The Importance of Family Religion, Part 3
As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord. (Josh. 24:15)
We come now to consider the remaining office devolving on the head of a family. In addition to that of governor and instructor, he is required to act the part of a priest to his family. I, of course, use the word “priest” figuratively, inasmuch as there are now no sacrifices, in the proper sense of the term, to be offered up. The typical sacrifices have all been superseded by the one great offering to which they pointed; and as it was a perfect offering, there is no. necessity for another. “For the law having a shadow of good things to come-can never with those sacrifices which they offered year by year continually, make the comers thereunto perfect. For then would they not have ceased to be offered? because that the worshippers once purged should have had no more conscience of sins.” Therefore, “every priest standeth daily ministering and offering oftentimes the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins: but this man, (Christ,) after he had offered one sacrifice for sins, for ever sat down on the right hand of God.” “For by one offering he hath perfected forever them that are sanctified.” “Now where remission of these (sins and iniquities) is, there is no more offering for sin,” Heb. 10:1, 2, 11, 12, 14, 18. And if there be no more offering, there are no more priests. The doctrines of transubstantiation and a bloodless sacrifice, have continued the appellation of priests, the class of men who claim to be the ministers of Christ. What I mean, therefore, is, that the head of a family is required to lead in the social devotions of his household, at stated and regular times. This domestic worship should usually embrace reading the Scriptures, singing, and prayer. And in the same character, he is required to implore, at his table, the blessing of God upon the bounties of his providence, accompanied with devout thanksgiving for the same.
Man is bound to worship God in every relation of life in which he may be placed. As an individual, it is his duty to observe secret prayer: as a member of society, he should unite in the public worship of God in his sanctuary: and as the head of a family, he is required to lead its devotions. As a reasonable creature, he should frequent his closet, to engage in the private duties of religion; as a social being, he should, engage with others in acts of worship. All things were made for God, as well as by Him. And all his works, in all places of his dominion, are called upon to praise him. Man, as an individual, was made for God, and should worship Him. Families were established for God, as we have before noticed, and as such they are called upon to worship Him. Public society, and the powers that be, are ordained of God and for Him, and as such, should worship Him. It is, however, to the duty of family worship, that the reader’s attention is now asked.
This duty may be shown from the light of reason, and from the fitness of things.
There is in every family, an interest common to all that compose it. The joy and the sorrow of one, is the joy and sorrow of all. Whatever affects one member, more or less affects the whole household. This is particularly manifest in the blessings and curses that fall upon them. And especially does this tie bind the interest of all, to that of the head of the family. If he be prospered, all are prospered, and partake of the benefit, if he be unfortunate, or injured, all share in the adversity and experience a common reverse. A whole family is sometimes punished for the sins of one member. If one be disgraced, all feel that they bear a part of the odium. If one be honoured and promoted, all are thereby more or less elevated. If the head of the family be a drunkard or a spendthrift; if he be a murderer or a thief, are the rest of his family indifferent or unaffected? Scripture will justify this representation of a common connexion, and mutual interest in the family circle. “The Ark of the Lord continued in the house of Obed-edom, the Gittite, three months; and the Lord blessed Obed-edom, and all his household.” 2 Sam. 6:11. David was taking the ark from Kirjath-Jearim, and after God had destroyed Uzzah, for his unhallowed touch, “David carried it aside into the house of Obed-edom, the Gittite.” “And the Lord blessed the house of Obed-edom, and all that pertaineth unto him, because of the ark of God.” ver. 10. 12. Here the blessing was not confined to the head of the family, by whose permission the ark was carried into his house, but all the household partook of the blessing. “The Lord blessed the Egyptian’s house for Joseph’s sake; and the blessing of the Lord was upon all that he had, in the house, and in the field.” Gen. 39:5. Here the blessing was not confined to Potiphar, the head of the family, who was instrumental in bringing him under his roof, his family at the time knowing nothing of the transaction between him and the Ishmaelites, but extended to his household. God declares, “I will bring evil on the house of Jeroboam,” 1 Kings, 14:10. “Because of the sins of Jeroboam, who did sin, and who made Israel to sin.” ver. 16. He also declared; “For the whole house of Ahab shall perish.” 2 Kings, 9:8.-And that because of Ahab’s sins. Here the curse falls on the family because of the sins of the head of it. “The house of the righteous shall stand.” Prov. 12:7. “But the house of the wicked shall be overthrown.” Prov. 14:11, Look at the case of Dathan and Abiram, “how the earth opened her mouth, and swallowed them up, and their HOUSEHOLDS.” Deut. 11:6. Throughout the Scriptures we find repeated instances of a whole family being blessed or cursed, on account of the good or bad conduct of the head, or some other member of it. The promise is to believers and to their seed. This at once establishes the common and mutual interest of which we speak. A whole family, moreover, is sometimes mentioned in Scripture, as sinning in their social and connected capacity. “Lest there should be among you, man, or woman, OR FAMILY, or tribe, whose heart turneth away this day from the Lord our God, to go and serve the gods of these nations.” Deut. 29:18. Here “a family” is mentioned as distinguished from a man or woman in their individual capacity. Speaking of a man who had made the Lord his habitation, the Psalmist says, “There shall no evil befall thee, neither shall any plague come nigh thy dwell.” Ps. 91:10. “The curse of the Lord is in the house of the wicked, but he blesseth the habitation of the just.” Prov. 3:33. Speaking of a man who should commit idolatry, God declares, “I will set my face against that man, and against his family.” Levit. 20:5. If, then, the members of a family be so intimately connected with its head, and their condition so naturally deterred by his, and their fate so dependent on his, reason alone would dictate that he should lead them to a throne of grace, and in their behalf, supplicate the Divine favour, and render thanks for the mercies they have enjoyed.
