The next thing I would mention as an element of prayer is Thanksgiving. "We ought to be more thankful for what we get from God. Perhaps some of you mothers have a child in your family who is constantly complaining—never thankful. You know that there is not much pleasure in doing anything for a child like that . If you meet with a beggar who is always grumbling, and never seems to be thankful for what you give, you very soon shut the door in his face altogether. Ingratitude is about the hardest thing we have to meet with. The great English poet says:
"Blow, blow, thou winter wind—
Thou art not so unkind
As man's ingratitude;
Thy tooth is not so keen, ^
Because thou art not seen,
Although thy breath be rude."
We cannot speak too plainly of this evil, which so demeans those who are guilty of it. Even in Christians there is but too much of it to be seen. Here we are, getting blessings from God day after day; yet how little praise and thanksgiving there is in the Church of God!
Gurnall, in his Christian Armor, referring to the words, "In everything give thanks," says: "'Praise is comely for the upright.' 'An unthankful saint' carries a contradiction with it . Evil and Unthankful are twins that live and die together; as any one ceaseth to be evil, he begins to be thankful. It is that which God expects at your hands; He made you for this end. When the vote passed in heaven for your being—yea, happy being in Christ!—it was upon this account, that you should be a name and a praise to Him on earth in time, and in heaven to eternity. Should God miss this, He would fail of one main part of His design. What prompts Him to bestow every mercy, but to afford you matter to compose a song for His praise ?' They are My people, children that will not lie; so He was their Savior.'
"He looks for fair dealing at your hands. Whom may a father trust with his reputation, if not his child? Where can a prince expect honor, if not among his favorites? Your state is such that the least mercy you have is more than all the world besides. Thou, Christian, and thy few brethren, divide heaven and earth among you! What hath God that He withholds from you? Sun, moon and stars are set up to give you light; sea and land have their treasures for your use; others are encroachers upon them; you are the rightful heirs to them; they groan that any others should be served by them. The angels, bad and good, minister unto you; the evil, against their will, are forced like scullions when they tempt you, to scour and brighten your graces, and make way for your greater comforts; the good angels are servants to your heavenly Father, and disdain not to carry you in their arms. Tour God withholds not Himself from you; He is your portion—Father, Husband, Friend. God is His own happiness, and admits you to enjoy Him. Oh, what honor is this, for the subject to drink in his prince's cup! 'Thou shalt make them drink of the river of Thy pleasures.' And all this is not the purchase of your sweat and blood; the feast is paid for by Another, only He expects your thanks to the Founder. No sinoffering is imposed under the Gospel; thank-offerings are all He looks for."
Charnock, in discoursing on Spiritual Worship, says: "The praise of God is the choicest sacrifice and worship, under a dispensation of redeeming grace. This is the prime and eternal part of worship under the Gospel. The Psalmist, speaking of the Gospel times, spurs on to this kind of worship: 'Sing unto the Lord a new song; let the children of Zion be joyful in their King; let the saints be joyful in glory; let them sing aloud upon their beds; let the high praises of God be in their mouth.' He begins and ends both Psalms with Praise ye the Lord! That cannot be a spiritual and evangelical worship that hath nothing of the praise of God in the heart. The consideration of God's adorable perfections discovered in the Gospel will make us come to Him with more seriousness, beg blessings of Him with more confidence, fly to Him with a winged faith and love, and more spiritually glorify Him in our attendances upon Him."
There is a great deal more said in the Bible about praise than prayer; yet how few praise-meetings there are! David, in his Psalms, always mixes praise with prayer. Solomon prevailed much with God in prayer at the dedication of the temple; but it was the voice of praise which brought down the glory that filled the house; for we read: "And it came to pass, when the priests were come out of the holy place (for all the priests that were present were sanctified, and did not then wait by course; also the Levites, which were the singers, all of them of Asaph, of Heman, of Jeduthun, with their sons and their brethren, being arrayed in white linen, having cymbals, and psalteries, and harps, stood at the east end of the altar, and with them a hundred and twenty priests, sounding with trumpets); it came even to pass, as the trumpeters and singers were as one, to make one sound to be heard in praising and thanking the Lord; and when they lifted up their voice with the trumpets, and cymbals, and instruments of music, and praised the Lord, saying, 'For He is good; for His mercy endureth forever;' that then the house was filled with a cloud, even the house of the Lord; so that the priests could not stand to minister by reason of the cloud, for the glory of the Lord had filled the house of God."
