One of the most remarkable and beautiful professions of a strong and living faith, that is always victorious, and that triumphantly transcends all the things that are seen, may be found in the last verses of the prophecy of Habakkuk, which reads as follows: “Although the fig tree shall not blossom, neither shall fruit be in the vines; the labor of the olive shall fail, and the fields shall yield no meat; the flock shall be cut off from the fold, and there shall be no herd in the stalls: yet will I rejoice in the Lord, I will joy in the God of my salvation,” If we would paraphrase this inspired declaration of the Old Testament seer, and garb it in a more modern form that is more directly applicable to the conditions on this present Thanksgiving Day, we would speak somewhat as follows: “Although the wheels of industry shall be completely stopped, and the labor of the machines shall fail; although the factories in our great industrial centers shall yield no work, and there shall be no profit in business; the money shall be cut off from the banks, and there shall be no savings for tomorrow’s needs; though our sons are torn from our homes, and are being killed at the battle front; though our armies shall suffer defeat, and the enemy shall ravage our countryside and rain its destructive and murderous bombs upon our cities,—yet will I rejoice in the Lord, I will joy in the God of my salvation in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Or if we project this mighty shout of faith into the future, and look forward to the day of the Lord, we might express the same victorious confidence in the following words: “Although the very foundations of the universe shall be shaken and the heavens shall depart as a scroll when it is rolled together; though the sun shall become black as a sackcloth of hair, and the moon shall become as blood; though the stars shall drop out of the firmament, and the mountains and islands shall be moved out of their places,—even then will I rejoice in the Lord, and joy in the God of my salvation.”

True thanksgiving is not easy. It surely is not everybody’s work. Even though Thanksgiving Day is a national holiday, and the impression might be left that thanksgiving is something in which at least every American may take part once a year, it remains an act of faith in the God of our salvation, and, therefore, of the people of God in as far as they live from the principle of the new life in Christ, and have become new creatures. To give thanks is to rejoice in God as the God of our salvation. And for that reason it is not dependent on, but victorious over things. Even today there are those that prosper in the world, who “are not in trouble as other men; neither are they plagued like other men; “whose “eyes stand out with fatness”, and “have more than heart could wish;” Ps. 73:5, 7; but who cannot and do not give thanks, because their joy is not in the Lord, but in things. And on the other hands, there are thousands upon thousands today, in the war-striken countries of Europe, who sorely feel the iron heel of the oppressor, whose homes have been destroyed by bombs, whose fields have been laid waste, whose scanty provisions only prevent them from finding rest in death; or who have been taken to cruel concentration camps and dark prison cells, but who join the Church over the whole world in giving thanks to God most high, because their joy is in the Lord, and they rejoice in the God of their salvation.

What then is this ever victorious joy? Often the Bible speaks of it, and it exhorts us to rejoice in the Lord. The psalmist sings: “There be many that say, who will shew us any good? Lord, lift thou up the light of thy countenance upon us. Thou hast put gladness in my heart, more than in the time that their corn and their wine increased. I will both lay me down and sleep, for thou, Lord, only makest me dwell in safety.” Ps. 4:6-8. And again: “But let all those that put their trust in thee rejoice: let them ever shout for joy, because thou defendest them: let them also that love thy name be joyful in thee.” Ps. 5:11. And again: “Let the righteous be glad; let them rejoice before God: yea, let them exceedingly rejoice.” Ps. 68:3. “O come, let us sing unto the Lord, let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation. Let us come before his presence with thanksgiving, and make a joyful noise unto him with psalms.” Ps. 95:1, 2. Even all creation is exhorted to participate in this joy of the people of God: “Let the heavens rejoice, and let the earth be glad; let the sea roar and the fullness thereof. Let the field be joyful, and all that is therein: then shall all the trees of the wood rejoice before the Lord.” Ps. 96:11, 12, And the apostle Paul writes to the church at Philippi: “Rejoice in the Lord alway; and again I say, Rejoice.” Phil. 4:4; and to the Thessalonians: “Rejoice evermore.” I Thess. 5:16.