Again, this duty naturally arises from the relation which a family, as such, sustains to God; There are duties which arise out of, and are determined by, the several relations we sustain to God and to each other. These duties are discoverable by the light of nature. Repentance and thanksgiving are duties without a positive command enjoining them. The duty. of prayer, when permission is given to ask, is suggested by a sense of dependence on God. The mutual duties of parent and child, and of the head and members of a family, belong to the same class. It appears to be proper and reasonable, in itself considered, when about to retire to rest, to return thanks for the mercies of the day past, and to ask protection of a watchful omnipotence, on whom we ever depend for safety, that he would guard us in the defenceless hours of sleep, from the dagger, of the assassin, the depredations of the thief and robber, the ravages of fire, and from every other danger to which we are exposed. And in the morning, to acknowledge our indebtedness to God, for such protection, and to supplicate the same for the day, and all necessary provision for our wants, and grace to discharge aright, our respective duties. So clearly manifest is this duty, that even the heathen pay such worship to their household gods. The rising and the setting sun, point out the appropriate seasons for this duty, and so sensibly is it felt at such times, that those without the knowledge of the true God, have even worshipped the sun at his rising and setting. As this is a natural division of time, it appears from many considerations, that the morning and evening are the most convenient and appropriate seasons for family worship. The members of the family are usually together at such times. At night our labour ends, and in the morning our slumbers end. And there is little danger of interruption then, either by business or visitors: “It is a good thing,” says the Psalmist, “to show forth thy loving kindness in the morning, and thy faithfulness every night.” Ps. 92:2.
The duty in question is fully settled by the authority of Holy Writ. :There is, indeed, no specific and formal command on the subject. This we had no reason to expect, any more than a formal injunction, requiring men to eat and sleep. The Scriptures do not stop to announce every thing which is clearly taught by the light of nature, but proceeds on the supposition of such things being already known. The being of a God is nowhere professedly announced as a matter of information: hence the Scriptures begin by declaring that God created the heavens and the earth. The being of this Creator, is supposed to be already known, having been so long and so distinctly declared by the works of his hand. So, the religious duties of families, are nowhere prescribed or specifically enjoined, because easily discovered by the light of nature, as is evident from the existence of household gods among the heathen. Now, this family idolatry was not practised in the room and stead of irreligion or no religion, but of the true religion. While this idolatry is sinful in the sight of God, its habitual practice certainly discovers a sense of obligation, which should cause nominal Christians to blush, who neglect the duty we are considering. If the want of an explicit command be any argument against this duty, it will apply with equal force to public prayer, for which there is no such professed command. Both these duties are dictated by the nature and spirit of genuine religion. And where this exists and reigns in the heart of any man, he does not require, nor wait for, such a command. He is prompted to their observance, by the influence of divine grace, just as he is moved to eat or sleep, by the natural appetites of the body. “The world had gone on for many ages,” says a late judicious writer, “and been favoured too, with no small portion of divine revelation, without prayer in any form, having been once enjoined or instituted as a duty, whether in the closet, the family, or the church. No; from the beginning, the piety of the heart led men to take up this subject in the only way which was natural, and proper, and safe; from the beginning, such men had always prayed and worshipped, and that, thousands of years before Paul had said to Timothy, ‘I will that men pray everywhere, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and doubting.’ “The very first injunction in Scripture, therefore, respecting such a moral duty, was likely to occur, not in the way of positive institution, as something which then only had began to be incumbent, and then only to be begun, and much less something which was before unknown. .Accordingly it turns out, that the first injunction respecting prayer, in the volume of inspiration, the terms of which regard it, as in any sense generally obligatory, does not occur until the world was at least three thousand years old, and the Jewish church about eight hundred. Psalms 122:6. Perhaps the passage which might be styled the second, does not occur till at least two hundred years after. Jerem. 29:7. At the same time, the manner, the seasons, the spirit, the constancy, the universality of prayer, as the attendant of piety, I find scattered over the whole volume, from the earliest times. Nay, it is not a little remarkable, that the very first passage in which prayer is recorded, happens to be the supplication of a parent-the fervent wish of a father for his son. Gen. 17:18. And the very next presents this same parent before us, interceding with peculiar earnestness, for the vilest of men. Gen. 18:24.”
