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“O give thanks unto the Lord; for He is good: for His mercy endureth forever.”

Psalm 136:1

We are called to give thanks to God because His mercy endures forever. How strange! Do mercy and thanks include each other? Does not mercy presuppose misery and affliction?

How strange and wonderful is the underlying current ofPsalm 136, called by the Jews the Great Thanksgiving! God is good. He is good, and therefore always good, because His mercy endureth forever, is unto everlasting. And then the psalmist sings of this mercy of the Lord, mentioning it not fewer than twenty-six times.

Shall we give thanks unto the Lord because He is good and because His mercy endureth forever—in our present age of great plenty? It is always comparativelymore difficult to be truly thankful in prosperity than patient in adversity. Besides, we must give thanks because of His mercy. Mercy presupposes misery. Are His mercies upon us? Are we conscious of this? Do we know, also now, our misery? All through Scripture we read this. Only then can we be thankful.

Its Idea

Give thanks, or thank the Lord. The Dutch reads: Praise the Lord. The English is probably the better translation. We cannot exclude the word, praise. The element of praise cannot be separated from the idea of true thanksgiving. The Scriptures, too, speak repeatedly of blessing the Lord, as in Psalm 103:1, and this word, bless, means literally, to kneel, and therefore expresses the idea of true humility and contrition. However, the word of our text undoubtedly means, to give thanks. 

The literal meaning of the Hebrew word, thank, is: to reach out and extend the hand. It means, then, that we point to all the good things we have received, that we count all our blessings, one by one. It means, too, that we speak of all these good things as gifts which we do not deserve but which we have forfeited, and that we then climb up to the living God, the Lord our God, and point to Him as the rich and beneficent Giver of all good, and then declare as before His face the praise of His Name, and also speak of that praise to one another, in the great congregation and in the midst of the world. 

True thanksgiving always implies three things. 

First, it is the acknowledgment of our own undoneness and unworthiness. We never deserve anything. Nothing belongs to man. As creatures, we are always under obligation to God. Even if we serve Him perfectly, we would still be the most unprofitable servants. However, we are not only undeserving, but also wholly unworthy. We are always miserable, naked, condemnable sinners. How tremendously important this is! We are so often unthankful and rebellious. So often we complain because we must suffer pain and discomfort. How different would be our attitude, as people of God, if only we would constantly be mindful of our sin and condemnation. How wonderful it would be if we would bear in mind the great God’s wonderful goodness to us, utterly worthless sinners! 

Secondly, true acknowledgment is always pure acknowledgment. We can never renumerate or recompense the Lord. What shall we render unto the Lord for all His benefits to us? We own nothing, and can therefore never repay the Lord. How little we understand that the poor widow’s mite has more value before God than what the rich give of their abundance! We so often think that our contributions deserve God’s favor and recognition. Indeed, true thanksgiving is pure acknowledgment. All we can do is say, “thank you,” to the living God. And then it behooves us to fall down upon our knees and thank the Lord that we might be able to say it. 

Thirdly, true thanksgiving is also always praise. Of course! This can never be lacking if, as guilty, condemnable sinners, we have received the amazing grace and salvation of the Lord. When a beggar receives a beautiful suit of clothes, he will surely not wallow around in the mire with it. And if, as spiritual beggars we have been gifted with salvation, we will surely not wallow around with it in the mire of sin. True thanksgiving means true joy of heart and mind and soul. Then we will surely point to God and praise Him as the God of our salvation, ever declaring the praises of our God.

Its Content

God is good. 

God is good in Himself. God’s goodness has been defined in the past as His Self-Desirability. Now it is surely true that the Lord desires Himself. This is fundamental. However, this definition really does not tell us what the goodness of God is. It states only a result of the goodness of God. It does not answer the question: why does the Lord desire Himself? 

That God desires Himself is because He is the God of infinite perfections. God is good. God is the Holy One, the Righteous One, the God of all light, truth, and faithfulness. Whereas God is the God of infinite perfections, as the Triune God, His goodness is therefore His Self-Desirability, that the Lord desires Himself. He knows Himself as the only absolute Good, and therefore desires Himself alone. 

