I Wish, in this Preliminary Essay, to make a candid appeal to parents on the duty of family prayer. In doing this, I shall assume but one thing as a conceded point—a thing which may commonly, at least, be assumed without danger of error. It is, that you feel a deep interest in the welfare of your children; and are willing to make use of any proper means to promote their happiness. This point I assume, because the God of nature has so constituted us, that as a great universal rule parents will love their children; and because no small part of their exertions are called forth with express, and almost sole reference to their present and future bliss. You who are parents, will instantly run over in your minds, many most tender and affecting scenes of watchfulness, care, anxiety, sleeplessness, and toil, to provide for their wants, alleviate their pains, defend them from danger, and train them for future respectability and happiness. The tenderest emotions in your bosoms now, relate to them. Your deepest interest is to see them virtuous, amiable, happy. You would run to their relief in danger, and deny yourself of ease to alleviate their pains in sickness. Your brightest visions of future bliss in this world are connected with their welfare. The loveliest view in the future, is when they stand forth, pure and happy, in bold relief,—single, or in lovely groups. The chief solace in the prospect of your future trials; in the anticipated days of feebleness and pain, and in the imbecility and weariness of advancing age; is that a son will live to bless you by his toil, or to cheer your
last days by his virtues; or that a daughter, lovely and tender, shall come around your bed, and mingle her tears with yours, and catch your last breath, and with a gentle hand close your eyes as you sink into the long sleep of death. I wish to show you that family prayer will be one of the most important helps in meeting your wishes in regard to your children. And in doing this, I invite your attention, in the
1st place, to the design of the family organization. God might have fitted up a world of independent individuals, bound by no common sympathies; cheered by no common joys; impelled by no common wants. All that is tender in parental and filial affection; all that is mild, bland, peaceful in love; and all that is sympathetic in sorrow, and in joy; might have been denied us. Solitary beings, we might have wept alone, rejoiced^alone, thought alone, died alone. The sun might have shed his beams around our lonely rambles, and not a mortal have felt an interest in our bliss or wo. Man might have lived unbenefited by the experience of his ancestors; and with none to shed a tear around the bed of moss on which he would recline in disease, and where unwept he would die. But this is not the way which he has chosen. He has made the race one great brotherhood—and we feel some interest at least, in the obscurest man that seeks a shelter beneath a rock, or that finds a home in a tent, or in a cave. "lama man, and I regard nothing pertaining to man as unimportant to me"—was the language of an ancient dramatist, and a heathen theatre rang with plaudits at the noble sentiment. This great brotherhood God has broken up into communities of nations, and clans, and tribes, and families, and neighbourhoods; each with its own set of sympathies; with peculiar interests; with peculiar resources. One design is, to divide our sorrows by sympathetic emotions. Another, to double our joys by imparting them to others who sympathize with us. Sorrow hath not half its pangs when you can mingle your tears with those of a friend; and joy has not diffused half its blessings until your joy has lighted up the countenance of a father, or touched the sympathies of a brother or a sister.
This organization will be seen at once to be eminently adapted to religion. On no subject have we so many sympathies as in the great business pertaining to our eternal welfare. 1 look on a family circle. What tender feelings! what mutual love! what common joys! what united sorrows! The blow that strikes one member, reaches all. The joy that lights up one countenance, diffuses its blessings over aii. Together they bend over a sick member; together they rejoice at his discovery; or together they bow their heads and weep, and go sad to his grave. They are plunged into the same apostacy. They are together under the fearful visitations of that malady which has travelled down from Paradise lost. They are going to a common tomb; and over the circle shines the same sunbeams of hope; and the same balm of Gilead, and the same great Physician may diffuse health, peace and salvation there. Cheered with the hopes of the same immortality, they may travel to the tomb; and the joy in religion that beams from a father's eye, may be reflected from the happy faces of beloved sons and daughters. The whole organization is clearly one of the most profound and wise in this world, to deepen, extend, and perpetuate the principles of the Christian religion. Of this any one may be satisfied who will for a moment compare the facilities of deepening and prolonging the feelings of religion under all the advantages of the family sympathy, compared with what it would and must be if the earth were tenanted by isolated and independent individuals. God designed the organization with reference to all that is pure, and lovely in man; and in fact he has at all times made the family organization one of the most important facilities for extending, and perpetuating religious feeling.