Had there been an express command given, in regard to this duty, as to time, place, and frequency, it would doubtless have occasioned much distress to tender consciences, wherever and whenever it could not be performed, for want of time or opportunity, in a proper manner. It seems, moreover, to have been left in the way that we find it, for the purpose of trying the spirits of men, whether they be of God or not. It certainly does operate as a test, by which the character and degree of every parent’s religion, faith, and love, are determined. And it points out those who would excuse themselves from the duty, on the ground of there being no express command on the subject.
We are not left, however, without sufficient light, even from Scripture, on this subject. There are general exhortations to the duty of prayer, in connexion with a specification of other family duties, from which it would be difficult to argue an exception in favour of that now under consideration, and in which it is as evidently included, as that of private or public prayer. No particular form is specified, while prayer in general is enjoined; and that too, in such a connexion as makes it evident that family prayer is particularly meant. For example; the apostle Paul writing to the Colossians, enters into a minute detail of family duties, and winds up by saying, “continue in prayer, and watch in the same with thanksgiving.” Col. 3. 4:1, 2. We find a similar detail of domestic duties in his epistle to the Ephesians, which he also concludes by saying, “praying always with all prayer and supplication in the spirit.” Eph. 6:1-18. “Praying ALWAYS with ALL PRAYER,” is a mode of expression which clearly includes family prayer, And to make an exception of this species of devotion, would certainly be presumption, and a trifling with Scripture. Again: this Apostle, writing to Timothy, says, “I will, therefore, that men pray everywhere.” 1 Tim. 2:8. Is a family circle nowhere, or is it included in the everywhere? The apostle Peter exhorts husbands and wives to dwell together, as “being heirs of the grace of life, that their prayers be not hindered.” 1 Peter, 3:7. This exhortation, also, is in connexion with a partial detail of domestic duties. Social, united family prayer seems here to be primarily intended: for if there be contention, bitterness, and unkindness between the heads of the family, how is it possible that they can unite their hearts and their devotions at the family altar? Social prayer is a union and communion of desire and thanksgiving towards God; but this will be hindered, if there be not a proper understanding and feeling between those who come together for worship: and certainly there will be none, if they do not pray together at all. They should live, therefore, together as the heirs of the grace of life, praying together with the family, and entertaining for each other a suitable affection.
The Psalmist says, “The Lord loveth the gates of Zion more than all the dwellings of Jacob.” Ps. 87:2. It is not said that he loves hot the dwellings of Jacob, but that he loves the gates of Zion more. He loves them both for the same reason, namely, the worship that is paid him in both. The worship of the sanctuary is a more public and solemn act of devotion. But that of the family is not the less obligatory. And this obligation, the pious of every age have felt and acknowledged. Hence, “the voice of rejoicing and salvation is in the tabernacles of the righteous.” Ps. 118:15. The promise connected with the duty of social prayer, was designed to embrace the smallest number that can constitute a family; for it is where but two or three are gathered together for this purpose, that he is in the midst of them.
“I query if that beautiful form of prayer, which our blessed Lord gave to his followers, does not involve an argument In favour of family prayer; nay, of daily family devotion. It is worthy of remark, that in the sixth chapter of Matthew, after he had directed his disciples with regard to private prayer, he did. not stop there. In the seventh verse, he begins to use the plural number, and proceeding to a social act of worship, he refers to the prayers of such as could pray together daily. In this most comprehensive prayer, after giving to God that place and honour which corresponds to the first table of the moral law, he descends to matters of daily and common interest in a family; and among these, here instructing the poorest parent how to dismiss inordinate anxiety, as to the common provision for his little band, he directs him to prays-‘Our Father who art in heaven-give us this day our daily bread.’ The petition immediately preceding this, had been-‘thy will be done on earth as it is done in heaven.’ Now, I would only ask, if over the wide world, the will of God were done, by whom would, nay, by whom could this petition, in general, be offered, if not by the parent, at the head of his family, to whom, as an instrument under God, we, look for the provision of such daily sustenance? Or, I ask, can a more beautiful morning-picture be conceived, than that of the fathers below, thus beginning the day? Meanwhile, should the solitary christian, retiring to his closet, and carrying the social spirit of christianity, along with him, use this form, unquestionably he will be heard; and in the house of God, leaving the world behind us, let us do the same occasionally; but still in form and spirit, this will ever remain a week-day social family prayer.”
