|Mercy Street Church of Christ
REMEMBERING GOD'S BENEFITS
by Leroy Garrett
Praise the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all His benefits. ó Psalm 103:2
It is a meaningful way to do Thanksgiving, remembering Godís benefits. I became aware of Psalm 103:1-2 sixty-eight years ago when I was a student at Princeton Seminary in New Jersey. That was a memorable time in my life because Ouida and I had recently married and she attended classes with me ó and took notes in shorthand! It was a tradition at Princeton that the professor begin his class with a prayer. We had several classes with our favorite professor, the late Bruce Metzger, then quite young, probably in his early 30s, and he was destined to become a world-renowned New Testament scholar.
Professor Metzger frequently quoted Psalm 103:1-2 prefatory to giving his lecture. With vintage Presbyterian piety he would articulate the lines precisely as written and with both reverence and dignity. Even now I can hear his prayer as if it were yesterday, a prayer one might expect from a pious scholar alone in his study: Praise the Lord, O my soul; and all that is within me, praise His holy name. Praise the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all His benefits.
It is a unique passage in that the writer is addressing neither God nor his readers, but himself. He is telling himself to praise God and to be thankful for his blessings. Since it is a man talking to himself we might rightly question whether it is the word of God. Words may be true and instructive without directly being the word of God. The passage is part of holy Scripture, and that is enough, and we could even say that since God speaks to us through those words in that sense it would be Godís word, just as God might speak to us indirectly through a child or through Shakespeare. This is to say that while all the Bible is holy Scripture, it is not all Godís word, just as God might speak through Shakespeare, but Shakespeare is not holy Scripture, none of it, not even when God speaks through it! God has spoken in various ways and at various times, but he did not determine the canonical Scriptures. The church did that, the Jewish church the Old Testament in the first century A.D., and the Christian church the New Testament in the fourth century A.D., hopefully by the leading of the Spirit in both instances.
On my recent visit to ACU for Summit 2011 I took time off to wander about the old campus, now but a small part of the whole, the ACC I knew back in the early 1940s. It was a nostalgic walk. There was a sidewalk that was not there back then on which I noticed an engraving that read Praise the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits. ó Psalm 103:2. Now I was not only nostalgic but reminiscent, recalling much more than Bruce Metzgerís prayers back at Princeton. I began to count my blessings ó Godís benefits ó since I was a student there ó young, brash, foolish, ignorant, and pitifully sectarian. It is painful for me to contemplate, but it is a testimonial to what Godís grace can do.
After graduating I began to teach school while doing a masterís degree at SMU, and it was there I met and fell in love with Alexander Campbell, doing my thesis on his educational philosophy. This resulted from coming upon a then hard-to-find set of his Millennial Harbinger in the SMU library. Campbell became my lifetime study, and he was largely responsible for liberating me from my debilitating sectarianism, a super benefit from God. During that time I also met, fell in love with, and married Ouida Pitts, who, while too good for me, became Godís crowning blessing to me for the next 67 years ó an inexplicable benefit except for Godís inexplicable grace.
With Ouida at my side there was Princeton Seminary, and, as I have already recalled, where she attended classes with me, even while she also served as a part-time secretary for a scholar-in-residence who was writing a book. It was my first experience to study with world-renowned scholars, the ones who wrote the books, and I was chagrined by both their dignity and humility, as I, with all my hubris, should have been.
Then came the doctoral studies at Harvard. I vividly recall standing at a corner in Harvard Square shortly after arriving, saying to myself, ĎI, a high school dropout, a PhD student at Harvard! Can this really happen?Ē It did happen. In the years that followed I spent decades as a professor at several colleges, served as an editor, writer, author, email essayist for 60 years, and along the way Ouida and I adopted three children, multiplying our blessings. We even entrepreneured, succeeding in a fast-food restaurant with Ouida as manager. We now named wealth as well as health as benefits from God. Early on in this pilgrimage I joined Carl Ketcherside, another super benefit from God, in a 40-year effort to restore unity and fellowship among the heirs of Stone-Campbell, which made us controversial figures, even on the campus of ACC. When we attended the lectureships back in the 1960s and 1970s we were the proverbial skunks at the garden party, having to conduct clandestine meetings off campus.
Carl was called home in 1989 and did not get to witness ó at least not from planet earth ó the rest of the story. In 2008 a transformed ACU invited me to be the key-noter at that year's lectureship, now named Summit. At Summit 2011 there was a seminar on ďThe Legacy of Carl Ketcherside,Ē which was well-attended and deeply appreciated. And the ACU Press will soon be offering The Works of Carl Ketcherside, a multi-volume set, as it does my autobiography, A Loverís Quarrel: My Pilgrimage of Freedom in Churches of Christ.
Sometimes in my quiet time I am tempted to say to Carl, ďWe won!Ē But no, the victory is not ours. It is the victory of tens of thousands of heirs of Stone-Campbell whom God used to make it happen. It is the victory of Churches of Christ, who are progressively becoming more like Christ. It is ACUís victory, whose mission is to educate students for Christian service around the world. It is the Spiritís victory, who is at work among our people.
You can take it to the bank. It is written in concrete on the old campus at ACU: Praise the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all His benefits.
It will wear well around the table this Thanksgiving.
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