O sing unto the Lord with thanksgiving; sing praises upon the harp unto our God: Who covereth the heaven with clouds, and prepareth rain for the earth, and maketh the grass to grow upon the mountains, and herb for the use of men; Who giveth fodder unto the cattle, and feedeth the young ravens that call upon Him. Psalm cx1vii: 7, 8, 9.
The festival we this day celebrate, is essentially Puritanical in its origin. It was adopted from Puritanism by the Church, out of regard for the authority of the State, rather than from affection for its origin, or from any need. felt for it by the Church. Probably, left to herself, and wholly free from outside influences, the Church would never have appointed such a day for such a purpose; not feeling any necessity for it, though, once appointed, it harmonized well with her principles. The day, as originally intended, is simply a recognition of God's Providence, as manifested in the fact of harvest following seed time; the recognition of God as the author and source of those blessings which come from earth. It is the acknowledgment of our dependence on God for food and raiment; and that without His aid, however we might labor, all would be in vain.
Now this is a great truth, of which it is fitting we should be reminded, of which many in the world are apt to be forgetful. It is a fact of which our blessed Savior reminded us, when he taught us to pray: "Give us this day our daily bread." It is a fact of which the Church takes care to remind us in every one of her services, by making that prayer part of every service. There is never a baptism of an infant, [1/2] whether public or private; there is never a confirmation, or communion, or marriage, or burial, or service of any kind, after her method, without the Lord's Prayer, and so, without, by the petition, "Give us this day our daily bread," teaching that lesson of dependence on God for the things of earth, which this day is set especially to teach. And in the daily morning and evening service, recognizing God as the "Father of all mercies," "we bless" Him "for creation, preservation, and all the blessings of this life," and pray Him "to give us that due sense of all his mercies, that our hearts may be unfeignedly thankful." Making every day thus thanksgiving, by appointment in her services, keeping thus in mind of all her members, the truth and doctrine which this day is now especially set to teach, she felt less need of the appointment of such a day. At the same time, when appointed by the State, it harmonized well with the method of the Church, so long as kept in due subordination to other and more important festivals, and not permitted to usurp their place.
For in its origin, and indeed in its observance, it is to be remembered that Thanksgiving Day is not a Christian festival; that is, its appointment presents no subject for consideration distinctively Christian. The object of the festival is an acknowledgment of God's Providence in fitting the earth to furnish the means of life to man. It is God working in nature for man's temporal good; not working supernaturally for his eternal welfare. It is His work for the body to preserve its life, not His work for the soul to secure spiritual life, which is presented in the appointment of the day. What I mean, then, in saying that the day is not a Christian festival is, that so far as the object of the appointment of the day goes, it is a day, in the celebration of which, all religions of the earth might join. Atheists alone are excluded, by principle, from its celebration. It is a day in which the Deist, the Unitarian, those known as orthodox Christians, that is, those who yield assent to the old Catholic Creeds of Christendom, may meet every form of idolatry in the world, which acknowledges an intelligent Creator, in celebrating. It might have been celebrated in Athens, before Saint Paul preached there, with the same fitness, with the same meaning as here to-day. In truth, the religions of the world, the old idolatries, and later paganism, have always had religious festivals presenting its idea. And the only thing which would stand in the way of a Mahomedan or Pagan engaging in our worship this day, is nothing which belongs distinctively [2/3] to the idea of the day, but the Christianity which pervades all our worship. Whatever the religious object of the day, we observe it with Christian worship. But this is because our worship is always Christian. There is nothing, however, in the purpose of the day's appointment which would hinder the Chinese of our city from joining in its observance according to their own methods of, worship. It has to them the same meaning as to us, because they are partakers with us in all to which the day calls attention, those blessings which come to us through the will of God, working in nature, the "making grass to grow upon the mountains, and herb for the use of men." It commemorates only those blessings which we have in common not only with all men, but with the beasts of the field, and the fowls of the air.
As it commemorates thus the least of all our blessings, it manifestly should occupy the lowest place of all our festivals. At the same time, since these are gifts and blessings of God, for which we should be devoutly thankful; since the day calls attention to these facts, and reminds us of the duty of thanksgiving for them, the natural fitness of the day, joins with the respect which we owe to the civil authority, in binding us to the duty of observing it with honorable religious service, and fitting festivity.
I remarked at the outset that the day was in its origin, Puritanical, that it was not of the Church, and that probably the Church, not feeling the need of the day, would never have appointed it, if left to herself. The reason of this is, that the Church puts us in mind of this day's teaching daily. But it is not only Puritanical in its origin, but it is noteworthy that it is the only religious festival of Puritanism. It is the only religious festival, for that matter, among most Christian bodies outside the Church. Beginning in Puritanism, it has taken strong hold of all Christian bodies outside the Church.
