(Note: The following is the substance of a speech delivered to the young people at Hope Protestant Reformed Church at their Thanksgiving Mass Meeting held on Nov. 23, 1975.)
I was asked to speak to you on the occasion of your thanksgiving mass meeting. This means, of course, that my topic is pretty well decided for me. Yet at the same time I did not refrain from asking for several suggestions. In response to my request I received these: “Giving Thanks Only on the 27th”, “Giving Thanks in Song and Prayer”, and “Thanksgiving in a Young Person’s Walk in Life.” I was immediately attracted to the last of these various topics. But I revamped it a little bit so that it would also include the other suggestions which I received. Therefore, I chose to address you under the theme “Thanksgiving in the Whole of Our Walk.” Song and prayer must of necessity fall under this topic. It also goes without saying that the idea of giving thanks just on Thanksgiving Day will receive comment. In all of these considerations I want to speak to you as Christian young people.
The occasion of Thanksgiving is a very fine one. And this remains true, even though it is being subjected to much abuse in our society. Thanksgiving Day has become a secular holiday. The real meaning of this day has disappeared and been obscured. And even though many prayers are uttered on this day, there are but few that ever rise above the ceiling. Men indulge themselves in all the numerous bounties of the earth without as much as a thought of, God! For many this is the only day of the entire year on which they will render thanks, at least in form.
We must be careful to guard against this sort of tendency. It is for that reason that I do not elect to remain within my speech with turkeys and other traditional goodies. Because certainly, our Thanksgiving Day meal as well as our every meal, is God’s abundance unto His people, it behooves God’s children to give proper thanks in regard to these things. But I want to talk about us! Oh, I do not want to limit myself to one certain aspect, whether it be prayer, singing or yet another. I desire to speak about our thanksgiving in an all-comprehensive way, as, for example, Lord’s Day thirty-two speaks of it. “Why must we still do good works?” That is to say, why are we obligated to live a sanctified life out of faith? To this question the Heidelberg Catechism answers, “. . . that so we may testify by the whole of our conduct, our gratitude to God for his blessings, and that he may be praised by us; . . .”
This viewpoint brings to mind the words of the apostle Paul to the church at Rome. Verse one of chapter twelve is a very rich passage as touching our topic. It is there that Paul speaks of presenting our bodies a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable unto God. To heed that admonition is to give thanks in the whole of our life and walk. We do well to consider together this afternoon those words of Paul.
Let us see, if we can clarify somewhat the connection between sacrifice, the word which Paul uses, and thanksgiving. It is certain that such a connection must be made. The question comes to the fore: “Why do you want to speak of sacrificing on this occasion of thanksgiving? Let’s leave the sacrifice in the old dispensation.” Paul does not do this and we must not. Actually, the connection of which we spoke before is not so difficult to establish. It can be done quite easily if we properly understand the idea of a sacrifice. A sacrifice is much more than merely a dead animal upon an altar. The animal of sacrifice was a dedication unto God in its life and blood. A sacrifice was something which was wholly consecrated unto the Almighty. For this reason Paul speaks of a sacrifice being “holy and acceptable unto God.” The idea of a sacrifice is to be found in its consecration unto God. That this is so is shown with all clarity in the Lamb par excellence. Christ consecrated Himself to God perfectly. It was prophetically spoken of Him, “Lo, I come; in the volume of the book it is written of me, I delight to do thy will, O my God.” He sacrificed Himself in perfect consecration on behalf of His own.
Such consecration is rooted in faith. To understand this, call to mind with me the sacrifice of Cain and Abel. The former’s was not pleasing to God because it was not rooted in the heart. Cain’s sacrifice was not acceptable before God, nor was it holy. Abel’s sacrifice was much different. He understood that blood had to be shed. That is to say, in his sacrifice he looked toward Christ, the Messiah which was to come. Through faith in hope he looked for the promised salvation in Jesus. And because he was able to see this by faith, his heart was full of thanksgiving. That brings me once more to Lord’s Day thirty-two. “What are good works?” They are those works which proceed from a true faith. They are works of thankfulness. And such works we perform, “that . . . we may testify, by the whole of our conduct, our gratitude to God.”
