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The Duty of Giving Thanks,





On the National Thanksgiving-Day, Nov. 26, 1863,




Published by Request






"Giving thanks always for all things unto GOD."--Eph. v. 20.

ONCE more, my Brethren, in obedience to the appointment of the Civil and Ecclesiastical Authorities, we have come up to our accustomed place of worship publicly and unitedly to render our praises and thanksgivings unto Almighty GOD for the unnumbered mercies and signal favors of another year. Winter and Spring, Summer and Autumn, in their appointed course, have rolled by. Seed-time and Harvest have again visited the earth, and we stand to-day at the threshold of the coming season of cold, when Nature rests from her work. Most undeserving of a continuance of our manifold blessings, most ungrateful for those already vouchsafed, would we have been, had we suffered the few remaining days of the present month to pass away, without [3/4] thus assembling in the more immediate presence of Him who is the glorious Source of all perfection, the Centre of all goodness, the all-gracious Benefactor of the universe, to praise and thank Him for the past, to entreat and supplicate Him for the future.

I propose then, in the first place, briefly to consider the words of S. Paul, which I have announced as my text, and, secondly, to enumerate some of the most important and conspicuous blessings of the past year, and for which, as I conceive, there should this day ascend from every heart an especial offering of praise and thanksgiving.

And, first, I would have you observe that every single word of the text carries with it a marked emphasis and especial significance. "Giving thanks," here we have the substance of the duty expressed. "Always," this word determines the principal circumstance of this and all other duties, the time of the performance. "For all things," here is the matter or extent of the duty. And, lastly, "unto GOD," Who is thus declared to be its Object. The duty, then, enjoined by the Apostle is "the giving of thanks," or "the being thankful;" [4/5] for the original Greek signifies not only to give or render thanks, but also to be thankfully disposed, to entertain a grateful sense, affection, memory. And thus, in order to the fulfilment of this duty of thanksgiving, it is necessary that we rightly apprehend all good things received, benefits conferred, mercies enjoyed, and, apprehending, hold them in grateful and lasting remembrance. "Whoso is wise and will observe - these things," saith the Psalmist, whose heart continually overflowed with gratitude, "even they shall understand the loving-kindness of the Lord." It is a trite though true observation, that we least regard those blessings which we most constantly enjoy. This finds its apt illustration in the case of the ordinary phenomena of nature which, as was long ago remarked by Aristotle, are least admired though in themselves the, most worthy of admiration. The daily rising of the sun to cheer and bless the earth, the falling of the early and the latter rain, the descent of fruitful showers, the periodic return of temperate seasons, the regular alternation of day and night, how little are these regarded by the great mass of men! So, too, the [5/6] continuance of life, the enjoyment of health, the possession of wealth, the means of livelihood, countless opportunities of improving in knowledge and growing in virtue, of these and similar inestimable benefits how little any of us think, and accordingly how seldom do we remember to be thankful for them! How little do we value them, until we are deprived of them! How rarely are we truly sensible of the goodness and lovingkindness of Him who is the source of all, until some unusual providence, some extraordinary dispensation, some accident, as we carelessly express it, rouses us to a sense of our dependence upon GOD! Even thus is it written of the Israelites of old: "When He slew them, then they sought Him, and remembered that GOD was their Rock, and the high GOD their Redeemer." To fulfil this duty, then, of "giving thanks," we must have a right apprehension of the benefits and blessings conferred upon us, and we must show that we duly appreciate and value them by holding them in memory and dwelling often upon them. With the sweet Singer of Israel, the great pattern of gratitude for all time, we must constantly bear in [6/7] mind the results of the divine favor and never grow weary of acknowledging them. "I will remember" saith he "Thy wonders of old. I will meditate also of all Thy work, and talk of Thy doings." And, again, "My mouth shall praise Thee with joyful lips, when I remember Thee upon my bed, and meditate on Thee in the night watches, because Thou hast been my help;" while in one and another of his divine compositions, which are, as it were, the conversations of his soul with GOD, he "cites and invokes heaven and earth, the celestial choir of angels, the several estates and generations of men, the numberless company of all the creatures, to assist and join in consort with him, in celebrating the worthy deeds, and magnifying the glorious Name of the most mighty Creator, and most bountiful Benefactor." In order to the full performance of the duty enjoined in the text, there must likewise be a sincere endeavor on our part to make a requital or return for the benefits and blessings vouchsafed according to our ability and opportunities. Daily and hourly partaking of GOD'S richest bounties and choicest gifts, we can in no wise be accounted truly thankful if we [7/8] content ourselves with the simple utterance of our thanks, and give GOD back nothing, or next to nothing, of all that He bestows. For though most true it is that, as the Psalter has it, our "goods are nothing" unto the Lord; or, as it is in the Bible version, our "goodness," that is beneficence, "extendeth not" unto the Lord, though His benefits exceed all possibility of a proportionable requital, though we cannot enrich Him with our gifts, Who is by unquestionable right and title the Lord and Proprietor of all things that exist, yet we have it in our power, by His own appointment, to please Him by our willing offerings. He loveth a cheerful giver, and will not forget the loving works of those who minister to His saints. We may by our deeds of charity, our acts of kindness and benignity to those whose welfare is dear to Him, His poor, His sick, His afflicted, His spiritually blind and naked and hungry, yield Him an acceptable return for all His unspeakable mercies. "To do good, and to distribute, forget not; for with such sacrifices GOD is well pleased," are the words of an inspired Apostle.