The history and influence of the festival is highly interesting and instructive. It bears strong testimony in favor of the Church's system of festival and fast. Its very appointment was an inconsistency in Puritanism, and a witness of the use and value of festival and fast as they exist in the Church. The appointment of Thanksgiving Day, and its establishment as an annual festival, was an unconscious concession of the whole argument against the festivals and fasts of the Church; since there is no argument for the former, which does not tell with still greater force in favor of the latter.
 Puritanism began under the influence of High Calvinism, I cannot now stop to show the rationale of the influence, with peculiar professions of spirituality. It ignored the body and the senses. It abhorred, as of the world, material aids to devotion, as leaning on a broken staff. It was the extreme wing of the body, which reaction against the sensuality of mediaeval worship, which was so much an appeal to the senses, had called into being. All reactions tend to extremes, and the momentum of a reactionary force always separates some from the great mass of which it is composed.
The spirituality of Puritanism was shown in abhorrence of all which the mediaeval church had used to influence the senses. Shocked at the sensualism and corruptions of mediaeval christianity, Puritanism could see nothing good in a system under which such corruption had grown up. It was part of its spirituality to avoid all which was calculated to act on the senses in worship, as an instrument of Satan, by which to subject spirit to sense. For this reason a form of prayer was rejected as formalism. For the same reason they avoided kneeling in worship, and to go as far as possible away from it, they stood. They hated clerical garments in worship, with an intensity, amusing now, though entirely consistent with their theory and methods. They destroyed organs and mutilated ornaments in churches, when they had the power. When they built houses of worship, they avoided pointed architecture, because its symbolism was to point to heaven, and they would have no such mere sensible reminder of heaven. They broke up stone' fonts which reminded of Christ the Rock whence spiritual waters flow. They would not tolerate Christmas greens and Easter flowers. They would have no festivals or fasts, regularly coming year by year to remind them of the birth of Christ; his manifestation to the Gentiles; his death, resurrection, ascension, the gift of the Holy Ghost, and of the being of the Triune God; not because they would have men forget any of the great truths which these forms and days taught, but because they trusted to train men to such spirituality, such high christian life, that they should never forget them, that they should need no reminders. In all this Puritanism was consistent with its nature.
In the nobility of the aim to make men angels here on earth, one could pardon the mistake they made, but for its fearful consequences in the multiplicity of scisms in the present day; the fearful tendency to infidelity growing out of these scisms; a tendency [4/5] seen in not a few of the divided bodies, and still more evident in the excuses for infidelity, which the divisions of the Christian world afford to the ungodly; that evil to which our blessed Savior alluded, when he prayed "that they all may be one, that the world may believe that thou hest sent me." And when one considers the terrible provocation which the rule of the papacy in the thirteenth, fourteenth and fifteenth centuries had given; when one considers the excitements of the time, so little suited to calm deliberate thought and action; when one knows himself well enough to see the natural tendency to extremes which dislike, distrust, and persecution beget, however much he may mourn the mistakes of the age, and their necessary results, one cannot but feel the greatest charity for the authors of such mistakes; one might say the unfortunate victims of the intemperate, misguided zeal of the age.
Such was the position of Puritanism, both while in the Church, and after its separation from it, and its distinct organization; if that can be called organism, which had, and professed to have within itself, all the seeds of ecclesiastical anarchy, and endless division; which had, and professed to have,no tie of unity as a visible body, which left to every and any seven men of its body, power and authority to frame a creed, and to create a ministry. Such was the position of Puritanism; professing high spirituality among its members, and in good degree, by human judgment, attaining it among many; looking on all sensible aids to devotion, as of the evil one, and going out into the world to mould men after its pattern without sensible help, that is, helps through impression on the senses.
The same causes made Puritanism austere and harsh. For if sensible things were so dangerous when employed by religion, if they had been able so to pervert religion itself, still more must they be watched in their influence when not so employed. Necessity was to be the law of use, superfluity to be avoided. If taste in art had so perverted religion when employed by it, how could it be trusted when separated from it. If festivity in immediate connection with religion, had so polluted it, surely it could not be trusted to itself freed from religious association and influence, and so must be avoided. The mistake was in not not seeing that the evil was in the heart of man, not in the thing itself. And so Puritanism set its face sternly against amusement, and festive relaxation. It was consistent. It was true to principles of its own being.