God is certainly not regardless of those families who honour him by their social devotions. Nor is he indifferent to those that neglect this important duty. He will “pour out his fury upon the heathen that know him not, and upon the families that call not on his name.” Jer. 10:25. Heathen families call not on the name of the true God, but he that neglects to provide for his own house, both temporally and spiritually, is worse than an infidel. What, then, shall be his portion? “If he that despised Moses’ law, died without mercy under two or three witnesses, of how much sorer punishment, suppose ye, shall he be thought worthy, who hath trodden under foot the Son of God?” Heb. 10:28, 29. As the Lord would not suffer the destroying angel to come into their houses to smite them, whose lintels and two side-posts of the door, were sprinkled with the blood of the lamb, so we may confide in his mercy, that he will smile upon those houses where the morning and evening sacrifice of praise, is offered up to the Lamb of God.
It is related that an earthquake once destroyed a town in Switzerland, consisting of ninety houses: every house was thrown down except the half of a house, in which part, a family were assembled and engaged in worship The observance of family duties, or of any other duties is not, indeed, a meritorious ground of acceptance with God, for we are not justified by works, but by the righteousness of Christ; yet it is equally true, that God is pleased in mercy to bless them that honour him. He establisheth the habitation of the righteous.
Let us now look at the examples of those eminent saints mentioned in Scripture, and see whether they thought the duty of family-worship obligatory or not. More was not required of them than of us; rather less was to be expected, as they had less light. “Life and immortality were brought to light by the Gospel.” “The law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ.” “There hath not risen a greater than John the Baptist: notwithstanding, he that is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.” Matt. 11:11. “And that servant which knew the Lord’s will, and prepared not himself, neither did according to his will, shall be beaten with many stripes; but he that knew not, and did commit things worthy of stripes, shall be beaten with few stripes. For unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required; and to whom men have committed much, of him they will ask the more.” Luke 12:47, 48. If, then, the light of nature and of Scripture, were sufficient to lead those whose examples we are about to examine, to the observance of this duty, how much rather should the increased light of the Gospel, the increased manifestation of the Holy Spirit, and the increased knowledge of God’s will, lead us to its habitual and faithful performance! How much more has God a right to expect at our hands, who have been favoured with a much more full revelation of his mind, and of our duty to him!
The patriarchs, whithersoever they journeyed, built altars to God, at which they and their families worshipped. God bears honourable testimony to the faithfulness of Abraham in this respect, “For I know him, that he will command his CHILDREN and his HOUSEHOLD after him, and they shall keep the way of the Lord to do justice and judgment.” Gen. 18:19. Now “If ye were Abraham’s children, ye would do the works of Abraham.” John 8:39. But even Abraham was not justified by works, but by faith. “For if Abraham were justified by works, he hath whereof to glory, but not before God.” Rom. 4:2. “Then Jacob said unto his HOUSEHOLD, and to all that were with him, Put away the strange gods that are among you, and be clean, and change your garments: and let us arise and go up to Bethel; and I will make there an altar unto God.” Gen. 35:2, 3.
Joshua resolved that “as for me and MY HOUSE, we will serve the Lord.” Josh. 24:15. Queen Esther and her maidens kept a fast together. Esther 4:16. The days wherein the Jews rested from their enemies, in the time of Mordecai, were kept, according to their appointed time every year, by “every generation, EVERY FAMILY, every province, and every city.” Esther 9:28. “Job rose early in the morning, and offered burnt offerings for his sons, according to the number of them all: for Job said, It may be that my sons have sinned, and cursed God in their hearts. THUS DID JOB CONTINUALLY.” Job 1:5.
At the institution of the passover, it was required that the people “take to them every man a lamb, according to the house of their fathers, a lamb for an house: and if the household be too little for the lamb, let him and his neighbour unto his house, take it according to the number of the souls.” Ex. 12:3, 4. Here was family worship. It was a regulation that no lamb should be used for less than ten persons: each family or company, therefore, was required to have at least that number of members. Hence small families had, to unite with their neighbours in this worship, in order to make up the requisite number. But under the Gospel, that is social and acceptable worship, where even two or three are met together in the name of the Lord. Although this service was subsequently performed at the temple, morning and evening, yet the distinctive character of a family offering was preserved. “Now this is that which thou shalt offer upon the altar; two lambs of the first year, DAY BY DAY CONTINUALLY. The one lamb shalt thou offer in the morning, and the other lamb shalt thou offer at even.” Ex. 29:38, 39. To this the Psalmist probably alludes when he says, “my voice shalt thou hear in the morning, O Lord: in the morning will I direct my prayer unto thee, and will look up.” Ps. 5:3. “Let my prayer be set forth before thee as incense, and the lifting up of my hands as the evening sacrifice.” Ps. 141:2.
Cornelius the centurion was “a devout man, and one that feared God with ALL HIS HOUSE which gave much alms to the people, and prayed to God ALWAYS.” Acts 10:2. “At the ninth hour I PRAYED IN MY HOUSE, and behold a man stood before me in bright clothing.” ver. 30. If he “prayed to God always” and “prayed in his house,” there can be no doubt that he prayed with his family. It is manifestly true that “except the Lord build the house, they labour in vain that build it.”
