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First Epistle, it has been remarked, that the subject of prayer, one of the most important branches of Family Woiship, is introduced. In the Colossians this connection is very obvious and striking. “Masters, give unto your Servants that which is just and equal: knowing that ye also have a Master in heaven-Continue in prayer, and watch in the same with thanksgiving."
In conclusion, I query if that beautiful form of prayer which our blessed Lord gave to his followers, does not involve an argument in favor 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 calculated to mislead, and one which, if it is not guarded against, habitually, by the reader, will more effectually conceal from him its force or drift, as well as its beauties. To this simple circumstance alone may be traced whole libraries of wordy and unprofitable religious controversy. It has shattered the line of argument into fragments, and has minced the fine and powerful vein of thought into separate and detached aphorisms. If these endless divisions (useful only for reference) are not vigilantly watched, the divine thread of a historical detail, and the beautiful lines of a parabolical picture, will not be observed, or they will be misunderstood—the nature and genius of Hebrew poetry, on which the pith and argument of its stanza may depend, and the occasionally abrupt, yet irresistible and correctly logical conclusions of Paul, have suffered equally from the same cause. This circumstance, in itself so insignificant, is, however, of such moment, that it is impossible to say how much it has contributed to misunderstanding among Christians, or how far it has thrown us back in understanding the record itself. In the meanwhile the reader should, at least, be aware of its having so far marred the moral symmetry of divine revelation. One day, in England, several years ago, I recollect its being remarked as a feature in the character of some Christians resident in North Britain, that, upon any quotation from Scripture being introduced on a given subject, if any question arose, they would say, But what is the connection ? Were this practice universal, the advantages would be incalculable.
refers to the prayers of such as could pray together daily. In this most comprehensive prayer, after giving to God that place and honor 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 this little band, he directs him to pray—“ Our Father who art in heavengive 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.
II. The Abuse of Family Worship. The obligation to this delightful duty being fully admitted, before proceeding to the subject itself, I cannot help noticing one most melancholy and dangerous prostitution of it; I mean the form without the power. Thousands, at least in this country, profess to feel a horror of such a translation of Scripture as this—"Do penance, and believe the Gospel.” The vows and the satisfactions of antichrist we denounce; but what is the form of Family Worship, by unregenerate Parents, if not penance ? And such assuredly it is often
felt to be by both Parents and Children. In some Families this form is only occasional; in others it is gone about regularly, perhaps once a-week, on Sabbath-day, or only on Sabbath-evening. Now, I not only inquire, where is the auth
but what is the use of all this? A burden, at best, on the head of the Family, it is, at the same time, rendering Christianity itself disgusting to all under that roof. And why should not the sound of such a form be as painful to my ear as the sound of the monastic whip? With the body, separated from the soul, what can we do? After death, the fairest frame must soon be consigned by us to its native element, the dust; and what, then, can the Almighty do with the form of godliness without the power ? Offensive to him, must it not very soon also be removed entirely out of his sight?
Have I a reader, at any time, who is disposed to object here, and say, “But how is all this? After lamenting over the degeneracy and the wide-spreading ungodliness of the times, that fruitful subject of declamation in every age, have I not heard my very minister address himself to the prayerless families in his audience, and exhort them, in so many words, to set up, as he called it, Family Worship? Did he not represent this to them as a good work, and urge them to lose no time, but immediately to begin it?»* All this, my friend, is very probable. Not only have such indiscriminate, not to say unskilful and unwise addresses been tendered from the pulpit; they have been issued from the press. If you happen, however, to have perused these pages thus far, I hope it is not expecting too much, when I suppose that, next to the importance of the truths and duties revealed in Scripture, you now place
* By immediate, in this connection, the author means ne.ct in order ; and hence represents the duty referred to as not the immediate one, though he holds that there should be no delay in its performance.--- Amer. EDITOR.
the order of these, whether in the way of enforcement on our part or compliance on yours? and that if this order is disregarded either by us or you, the consequences may be very serious indeed.
Yes; if the thing itself, the form only of Family Worship is painful, the manner in which it has been actually enforced by some, and in effect by others, is in some respects much more so. And, oh! could I hope to reach the ear of men professing to be the ministers of Christ, nay, of many who really are so, who thus address an audience, I should respectfully, but very seriously entreat them to reflect, and earnestly remonstrate with them. To such I would
“ You know well that there is such a thing as being unskilful in the word of righteousness !' and what if this should prove an unskilfulness for which there is no apology ? Surely there is a line, an all-important line of distinction, between illustrating a subject-explaining man's obligation—taking both as evidences of present guilt and present danger, on the one hand, and our enforcing an IMMEDIATE compliance on the other ? For a man to neglect the former is an error of great magnitude, but the last error is worse than the first. Indeed, with the solitary exception of those ideas and arguments, warnings and invitations, which involve the necessity and obligation of immediate conversion to God, of immediate repentance towards God and faith towards our Lord Jesus Christ, the last error is, in fact, driving down all that we have built.
Between a man's various obligations and his immediate obligation, I would farther say, there is an essential difference; a difference by which the whole course of our ministry should be regulated, so as that it should be not only seen, but, if possible, felt by all. This distinction with their fellow-creatures multitudes observe daily, and why should not we in a ministry for God? You desire your Servant to pay for you a sum of money, and, in order to
this, desire him also to go and receive the amount from another individual to meet the demand. To pay the money is his duty ; and you blame him if he does not do so; but this was not his immediate duty. The obligation of every man to worship God in his family, equally with every other Christian duty, is undoubted; since it is the duty of every man to repent and believe the Gospel. This obligation, too, has been already illustrated when enforcing Family Government; but still this is not the first and present business of the unregenerate man. To this, as yet, even God does not call him, nor must we. The conversion of the soul itself, and not the result of such conversion, is his immediate concern. To disregard this order, much more to confound it, is at our peril ; for, instead of awakening this individual, the usual issue with persons attempting Christian duties, without an interest in Christ himself, will be the result. Whatever duty you thus enforce, and tell him to begin and try, so far as your direction goes, it will first delude-then harden,—and, if God himself do not interpose, ultimately destroy him.
Let any man know, if you will, and as you ought, that Family Worship, in all its branches, is his incumbent duty: if you will, and as you ought, take his neglect of it as an evidence of his living without God, and of the divine displeasure resting on him and his house ; or if he has been attempting it in form only, take this also as an evidence of his being far gone indeed in self-deception; but, oh! be not you the instrument of such a man sitting down in self-satisfaction.
It is true indeed, that, in the wide and delightful compass of Divine Revelation, I have many subjects which I must both illustrate and enforce; but I believe my
ministry, with all its imperfections, will be acceptable, only in proportion as I naturally and forcibly, or, in other words, scripturally introduce them; not in the way of requesting