The Duty of Thanksgiving
Ephesians 5:20
Giving thanks always for all things to God and the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ;

I. THE SUBSTANCE OF THE DUTY. — "To give thanks"; or, rather, "to be thankful."

1. It implies a right apprehension of, and consequently a considerate attention unto, benefits conferred. For he that is either wholly ignorant of his obligations, or mistakes them, or passes them over with a slight and superficial view, can nowise be grateful.

2. This duty requires a faithful retention of benefits in memory, and consequently frequent reflections on them. For he that is no longer affected with a benefit than it incurs the sense, and suffers not itself to be disregarded, is far from being grateful; nay, if we believe the philosopher, is ungrateful in the worst kind and highest degree. "He that falsely denies the reception of a benefit, and he that dissembles it, and he that doth not repay it, is ingrateful; but most ingrateful of all is he that forgets it."

3. This duty implies a due esteem and valuation of benefits; that the nature and quality, the measure and quantity, the circumstances and consequences of them be well expended; else the gratitude is like to be none, or very defective. For we commensurate our thankfulness, not so much to the intrinsic excellency of things, as to our peculiar estimations of them. In such manner ought we diligently to survey and judiciously to estimate the effects of Divine beneficence, examining every part, and descanting on every circumstance thereof: like those that contemplate some rare beauty, or some excellent picture; some commending the exact proportions, some the graceful features, some the lively colours discernible therein. There is not the least of the Divine favours, which, if we consider the condescensive tenderness, the clear intention, the undeserved frankness, the cheerful debonairity expressed therein, hath not dimensions larger than our comprehension, colours too fair, and lineaments too comely for our weak sight thoroughly to discern; requiring therefore our highest esteem and our utmost thanks. They are immense, innumerable, unconceivable, and unexpressible. But still —

4. "Giving thanks" imports that benefits be received with a willing mind, a hearty sense, a vehement affection.

5. This duty requires due acknowledgment of our obligation, significations of our notice, declarations of our esteem and good acceptance of favours conferred.

6. This duty requires endeavours of real compensation, and a satisfactory requital of benefits, according to the ability and opportunity of the receiver.

7. True gratitude for benefits is always attended with the esteem, veneration, and love of the benefactor.

II. THE OBJECT AND TERM TO WHICH IT IS TO BE DIRECTED. To this God, to this great, to this only Benefactor of ours, we owe this most natural and easy, this most just and equal, this most sweet and pleasant duty of giving thanks.

III. I proceed now to the third, THE CIRCUMSTANCE OF TIME ALLOTTED TO THE PERFORMANCE OF THIS DUTY, expressed by that universal and unlimited term, "always."

1. Hereby is required that we do often actually meditate on, be sensible of, confess and celebrate the Divine beneficence. If God incessantly demonstrates Himself gracious unto us, we are in all reason obliged frequently to confess ourselves grateful unto Him.

2. "Giving thanks always" may import our appointing and punctually observing certain convenient times of performing this duty; that is, of seriously meditating on, and affectionately acknowledging the Divine bounty. Instance of the Jewish sacrifice, rendered by the Greek translators, "the continual sacrifice." As that sacrifice, being offered constantly at a set time, was thence denominated continual, so perhaps may we, by constantly observing some fit returns of praise and thanksgiving, be said "always to give thanks."

3. But farther, "giving thanks always" may import a vigilant attendance on this duty, such as men bestow on their employments, of which, though the actual prosecution ceases, yet the design continually proceeds; just as we say, such an one is writing a book, or building a house, though he may at the present time be occupied by some other employment; because his design never sleeps, and his purpose continues uninterrupted. This term "always" necessarily implies a ready disposition or habitual inclination to give thanks, ever permanent in us; that our hearts, as David's was, be fixed always, that is, fittingly prepared and steadily resolved to thank and praise God.

5. Lastly: "giving thanks always" imports that we readily embrace every opportunity of actually expressing our thankfulness: for so in some places of Scripture, what is enjoined to be done continually, is in others only required to be done on all opportunities. It is true that no time is unfavourable: every moment we receive favours, and therefore every minute we owe thanks. We should be like those trees that bear fruit (more or less) continually; but then more kindly and more abundantly when more powerfully cherished by the heavenly warmth. When any fresh, any rare, any remarkable benefit happens to us; when prosperous success attends our honest endeavours; when unexpected favours fall as it were of their own accord into our bosoms.

IV. THE MATTER. — "For all things."

1. We are to give thanks, not only for great and notable benefits, but for the least and most ordinary favours of God: though indeed none of God's favours are in themselves small and inconsiderable. Men are wont to bless themselves, if they receive but a transient glance from a prince's eye; a smile from a great personage; any slender intimation of regard from him that is in capacity to do them good. What is it then to receive the least testimony of His goodwill, from whom alone every good thing can be expected.

2. We are to render thanks, not only for new and present benefits, but for all we have formerly, all that we may hereafter receive.

3. We should bless God, not only for new, rare, extraordinary accidents of providence, but for the common and daily benefits and indulgences thereof.

4. We should give thanks, not only for private and particular, but for public benefits also, and for such as befall others.

5. We are obliged to give thanks, not only for pleasant and prosperous occurrences of providence, but for those also which are adverse to our desire, and distasteful to our natural sense; for poverty, sickness, disgrace; for all the sorrows and troubles, the disasters and disappointments, that befall us. We are bound to pay thanks, not for our food only, but for our physic also (which, though ungrateful to our palate, is profitable for our health): we are obliged, in the school of providence, not only for the good instructions, but for the seasonable corrections also vouchsafed unto us (whereby, though our senses are offended, our manners are bettered).

6. Lastly, we are obliged to thank God, not only for corporeal and temporal benefits, but also (and that principally) for spiritual and eternal blessings. I should conclude with certain inducements persuasive to the practice of this duty.

I. First, therefore, we may consider that there is no disposition whatever more deeply radicated in the original constitution of all souls endued with any kind of perception or passion, than being sensible of benefits received; being kindly affected with love and respect toward them that exhibit them; being ready with suitable expressions to acknowledge them, and to endeavour competent recompenses for them. Even the worst of men retain something of this natural inclination, and the very brute creation gives evidence of it.

II. The second obligation to this duty is most just and equal; since we are in all reason indebted for what is freely given, as well as for what is lent to us: for the freeness of the giver, his not exacting security, nor expressing conditions of return, doth not diminish, but rather increase the debt: this enlarged on.

III. Thirdly, this is a most sweet and delightful duty: as the performance of it proceeds from good humour and a cheerful disposition of mind, so it feeds and foments them both. Prayer reminds us of our imperfections and wants; confession of our misdeeds and bad deserts; but thanksgiving includes nothing uneasy or unpleasant, nothing but the memory and sense of exceeding goodness. Other considerations may be briefly added: viz., that this duty is of all others most acceptable to God and profitable to us, inducing Him to bestow more, and qualifying us to receive it.

(I. Barrow, D. D.)

Parallel Verses
KJV: Giving thanks always for all things unto God and the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ;

WEB: giving thanks always concerning all things in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, to God, even the Father;

The Duty of Giving Thanks to God
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