This month we celebrate a national Thanksgiving Day. Few today actually know what that means I’m sad to say. Many think of football, turkey and dressing, and overeating. We in the South have been greatly blessed and should, like our forefathers, be first in thankfulness to God. Over four hundred years ago in Jamestown there were devout prayers of thanksgiving for safe deliverance in a tedious ocean crossing on May 13, 1607.
There were many firsts in the history of Thanksgiving in this land and among its inhabitants. Please consider some of them with me!
America’s first official Thanksgiving was at Berkeley Plantation on the James River in Virginia. When the colonists reached Berkeley Hundred on December 4, 1619, in what is now Charles City County, they held a religious service on shore to thank the Almighty God for safety and good health. The service was simple in form and was held under the pine trees. The captain of the Margaret was charged by the London Company with the injunction,
We ordaine the day of our ship’s arrival at the place assigned for plantacon in the land of Virginia shall be yearly and perpetually kept holy as a day of thanksgiving to Almighty God.
The first presidential proclamation was by a Southerner, a Virginian, the father of our country, on January 1, 1795,
I, George Washington, President of the United States do recommend to all religious societies and denominations, and to all persons whomsoever, within the United States, to set apart and observe Thursday, the 19th day of February next, as a day of public thanksgiving and prayer, and on that day to meet together and render sincere and hearty thanks to the great Ruler of nations for the manifold and signal mercies which distinguish our lot as a nation … and at the same time humbly and fervently beseech the [same] kind Author of these blessings graciously to prolong them to us; to imprint on our hearts a deep and solemn sense of our obligations to him….
President Jefferson Davis of the Confederate States of America gave A Thanksgiving Proclamation in 1861,
WHEREAS, it hath pleased Almighty God, the Sovereign Disposer of events, to protect and defend us hitherto in our conflicts with our enemies as to be unto them a shield.
And whereas, with grateful thanks we recognize His hand and acknowledge that not unto us, but unto Him, belongeth the victory, and in humble dependence upon His almighty strength, and trusting in the justness of our purpose, we appeal to Him that He may set at naught the efforts of our enemies, and humble them to confusion and shame.
Given under hand and seal of the Confederate States at Richmond, this the 31st day of October, year of our Lord, one thousand eight hundred and sixty one.
By the President, JEFFERSON DAVIS
Southern history is replete with public and private expressions of thanksgiving to the Triune God of the Bible. The Apostle Paul reminds us, “In every thing give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you” (1 Thess. 5:18). How do we describe or define thanksgiving? Thomas Brooks, a minister in the 1600’s, wrote a definitive statement,
Thanksgiving is a self-denying grace; it is an uncrowning ourselves and the creatures, to set the crown upon the head of our Creator; it is the making ourselves a footstool, that God may be lifted up upon His throne, and ride in holy triumph over all; it is a grace that gives God the supremacy in all our hearts, thoughts, desires, words, and works. Self-love, flesh and blood, and many low and carnal considerations may carry men to pray, and hear, and talk, etc. The whip may work a shame to beg, but thankfulness is the free will offering of a child. There is nothing that so clearly and so fully speaks out your sincerity and spiritual ingenuity, as thankfulness does. Therefore, weak saints, if you would have a substantial evidence of your sincerity and spiritual ingenuity, be thankful for a little grace. The little birds do not sip one drop of water, but they look up, as if they meant to give thanks, to shew us what we should do for every drop of grace, etc.”
“Stonewall” Jackson made it a practice in his Christian life to always give a prayer of thanks to the Lord when he lifted a drink of water to his lips. Paul said, “in every thing give thanks.” Do we have the attitude of thanks that we might show the Lord proper gratitude? We should be very thankful and give thanks especially for our Redeemer and King the Lord Jesus Christ. “Thanks be unto God for His unspeakable gift” (2 Cor. 9:15).
(from SCV Alabama Division Commander Jimmy Hill and former Commander Gary Carlyle)