Let us give thanks to God upon Thanksgiving Day. Nature is beautiful and fellowmen are dear, and duty is close beside us, and God is over us and in us. We want to trust Him with a fuller trust, and so at last to come to that high life where we shall be careful for nothing, but in everything, by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let our request be made known unto God; for that, and that alone, is peace.
How well I remember that old Thanksgiving dinner! Father at one end, mother at the other end, the children between wondering if father will ever get done carving the turkey. O, that proud, strutting hero of the barnyard, upside down, his plumes gone and minus his gobble! Stuffed with that which he can never digest. The day before, at school, we had learned that Greece was south of Turkey, but on the table we found that turkey was bounded by grease. The brown surface waited for the knife to plunge astride the breast-bone, and with knife sharpened on the jambs of the fire-place, lay bare the folds of white meat. Give to the disposed to be sentimental, the heart. Give to the one disposed to music, the drumstick. Give to the one disposed to theological discussion, the parsons nose. Then the pies! For the most part a lost art. What mince pies! in which you had all confidence fashioned from all rich ingredients, instead of miscellaneous leavings which are only short of glorified hash! Not mince pies with profound mysteries of origin! But mother made them, sweetened them, flavored them, and laid the lower crust and the upper crust, with here and there a puncture by the fork to let you look through the light and flaky surface into the substance beneath.
If Thanksgiving would but be observed in a becoming spirit, how much would it accomplish in the way of purifying and strengthening the sentiment of nationality, which was fostered by ancestral memories, cemented by the blood of our fathers, and wrought into the structure of our continent by the hand of God, in the flow of rivers, the clasp of lakes and ridges, and the embracing arm of an unbroken seaboard! The Lord hath done great things for us; whereof we are glad. If there is one peril more than another which threatens our prosperity it is that indifference to our mercies which might provoke God to withdraw them. May God incline us more and more to that unambitious, unselfish, contented, cheerful, thankful temper which is at once a medicine and a feast, an ornament and a protection.
No, there is nothing that should hinder the praises of Gods sons and daughters on Thanksgiving Day. We are much too prone to sadness; not overserious, but overmelancholy. In the Talmud we are told of a stringed instrument that hung over King Davids bed in such a position that when the pleasant north winds blew in the night it sounded sweetly of itself; and he forthwith arose and occupied himself with the law until he saw the pillars of the dawn. Our lives are environed with Gods goodness. We sleep in the midst of untouched harps of blessing. Let us arise and sweep their strings on this Thanksgiving Day.
WHEREAS, It is the duty of all Nations to acknowledge the Providence of Almighty God, to obey his Will, to be grateful for his Benefits, and humbly to implore his Protection and Favour: And whereas both houses of Congress have, by their joint Committee, requested me To recommend to the People of the UNITED STATES, a Day of PUBLIC THANKSGIVING and PRAYER, to be observed by acknowledging with grateful Hearts the many Signal Favours of Almighty God, especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a Form of Government for their Safety and Happiness.
Now, THEREFORE, I do recommend and assign THURSDAY the Twenty-Sixth Day of November next, to be devoted by the People of these States, to the Service of that great and glorious Being, who is the beneficent Author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be: That we may then all unite in rendering unto him our sincere and humble thanks for his kind Care and Protection of the People of this Country previous to their becoming a Nation;for the signal and manifold Mercies, and the favourable Interpositions of his Providence in the Course & Conclusion of the late War;for the great Degree of Tranquility, Union, and Plenty, which we have since enjoyed;for the peaceable and rational Manner in which we have bean enabled to establish Constitutions of Government for our Safety and Happiness, and particularly the national one now lately instituted;for the civil and religious Liberty with which we are blessed, and the means we have of acquiring and diffusing useful knowledge;and in general, for all the great and various Favours which he hath been pleased to confer upon us.
AND ALSO, that we may then unite in most humbly offering our Prayers and supplications to the great Lord and Ruler of Nations, and beseech him to pardon our National and other Transgressions;to enable us all, whether in public or private Stations, to perform our several and relative Duties properly and punctually;to render our national Government a Blessing to all the people, by constantly being a government of wise, just and Constitutional Laws, directly and faithfully obeyed;to protect and guide all Sovereigns and nations, (especially such as have shown kindness unto us) and to bless them with good Government, Peace and Concord;to promote the Knowledge and Practice of true Religion and Virtue, and the increase of Science among them and us;and generally to grant unto all mankind such a Degree of temporal Prosperity as He alone knows to be best.
