Albert J. Tricarico Jr.
Martin Rinkart was a German pastor who served in unspeakably dark times. The Thirty Years War (1618–1648) was in full force, and Rinkart’s town of Eilenburg was feeling its burden. Not only did Eilenburg serve as a refuge for people displaced by the deadly conflict, it was host to a terrible plague that took the health and lives of thousands.
Eventually Rinkart found himself the only remaining pastor in town providing spiritual help to the suffering. In 1637, at the height of the plague’s destruction, he conducted over four thousand funerals, including the service for his dear wife.
How should a Christian respond when feeling the unique stresses and sorrows that come amidst such devastation? Pastor Rinkart wrote a hymn. Most of us know it and have sung it. We may soon sing it during the Thanksgiving season. Rinkart composed it in 1636 and used it as his prayer until his death in 1649, the year after the war ended.
Now thank we all our God
with heart and hands and voices,
Who wondrous things has done,
in whom his world rejoices;
Who from our mothers’ arms
has blessed us on our way
With countless gifts of love,
and still is ours today.
Would you have composed a song of thanksgiving while witnessing the unimaginable agonies of so many people? Rinkart did exactly that. And what were the particular “gifts of love” that Rinkart found impossible to count? While this first stanza does not specify, it is easy to start a list. God has been generous toward all of us. He gives life, strength, family, friendship, food, work, and rest. We are all grateful for these wonderful expressions of God’s common grace to our world. Paul put it this way to the men of Athens:
The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything. (Acts 17:24–25)
“Life and breath and everything”—given to all people without discrimination. As residents of this world, we enjoy these blessings. Rinkart knew that. He also watched and served while common gifts were taken from Eilenburg’s residents and refugees. Rinkart was a pastor. But first, he was a Christian. He knew that the greatest joy that produces the deepest gratitude emerges from the gospel and all the benefits that come to those who know and love God. Disasters that fall upon us in this life, even the deadly forces of war and disease, cannot remove what Christ has won for us.
O may this bounteous God
through all our life be near us,
With ever joyful hearts
and blessed peace to cheer us;
And keep us in his grace,
and guide us when perplexed,
And free us from all ills
in this world and the next.
God is bounteous and generous. We pray that he would be near us in our day of trial. The peace he gives makes hearts rejoice. We pray for his grace, even—perhaps especially—when life does not make sense to us. When circumstances perplex us, we pray with faith that God will guide us. We also pray for deliverance from our present troubles, with confidence that they will finally cease when we are received in glory.
Let’s all think deeply about the benefits we have as children who are loved by God and purchased by the blood of his Son. We are justified (counted righteous) and will never face the condemnation our sins deserve (Rom. 5:1; 8:1). We are adopted into God’s family (John 1:12) and have access to him through our risen Savior and unashamed brother, Jesus Christ (Heb. 2:11; 10:19–22). We are indwelt by the Holy Spirit who groans with us while we wait for Jesus and assures us now that we are God’s children (Rom. 8:15–17, 26).
We have all of God’s promises that are true and find their fulfillment in Christ (2 Cor. 1:20–22). Jesus is with us, will never abandon us, and will not leave his work in us unfinished (Matt. 28:20; 1 Cor. 1:5–8; Phil. 1:6). Though trials cause pain in this life, God uses even the deepest sorrows to make us holy and give us reason to long for heaven (Rom. 5:3–5; 8:18; Phil. 1:21; 2 Cor. 5:1–10). When death comes, life follows (John 8:51). When Jesus comes, we will be raised. We will see him. And when we see him, we will be like him (1 John 3:2).
God’s Word is unbreakable (John 10:35). His kingdom is unshakable (Heb. 12:28). His greatest gift—our Redeemer, Jesus Christ—is inexpressible (2 Cor. 9:15). What we have in Christ cannot be fully conveyed in words. And so we give thanks.
Take just one of these precious gifts—or another not listed, there are so many!—and meditate upon it. Take your time. Pray for insight and a deepening faith that Christ has won this benefit for you. Resolve, with the grace that he provides, to live gladly in light of God’s love for you, his promises to you, and his rule over you. You will be encouraged. You will be empowered. You will be thankful. And you will agree as you sing with Martin Rinkart. Though we do our best to list them, God’s gifts of love are truly countless.
One of those countless gifts is the church—God’s gathered, worshiping testimony of grace. As members of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, we can all give thanks for the blessings we have received through the teaching, fellowship, and mission engagements of our church. The program committees of the OPC continue to oversee our corporate response to Christ’s Great Commission (Matt. 28:18–20). We like to put it this way: the Committees on Christian Education, on Home Missions and Church Extension, and on Foreign Missions support and prosecute “the whole work of the whole church.”
The good work done by our committees requires financial support from the members of the OPC. That support comes from congregational commitments, individual giving, and other sources. Every Thanksgiving season, the OPC provides an opportunity for its members to express thanks to God through its Thank Offering. As you reflect on God’s generosity toward you, consider responding generously with thanks as you participate in this opportunity to give.
The foundation of gratitude-fueled, generous giving on the part of God’s people is the worthiness of our God. We worship him as we offer our gifts to him. So we sing with Pastor Rinkart:
All praise and thanks to God
the Father now be given,
The Son, and him who reigns
with them in highest heaven—
The one eternal God,
whom earth and heav’n adore;
For thus it was, is now,
and shall be evermore.
© 2023 The Orthodox Presbyterian Church