Optimistic Gratitude

“See that no one renders evil for evil to anyone, but always pursue what is good both for yourselves and for all. Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. Do not quench the Spirit” (1 Thess.5:15-19 NKJV, emphasis added).

The life and writings of Puritan pastor, Matthew Henry, demonstrate optimistic gratitude. He cultivated this demeanor through confidence in God and His Word.

“Matthew Henry (1662-1714) was a preacher and scholar. For many Christians the name Matthew Henry is immediately associated with his Commentary on the Bible which has deservedly gained a reputation as the best and most widely used work of its kind. It is in every sense a massive exposition of scripture and has been of enormous benefit to Christians from Henry’s contemporaries such as Watts and Doddridge down to our present time nearly three centuries later. It was the product of many years of scholarship and industry by Henry who lived through a period of great turmoil in the religious life of the Country [England].”[1]

Henry’s diligent study of the Bible began at a young age. In his youth he learned Latin, Hebrew and Greek! In 1673, when he was eleven years old, he wrote of his appreciation for the Scriptures:

“I love the Word of God, I esteem it above all, I find my heart so inclined, I desire it as the food of my soul, I greatly delight in it, both in reading and hearing it and my soul can witness subjection to it in some measure. I think I love the Word of God for the purity of it; I love the ministers and messengers of the Word; I am often reading it; I rejoice in the good success of it; all which were given as marks of true love to the Word in a sermon that I lately heard on Psalm 119:140, ‘Thy word is very pure, therefore thy servant loveth it’.”

The initial quotation from 1 Thessalonians 5:18 exhorts us, “in everything give thanks…” Being grateful for good things is understandable, but what about trials? When we lived in Montreal, thieves broke into our home while we were away, stealing valuable possessions and important papers. It took quite a while for me to process that loss biblically. Mathew Henry, however, had an episode in his life that prompted what has become a famous response. After a thief had robbed him of his money, rather than becoming bitter over the crime and loss, he demonstrated optimistic gratitude,

“I am glad that I was the victim, and not the robber.
I thank God that the thief took only my money, and not my life.
I am gratified that I had prosperity enough to have something to be taken.”

This God-centered view of life continued to the end of his pilgrimage. Shortly before his home-going, Henry commented to a friend:

“You have been used to take notice of the sayings of dying men; this is mine:
that a life spent in the service of God, and communion with him, is the most pleasant life that anyone can live in this world.”[2]

The writer of Hebrews expressed this thankful optimism as he summarized our calling under the New Covenant. Faith and hope support devotion and thanksgiving even in tough times.

“Do not be carried about by different and varied and alien teachings; for it is good for the heart to be established and ennobled and strengthened by means of grace (God’s favor and spiritual blessing) and not [to be devoted to] foods [rules of diet and ritualistic meals], which bring no [spiritual] benefit or profit to those who observe them. We have an altar from which those who serve and worship in the tabernacle have no right to eat. For when the blood of animals is brought into the sanctuary by the high priest as a sacrifice for sin, the victims’ bodies are burned outside the limits of the camp. Therefore Jesus also suffered and died outside the [city’s] gate in order that He might purify and consecrate the people through [the shedding of] His own blood and set them apart as holy [for God]. Let us then go forth [from all that would prevent us] to Him outside the camp [at Calvary], bearing the contempt and abuse and shame with Him. For here we have no permanent city, but we are looking for the one which is to come. Through Him, therefore, let us constantly and at all times offer up to God a sacrifice of praise, which is the fruit of lips that thankfully acknowledge and confess and glorify His name” (Heb. 13:9-15 Amplified Bible, emphasis added).

By the power of God’s Spirit, let us offer the spiritual sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving daily. Then, like Matthew Henry of old, we’ll be beacons of optimistic gratitude.


[1] www.truthfulwords.org/

[2] Matthew Henry quotes adapted from “Matthew Henry: Commentator for the Common Person” by Wayne Jackson at ChristianCourier.com

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Copyright, John Woodward. Permission is granted to reprint this article for non-commercial use. Scripture quotations (unless indicated otherwise) are from The Holy Bible, New King James Version © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc.

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