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The First Thanksgiving (1621)
And, "Come, Ye Thankful People, Come"


"Let us come before His presence with thanksgiving, and make a joyful noise unto Him with psalms"
(Psalm 95:2).

by Tom Stewart


Since 1863, Americans have celebrated Thanksgiving-- now observed every fourth Thursday of November-- as a national holiday to give thanks for blessings received during the year. As an American tradition, we remember the first Thanksgiving as the gathering of the Pilgrim Fathers in Plymouth, Massachusetts celebrating the success of their Fall Harvest in 1621. And, the familiar Thanksgiving hymn, "Come, Ye Thankful People, Come," reminds True Christians of what the Pilgrims certainly knew, that it is God to whom we are to be thankful and that His safe and timely provision occasions our thankfulness.
"In every thing give thanks: for this is the Will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you" (1Thessalonians 5:18). The Providence of the Pilgrims' deliverance in their newfound land of religious freedom-- from their opportune meeting with the English speaking Samoset and Squanto to their learning of the Indian practice of using fish to fertilize their crops-- demonstrated the providential superintendence of the Almighty that made possible their survival and the bounty of their harvest celebration. "O give thanks unto the LORD; for He is good; for His mercy endureth for ever" (1Chronicles 16:34). Years later, Dean Alford of the Church of England gave the Church a much remembered voice for its gratitude to the "LORD of the Harvest" (Mark 9:38) through the hymn, "Come, Ye Thankful People, Come." Henry Alford (1810-1871), dean of Canterbury Cathedral, is known to theological students and ministers for his exegetical and critical commentary of "The Greek New Testament" (Volume 1, 1844), but especially the Thanksgiving hymn, "Come, Ye Thankful People, Come," has endeared his name to Christians, since its first publication in his "Psalms and Hymns" (1844). "I will praise the name of God with a song, and will magnify Him with thanksgiving" (Psalm 69:30).

Plymouth's Providentially Thankful Pilgrims

"In the Name of God, Amen. We, whose names are underwritten, the Loyal Subjects of our dread Sovereign Lord, King James, by the Grace of God, of England, France and Ireland, King, Defender of the Faith, &c. Having undertaken for the Glory of God, and Advancement of the Christian Faith, and the Honour of our King and Country, a voyage to plant the first colony in the northern parts of Virginia; do by these presents, solemnly and mutually in the Presence of God and one of another, covenant and combine ourselves together into a civil Body Politick, for our better Ordering and Preservation, and Furtherance of the Ends aforesaid; And by Virtue hereof to enact, constitute, and frame, such just and equal Laws, Ordinances, Acts, Constitutions and Offices, from time to time, as shall be thought most meet and convenient for the General good of the Colony; unto which we promise all due submission and obedience. In Witness whereof we have hereunto subscribed our names at Cape Cod the eleventh of November, in the Reign of our Sovereign Lord, King James of England, France and Ireland, the eighteenth, and of Scotland the fifty-fourth. Anno Domini, 1620" (as recorded in William Bradford's "Of Plymouth Plantation" [written from 1630-1650]).

The Thanksgiving Hymn: "Come, Ye Thankful People, Come" (1844)

"Come, ye thankful people, come, raise the song of harvest home;
All is safely gathered in, ere the winter storms begin.
God our Maker doth provide for our wants to be supplied;
Come to God's own temple, come, raise the song of harvest home.

"All the world is God's own field, fruit unto His praise to yield;
Wheat and tares together sown unto joy or sorrow grown.
First the blade and then the ear, then the full corn shall appear;
Lord of harvest, grant that we wholesome grain and pure may be.

"For the Lord our God shall come, and shall take His harvest home;
From His field shall in that day all offenses purge away,
Giving angels charge at last in the fire the tares to cast;
But the fruitful ears to store in His garner evermore.

"Even so, Lord, quickly come, bring Thy final harvest home;
Gather Thou Thy people in, free from sorrow, free from sin,
There, forever purified, in Thy garner to abide;
Come, with all Thine angels come, raise the glorious harvest home."

