“O give thanks unto the Lord, for He is good,
because His mercy endureth forever!”
By the world’s standards, this country of ours is one of the most affluent if not the richest land on the face of the earth. For, in spite of pockets of extreme poverty here and there —in the backwoods of Appalachia, in areas of the deep south, and in the blighted neighborhoods of our “inner cities”— and aside from the ravages of underemployment, unemployment, foreclosures, and homelessness which have beset so many people in the devastating recession following 2008 and in our “flat,” slow-growth economy— the average American today has and earns more per capita than his counterpart anywhere else in the world. And that’s taking into full consideration the relative cost of living in different places. All one has to do is watch the news on television, or some “special” about so-called “third world” countries, or an appeal from social relief agencies like “Feed the Children” to be struck with the great bounty that we enjoy as Americans compared with other people!
And yet, the word “thanks” has almost disappeared from our everyday vocabulary! Kids nowadays are seldom trained by their parents anymore to say “Thank-you” to people who give them something or do them a favor! Indeed, many regard their standard of living with all its comforts, amenities, and luxuries as a sort of “right” to which they are entitled as Americans, for which they owe no thanks to anyone but themselves for their hard work, diligence, and perseverance (Cf. Deuteronomy 8:17)! And they don’t hesitate to add concerning the less fortunate here in this world that such people “have only themselves to blame.”
Even we Christians have nothing to boast of concerning our exemplary gratitude to the Lord for His blessings. For our old sinful flesh is just as ungrateful as that of the worldlings round about us, so that we need to be reminded over and again by God Himself in His Word of how much we owe Him for His grace and mercy to us poor, undeserving sinners, yea, for ALL His benefits both temporal and spiritual! And that is precisely why the Lord’s Psalmist exhorts us in this well-known table prayer which serves as the title-text of our article:
“O Give Thanks unto the Lord!”…
not only for His benevolent providence of us and of all His creatures, but especially for His enduring mercy to us poor sinners in Christ Jesus, our Savior!
Indeed, as we look about us and behold the world in which we live and the wonders of creation brought forth in the beginning by God Himself using only the power of His almighty Word, we must confess with the Psalmist: “O Lord, how manifold are Thy works! In wisdom hast Thou made them all! The earth is full of Thy riches!” (104:24). The very existence of the world and universe “declares the glory of God” and His unspeakable “handiwork,” the Bible tells us (Psalm 19:1). Before man’s fall into sin, that terrible act of disobedience by which all of God’s creation became blighted and ruined, “God saw everything that He had made, and, behold, it was very good” (Genesis 1:31), incapable of improvement; for it had been fashioned by Him who is the epitome of goodness, God Himself. Consequently, when we behold His wonders, which today bear the weaknesses, scars, and imperfections which sin brought upon them, they still appear marvelous in our eyes —far too complex to have come about by pure chance, as the evolutionists claim —far beyond the ability of man to produce even in cheap imitation of God’s creation! And we “stand in awe of Him” (Psalm 33:8) as we peer into outer space with electron and satellite-mounted telescopes, as we stand on the rim of the Grand Canyon, as we fly at 600 miles per hour over and through magnificent cloud formations, and as we watch by means of microphotography the development of a tiny baby in the womb of its mother! Yes, the creation of our own body cries out and demands that we render due thanksgiving to God for His goodness, so that we declare with David: “I will praise Thee, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made! Marvelous are Thy works, and that my soul knoweth right well!” (Psalm 139:14) — “O give thanks unto the Lord, for He is good!”
But the evidence of God’s goodness is not limited to His creation. For the world is not just “coasting along” on its own, re-creating itself, maintaining itself in its so-called “balance of nature,” nor yet providing for itself as a self-sustaining entity. No, that too is the Lord’s doing, who not only created all things but, the Bible says, also “uphold[s] all things by the Word of His power” (Hebrews 1:3). In His benevolent providence of us and of all His creatures, God further demonstrates His goodness in the way He “preserves man and beast” (Psalm 33:6) by “giving them their meat in due season” (Psalm 145:15), satisfying their needs, even clothing them and giving them shelter. And this He does very especially for US, who “are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:26), for US whose “heavenly Father,” Jesus says, “knoweth that [we] have need of all these things” (Matthew 6:32). What things?? We confess with Luther “that He richly and daily provides [us] with all that [we] need to support this body and life” (First Article).
Moreover, in His Kingdom of Power, our “good” Lord also rules and governs all things to His own glory, for the welfare and safety of His creatures great and small, and particularly in the interest of His believing children. Accordingly, “He defends [us] against all danger and guards and protects [us] from all evil” (Luther, First Article), so that we can and should confidently “cast all [our] care upon Him,” who careth for us, Peter reminds us (I Peter 5:7). And “all this” our Lord does for us “purely out of fatherly divine goodness and mercy, without any merit or worthiness in [us]” (Luther, op. cit.).
