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By Rev. LEONARD E. LATHROP,
THE PROPRIETY AND DESIGN OF AN ANNUAL FESTI
VAL OF THANKSGIVING.
Leviticus xxiii. 39. Also in the fifteenth day of the month, when
ye have gathered in the fruit of the land, ye shall keep a feast unto the Lord, seven days.
The text forms a part of the directions given for the observance of the feast of tabernacles. Among the Jews, this was a very important and interesting festival. It was to be observed once in a year, and was significant of their gratitude to God for common and for more special blessings. In this chapter, we have an account of various feasts or festivals, which were designed to remind them of their dependance and of their obligations to their common Parent, the Giver of all good. Of these, the principal were the passover, the feast of weeks, and the feast of tabernacles. The two latter had a more special reference to temporal blessings, and seem to have been instituted as commemorative of the divine goodness in ordering the seasons of the year, and thus anıply providing for the subsistence, convenience and comfort of his dependant creatures.
The direction given in the text has reference to such a festival. “When ye have gathered in the fruit of the land, ye shall keep a feast unto the Lord.” We shall consider,
I. The propriety of such a festival, and
II. What is implied in the text in regard to the manner in which it should be observed. It is a festival of thanksgiving, and has respect to particular circumstances specified. The term festival is significant of joy and gladness, and is applied to those observances, which, by divine appointment, were designed to commemorate particular and signal manifestations of the divine goodness. They were joyful occasions, rendered so by the tokens of heaven's favor to those who were called upon to share in the duties enjoined. In this festival of thanksgiving. there is a remembrance of God's goodness in relation to a specified chject,-viz., the gathering in the fruit of the land. The propriety of observing such a festival will appear,
1. From a view of man's dependance.
Man is a dependant being. Of himself, he can do nothing, and unsupported by a higher power, he cannot exist a single moment. That he should feel, acknowledge and recognize his dependance upon that higher power, is connected with the exercise of such feelings, and the cultivation of such affections, as are most becoming an accountable being. Whatever tends to awaken and keep alive such feelings, must be regarded as most desirable ; especially when we recur to the fact, that there is in man such a proneness to forget God, his Creator and Benefactor, and practically at least to adopt the language, “ Depart from us, for we desire not the knowledge of thy ways.” That such a festival as this is calculated to produce this effect, appears probable from the fact, that it calls our attention to the subject. It reminds us of what we might not otherwise be so likely to bear in remembrance. It brings the great subject of our dependance directly before the mind, and is calculated at least to awaken some consideration upon the interesting relations which we sustain in the present state of our being. It is not that man is laid under any stronger obligations of gratitude at this particular season, than he is at other times in view of the same blessings; but that by a special and public recognition of his dependance and of the divine goodness, he may express before men, his sense of obligation resting upon him, and use it as an occasion for exciting higher exercises of gratitude and joy.
2. The propriety of such a festival seems evident from the magnitude of the blessings, which furnish the occasion of its observance. It is in commemoration of that power and goodness, by which the earth is cansed to yield her increase. It is when ye
It is when ye have gathered in the fruit of the land. It is with reference to the continuance of those means, by which the existence of man is prolonged. Unless the providences of God are so ordered that the fruit of the land may be gathered in, what is man? What would be the condition of his race unblessed with food and raiment, and the more exalted individual and social blessings, which cannot be enjoyed without the subordinate means by which life is upheld, and its comforts multiplied ? We at once perceive that the occasion is peculiarly interesting, inasmuch as it tells of the loving-kindness and tender mercy, without which, the condition of man would be dreary, and desolate and sad beyond whatever we have experienced, and beyond what we may ever have conceived.
We are apt to lose sight of the value and magnitude of these blessings of a common providence, from the fact that they are common. But we may suppose the case reversed. Consider mankind toiling in the cultivation of the earth, and the earth refusing to yield her increase, the enriching showers withheld, and the fields, instead of being clothed with the exuberant fullness of their productions, doomed for a single year to barrenness. What a different aspect would be spread over the face of society! What desolation of these domestic endearments and comforts,-what sorrows of heart and what sadness of countenance would take the place of the cheerful countenances, and joyful hearts, and fireside enjoyments, and social privileges, which now, at every step, speak forth the beneficence and the tender-mercy of Him who crowneth the year with his goodness. And is there not ever something in our condition, in the circumstances which attend our lives, or in the seasons of the year, calculated to remind us, that for these common blessings we are wholly dependant; that the tenure upon which we hold them is the mere good pleasure of Him, who has power to turn the sun into darkness, and the moon into blood,—to cause the stars to fall from heaven, and the powers of heaven to be shaken, and all the tribes of the earth to mourn? Sometimes His righteous sovereignty is displayed in withholding the sunshine in harvest, and in permitting the mildew and the flood to disappoint the hopes of the husbandman, and to remind us of our daily dependance upon His merciful providence. In some instances, the desolating flood is permitted to sweep over the fertile field, and to lay waste the promising fruits of human industry ; and the plenteous showers have descended in the time of harvest, presenting obstacles in the way of a safe ingathering of the fruits which industry, with the divine blessing, had reared. Again, while sometimes refreshing showers are withheld, and we look upon the fading and withering aspect of the vegetable kingdom around us, we cannot but feel our own impotency in causing the grass to grow for cattle, and the herb for the service of man. Easily might He, who is infinite in power, have shut up the windows of heaven till this moment; easily might He have sent blasting, and mildew, and sterility, so that the earth would not have yielded her accustomed fruits, or when brought forth, they would have been rendered useless.
