By Clovis G. Chappell
"Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits." (Psalm 103:2)
Clovis G. Chappell: This sane and robust saint has been looking over the garden of his heart. He has doubtless found many lovely flowers blooming there. But there is one winsome blossom called gratitude that he does not find growing in such profusion as he desires. Therefore he sets himself deliberately to the cultivation of it. He refuses to allow his soul to become dull and listless and all but comatose amidst God's amazing mercies. He refuses to blunder through life, as a blind man might blunder through an art gallery, never seeing anything to thrill him or to bring him to his knees in eager thanksgiving. Therefore he takes himself vigorously in hand, rouses his drowsy soul into wakefulness by this urgent appeal, "Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits."
It is evident that this poet believes that it is a matter of choice whether we are thankful or thankless. He is sure that all who really desire to be grateful can be. He knows that just as we can, if we so desire, deliberately cultivate the noxious weeds of hatred, malice, and ingratitude, even so we can cultivate the opposite. No man can keep house with himself with any sort of understanding without realizing that there is no weed so poisonous that he cannot grow it in the soil of his own soul. But this is equally true: There is no rare flower of the spirit too lovely or too beautiful for us to grow in that same amazing soil.
Therefore, if we wish to cultivate this fine flower of gratitude, we can, regardless of what our circumstances may be. But if this is the case, how are we to go about it? There is something more involved in it than a mere saying of "Thank you" to those here and there who do us favors. It is well to say this both to God and man, but we may do so, and yet be very poor in real gratitude. Our thanksgiving is too often from the lips only. But if it is to be of any real worth, it must be from the heart.
And how may we be grateful in our hearts? We can do so, says our poet, by refusing to be so forgetful. "Forget not all his benefits" - mark you, he does not ask that we remember them all. His request is very modest. He merely asks that we not forget them all. "Think," he says, "and then you will thank." The reason we are so thankless is because we are so thoughtless. No wonder that Bunyan in Pilgrim's Progress, with his fine spiritual insight, picked out Forgetful Green as the most dangerous bit of road between the City of Destruction and Mount Zion. Its very greenness is born of the millions of mercies that are buried there with no shaft of gratitude to mark their resting place.
But if we are to think in order to thank, what must be the nature of our thinking? What is it that this wise singer urges us so earnestly to remember? As we look over the list, we shall find that the very things that some of us cling to most tenaciously and brood over most often are left out altogether.
Who forgiveth all thine iniquities; who healeth all thy diseases; Who redeemeth thy life from destruction; who crowneth thee with lovingkindness and tender mercies; Who satisfieth thy mouth with good things; so that thy youth is renewed like the eagle's. The LORD executeth righteousness and judgment for all that are oppressed. He made known his ways unto Moses, his acts unto the children of Israel. (Psa. 103:3-7)
For instance, he does not tell us to think upon our enemies, those uncouth and grouchy souls that rub us the wrong way and get onto our nerves generally. Nor does he tell us to brood over our petty slights and injuries. What a fatal facility some have for missing all the music of life because their ears are so attentive to the discords! I recall a young lady of this kind who once boarded in our home. Seldom did she come to dinner in the evening that she did not have a story to tell of some petty annoyance or wrong that she had suffered during the day. If ever anyone did her a kindness, she kept it a secret. If she found a lovely rose bush in bloom by her path, she utterly forgot the roses. She never plucked one of them to wear over her heart, but she never failed to gather the thorns to wear, not over her heart, but in it. Of course she was not greatly given to gratitude.
Neither does the psalmist urge us to think only of the benefits that have come to others and contrast them with the seeming inferiority of our own. How easy it is for us to persuade ourselves that our neighbor is getting the better of it, finding life far fuller than ourselves.
There was once a dog, you remember, that had been out foraging. He had been very successful. He was coming home with a large piece of meat in his mouth, and possibly a bit of gratitude in his canine heart. But as he was crossing a lovely, clear stream upon a footlog, he saw the reflection of himself in the water. And what a piece of meat that other dog had! It was so much larger and better than his own that he at once threw his away in order to dive headlong after the piece that belonged to the other dog. The end of it all was that he came home empty handed with a grudge on life for robbing him of that of which he had really robbed himself.