Given under my Hand at the City of New York, the third Day of October, in the Year of our Lord One Thousand Seven Hundred and Eighty-Nine.
Let us, then, as good citizens, as believers in God, gratefully keep Thanksgiving day. Let us crowd to his sanctuaries, and praise God, from whom all blessings flow. Let households and friends gather about their firesides and well-spread boards, and let charities to the poor brighten and commemorate the day, that it may be to us all long a pleasant memory.
No thanksgiving is complete without its generous thought of those who are not so favored as we are. The truly grateful heart always thinks of giving blessing to some other. Says George MacDonald: When God comes to man, man looks around for his neighbor. Our own Thanksgiving dinner will be sweeter if we have shared it with another household. An unshared meal on this glad day will not bring its best possible blessing.
Yet it is meet and proper that a nation should set apart an annual day for national giving of thanks. It is a public recognition of God as the Author of all prosperity. It is the erection of a memorial to the honor of him who has led us through another year. The annual proclamations which call to the duty of thanksgiving are calculated to remind the people of their indebtedness to God, to stir in their minds and hearts emotions of gratitude and praise, and to call out thanks and sincere worship which otherwise might not find expression. But if the observance of the day be not marked by real remembering of mercies and by real lifting of hearts to God in thanks, what blessing can possibly come with it?
As we gather about the family board to-day let us remember the houseless and homeless and unbefriended, and be sure that we have done something to make sunshine in their hearts, no matter what November gloom may reign without. And as we grasp the hand and look into the eyes of friend and kinsman, be this the greeting we give: Brother, whatever else our homes provide to-day of plenty and good cheer, let us provide things honest in the sight of all men, and then, in the name of that Master whom we serve and who has loved us with such a great exceeding love, let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and evil-speaking be put away from us with all malice; and let us be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving one another, whatever the old wound that aches and burns to-day, even as God for Christs sake hath forgiven us.
It seems to me that these thoughts are sufficient to awaken your gratitude. Let me, however, in conclusion, cast the horoscope and prophesy of the coming future of my beloved country. Poets have sung of the parliament of nations, the federation of the world, and that great soldier who drew his sword only to conquer, who has visited all lands, and who to-day is a citizen of the worldthat great soldier is the John the Baptist of this parliament of nations, this federation of the world, in proclaiming everywhere a citizenship intelligent, cultured, Christian, and we are to follow in his glorious wake in our mission to the nations of the world. I do not look for a universal republic, but I dream of this parliament of nations, when wars shall cease, when the drum shall be silent, when the cannon shall be heard no more, when the sword shall be sheathed. I dream of this federation of the world, when the nations shall gather somewhereon the banks of the Potomac, or on the banks of the Thames, or on the banks of the Tiber. And in this parliament of nations all men shall be brothers; war shall be abolished, and Jesus Christ proclaimed the Saviour of mankind, the Prince of peace, and the Lord of lords. Then will go forth these beautiful words of the Psalmist, He hath not dealt so with any other nation.
But some may think this is not the time of year for a Feast of Tabernacles, since the summer is gone, and even the glory of autumn has disappeared. The forests are stripped of their foliage, and the mountains around our valley are bleak and bare. But our Thanksgiving, being more than a month later than the Feast of Tabernacles as kept by the Jews, cannot be observed, as that was, out of doors, in tents and booths that were pitched on all the hills round about Jerusalem. Our festival is not out of doors, but indoors, where we laugh at the winds that blow and the storms that rage without, which do but add to our sense of comfort and security. If some city-bred stranger, whose blood is thin and whose face is pale, should come up among these hills at this season of the year, and straightway begin to shiver as he muffles himself up in his overcoat lined with furs, and chatters between his teeth, How the wind howls! we answer, Let it howl! Little harm can it do us, as we sit before the great open fireplace, and pile on the logs, and hear the flames roar up the chimney! Indeed, it is the contrast between the wintry scene without and the warmth and glow within that gives a peculiar charm to a Thanksgiving in the country, as it does to Christmas also. And so let us gather round the fire to-night. Do not light the lamp, for there is nothing to stir up old memories like the fire on the hearth, that flashes up in the faces of those we love.