God is therefore also the overflowing Fount of all good for all who fear Him. Indeed, God is always good. The attempt has been made to generalize the goodness of God, to speak of a general goodness to all men. This attempt, however, is a complete failure. The trouble is that they view this goodness of God from only one aspect, namely the aspect of God’s benevolence, kindness, pity. They forget that God’s goodness is His Self-Desirability, that the living God eternally loves and seeks Himself. Indeed, there are other aspects and phases of this goodness of the Lord. 

The Lord is always good. When the creature is viewed as evil and perverse, then this goodness of the Lord is known as His wrath. When the creature is viewed as sinner, always impure, then this goodness makes him miserable, is known as His curse. And when the sinner is viewed as guilty and worthy of punishment, and the goodness of God punishes him with temporal and everlasting punishment, then that goodness of God has the name of His righteousness and justice. 

It is exactly for this reason that God’s goodness is always particular. That God is good means that He is the God of infinite perfections, always seeking Himself. There is, therefore, never any kindness, benevolence, compassion for the reprobate wicked whom the Lord eternally and sovereignly has known and knows as wicked, whom His soul loatheth because He always loves Himself. And it is for this reason that He is filled with kindness and mercy only for His people, and this only in Christ Jesus, that He desires their good even as He desires Himself, and that only for His own Name’s sake. 

It is exactly this aspect of God’s goodness that receives all the emphasis in this word of God. Indeed, we do not have here merely a bit of dogma. We do not thank the Lord only because of the virtue of God’s goodness. In this sense God is also good to the wicked, maintaining Himself as the only good God. This is in itself no ground for thanksgiving. But the psalmist here is exhorting the people of the Lord to give thanks unto God for His goodness, for the revelation of that goodness in all the riches of blessings for His own.

Indeed, give thanks unto the Lord, for He is good. That God is good is the content of this thanksgiving. It means that we have seen and observed in all our life the goodness of the Lord upon us. It means that we know and say that we have received from the hand of our God nothing but good. Indeed, we shall not give thanks only for those things which we classify as good, omitting the things contrary to our flesh. We shall confess that God is good, that He is therefore always good in whatever is our portion and lot. 

Hence, give thanks unto the Lord for He is good. He is good, always, good in all things. Count your blessings, name them one by one, and do not omit any. And, may the content of our thanksgiving ever be this goodness of the Lord. True thanksgiving does not consist in the things of this world. It does not mean that we stand before our riches, and then feel at ease in our souls because all is carnally and materially well. We must be thankful because God is good, always good to us as the God of our salvation. This goodness never depends upon anything; it always operates, through whatever we may receive.

Its Ground

His mercy endureth forever. 

God’s mercy is but an aspect of God’s goodness, and we read of it that it endureth forever. 

Indeed, in this present time is much misery. It may appear differently at times. But the reality is that this world is really the valley of the shadow of death. Indeed, the curse of God upon sin is present everywhere. 

How, then, can we say that the Lord is good, always good? Is He good when He sends misery and sorrow and death? And then, do we thank God for that goodness? Mercy is the love of God whereby He is moved with pity and compassion because He loved us with an everlasting love. God’s mercy is His love and desire to deliver us out of all our misery, to make us conformable unto the image of His Son in heavenly life and glory. And God is merciful, desires to deliver us out of all misery and death, also when He sends us misery and sorrow and death? 

This mercy endureth forever. It is from everlasting to everlasting upon them that fear Him. This is also emphasized in this text by the name Lord, or Jehovah. Jehovah is the I AM, the Rock, the Unchangeable One. His mercy is therefore everlasting. 

This is the ground for all true thanksgiving. Eternally in God’s counsel, and through all the history of this world, God is moved by mercy and compassion; it is the divine motive that ,controls every divine activity, whatever happens in the world, including the creation of the world, whatever the Church may experience, whatever we may personally experience upon our way.

This is also the content of this psalm. Twenty-six times the psalm speaks of this ever-enduring mercy. In the verses 4 through 9 we read of His creative wonders. Then we are told of His wrath upon our enemies, upon Egypt and Sihon and Og, and that He gave His people their land for an heritage. Always He is the mighty God, the God of unchangeable love and mercy. 

Therefore we can give thanks, always. Indeed, God is good, always good, always overflowing with all the blessings of His lovingkindness. Therefore we know that all things are always working for our good, because His mercy endureth forever. 

Indeed, give thanks unto the Lord, for He is good. 

His mercy endureth forever.