[9] On the next two heads of the subject, the time of the performance of this duty and the matter of it, I need say but little, since the words of the text which respectively refer to them are sufficiently explicit. The time of the performance is "always," that is, not every moment of our lives, which would interfere with the performance of all other duties such as the making proper provision for the wants of the body, but all the time that may be devoted consistently with a due regard to other duties. Or, taking the other meaning of the Greek word for "giving thanks," this "always" may be explained of cherishing constantly a grateful disposition, of cultivating a thankful heart, of having words of praise and thanksgiving upon our lips whenever it is meet they should be spoken.

The matter of the duty, "for all things," requires no limitation. We are to give thanks for every mercy, every blessing, every favor; for the least and most common benefits as well as the greatest; not only for those we may now enjoy, but for those we may have formerly enjoyed. We are to be thankful as well for the common and [9/10] ordinary blessings of GOD'S providence as for those that are rare and extraordinary, alike for public and private mercies, individual and national, alike for blessings material and temporal, spiritual and eternal.

And this "giving thanks" or "being thankful," "always," "for all things," has GOD for its one, only, supreme Object. Our thanksgiving, and gratitude are due to GOD, Whose name is the same as "Good," Who is Goodness itself; to GOD, Who made and redeemed and still preserves us, in Whom we live and move and have our being, Who is the Author of every good and perfect gift, Who hath only two dwellings, one in heaven and the other in a meek and thankful heart.

Having thus briefly enquired into the nature, extent, and object of the duty enjoined by the Apostle in the emphatic and significant language of the text, I proceed, secondly, to enumerate some of the signal favors and blessings for which our hearts should this day swell with grateful emotions, for which we should this day be especially and devoutly thankful.

We are to be thankful then, Brethren, for the [10/11] continuance to us through another year of life and health, which, next to a good conscience, are the greatest blessings we can enjoy. We are to be thankful that we have been spared to see another Thanksgiving, and are permitted to unite once more in the prayers and thanksgivings of the Church for the fruits of the earth, and all the other blessings of GOD'S merciful Providence. We are to be thankful for the many private blessings which have been showered upon us or our families, and which may be known only to ourselves.

Again, as good Christians and Churchmen, we are to be thankful for the continued growth and prosperity of our American Branch of the Church Catholic and Apostolic. Despite the fiery ordeal through which the country has been passing: despite the fact that the scourge of Civil War is upon the land and hundreds of thousands have exchanged the arts of peace for the pursuits of war, the growth of the Church of our affections has been marked and steady during the year just closed. In all the states and dioceses which have not been the scene of actual conflict, the ambassadors of the Prince of Peace have continued, [11/12] without interruption, their heaven-appointed mission, and the Chief Pastors of the Flock, in their Apostolic work as Overseers, have had reason to thank GOD for the largeness of the spiritual harvest. Many new altars of prayer and praise have been set up; many thousands have renewed their allegiance to Christ in the Apostolic Rite of Confirmation; and the contributions of the faithful to charitable and other objects have fallen little, if any, short of the usual large aggregate.