The question now arises, whether the full benefits of this organization can be accomplished without the aid of family devotion? In answer to this, you will see at once, that the neglect of religion as a family, will be to break in upon the whole design of the organization, so far as religion is concerned, and to throw every member upon his own individual strength and responsibilities. That is, to separate religion from all other things, and deny it the aid which is rendered to every other object which you wish to promote—the aid derived from the sympathies of the domestic alliance, and the endearments of the family circle. You call in this aid when you wish to promote other commendable designs—when you would prompt to industry, to learning, to morals, to esteem; and you withhold this aid in the greatest and most important matter that can ever press on the attention of your sons and daughters, and make their religion to be a cold, isolated, independent matter, in which they receive no sympathy from you; and where they are rudely put back from all the tender sympathies which divide their sorrows, and joys, in all their other interests. We all know the power of alliance and confederation. It is the way in which good and evil ever have been, and ever must be, propagated in this world. Solitary, undivided efforts avail little, and from the nature of the case must avail little. This is understood by all men. He who wishes to rouse his countrymen to arms, does it by an appeal to the social principle, and seeks confederated talents and valour. Individual and unorganized efforts would do little in the day when men struggle for freedom. Hence they seek to pour on the battle field combined talent, and organized and compacted energy. So in great deeds of evil. The drunkard, the profligate, the infidel, the pirate, seeks alliance and desires confederation in the enormous deeds of guilt which are contemplated and planned. In the same way, if religion is to be spread, it must be by the same alliance and confederation. It must be by bringing combined powers to act on combined ills and dangers. It is designed to be done by calling in all the aid of the family confederation; by appealing to all the authority and venerableness of a father; the tender love of a mother; the silken cords which bind sons and daughters in common love, and in common hopes. This is clearly one great design of the organization. Religion brings one of the most obvious and plain appeals which can ever be made to the family sympathies. It has more that is adapted to the family compact; more that carries forward the tender family sympathies; and more that will consolidate and cement the alliance, than any other subject that can be presented to the little community.—Yet to secure this, it is clear that it must be primary and prominent in the family doings. It must occupy a place that shall be obvious and often seen. It must be often presented; and the strength and tenderness of the family emotions must be often brought to bear upon it. I shall attempt to show that this can never be done without family prayer. Indeed, it is almost so clear as not to admit of argument. The force of the organization—the power of all the sympathies in the family, cannot be made to bear on it, except by daily acts, in wjiich the whole community shall bow with united feelings before the God of grace.
II. I proceed to remark, 2dly, that family worship is one of the most direct and obvious means of meeting the evils to which the family is exposed. The design of the family organization is well understood—at least all parents have some great ends which they are endeavouring to reach by it. Whatever these ends may be, it will be assumed that they contemplate education, restraint, guidance, defence from danger, preparation for future years. You regard your children as exposed to dangers; subject to passions which demand control; liable to headlong and dangerous propensities, which need, in the earliest years, to be met and restrained. The world is setting in upon them even in very early life, like a mist from the ocean, with a full tide of influences, which you desire to resist. You know there are a thousand opinions and habits among men from which you would gladly restrain your children. Pious you may not be; but you would be willing to see them walking in the paths of wisdom. You know that there are vices to which they are exposed; and they may meet with companions which would ruin them; and that they will soon be beyond your control; and you would throw around them a panoply which should shield them from evil. You seek that the influence of a father and mother may be prolonged, and live even when you may lie in the grave. You would give to yourself a kind of omnipresent influence, that your example and precepts at least may speak when they are away from you, or when your tongue may no more be able to give utterance to the precepts of experience, or to the tenderness of parental love.
Now contemplate for a moment the influences from the world, against which a parent would guard.
