Why Thanksgiving?

"The First Thanksgiving at Plymouth", by Jennie Brownscombe offers an early 20th century perspective on the 1621 event. Courtesy Pilgrim Hall Museum. |

We have much for which to be grateful as Americans for being born in the United States — whether by the providence of God, as I believe, or merely by happenstance, as others may believe.

Being born in this country confers a panoply of rights and privileges upon common everyday citizens that most people around the world only dream of ever attaining.

The great heritage we celebrate and honor at Thanksgiving had an improbable beginning. A small group of English Separatists, desperately searching for religious freedom in a censorious early 17th century, sailed across the perilous and stormy waters of the North Atlantic aboard an impossibly small and barely seaworthy vessel.

Before disembarking from the Mayflower to begin their new settlement in the New World, they drew up an agreement, “The Agreement between the Settlers of New Plymouth,” later known as the “Mayflower Compact.” This was the first attempt to inaugurate self-government in the New World. It was drawn up by Pilgrim Puritans, refugees from severe religious persecution under King James I in England.

These victims fleeing from religious persecution set out consciously to achieve what President Lincoln would later describe as government “of the people, by the people, for the people.”

These free-born Englishmen — refugees from persecution — set up a self-government where they elected their own representatives and were responsible to each other. In what is known to history as the Mayflower Compact, they inaugurated a secular and civic government that protected religious freedom.

There is a direct line of descent from the Mayflower Compact to the U.S. Constitution. It is indeed the American Magna Carta.

President Calvin Coolidge (1923-1929), while he was governor of Massachusetts, stated: “The Compact which they signed was….the foundation of liberty based on law and order, and that tradition has been steadily upheld….giving to each person the right to participate in the government while they promised to be obedient to the laws.”

This is the week that Americans from coast to coast cease their workday activities and gather with friends and loved ones for Thanksgiving. We pause as a nation to remember the foundations of our freedoms and we give thanks to our Heavenly Father for His manifold blessings.

In October 1789, George Washington, the head of the recently founded new federal government, issued the first Presidential Thanksgiving Proclamation as a day of thanksgiving to that “great and glorious Being, who is the Beneficent Author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be. President Washington declared that both Houses of Congress asked him 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 and single favors of Almighty God, especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness.”

As we look around us, most Americans, at least those who are religious, understand that God has blessed America in incomparable and manifest ways. And blessings, it must be remembered, are blessings because they are undeserved and unearned. When one looks at American history, one cannot help but come to the conclusion that more than fortuitous circumstances have been at work. No one can be that lucky. God has blessed us and protected us in unique ways. And Americans of religious faith should take the occasion to give thanks to God for His blessings and His bounty.

However much we have to be thankful for as Americans, and there is much, we have so indescribably more to be grateful for as Christians as we look forward to celebrating the birth of our Savior on Christmas Day. The Incarnation of Jesus Christ is the greatest gift ever given.

I remember a poem that I heard many years ago which went something like this:

Who art Thou, sweet little Babe,
nestled in the hay?
“God I am, came to earth this day.”
Why didst Thou come, sweet little
Babe nestled in the hay?
“To die for men’s sin I came,”
Said the sweet little Babe nestled
in the hay.

We must always remember that the specter of the cross always casts a shadow over the manger. He came to die in order to redeem us from our sin.

This is precisely what the Apostle Paul tells the Galatians and us in his letter to the Galatians. Jesus came to redeem us and rescue us from our sins. Jesus adopted those of us who will receive Him as Savior. And adoption is always an act of love. Jesus has made us His heirs. God’s Word declares, “So you are no longer a slave but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God” Gal. 4:7.

The Apostle John put it this way in I Jn. 3:2. “Beloved, now we are the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be. But we know that when He shall appear, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is.”

As Christians, we are in the midst of experiencing the blessings of salvation. Our salvation commences with our regeneration, being born again. We are growing in grace through sanctification, but we have not been completely saved yet. Our salvation is certain, but not yet finished. We are going to be glorified. When we go home to be with the Lord, we are going to be joint-heirs, and we are going to be like Him. We will then be removed from the presence of sin in our nature — no more old fallen sin nature — or in our environment. We are going to be in the heavenlies with Jesus.

What a glorious future awaits us and is available to all: “But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become the children of God, even to those who believe in His name.” (Jn. 1:12, NASB).

If that does not put us into the attitude and posture of thanksgiving and gratitude, I do not know what would do so.

Join me in giving thanks to God and praise to our Heavenly Father this Thanksgiving and every day thereafter for all the grace and blessings He has bestowed upon us.

Dr. Richard Land, BA (Princeton, magna cum laude); D.Phil. (Oxford); Th.M (New Orleans Seminary). Dr. Land served as President of Southern Evangelical Seminary from July 2013 until July 2021. Upon his retirement, he was honored as President Emeritus and he continues to serve as an Adjunct Professor of Theology & Ethics. Dr. Land previously served as President of the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (1988-2013) where he was also honored as President Emeritus upon his retirement. Dr. Land has also served as an Executive Editor and columnist for The Christian Post since 2011.

Dr. Land explores many timely and critical topics in his daily radio feature, “Bringing Every Thought Captive,” and in his weekly column for CP.

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