The words for the Thanksgiving hymn, "Come, Ye Thankful People, Come," were written by Dr. Henry Alford, a noted hymnologist and Greek scholar, and published in 1844, the same year of the publication of the first of his four volume work, "The Greek New Testament: With a Critically Revised Text; a Digest of Various Readings; Marginal References to Verbal and Idiomatic Usage; Prolegomena; and a Critical and Exegetical Commentary, For the use of theological students and ministers." Alford, the son of the Rector of Aston Sandford, was the picture of a 19th century Anglican churchman-- educated at Trinity College, Cambridge, took Holy Orders in 1833, vicar of Wymeswold, Leicestershire for 18 years, and Dean of Canterbury in 1857. The St. George's, Windsor tune for "Come, Ye Thankful People, Come" was originally composed by Sir George J. Elvey (1816-1893) in Thorne's "A Selection of Psalm and Hymn Tunes" (1858) for the hymn, "Hark, the Song of Jubilee." Elvey's tune was subsequently set to Alford's words in "Hymns Ancient and Modern" (1861). Elvey was the organist of St. George's Chapel, Windsor from 1835 to 1882. What diversity, that the Separatist Pilgrims and their later counterparts from the Church of England should combine on both sides of the Atlantic to give to us a Christian appreciation of the celebration of Thanksgiving! "4 Who art thou that judgest another man's servant? to his own master he standeth or falleth. Yea, he shall be holden up: for God is able to make him stand. 5 One man esteemeth one day above another: another esteemeth every day alike. Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind. 6 He that regardeth the day, regardeth it unto the LORD; and he that regardeth not the day, to the LORD he doth not regard it. He that eateth, eateth to the LORD, for he giveth God thanks; and he that eateth not, to the LORD he eateth not, and giveth God thanks. 7 For none of us liveth to himself, and no man dieth to himself. 8 For whether we live, we live unto the LORD; and whether we die, we die unto the LORD: whether we live therefore, or die, we are the LORD's" (Romans 14:4-8).

This festive harvest hymn was revised by Alford in his "Poetical Works"
(1865/1868) and his "Year of Praise" (1867)-- containing seven verses-- but has been restricted in most modern hymn books to four verses. The first verse is a true expression of God's safe provision and a call for man's thanksgiving. "But my God shall supply all your need according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus" (Philippians 4:19). It addresses the common theme of harvest festivals, called in England the Harvest Home, which is celebrated in English churches usually during the month of September. A thanksgiving service would be held in the church, where the bounty of the harvest is collected, displayed with the fall trappings of pumpkins and autumn leaves, and then dispensed to the needy. And, of course, unlike the humanist that is essentially grateful to only himself, a true Harvest Home celebration acknowledges the provision of God, as did the Pilgrims in 1621 and the ancient Hebrews in their Feast of Firstfruits in the spring on the first day after Passover at the time of the barley harvest. "9 And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying, 10 Speak unto the children of Israel, and say unto them, When ye be come into the land which I give unto you, and shall reap the harvest thereof, then ye shall bring a sheaf of the firstfruits of your harvest unto the priest: 11 and he shall wave the sheaf before the LORD, to be accepted for you: on the morrow after the sabbath the priest shall wave it. 12 And ye shall offer that day when ye wave the sheaf an he lamb without blemish of the first year for a burnt offering unto the LORD. 13 And the meat offering thereof shall be two tenth deals of fine flour mingled with oil, an offering made by fire unto the LORD for a sweet savour: and the drink offering thereof shall be of wine, the fourth part of an hin. 14 And ye shall eat neither bread, nor parched corn, nor green ears, until the selfsame day that ye have brought an offering unto your God: it shall be a statute for ever throughout your generations in all your dwellings" (Leviticus 23:9-14). [Read about the Feast of Firstfruits in our article, "The Appointed Times" ---New Window.]

Though Henry Alford was decidedly not a Methodist, he found common ground with his Christian brother John Wesley in his disdain for sin, e.g.,
"Lord of harvest, grant that we wholesome grain and pure may be." Any Pilgrim would much rather have a bountiful yield of the "finest of the wheat" (Psalm 147:14) than the pitiful remains of a sin blighted harvest, and the LORD God of the Harvest is no different. "I am the Vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in Me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without Me ye can do nothing" (John 15:5). Though Alford differed widely with Wesley's Christian perfection, viewing it akin to Pelagianism; likewise, he aspired to give the LORD of the Harvest His due e.g., "Gather Thou Thy people in, free from sorrow, free from sin, There, forever purified, in Thy garner to abide." "6 Blessed and holy is he that hath part in the First Resurrection: on such the Second Death hath no power, but they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with Him a thousand years... 11 He that is unjust, let him be unjust still: and he which is filthy, let him be filthy still: and he that is righteous, let him be righteous still: and he that is holy, let him be holy still" (Revelation 20:6; 22:11). [Read John Wesley's "A Plain Account of Christian Perfection" ---New Window for his understanding of Sanctification.]

