S.G. WINCHESTER, A.M.
"————As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord."
Grigg & Elliot.
GOD, the Creator of man, established the family constitution. "God setteth the solitary in families," Ps. 68:6. As to the design of this constitution, we are expressly informed in Malachi 2:15. "And did not he make one? Yet had he the residue of the Spirit. And wherefore one? That he might seek a godly seed." And it is declared that "a seed shall serve him," Ps. 22:30. When God ordains an end, all the means requisite for its accomplishment are necessarily implied, and sometimes specifically prescribed. If then the design of God, in the family constitution, be to raise up a holy seed to serve him, it is incumbent on those who have the charge of families to train them up with a special view to this declared end, otherwise it would be presumption to expect that this end will be answered.
From the nature and design of the family constitution, therefore, arises a solemn duty resting upon parents and masters, to train up their children and servants in the way in which they should go, in the nurture and admonition of the Lord, so that when they come to the years of discretion and self-government, they may not depart from it, but become "a godly seed" to serve the Lord.
The family constitution is the original, elementary, and therefore the simplest form of society. All public communities, whether civil or ecclesiastical, are composed of families. The forms of public societies, and their modes of government, have undergone, and are still undergoing, great and important changes; but that of the family remains, amid all these revolutions, essentially the same as when originally constituted. This is the only form of government, whose claim to Divine appointment has not been questioned or denied. To this appointment, as well as to the nature of the institution itself, may be attributed, under the purpose-accomplishing providence of its Great Founder, the perpetuity of its existence and form. Families continue on the earth, that the wise object of their establishment, may be effected.
Families are the appointed nurseries of both Church and State. They are to furnish civil society with virtuous and worthy members, and the church with active, useful, and devoted Christians. Both worlds may, therefore, be said to meet in the family society, and bring with them those considerations which enhance to an awful degree, the weighty responsibilities which rest upon the family head. From this divinely established fountain of influences, shall issue blessings or curses upon the nation and the Church. Into this fountain, then, must be thrown the salt, that its streams may be purified and purifying. Otherwise they will convey pollution and death whithersoever they flow.
The head of a family sustains to his household the threefold relation of a king, a prophet, and a priest. As a king, he rules his house, and administers its government. As a prophet, it is his business to impart suitable instruction to his children and servants. And as a priest, he should conduct the worship, and lead the social devotions of the family. These duties are strictly of a religious character, and are enjoined by Divine authority. They arise naturally out of the family constitution; and their conscientious and faithful performance, with the Divine blessing, can alone secure the great end of that institution. To a plain but careful examination of these duties, the reader’s attention is now invited.
The parent is the divinely constituted HEAD AND LORD of his family. The authority which he possesses is not usurped, but is delegated to him by the source of all authority. It belongs to the station which he occupies, and to which he has been called by the providence of God. He is invested with certain legislative and executive prerogatives. He has committed to his supervision a most interesting and important charge; and to God, the Judge of all, he must one day render an account of his stewardship. Nor is he left without ample instruction as to his duties, and the manner in which he should discharge them. The Scriptures are a safe and sufficient guide in this matter. The inspired volume should be the man of his counsel. It abounds with precept and example, bearing directly on the subject of parental duty and responsibility.
These duties and responsibilities are weighty and solemn. An adequate conception of their magnitude, might make even an angel tremble to assume them. Parents, remotely and instrumentally, control the nations of the earth, by forming and directing public sentiment and feeling. They wield the sceptre of authority, though visibly held by the hands of a few. They enact and execute the laws, by training the minds and habits of those who become lawgivers and judges. And they, humanly speaking, decide the character and destiny of their respective generations, both for this world and the next. How stupendous the power, how awful the responsibilities of parents!
The parent is a sovereign in his family. His word is law to his household. The apostle Paul enjoins, "children, obey your parents in the Lord." Eph. 6:1. The decalogue enjoins, "Honour thy father and mother." This is the first commandment with a promise. Servants are exhorted to be obedient to their masters according to the flesh. Eph. 6:5. God said of Abraham, "I know him, that he will COMMAND his children and his household after him." Gen. 18:19. Here is the existence of rightful authority, and a command to render it due obedience. No human authority can interfere with, nor contravene that of a parent over his family. The civil arm reaches beyond its legitimate sphere, when it presumes to obtrude its power into the domestic circle. Even the most absolute monarch is compelled to respect the family authority: for "no king can be secure on his throne, where no subject is safe in his house."
But although there can be no appeal to human authority, from the due administration of parental government, yet the head of a family is not the ultimate lord, with underived authority. His power is delegated to him by the Founder of the domestic society. And should he presume to contravene the primary obligations of religious duty, which are imposed on his children and servants by their Creator, he would usurp an authority with which he has never been invested. This would be treason against the Most High, and rebellion against the Supreme Head of all families. While children are commanded to "obey their parents," it is nevertheless added, "in the Lord." Eph. 6:1.
This delegation and restriction of power, should ever be remembered by parents, and never be forgotten by their children. While the parent, therefore, acts within his prescribed sphere, obedience to his commands, is obedience to God. This circumstance imparts to parental authority a moral influence, which no usurped power can ever exert over the minds of children and servants. A child should be made distinctly to understand the source whence his parents derive their authority to command, direct, and control him. This knowledge will beget in his mind a reverence for that authority, which will most commonly secure a willing and habitual obedience. It brings to his mind the influence of higher motives, than can possibly be derived from mere human authority, or natural connexion. He looks upon obedience as a religious duty, and not as a forced submission to the caprice and tyranny of parents. And he regards his obligation to obey, not as imposed by human authority, or by the mere relation which he sustains to his parents, but as flowing from the express command of God.