It is evident from all this that this joy in the Lord, of which also the prophet Habakkuk sings, is an abiding and unchangeable gladness of the heart, that is always victorious and cannot be downed by circumstances, because it is independent from them. And it is such because the ground, the source and cause of this joy is the unchangeable God Himself. For such is the meaning of “rejoicing in the Lord.” To rejoice in the Lord means to rejoice because of Him. Just as when we say that we rejoice in good health, we mean that we rejoice because of good health; and to rejoice in prosperity is to rejoice because of prosperity; so to rejoice in God is to rejoice because of God. And to rejoice because of God signifies that we are joyful because we may confess that He is our God, that He is our possession, and that we are His. The prophet therefore, means to say: “Whatever betide, and though all things turn against me, I shall still rejoice, because I know that God is my God,”

Now, to say that the Lord is my God is to express a very definite relationship between Him and myself. In a general sense, of course, the Lord is God over all. For He is the Creator of the heavens and of the earth and He is their absolute Sovereign. He has dominion over all, and no one can ever dispute His sovereignty. In that sense He is everyone’s God, the God of the righteous and the wicked alike, of angels and devils: they are all under the everlasting obligation to glorify Him as God; and He holds them all in His power, and makes them subservient to His divine purpose. But when God’s people rejoice in God, because He is their God, they express something far richer. The prophet explains himself when he adds in the eighteenth verse: “I will joy in the God of my salvation.” To call God my God means that He is the God of my salvation, who stands in a very definite relationship to me, and I to Him, because of His eternal love wherewith He loved me before the foundation of the world. He is my God, the God of my salvation, as He has revealed Himself in the face of Jesus Christ. In that definite sense, according to which His relation to us is that of His everlasting covenant of friendship, He is not everyone’s God, but the God of His people only. He saves them, redeems them from the guilt of sin, forgives them all their iniquities and clothes them with an everlasting righteousness. He delivers them from dominion of sin and death, renews their inmost heart, cleanses them from all defilement, draws them with chords of love and takes them into His blessed fellowship, blesses them with all the blessings of salvation in Christ Jesus their Lord, calls them His sons and daughters, His peculiar possession. And because He speaks to them and says: “Ye are my people” respond, and say: “Our Lord and our God, God of our salvation!”

Now, this joy in the Lord is an essential element of all true thanksgiving, This is true, not only because thanksgiving itself presupposes a glad heart, rejoicing in the remembrance of blessings received, but also because joy in the Lord is an indispensable requisite for prayer, and prayer, true prayer results in gratitude because our prayers are heard. If our joy is really in the God of our salvation, prayer itself becomes the highest expression of thankfulness, and that signifies that in our prayers we will ask for those things that are pleasing to Him, and not seek our own carnal gratification. And we know, that if we ask anything according to His will, He will surely hear us, and give unto us that which we ask of Him. When one listens to many prayers, one receives the impression that prayer is looked upon as a means to impose our will upon the will of God, to change the mind of the Almighty, to tell Him all about our opinion as to how He ought to rule the universe, the affairs of men, and especially our personal interests. Instead of an expression of childlike submission to the will of our Father which is in heaven, we insist on having our own way; instead of committing our way to Him, we ask Him to change our way; instead of seeking His glory, His kingdom, His will, we seek our own earthly, individual, carnal interests. He sends us sickness, and we immediately ask Him to change our way and restore us to health; He sends us adversity, and we demand immediate prosperity; He sends war, and we ask for peace. All this is quite different from what the prophet professes to be his joy. When the fig tree does not blossom, and there is no fruit in the vine, and the labor of the olive fails, and the fields yield no meat, and the flock is cut off from the fold, and there is no herd in the stalls, he does not call a prayer meeting for the purpose of supplicating the Most High to change the situation, but his joy is even then in the Lord, Who doeth all these things. If we do not learn to pray according to His will, we shall not be able to give thanks, for the simple reason that our prayers are not heard. We asked for health, and, behold, we are still sick; we wanted prosperity, but adversity is still our lot; we sent up what we thought was a mighty prayer for peace, and, behold, the war continues. Our prayers were not heard. Why, then, should we give thanks for that which we did not receive? But if our joy is in the Lord, and not in the things of this world, we shall learn to pray for those things that are pleasing to Him, our prayers shall be heard, and we shall come before Him with grateful hearts, and give thanks to Him, because we have tasted that the Lord is good!

(to be continued)