We read, too, of Jehosaphat, that he gained the victory over the hosts of Ammon and Moab through praise, which was excited by faith and thankfulness to God.
"And they rose early in the morning, and went forth into the wilderness of Tekoa; and as they went forth, Jehoshaphat stood and said, 'Hear me, O Judah, and ye inhabitants of Jerusalem; believe in the Lord your God, so shall ye be established; believe His prophets, so shall ye prosper;' and when he had consulted with the people, he appointed singers unto the Lord, and that should praise the beauty of holiness, as they went out before the army, and to say, Praise the Lord; for His mercy endureth for ever,' And when they began to sing and to praise, the Lord set ambushments against the children of Ammon, Moab, and Mount Seir, which which were come against Judah; and they were smitten."
It is said that in a time of great despondency among the first settlers in New England, it was proposed in one of their public assemblies to proclaim a fast. An old farmer arose; spoke of their provoking heaven with their complaints, reviewed their measures, showed that they had much to be thankful for, and moved that instead of appointing a day of fasting, they should appoint a day of thanksgiving. This was done; and the custom has been continued ever since.
However great our difficulties, or deep even our sorrows, there is room for thankfulness. Thomas Adams has said: "Lay up in the ark of thy memory not only the pot of manna, the bread of life; but even Aaron's rod, the very scourge of correction, wherewith thou hast been bettered. Blessed be the Lord, not only giving, but taking away, saith Job. God who sees there is no walking upon roses to heaven, puts His children into the way of discipline; and by the fire of correction eats out the rust of corruption. God sends trouble, then bids us call upon Him; promiseth our deliverance; and lastly, the all He requires of us is to glorify Him. 'Call upon Me in the day of trouble; I will deliver thee, and thou shalt glorify Me." Like the nightingale, we can sing in the night, and say with John Newton—
"Since all that I meet shall work for my good,
The bitter is sweet, the medicine food;
Though painful at present, 'twill cease before long,
And then—oh, how pleasant!—the conqueror's song."
Among all the apostles none suffered so much as Paul; but none of them do we find so often giving thanks as he. Take his letter to the Philippians. Remember what he suffered at Philippi; how they laid many stripes upon him, and cast him into prison. Yet every chapter in that Epistle speaks of rejoicing and giving thanks. There is that well-known passage: "Be careful for nothing, but in everything, by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known unto God." As some one has said, there are here three precious ideas: "Careful for nothing; prayerful for everything; and thankful for anything." "We always get more by being thankful for what God has done for us. Paul says again: "We give thanks to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, praying always for you." So he was constantly giving thanks. Take up any one of his Epistles, and you will find them full of praise to God.
Even if nothing else called for thankfulness, it would always be an ample cause for it that Jesus Christ loved us, and gave Himself for us. A farmer was once found kneeling at a soldier's grave near Nashville. Some one came to him and said: "Why do you pay so much attention to this grave? Was your son buried here?" "No," he said. "During the war my family were all sick, I knew not how to leave them. I was drafted. One of my neighbors came over and said: 'I will go for you; I have no family.' He went off. He was wounded at Chickamauga. He was carried to the hospital, and there died. And, sir, I have come a great many miles, that I might write over his grave these words, 'He died for me.'"
This the believer can always say of his blessed Savior, and in the fact may well rejoice. "By Him therefore, let us offer the sacrifice of praise continually, that is, the fruit of our lips, giving thanks to His name."
"Speak, lips of mine!
And tell abroad
The praises of my God.
Speak, stammering tongue!
In gladdest tone,
Make His high praises known.
"Speak, sea and earth!
Heaven's utmost star,
Speak from your realms afar!
Take up the note,
And send it round
Creation's farthest bound.
"Speak, heaven of heavens!
Wherein our God
Has made His bright abode.
Speak, angels, speak!
In songs proclaim
His everlasting name.
"Speak, son of dust!
Thy flesh He took
And heaven for thee forsook.
Speak, child of death!
Thy death He died,
Bless thou the Crucified."