But how does He ever deal with us?—not only better than are our deserts, and often better than our fears. “All eyes wait upon Him, and He giveth them their meat in due season.” And this ample provision, made for the subsistence of man and beast, has an important bearing upon all those higher sources of enjoyment, which render life most valuable and desirable. The civilization and refinement, the social pleasures and social privileges, the means and the efforts of benevolence, are all directly promoted by the blessing which brings to man a full and competent supply of his temporal wants. The magnitude of the blessing appears the more conspicuous, when we consider it as forming the basis, upon which is reared the fair superstructure of every wellordered and happy society. So that when, through the divine munificence, the fruit of the land has been gathered in, it is highly proper that a festival of thanksgiving should be observed.
3. Such a festival is proper on account of its social character. Mankind are not only dependant, but are alike dependant upon the same Being. They owe to Him the same obligations. And here is a subject in which they have a common interest. The public observance of such a festival is calculated to cement the bonds of union and good fellowship between man and man, while they are brought together to rejoice in the same thing,' to recognize the same wise and gracious Providence, and to give thanks for the same benefits. Here they are led unitedly, and in their social character, to contemplate the divine munificence in which all share a part, and to fix their thoughts upon the loving-kindness of Him, in whom every man lives, and moves, and has his being. Such is the practical benefit of those institutions and observances which bring before the minds of men their common obligations to their common Parent --which, by reminding them of their entire dependance upon the same Almighty Being, lead them to think of their mutual dependance upon each other, and the mutual obligations which rest upon them. The direct tendency of such a public observance, is to awaken kindred feelings in bosoms where kindred feelings ought to reign. And it is designed to awaken those higher sensibilities towards the Giver of all good, without which, man grovels like the beasts that perish, and sinks in brutal debasement, while he ought to be rising in holy aspirations; and walks in darkness, while he might rejoice in the light of the Lord.
4. The propriety of such a festival is inferred from the fact that it has the sanction of divine authority. Our text affords the proof. No rule which Jehovah has laid down for the regulation of human conduct, under given circumstances, can, with propriety, be regarded as having ceased to be binding in its spirit, until the reason of that rule ceases. It is as right and proper that men should abstain from theft or covetousness, and that they should honor their parents, and remember the sabbath day to keep it holy, as when the law was given from Sinai. It is as right and proper that men should now do unto others, as they would that others should do to them, as it was when our Savior delivered the precept. The reason of the law remaining, determines the perpetuity of the law. Every moral law at least, is of perpetual obligation, and is binding under all circumstances of society. So in relation to any external religious observance, it having been once eujoined by divine authority, we may at least infer the propriety of its continuance, so long as the reason for that observance exists. So long therefore as seed time and harvest continue, and men are permitted to gather in the fruit of the earth, we may conclude that it is proper and suitable to their condition and circumstances, that they should keep a feast unto the Lord. It is on this principle of interpretation of the divine will, as disclosed in the sacred volume, that our pious ancestry established the usage of an annual thanksgiving. .
II. Let us now attend for a moment to what seems to be implied in our text in regard to the manner in which it should be observed. And it is all implied in the direction that it should be kept to the Lord. It being spoken of as a feast, seems to imply a free and pleasant participation of the bounties of His providence, and that in this participation, they should be regarded as coming from his hand. No excess however is sanctioned by the idea of a feast. The passover and the Lord's Supper are properly denominated feasts. And they are institutions which from their nature preclude all excess or extravagance. A feast kept to the Lord necessarily implies the propriety of attendance on religious services, adapted to the nature of the occasion and its obvious design. That it may be kept to the Lord, it is necessary,
1. That there should be cherished a remembrance of His merciful providence, particularly in relation to the specified object of the festival; which is to celebrate the divine goodness in causing the fruits of the land to be gathered in, and thus continuing the means necessary for the preservation of social order aud happiness. There is a strong liability in many to keep this festival to themselves rather than to the Lord. And not unfrequently it is entirely perverted from its original design, inasmuch as in the observance of it, the Lord is not regarded. By multitudes who feast upon the bounties of Providence, that Providence is wholly forgotten. Where the gratification of appetite and the excitement of mere animal pleasure are the principal or only objects kept in view, it is plainly evident, that persons regard themselves merely in the festival. In order that it be truly kept to the Lord, it is necessary that any excessive indulgence of appetite should be scrupulously avoided, because this is strictly forbidden under all circumstances. It moreover utterly disqualifies the soul for the rational and holy contemplation of the character, attributes and government of Jehovah.