The parent is invested with authority for some wise and special end, which looks beyond this world, and "things temporal." It is to accomplish the great purpose for which the family was constituted. It is true, that as a community and as individuals, we are greatly indebted to the domestic society, for many of the comforts and much of the peace of social life. It administers consolation and support in times of trial and affliction, and affords sympathy and relief in distress. It enlivens the dull monotony of private life. It relaxes the care-worn brow, and renders cheerful and pleasant the toils of business. But all this is in proportion to the peace, the harmony, and the love that reign in the family circle, and in proportion to the extent in which we answer the great end of the domestic constitution. This great end, therefore, should never be lost sight of, but constantly aimed at, in the administration of its government. Wholesome discipline must be faithfully exercised. The reins of government must not he slackened, nor fall from the parent’s hands, nor pass into those of others. Over indulgence, whatever degree of affection is plead as its cause and excuse, should never be practised. This enervates power, and renders authority contemptible, in the eyes of those who should revere and obey it. It is painful to parental love to administer correction. But this is both a duty and a trial when it is necessary. This duty should be performed with prayerfulness and deliberation; not with passion, nor in an angry mood; otherwise it will fail to produce the proper effect. The child should be taught that it is a religious duty, and a painful one. That it seeks his welfare, and not the gratification of a revengeful spirit. "He that spareth his rod hateth his son: but he that loveth him chasteneth him betimes," Prov. 13:24. "Foolishness is bound in the heart of a child; but the rod of correction shall drive it far from him," Prov. 22:15. "The rod and reproof give wisdom; but a child left to himself bringeth his mother to shame," Prov. 29:15. "Withhold not correction from the child: for if thou beatest him with the rod, he shall not die. Thou shalt beat him with the rod, and shalt deliver his soul from hell," Prov. 23:13, 14. Here the ultimate design of discipline is manifest. It is to save the soul: and to answer the end of the domestic constitution, by training up your children for the service of God, and to be heirs of salvation. We apprehend that the above passages of Scripture teach the necessity and duty of discipline in a family. The rod, however, should not be resorted to, when the object of discipline may be accomplished by milder means. It is a difficult and unpleasant duty, but one from which we cannot shrink, if we would be faithful to God and our children. Let the child be taught that he is corrected because God enjoins it, and that the parent cannot avoid it without offending God, and violating his command, and he will be led to view the chastisement as inflicted by God’s authority; and thence be induced to regard the improper conduct for which he is corrected, as not only an offence against his parents, but also as a sin against God. This brings the authority of God, in addition to that of the parent, to bear directly on his mind. Such discipline begets in the mind of a child the fear of God, and a reverence for the parent’s authority. Paul says, "We have had fathers of our flesh, which corrected us; and we gave them reverence," Heb. 12:9. The child may not be able to see how such discipline promotes his own good, but it is nevertheless true: for "no chastening for the present seemeth to be joyous, but grievous: nevertheless, afterwards it yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness unto them which are exercised thereby." Heb. 12:11. For this end God chastises the children of his grace. "For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth. If ye endure chastening, God dealeth with you as with sons; for what son is he whom the father chasteneth not? But if ye be without chastisement, whereof all are partakers, then are ye bastards and not sons." Heb. 12:6-8.
Let no sin pass unreproved, but let the reproof be timely and suitable, and administered with wisdom and affection. Let no undue indulgence, no misnamed affection, no expressive silence, sanction, or give the colour of innocence to, improper conduct. Let no course of sinful behaviour, or criminal indulgence remain unchecked, lest it become too strong for parental discipline, and break down the government of the family.
The neglect of domestic discipline is commonly followed by disgrace and ruin. We have an eminent example of this in the history of the sons of Eli, and of his sinful indulgence toward them. When they had been guilty of the grossest sins, he administered no more than a mild reproof, which laxness in early life had doubtless led to such enormous crimes, 1 Sam. 2:23. The house of Eli was punished, "because his sons made themselves vile, and he restrained them not," 1 Sam. 3:13.
This truth may also be exemplified in the life of David. "Observe his indulgence of Amnon. It produced incest. Remark his indulgence of Absalom, who besought him to allow his brethren to partake of a feast which he had prepared. It produced assassination. See his weak fondness for the same Absalom, who endeavoured to make his way to the throne by mean and clownish manners, affecting to shake hands with the Israelites, and to embrace and kiss them, (these are the terms of Scripture;) and practising all such popular arts as generally precede and predict sedition. This produced a civil war. Remark how he indulged Adonijah, who made himself chariots, and set up a retinue of fifty men. The sacred historian tells us, that ‘his father had not displeased him at any time, in saying, Why hast thou done so?’ 1 Kings, 1:6. This produced a usurpation of the throne and the crown."
THE head of a family should act the part of a PROPHET towards the rest of his household, and impart to them such instruction as is calculated to answer the purpose for which he is placed in honour and authority over them. Without such instruction, he can not, and ought not, to expect to accomplish much by the exercise of parental discipline.
