Thanksgiving Day – Sermons & Articles
“The earth is full of the goodness of the Lord.” —Psalm 33:5
Good, grand, old-fashioned Thanksgiving Day has come. Nothing could stop it. It pressed down through the weeks and months, its way lighted by burning cities, or cleft by cavernous graves, now strewn with orange blossoms, and then with funeral weeds, amid instruments that piped the “Quickstep” and drummed the “Dead March.” Through the gates of this morning it came, carrying on one shoulder a sheaf of wheat, and on the other a shock of corn. Children in their holiday dresses hold up their hands to bless it, and old age goes out to bid it welcome, asking that it come and, by the altars of God, rest a while.
Come in, oh day fragrant with a thousand memories and borne down by the weight of innumerable mercies, and tell to our thankful hearts how great is the goodness of God!
An aged Christian in Massachusetts recently died. Instead of the flowers usually put upon the bier, there was laid upon his coffin a sheaf of wheat, fully ripe. Beautifully significant! Oh, that on the remains of this harvest year we might place today a sheaf of prayer, a sheaf of thanksgiving, a sheaf of joy fully ripe!
By a sublime egotism, man has come to appropriate this world to himself, when the fact is, our race is in a small minority—compared with the instances of animal life, not one to a million. We shall enlarge our ideas of God’s goodness and come to a better understanding of the text if, before we come to look at the cup of our blessing, we look at the goodness of God to the brute creation.
Although nature is out of joint, yet even in its disruption I am surprised to find the almost universal happiness of the animal creation. On a summer day, when the air and the grass are most populous with life, you will not hear a sound of distress unless, perchance, a heartless schoolboy has robbed a bird’s nest or a hunter has broken a bird’s wing or a pasture has been robbed of a lamb, and there goes up a bleating from the flocks. The whole earth is filled with animal delight—joy feathered and scaled and horned and hoofed. The bee hums it; the frog croaks it; the squirrel chatters it; the quail whistles it; the lark carols it; the whale spouts it. The snail, the rhinoceros, the grizzly bear, the toad, the wasp, the spider, the shell-fish have their homely delights—joy as great to them as our joy is to us. Goat climbing the rocks; anaconda crawling through the jungle; buffalo plunging across the prairie; crocodile basking in tropical sun; seal puffing on the ice; ostrich striding across the desert, are so many bundles of joy; they do not go moping or melancholy; they are not only half supplied; God says they are filled with good.
The worm squirming through the sod upturned of plowshare, and the ants racing up and down the hillock, are happy by day and happy by night. Take up a drop of water under the microscope, and you will find that within it there are millions of creatures that swim in a hallelujah of gladness. The sounds in nature that are repulsive to our ears are often only utterances of joy—the growl, the croak, the bark, the howl. The good God made these creatures, thinks of them ever, and will not let a plowshare turn up a mole’s nest, or fisherman’s hook transfix a worm, until, by eternal decree, its time has come. God’s hand feeds all these broods and shepherds all these flocks and tends all these herds. He sweetens the clover-top for the oxen’s taste; and pours out crystalline waters, in mossed cups of rocks, for the hind to drink out of on his way down the crags; and pours nectar into the cup of the honeysuckle to refresh the hummingbird; and spreads a banquet of a hundred fields of buckwheat, and lets the honey-bee put his mouth to any cup of all the banquet; and tells the grasshopper to go anywhere he likes, and gives the flocks of heaven the choice of all the grain-fields. The sea-anemone, half animal, half flower, clinging to the rock in mid-ocean, with its tentacles spread to catch its food, has the Owner of the universe to provide for it. We are repulsed at the hideousness of the elephant, but God, for the comfort and convenience of the monster, puts forty thousand distinct muscles in its proboscis.
