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THE FAMILY CONSTITUTION.
Its Singular Character-its Civil Character-its Sacred Character ;
the Head of this domestic economy.
WHATEVER opinion may be formed of the preceding observations, the singular and invaluable constitution of a family gives peculiar force and propriety to the prophetic terms already noticed, as well as to many other
passages of Sacred Writ. By constitution I intend the connexion of its several parts, and the principles by which each of these is to be governed. There is one society or constitution of things in this world, and only one, which is purely sacred ; there are others which are purely civil. Among the latter there is considerable variety ; but amidst the various modifications which earthly governments have assumed, from the purest democracy up to monarchy the most despotic, there is not one form which resembles, or which can resemble the constitution of a family. We read, it is granted, of times called patriarchal ; but no body of men can ever follow out the principles which rise out of the singular constitution of a family. Below the heavens, on this side of the grave, there is nothing precisely like it. This is more deserving of notice, since it is a remark which will hold true in every age and in every country. The economy of nations, whether civilized or savage, and the foolish interferences of an injudicious political
economy, may derange that of the family, or disregard it, when struggling after a better state of things; but the constitution of a family is in fact the same from the first Adam; the same in any state of society, and in every quarter of the globe.
I have said, therefore, the singular constitution of a family gives peculiar force to these words of Malachi. That constitution resembles entirely neither the world nor the church; neither the civil nor the sacred character; since, in fact, it partakes of both: yes, of both; and it is actually the only constitution upon earth, now in existence, of divine establishment, of which this can be affirmed.
The civil character will not be disputed, since it is generally admitted, that families were evidently formed for this world, and its best interests. Reference to either ancient or modern times will prove, that the state has ever stamped a high value on the rights and duties of parents and children: “ The common law itself, which is the best bounds of our wisdom, doth even, in hoc individuo, prefer the prerogative of the father before the prerogative of the king; for, if lands descend, held in chief from an ancestor, on the part of a mother, to a man's eldest son, the father being alive, the father shall have custody of the body, and not the king. It is true that this is only for the father, and not any other parent or ancestor ; but then if you look to the high law of tutelage and pro. tection, and of obedience and duty, which is the relative thereto, it is not said, “ Honour thy father alone,' but Honour thy father and thy mother,' &c."*
Now, in addition to the civil or natural, with regard to the sacred character of the domestic constitution, I may inquire, Is a family formed with a view to the present world only? or, Is it even formed for this world chiefly ? Certainly not. In its very frame may be seen evidence of the contrary. By God himself it has been framed for a particular end; and what is that end, if it is not a religious one?
" If the most fundamental relation in a family, the conjugal relation, was appointed by God for such an end, then certainly the family must be, in the design of its constitution, set up for that end. “Did not He make one?' says this same prophet, “Did not He make one ? yet had he the residue of the spirit; and wherefore one? that he might seek a godly seed. He did not design the original constitution of that fundamental relation, only that there might be a continual descent of human nature, but that religion might still be transmitted from age to age; and this design he never quits."* So, in perfect conformity with this design, long before the time of Moses, we read of family sacrifices. Jacob, in the line of the promise made to Abraham, and Job, who was not, equally offered burnt-offerings for themselves and their families. Job offered according to the number of his children, and thus he did continually. Now, the office of priest, in such a case, must have depended on institution; and these individuals had their warrant in the nature of the constitution of which they were the heads. If every society, in which men coalesce according to the mind of God, is bound to own its dependence on him by worship,
or service common to all, assuredly this is the case with regard to a family or household, since it is not only the well-spring of every other, or of all society, but a well-spring of God's own institution.
For another world, therefore, yes, for the eternal world, and with a view to it principally, does the Almighty set the solitary in families. Every family has in fact a sacred character belonging to it, which may indeed be forgotten or disdained; but the family is constituted, and ought therefore to be conducted, with the prospect of the rising generation following that which precedes it, not only to the grave, but into eternity.
This fine constitution of things, which is founded in nature, and exists, therefore, in every family, is only visible, it is true, in all its beauty, when both parents are Christians; because the mixed character of the family constitution attaches itself peculiarly to the person of its head. There are two terms employed in Scripture to describe the present character and daily obligations of the Christian, which apply with peculiar force to the Christian parent or head of a family; one borrowed from what is civil, and the other from what is sacred. These are king and priest, and to these that of a prophet might be added ; but I notice at present only the two former. By his Saviour, even in this life, the Christian is made a king and a priest unto God. These high favours, once bestowed, are to be carried about with him as robes of office and obligation which he cannot lay aside. Now, in the family-circle, there is provided, by God, one of the most interesting and important fields for the exercise and display of both characters. There he may,
and there he does reign as a king, in sovereign and undisputed authority ; and there, too, as a priest, is he to officiate on behalf of others as well as himself. By the exercise of the former character, his veneration for God is advanced, while he remembers, that, as 'a king unto God,' an account must be rendered of the daily exercise of his authority : by his priestly character, compassion and sympathy are greatly promoted ; since it is impossible for a man to pray often for his family, without feeling increasing tenderness for it.
This beautiful and affecting arrangement of our Creator,—the civil and sacred character, united at once in the very constitution of a family, and in the person of its head, gives rise to some of the most important coincidences with which we are acquainted. Here is a constitution favourable to the state, in the very highest degree, and whatever may be its form of government. In such a family it is that the child, as a child, learns to be a good subject, and that the brother or sister, as such, learns to be a good citizen ; and here is a state of things equally favourable to the increase of the church, as it is to that of the state: for if this is not understood, the highest end of its existence is not understood. Here, in short, both the church and the world meet, and it is the only spot on earth where it is at once lawful and incumbent on them so to do. You will not fail, however, to observe, that this meeting is upon a very small scale, and under very peculiar circumstances.
It is not that the constitution of the church is to be confounded with that of the family. Since God himself does not govern the church as he does the family, so neither must we confound them. Not that these two con