There is, at first, the influence of formed plans and employments. The schemes of yesterday travel over the night watches, and meet them in the morning. They are still under the influence of the world which they met yesterday. Their schemes may not be complete. The world which they saw before they retired to rest; the opinions which they heard; the temptations which they met, shall put forth new power in the freshness of the morning. The charm has not been dissolved by the slumbers of the night. The forming habits have not been crushed, or even slept, while they have sought repose. The influence of the world which you feared yesterday, will meetthem again in the morning. The enemy that made advances, did not lose his hold or even slumber while they reposed. The ever sleepless foe is strengthening his power, riveting the chains, and making his prisoner sure. Can there be any way so likely to break in upon this influence, as by a solemn presentation in the morning, to the God of grace; to bring in the parental power, and suffer them to see that you are influenced by better things; and to bring down all the sacredness of the religious feel
ing, to arrest and annihilate this malignant influence?
A second influence from the world, results from your own plans, and views, which they see from day to day, and with which they are becoming increasingly informed and familiar. They see what engrosses your thoughts. They know what is in your heart. You are encompassing them with a set of influences in your family, and plans, which is each day determining their views of the relative value of objects. If religion has no place—no obvious, seen, and prominent place, in those plans, they will understand it; and they will learn what to think of it. Let the pleasures of living be all; or the gains of traffic be all; or adorning be all; or the first and last energies in your house, and your conversation be to grasp the world, and your children will be among the first of mortals to comprehend your whole character. Other men may learn it slowly. Your children will learn it at once. And to-day shall deepen the lesson of yesterday, and to-morrow shall write it with the pen of a diamond on their hearts. Can there be any way of meeting this influence so direct, and decided, as by a solemn presentation of them to God, in the morning and evening; and by thus leaving on them the deepfixed impression, that though engaged of necessity in the world, yet that you are not unmindful of better things, and that your Jirst and last thoughts are given unto God? This act will shed a new influence over all your doings. It will teach the child that your worldly plans are not primary, or all. It will satisfy him that your toils for gain are the result of necessity, and duty; not of idolatrous choice. It will show that religion is the deep voluntary preference of your soul; excited not by selfishness and interest, but by love and a conviction of its truth and importance; and though your ardour in worldly achievement should be little varied, yet all your efforts will assume to their view a new direction, and put on a new aspect. A third influence which your children are to meet, that needs a guardian power, is that which proceeds from other men, and other families—from the nameless attractions and seductions, that go forth each day from the world. Of this you can know nothing definite. Your family go forth to encounter you know not what. You know not what new and untried scenes of temptation they shall meet before the shades of evening descend around them. You know not what new baits and allurements the world shall present, when they are away from the watchful parental eye. You know not how attractive some form of evil shall appear to them—how it shall appeal to youthful passion or dance in delightful vision before the mind just awake to the sentiments of pleasure, vanity or ambition. Long since you passed through such scenes, and you know their power. You felt their danger, and you would guard your children from the seductive influence. To you of riper years, and wisdom, there may be no danger. To them all is fresh, attractive, lovely, like the first light of a morning, without mists or pestilential vapours. They knownot the dangers; and are slow to learn. Still further, you little know what companions they may meet with, before the evening. The spendthrift, the profligate, the infidel—the young man, profane, flippant, confident, polished yet dissolute; or the aged man skilled in the cunning of unbelief, and knowing each avenue to the youthful heart, may meet him, and in a moment undo the slow work of parental instruction of many years.
Now I submit it to you, whether there can be any so effectual safeguard against this, as family devotion? I do not affirm that it will be infallible. But I ask whether any influence can be formed so likely to shield from these dangers, as the solemnity of an invocation of the presence and blessing of God and the expectation of a similar solemn presentation in the evening. It is a kind of familiarizing the mind in early life, to the judgment seat of God. It is a species of arraignment there each day to suffer His all-seeing eye to rest on each thought and deed. That God hears prayer: and that God is every where. To him, it is as easy to guard your child when away from your roof, as when the eye of the earthly father is upon him. That God will see each temptation; mark each alluring influence; go before each child in the hour of danger; and restrain the power of the tempter. He can impress parental precept on the soul; and when the theatre, or the tavern, or the gambling place allures, the power of God unseen, can freshen in his memory the precepts of a father, and recall the expressed wishes and the pleadings of a mother. All the influences in this world are under his control; nor can there be any way so effectual of meeting them as to secure the favour of that God who can give them a direction to virtue and to heaven. Greatly do I wonder, that in a world of temptations like this, and at a period of life so exposed as that of childhood and youth, any parent dare suffer his children to go forth into the allurements of a cify, or a wicked world, without having once asked the Father of mercies to take them beneath his protecting care, and to defend them from the ills that may bring ruin into their souls; and wo, deep and inconsolable, into your own bosom. And much do I marvel, that any parent can send them forth upon the ocean of life—amid the billows that break around the frail bark, and never seek for them the protection of that God who rides upon that ocean. And I wonder much that you can fail to implore the help of Him, who when your eye shall sleep in death, and the child shall walk over your unconscious grave, can stretch forth a hand more mighty than yours, and speak with a voice more tender than yours, to save him from the ways of ruin and despair. And much do I wonder also, that there is rest to your pillow, when you have offered no sacrifice of praise to God for preserving mercy, and sought no protection from Him whose eye never slumbers nor sleeps.