I go down on the barren seashore and say, “No animal can live in this place of desolation”; but all through the sands are myriads of little insects that leap with happy life. I go down by the marsh and say, “In this damp place, and in these loathsome pools of stagnant water, there will be the quietness of death”; but, lo! I see the turtles on the rotten log sunning themselves, and hear the bogs quake with multitudinous life. When the unfledged robins are hungry, God shows the old robin where she can get food to put into their open mouths. Winter is not allowed to come until the ants have granaried their harvest, and the squirrels have filled their cellar with nuts. God shows the hungry ichneumon where it may find the crocodile’s eggs; and in arctic climes there are animals that God so lavishly clothes that they can afford to walk through snow-storms in the finest sable and ermine and chinchilla, and no sooner is one set of furs worn out than God gives them a new one. He helps the spider in its architecture of its gossamer bridge and takes care of the color of the butterfly’s wing and tinges the cochineal and helps the moth out of the chrysalis. The animal creation also has its army and navy. The most insignificant has its means of defense: the wasp its sting; the reptile its tooth; the bear its paw; the dog its muzzle; the elephant its tusk; the fish its scale; the bird its swift wing; the reindeer its antlers; the roe its fleet foot. We are repelled at the thought of sting and tusk and hoof, but God’s goodness provides them for the defense of the animal’s rights.
God in the Bible announces his care for these orders of creation. The one hundred and fourth Psalm recounts it. He says that he has heaved up fortifications for their defense: “The high hills are a refuge for the wild goats, and the rocks for the conies.” He watches the bird’s nest. “As for the stork, the fir-trees are her house.” He sees that the cattle have enough grass. “He causeth the grass to grow for the cattle.” He sees to it that the cows and sheep and horses have enough to drink. “He sendeth the springs into the valleys, which run among the hills; they give drink to every beast of the field; the wild asses quench their thirst.”
Amid the thunders of Sinai God uttered the rights of cattle, and said that they should have a Sabbath. “Thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy cattle.” He declared with infinite emphasis that the ox on the threshing-floor should have the privilege of eating some of the grain as he trod it out, and muzzling was forbidden. If young birds were taken from the nest for food, the despoiler’s life depended on the mother going free. God would not let the mother-bird suffer in one day the loss of her young and her own liberty. And he who regarded in olden time the conduct of man toward the brutes, today looks down from heaven and is interested in every minnow that swims the stream and every rook that cleaves the air and every herd that bleats or neighs or lows in the pasture.
Why did God make all these, and why make them so happy? How account for all this singing and dancing and frisking amid the irrational creation? Why this heaven for the animalcule in a dewdrop. Why for the condor a throne on Chimborazo? Why the glitter of the phosphorus in the ship’s wake on the sea, which is said to be only the frolic of millions of insects? Why the perpetual chanting of so many voices from the irrational creation in earth and air and ocean—beasts, and all cattle, creeping things, and flying fowl, permitted to join in the praise that goes up from seraph and archangel? Only one solution, one explanation, one answer—God is good. “The earth is full of the goodness of the Lord.”
I take a step higher, and notice the adaptation of the world to the comfort and happiness of man. The sixth day of creation had arrived. The palace of the world was made, but there was no king to live in it. Leviathan ruled the deep; the eagle the air; the lion the field; but where was the scepter which should rule all? A new style of being was created. Heaven and earth were represented in his nature. His body from the earth beneath; his soul from the heaven above. The one reminding him of his origin, the other speaking of his destiny—himself the connecting link between the animal creation and angelic intelligence. In him a strange commingling of the temporal and eternal, the finite and the infinite, dust and glory. The earth for his floor, and heaven for his roof; God for his Father; eternity for his lifetime. The Christian anatomist, gazing upon the conformation of the human body, exclaims, “Fearfully and wonderfully made.” No embroidery so elaborate, no gauze so delicate, no color so exquisite, no mechanism so graceful, no handiwork so divine. So quietly and mysteriously does the human body perform its functions, that it was not until five thousand years after the creation of the race that the circulation of the blood was discovered; and though anatomists of all countries and ages have been so long exploring this castle of life, they have only begun to understand it.
Volumes have been written on the hand. Wondrous instrument! With it we give friendly recognition and grasp the sword and climb the rock and write and carve and build. It constructed the Pyramids and hoisted the Parthenon. It made the harp, and then struck out of it all the world’s minstrelsy. In it the white marble of Pentelicon mines dreamed itself away into immortal sculpture. It reins in the swift engine; it holds the steamer to its path in the sea; it snatches the fire from heaven; it feels the pulse of the sick child with its delicate touch, and makes the nations quake with its stupendous achievements. What power brought down the forests and made the marshes blossom and burdened the earth with all the cities that thundered on with enterprise and power? Four fingers and a thumb. A hundred million dollars would not purchase for you a machine as exquisite and wonderful as your own hand. Mighty hand! In all its bones and muscles and joints I learn that God is good.
