True Thanksgiving Joy

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 no herd be in the stalls; Yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will joy in the God of my salvation. Habakkuk 3:17, 18

At this time of the year the citizens of Canada and the United States observe what is called Thanksgiving Day. On the second Monday of October and the fourth Thursday of November the prime minister of Canada and the president of the United States declare a national holiday for their respective countries, so that everyone can give thanks unto the Lord for benefits and mercies received.

Has it ever struck you as strange that our Thanksgiving Day should be a national holiday? I ask this question because the basis for this proclamation is, we understand, that all men have received blessings and mercies from the Lord and are able to render thanks unto Him from whom is every good and perfect gift. But where in Scripture do we read of such a proclamation? Where are we informed in Holy Writ that all men are the objects of God’s grace and therefore called to give thanks? O, let us not misunderstand. We do not deny the calling and obligation of every man to acknowledge Him who alone is the giver of every good and perfect gift. However, what man must do and what he can do are two different things.

The teaching that all men have received blessings and mercies from the Lord and are therefore able to give thanks unto Jehovah is surely foreign to Holy Writ. How different it is in Psalm 118:2-4, “Let Israel now say, that his mercy endureth forever. Let the house of Aaron now say, that mercy endureth forever. Let them now that fear the Lord say, that his mercy endureth forever.” This means two things. It implies in the first place, that only the people of the living God are able to give thanks unto the Lord. And it implies in the second place, that they are able to give thanks unto the Lord always. The only thing that can prevent us and does prevent us from giving thanks unto the Lord is the spiritual condition of our own heart and life and never anything outside of us.

In light of the present wars and the fears concerning the ebola virus you may ask, How can I give thanks? Or you may have had more personal tragedies happen to you such as a serious illness, either to yourself or to a loved one, or death, or a business failure. I am sure that you can add to the list. At such times and under such circumstances we are inclined to refrain from giving thanks to God.

Dear child of God, bear this in mind. In the first place, the Word of God does not attempt to minimize your difficult position. Neither does it demand of you that you ignore it. Scripture does not ask that we assume the attitude of the stoic. Secondly, true thanksgiving must not be confused with worldly and carnal frivolity. The fact, therefore, that you are in difficulty does not exclude you from the privilege of giving thanks unto God. Thirdly, do you really believe that sorrows and earthly misfortunes and the giving of thanks exclude each other? In answer to this question please read the text above once again.

What an amazing Word of God! We cannot enter at this time into a detailed discussion of the calamity that the Lord visited upon His people through the instrumentality of the Chaldeans. Neither is this necessary. We must not overlook the tremendous contrast that is presented to us in this particular passage of Holy Writ. Amazing is this Word of the Lord because the destruction and joy whereof the prophet speaks occur simultaneously. The prophet does not declare that he is sorrowing but also rejoicing. Neither does he say that he is sorrowing but will rejoice in the future when his present calamity shall be past. But the amazing character of the text consists exactly in the fact that, although disasters overtake and overwhelm him, nevertheless he will rejoice in the Lord even in the midst of these calamities and disasters. That is wonderful, because it means that the Christian always has the victory, regardless of the difficulties that trouble him.

Another feature of this text is the fact that the prophet declares that he will rejoice. He does not say, for example, that he will merely bear his present trouble and affliction, or that he will not murmur or rebel. No, the church of God actually declares in this particular Word of God that she will rejoice. In order that there be no misunderstanding whatsoever, the prophet exclaims here, according to the original Hebrew, “I will rejoice in the Lord, I will leap for joy in the God of my salvation.” To be sure, according to verse 16 the prophet trembled when he heard of the impending disaster; rottenness entered into his bones, and he trembled in himself. However, already in this same verse he declares that he would find rest in the day of trouble. Then in the words of our text, he stands upon the mountaintop of faith and declares that even in the midst of calamity and disaster, he will rejoice in the Lord and leap for joy in the God of his salvation. Are you able to say this? Also today, when the staunchest and bravest hearts of men are being shaken and disturbed because of the frightening uncertainty that confronts them? If you and I cannot join with the prophet Habakkuk, what shall we say? If we fail to appropriate unto ourselves this comfort, wherewith then shall we be comforted?

The text speaks of the God of my salvation. We are acquainted with the idea of salvation. It refers to our deliverance from the greatest evil and to our becoming partakers of the highest good. This is not the highest good in the sense that it is the highest to which we could attain, but in the sense that it is the highest good that the Lord could bestow upon us. Briefly expressed, this salvation refers to our deliverance out of all the power of sin and death into the blessed fellowship of God’s eternal and heavenly covenant and kingdom.

That God is the God of my salvation surely implies that all salvation is of the Lord. He is a God of salvation; salvation characterizes Him alone and can be ascribed only to Him. He is the God of our salvation because He conceived of it, willed it, laid it away for us from before the foundation of the world. Secondly, God is the God of our salvation because He realized it in Jesus Christ our Lord. It was He who took on our flesh and blood, bore the burden of our guilt, descended into the unfathomably deep and terrible abyss of hell, paid all our debt, and merited for us life and glory everlastingly. And, finally, God is the God of our salvation because it is He who alone saves us, calls us out of darkness into the light, and causes all things to work for our eternal and heavenly salvation.