Surely the wise man was right when he said, "The eyes of a fool are in the ends of the earth." (Prov. 17:24) He is so busy in looking at the things of others that he despises what is his own.
The way of gratitude, then, says our wise poet, is not to catalogue what we have not, but what we have. We are to think on his benefits, to remember God's gracious gifts to ourselves. The flowers growing by our door may seem a bit meager at times, but there are always enough to make a lovely bouquet of gratitude if we only remember to gather them. We never realize our own wealth till we take time enough to think upon it instead of looking enviously at that of others.
Did you ever hear of the House with the Golden Windows? A lad lived, so the story runs, in a lovely little cottage upon the side of a mountain that overlooked a beautifully wooded valley. Away on the other side of the valley stood another house so much more wonderful than the one in which he lived that he soon ceased to be grateful for his own, but rather to despise it. For this house across the valley had golden windows. Often he would look at them in the light of the early morning sun and resolve that, as soon as he was old enough, he would leave his own commonplace house, and hie him away to the house with the golden windows. At last the long-looked-for day came. He made the toilsome journey and arrived, in the late afternoon, at the spot where he thought the wonderful house stood. But he did not find it. He found instead one that was more ordinary, by far, than his own. He was sure there was a mistake somewhere; so, seeing a girl playing in the yard, he asked her if she knew where was the House with the Golden Windows. "Indeed, I do," she replied eagerly. And she pointed to his own house across the valley, whose windows were at that moment a blaze of golden glory. And he saw for the first time the beauty of what was his own, and hurried back to it with grateful heart.
And you and I, too, live in a house with golden windows if we only had eyes to see. For our windows are made golden by the shining of the Son of Righteousness who has risen upon us with healing in his beams. (Mal. 4:2)
What, then, are some of the benefits, the remembrance of which the poet felt sure would beget within our hearts the fine grace of gratitude? He does not mention our day-by-day mercies that we often come to regard as commonplace because they are so constant. He does not mention the splendor of the sunrise, the ordered coming of the seasons, the bloom of flowers, the song of birds, the handclasps of friends, the tender love of the home circle.
In the realization that every good and every perfect gift is from above (James 1:17), in the faith that possessing God we possess all else, he passes at once to the benefits that have come directly from His hands. And what are these? We shall not undertake to name them all, nor shall we follow the order followed by our psalmist.
1. He thanks God for the revelation that he has made of himself through Moses and through his own personal experience. (Psa. 103:7) And it is absolutely amazing how fully this man has come to know God, in spite of the fact that he lived long centuries before Jesus came to gather little children into his arms and to take upon his shoulders the burdens of every nameless and needy soul, and to say to us, "God is like me; he that hath seen me, hath seen the Father." (John 14:9)
2. He is thankful for the infinite beauty of God that this revelation has disclosed. How winsome he has found him to be! How altogether lovely and lovable! No wonder his soul falls upon its knees in spontaneous thanksgiving as he thinks upon such gracious qualities as these:
(1) God is like a father. "Like as a father pitieth his children, so the Lord pitieth them that fear him." (Psa. 103:13) And how far fuller is this truth declared to us through Jesus Christ! He tells (Luke 15:11) that the tenderest love of the tenderest father is only a most dim and blurred copy of the love of God. He tells of a certain graceless boy who ran away from his father's house, ran past his own wealth, both physical and spiritual, ran past his friends, ran past his decency and self-respect; but he could never run past his father's love. He was always missing him, always longing for him, always watching with yearning unspeakable for his return.