Behold the eye, which, in its Daguerrean gallery, in an instant catches the mountain and the sea. This perpetual telegraphing of the nerves; these joints, that are the only hinges that da not wear out; these bones and muscles of the body, with fourteen thousand different adaptations; these one hundred thousand glands; these two hundred million pores; this mysterious heart, contracting four thousand times every hour—two hundred and fifty pounds of blood rushing through it every sixty seconds; this chemical process of digestion; this laboratory, beyond the understanding of the most skilful philosophy; this furnace, whose heat is kept up from cradle to grave; this factory of life, whose wheels and spindles and bands are God-directed; this human voice, capable, as has been estimated, of producing millions of different sounds. If we could realize the wonders of our physical organization, we would be hypochondriacs, fearing every moment that some part of the machine would break down. But there are men among you who have lived through seventy years, and not a nerve has ceased to thrill or a muscle to contract or a lung to breathe or a hand to manipulate.
I take a step higher, and look at man’s mental constitution. Behold the lavish benevolence of God in powers of perception, or the faculty you have of transporting this outside world into your own mind—gathering into your brain the majesty of the storm and the splendors of the day-dawn, and lifting into your mind the ocean as easily as you might put a glass of water to your lips. Watch the law of association, or the mysterious linking together of all you ever thought or knew or felt, and then giving you the power to take hold of the clue-line and draw through your mind the long train with indescribable velocity—one thought starting up a hundred, and this again a thousand—as the chirp of one bird sometimes wake a whole forest of voices, or the thrum of one string will rouse an orchestra. Watch your mem-ory—that sheaf-binder that goes forth to gather the harvest of the past and bring it into the present. Your power and velocity of thought—thought of the swift wing and the lightning foot; thought that out-speeds the star and circles through the heavens and weighs worlds, and, from poising amid wheeling constellations, comes down to count the blossoms in a tuft of mignonette, then starts again to try the fathoming of the bottomless and the scaling of the insurmountable, to be swallowed up in the incomprehensible, and lost in God!
In reason and understanding, man is alone. The ox surpasses him in strength, the antelope in speed, the hound in keenness of nostril, the eagle in far-reaching sight, the rabbit in quickness of hearing, the honey-bee in delicacy of tongue, the spider in fineness of touch. Man’s power, therefore, consists not in what he can lift or how fast he can run or how strong a wrestler he can throw—for in these respects the ox, the ostrich and the bear are his superior—but by his reason he comes forth to rule all: through his ingenious contrivance to outrun, outlift, out-wrestle, outsee, outhear, outdo. At his all-conquering decree the forest that had stood for ages steps aside to let him build his cabin and cultivate his farm. The sea which raved and foamed upon the race has become a crystal pathway for commerce to march on. The thunder-cloud that slept lazily above the mountain is made to come down and carry mail-bags. Man, dissatisfied with his slowness of advancement, shouted to the Water and the Fire, “Come and lift!” “Come and draw!” “Come and help!” And they answered, “Ay, ay, we come;” and they joined hands—the fire and the water—and the shuttles fly and the rail-train rattles on and the steamship comes coughing, panting, flaming across the deep. He elevates the telescope to the heavens, and, as easily as through the stethoscope the physician hears the movement of the lung, the astronomer catches the pulsation of distant systems of worlds throbbing with life. He takes the microscope, and discovers that there are hundreds of thousands of animalculæ living, moving, working, dying within a circle that could be covered with the point of a pin—animals to which a rain-drop would be an ocean, a rose-leaf a hemisphere, and the flash of a fire-fly lasting enough to give light to several generations.
I take a step higher, and look at man’s moral nature. Made in the image of God. Vast capacity for enjoyment; capable at first of eternal joy, and, though now disordered, still, through the recuperative force of heavenly grace, able to mount up to more than its original felicity: faculties that may blossom and bear fruit inexhaustibly. Immortality written upon every capacity: a soul destined to range in unlimited spheres of activity long after the world has put on ashes, and the solar system shall have snapped its axle, and the stars that, in their courses, fought against Sisera, shall have been slain and buried amid the tolling thunders of the last day.