This is Thanksgiving day. Its observance ought to be in the best sense religious. And it might be well to this end to review the feelings and emotions with which we approach it. Much of our thankfulness may be purely selfish. There are some with whom things have gone well this year. The family circle has remained unbroken. No wasting sickness has come into the home. Prosperity has left its blessings. The table is laden with plenty. There is meat in the larder and grain in the storehouse. Because of these things they imagine they are grateful; but such gratitude is of the essence of selfishness. It is dependent upon exterior conditions. It finds its basis in circumstances. It draws its inspiration from clear skies and smooth sailing, and hence it is fitful and evanescent as the alternations of sunlight and shadow. If these conditions of personal comfort and prosperity are in themselves the ground of thankfulness, where in the hour of adversity shall we find occasion for rejoicing? The record of the past has its graver side. There have been pain and losses and disappointments and bereavements and heartaches. Where in these things is there reason and ground for gratitude? Has the empty larder, the bare table, the desolate home, the vacant chair, the fresh mound in the cemetery, no place for thanksgiving? Ah, just here is the point of stumbling with many an earnest soul. We find in the bitter chill of adversity the true test of our gratitude. And that is true gratitude which, triumphing over conditions merely physical and external, finds its ground of thankfulness in God Himself. It is independent of circumstances. It goes beneath the surface of life, whether sad or joyous, and founds itself upon God.
For the festival of Thanksgiving to-day tho an American institution and a matter of proclamation on the part of the administration, is a thing that goes deeper than its national significance, and finds its firm root, not merely in the affections and the customs of one people, but in that potent imagination everywhere that speaks the aspirations of mankind, and voices in no vague tones the triumph of common humanity. To us individually Thanksgiving signifies a reunion of kinsfolk under the natal roof, at the hearthstone, which is the heartstone, and this reunion is for a joyous discussion of especially good cheer and a gentle rewelding of the old associations of consanguinity, But to us collectively as a people Thanksgiving means more. It stands to-day for what it stood in that almost primeval wilderness when the forlornly brave little band which came over on the Mayflower celebrated their gratitude to Him who had preserved them from the perils of the deep; when they performed the rites of hospitality to the savages whose minds had been inclined toward them in kindness; and when furthermore they gave shape and example to that spirit of co-operation and fraternal love which was destined to ripen in the following century into a republic broad-based on the rights of every man.
It should be the aim of Christian people, in all their keeping of the day, whether in the sacred gladness of the home, in public services in church or Sunday-school, or in festivities of whatever kind, to have the true meaning of Christmas remembered, that the influence of the child Jesus may pervade all the thought of the day. So should it be with Thanksgiving day. To leave God out is to make the day an empty name without meaning. Thanksgiving is nothing if not a glad and reverent lifting of the heart to God in honor and praise for His goodness. As an annual festival it is meant to gather into one day the gratitude of a nation for the favors and mercies of a year. This does not imply that we can put all our thanksgiving for a year into one day. We may not be murmurers for three hundred and sixty-four days, and then atone for our ingratitude by praising and blessing God for one whole day. The normal Christian life is one whose thanksgiving fills every day of the year with song and gladness.
We must conclude, therefore, that the great hymn of thanksgiving is not of local origin; it was not written in our prairies alone, but it was composed by the human soul when it first sat down and pondered over the mysterious visit it was making to this realm; and it has been sung ever since by each person who has reached the power of mind that is capable of a deep or sweet or sad thought. This slumbering hymn or prayer simply broke out in 1621. There must have been in that Mayflower group some heart of man or woman which had no concealment. It sang aloud the thanksgiving song of the world, and prayed its prayer to the God of mans being. This one soul said, Let us have a great autumn feast soon. When New England possessed only about a hundred people it was easy for a feast to become national. What a change since then! For now the feast is proclaimed to sixty-five millions of citizens, and eight hundred railroads are busy carrying the food for the banquetroads from California with fruits, roads from the South with the products of a long summer-time, trains from the Northwest with bread, trains from the Atlantic coast with food from the tropics and from the sea. What a change since the four men went hunting! And yet the then and the now blend in one song, and that to the God of our life.
