In one of our northern coal-pits there was a little boy employed in a lonely and dangerous part of the mine. One day a visitor to the coal-pit asked the boy about his work, and the child answered, "Yes, it is very lonely here, but I pick up the little bits of candle thrown away by the colliers, and join them together, and when I get a light I sing." My brothers, every day of our lives we are picking up blessings which the loving Hand of God has scattered around, every day we get the light, but how many of us sing?
I want to talk to you about the duty and blessing of thankfulness, and how it can be shown. Gratitude is the root of all true Christian service and worship. If we go to Church, and give money for religious purposes, only because we want to stand well with God, or to get something from Him, our service is mere selfishness. We are like people buying votes to get themselves into a charitable asylum. All we do in the service of God should be done from a motive of thankfulness. The thought should be, "What shall I render unto the Lord for all His benefits?"
If a man does the state some great service we give him a pension, or a statue. It is nothing very much, but we do what we can to show our gratitude. During the last American War a farmer was discovered one day kneeling by the grave of a soldier lately killed in battle. He was asked if the dead man were his son, and answered that the soldier was no relation: and then he told his story. The farmer, who had a sickly wife, and several children, was drafted for the army, and had no one who could carry on his farm, or take care of his family, whilst he went to the war. Whilst he was overwhelmed with trouble, the son of a neighbour came forward, and said, "I have no one depending on me, I will go to the war in your place." He went, and was killed in action, and the farmer had travelled many a weary mile to kneel beside his grave, and to carve on the headstone the words -- "Died for me."
Brethren, what ought our gratitude to be to the Lord Jesus, who loved us, and died for us upon the Cross of Calvary? True gratitude is shown by deeds as well as words. We must try to show our thankfulness to God not only with our lips but in our lives. Too many people are content to get all they can from God, and never to give anything in return. They tell us that they are poor miserable sinners, who can do nothing, and give nothing, they must leave all to the mercies of Jesus. Now, brethren, this is very often mere selfishness. They do not want to give anything to God, they are not really thankful. It is not true to say that we can give nothing to God. We are bidden in the Gospel to render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's. We can all give God worship, and we should give it in the best way possible, as a token of our thankfulness.
It is for this reason that we build beautiful Churches, and decorate them with stained glass windows, and rich carvings. Such Churches are thank-offerings, signs of our gratitude to Him who on earth was homeless, who was born in a stable, who had not where to lay His head. There are people who murmur at the expense of building and decorating such Churches. They say, "To what purpose was this waste?" They are very nearly related to Judas Iscariot of old, who asked the same question, and, like him, they love themselves, and the money bag, better than their Master. These people tell us that God does not care for handsome Churches and stately services. So they would give the Almighty a white-washed building, whilst they dwell in a fair and costly mansion. They would have fine damask and soft covering for their table, whilst they have dirty linen and a moth eaten cloth for the Altar of their God. They will drink out of cut-glass and silver at their feasts, and they leave the feast of Christ's dying love, the Blessed Sacrament of praise and thanksgiving, to be celebrated in vessels of base metal. Their houses are kept in excellent repair, and cleansed by careful hands, but they suffer the House of God to fall to decay, and allow His Presence Chamber to be defiled with dirt. And all this arises from a want of thankfulness to God. If we are thankful we do not grudge what we give, we feel that we can never do enough for Him who has redeemed us. But these people say, "God does not care for a beautiful Church, He loves simplicity." Where has God told us this? David believed just the opposite. He said that he was ashamed that he should dwell in a house of cedars, whilst the Ark of God dwelt among curtains. You know how he was prevented from building the Temple, and how Solomon did the work. Now, did Solomon act upon the mean principle of building a poor, cheap house for God, whilst he erected a gorgeous palace for himself? No! the Temple was one of the most glorious buildings ever seen, and those that were erected in later times were splendid also. We find our Blessed Lord attending the Temple services, and those services were beautiful and elaborate. There was nothing in the Temple or its worship to suggest that God prefers the ugly, white-washed building, and the slovenly, irreverent, service which some would offer Him.
