear conscience drink even flat wine, and finally he will not dare
touch water if sweeter and cleaner than other water..." (Institutes,
III, XIX, 7, Battles edition).
No minor matter, this! The error, Paul damns as a "doctrine of devils"
4:l). Teaching the truth that "every creature of God is good' is
the mark of a good minister of Jesus Christ (I
Tim. 4:6). Reformed preachers do well to put the brothers and sisters
in remembrance of this truth on Thanksgiving Day. In so many respects,
the doctrine of creation is fundamental to the Christian's faith and
But the fall of man into sin may not be ignored! Thanksgiving is grounded
also in the doctrine of the fall. Believing the fall, a man lives in
the consciousness of his complete unworthiness to receive any good thing
of the Lord, whether political freedom, or health, or his next breath
of air. Receiving these things, though in the barest amount necessary
to sustain life, he is grateful. Nothing is more destructive to thanksgiving
than the popular, but profane notion that men and women have a right
to the earth and its fulness. Lacking anything, they are resentful;
possessing everything in abundance, they are arrogant; never are they
The sinner's right to this earth is precisely the same as his right
to heaven: the grace of God in the blood of Jesus Christ. Basic to thanksgiving-thanksgiving
for earthly necessities and physical comforts-is the doctrine of redemption.
The atoning death of the Son of God gives me the right, through faith,
to a slice of bread (indeed, to the universe), as it gives me the right
to the Bread of life eternal. The unbeliever has no right to any of
God's creatures. When he eats and drinks, soaks up the sunshine, avails
himself of the protection of the State, or embraces a wife, he is a
thief, stealing the goods of the Owner of all-the Creator-God. Redemption
brings the believer his daily bread with God's blessing, so that he
can eat and drink in good conscience before God. Without this blessing,
not even God's gifts can profit a man, as the Heidelberg Catechism puts
it in Question 125.
Creation, the fall, redemption-in these great truths embraced with
a believing heart is gratitude rooted. From these doctrines the afflicted
saints take courage to join in the giving of thanks. Not all Christians
observe Thanksgiving Day in circumstances of prosperity. The past summer
brought drought to many parts of the United States and Canada. This
has meant disappointment and hardship to Christian farmers and their
families; not only rain and sunshine, but also floods and droughts come
to believer and unbeliever alike. Farmers who began this spring by calling
upon God at the Prayer Day service have lost their investment in seed
and cattle; their labor has been fruitless; their payments on land and
machinery continue. Other men have lost their job, through no fault
of their own, or have seen their business collapse. The burden of debt
and of supporting the family weigh heavily on the man; his wife struggles
to make ends meet.
Can they unite their hearts with the church at the Thanksgiving Day
service to pray, "Father, we thank Thee for harvests and wages and return
on our investments"? Can they lift up their voices to sing, "Give thanks
to God for good is He/ His grace abideth ever/ Each creature's need
He doth supply/ His grace abideth ever"? If thanksgiving has its wellspring
in an abundance of earthly things, they cannot. But because thanksgiving
wells from hearts that believe that the Creator governs all that befalls
them (for creation implies providence) and that He rules their life
in the love that gave Jesus for them, so that drought as well as rain,
poverty as well as riches, adversity as well as prosperity come to the
people of God by the Fatherly hand for their good-because distressed
saints believe this, they can give thanks. Thanksgiving takes form in
prayer and song.
Genuine thanksgiving will be the living of a life: no gluttony, no
drunkenness, no immoderate use of the earth, certainly no idolizing
of the creatures, whether field, or factory, or family; but devotion
of our things and selves to the glory of God, "Who giveth us rightly
all things to enjoy" (I
Tim. 6:17). One specially important aspect of this devotion to God
will be the use of our goods to help the poor. The deacons play a vital
role in the thanksgiving of the church.
"It is a beastly way of eating," Calvin wrote in his commentary on
Timothy 4:5, "when we sit down at table without any prayer, and,
when we have eaten to the full, depart in utter forgetfulness of God."
Thanks be to God for the doctrine that delivers us from such "beastly"
eating, and such "beastly" living!