While the first verse chiefly addresses the theme of thanksgiving, the last three verses deal with the theme of final harvest in the judgment of the world as paralleled in Christ's parables of the wheat and tares
(Matthew 13:24-30) and the parable of the seed springing up without the sower knowing of it (Mark 4:26-29). "24 Another parable put He forth unto them, saying, The Kingdom of Heaven is likened unto a man which sowed good seed in his field: 25 But while men slept, his enemy came and sowed tares among the wheat, and went his way. 26 But when the blade was sprung up, and brought forth fruit, then appeared the tares also... 27 So the servants of the householder came and said unto him, Sir, didst not thou sow good seed in thy field? from whence then hath it tares? 28 He said unto them, An enemy hath done this. The servants said unto him, Wilt thou then that we go and gather them up? 29 But he said, Nay; lest while ye gather up the tares, ye root up also the wheat with them. 30 Let both grow together until the harvest: and in the time of harvest I will say to the reapers, Gather ye together first the tares, and bind them in bundles to burn them: but gather the wheat into my barn" (Matthew 13:24-30). Commenting upon this parable of the wheat and the tares, where an enemy sows tares in the field where true wheat had already been planted, Alford wrote: "Our Lord was speaking of an act of malice practised in the East: persons of revengeful disposition watch the ground of a neighbour being ploughed, and in the night following sow destructive weeds... The practice is not unknown even to England at present. Since the publication of the first edition of this commentary, a field belonging to the editor at Gaddesby in Leicestershire was maliciously sown with charlock (sinapis arvensis) over the wheat. An action at law was brought by the tenant, and heavy damages obtained against the offender" (excerpted from Volume I of "The Greek New Testament," commenting on Matthew 13:24-30).

Likewise, I have commented upon the same parable in expounding upon Revelation 13:17 (
"And that no man might buy or sell, save he that had the mark, or the name of the Beast, or the number of his name"):

"As in the end game of a chess match, the LORD of the Harvest (Luke 10:2) must skillfully position His game pieces to harvest all the Elect, while carefully punishing only the wicked. '12 Whose fan is in His hand, and He will throughly purge His floor, and gather His wheat into the garner; but He will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire' (Matthew 3:12). When the LORD Jesus Christ returns at His Second Coming, and 'every eye shall see Him' (Revelation 1:7), He will carefully separate for judgment and damnation (cp. 14:9-11), the 'tares', which are the recipients of the Mark of the Beast. '28 He said unto them, An enemy hath done this. The servants said unto Him, Wilt Thou then that we go and gather them up? 29 But he said, Nay; lest while ye gather up the tares [a kind of darnel, which is a poisonous grass], ye root up also the wheat with them. 30 Let both grow together until the harvest: and in the time of harvest I will say to the reapers, Gather ye together first the tares, and bind them in bundles to burn them: but gather the wheat into My barn' (Matthew 13:28-30). Thus, the Almighty's use of the 'wrath of man' (Psalm 76:10) in the form of the Mark of the Beast, will 'praise' (76:10) Himself, when He separates for judgment the wicked, and preserves all the remaining Righteous ones. '[Jesus prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane:] While I was with them in the world, I kept them in Thy Name: those that Thou gavest Me I have kept, and none of them is lost, but the son of perdition; that the Scripture might be fulfilled' (John 17:12)" (excerpted from Chapter 13 ---New Window of "A Commentary on the Book of Revelation" ---New Window).