As the character and condition of your posterity, are intimately connected with the due observance of this duty in your house, it becomes a matter of unspeakable moment to every parent. David says of the Lord, “He established a testimony in Jacob, and appointed a law in Israel, which he commanded our fathers, that they should make them known to their children, that the generations to come might know them, even the children which should be born, who should arise and declare them to their children, that they might set their hope in God, and got forget the works of God, but keep his commandments.” Ps. 78:5 7. Perhaps, the present degraded condition of the millions of immortal souls now living in idolatry as well as that of the many profligate and irreligious families in Christendom, might be traced up to the neglect of this important duty, as one principal cause. And who can tell the misery, degradation, and guilt into which you may plunge generations yet unborn, by neglecting to call upon God in your family? You must expect to reap what you sow. “Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles. What, then, may you reasonably expect to result to your offspring, by training them up in irreligion, and in the neglect of obvious duty? On the other hand, how uniform and striking are the providence and grace of God, in regard to those families and their descendants, where the morning and evening incense of praise and prayer, ascended habitually to God, from their consecrated circle! In the Old as well as in the New Testament, it may be seen, how piety and blessedness descended in the same family, from generation to generation. “Of the twelve apostles of the Lamb, eight of them were brothers chosen out of three families; and nothing, by the way, could be more lovely than these brothers going out two and two, as they afterwards did, by the direction of our, Saviour.”
“Mary, the mother of four of the apostles, as well as of Joses or Joseph (who is generally regarded to have been one of the two individuals whom the apostles proposed as qualified to fill the place of Judas, and who, therefore, had accompanied the Messiah in all his travels,) sustained a character equal to that of Salome, her constant companion. This eminent woman had the felicity not only of furnishing four out of the twelve apostles of the Lamb,-she, too, followed him, and she also ministered to him of her substance, with the cordial consent of such a man as Cleopas her husband. At the closing scene, to her was also given the honour of standing by, and sustaining the mother of Jesus, when he was stretched on the cross.”
Timothy was the descendant of a pious family, and this is particularly noticed by the Apostle Paul as a matter of importance. “When I call to remembrance the unfeigned faith that is in thee, which dwelt first in thy grandmother Lois, and thy mother Eunice; and I am persuaded that in thee also.” 2 Tim. 1:5.
The regular observance of family worship, will have the happiest effect upon the whole household: He who leads them in this service will, by its secret and almost unconscious influence, be led to be more circumspect in his outward walk, knowing that the office which he holds in the family, naturally creates in the minds of the members of it, the expectation, of a becoming example. How can he use improper language, or exhibit an unchristian temper, when he is so soon to lead them in prayer to the throne of grace? How can he neglect the sanctuary, or desecrate the Sabbath, while he scrupulously attends upon the duties of the domestic altar? “He who statedly invites others to be witnesses of his devotions,” says the late Robert Hall, “invites a peculiar inspection of his behaviour, and must be conscious to how much observation and contempt he lays himself open, should he betray a flagrant inconsistency between his prayers and his conduct. That parent who, morning and evening, summons his family to acts of devotion, is not, perhaps, distinctly aware of the total amount of the influence this circumstance has upon his mind. It will act as a continual monitor, and will impose useful restraints upon his behaviour. He recollects that he is about to assume an awful and venerable character in the eyes of his domestics-a character which must set the indulgence of a multitude of improprieties in a most glaring light. Is he in danger of being ensnared into indecent levity, or of contracting a habit of foolish jesting and talking? He recollects he is soon to appear as the, mouth of his family, in addressing the blessed God. Is he surrounded with temptations to an immoderate indulgence of his fleshly appetites in meats and drinks? Should he yield to the temptation, how could he bear, in the eyes of his family, to appear on his knees before God? Is he tempted to use harsh and provoking language to his children? He recollects he is in a few hours to bear them in his arms before the Lord. He is to commend his companion in life, to the divine mercy and protection; how then can he be ‘bitter against her?’ The case of his servants is to be shortly presented before God in social prayer; under such a recollection, it will surely not be difficult for him to forbear threatening, reflecting that he himself has a master in heaven. Knowing that in the hearing of all his inmates, he is about to bewail the corruption of his nature, to implore pardon for his sins, and strength to resist temptation; will he not feel a double obligation on this account, to struggle against that corruption, and anxiously to shun temptation? The punctual discharge of the duty we are contending for, will naturally strengthen his sense of the obligation of domestic duties, forcibly remind him of what he owes to every member of the domestic circle, and cement the ties of conjugal and parental affection.”