"These words which I command thee this day, shall be in thine heart; and thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up," Deut. 6:6, 7. This does not relate merely to instruction in the school, but particularly to familiar, domestic teaching. This instruction must concern the word of God, including its doctrines and duties. It must be imparted with diligence, with patience, and frequent repetition The natural blindness of the mind to spiritual things, and the darkening of the understanding produced by sin, render such diligence absolutely necessary, in order to make any tolerable progress in the work of domestic education.
The natural opposition of the heart to spiritual and holy knowledge, seems to require the affectionate, careful, and frequent inculcation of divine truth.
The language of the carnal heart is, "I desire not the knowledge of these things." And the reason is to be found in that Scripture declaration, "the carnal mind is enmity against God." Men naturally, therefore, "love darkness rather than light." Weeds grow apace, but good plants require a careful and patient cultivation. The former are indigenous, the latter are exotic, and require the utmost diligence and watchfulness in planting and nurturing them.
The memory has been greatly impaired by sin, and children are particularly forgetful of that which it is of the most importance they should remember. Hence the necessity of inculcating again and again the same truths.
This work, in order to prove effectual, must be commenced at a very early age. Recent experiments have demonstrated that children are susceptible of important instruction, at a much earlier age than has hitherto been thought possible.
The Infant School System has developed many important principles in regard to the early education of children. Many children are now in possession of much information, although not yet advanced to that period of life, at which but few, if any, hitherto deemed it expedient or important even to commence instruction. Impressions may be very early made, and with much more ease too, than at any subsequent period. The mind of a child is like soft wax, that is susceptible of any impression that may be attempted, and that without much difficulty. First impressions are the most lasting, and are removed with great difficulty, if ever removed at all. Indeed, perhaps at any age it is far more difficult to remove impressions than to make them:
"As the twig is bent so the tree’s inclined."
Even in old age, after having passed through the trials, the turmoils, and vicissitudes of a protracted life, the principles instilled in early life, are not forgotten, but are often more fresh and vivid in the mind, than those adopted in later years.
And it should ever be borne in mind by parents, that impressions will inevitably be made upon the minds of their children. If they do not make them, others will; and if they be not good, they will be bad.
The young and tender mind, like the chameleon, receives its colour from every thing around it. If it be neglected by you, it will not be by the devil. "While the men slept, his enemy came and sowed tares among the wheat," Matt. 13:25. The neglected mind of a child is like an untilled garden, it will not be barren, but be overgrown with noxious weeds, which will choke and destroy every wholesome plant which may occasionally take root. Parents will then have a double work to perform. They must remove bad impressions, and root out injurious principles; make good impressions, and instill right principles. But "fill the bushel with wheat, and ,you may defy the devil to fill it with tares."
I am aware of an objection which some make to the course above proposed, which is perhaps made rather to relieve the objector of the duty in question, than because he believes there is any force in the objection itself, and which, on that account, hardly deserves notice in this little essay; but a passing remark may not be misplaced or useless. The objection is, that the minds of children ought not to be forestalled in the matter of religion; that it is taking an unfair advantage of their tender age, and virtually depriving them of the liberty of choice and judgment, in a matter so important. To say nothing of the anti-scriptural character of the objection, we may observe, that the objection takes for granted, what we and all Christians are very far from conceding, namely, that there is nothing in the heart of a child which predisposes him to a wrong choice, and that the natural understanding of a child, even at the age when he should make the choice, is sufficiently enlightened in spiritual things to make a good one. The Scriptures declare that "the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God, they are foolishness to him; neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned." Those who make this objection have certainly never seen nor felt the necessity of any religion themselves. For the question now is, not between different creeds, but between religion and irreligion. Had they found the pearl of great price, they would not be disposed to conceal it from their children, lest their discovery of it to them, should forestall their opinion as to its character and value. Had they been made sensible of the awful danger to which they and their children were exposed, they would not refuse to point it out to them, and warn them, lest they should thereby forestall their opinion of that danger, or of its existence at all. They can have no settled belief in truth themselves, and do clearly manifest an indifference to all truth, and recognise no distinction between truth and falsehood, right and wrong. Besides, had this been the mind of God, it were necessary that all men should have the requisite means and opportunity of arriving at the truth; but this is so far from being the case, that even with such advantages, few arrive at the truth, who have not been the subjects of early instruction. And finally, as to this objection, if natural reason be a sufficient guide to the discovery of truth and duty, as those who would rescue children from the unfair advantage of early instruction, suppose to be the case, then natural reason is a sufficient light to distinguish between truth and error, when proposed to its decision by others: so that they are in no more danger of being betrayed and led astray by instruction, than by being left to themselves.
However, the command to teach your children diligently the words of the Lord, has never been revoked, and the apostolic injunction to "bring up your children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord," is still in force, Eph. 6: 4. "My son," says Solomon, "hear the instruction of thy father, and forsake not the law of thy mother," Prov. 1:8. This implies the duty of parental instruction; and it is much safer to hearken to the advice of Solomon, the wisest of men, and withal, divinely inspired, than to walk in the counsel of the ungodly, Ps. 1:1. For, "the counsels of the wicked are deceit," Prov. 12:5.
The term education, as it is commonly received, is too restricted in its signification. In its usual acceptation, it is applied to the acquisition of what may with propriety be called worldly information, as distinguished from spiritual knowledge; and to the training of the mind for the investigation of philosophical truth, or for the business and callings of this life. Hence has arisen the qualified phrase, "religious education," to designate the particular character of the instruction and training received. This circumstance has alienated the idea of religion and spiritual knowledge from the word "education," as generally employed and understood. But, strictly speaking, it forms much the most important part of all genuine and scriptural education. No education can be complete without it, nor answer the great end for which all knowledge should be imparted, or acquired.