 Thus Puritanism came into the world, formal and precise in its abhorrence of forms, full of austerity as ever was a monastery, more so certainly than those which the reformation had broken up. There was much more of self-mortification in theory in early consistent Puritanism, than had been practiced in England for a century before their plundering by Henry VIII. And there was more in practice too, only it ran not in the old channel. It is one of many illustrations which the history of Puritanism affords, of the fact that extremes in their antagonism naturally pass round in circles and meet again.
But by such means Puritanism admirably fitted the sturdy English character for the work of settling and subduing New England, the least promising and inviting of all early English settlements of America, at least so far as soil and climate go. It set the character in an iron mould--and if there was not much attractive to others in its features, if it strike us now like some legendary phantom of the Norsemen, if it seemed grim, unyielding and repulsive for a few centuries, it had its noble uses, and its lack of gentleness was not lack of power for its peculiar work.
Festival then was unnatural and inconsistent in Puritanism. The natural religious expression of Puritanism, when it went beyond its ordinary Lord's day work, was a fast, abstinence, self mortification, lamentation, self-denunciation, confession. It had much of petition, little of thanksgiving. It was joyless, sorrowing, and of necessity, consistently so, for seeing little good of earth, estimating the senses as peculiarly traps, by which Satan was to ensnare them, the only time of high thanksgiving must be when they had escaped the earth. Nothing more marks this than the influence of Puritanism on the observance of the Lord's day. The Jewish Sabbath was festival from the beginning. It was the earthly response to the angelic rejoicing at creation. The Lord's day had been festival in the whole Christian world. It was fitly so, both as weekly commemmoration of the resurrection of our blessed Saviour, and the type of heaven. In Puritan observance nothing was less so. It froze the heart, shut up sympathies, cut off intercourse, was a fast really, and made the day repulsive to the young and joyous. The same tendency is seen in the fact that Puritanism had grown up in England, and been transplanted to America without a religious festival, without any recurring day of general religious thanksgiving by the body as an ecclesiastical organization. There were fasts in [6/7] abundance. In New England they had become well nigh a semi-annual custom. For years no other extraordinary' religious service suggested itself. The abundance of a harvest suggested for a long time only self-mortification, as though it was a temptation against which they were to be ever watchful. It is true that a regularly recurring day of fasting was an inconsistency in those who would have no external aids to devotion. But the austerity of Puritanism enforced the practice and grafted the inconsistency on the very life of Puritanism.
It was only after years of prosperity and when the colony was established strongly, when there had been time for the unnatural sternness and severity of the system to begin to yield, when the seeds of reaction were germinating, that a day of thanksgiving was proposed; and its ready acceptance was the evidence of a deeply seated reactionary power in the body. It was the beginning of a recoil of human nature against unnatural restraint: a recoil which has by no means spent its power, and which hints at as great possible excess of indulgence in the future, as was the excess of austerity in which it began.
But if the anomaly of Puritanism rejoicing was evidence of the reactionary force beginning to exert itself, much more evidence of the magnitude of the power do we see in the fact that a festival was not only appointed, as soon as suggested, but that from that time it was annual, it was habit. It was simply the testimony of human nature, to the need, to the sense of the loss of Christmas. And the evidence of the felt want is seen in the rapid spread of the festival through the nation. At its beginning, the church was feeble in the land. From various causes, it was feeble for a long time after the appointment of this festival. Her holy days were little kept. There were few to go up to her feasts of solemn joy. In New England they were long prohibited by law under heavy penalty, or civil disability. But it is note-worthy that where they were observed, thanksgiving day made way but slowly, and in such places has been largely aided by her adoption, through her growing power. But all bodies of Christians which observed not the great Catholic festivals of Christianity, acknowledged the want and yearning, by the speedy taking up of the Puritan festival.
It was a most happy inconsistency of Puritanism. It has been especially happy in leading thousands of thoughtful men to see the great mistake of the system. It was a yielding of the whole of the fundamental principle of the system, the effort to separate spirit from [7/8] sense and body in worship here on earth. It was the concession of the use and value of external aids to devotion; of the fitness of appointed days to teach particular facts and doctrines, and to remind of particular duties. It was the concession of the fact that the whole man might be devotional, that body and sense might bear their part in reverence to God, and that the senses might be used to remind and help the spirit. For all rests on one principle, the oneness of spirit, soul and body, that all are redeemed, are to be sanctified, and should worship God. And how rapidly has practice adapted itself to the conceded principal. Standing in prayer has almost wholly given way to an approach at least, to a more reverent and fitting posture. Sitting in praise is well nigh discontinued. The straight parallel lines of Puritan architecture, which kept the eye always on a level with the earth, an breaking here and there into pointed arches which lift the eye and mind to heaven. The organ is being reinstated in the honors which it had held from David's time. Chant and anthem rise where half a century back, nay within my own memory they were an abomination. And agitation for forms of prayer are heard from those who once would tolerate no form. And these were consistent stand points of Puritanism. They were foremost grounds of separation from the church. Thus many of the causes of separation have yielded to the reaction which Puritanism begun, and the principle underlying all which, itself yielded in the appointment of the day.