Our own Diocese, which is co-terminus with the state, was never more prosperous than now. The number of regularly organized Parishes, not including Missionary Stations, is about one hundred, and that of the faithful Clergy one hundred and six. Her honored and beloved Head is still spared to her, and under his wise administration and loving rule there is, perhaps, more unity and harmony and life within our borders than ever before. Coming still nearer home, our own Parish has certainly been blessed. An enterprise begun in faith less than eight months ago may to-day be safely pronounced successful. Our parish is now a fixed fact, a real and permanent centre of light [12/13] and influence in this community, a perpetual fountain gushing up with spiritual refreshment for all who will come and drink of its life-giving waters. It is true we yet meet in an humble upper room, but so did once the infant Church at Jerusalem, the Mother of us all, when she numbered only one hundred and twenty disciples, and had not yet reared her vaulted domes and built her grand cathedrals under every sky, and filled the whole earth with her praise. Let then the blessings which have already attended the good work incite us to yet greater exertions in its behalf. Only let our pure Branch of the Church be seen in all her beauty of holiness, in all the integrity and simplicity of her Apostolic order, and her well-digested services, her common worship, her sound and scriptural doctrines, cannot fail to win the homage of the understandings and the hearts of all reasonable and right-thinking men.

In a wide survey of the state of the Church--throughout the whole country--there arises before us one spectre, that of division. We cannot shut our eyes to the fact that the Bishops of the extreme southern dioceses involved [13/14] in the Rebellion have organized a separate Church, on the plea that Ecclesiastical independence necessarily follows the Civil, and, also, on the ground that the Church is bound to yield obedience to the existing, de facto, government whatever it may be. Without, however, entering at this time into the discussion of these wide questions, it is sufficient for our present purpose to note here that the Church South remains precisely the same with us in Doctrine, Discipline, and Worship, the only alterations made in the Liturgy being verbal ones, and that when the present usurped civil authority ceases, all excuse for a separate organization will disappear, and our Church will, by the blessing of God, be again one and united. THIS IS THE DIVINE SEAL WHICH GOD HATH SET UPON HIS CHURCH. Circumstances beyond its control may divide and rend it, but let each part retain within it the organic principle of life, THE EPISCOPATE, and it lives. Sects are born to-day, and die to-morrow. Since the times of Luther and Calvin numerous independent societies of Christians have had a short and transitory existence, but no Church with true Bishops [14/15] has died. So, when "unity, peace, and concord shall again visit our borders, the word "United" will supplant the short-lived "Confederate" in the southern Liturgy, and all our Bishops will again meet as Brethren of a common household of faith. GOD grant it. On the other hand, the division and disintegration which have taken place in the case of the non-Episcopal bodies will never be wholly recovered from. They lack the organic principle of life to which I have alluded, and their losses are irremediable. Thousands of soldiers, too, of both armies, in hospitals and on the tented field, have, through the Soldier's Prayer Book and the services held by our chaplains, for the first time come to know and love our Book of Common Prayer and will hereafter never be satisfied with any worship which is not conducted according to its time-honored prescriptions. Thus, my Brethren, I believe that out of this fearful ordeal great gain is to be evolved for our Church, and the time thereby hastened when we shall realize her true destiny, which is to go in and possess the whole land.