There is, moreover, a species of domestic education, long sanctioned by fashionable society, which is just the opposite of that which we apprehend to be enjoined by Scripture. And if it be not effected by direct instruction it is by current precept and habitual example. The conversation and conduct of some parents, make the impression on the minds of their children, that happiness consists in the possession of wealth or fame, or in the indulgence of fashion, pleasure, or amusement. Hence, as we might expect, this impression (than which nothing can be more erroneous) gives character and direction to all the exertions and aims of their children through life. The chief business of life they suppose to be to acquire wealth, or expend it in the indulgence of the various animal passions. Under such an influence, they are trained to shine in the hall of gaiety and fashion, to parade the street in idleness and show, and become the object of the world’s approbation, its envy and applause. The burden of parental solicitude seems to be, in such cases, that their children may appear to what they falsely judge to be advantage in society. No trouble nor expense is spared to secure this end. The topics of family conversation, and that too in the presence of the younger members and servants, are fashionable opinions, parties, amusements, and dress the merits and pleasures of the last party, and the prospects and anticipations of the next; or the character, manners, appearance, and detects of such an one, and the beauties, accomplishments, and merits of another. With such training, what must inevitably be the character of the children? Their education has no reference whatever to the next world, and looks not beyond the grave, yea, not beyond the days of health, prosperity, and active life. They are trained to be butterflies, to flutter for a season in a gaudy attire, from place to place, while the short summer of life sheds upon them its genial warmth, and to be forgotten and unknown, when the chilling winter of sickness, of age, of adversity or death shall come upon them. Yes, many who sing in the giddy circle,
"I would be a butterfly,"
have their wish even while they utter it. Many Christian parents, so called, are a thousandfold more guilty and cruel towards their children, than the heathen Chinese towards theirs. The former do for the heads and hearts of their children, what the latter do for the feet of theirs. They compress them into the smallest possible compass. Such an education unfits them for usefulness in this life, or happiness in the next; for their salvation is thus rendered wholly improbable, and next to impossible. They are miserable in both worlds; drones in this, and outcasts in the next. It is, to be sure, a more refined and fashionable road to perdition, but not the less, but rather the more, certain on that account. It is a road strewed with flowers, but they are the leaves of the cypress, the badges of mourning over ruined souls. It may be enlivened by music, but it is the sweetly alluring voice siren. The devoted travelers may be decked in garlands, but it is for the immolation of the soul.
Indeed, such an education does not contemplate future existence of the soul at all. For if such parents make suitable provision for the bodies of their children in this life, still there is none made for the soul in the life to come This is entirely overlooked, as unimportant and unnecessary. But does not the brute creation protect and provide for the bodies of their offspring? Wherein do they differ?
The duty of spiritual education and provision is also binding in reference to the servants, who constitute a part of your household. It is true, you may only have bargained for their labour, and promised a temporal support, but they belong to your domestic society, and have souls, which must be miserable or happy in the world to come. When you hire beasts, you bargain for their labour, and provide for their bodily sustenance; is there then no difference between them and your servants? The pious Job asked with great significancy, "If I did despise the cause of my man-servant or of my maid-servant, what shall I do when God riseth up? And when he visiteth, what shall I answer him," Job 31:13, 14.
The believing Centurion also manifested great concern for his servant. He is represented as beseeching Christ, with great earnestness, to heal his servant, which he did Matt. 8:6, 7.
But in addition to preceptive instruction, there must be superadded the force of corresponding example. The one will effect but little without the other. We are imitative creatures, and learn our earliest lessons, and receive our most enduring impressions through the eyes and not through the ears. It is remarkable how soon children begin to notice attentively the conduct of others. We are naturally more disposed to follow example than to be influenced by precept. Parents, therefore, would do well to remember that their children have eyes as well as ears, and to act accordingly. Bad example will obliterate every impression which may have been made by wholesome precept. Let not parents, therefore, tear down with one hand as fast as they build up with the other. Let example be to precept, what experiments are, in natural science, to theory. The one should demonstrate and confirm the other. In vain may you, attempt to inculcate upon a child the importance of a duty, while he is permitted to witness your habitual neglect of it. He will do as you do, and not as you say. If you neglect the public worship of God, or behave unseemly in the sanctuary; if you violate the Sabbath day, by labour, amusement or recreation; if you take the name of the Most High in vain, or exhibit a proud, passionate, and overbearing temper, you may reasonably expect your children and servants to do the same, when an opportunity occurs of doing it with impunity. It were idle to expect a different result.
But the precept of some parents is as bad as their example in this respect. They will not only encourage, but even urge the attendance of their children, at the scenes of public amusement and dissipation; places where female delicacy is wounded, where innocence must blush, and virtue hide her head in shame. Yes, parents will permit men and women to say to their children from the stage, and in a public assembly; what it would be the grossest insult to whisper in their ear, at the family fireside. And yet, these same parents decline urging the attendance of their children at the sanctuary. They will dead them into a circle, where, amid the attractions adapted to a carnal heart, the flame of human pride is fed and cherished; where native vanity is flattered, often by brainless conversation and heartless attention; where their already too high opinion of self is more and more exalted, and the restraints of modest, retiring virtue more and more weakened. Thus they are thrown by their own parents; into the midst of a thousand temptations and snares, and estranged from God and holiness.