The influence of this service, will be sensibly felt by the children and domestics of the family. It will cause them to recollect that there is a God, that he is present with them at all times, and is not only a constant eye. witness to their conduct, but that he is intimately acquainted with their most secret thoughts, purposes, and desires. It will remind them, that there are solemn and important duties which he requires of them, and that he will hold them guilty, if they neglect them. It will impress on their minds the instructions of the Sabbath, whether received from the pulpit, or in the Sabbath School. It will convince them of the duty of prayer, and in a great measure teach them how to pray. When he, who leads the devotions, acknowledges and bewails their sinfulness, it will cause them to think of, and consider their true character, and teach them the awful nature of sin, that it is “an evil and a bitter thing,” and that repentance is a duty, and a necessary prerequisite to the enjoyment of God’s favour. When he asks of God the pardon of their iniquities, it will teach them their guilt and condemnation in his sight. When he supplicates the regenerating and sanctifying grace of the Spirit, it will teach them their native corruption, and the indispensable necessity of a change of heart. When he asks for protection, it will remind them of their danger and helplessness, and direct their minds to the only sure defence. When he asks a merciful provision for their daily wants, it will teach them their dependence, and point them to the source of bounty. When he prays for their enemies, it will teach them the duty of forgiveness, and to return good for evil. When he prays for their absent friends, it will teach them the duty of intercession, and of cultivating a kind and benevolent spirit towards all. When he prays for the coming and extension of the Redeemer’s kingdom on earth, it will impress them with a sense of universal good will, expand their minds beyond the little circle, and even the community in which they live, and tend to fill them with new conceptions of the Divine glory and perfections. When their own souls are made the subject of earnest supplication, they will most likely be arrested, and made to ponder their ways. It will teach them both the value and the danger of their souls, and may excite within them a hopeful anxiety for their salvation. It may lead them to prize the favour of God more than every earthly good, and to seek it with earnestness and success. Such has been the case in numerous instances. The disclosures of eternity will reveal facts of the most soul-stirring character, in regard to the results of this service, wherever it has been statedly and zealously performed. Many who shall forever “praise God in his holiness,” will attribute their salvation, instrumentally, to the devotions of the domestic circle. Many a child’s heart has been pierced with a sense of sin, and brought to saving contrition, by means of a parent’s affectionate and earnest prayers in his behalf, and in his hearing.
Singing the praises of God, will teach them the duty of gratitude and thanksgiving. And the devout reading of the Scriptures, will beget in their minds a proper and salutary reverence for the Holy Book, and store them with many important truths, of which otherwise they would perhaps have ever remained ignorant.
The whole service calls them away from the consideration of earthly things, to that of spiritual and eternal things. It restrains the criminal indulgence of the passions, and interrupts the current of worldly and sinful thoughts and plans. It has reclaimed many a profligate rescued from destruction many a devotee to fleshly lusts, and saved to society and to the church, many a valuable and useful member. It has bound up many broken, widowed hearts, wiped away many bitter tears, hushed the tumult of many distracted bosoms, and lengthened the lives, and increased the happiness of many fond and anxious parents. But where shall we end the enumeration of its delightful results? The subject expands as we meditate upon it; the mind is lost in the contemplation of the variety of its effects, and of the importance and magnitude of its influence.
Perhaps the reader of these pages, is by this time, if not before, convinced of the great importance of the duty we have endeavoured to exhibit and of the obligation there is upon him, punctually and faithfully to discharge it. But there may arise in his mind particular difficulties, which hinder him from following the dictates of his judgment and his conscience. If the mind be thoroughly persuaded that the duty of family religion is of as great moment as we have represented it to be, it will be difficult to satisfy the conscience with any objection, short of an impossibility to perform it. Perhaps the same excuses, if urged with equal plausibility, in extenuation of neglect in matters unconnected with religion, would not receive a moment’ s countenance, even from those who justify themselves in the omission of the duty in question, on the same grounds. Sometimes, while justly condemning others, we at the same time unconsciously condemn ourselves. The heart being “deceitful above all things,” we may nor be surprised that “All the ways of a man are clean in his own eyes.” Prov. 16:2. “Every way of a man is right in his own eyes.” Prov. 21:2. Hence we find that men are apt to justify their own conduct, and condemn that of another as inexcusable, while the principle involved is the same in both, and the conduct of both equally sinful in the sight of God, who “pondereth the heart.”
The first objection we shall notice, is the want of time, properly and statedly to perform this duty.
