Thanksgiving – 2015

Last Year, we posted “The Real Meaning of Thanksgiving Day“.

This year we quote from President James Madison’s 1815 Thanksgiving proclamation:

No people ought to feel greater obligations to celebrate the goodness of the Great Disposer of Events and of the Destiny of Nations than the people of the United States.

His kind providence originally conducted them to one of the best portions of the dwelling place allotted for the great family of the human race. He protected and cherished them under all the difficulties and trials to which they were exposed in their early days.

Under His fostering care their habits, their sentiments, and their pursuits prepared them for a transition in due time to a state of independence and self-government. In the arduous struggle by which it was attained they were distinguished by multiplied tokens of His benign interposition…

And to the same Divine Author of Every Good and Perfect Gift we are indebted for all those privileges and advantages, religious as well as civil, which are so richly enjoyed in this favored land.

An early example of God’s kind providence for what has become the United States is the Patuxet native named Tisquantum, or Squanto. Eric Metaxas relates the miracle of Squanto’s life. The following is a Reader’s Digest version of Metaxas’s story:

Around 1608 an English crew captured a number of Patuxet warriors and sold them into slavery in Spain. One young man, Squanto, was bought by Catholic friars, who treated him well and freed him. Around 1612, Squanto stayed with John Slany in London and learned English customs and language. In 1618, Squanto returned home aboard a ship in return for his services as an interpreter.

After his 10 year journey, Squanto found that the Patuxets had perished from smallpox brought by European ships. Although he was spared from death through his kidnapping, he was not consoled. He tried living with an adjacent tribe but eventually lived alone in the woods.

In November of 1620, the Mayflower passengers, unable to reach Virginia, settled at Plymouth, the area where Squanto had grown up. They had come in search of religious freedom, hoping to found a colony based on Christian principles.

However, half of them died during the terrible winter. They must have wondered how the God they trusted and followed could lead them to these grim circumstances. They considered returning to Europe.

In the spring of 1621, Squanto walked out of the woods to greet them. He spoke perfect English, having lived in London more recently than did the settlers. He knew everything about how to survive in Plymouth; not only how to plant corn and squash, but how to find fish, lobsters, eels, and much else.

The Pilgrims adopted Squanto as their own and he lived with them. He helped broker a peace with the local tribes that lasted 50 years, a staggering accomplishment considering the troubles settlers would face later.

So the question is: Can all of this have been sheer happenstance, as most versions of the story would have us believe? The Pilgrims did not think so. To them, Squanto was a living answer to their tearful prayers, an outrageous miracle of God. Plymouth Colony Governor William Bradford declared in his journal that Squanto “became a special instrument sent of God” who didn’t leave them “till he died [in 1622].”

Perhaps our reflection on this historical truth can dispel our current distrust of the direction in which we see our country headed.

The Samaritan Leper

The story where Jesus cleanses ten lepers is a familiar one. It’s unusual that it comes right before one of Jesus’s declarations of the Kingdom. Or is it?

On the way to Jerusalem he was passing along between Samaria and Galilee. And as he entered a village, he was met by ten lepers, who stood at a distance and lifted up their voices, saying, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.” When he saw them he said to them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went they were cleansed.

Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice; and he fell on his face at Jesus’ feet, giving him thanks. Now he was a Samaritan. Then Jesus answered, “Were not ten cleansed? Where are the nine? Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” And he said to him, “Rise and go your way; your faith has made you well.”

Being asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, he answered them, “The kingdom of God is not coming in ways that can be observed, nor will they say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or ‘There!’ for behold, the kingdom of God is in the midst of you.” Luke 17:11-21 English Standard Version (ESV)

John Calvin has some interesting comments about the passage:

Thy faith hath saved thee. The word save is restricted by some commentators to the cleanness of the flesh. But if this be the case, since Christ commends the lively faith of this Samaritan, it may be asked, how were the other nine saved? for all of them without exception obtained the same cure.

We must therefore arrive at the conclusion, that Christ has here pronounced a different estimate of the gift of God from that which is usually pronounced by ungodly men; namely, that it was a token or pledge of God’s fatherly love.

The nine lepers were cured; but as they wickedly efface the remembrance of the grace of God, the cure itself is debased and contaminated by their ingratitude, so that they do not derive from it the advantage which they ought. It is faith alone that sanctifies the gifts of God to us, so that they become pure, and, united to the lawful use of them, contribute to our salvation.

Lastly, by this word Christ has informed us in what manner we lawfully enjoy divine favors. Hence we infer that he included the eternal salvation of the soul along with the temporal gift. The Samaritan was saved by his faith How? Certainly not because he was cured of leprosy, (for this was likewise obtained by the rest,) but because he was admitted into the number of the children of God, and received from His hand a pledge of fatherly kindness.

We see the extent of God’s common grace through healings. But, without faith, those temporal miracles do not result in salvation.

Further, Calvin notes:

The kingdom of God will not come with observation. …The word observation is here employed by Christ to denote extraordinary splendor; and he declares, that the kingdom of God will not make its appearance at a distance, or attended by pompous display. He means, that they are greatly mistaken who seek with the eyes of the flesh the kingdom of God, which is in no respect carnal or earthly, for it is nothing else than the inward and spiritual renewal of the soul.

From the nature of the kingdom itself he shows that they are altogether in the wrong, who look around here or there, in order to observe visible marks. That restoration of the Church,” he tells us,which God has promised, must be looked for within; for, by quickening his elect into a heavenly newness of life, he establishes his kingdom within them.”

And thus he indirectly reproves the stupidity of the Pharisees, because they aimed at nothing but what was earthly and fading. It must be observed, however, that Christ speaks only of the beginnings of the kingdom of God; for we now begin to be formed anew by the Spirit after the image of God, in order that our entire renovation, and that of the whole world, may afterwards follow in due time.

I urge you, turn back, submit yourself to Him, and give Him thanks.

The Healing of the Ten Lepers, Tissot

The Healing of Ten Lepers, 1886 – 1894, James Tissot, Brooklyn Museum, PD-Art-US