You may, indeed, diligently provide for their temporal necessities, but you leave the soul, the deathless, enduring part of your children, to starve and perish. You may carefully clothe their bodies which must soon be laid in the grave and become the food of worms, but you leave the soul to appear in all its nakedness before God in judgement. You neglect to provide for it, the robe of the Saviour’s righteousness, and are satisfied that it should appear in the "filthy rags" of its own virtue and morality. You provide food for the nourishment of their bodies, but neglect to feed them with the hidden manna, with that bread which came down from heaven, which was the bread of life. You are solicitous to accomplish for them, advantageous matrimonial connections, but neglect to marry them to the Lamb, the Bridegroom—Jesus Christ.
Now, "if any provide not for his own, and especially for those of his own house, he hath denied the faith, and is worse than an infidel," 1 Tim. 5:8. If this be true in regard to temporal provision, what may we not say of those who refuse to make the most important of all kinds of provision, viz. for the souls of their children and servants? It is most shocking cruelty to suffer the souls, whom you have instrumentally brought into the world, to perish forever through your neglect. How can a parent’s heart endure the thought, that the helpless babe who smiles at his chirps, and prattles on his knees, and beguiles his hours of leisure, with its endearing playfulness, should, through his neglect, endure the wrath of God through all eternity? Parents! think of it. Look upon your babe, behold its little fascinating ways, and say, will you train it up for the world and for hell, or for God and heaven? Will you lead it into the vortex of fashion, folly and irreligion, or "bring it up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord," renouncing in its behalf, the pomps and vanities of the world, and solemnly dedicate it to the service of Christ? You must meet it at the bar of God. You may meet it in the world of lost spirits. Will you venture then to look upon it? Can you then bear its curses on your head, and its upbraiding accusation of your unfaithfulness and cruelty? Parents! think of it. Your children are committed to your care, by Him whose property they are, and who charges you to train them up a holy seed to serve him. He will require them, as such, at your hands. Shall their blood be found in your skirts? "It is beyond a doubt, that remorse is one of the chief punishments of the damned, and who can question whether the most excruciating remorse will be excited by this thought; I have plunged my children into this abyss, into which I have plunged myself?
"Imagine a parent of a family, discovering among the crowd of reprobates, a son, whom he himself led thither, and who addresses to him this terrible language: ‘Barbarous father, to what a desperate condition you have reduced me! See, wretch that you are, see the flames which burn and consume me. Observe this thick smoke which suffocates me. Behold the heavy chains with which I am loaded. They are the fatal consequences of the principles you gave me. Was it not enough to bring me into the world a sinner? Was it necessary to put me in arms against Almighty God? Was it not enough to communicate to me natural depravity? Must you add to that, the venom of a pernicious education? Was it not enough to expose me to the misfortunes inseparable from life? Must you plunge me into those which follow death? Return me, cruel parent, return me to nothing, whence ye took me. Take from me the fatal existence you gave me. Show me mountains and hills to fall on me, and hide me from the anger of my Judge; or it that divine vengeance which pursues thee, will not enable thee to do so, I myself will become thy tormentor; I will ever present myself, a frightful spectacle, before thine eyes, and by those eternal howlings, which I will incessantly pour into thine ears, I will reproach thee; through all eternity I will reproach thee with my misery and despair.’"
As the helplessness of a child, unable to defend itself from surrounding danger, makes a strong and effectual appeal to its parents for protection, so should its native ignorance, especially of the most important truths, and of those, a knowledge of which is essential to its well-being, both here and hereafter, make a still more powerful and affecting appeal, for instruction and careful training. The heathen early and faithfully train up their children to the precepts and practices of idolatry. And this is not only a dictate of that natural affection, which even heathenism has not totally quenched in the parental bosom, but it is, moreover, a principle of natural religion, which is incorporated even with the grossest system of superstition and error, that claims to be a religion.
You recognise your obligation to afford your children an academical education, or at least a knowledge of their own language, and of such other branches of common literature, as may qualify them for the vocation in life, which you design them to follow. But do you feel no obligation to instill into their minds and hearts the principles of heavenly wisdom? None, to educate them in the science of salvation? None, to impart to them a knowledge of God, which is eternal life, and of his word, which is able to make them truly wise, even "wise unto salvation," and to fit them for entering with advantage and happiness, upon that ever enduring state of exist-cure, on the verge of which they now stand!
You feel bound to train up your children to patriotic attachment to their country and its laws; with reverence for its authority, and jealousy for its honour. But do you not feel bound to train them up in loyal fidelity to the King of kings, and the God of nations, through whose merciful interference in our behalf, we are, as a nation. what we are? None, to educate them in holy allegiance to the Lord of lords, and source of all authority? None, to instill into them a becoming reverence for His law, and an unquenchable zeal for His honour and glory?
You feel bound, in all your plans, arrangements, and efforts, to consult the temporal interests of your children, and can this be more effectually promoted, than by the knowledge and favour of God? But are you indifferent to their everlasting welfare in the world to come? You cannot procure for them a more efficient, faithful, and enduring friend than Christ, who is emphatically the friend of sinners, He sticketh closer than a brother, and will never leave nor forsake them. Unlike the friendship of the world, which
————is but a name,
A charm that lulls to sleep,
A shade that follows wealth and fame,
And leaves the wretch to weep,
his is as unchanging as his nature, "I am the Lord—I change not." He is a friend to help in time of need; when others either forsake us, or can afford us no aid. Should you leave your children orphans, He is the orphan’s God;—the father of the fatherless. For when father and mother forsake them, He will take them up.