If you love someone very dearly you do not visit him in your oldest and dirtiest garments, you do not send him the cheapest present you can buy, nor put up a roughly erected tombstone to his memory. You give him the very best you have. If you love God you will do the same to Him.
Again, we show our thankfulness to God by giving Him a hearty worship in His Church. I wonder how many people know exactly why they come to Church at all. Some say they come to get good. That is mere selfishness. Some say they come because it is respectable. Yes, but worthless, unless it means something more. Others would tell us, if they were quite honest, that they come to Church because they want to stand well in the good opinion of the Clergyman, or with the Squire. This is sheer hypocrisy. There is only one true reason for coming to Church, -- the fact that we love God, and are grateful to Him for all His mercies, and want to show it. We should come to Church to worship God with the best member that we have; we should come with the feeling -- "I was glad when they said unto me we will go into the House of the Lord;" "I love the place, O Lord, wherein Thine honour dwells." All slovenliness in the performance of the service, all irreverence, or signs of inattention, and indifference, are tokens of a want of thankfulness. We should get this thought fixed in our minds when we enter Church, -- I have come here to-day mainly to thank God for His great goodness to me, and to all men. I have come also to ask for certain things, the forgiveness of my sins if I am truly penitent, the help and strength of the Holy Spirit to renew my life; I have come to ask for those things, which are requisite and necessary as well for the body as the soul, and I seek instruction in the lessons, the Gospel and Epistle, and the sermon. But the chief object of my presence here is the worship, the glory, the honour of God. And so I will give Him the best I have. If you once grasped that fact, my brothers, we should have no silent lips, no sleepy eyes, no lounging bodies, no irreverent conduct in God's Holy Church. Remember God is present in His Church, therefore we must behave with the greatest humility and reverence. In some Churches you will see the people obstinately sitting throughout the service, but if one of the Royal Family enters, they all rise up. Now, if we remember that the King of kings, and Lord of lords, the only Ruler of princes, is present, we shall stand up to do Him honour. It is defrauding God of the honour due to Him when we refuse to show Him marks of reverence. Do you know that in the House of Lords it is always the rule for members to bow to the throne, although it is empty, as being the seat of the Majesty of England. We bow to the Altar as being the throne of the Most High God, the place where He visits His people in the Blessed Sacrament. There we should honour and reverence God, in whose presence we are, with the best members that we have. Our heads should bow in humility before the God of Heaven and earth. Our knees should bend in adoration before Him who is worshipped by the Heavenly Host. Our eyes should be fixed upon our Prayer Books that they may not wander. Our thoughts should be centred on the fact that God is there with us, that we are in the presence-chamber of the great King. Our voices should be used to praise God in chant, and psalm, and hymn, and to offer prayer or thanksgiving. If we are silent we are defrauding God. God's Priest does not say, "let me pray for you," he says, "let us pray." We cannot worship God by proxy, we cannot give God what He asks by means of a choir, whilst the congregation is silent. Let us, each one of us, for the future, remember why we have come to Church, and that it is our individual business to worship God with reverence and holy fear. And in all you sing or say here, be in earnest, mean what you say. It is an insult to God to say words which you do not believe, or understand. Once in a certain Church, during Lent, an Easter hymn had been put down by mistake, and was sung very heartily by the choir. The choirmaster after service spoke to the singers, regretting that such a mistake should have occurred. And he was answered, "Oh, it does not matter, we only think of the tune, and do not trouble about the words." I am afraid that too many hymns are sung in the same careless fashion, but if so, they are not praise. "Sing ye praises with understanding."
One word more; we are bidden to render unto Caesar what belongs to him, and to God what is His. This world has certain claims upon us. Part of our time and our money must be devoted to our business and our position in the world. But not all of our time and money must be so given. God claims His share, and our gratitude for His mercies ought to make us gladly render unto God the things that are God's. He claims a certain part of our time for His public worship in Church. If we stay away from His House, or if, when there, we are careless, and indifferent, we are robbing God. God claims a certain part of our money, to be dedicated to the relief of the poor, or the maintenance of His Church. If we spend all our money on the world we are defrauding God of His right. May He grant us all more thankful hearts, for Jesus Christ's sake.