Thanksgiving is nothing less than being a living sacrifice unto God. We must never forget that there is such a thing as a dead thanksgiving. That kind of a sacrifice of thanks is a very terrible thing. You see, that is like the offering of Cain. O, that offering was not dead because it was not an offering from a formal point of view, but because it was devoid of faith. It was empty! In the same manner it is possible to go through all the proper motions of thanksgiving and never really give thanks. This will happen around many tables on Thanksgiving Day. But I said that I didn’t want to stay with the twenty-seventh. Nor, do I want to point the finger at others. We may not just go through the motions of a Christian life. You know what I mean: other acts of piety. Our Christian life may not be hollow or empty. It may not be devoid of faith. Sacrifices of thanks must be wrought by faith. And that is not of ourselves, it is the gift of God. God has purposed to work His glory. It is the new man in Christ that is the motivating principle behind thanksgiving.
But you are ready to ask me: “What precisely must we sacrifice unto God?” The answer is, nothing less than our bodies. That is what Paul tells us in Romans twelve. You, as young people, must give your bodies as an offering of thanksgiving unto God. O, let’s not misunderstand this. We must not think that our flesh must be sacrificed unto God, as if the blood of bulls and goats can ever accomplish anything. A pound of flesh does not constitute a good work before God. This can not be the meaning of sacrificing our bodies. Rather, we must consecrate the members of our bodies unto God. The functionaries of our bodies: the eye, ear, tongue, etc., must be dedicated unto God. Yes, that includes every part of our body that can perform any kind of activity, whether it be the brain cells, the organs of reproduction, or other members of the body. These various members of the body must be a living sacrifice before God. That is to say, they must be motivated into activity by faith. And what is faith? It is the connection which links us to Christ, whereby we have His indwelling Spirit in our hearts. That brings me to the wisdom of Solomon. His wisdom relates the fact that out of the heart are all the issues of life. The point is that the regenerated heart must dominate the body. The whole of our bodily functions must be subject to the new man in Jesus Christ. Paul says to the Corinthians, who had difficulty with their Christian freedom, that he will not be brought under the power of anything. Because we are free in Christ, we may not become slaves to any thing. Least of all, may we be slaves to our own flesh.
I am sure that you can put it all together by now. But let’s speak concretely for a moment. You, young people, are well aware of the members of your bodies. You know what they are capable of doing. You also know that they can do both good and evil. Make sure that the members of your body are sacrificed unto God! That means, that the eye looks at proper things. We live in a world full of lust. And when the old man directs the eye, it looks at the filth found in the magazines of our day and it hastily devours page after page of a sensuous novel which depicts the activities of sin in all its vividness. Need I continue? This is not to God’s gratitude. And there is the ear. The Devil likes to shout into it cursing, swearing and all sorts of sensuous sounds. Let not your ears itch for all these things, but for the truth alone! And then there are the hands, fingers, feet and many more do the same. O yes, lest we forget, there is also that little bundle of tire, the tongue. You are aware of what James says about it. It is kindled with the fire of hell. The tongue is likened to the small rudder of a large vessel. That little member can direct the whole body. Learn to control it by the new man in Christ!
That is thanksgiving in the whole of your life and walk. Is there anything we do apart from our bodies and its members? It is through the body that we perform all things and there is no exception to that. With the cells of the brain we think. Our feet transport us to a desired location. With our hands we perform cunning works. With our mouth we eat, communicate, sing and pray. The eye is the guiding light of the body. Consecrate your every member unto God! “What,” says Paul, “know ye not that your bodies are the members of Christ?” To whom we yield our members as servants to obey, to them we are enslaved. Shall we give our members to the Devil or to the old man of sin? God forbid! But in thanksgiving consecrate your bodies a living sacrifice unto God!
That is proper thanksgiving for covenant young people. After all, as godly young people we are the friend-servants of our God. This is a friendship which we have in Christ. Such friendship is essentially a matter of a renewed heart. But it doesn’t stop there. Our regenerated heart must dominate the whole of our bodies pressing all its members into the service of God.
Then God is glorified and honored. And that is thanksgiving! It is not just a rendering of thanks on the twenty-seventh. Nor is it a consecrating of only a part of our body to God. But proper thanksgiving ought to be reflected in the whole of our life and walk. That is your chief calling. No, that is your only calling.
“The offering on the altar burned, gives no delight to thee.” God does not delight in a vain and empty sacrifice devoid of faith, but, “the hearing ear, the willing heart, Thou givest unto me.” Young people, walk in accord with that gift of God!