I spoke of thanksgiving day as a happy inconsistency of Puritanism. Most happy has it been in manifold effects, but chiefly in leading thoughtful men back to the church and her festivals. For if it is necessary to remind men of God's providential care in earthly things, if public thanksgiving annually by appointment for the fruits of the earth is fitting tribute from man to God, if the fruits of earth deserve such public, special acknowledgment, are not Christmas, Epiphany, Good Friday, Easter, Ascension, Whit-Sunday and Trinity, as necessary to remind man of regeneration through Christ, of the diffusion of Christianity to all nations, of redemption by the blood of Christ, of His resurrection, the pledge of ours, His ascension, the hope of ours, the gift of His spirit for our aid unto sanctification, of the work of the Triune God for our spiritual good, our eternal life? Is not thanksgiving, whether the penitential thanksgiving of Good Friday, or the joyous hopeful thanksgiving of Ascension, as fitting for these as for the fruits of the earth? Do they not as well deserve thankful [8/9] commemoration in annual service? May the spiritual be safely left to occasional memories and individual care, amid the distractions of the world, better than the material which every day surrounds us, and speaks through all our senses.
Most happy was this inconsistency of Puritanism. We might say most hopeful for the body in which it originated, but for reasons yet to be given. Happy, and hopeful too, has been and will be the reaction on multitudes, who have been, or will yet be thereby led to the church which their forefathers had deserted. It was a step in the right direction. Rather it was an effort to step in the right direction. It was human nature yearning for the truth, for that which was true to itself, true to God. But like the efforts of such yearings always, it fell short of the full truth. Nature furnishes wonderful hints of mighty truths in manifold directions, but unaided fails to open up the truth in fullness. This movement was therefore partial. It furnished a hint to the thoughtful where to seek for truth. It could not guide the mass. The consequences of the old mistake are not so easily removed. The original error must work its effects in the body in which it is fundamental.
Puritanism began by attempting a pure spirituality which could dispense with days which taught the atonement in its fullness, the doe. trines of the Divinity of the Son of God, and the Trinity in Unity. It held the old faith fully, and with all the sternness and decision of its nature. The faith was set as strongly as it could well be in human nature. It tried the experiment for an hundred years or thereabouts; some three generations. Then came the yearning for a festival. The fundamental principle of distinctive Puritanism yields. That on which it organized its separate existence. It had attempted its plan of doing without the outward, and failed. It had tried to fit human nature to its plan. It isolated itself to make the experiment at better advantage. It held human nature some three generations, and then nature ruled it. It could not mould it, though set in an iron cast at the first. It has not learned the lesson which its failure taught: to return whence it came. It can no longer rule, and it compromises, compromises in its fundamental principle. But when a Christian body compromises in a principle with nature, it fails of its purpose. The use of a Christian body is to guide nature, not to be guided, rather ruled by it, as it is when it yields a fundamental principle of its organization. What is the result? There is a demand for a [9/10] religious festival. The demand is made of a Christian body, at that time sound in Christian faith. The demand is yielded. What is the festival? It can rise no higher than its source. The demand is made not by Christianity, but by human nature. It is the rebellion of nature against the church in which it is, the only church it knows. Nature can demand nothing more than nature understands. Human nature of itself knows only the God of nature, the blessings of nature. And in this case it is nature not guided by Christianity, but opposing the only Christianity it knows; making demands of somewhat which that particular form of Christianity has hitherto successfully denied. What is the nature of the festival demanded? It is the festival of the God of nature. Human nature will give festive thanks for what it understands. And so that form of Christianity overcome of nature, not reading the meaning of the demand, yielding its fundamental principle, and so able to grant all it had denied, all that was needed, appoints a religious festival, not to remind of redemption, of the gift of God's Spirit, of the hope of heaven, of any thing Christian, but to give thanks for the fruits of the earth, a festival which in its religious meaning rises not above Deism or Idolatry. In the long struggle it has at last yielded to nature, is in her toils, bound hand and foot forever. Nature demands no more, and here therefore end the religious festivals of Puritanism. It is a fearful fact, this Thanksgiving day seen in this light, rightly understood. It raises terrible forebodings and fears, to see any form of Christianity, however imperfect, thus yield to nature. The highest festival of a Christian body should embody the highest cause for thankfulness and gratitude. There is every probability that the doctrine thus embodied, the cause of gratitude presented in the highest festival, will soon become the highest doctrine held. It is well nigh inevitable.