It may be safely taken for granted, that there can not be conflicting duties. That which an undoubted duty renders impossible to be done, can not itself be duty. This would suppose derangement in the government and plans of God, which is wholly inadmissible. If, then, family worship be an obvious duty, we can not be warranted in occupying the time in which it should be performed, in doing any thing else. If it be a duty at all, it must also be a duty to employ some time in performing it, and it can not be our duty to employ this time in doing something else. Whatever we do, therefore, when we should be attending to family devotion, is sinfully done, and in direct opposition to the will of God; and to plead the one as an excuse for the neglect of the other, is to plead one sin in extenuation of another. The time which should be employed in serving God, is his time, and not ours. When he demands a service, he also demands the necessary time for its performance. This is evident. Now if that time be otherwise employed, it is withholding from God that which is his due. It is robbing God of what rightfully belongs to him. If your servant should neglect to perform the service for which you have bargained with him, and plead the want of time as his excuse, what would be your reply? Would it not be-“in bargaining for your service, I bargained for all the time that the service requires; and to appropriate that time to your own or other purposes, is to deprive me of what is my legal and rightful due?” If this would be your reply, as I apprehend it would be, then you have furnished an answer to your own objection. On what ground do you presume upon success in any business, that is transacted at the expense of God’s rights? Should you prosper in life, notwithstanding this disregard of his claim, may you not justly conclude that he is permitting you to fill up the cup of your iniquity, and that he has deferred the settlement of his account with you, to the day of righteous retribution? May not your success in worldly gain, be regarded as a fearful premonition of coming vengeance? You may have, as many others have, your portion in this life. What an awful thought! What a still more awful reality!!
If the business in which you are engaged, be an unlawful calling, how greatly aggravated is the guilt of occupying God’s time in prosecuting it! Men, generally, are not sufficiently impressed with a sense of their entire dependence on God; for success in their worldly affairs. They acknowledge it as a theoretic truth, but are not habitually influenced by the belief of it. “Except God build the. house, they labour in vain that build it.” Ps. 127:1. Men are also slow to credit that important declaration of Scripture, “Godliness is profitable unto all things, having promise of the life that now is, and of that which is to come.” They do not practically believe the promise annexed to the injunction; “seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, AND ALL THESE THINGS SHALL BE ADDED UNTO YOU.” This objection is not unlike that which Judas made to Mary’s anointing the head and feet of Christ with precious ointment. He thought it might be otherwise employed to greater advantage. But Christ said, “wheresoever this gospel shall be preached in the whole world, there shall also this, that this woman hath done, be told for a memorial of her.” This objection asks, “to what purpose is this waste” of time? Judas, indeed, in making the objection, professed great solicitude for the poor, to whose relief he supposed the price of the ointment might be more piously applied. But here the objector supposes that the time required for family devotion, might be otherwise employed to his own advantage or even should he propose to employ that time in acts of charity, or in acquiring means of benevolent relief to the needy, still it may be asked, does God require you to do good by neglecting duty, or to do evil that good may come of it?· Does he require you to do his will in one respect, by disregarding it in another? Certainly not. Let the objector examine carefully and prayerfully, his own heart, and he will find that the difficulty is a want of disposition, not a want of time.
Another objection sometimes urged against the discharge of the duty of family worship, is INCAPACITY to lead the devotions of others. .But even if this difficulty really exist, is it insurmountable? Have you ever laboured to overcome it? Have you ever ventured to make trial of your capacity in this respect?
“Have you no words?-Ah! think again; Words flow apace, when you complain, And fill your fellow-creature’s ear With the sad tale of all your care. Were half the breath thus vainly spent, To heaven in supplication sent, Your cheerful songs would oft’ner be, ‘Hear what the Lord has done for me.’”
If you have never made the attempt, you can not decide upon your ability, and therefore you can not offer the excuse with all sincerity. This duty, like all others, should be undertaken in the strength of God, and not in your own; with a firm reliance upon Divine assistance, and not with presumption or self-sufficiency. In your attempt, you may be unexpectedly assisted, and “the strength of God be perfected in your weakness.” Until you shall have made a fair trial, therefore, you can not be justified ill your neglect, on the ground of incapacity. Where the spirit of prayer is granted, the gift is not usually withheld; and although it be given in small measure, yet by practice it may be so cultivated as to be employed to the edification of those whom you are called to lead to a throne of grace. It is quite certain that no improvement in this respect, can result from total or habitual neglect. Where no effort is made to obviate the difficulty, we can not expect that it will be obviated by a miracle. If, however, after an honest and persevering endeavour to conduct the worship of your family, you should be persuaded that your efforts to do so with advantage, are unavailing, still you are not left to the sad alternative of neglecting the duty. There are admirable forms of family prayer, in print, and accessible even by those of the most restricted means. Such forms may be used, where there is evident incapacity for extemporaneous prayer, with perfect propriety and great advantage. These are designed, not as permanent substitutes for extemporaneous prayer, but as aids which may be used, till practice shall have enabled you to do without them.
Those who would rather live in the neglect of this duty, than avail themselves of such useful helps, plainly show that the difficulty with them, is not a want of capacity, but a want of disposition.