The blessings we are used to, become so much the habit of our lives that we are apt to take them for granted and to fail to be stirred by them to any positive emotion of thankfulness. There are those who, ever mindful of the unequal measure in which privilege, opportunity and all material goods are distributed in this world, are always consciously grateful for the ordinary, every-day comforts; for food and shelter and decent surroundings and a peaceful life. But most of us, differently constructed, are prone to consider that all we are used to have is ours by a natural right, and that on the whole it is rather a hardship that we cannot contrive to have an ever-increasing share of sugar-plums allotted to us. We that are of that disposition must try at Thanksgiving to come to a fuller appreciation of our more recondite blessings, as well as of those which we accept as matters of course. As Riley puts it in his Thanksgiving poem
To recall the circumstances of the first day of thanksgiving may serve to remind us of how much more we have to be thankful for than had those early Pilgrims. History tells us that of the one hundred and two emigrants that landed on the bleak and rocky coast of Cape Cod Bay in the winter of 1620, almost half died before the following winter fairly set in. To-day, in our comfortable country and city homes, we cannot even imagine the sufferings of the survivors, both from destitution and the inclement weather, which they were not prepared, either as to clothes or habitations, to brave. The most of the brave people were not inured to hardships; among them were delicately nurtured men and women. They staked and laid out two rows of huts for the nineteen families that composed the colony; but within the first year they had to make seven times more graves for the dead than houses for the living. Notwithstanding all their trials and hardships, these brave founders of a great and glorious race had so much to be thankful for that they had to appoint an especial day on which to give especial thanks for all their mercies. So they agreed among themselves that, since their prudence and forethought had been so wonderfully blessed of God, they would send out four men hunting, that they might rejoice together in a special manner after the fruit of their labors had been gathered. According to the historian, barley and Indian corn were their only crops; the pease were not worth gathering; for, as we feared, they were too late sown. This was under the good Governor Bradford. The four men who went hunting brought in as much game as served the company for a week. The recreations of the day consisted of the exercise of their arms, Massasoit, the Indian chief, and ninety of his men, coming among them for three days, during which they were entertained and feasted by the colonists, the Indians killing and bringing to the feast five deer. This was in 1621, and was the beginning of Thanksgiving day in America.
It is not a good spiritual policy for us who are now living to thank God only for the material progress of our times; because these material things will soon give place to something better, and then our prayers and hymns will seem lost, and we who lived for them will seem to perish with them; but if we bless God for the sun that has held us in its arms, and for the autumns that have painted the fields and have set in mezzotint the sky and sea and land, then have we a worship which the future cannot take away from our souls or memories. To nothing better can far-off times ever come. As in this worship of life we can all run back and bend with Bradford and Standish in their prayers, and sit down with them at their feast, thus can the far future come back to us, and see in our religious acts and sentiments something good enough for their more golden age. Mans world changes, but human life may easily find an unchanging greatness. As the goodness of old Governor Bradford shines out through his irregular verse and distorted syntax, thus the merit of our race often is mingled with little defects, but still it may possess a beautiful and everlasting part. As the game and fruits on the table in 1621 would be good for our table to-day, so their happiness would be all we could wish this week in our reunions at home, because mans happiness comes chiefly from the fact of a heart at peace with the universe. Man must, for the most part, give thanks for his life rather than for the field through which it flows.
The Thanksgiving need bring us no special boasting that we live to-day, because such boasting reproaches that yesterday to which Christ lived, and in which the earth is all marked with the footsteps of the mighty. The day need bring no laments that we are poor or full of toil, for the words poor and rich play only a small part in the vast history of true happiness; no laments that we cannot live a hundred years from the present, for each century has the same God and the same personal questions, just as it has the same sunshine. The one task and joy of each mortal, in whatever age or land, is to weave a song out of his own days and years, and, in any time or condition, to breathe a prayer in the name of his soul. The long and rich procession of humanity seen as filing over the great plains of the pasta procession headed by such beings as Jesus Christcarrying banners of love, and chanting, as they march, the hymns of immortality, gives assurance that it is an amazing event for us to be carried through these many centuries in the great chariot of existence, and reason enough for our hymn and prayer of thanksgiving to the God of our life.