This benevolent providence is then the FIRST reason for which the Lord’s Psalmist exhorts us: “O give thanks unto the Lord!” Don’t just take all these temporal blessings for granted, as if they are “coming to you” as some sort of natural right; —they’re NOT! They are the gifts of the Lord’s goodness and mercy to us and to all creatures, “for all which it is [our] DUTY (as grateful recipients of these gifts) to thank and praise, to serve and obey Him” (Luther, op. cit.). —Ingratitude, on the other hand, is a grievous sin and shame before God, born of selfishness, greed, and sinful pride which boasts, “My power and the might of mine hand hath gotten me this wealth!” (Deuteronomy 8:17). It is the boast of those who “forget God,” the Bible tells us, who “walk after other gods and serve them and worship them” (v. 19) —idols such as Mammon and one’s Self, the love of which in the religion of Materialism ends up drowning men in destruction and perdition (I Timothy 6:9)! “O give thanks unto the Lord,” your all-wise, almighty, and benevolent God, “for He [alone] is [truly] good!”
But that is surely not the only reason for which we should render Him our thanks. The very BEST and MOST IMPORTANT reason follows in this prayer, as the Psalmist declares, “because His mercy endureth forever.” The context of the entire 118th Psalm shows without a doubt that the “mercy” of which David speaks by inspiration of the Holy Ghost is not merely God’s benevolence (or kindness) to all men, to all His creatures, in His divine providence; but this is a special “mercy,” the Lord’s “enduring mercy” to poor sinners for Christ’s sake! For this is the mercy according to which He gives us not only temporal gifts (as to His dear children by faith in Jesus), but the spiritual gifts by which He made us His children in the first place by bringing us to saving faith, makes us live as His children here in this world, and keeps us His grateful children unto our earthly end, when He shall ADD the gift of eternal life — purchased and won by His only-begotten Son — in fulfillment of His merciful commitment to those who “endure unto the end.”
Why should we Christians give thanks unto the Lord? Oh, it is because these spiritual gifts, above all other gifts, are the result of His enduring mercy and grace to us poor undeserving sinners in Christ Jesus, our Savior. Justifying grace, the chief gift from which all other spiritual gifts flow, is not an absolute gift out of God’s sovereign will (as are His providential gifts in the Kingdom of Power, which all men and even the animals receive from His hand); but His grace is bestowed upon the sinner only for Christ’s sake, —because of the fact that Jesus, by His vicarious satisfaction, paid the price of our redemption required by God’s justice, kept God’s Law in our place, and bore the punishment that we deserve because of our sins, so that now God can be merciful to us —kind to us wretched, undeserving sinners— for Jesus’ sake forgiving us all our iniquities!
That is the foremost gift of all, to which the Apostle Paul refers in II Corinthians 9:15, where he says: “Thanks be unto God for His unspeakable Gift!” It is the gift which is bestowed by God’s grace alone, the gift that we receive by faith alone —faith in the merits of Christ, totally apart from any work or worthiness of our own; and it is that gift from which all other spiritual gifts flow our way! Without that gift of the Lord’s enduring mercy in Christ Jesus, all His other gifts would be of temporary value only, here in this life; “for what is a man profited,” Jesus asks us, “if he shall gain the whole world [full of temporal benefits] and lose his own soul? Or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul??” (Matthew 16:26).
We Christians have the most to be thankful for of all creatures on the face of the earth. For “[we] know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ” (II Corinthians 8:9); we have the Means of His Grace, the precious Gospel and the Sacraments, through which that grace is both announced and conveyed to us; we have the gift of His Holy Spirit, who works through those Means of Grace in our hearts, who called us to faith in Jesus, enlightened us with His spiritual gifts, sanctified our lives to be conformed to His will and dedicated to His service, and still preserves us in the true and saving faith by Jesus’ Word, in which we are to “continue” with all diligence if we are to remain “[His] disciples indeed” (John 8:31). —We have the most to be thankful for, “because His mercy endureth forever,” even to us who have often rewarded His mercy with ingratitude and indifference, with lukewarm affection for His Word and Sacrament, and lives in which we have all too often served ourselves and had to be reminded, prodded, and provoked to lift a finger in His service! It is indeed of His enduring mercy that we have not been consumed by His wrath, that His compassions have not failed us, and that He still extends to us His mercy and grace in the pure teachings of His precious Word!
So what are we going to do about it? “Shall we continue in sin,” in ingratitude, in disregard of our spiritual blessings, “that [His] grace may abound?? God forbid!” writes the Apostle Paul in Romans 6, verses 1 and 2. “How shall we that are dead to sin live any longer therein?” What shall we do then? “O give thanks unto the Lord, for He is good; because His mercy endureth forever!” And let us make sure, by God’s grace, that our thanksgiving is not merely the expression of our mouth, but the heartfelt expression of our heart and soul, as we speak to ourselves (Ephesians 5:19) the exhortation of the Psalmist: “Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all His benefits, who forgiveth all thine iniquities” (Psalm 103:2-3) as the foremost of His blessings! And let us then put our actions where our mouths are, and ever more gratefully, ever more diligently day-by-day, gladly hear, gladly learn, gladly meditate upon, and gladly keep His precious Word, the “delivery-wagon” (Luther calls it) in which He conveys all these unspeakable blessings to us; until by His grace we enter His eternal home and kingdom above and render Him at last the perfect thanksgiving that His mercy deserves, to the everlasting glory of His grace in Jesus Christ, our Savior!
Then shall thanks and praise ascending
for Thy mercies without ending
rise to Thee, O Savior blest!
With Thy gracious aid defend us;
let Thy saving Word attend us;
bring us to Thy home of rest!
(TLH 282, 4, adapted)
— D. T. M.