One other reference under this head cannot [15/16] well be omitted, one which is calculated to fill the heart of the catholic-minded Christian with high hopes. It is the fact that, while in both hemispheres the tocsin of war has sounded and the fierce conflict already begun, and while events seem shaping themselves for a general European war, that Kingdom, which is not of this world, and which is to survive the sinking of thrones and falling of empires, and even the final wreck and crush of matter, is blessed with a vision of returning peace and unity. It is the fact that, for the first time in. eight hundred years, there is the hopeful prospect of a partial restoration of intercommunion and fellowship between the Eastern and Western Branches of the Church. The floods of the Great Schism seem to be subsiding, the Ark of Christ begins to rest quietly upon the troubled deep, and messages of love and peace are already passing between Brethren long estranged and Churches long divided. Truly, in view of all this, we have as Christians and enlightened Churchmen much for which to be devoutly thankful.

But, once more, to us as good and loyal-hearted [16/17] citizens there this day opens up a bright and cheering vista of national prosperity, of national glory, and enduring national greatness. After more than two years and a half of Civil War, war in its worst and direst form and conducted on a scale without a parallel in history, we yet find ourselves surrounded on all sides with the tokens of a real and substantial prosperity. Everywhere throughout the free states the scenes which meet the eye are suggestive of peace and plenty more than war and its train of attendant evils. While the roar of artillery has long been heard in the Southern sky, and the tide of desolation, ruin, and death has swept over the rebellious states, our smiling fields and peaceful hearths have been well-nigh wholly exempt from the invader's desolating tramp. But one battle has been fought on loyal soil, and that witnessed the defeat and rout of the invading army and nearly proved the doom of the Rebellion. Our material prosperity is indeed a marvel and a mystery. It calls forth the astonishment of the nations of the old world. It is a wonder even to ourselves and should be thankfully accepted as a token of the divine [17/18] goodness and favorable interposition in our behalf. Again, though our armies have not yet been able to crush the heart of the Rebellion, the events of the past year have been such as to assure every true lover of his country that this is only a question of time. The concentration of forces rendered possible by our victorious advances may for a while enable the shattered hosts of the Rebellion to prolong the struggle, but sooner or later they must abandon their now hopeless cause. One thing is already established beyond the peradventure of a doubt. The Government formed by Washington, and cemented by the blood of the heroes and martyrs of the Revolution, is not to be destroyed. For nearly three long years it has withstood the assaults of secret and open foes, enemies foreign and domestic, and is to-day stronger than ever in the affections of twenty millions of free men. The Government stands. The Nation lives. The tide of victory follows its advancing cohorts, and our hearts shall no more sink as once they did, when we seemed threatened with premature national death. Our immense resources, our wonderful vitality and great recuperative [18/19] energies, our vast and growing power on land and sea, are beginning to be realized as never before by other nations, and there is henceforth but little fear of any armed intervention in our affairs. Above all, the people are everywhere learning to think for themselves, are everywhere rising above party passions and personal ends, are everywhere scaling the heights of true patriotism, and at no time since the war began has the nation presented such an undivided and formidable front to its enemies at home and abroad. Truly, in view of all this, we have, as good and loyal-hearted citizens, much for which to be thankful.

Such, my Brethren, are the most important blessings which this hurried glance at the present condition of the Church and the State presents to our minds. For these and all other blessings, private as well as public, let us this day give thanks unto GOD with joyful lips. Here in His place of worship, or at borne in our closets, let each heart glorify GOD giving Him thanks.

"Give thanks, all ye people, give thanks to the Lord,
Alleluias of freedom, with joyful accord:
[20] Let the East and the west, North and South roll along,
Sea, mountain and prairie, one thanksgiving song:--
For the sunshine and rainfall, enriching again
Our acres in myriads, with treasures of grain;
For the Earth still unloading her manifold wealth,
For the Skies beaming vigor, the winds breathing health:
For the Nation's wide table, o'erflowingly spread,
Where the many have feasted, and all have been fed."

Finally, Brethren, let us this day vow to be more and more faithful to all the obligations, civil and religious, which rest upon each one of us. Let us heed the exhortation of our Chief Pastor to remember all who are suffering in mind, body, or estate, and especially our sick and wounded soldiers. Let ns evince our gratitude for all past mercies by increased bounty to the poor, by increased zeal for the honor and glory of GOD, and by yet larger liberality to the Church in whose bosom we live, and within whose encircling arms we hope and pray to die.

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