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cerning the difficulty of governing their children, it may fairly be inferred, that all persons, sustaining this character, and possessed of common understanding, must consider so efficacious an addition to their authority as of inestimable value.
4. This worship, in an eminent degree, preserves, and promotes, Religion in a family.
Whenever a family, or an individual, observes an exact regularity in performing the duties, and celebrating the ordinances, of the Gospel ; religion naturally becomes flourishing and vigorous in their hearts, and in their lives. From family prayers both the parents and their offspring go, happily prepared, to the devotions of the closet; and from these devotions return, with the same becoming spirit, to the worship of the house : and from the retired and affectionate services of the week, they proceed, with the best preparation, to the more solemn duties of the Sanctuary.
To children, and servants, especially, the worship of the house is of incalculable importance. The advantages of both these classes of mankind for understanding, and practising, the duties of religion, in many respects, are obviously few and limited : while their minds are imperfectly fitted to make the most advantageous use of such as they enjoy. To increase their number, and their power, and certainly not to lessen either, must naturally be the wish of every benevolent man. Among these, the household worship is eminently important. Here, so soon as they are able to understand any thing, they see religion appearing, daily, in one of its most affecting forms; celebrated by those, whom nature. teaches them most to respect and love ; and occupied about interests, which they easily understand, and deeply feel. Under the happy influence of these considerations they grow, speedily, into fixed habits of thinking reverentially, and believing favourably, concerning religion. The very aspect of the service teaches them, that it holds the uppermost place in the mind of the parent : while a conviction of this truth renders his opinions and conduct more venerable and affecting in those of the children. In these circumstances they naturally feel, as if God was always to be worshipped, sought, honoured, and praised ; and that his blessing was to be implored in every concern, temporal and spiritual.
A family, habituated in this manner, goes from the house to the Church with the most profitable apprehensions concerning the ordinances of the Sabbath. Religion, in the view of all its members, wears a solemnity and importance, ordinarily not otherwise attainable ; and a frame of mind is acquired, most happily susceptible of the best impressions in the house of God.
Thus by prayer in the family, the religion of its members, if they are religious at all, is rendered more sincere, servent, and efficacious. They are all better beings; better husbands and wives; better fathers and mothers; better children, brothers, and sisters; better masters and servants ; than they otherwise would,
or in the ordinary course of providence could, be. All the endearing interests of families; all the strong ties, the tender relations and the vigorous affections, which grow out of this happy union of mankind in these little societies of nature, are in this manner converted into most useful means of promoting the holiness of all.
At the same time, and from the same source, children and servants are furnished with the most powerful persuasives to become holy. Family worship is a primary branch of religious education: as that education is a primary source of religion to mankind; and one of the two great pillars, on which rests the salvation of men. Without family worship, religious education will always be essentially defective; and the instructions, reproofs, and persuasives, suspected at least, if not accounted insincere.
But holiness is the great interest of all rational beings. In itself it is happiness of the noblest kind. It is also the parent of all other happiness, which is solid and enduring. On family prayer, then, God has founded a great and important part of all the real good of his rational creatures in the present world.
No man can be insensible to this consideration, who is not insensible both to the present and future welfare of his offspring: Almost all parents wish their children to be virtuous here, and happy hereafter; and this, even when themselves are vicious. Family prayer is one of the chief means among those, which are placed in the hands of parents, of rendering their children the subjects of holiness, and the heirs of eternal life. The parent, therefore, who does not make the utmost use of this mean, always in his power, so easily employed, so obviously fitted to produce the effect, and so fraught with invaluable consequences, ought never to pretend, that he has any real love for his children.
When, therefore, he sees them sinful, thoughtless, and dissolute ; let him, instead of complaining of the difficulty, which he. finds in governing and reforming his children: instead of quieting himself with the belief, that they are so peculiarly froward, as to frustrate every effort, and discourage every hope: take shame and confusion of face to himself for his own guilty negligence. Let him remember, that himself is eminently the cause of their profligacy,
and their ruin. Let him tremble, lest the fury invoked by Jeremiah upon the families, which called not
the name of God, should descend upon his own house, as the proper reward of his own irreligion.
5. Families have the best reason to expect the Blessings of God in answer to their
prayers. All the promises, and other encouragements, given in the Scriptures to prayer, are addressed to individuals, families, and larger communities, alike. The effectual fervent prayer of the righteous as truly availeth much in the household, as in the closet or the Church. The house is the place to ask for family blessings. Here Vol. IV.
all, concerned in them, unite their humble and fervent requests for the merciful communication. Nations warrantably hope for national blessings, when they join in public supplications to God. The same observation is equally applicable to all inferior societies among mankind. The members of a household are here the persons interested; the persons who hope to receive; and, therefore, the persons who should ask. They are unitedly to receive : their supplications, therefore, ought to be united. Nor is there any case, in which a gracious answer to prayer may more justly be expected.
Among the Disadvantages, which flow from the neglect of family prayer, may be mentioned its unhappy Influence.
1. On Domestic Order,
The mind naturally opposes order ; and cannot be brought to observe, or relish it, unless hy influence long exerted, arguments often repeated, and habits slowly and firmly established. Where these advantages do not exist in some good degree, man more resembles a wild beast, than a rational being; is impatient of all regularity, and all restraint; and is precluded, alike, from all worth, usefulness, and enjoyment. But no means contribute so easily, so powerfully, or so happily, to the establishment of good order in the house, as family worship. I do not deny, that this benefit flows in various degrees, from other sources. But even these are prevented of no small part of their influence, where this species of prayer is neglected. They are pillars, standing on one side of the building; and incapable of supporting it, because those on the other side are taken away.