III. I remark, thirdly, that the direct influence of devotion in obtaining the ends of the family organization, may be, and should be incalculably great. I mean the influence in all those great interests which you are endeavouring to secure. One of these is family government—a thing, which to be efficient, must be mild, steady, consistent, firm. There are two ways of governing a family. One is with the rod of a tyrant, and the rage of the furies; by cold, unfeeling statute, and never-ending reproof; by passion, and fire, and wrath. The other is by love, and tenderness, and discipline, administered with calmness, and yet with a faithful hand—by calling into exercise all that is tender in the social affections—all the budding and blossoming ingenuousness of the child—by the aid of conscience and of reason—and by severityonly when other means fail; and then suffering the feelings of the father to be seen, at the same time that the firmness of the ruler shows itself to the child. The one is modelled on the plan which tyrants choose; the other is the plan of God. The one shuts God out of view; the other is like him, and borrows its features from the Divinity. And this one truth is established, and will yet be better known—that the model of a proper domestic administration is God in his moral government—and is a bringing down the great principles in which he acts, to bear on the smaller community over which presides an earthly father. Now I think I am warranted in affirming, that no father will be likely to embody these principles and express them, without prayer. They are not to be possessed without it. No man can understand the principles, on which God governs men, without that familiarity with him, which results from prayer. No man can keep this great plan before him, without that close and pressing converse and contact with God, which exists in solemn devotion. And on a father's own spirit, there will be no so happy restraint as that imposed by family intercession. Anger and passion, ill become the bosom of the man who has just been engaged in a solemn presentation of his family to the God of love. And wrath, and anger, flee away, when we know that soon we are to bend together before a common altar.
Besides, there is no way so direct of giving authority, and sanction to your commands, as by family devotion. Whatever will increase the venerableness of the paternal character, will, of course, impress his laws with additional sanctions, and power. Now, it is clear to my mind, that there can be no way of doing this so effective, as by connecting the image of a father in the mind of a child, with the sacredness of religion. Let him be regarded by them as the venerable priest of the family, to bow before the altar, and speak their wants into the ears of God—the converser with the Deity—the invoker of heaven's blessings on the community—the venerable organ through whom the sought blessings of heaven will descend on them, and a sanction is given to his laws and opinions, which you will gain in no other mode. It is not easy to treat the man with disrespect, who is known often to approach the throne of grace;—sacred by such an approach—and who is known to approach that throne only to obtain heaven's blessings on us. At all times, the ministers of religion have been regarded with respect, and there is no way so effectual of securing esteem in your family, as by suffering it to be seen daily, that you are a friend of God—a converser with the Deity—and that you are invested not only with the character of a father, but with the additional venerableness of being the priest of the family, and presenting their wants and feelings to the King of kings.
