One of the characteristics of reformed Christianity is the emphasis it places upon doctrine. It is often a reproach made against us that we think too much and talk too much about doctrine. It is felt by some that doctrine is divisive, that it tends to produce barrenness, an intellectual faith, instead of a joyful and simple Christian life and experience.
Today, more often than not, the spirit of Christians is more akin to Billy Sunday, the famous baseball player turned sawdust trail evangelist, who, at his examination for ordination in the Presbyterian Church USA, characteristically would answer questions on theology by saying: ‘That’s too deep for me’ or ‘I’ll have to pass that one up.’ He once said, ‘I don’t know any more about theology, than a jackrabbit knows about ping-pong, but I’m on my way to glory.’
But we think that this is a great mistake. Doctrine is only the teaching of the Bible. And all of the teaching of the teaching of the Word of God is of the most intensely practical importance, but especially its great themes. Now, to be sure, we have perhaps all known people who had a fascination for doctrine, but seem to be oblivious to its practical application–and there is nothing to be said for that! But in the Bible, doctrines have consequences; and the better these doctrines are learned and mastered, the more our lives will reflect that truth.
For example, the doctrine of justification by faith has a great consequence according to the Scripture. It is peace, peace of heart, before God and then before men. And the better one understands the doctrine of justification, the better he or she appreciates the truth of the imputation of Christ’s righteousness to us and of God’s declaration that in Christ we are righteous in his sight, the more that person will live in peace and at peace.
And the doctrines which are the special emphases of reformed faith, that is, which we wish to stress as the Bible does, though many other Christians neglect them—these doctrines too have profound and important consequences. I am thinking of the doctrines of sovereignty, of the sovereignty of God over all things—that absolute divine rule over and explanation of all things. And, especially, the doctrine of the sovereignty of divine grace: that salvation is from beginning to end, the work, the gift, and the achievement of God. As the Bible declares, ‘Salvation belongs to the Lord’ (Jonah 2:9).
These doctrines too have the most intensely practical applications and implications. And one of the chief of those implications is that we who believe these things ought to be distinguished by our thankfulness, our gratitude to God. People who are around us ought to notice and comment upon the fact that we seem to be so grateful, so thankful for what we have received.
For, you see, our doctrine leaves us more to thank God for than other Christians; our doctrine requires us to be thankful to God for everything; absolutely everything: our salvation in its every part, and everything else–for we, of all Christians, understand that it all comes down from the Father of Lights.
In other words, a psalm like Psalm 111 ought to be characteristic of us; of our private thoughts, of our conversation with one another, of our witness-bearing to those who are not Christians, and of our corporate worship. Thanksgiving ought to be writ large over our lives and thankful ought to describe us.
It should be characteristic of Christians such as ourselves to be thankful people, always giving thanks to God, since we recognize that everything is from him; that in him we live and move and have our being; that our troubles and our blessings are all the gifts of his love and care; that he stands behind all that we know and all that we have.
Join us this Lord’s Day as we consider the distinctive of thankfulness as a mark of a reformed Christian. Are you known for your gratitude? Are you one to give thanks regularly? Bring someone with you and let’s talk about the mark of thankfulness from Psalm 111.
Thanks be to God,
(Let me note that I am thankful to Robert Rayburn as I have relied heavily upon an article on thankfulness by him.)