You see that God has adapted everything to our comfort and advantage. Pleasant things for the palate; music for the ear; beauty for the eye; aroma for the nostril; kindred for our affections; poetry for our taste; religion for our soul. We are put in a garden, and told that from all the trees we may eat except here and there one. He gives the sun to shine on us and the waters to refresh us and food to strengthen us; and the herbs yield medicine when we are sick, and the forests lumber when we would build a house or cross the water in a ship. The rocks are transported for our foundation; and metals upturned for our currency; and wild beasts must give us covering; and the mountains must be tunneled to let us pass; and the fish of the sea come up in our net; and the birds of the air drop at the flash of our guns; and the cattle on a thousand hills come down to give us meat. For us the peach-orchards bend down their fruit and the vineyards their purple clusters. To feed and refresh our intellect, ten thousand wonders in nature and providence—wonders of mind and body, wonders of earth and air and deep, analogies and antitheses; all colors and sounds; lyrics in the air; idyls in the field; conflagrations in the sunset; robes of mist on the mountains; and the “Grand March” of God in the storm.
But for the soul still higher adaptation: a fountain in which it may wash; a ladder by which it may climb; a song of endless triumph that it may sing; a crown of unfading light that it may wear. Christ came to save it—came with a cross on his back; came with spikes in his feet; came when no one else would come, to do a work which no one else would do. See how suited to man’s condition is what God has done for him! Man is a sinner; here his pardon. He has lost God’s image; Christ retraces it. He is helpless; Almighty grace is proffered. He is a lost wanderer; Jesus brings him home. He is blind; and at one touch of him who cured Bartimeus, eternal glories stream into his soul. Jesus, I sing thy grace! Cure of worst disease! Hammer to smite off heaviest chain! Light for thickest darkness! Grace divine! Devils scoff at it and men reject it, but heaven celebrates it!
But I must stop this range of thought, for our Chief Executive asks that today we chiefly celebrate the mercies of the past year. Now, my soul, to the altar of incense. Come, all ye people! Great High-priest, kindle the coals! Let the cloud fill the temple!
I wish you good cheer for the national health. Pestilence, that in other years has come to drive out its thousand hearses to Greenwood and Laurel Hill, has not visited our nation. It is a glorious thing to be well. How strange that we should keep our health when one breath from a marsh or the sting of an insect or the slipping of a foot or the falling of a tree-branch might fatally assault our life! Regularly the lungs work, and their motion seems to be a spirit within us panting after its immortality. Our sight fails not, though the air is so full of objects which by one touch could break out the soul’s window. What ship, after a year’s tossing on the sea, could come in with so little damage as ourselves, though we arrive after a year’s voyage today?
I wish you good cheer for the national harvest. Reaping-machines never swathed thicker rye and corn-husker’s peg never ripped out fuller ear and mow-poles never bent down under sweeter hay and windmill’s hopper never shook out larger wheat. Long trains of white-covered wagons have brought the wealth down to the great thoroughfares. The garners are full, the storehouses overcrowded, the canals blocked with freights pressing down to the markets. The cars rumble all through the darkness, and whistle up the flagmen at dead of night to let the Western harvests come down to feed the mouths of the great cities. A race of kings has taken possession of this land—King Cotton, King Corn, King Wheat, King Grass, King Coal. Our nets bring up supplies from the cod, salmon and mackerel fisheries; the whaler’s harpoon was never more skilfully flung.
I wish you good cheer for civil and religious liberty. No official spy watches our entrance to God’s temple, nor does an armed soldier interfere with the honest utterance of truth. We stand today with our arms free to work, and our tongues free to speak. This Bible—it is all unclasped. This pulpit—there is no chain round about it. There is no snapping of musketry in the street. Blessed be God that today we are free men, with the prospect and determination of always being free. No established religion; Jew and Gentile, Arminian and Calvinist, Trinitarian and Unitarian, Protestant and Roman Catholic, on the same footing. If persecution should come even against the most unpopular of all the sects, I believe that all other denominations would band together and arm themselves, and hearts would be stout and blood would be free and the right of men to worship God according to the dictates of their consciences would be contested at the point of the bayonet and with blood flowing up to the bits of the horses’ bridles.
Praise ye the Lord! Let every thing that hath breath praise the Lord! Today let the people come out from their storehouses and offices, from Lowell factories and off from Western prairies and up from Pennsylvania coal-mines and out from Oregon forests and in from the whale-ships of New London and Cape Ann, and wherever God’s light shines and God’s rain descends and God’s mercy broods, let the thanksgiving arise!