You can not lay up for your children, a more enduring or more satisfying treasure, than that which is laid up in heaven, which neither moth nor rust can corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal. Earthly riches take to themselves wings and fly away; and while they last, they are both unsatisfying and corrupting, without the grace of God accompanying them. Train up your children to be rich in faith, and heirs of that inheritance which is undefiled and that fadeth not away, and you will have secured for them that "which is profitable unto all things, having promise of the life that now is, and of that which is to come," 1 Tim. 4:8. You feel bound to procure suitable remedies, and the skill of a physician, to counteract and heal the bodily maladies of your children; but are you not under higher obligations to provide for the cure of that deadly disease with which the souls of your children are by nature infected? Depravity is frequently, in Scripture, represented under the figure of a disease. "The whole head is sick, and the whole heart is faint. From the sole of the foot; even unto the head, there is no soundness in it, but wounds and bruises and putrefying sores: they have not been closed, neither bound up, neither mollified with ointment," Isa. 1:5, 6. True religion is the balm of Gilead, and Christ is the great physician. Will you, then, permit this disease to continue its ravages upon the souls of your children, and terminate in the second death, without instructing them as to the only remedy, and urging them to apply to the only Physician? How grossly inconsistent is the solicitude of parents for their children, who, at the same time, neglect their souls, which are of infinitely more importance, than any temporal concern can possibly be!
It may be proper in this place to notice briefly, the peculiar duties, advantages, and consequent responsibilities of MOTHERS, in regard to the education of their children.
To its mother’s care and instruction, the first years of a child, are almost exclusively committed. She makes upon its infant mind, the first impressions, whether good or bad. She, in a great measure, forms its future character, and, humanly speaking, determines its destiny She observes the budding of its mind, and discovers the earliest developments of its character and disposition, and may mould them as she pleases. Hence, the mother becomes the first object of its knowledge, its affections and its confidence. Her influence is first felt, and her authority first recognised. What a trust is then committed to mothers!
The strong maternal affection peculiarly fits her for the right discharge of her duties. And in this is shown the wisdom of Him who planted that affliction in her bosom, and who requires those duties at her hands. The maternal affection is used in Scripture as a hint emblem of Christ’s love to his Church. "Can a woman forget her sucking child, that she should not have compassion on the son of her womb! Yea, they may forget, yet will I not forget thee." Isa. 49:15. This love excites her to the exercise of that patience which is so much required, and so indispensable, in the careful training of her child. She knows no weariness in ministering to its necessities, and in guarding its helplessness. She bears without a murmur, its disquietudes and complaints, and surmounts every obstacle, and readily endures the privation of personal comfort, care and rest, that she may supply its wants, and gratify its desires. What will she not do, and what will she not suffer, for the peace and safety of her little one! Without this natural affection, patience would soon be exhausted, and the flesh soon become weary, and the passions be vented by cruelty or abandonment. Under the influence of religion, this affection is sanctified, regulated, and properly directed. If such be the advantages of a mother, how great must be her responsibilities! Who doubts a mother’s influence in the formation of the character of her children? Who doubts the peculiar opportunities she has for making good impressions, and forming a proper character? Who doubts the obligation upon her, to embrace these opportunities, and rightly to use them, in raising up a holy seed to serve the Lord? Examples might be mentioned of some of the most distinguished benefactors of mankind, who owe, and have traced, to their mother’s instruction and example, all that has made them both an honour and a blessing to the race. Examples might also be adduced, which would reverse the picture, but establish the same principle, and show that opposite effects may commonly be traced to opposite causes. This strong parental influence is ordained of God, and forms a prominent part of that great instrumentality which he has established in the organization of the family constitution. This influence will, and must, therefore, be felt. It can not be avoided.
The obligations which rest upon parents to "bring up their children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord," are numerous and weighty. Besides those already mentioned in a general way, we may specify,
1. The baptismal vows which they have assumed in behalf of their children. And lest any should pass over this section, by saying, "I have never presented my children in baptism, and have therefore never assumed the vows mentioned," let me say that if this be so, you are doubly guilty in the sight of God. It is as much your duty to dedicate your children to God in his appointed ordinance, as it is to dedicate yourself to him in that of the Lord’s Supper. Unfitness for either, while it should exclude you from the privilege, nevertheless does not relieve you from the duly. It is your duty to be prepared for both, and the longer that preparation is delayed, the greater is the sinfulness of your neglect. To plead unfitness as an excuse for neglecting duty, is to plead one sin as an excuse for another; for it is your sinfulness and unbelief that render you unfit for either ordinance. Let none, then, console themselves with the false impression, that they are relieved from baptismal duties, because they have neglected to assume baptismal vows. If, therefore, the following remarks should exhibit the obligations of those who have assumed such vows, they at the same time exhibit the obligation and guilt of those who have neglected to assume them.
The presentation of children for baptism, does not, strictly speaking, create new obligations, but is a formal and solemn acknowledgment of those already binding. A witness, strictly speaking, is as much bound, in the sight of God, to tell the truth, and nothing but the truth, before he takes the oath, as afterwards.