Thus, too, by your example, you shall correct and adjust their views of the world. More effectually than by any lessons, you shall teach them your sense of the value of earthly objects. Time, gold, pleasure, cannot be esteemed to be all, when the first and the last thoughts of the day are given to God. Nor can your children, in advancing years, go forth so easily to the undivided pursuit of gain and pleasure, when they know that a father and a mother, at the altar, have expressed their views of the value of these things. It will check the wantonness of worldly pursuits; it will come into the pleasures of the ball-room and the theatre, with a chilling influence on all those delights, if the thought then crosses the bosom of the son or daughter that at this late hour, parental feelings are expressed at the family altar, and a father and mother bow before God, to implore his blessing on thoughtless sons and daughters. "I should be there, will be the instinctive language of the heart; my place is not amid these scenes of vanity, when a parent seeks God; and these scenes can afford no permanent joy, against whose malignant influence a parent prays, and to guard me from which a parent now implores the protection of the eye and arm of God." Such prayers are often heard. And even while it is fresh breathing from the lips of pious parentage, the serious thought, the painful misgiving of the child in the place of pleasure, may be already an answer to prayer, and the purpose may even then be forming to forsake forever such scenes, and seek peace and joy in the endearments of the fire-side and of home. Let me add, too, that such amusements find their support, with few —few exceptions, from the children of families who never pray; and this devotion in all our habitations, would at once close our theatres, and no small part of the haunts of vice and ruin.
You will pass, also, into scenes of affliction. You will go down into a dark valley, and turbid waters shall roll at your feet, and a sunless sky shall be over your head. A son, a daughter, may die. Calamity may strip away your property; and slander may asperse your name; and the waves of trouble may roll high and mighty over your habitation. Your pillow may give you no rest; and the deep calamity may spread weeping and wo through all your house. In such scenes who is he that is to be calm? Who to stand like Mount Atlas, "when storms and tempests thunder on its brow, and oceans break their billows at its feet" unmoved? Who to allay the swelling tide of grief, and be a counsellor and an example there? Who to wipe away the tears from the weeping eyes of children, and pour, under God, consolation there? Who but the father at the family altar—the venerable guide and friend of the little community—he whose heart may bleed like others—for he felt the stroke more keenly than all, when his son or daughter died; but who still can gather the weeping group before God, and calmly say, " not our will but thine, 0 God, be done?" And if he cannot do this; if he be first in agony, and a stranger to consolation, and shall murmur at the stroke, and refuse to be comforted, who knows not the effect on the family? Grief will deepen and prolong its reign, and sorrow there shall have no comforter. Yet how shall this be done? Who does not see that the habit of daily seeking God, of acknowledging him in all the ways of the family, is the only mode of meeting this grief, and soothing these bitter pains of life? Family devotion shall change the storm to peace, and open a pathway through all these clouds; and beyond the region of these muttering thundecs, in that upper sky, the splendours of an eternal day are still seen, and it shall be felt that there is peace.
I add here, one other remark. There are times when your children think—deeply think, of the subject of religion. They inquire what they must do to be saved. They are pressed with the great truths of eternity, and they desire to know the path that leads to immortality. Every parent knows that such thoughts are right; and that their first days are their best days, to attend to the concerns of the soul. And few are the parents who would not express a desire that these serious thoughts should ripen into the settled peace and purity of the Christian. They are the sweet openings of the buds of spring, the putting forth of lovely flowers, and may be nurtured to produce a rich harvest of piety. How shall this be done? what will be the most effectual deepener and promoter of these feelings? It is clear that if the object of the parent was to secure the ascendency of these feelings, no way could be found so effectual as daily religion in the family. Let the child see that his seriousness has the countenance of a father and mother—that it falls in with their views, and accords with their most deep desires—that to cherish these feelings would be to pour balm into their bosoms, and to fill their lips with praise—that there is an altar for the morning and evening sacrifice to deepen them, and there is no earthly influence that could be so effectual to ripen these feelings into the love of God. It seems