GETTING THE MESSAGE/The Lord’s sustaining grace
During Thanksgiving, we think of the pilgrims at Plymouth. It often appeared that they would perish in the new land they had come to. But they remembered to pray to the Lord. William Bradford wrote of one particular difficult time: “What could sustain them but the Spirit of God and His grace? May not and ought not the children of these fathers rightly say: ‘Our fathers were Englishmen which came over this great ocean, and were ready to perish in this wilderness; but they cried unto the Lord, and he heard their voice and looked on their adversity. Let them therefore praise the Lord, He is good; and His mercies endure forever.’” And after this, they had the first Thanksgiving.
William Cooper, a 17th century Christian, writes: “Thankfulness demonstrates a spiritual and noble frame of soul in the highest pitch of grace. The Lord Jesus taught us thankfulness both by pattern and precept, and he thanked God frequently and fervently. Even when he was to eat common bread, he gave thanks.”
Our lives are precarious and are always at God’s mercy. God in his sovereignty might have never made us; our existence is miraculous, not simply in the forming of our bodies but in the amazing providence that preserved all our ancestors up to the time we were conceived and born.
Years ago I was invited by a friend to a church supper Thanksgiving week. Even though I was not a minister at the time, it must have been in me, because I couldn’t turn down a home- cooked meal. While eating, a man across the table introduced himself, and upon hearing my name inquired as to who my father was. Hearing my response, he exclaimed, “I saved your Daddy’s life.”
He then proceeded to tell me the story of fishing in a lake years ago when he saw a young boy in a boat fishing, suddenly fall into the water. The boy went down and did not surface. The man hurried over and dove into the water, rescuing the dying youth. The boy was my father. When I later talked with my father about the story, he confirmed that it was true. It struck me how close it had been to my never having been born. I wondered at how many other remarkable preservations had taken place with all the necessary lives of my ancestors for my existence.
Once in Scotland, a young unmarried woman suddenly collapsed and the doctor in the town could not detect a heartbeat, so she was pronounced dead. In those days you were buried quickly, so the poor woman was placed in a coffin and after a short ceremony was buried. The church sexton had noticed a gold ring on her finger, and seeking to profit from this knowledge went that night to the graveyard to get the ring.
After he finished digging the coffin up, he opened it, and in the process of struggling to get the ring off the young woman’s finger, she awoke. Obviously she was not as dead as she was presumed to be! She later married and gave birth to two boys: Ralph and Ebenezer Erskine. They both became very well-known and faithful ministers in 19th century Scotland.
We should all marvel at our existence and come to the conclusion God’s power over us is absolute and infinite. To the Sovereign One we owe all, and therefore we owe him all our thanks. Of course, greater than our mere existence is the blessings of the gospel, the decree of God to send Jesus for poor sinners, opening up the fountain of grace for us, the infinite merit and righteousness of the Son of God upon the cross. All this deserves a suitable and proportionate gift of thanks and blessing from those who love Christ.
Richard Sibbes wrote, “Who gives us being that we are Christians, to have a new nature, to have hope beyond death, but God? Who maintains and preserves that being but God? Who keeps and preserves us till we get to heaven but God, who is all sufficient, sole sufficient, and only sufficient? This God is now our God in Christ.” So we have great reason to give thanks in all circumstances.