The other harvest theme addressed by Alford's Thanksgiving hymn, e.g., "First the blade and then the ear, then the full corn shall appear," is the parable concerning spiritual growth and the proper timing of the harvest by the All Wise Husbandman. "26 And He said, So is the Kingdom of God, as if a man should cast seed into the ground; 27 and should sleep, and rise night and day, and the seed should spring and grow up, he knoweth not how. 28 For the Earth bringeth forth fruit of herself; first the blade, then the ear, after that the full corn in the ear. 29 But when the fruit is brought forth, immediately he putteth in the sickle, because the harvest is come" (Mark 4:26-29). Life emanates from God alone. "Jesus saith unto him, I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by Me" (John 14:6). Though modern agronomy may explain sufficiently the planting, cultivation, and harvest of crops, it is embarrassingly deficient in explaining the Source of Life, at least without embarking upon the "oppositions of science falsely so called" (1Timothy 6:20) in the form of the theory of evolution. But, after faith has firmly grasped Almighty God as the Giver of Life, then the harvest of the fruit of those lives, either as "wholesome grain and pure" or "offenses" and "tares," is entirely acceptable to the faithful. "Because He hath appointed a day, in the which He will judge the world in righteousness by that Man whom He hath ordained; whereof He hath given assurance unto all men, in that He hath raised Him from the dead" (Acts 17:31).


merican history demonstrates that the concept of Thanksgiving has changed for the nation from a sacred to a secular tradition, e.g. Turkey Day. "And thou, Solomon my son, know thou the God of thy father, and serve Him with a perfect heart and with a willing mind: for the LORD searcheth all hearts, and understandeth all the imaginations of the thoughts: if thou seek Him, He will be found of thee; but if thou forsake Him, He will cast thee off for ever" (1Chronicles 28:9). Boston established the precedent of Thanksgiving on Thursdays, while Connecticut made Thanksgiving an annual holiday. The Continental Congress declared the first national Thanksgiving in 1777, following the victory at Saratoga. Presidents and Congress have declared national Thanksgivings off and on until 1815, but it was not until the Union victory at Shiloh that President Abraham Lincoln resurrected the practice by declaring April 13th 1862 as a national day of Thanksgiving. And again, August 6th 1863 was proclaimed by Lincoln as another day of Thanksgiving following Gettysburg. [Read Lincoln's Thanksgiving Proclamation ---New Window following Gettysburg.] President Lincoln finally declared October 3rd 1863 as the first of a nearly unbroken string of annual last Thursday in November Thanksgivings-- with the exceptions of President Andrew Johnson's proclamation of Thanksgiving for December 7th 1865 following the Union victory and conclusion of the Civil War and President Franklin D. Roosevelt's advancing of the celebration to the third Thursday of November for 1939-1941. Finally, on November 26th 1941, FDR signed a bill that established the fourth Thursday in November as the national day of Thanksgiving. "Blessed is the nation whose God is the LORD; and the people whom He hath chosen for His own inheritance" (Psalm 33:12).

And, concerning those providentially thankful Pilgrims, it was not the blueness of their blood, but the trueness of their heart that made it such a pleasure for the LORD God Almighty to give them that First Thanksgiving.
"Enter into His gates with thanksgiving, and into His courts with praise: be thankful unto Him, and bless His name" (Psalms 100:4). How could God not but honor them who had honored Him? Look at what a nation such a humble group of grateful Pilgrims produced! "A little one shall become a thousand, and a small one a strong nation: I the LORD will hasten it in his time" (Isaiah 60:22). "What could now sustain them but the Spirit of God and His grace? May not and ought not the children of these fathers rightly say: 'Our fathers were Englishmen which came over this great ocean, and were ready to perish in this wilderness; but they cried unto the Lord, and He heard their voice and looked on their adversity,' etc. 'Let them therefore praise the Lord, because He is good: and his mercies endure forever [Ezra 3:11]. Yea, let them which have been redeemed of the Lord, show how He hath delivered them from the hand of the oppressor. When they wandered in the desert wilderness out of the way, and found no city to dwell in, both hungry and thirsty, their soul was overwhelmed in them.' 'Let them confess before the Lord His loving kindness and His wonderful works before the sons of men [Psalm 107:8, 15, 21, 31]'" (from William Bradford's "Of Plymouth Plantation" [1630-1650]).

"Lord of harvest, grant that we wholesome grain and pure may be."

From all those who have been so bountifully blessed, All thanks be to the LORD of the Harvest!

Happy Thanksgiving!

Happy Thanksgiving!

Tom Stewart



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