to be a power expressly organized to accomplish this great work on the soul of the child. And on the other hand, let there be no family altar, and no sacrifice of praise in the habitation, and it is easy to see what is to be the result on the mind of a child anxious about his eternal welfare. True, he feels, and deeply feels. He prays, he trembles, he weeps. He lifts the eye to heaven in a state of deep anxiety, and waits for a guide to conduct him . to the Saviour of men. The world to him is losing its charms. Temptation is shorn of its power. Fashion, wealth, and splendour, are dimmed of their lustre, and the spirit pants for immortality—for brighter peace,—more perennial joys than this world can give. What is demanded then to fill the whole soul with peace? What but the family altar—the deep seriousness of religion there— the pleading father, the bending circle, seeking for common salvation? And if there be no such altar, how cold and chill all that influence in a family. If the world be all, and fashion only has its seat there, or wealth is the grand object, or a mother's lips invite to the theatre or the ball-room, and never speak of prayer; and a father's hand guides only to scenes of gain or ambition, who can fail to see the result? How soon all seriousness shall disappear! How soon the Spirit of God shall be grieved! How soon a newcurrent will be given to the affections, and the Son of God be shut from the view, and the Prince of darkness establish again his broken and enfeebled reign. Stronger fetters shall bind the captive to the chariot of the dark monarch of despair; and all the influence of a family be imparted to prolong his empire over the soul. And if to this we add what may, and does often exist, in a family without prayer, cold and cutting remarks about religion; perversion of its doctrines and duties; derision of the work of God in saving man; apparent respect, but real sarcasm, the work is done, and the enemy of man has gained his object. The most sad narrative, perhaps, that could be penned in this world, would be the history of families who have thus stifled the serious thoughts of children, and driven back by neglect or derision, the Son of God advancing to take possession of the human heart. For the wealth of the Indies I would not come into the secret of such families; nor hazard the loss and ruin which might accrue to my children in days of seriousness, by the neglect of family prayer. There are times when the neglect of this plain and obvious duty, may seal the character of a child, and mark his course forever onward in the ways of sin and of hell.
IV. My fourth argument on this subject will be derived from the fact, that without family prayer, there .will be no religions teaching in a family that ivill be effectual. This proposition I maintain by the following considerations. 1. The duty of family worship is one of the most obvious that strikes a child; and especially if an attempt is made to instruct that child in the principles of religion. Other duties he may not so readily understand; but this is one which is plain and apparent. He sees it; and sees it clearly. There is something so unnatural in constantly receiving benefits without acknowledging them; in being protected, and provided for, from day to day, and week to week, and year to year, without any recognition of the kind unseen hand that does it, that the mind even of a child cannot but be struck with it. If he who experiences a father's and mother's tenderness from year to year, should by no act express his sense of obligation, he would be conscious of something exceedingly ungrateful, and unamiable in his character. And he cannot but feel that something of the same kind must attach itself to his father and mother. Especially is this the case, if you attempt to teach him religion; to show him the duty of thanksgiving to yourself, or to God; and to set before him the evil of ingratitude. Vile, and mean, and odious, he may easily be made to see ingratitude to be. His natural honesty, and ingenuousness, may easily be excited to indignation and scorn at the base feelings of the recipient of favours, who repays them with thoughtlessness and unconcern. But are you not in doing this, teaching him to frame an argument against yourself? 'If to be ungrateful be a trait of character so unlovely, then why is it that no gratitude is expressed to God, amid the many mercies of my father's house? How are his teachings about the evil of ingratitude in me, to be reconciled with entire amiableness in his deportment toward God? And if he can live from year to year, and exercise no gratitude to his great Benefactor, then why is my character to be esteemed so unlovely if I imitate his example, and receive the kindness of my father with cold reserve; or as entitled to few expressions of thankfulness?' And is not this the same as to teach ingratitude on a large scale, and make it the prominent lesson in the house, that blessings may be received to any amount from a benefactor, and yet no guilt be incurred by forgetting the giver, and rioting on his beneficence without one grateful emotion?
