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altars continually to smoke, they are things with which (if I needed them) I could supply myself from the herds of a thousand hills which thou knowest not, and which are all my own. And so he goes on to the text, upbraiding them with laying the whole stress of their religion upon their exact performance of the instituted rites of it; which, though it was their duty, yet the least part of it. And then comes in the text, to acquaint them what was the main of their religion, which he principally intended, and was most delighted in, and wherein they were most remiss and negligent: Offer unto God thanksgiving ; and pay thy vows unto the Most High: i.e. If thou wilt bring me an acceptable sacrifice indeed, in the first place, bring me a truly thankful heart, that gratefully receives and acknowledges my benefits ; , and in the next place, perform to me those vows and promises of repentance and amendment which thou madest to me in thy affliction; when out of extreme want of the benefits I have since bestowed on thee, thou wast earnestly imploring them at my hands.
I shall at present only treat of the first of these, Offer unto God thanksgiving ; which, according to the sense I have given of the text and coherence, is a duty of far more value with God, than any of the instituted rituals of religion, as being one of those moral and eternal duties in which the main substance of religion doth consist. In handling this argument therefore I shall endeavour these two things : First, To shew you what this duty is, and wherein
, it doth consist.
Secondly, To shew you, that it is a moral duty, or, which is the same thing, a duty enforced with eternal reasons.
I. What this duty of thanksgiving is, and wherein it doth consist. In general, thanksgiving consists in rendering to our benefactors a cheerful acknowledgment of the benefits we have received at their hands; and consequently to offer thanksgiving to God, is freely, heartily, and cheerfully to acknowledge and recognise to him the manifold favours and benefits, which with a most liberal hand he bestows upon us from time to time. In order to which, it is necessary that we should diligently remark and attend to his benefits, and not suffer them to pass through our minds, like birds through the air, without leaving any track or path behind them; but that we should so curiously observe and take notice of them, that every footstep of them, if possible, may remain upon our memories in lively and lasting impressions. For though we can no more count the benefits of God, than we can the moments of eternity; and though whenever we enter into the recollection of them, we are like a man that is diving into the bottom of the sea, over whose head the water runs insensibly; so as that neither he is pressed with the weight of it, nor confounded with the number of the drops of it; because he attempts not to cast them up, but concludes them innumerable: yet there are many and many of the benefits of God which lie so open to our observation, being attended with such endearing and remarkable circumstances, as that without great stupidity we cannot but take notice of them. And therefore, in order to our being truly thankful to God, it is requisite that such as these should be drawn and imprinted upon our memories in strong and lively colours, not to be worn or washed out by time or chance; but to flourish there, if possible, like the pictures of the Graces, in immortal youth. And as to our giving thanks to God for his benefits, as it is requisite that we should, so far as we are able, closely observe and remember them ; so it is no less requisite, that by frequent reflections upon them, we should endeavour to raise in our minds a just value and esteem of them; and thereby to affect our own hearts with a warm and vigorous sense of the divine goodness, that inexhaustible fountain whence every good we receive is derived. And when with the close consideration of the favours and benefits of God, we have chafed our own souls into an affectionate feeling of his goodness, we may then cry out with David, My heart is ready, O Lord, my heart is ready, I will sing and give praise. For the requisites beforementioned are only necessary dispositions and preparations to thanksgiving; they are only the tuning the strings of the musical instrument, and setting it in order for the angelical harmony to be played on it: but the thanksgiving itself consists in an affectionate acknowledgment to God of the manifold favours we have received at his hands; together with all those gracious circumstances, so far as we are able to recollect them, with which they came attended. Which acknowledgment is to be made, either in express words, in psalms, and hymns, and spiritual songs, or by recounting his favours to him in mental recognitions; which is to make melody in our hearts to the Lord. But because usually when the heart is full, the mouth will overflow; therefore thanksgiving, in common acceptation, signifies an oral and verbal acknowledgment of God's favours, arising from an inward and affectionate sense and feeling of his goodness towards us. And to crown all this, and render
our thanksgiving substantial and real, it must be accompanied with a hearty study and intention of soul, to render unto God for his favour all possible compensation, to gratify him with our free and cheerful obedience; and more especially, with our charity and beneficence towards his poor and indigent creatures ; whose wants are the briefs by which God authorizes them to ask relief for his sake, and to receive it in his name. He that giveth to the poor, saith the Wise Man, lendeth to the Lord; and consequently, he that giveth not, refuseth to lend to the Lord; which is inconsistent with any degree of hearty gratitude towards him. For how can he be truly thankful to God for his favours, who hath no intention to render him any compensation ? And what intention can he have to compensate God, who will not lend him a little money or a little bread, when by the mouths or necessities of his poor he craves it? This man compliments God instead of thanking him; and only flatters him with feigned lips, in hope thereby to obtain farther favours of him, without being at all influenced by an ingenuous sense of his goodness, to make him any returns for what he hath already received. So that the full import of our offering thanksgiving to God is to render him an affectionate acknowledgment of his manifold benefits, with an hearty intention to make him all the compensation for them we are able, by our constant and cheerful obedience to his heavenly will, and readiness to repay him in works of charity, according as our abilities and the necessities of the poor shall require it. And accordingly, the Psalmist himself thus explains this duty; I will remember, saith he, thy works of old, and talk of thy doings. And elsewhere, 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. Here is his advertence to and recollection of the mercies of God towards him. And then he goes on : How excellent is thy loving-kindness, O God! How precious are thy thoughts unto me! How great is the sum of them! If I should count them, they are more than the sand. Here is his high esteem and value of the divine benefits. Then he proceeds: Because thy loving-kindness is better than life, my lips shall praise thee ; my soul shall be filled as with marrow and fatness ; my mouth shall praise thee with joyful lips. Here is his affectionate sense of the divine goodness towards him. Then he breaks forth into raptures of thanksgiving: I will sing of the mercies of the Lord for ever; with my mouth will I make known his faithfulness to all generations : I will speak of the glorious honour of thy majesty, and of thy wondrous works: I will praise the name of the Lord with a song; I will magnify him with thanksgiving. And lastly, he closes all this with a hearty design of rendering to God these best and noblest compensations of his obedience and charity : What shall I render unto the Lord for all his benefits? And upon this inquiry resolves; I will take the cup of salvation, and call upon the name of the Lord: I will pay my vows unto the Lord ; i. e. those vows of sacrifice, and alms of fidelity and obedience, which I made in my distress and affliction. And thus you see what is here implied in this duty of offering thanksgiving unto God.