It is to be feared, that parents too often assume the baptismal vows with too little consideration. Some present their children for the ordinance, under the influence of example or custom, or for fashion sake; some, doubtless, through the mistaken and superstitious notion of its inherent efficacy. All such motives are improper, and dishonour God, and his ordinance. They tend to banish from the mind, that becoming reverence and awe, with which God should be approached in every act of worship. It brings down the ordinance to the level of an unmeaning ceremony, and abstracts from it the idea of a solemn transaction with God. Hence, many who shrink from an approach to the Lord’s table, yet, without hesitation or much reflection, offer their children for baptism. They are both holy sacraments, and the one is as sacred as the other. Parents, moreover, sometimes take upon them these vows, while they are conscious of an unwillingness to pay them, and indeed, with no purpose whatever to attempt it. This is lying to the Holy Ghost, and nothing less than awful perjury before high Heaven! I speak plainly on this subject, because it is too momentous to be otherwise disposed of. While, therefore, parents are bound to present their children for baptism, they are also required not to trifle with the ordinance, nor contract the guilt of perjury or broken vows. If they neglect the ordinance, they sin; and if they approach it improperly, they sin. Do you, then, ask what you are to do in such a case?. I answer, repent, believe in Christ, and seek and obtain a right heart in the sight of God, and that without delay. This is only one of the many difficulties that belong to a state of impenitency and unbelief.
In presenting your children to this ordinance, you recognise their depravity and condemnation, as flowing from the first transgression of Adam; otherwise, the ordinance is without meaning, and your approach to it, is a mockery of God. You thereby acknowledge the necessity of your child being washed with the Spirit and blood of Christ. For it is that outward sign, which signifies the washing of the heart, with that cleansing influence, which the water in baptism symbolizes.
In this ordinance, you also give your child away, without reservation, to be used and disposed of by God, as seemeth to Him best. When thus solemnly dedicated to God, in acknowledgment of His undisputed right to it, He commits it to your care, as Moses was committed to the care of his mother, that he may be trained up for the service and glory of Him, to whom he belongs of right, and by your own act of dedication. You henceforth act as the steward of God, under voluntary vows of fidelity in the discharge of your duties, both to Him and to your child. For this stewardship you must render an account. Here, then, is one source of obligation which you are not at liberty to disregard. A lively sense of this obligation, will lead you to seek daily supplies of grace and strength to meet your responsibilities, and to supplicate the blessing of God upon your endeavours, to discharge them. Thus, you will be constantly urged to a Throne of Grace in behalf of yourself and children. There too, you will bring them, and bow their infant knees before God, and teach their infant tongues to call him "Father," and to lisp his praise.
Should you neglect, however, thus to train them; should yon bring them up in prayerlessness and irreligion, how poignant will be your reflections on a death bed, that you are about to meet your Judge, to answer for the guilt of violated vows! How keen the anguish that will wring your soul, when you are about to cast your little ones upon a cold, unfeeling, and contaminating world, without the shield of a religious education, and without the support and guide of religious principles. That you have neglected to bestow, these you have neglected to instill. But you must leave them. You cannot retrace your steps. You cannot stay even to begin the work. And should you meet them in perdition, how insufferable their upbraiding! how overwhelming your remorse!
2. Parents owe it to themselves to train up their children in the way in which they should go. Their own peace and happiness, in this world, will depend 'very much on the character and conduct of their children, unless they are totally destitute of all natural affection. And even then, their own children, through parental neglect; may become their tormentors. For parents are sometimes punished in the lives of their children, who become rods to their backs. How much distress, and trouble, and affliction, are sometimes brought into a family by children, whose religious education has been neglected! How often have such brought down the gray hairs of their broken-hearted parents, in sorrow, in shame, and in disgrace, to the grave! And even if they survive, it is to witness the sad and melancholy spectacle of their children, hurried, through the want of early and proper training, by unbridled lusts and unchecked licentiousness, or by the hand of the duelist or assassin, or by the due execution of the laws of the land, to an early and dishonoured grave. This is the source of a thousand evils with which guilty parents and their families may be afflicted and overwhelmed.
On the other hand, how much joy and peace, and comfort, does a parent’s heart experience, when he beholds his children walking in the ways of righteousness, devoting themselves to the service of God, and to the good of their fellow-creatures! And how unspeakably delightful is the reflection, that such are the results of his labours, his instructions, and his prayers, in training them in early life to the love and service of the Most High! And when called to part with them at death, with hope, and faith, and settled confidence, may you leave them in the hands of Him, in whose nurture and admonition you have brought them up!
3. You owe it to your children, thus to bring them up. You have been the means of bringing them into this world of sin and misery, were they are exposed to innumerable evils here, and endless misery hereafter. You have transmitted to them that depraved and sinful nature, which, through successive generations, you derived from our common father Adam. They come into the world under a broken covenant, alienated from the life of God and with carnal minds at enmity against Him. They have immortal souls that must be happy or miserable for ever; and the momentous issue instrumentally depends, under God, very much on the manner in which you bring them up. You launch them in a fragile bark, upon life’s troubled sea, amid the threatening storms by which it is agitated, and surrounded by the rocks and shoals on which thousands and thousands are fatally and for ever wrecked. Is it not your duty to provide them with every means of safety? Is it not your duty to afford them that instruction, to instill into them those principles; and to point them to that example, to that Guide and Saviour, by means of which they may arrive in safety to that "haven where they would be"? You are their natural instructor, governor, and protector. To you they look, on you they depend, for all that is within your power and duty to afford them, in order to accomplish the end of their existence. They have a claim upon you which can not be disputed, nor with safety and impunity disregarded. It is a sacred claim, sanctioned and enforced by the relation you sustain to them, and by the authority of Him who requires its liquidation at your hands.
4. This is a duty which; as parents, you owe to the community of which, you and your children form a part, and to the world in which we live. Your children are to be either blessings or curses to society, according as their principles, education, and habits are good or bad. Should they become, through neglect of proper care and attention to their education, profligates, and the corrupters of others, you will have entailed an evil on the community in which they live, which cannot be estimated in this life, and which will countervail all the benefit that you may have conferred on the race by your own life. If ‘one sinner destroyeth much good’ who can conceive the amount of injury that may result to the human family, by your neglect of duty to your children, who in turn will, according to your example, and the principles they have imbibed, be guilty of a similar neglect to theirs? Thus may their successive generations .prove a continued scourge to the land in which they dwell. Such characters are a two-fold curse. They do evil and prevent good. And they may in the end, become a burden to society, and dependent on its support. The well-being of every community must depend, instrumentally, upon the proper education and training of those who, from time to time, compose it. This is a subject of vast moment to our own country. The magnitude of its importance, and its direct bearing on the destiny of this nation; are more and more manifest as we contemplate it. Such is the character of our system of government, and such is the nature of our free institutions, that unless a wholesome moral principle, founded on eternal truth and righteousness, pervade and actuate the people, we may not hope for their efficient administration, nor for a fair and just experiment of the doctrine of self-government. It is the glory of a republic that it cannot flourish, nor permanently exist, where the people are corrupt, ignorant, and debased. Knowledge and christian virtue form the basis of a free government. And if these be wanting, the superstructure will be a "baseless fabric." He then is a true patriot, an efficient benefactor of his country, who so brings up his offspring, as to be wise enough to understand, and virtuous enough to seek, her true interest and honour.
Should the people, generally, become corrupt, the laws which they enact, and the measures which they adopt, will wear the impress of their own unseemly image. The executive arm will become palsied, or nerved by reaction to relentless tyranny. Our free institutions will crumble to dust, and on their ruins will be erected an absolute despotism. Say not that these apprehensions are visionary. Look at the history and fate of other republics, and learn a lesson of timely wisdom. We live not for ourselves only, but to transmit unimpaired to posterity the just principles of government we have adopted, and the blessings which flow from them. We live for other nations, and for their descendants; for if the experiment now making in this land, should prove abortive, their hopes will be blighted, and the fears of despots will be quieted, and their principles receive plausibility from the failure of ours.
Let us not rely too confidently upon the wisdom of our laws, and the efficiency with which they may now be executed. For while these are necessary and important, yet if we neglect to cherish in the people, whose benefit they contemplate, that spirit, and those principles which enacted them, they will become a dead letter, and their enforcement will dwindle into oppression, or criminal favouritism.
It is a shame and a reproach to any community, where great care is taken to punish wickedness, and little or none to prevent it.
I am fully persuaded that it is the influence of christian principle alone, that can save us. "Happy is that people whose God is the Lord." For "righteousness exalteth a nation, but sin is a reproach to any people." "The wicked shall be turned into hell, with all the nations that forget God." By the smiles of a merciful God, we succeeded in our struggle for independence. And "by the grace of God we are," as a nation, "what we are." To forget or disown our dependence on the same mercy and power, is ingratitude and rebellion. The sinfulness of this nation, and its abounding licentiousness of principle and practice, call for national judgments, and may provoke the Most High to bring us to naught.
The religious obligation of oaths, deserves special attention. A deep sense of this obligation should be sedulously cherished in the minds of children, that it may be controlling and abiding. This can only be effected by a careful religious education. Without such precautionary measures on the part of parents, their children will grow up without fixed and definite views of religion, and liable to be turned about like a weathercock, by every wind of doctrine.
Should they espouse the principles of infidelity, which is nothing more than a bigoted credulity; or should they adopt such erroneous views of Christianity, as amount to little or nothing more than modified and baptized deism, they will regard oaths as a mere legal formality, and be uninfluenced by their solemnity and obligation. And there can be no doubt, that the careless and irreverent manner in which they are sometimes administered, tends greatly to produce this effect upon the minds of those, who are sworn. An oath is an act of religious worship. And as to those who deny the being or essential attributes of God, who question the existence, nature, or scriptural character of sin, or who disbelieve in a future retribution of punishment, it is nothing less than mockery and blasphemy. But it is a question for the legislative power to determine, how far the oaths of such should be regarded, and how far their testimony is admissible, in courts of justice.
For my own part, I should have but little hope of justice, if arraigned at the bar, and the verdict of the jury were to be determined by the testimony of such characters, so far as the influence of oaths is concerned; especially if they could secure some sinister end, or gratify a revengeful spirit, by misrepresentation or concealment. It is manifest, therefore, that you owe it to your country and to your fellow-creatures, to "Bring up your children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord."
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."
1. 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.
2. 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.
3. 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.
4. 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.
5. 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!
 Saurin, Vol. 2. p. 25.
 Anderson’s Book for Parents, p. 317.
 Anderson’s Book for Parents, p. 322, 323.
 Anderson’s Book for Parents, p. 84.
 Anderson’s Book for Parents. p. 88.
 Hall’s Works, Vol. iii. p. 135.