2. On Parental Government.
By this neglect, all the advantages, already mentioned with reference to this subject, are lost; and all the disadvantages, derived from the opposite conduct, are incurred. An irreligious parent cannot fail to be seen by children in an unhappy light. Nor is this any fault in them. The most dutiful children will regard him in this manner. Irreligion is in its nature odious, and contemptible ; and cannot, unless under the influence of strong habitual prejudice, fail to be seen as it is. The conscience of every child will tell him this truth ; however affectionate, and reverential, may be his disposition.
But the parent who is thus viewed by his children, and who gives them reason to view him thus, will find his instructions, reproofs, and punishments, stripped of their principal efficacy. This efficacy is chiefly dependent on the reverence, with which he is regarded : and this reverence, in a higher degree than he will probably be aware, is inseparably dependent on their apprehension, that he is a religious man. But the omission of family worship will necessarily attach to his character, always in some degree, and usually not in a small one, the appearance of irreligion. Even in the most amiable, and in other repects unblameable, men, it will
prevent that full conviction, in the minds of children, of parental re
spectability, which it is so desirable, that they should entertain. Even this fact will have a considerable, and malignant, influence upon the government, and obedience, of children.
3. On the Religion of a family.
In a family, where such worship does not exist, there is, it must be acknowledged, no appearance of religion. If the parent, a case which rarely happens, should be a religious man; he is not seen to possess this character. Should he appear to sustain it in some things; he is plainly discerned not to sustain it in others; and thus exhibits an inconsistent, vibratory course of life, on which the eye cannot rest with either conviction, or pleasure. Such a contradictory character can have little influence in doing good to the minds of children. Whatever desirable efficacy it may possess, when viewed on one side; it will impair, and destroy, when seen on the other.
All professions of Religion, all pretensions to being religious, pass
for nothing in the minds even of children, when unsupported by a religious life. But, in the present case, the children behold their parent live in the continual neglect of what their consciences naturally declare to be one of the first duties of religion. Hence, whatever regard he may testify to this sacred subject; how numerous, and how solemn soever his instructions to them may be ; his power of making useful impressions on their minds, will in a great measure be prevented. Let it be remembered, that this prevention will be voluntary and wanton. No necessity can be pleaded for it; no advantage alleged; and no excuse found. How solemnly ought parents, who thus causelessly strip themselves, and rob their families, of these inestimable benefits, to ponder this unhappy course, and to give themselves neither rest, nor peace, until they shall have begun a final reformation!
The Objections, which, within my knowledge, have been alleged against Family prayer, or rather which have been intended to excuse the neglect of this duty, are chiefly the following.
1. The want of an Express injunction of it in the Scriptures.
There is not, I acknowledge, any passage in the Word of God, which, in so many terms, enjoins prayer in a family as a duty, in distinction from other modes of religious worship. Of him who thinks this fact an objection to the performance of this duty, I ask, Will you neglect every Christian duty, which you do not find enjoined in express terms? Are you prepared to go through life without dedicating your children to God in Baptism? Will you refuse to observe the first day of the week as the Christian Sabbath ? Do you feel authorized to exclude the female sex from communion at the table of Christ? Yet in vain would you look for precepts, enjoining these things in express terms.
But I deny the inference, drawn by the objector from the silence of the Scriptures concerning this subject. Not only is the general principle, that nothing is our duty, which is not expressly requir
ed in the Scriptures, false ; but the application of it, also, even if it were allowed to be true, is, in the present case, incapable of being justified. As the objection itself seems to be generally relied on more than any other; it will be useful to consider the subject of it, at length, as it is exhibited in the Scriptures.
Prayer is no where in the Scriptures enjoined as a duty, which was before unknown, and new, at the time of the injunction; or as then to be begun. On the contrary, it is always spoken of as a duty, already known, confessed, and practised. All the commands concerning it, respect either the times, manner, degree, spirit, universality, or some other circumstance, with which the performance ought to be connected. In no instance is the duty enjoined as original; or as the subject of a new institution.
The first mention made of this subject in the Scriptures, if we adopt the common translation, is in Gen. iv. 26. Here, after the birth of Enos, it is said, that then began men to call on the name of the Lord; that is, mankind then began publicly to worship God in a solemn, religious assembly. I suppose, however, that this translation is erroneous; and believe the words ought to be rendered, then began men to be called after the name of the Lord : that is, the family of Seth began to be called the Sons of God; in opposition to the apostate family of Cain, who were styled the children of Men. See Gen. vi. 2. According to this opinion, the first passage, in which prayer
is mentioned, is the prayer of Abraham for Ishmael. Gen. xvii. 13.
The second is his intercession for Sodom. Gen. xviii. 24.
The third is the direction that Abraham should pray for Abimelech, after his offence in taking away Sarah. This may be considered as a command.
The fourth is the declaration, that Isaac went out into the field to pray in the evening. Gen. xxiv. 63.
To these may be subjoined, as next in order of time, several instances in the book of Job.
Yea, thou restrainest prayer before God. Job xv. 4.
What profit shall we have, if we pray to him? Words of the wicked. Job xvi. 15.
He shall pray to God, and he will be favourable to him, Job xxxiii. 26.
My servant Job shall pray for you: A command. Job xlii. 8. The first passage, which can be fairly construed as an injunction of prayer in the general sense, is the exhortation of the Psalmist, Pray for the peace of Jerusalem : that is, the Church at large. Ps. Cxxii. 6.
The second is in Jer. xxix. 7: Seek the peace of the city whither I have caused you to be carried away captives, and pray unto the Lord for it.