Furthermore, He is the God of my salvation. The text is personal. Knowledge concerning the truth, fundamental and important as it is, cannot of itself enable us to give thanks unto the Lord. I must appropriate that living God unto myself. I must be able to say: God has elected me, bore my guilt, died for me, arose from the dead as my Savior. This I must know. And this I can know if His Spirit be in me, leading me upon the way everlasting and causing me to seek the things that are above.

Moreover, and this must not escape our attention, the prophet declares that he will rejoice in the Lord. The Lord in this text is Jehovah. Jehovah is the I AM, the unchangeable One. He is unchangeable, everlastingly the same in Himself, and therefore the unchangeable, covenant God of His people. Having loved us, He loves us with an everlasting love; having begun His work of salvation in our hearts, He will complete that work even unto the end. Being Jehovah, and therefore the unchangeable and faithful God, He fulfills His promise once given to His people and repeated throughout the old dispensation, and sends His Son into the world. He does not rest until all the sins of His people have been paid and everlasting salvation has been merited. This constitutes an essential part of the text and explains why trouble and thanksgiving do not exclude each other.

It is because of this salvation that I will rejoice in the Lord, and leap for joy in God. This means in the first place that my joy will be in God; God Himself will be the content of my joy. Let us understand this. We will not rejoice in things. Earthly prosperity and plenty will not constitute my joy and happiness. I will rejoice in the Lord. I will leap for joy because He loves me eternally, because He has blotted out all my sins and trespasses and merited life eternal for me, because He has shed His love abroad in my heart and filled me with the unspeakable joy of His fellowship and communion.

But there is more. What must I say with respect to my present anxiety and distress and trouble? What must be my attitude toward this grief and sorrow that are my lot? Must I ignore them? That is impossible. The Lord does not send me trouble and affliction in order that I should ignore them. Certainly I must respond to His heavy hand upon me and take cognizance of my present grief and woe. What shall I say? I will rejoice in the Lord and leap for joy in the God of my salvation. He is always and constantly the God of my salvation, also in connection with my present distresses and sorrows. He is the Lord, Jehovah, is He not? He is Jehovah, the unchangeable, who loves me and never changes in His love toward me. Hence, I will leap for joy in Him.

This does not mean that I will rejoice because of my present calamities and sorrows, or that the Christian must assume an attitude of indifference over against them. I will rejoice in God. But I will rejoice in Him also in connection with whatever He pleases to send me in the midst of this world. Indeed, I grieve and feel the pain of my present afflictions. But underneath my sorrow, and sustaining me in my present woe, is the unspeakable joy that also this trouble has been given me of the Lord in His unfathomable love, and that all things must work together to realize the glory that the Lord has laid away for me from before the foundation of the world.

This expression of thanksgiving, so deeply and profoundly spiritual, is not easy. Do not be too hasty in declaring that you are able to take this song of thanksgiving upon your lips. It is easy to speak of victory when no enemy confronts you, to confess unwavering loyalty to the cause of God and of His Christ as long as such loyalty does not involve you in the sufferings of this present time. But are you also able to utter this thanksgiving in the midst of affliction? Are you, even at this very moment, in trouble and sorrow? And does this particular Word of God appear completely beyond your reach so that you cannot possibly attain unto it? Do you ask: How can I rejoice in the Lord and leap for joy in the God of my salvation?

Our text informs us that we must rejoice in the God of our salvation. You cannot rejoice and leap for joy in your own strength. But you can do so in the Lord. This is true, first of all, objectively. To leap for joy in the God of our salvation implies that we are in God, are rooted in God, have been ingrafted into Jesus Christ our Lord by the God of our salvation. God has called us out of darkness into His marvelous light and united us with Himself. Whereas we formerly were of the earth earthy and loved sin and the things that are below, now we have been transplanted into God and live out of Him as the God of our salvation. This is objectively true.

But this must also be true subjectively. Also consciously we must stand and rejoice in the God of our salvation. We must cleave to Him and rejoice in the fact that He has called us out of the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of His dear Son. And do not fail to apply this blessed consciousness of salvation also to the circumstances in which you may presently find yourselves. There is no evil in the city of God that the Lord has not done. There is no distress or sorrow that did not come upon you from the living God. Moreover, He whom you confess to be the God of your salvation is the Lord, Jehovah, who loves you with an everlasting love, constantly and unchangeably. Never does He fail to be kind and cause all things to work together for your good.

Take this Word upon your lips prayerfully, whatever may be your lot in life: “Thou, God, art the God of my salvation, also now, inasmuch as Thou art Jehovah; give me the peace that transcends all understanding, and enable me to view all the things of this present time in the light of the glory that shall be bestowed upon me.” Then you will be able to rejoice also today and glory in the God of your salvation. Yes, truly, we can be thankful always in everything.