Later experience but sheds more light of the same kind on the subject, and confirms the probability of the effect of the day, to which I have alluded, by the mournful experience of the fact. Puritanism was distinctively Christian, in holding the old Catholic creeds of Christendom, when it yielded to nature instead of guiding it, and granted it the thanksgiving which it asked, instead of raising nature up to Christmas. The rule of nature still holds and daily gains dominion more perfect among the descendants of Puritanism. In Massachusetts, where the festival originated; where is the old Calvinism of [10/11] Puritanism? Utterly departed, and with it has well nigh gone faith in the atonement, and in the Triune God. Unitarianism is the theology of the oldest and greatest university, and theological school attached to it, in Massachusetts; Deism, the highest faith of one professor in the institution, and of some of the ministry proceeding thence. It is the highest faith of not a few educated there. Another century such as the past, and there will scarce be one of her ministry holding her ancient faith. Two centuries such as the past and the faith of Puritanism will not rise above the Deism of her first, her only festival. It is the logical result from Puritanism dragged down by nature instead of elevating it. It is a fearful, mournful fact. It is full of meaning, of warning to these Christian bodies which have adopted the festival of Puritanism, without guarding it by the embodiment of higher matters of faith in like form, and for like honor.
Such has been the influence of Thanksgiving day on Puritanism. The church has adopted the festival. Is it to be with like result to her? God forbid. It has not been forced on her by nature in opposition to her principles. She had sufficient already to satisfy the wants of nature, and of higher character, to elevate and train nature. It harmonizes with her system, and is overshadowed by other and higher festivals. She hath the essential feature of Thanksgiving day in her daily prayer. But she makes it subordinate. While she thanks God for "creation, preservation, and all the blessings of this life," she adds "but above all, for thine inestimable love in the redemption of the world by our Lord Jesus Christ; for the means of grace, and for the hope of glory." And with this in mind, she assimilates to herself a festival which had successfully ruled Puritanism, and subordinated its faith. She hedges it in by greater festivals to which she gives preference. She puts this festival in her system, where she had already put the idea in her daily prayers, and all is harmony. The festival can no more affect her than its idea did in her daily service. She hath Christianized the festival by association and companionship. She leaves us free for its enjoyments, both in holy offices, which are all instinct of her Christian faith, and in social festivities, which are congenial to her tender sympathies, her holy hopes, her hallowing all things with the Word of God, and prayer.
Mindful then of an abundant harvest, of the blessings of every kind by which God's providence surrounds us, thankful to God as the giver [11/12] of all, recounting blessings of the city and the field, not forgetful of the fact that ours is a "good land, a land of wheat, and barley, and vines, and fig trees, and pomegranates, a land of oil olive, and honey, a land wherein thou shalt eat bread without scarceness, thou shalt not lack any thing in it, a land whose stones are iron, and out of whose hills thou mayest dig brass," substitute gold for brass, still greater richness of blessing, and how well does the description of the earthly Canaan fit our own good land, let us not forget the Lord our God, the author and giver of all our temporal blessings. Let us thank God devoutly, and joyfully for all his blessings, not forgetting, as churchmen, that blessing of his good Providence by which our lot is, to be in a church which, in the remembrance of temporal blessings, forgets not the days to recount and bless God for still other greater spiritual blessings. Be it ours then on the recurrence of this day, thus christianized by association, to "sing unto the Lord with thanksgiving, to sing praises upon the harp unto our God; Who covereth the heaven with clouds, and prepareth rain for the earth, and maketh the grass to grow upon the mountains, and herb for the use of man; who giveth fodder to the cattle, and feedeth the young ravens that call upon him," knowing that rightly using our privileges in the Church, we are protected from the worldliness of its origin, taking up at Christmas in nobler strains of thanksgiving and praise for nobler benefits conferred, the angelic song, "Glory be to God on high, and on earth peace, good will towards men." At Easter "Christ is risen from the dead and become the first fruits of them that slept--for as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive." On Ascension, "Lift up your heads, oh, ye gates, and be ye lift up ye everlasting doors, and the King of Glory shall come in," And on Trinity practicing that song which St. John heard from cherubim, "Holy, Holy, Holy," the one idea thrice repeated, the symbol of the Triune God, "Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God of Hosts, heaven and earth are full of thy glory," knowing that herein we are joined by angels now about the throne, trusting through faith to join them in the same strain hereafter.
And now unto the Triune God, Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, three persons and one God, be ascribed all might, majesty and glory, now and for ever. Amen.