It is a time for thankfulness. One year has passed away, and another is beginning. And we are here still spared on mercy’s ground. God has not dealt with us as our sins deserved. He has not sent us away into a lost eternity. Not yet, at least. But the passing away of 2002 should impress upon us that a year will come – and 2003 could be that year – which will be our last, a year when we will be called to pass through death into eternity.
God’s people have much indeed to be thankful for. Besides the common mercies they have experienced over the past year – such as food and drink, clothing and shelter – God has granted them many spiritual blessings. He has preserved grace in their hearts; He has not allowed Satan and temptation to overwhelm them; He has enabled them, at least in a measure, to feed on Christ. Well may they use the words of David: “Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all His benefits” (Ps 103:2). Even when Jeremiah was experiencing most fearful trials, when his country and city had been conquered, the temple burnt and religious observances brought to an end, he was able to say, “It is of the Lord’s mercies that we are not consumed, because His compassions fail not. They are new every morning: great is Thy faithfulness” (Lam 3:22,23). He had not lost the spirit of thankfulness.
And how should we show our thankfulness? Clearly, disobedience to God’s revealed will shows a spirit of unthankfulness. So a sense of God’s goodness should, as Paul teaches, bring us to repentance. For God’s children, that is a renewed turning from sin, with a fresh “purpose of, and endeavour after, new obedience”.
In Psalm 116, the Psalmist asks, “What shall I render unto the Lord for all His benefits toward me?” But his answer is not along the lines of repentance, however appropriate that might be. It is: “I will take the cup of salvation, and call upon the name of the Lord”. His response to the goodness of God in the past was to believe that God was just as willing to act towards him again in the same way. By calling on the Lord for further blessings, he was honouring the Lord. To go too often for help to a kind relation or friend or neighbour would be a mistake; there are limits to human kindness. But it is according to God’s will that we would grasp the fact that there are no limits to the goodness of God. Those who have experienced God’s saving mercy are to go again to Him for further spiritual blessings. Let them realise that God is most honoured when they offer up large petitions. Let them come in the full light of the inspired words of Paul to the Philippians: “My God shall supply all your need according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus”. God is indeed honoured when His people come unceasingly, for Christ’s sake, to draw from the ever-full fountain of spiritual blessing.
But what of the unconverted? How can they respond appropriately to the goodness of God? Well, the principle is the same. As yet, they have only received temporal blessings. But they should be deeply grateful to the Giver of every good gift. They have been spared in this life until now; let them then, thankful for this blessing, call on the name of the Lord for eternal life. Let them plead, “O do Thou quicken me; put new life in my soul; work within me by Thy Holy Spirit”.
They have been provided with food. Let them then seek food for their souls; let then seek Him who is the Bread of life, who has said, “I am the living bread which came down from heaven: if any man eat of this bread, he shall live for ever: and the bread that I will give is My flesh, which I will give for the life of the world” (John 6:51). Let them seek to feed on Christ by faith as the one who died for sinners and rose again. And even if food was scarce, let them remember with thankfulness that, if they have a Bible or the pure preaching of the Word of God, there is no scarcity of spiritual food. We may be unwilling to receive it, but how clearly that unwillingness shows the rebellion of the heart! And what a mercy that God is able to make us willing to receive the Bread of life – Christ Jesus, the living Saviour!
They have had clothes to put on. Let them then seek the garment that will never wear out, the garment that they will need if they are to appear acceptably in the presence of the great King when they pass into eternity. Let them cry to the Lord to clothe them in the fine linen of Christ’s righteousness, which is so free from every possible impurity.
We may consider one more mercy: they have been provided with shelter. Let them then seek the shelter which Christ gives – shelter from the storms of divine wrath. He is pointed out in the words: “Thou hast been a strength to the poor, a strength to the needy in his distress, a refuge from the storm, a shadow from the heat, when the blast of the terrible ones is as a storm against the wall” (Is 25:4). Let them then flee to Christ as this shelter, for He says, “Come unto Me . . . and I will give you rest”. If they do so, they will have every reason to cry in true thankfulness, throughout eternity, these ever-memorable words: “Thanks be unto God for His unspeakable gift”.