Alistair Begg on Gracious Gratitude

Dear Friend,

Jonathan Edwards was born on October 5, 1703, in East Windsor, Connecticut. Regarded as the greatest theologian and philosopher of British American Puritanism and a forerunner of the Great Awakening, he is best known for his sermon “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God,” which he preached in 1741 following George Whitefield’s tour of the Thirteen Colonies.

Edwards is on my mind as I write this letter on the eve of his birthday, not because of that famous sermon but on account of what he taught about gratitude.

In his book The Religious Affections, he distinguished between what he referred to as “natural” gratitude and “gracious” gratitude. The former is an appreciation for good gifts—for things that make us happy, like life, family, employment, leisure, freedom, a warm bed, cold drinks, and sunshine. This kind of thankfulness may be displayed by “natural man” without God’s redeeming grace.

Gracious gratitude starts from a different place. Instead of beginning with WHAT God gives us, this begins with WHO God is and thanks Him for His character, goodness, love, and power, regardless of particular favors and enjoyments received. This, Edwards said, is evidence of the work of the Holy Spirit in a life.

As we sit down to a Thanksgiving meal, it is perfectly understandable that we will have occasion to thank God for all the benefits we enjoy, for all that we find to be favorable. But what are we to do with the disappointments and difficulties, the losses and sorrows of the past twelve months? By nature, we may express gratitude for all that is pleasurable. Only by grace may we learn to “give thanks in all circumstances” (1 Thess. 5:18).

Jonathan Edwards died from a smallpox inoculation, an event that gave his wife Sarah an opportunity to display gracious gratitude. She wrote to her daughter, “What shall I say? A holy and good God has covered us with a dark cloud. … He has made me adore his goodness, that we had him so long. But my God lives; and he has my heart. O what a legacy my husband, and your father, has left us! We are all given to God: and there I am, and love to be.”

Many of our Thanksgiving celebrations will be tinged with sadness on account of those who are no longer present. May God help us to trust Him as Sarah Edwards did as we are reminded in the words of the hymn writer:

I thank Thee, Lord, that here our souls,
Though amply blest,
Can never find, although they seek,
A perfect rest,
Nor ever shall, until they lean
On Jesus’ breast.

Be sure to take up our book offers this month. Pathway to Freedom is a further exploration of our program series on the Ten Commandments. The book is a helpful supplement to the teaching. Truth For Life: 365 Daily Devotions is a brand-new release that aims to encourage you to reflect on God’s Word throughout the coming year and inspire you to live daily for Christ.

Have a blessed Thanksgiving.

With my love in the Lord Jesus,


Pathway to Freedom

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