Another difficulty which some profess to feel, is a want of confidence and moral courage. They are ashamed to introduce into their families, a service so religious in its character, and one which both implies and requires so much attention and concern in serious matters. I have no doubt that this objection is often honestly made. This, moreover, is sometimes the real difficulty, while others are professed. But while we admire the honesty of the confession, we can by no means approve the state of heart which it discovers. It exhibits the fear of man as predominant over the fear of God. It is not the wrath of man, that is at all times most dreaded: for his ridicule and scorn have often more influence than his threatenings. And many permit themselves to be laughed out of their most precious interests, even the salvation of their souls. Both their interest and duty give way before the pointed finger of scorn, the taunts and jeers of scoffers, and the curted lip of the contemptuous. This always manifests a great weakness of moral principle, and little or no sense of religious obligation. Such appear not to know, or to forget, that “He that sitteth in the heavens shall laugh; the Lord shall have them in derision,” Ps. 2:1. “I also will laugh at your calamity; I will mock when your fear cometh,” Prov. 1:26. What blindness, what depravity, what contempt of the Most High, does it discover, when men are ashamed of God and of his service!
“Jesus! and shall it ever be, A mortal man ashamed of thee! Ashamed of thee, whom angels praise, Whose glories shine thro’ endless days. Ashamed of Jesus! yes, I may- When I’ve no guilt to wash away- No tear to wipe-no good to crave- No fear to quell-no soul to save.” “No! let the world cast out my name And vile account me if they will; If to confess the Lord be shame, I purpose to be viler still.”
“Whosoever shall be ashamed of me,” says Christ, “and of my words, in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him also shall the Son of Man be ashamed, when he cometh in the glory of his Father, with the holy angels,” Mark, 8:38. Christ is not ashamed to call his followers brethren, nor is God ashamed to be called their God. Heb. 2:11; 11:16. But “let them be ashamed that transgress without cause,” Ps. 25:8.
If you be ashamed to perform this duty, perhaps God has determined that this particular service shall be the touchstone, by which your love and faith shall be tried and determined. Pause and consider, then; before you longer neglect the duty on this ground.
It may happen that a female, who is the sole head of a family, will object to the observance of family worship on that account. But if the providence of God has cast her lot in circumstances which devolve this duty naturally on her, she is unquestionably bound to perform it. If God has placed you at the head of a family, he has not relieved you from the duties which belong to that station. The injunction to bring up your children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord, is to parents, both male and female.
Where the wife is disposed to the service, but the husband is unwilling, there both a duty and a trial are imposed upon her. They should not “fall out by the way,” for “the wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God.” “For God hath called us to peace.” But she should endeavour to win over her husband to the path of duty, by reasoning with him, in kindness and affection. And if he will not be won, she may retire with her children and servants, in a way the most inoffensive to her partner, and there lead them in prayer to God, in behalf of the whole family. “For what knowest thou, O wife, whether thou shalt save thy husband? or how knowest thou, O man, whether thou shalt save thy wife.” 1 Cor. 7:16.
If you have resolved like Joshua, that as for you and your house, you will serve the Lord, never omit this duty, if it can possibly be performed. Frequent, and even occasional omissions weaken the sense of obligation, and prepare the way for habitual neglect. “Be instant in season, and out of season.” If visitors should lodge under your roof, let not their presence deter you from duty, nor interfere with the religious customs of your house. This would impose a restraint upon them, if they knew it; and would imply one of two things, either that you were glad of an opportunity to omit the duty, or that their presence was in some degree unwelcome, as it deprives you of a valuable privilege. But those who enjoy your hospitality, surely would not object to your enjoyment of your religion. Nay, it would leave on their minds an unfavourable impression, in regard to your piety, and your sense of religious obligation. Even should they be secretly indisposed to the service, they will expect better things of you, and naturally look for consistency of character and conduct. But this is not all: the service may be blessed to their salvation. The reading of the Scriptures, and the prayer you offer; may become, by the grace of the Holy Spirit, effectual to their regeneration. And those who come to your house, strangers to God, and without Christ, may leave it rejoicing in the hope of eternal life, or at least with such impressions, as may ripen into true godliness. While, therefore, you will lose much by omitting the duty, you may gain much, even an immortal soul, by faithfully performing it.
The reader may infer from this whole subject, the vast importance, and indispensable necessity of true piety in the heads of families: not only for the sake of their own salvation, but of those committed to their care. For it may be generally said of parents, as it was of Achan, if they perish, they perish not alone.
In the view of that great responsibility which rests upon parents, and of the variety, and peculiar nature of the duties devolving upon them, how essential is the grace of God properly to meet, and faithfully to discharge them! Unless the importance of religion be duly appreciated, and sensibly felt by the head of the family, he will not urge it upon his children and servants, with that earnestness and importunity which the case demands. And the necessity of an interest in Christ, will not be pressed with that unwearied diligence, with that heartfelt solicitude, and prayerful affection, which are so necessary to success. Let parents lay these things to heart; and may they and theirs be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus!