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The obligations to Family Worship-The abuse to which it has been exposed— The best seasons for Family Devotion—The profitable performance of Domestic Worship.
Although all that is incumbent on the Father or Mother of a Family might be inferred from what has been already advanced, and is certainly implied in many passages, the religion or Christianity of a Family is so essentially connected with the principles on which Divine Worship is offered there, and the spirit in which it is conducted, that some special notice of this subject becomes necessary. The observations which follow, therefore, are intended to embrace the obligations to Family Worship—the abuse to which it has been exposed—the best seasons for Family Devotion—with the various exercises which are included in the profitable performance of Domestic Worship.
I. The Obligations to Family Worship.—The disposition of some men, professing Christianity, to ask peremptorily for a particular precept in all cases of incumbent moral duty, is one which every Christian would do well to examine; not only that he may never be troubled with it himself, but that he may be at no loss in answering such a man, if he is called to converse with him. The particular duty to which he refers, say, for example, Family Worship, is comparatively of small account. His question itself, is indicative not merely of great ignorance; it is symptomatic of the want of religious principle. When a man says, that he can only be bound to such a duty, a moral duty, by a positive and particular precept, I am satisfied that he could not perform it, in obedience to any precept whatever; nor could he, even now, though he were to try. The truth is, that this man has no disposition towards such worship, and he rather requires to be informed of the grounds of all such obligation.
If you have been accustomed to look a little deeper than the surface of human character, you will find that men of this description secretly cherish the idea, that they have found out the way of living happily enough without holiness; and should they also seem to have drank deeply into such principles, I should as soon ex pect to cure insanity by reasoning as to cure them. They know not, as yet, what Scripture has so emphatically called, “ the plague of their own heart;" but while to this alone we can direct them, there are not wanting individuals who require to be fortified even against such poor sophistry.
The duty of Family Devotion, therefore, let it be remembered, though it had been minutely enjoined as to both substance and season, would not, after all, have been founded only on such injunctions. I want the reader thoroughly to understand the character of a Christian, the constitution of the Family; and out of this character and that constitution, he will find certain duties to arise necessarily ; that is, they are essential to the continuance and well-being of himself as a Christian Parent, and of the constitution over which he is set. In this case there can be no question as to their obligation, and for a precept there is no necessity. The Almighty, in his word, has not only said nothing in vain, but nothing except what is necessary. Now, as to Family Worship for a particular precept, I have no wish; no, not even for the sake of others, because I am persuaded that the Christian, in his sober senses, will naturally obey, and no other can. :
To apply, however, this request for a precise precept to some other branches of Family duty, what would be thought of me, were I to demand an express precept to enforce my obligation to feed my children, and another to oblige me to clothe them? one to express my obligation to teach them the use of letters, and another to secure my training them to lawful or creditable professions or employments? “ All this,” very properly you might reply, “ is absurd in the highest degree; your obligation rests on much higher ground; nay, doth not nature itself teach you in this, and much more than this ?" Very true, I reply; and is renewed nature, then, not to teach me far more still? To what other nature are such words as these addressed: “Whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report, if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.”
Yes, God in his word has addressed us, not as men of perverted reason, but as accountable beings. If we out of generals collect not particulars, and infer not from plain grounds the necessary conclusions, wo is unto us : it will go ill with us in this world, and in that also which is to come. It becomes not the majesty of God to trifle with his creatures; and if, in his public edicts, his mind is expressed, it were unworthy of him to descend to what is already enough revealed. In his word I expect that a grandeur will be found worthy of the supreme Lord of all; and I adore Him, that, having put the heart right, he hath in many ways left room for all to ascertain whether it really is so. If, therefore, nature itself is supposed in Scripture to teach me so much, assuredly the renewed nature is there also supposed to teach me much more.
These observations may enable the reader to account for the fact, that the world had gone on for many ages, and been favored 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; a division, by the way, which, though proper enough for the sake of illustration, is but of comparatively modern date. 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 begun 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. * Perhaps the passage which might be styled the second, does not occur till at least two hundred years later.t":
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;* and the very next presents this same Parent before us, interceding with peculiar earnestness for the vilest of men.t
Jerem. xxix. 7.
* Psalm cxxii. 6.
To return, however; let it be observed, that the human family, being of God's own creation and institution, it owes him, on this account, corresponding acknowledgment and worship. All his works, in all places of his dominion, are therefore called upon to praise him. All things which have been made by him, were made for him; and if this was the end he had in view, when nature itself was framed, it was especially the end with regard to man, in his individual, and relative, and social capacity. If this is true, as to nature in all its branches, it is still more so of the system as a whole : if it is true of the individual, it is still more so of the systems or constitutions which he has framed : if true, of the man as a solitary being, still more so of the Family : if true, as to the Christian, still more so of the Church.
With regard to a Family, in particular, it is more especially bound to own its dependence and subjection to its Divine author, because it is the foundation or first cause of all society, whether moral, political, or religious. Hence Abraham obtained the testimony of God's highest approbation : hence, long before the Mosaic economy was in existence, there were sacrifices peculiar to families, as already noticed, when the Father acted as the administrator. Thus, Job offered burnt-offerings for himself and for his Children, and Jacob for his. This is particularly worthy of remark, since, though we have no intimation whatever on the subject, there must have been a revela. tion here from God; for though the duty rises necessarily
* Gen. xvii. 18.
1 Gen. xvii. 24.