(2) God's heart, being that of a father, is of necessity a forgiving heart. "Who forgiveth all thine iniquities." (Psa. 103:3) Nor does he do so in a niggardly and grudging fashion, but abundantly and eagerly. "He is plenteous in mercy." He is always doing things on a grand scale. When he wants space, he pushes back its boundaries to infinity. When he wants stars, he sows them heaven-wide. When he wants flowers, he colors every hill and valley with their beauty. When he forgives, he does so grandly, forgiving literally all our iniquities and removing them as far from us as is the east from the west. (Psa. 103:12)
Then this plenteous forgiveness means also that he takes us back into his confidence, trusts us as if we had always been true. In fact, if we may credit that infinitely lovely disclosure made to Jeremiah, he actually forgets that we ever sinned. "He will forgive their iniquity, and will remember their sin no more." (Jer. 31:34) This is the only something in all the universe that God ever forgets. He never forgets the least of his children. He never forgets their efforts to serve him. He remembers with infinite appreciation. But he does forget our sin. He turns his back upon it and invites us to do the same. He takes us fully into his bracing confidence, saying even to the weakest of us, "Go and sin no more." (John 8:11)
3. He is thankful because in God he has found the secret of unfailing youth. "Thy youth is renewed like the eagle's." (Psa. 103:5) In all ages men have hated to grow old. I have known some to grow old only the faster because of their frantic efforts to fight it off. Now, I believe we should remain young physically as long as we can. But fight against it how we may, this house we live in is sure to fall into ruins. No beauty secrets, no surgery, no mystic fountain of youth can prevent it. Winter is certain to come to our bodies, but in spite of that we can have abiding springtime in our hearts.
In a church of which I was once pastor there was a man loaded with some fourscore years. In addition to this, he carried the burden of heavy sorrows and dear dreams that never came true. But never once did I hear him complain or utter one word of discouragement. Whenever he came into a meeting, large or small, it was like turning on a light. It was like opening a window that let in a breeze fresh from sun-kissed mountains and sweet with the odor of June flowers. He shared with our poet the secret of unfailing youth.
4. Finally, he is thankful because, in a world of restlessness and weariness, of broken hearts and broken hopes, he has found One who can abidingly satisfy. "Who satisfieth," (Psa. 103:5) he sings gratefully. What shall it profit a man if he gain the whole world, and misses him who alone can satisfy? (Matt. 16:26) What have we lost if we miss the things for which men are scrambling most madly and find real satisfaction?
On the west coast of England there is the grave of a man who while he lived, moved about his community like a rich and rare perfume. His tomb bares upon it this inscription, "Here lies a man who was satisfied with Jesus." If that can be truly said of us, we have sufficient to make all time and eternity one great thanksgiving day.
As this radiant singer thought on these benefits, his heart naturally grew big with gratitude. But he knew that to be grateful in his own heart was not enough. This was the first step; but a second was absolutely essential, and that was giving expression to his gratitude.
1. This is good for the one who is grateful. To keep such a rare treasure shut up in our hearts is to lose it. No flower needs the sun any more than the sweet flower of gratitude. As we give it away, it is not only as unwasting as Elisha's cruse of oil (1 Kings 17:14), it even increases the more we share it.
2. Then we ought to give expression to our gratitude because it heartens those to whom we are grateful. And how desperately do some need heartening! I used to think, when I was quite a young preacher, that what the average man most needed was "a good skinning." But I have long since learned my mistake. What folks need most is a little encouragement, a little something to let them know that their efforts, however blundering, are recognized and appreciated. How far more smoothly the machinery of life would run, both in the home and out of it, if it were oiled a little more frequently and freely by that fine lubricant called gratitude.
One day, I fear, we shall speak into ears that do not hear any more, words of appreciation that, if we only spoke now, would put a new elasticity into the step, a glad sparkle into the eye, and plant fresh roses upon the cheek. Why are we so grudging with a treasure whose sharing would so enrich both him who gives and him who receives?
3. Finally, we ought to give expression to our thanks because by so doing we gladden the heart of God. One tells of a certain tired minister who, on a late Saturday afternoon, was trying to finish his Sunday morning sermon. His interruptions had been many and his nerves were on edge from sheer weariness. Then came a knock at his door. He braced himself for another drain upon his energies and said, "Come in." Then the door was opened to a slit and a little sunny-faced girl looked in. "Daddy, may I come in?" she asked. And when consent was given, she bounded across the room, climbed into the tired man's lap and began to caress him in her sweet childish fashion. And then she said, "Daddy, I didn't come to ask you for a thing. I just came to climb into your lap and hug your neck and kiss your lips and tell you what a good, kind, sweet daddy you are." And so much warmth slipped into his tired heart that it crowded out all the weariness. And God is a Father, and his heart, too, warms at our giving of thanks. Therefore, "Let the redeemed of the Lord say so." (Psa. 107:2)