2. Prayer is one of the prime duties of religion. There can be no religion without it. You cannot teach your children any of the precepts of religion, without making this one of them. Perhaps the first lesson which you will of necessity teach, will be that it is their duty to pray. Yet how can you consistently teach this lesson without setting them the example? If prayer is of so much moment, then why should not he who inculcates the lesson, exemplify it also in his family? And what will be the effect of this teaching, if in the family he observes that you are a stranger to devotion? Can it be possible to teach the precepts, or the duties of religion, unless it be done in connexion with making them prominent and constant, in the arrangements of the household? It will be remembered that on no other subject do you make such an experiment. You wish to inculcate the lessons pertaining to business, or the mechanic arts. You wish to train up the child to habits of industry, frugality and order. You wish to inculcate on him the lessons of economy, or the value of polite intercourse, or of accomplishment. You have but one way of doing it. It is by example—by making these things prominent—by making them stand forth in all your domestic arrangements, so that your views cannot but be seen and apprehended. By making your conception of their value manifest to the child, you hope that he will be brought to feel as you feel, and be trained up so as to be an ornament to your name and family. Religion, you attempt to teach on a different principle—to acquaint him with the theory, not the practice; to express with the lips what the heart feels not; and to suffer the language to teach one thing, which is as regularly denied by the life. Now what is this but to take religion from all its proper connexions, and to make it a cold, distant, unmeaning thing? If I wished to tell a man how he could effectually disgust a child with a subject, it would be to teach it as he does nothing else: to take it out of all the ordinary relations of human things, and proclaim with his lips what is known never to be practised in his life.
3. Your example, without family prayer, will neutralize all the instructions of religion. If religion is of so much importance as you would endeavour to persuade him, then the child will ask, at once, < Why does not my father exemplify it? If the world is a trifle, and eternity be all, as he tells me, then why do I see his first and last thoughts given to that world? Why all his time engrossed in the counting room, the office, or the ways of pleasure or ambition? Why is not a portion of that time given to that which is pronounced to be of such transcendent value? And if the world be so full of temptations, and trials, why does he not implore for me the blessing of that God, who I am told, can encompass me, and shield me from danger? Is it my father's belief that that God affords protection unasked, and that he would not desire to be invoked to grant that defence and protection which circumstances of danger and trial demand? And can that be of so much moment which is suffered to be broken in upon by the veriest trifle, and excluded by any project of pleasure or gain?'
4. I appeal then to the facts in the case. I appeal to those parents who neglect family prayer, whether, in fact, they do not neglect the religious training of their children, as a matter of regular, sober, faithful arrangement. Does such instruction come in, in any way, as a part of the family organization? Is it not a fact that you see the inconsistency of attempting it without family prayer, and that rather than do the one, you choose also to neglect the other? And if so, then I put the matter on this broad ground, and urge the duty of family worship, by all the importance of the religious training. If it be so, that, if the one is neglected, the other will be, then I appeal to you by all the solemnity of their eternal interests—by a reference to their religious character in this life, and their eternal doom in the life to come, and ask you whether you dare to do a thing which, in its results, is to shut religion from your family, and preclude all parental religious training in your household? That parent who can coolly take a step like that, is advancing to meet an account which I humbly pray to God I may never be called to render in the day of judgment.
And this sad neglect has given rise to an abuse of one of the noblest institutions of this age—I mean the Sunday School. The parent who is unwilling to teach his children for himself, or to pray with them at home, finds a salvo to his conscience by devolving the task on others. Neglecting his own duty, he attempts to put the onerous burden on others; and to find peace in the conviction that they will do that which he is conscious he is neglecting.—In regard to this, I make two remarks. One is, that the Sunday School teacher is not, and will not be, and cannot be, responsible for yoiir neglect of duty. A burden—if to teach and pray for your own children be a burden, has been laid on you by a higher authority than any human power; and there is no device, by which you can free yourself from the obligation. God most High, has clothed you with responsibility, that of training up your children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord;—that of exerting the influence of a parent to prepare them for usefulness, and for heaven. And that is no enviable feeling which attempts to flee from the responsibility, and devolve its duties on others. Besides, the Sunday School teacher has a responsibility of his own, quite «nough for any human being to endure. After you have done your duty, still his work is as arduous as any mortal would willingly undertake. It is unkindness to your children, and to such a teacher, to ask him to bear your responsibilities. It cannot be done. He will not stand at the judgment bar in your place; nor will he meet there the doom which awaits parental neglect in the family. The other remark is this. It is, that one of the prominent effects of the instructions in the Sunday School, is to teacli the duty of family devotion. That is a lesson soon learned. And your children return to you from those nurseries of piety, often deeply feeling, and greatly grieved, that their father's house is a place where no God is acknowledged, and where mercies are ever descending without any returns of praise. Each Sabbath shall deepen this lesson. And you are not to wonder if the lips of children should sometimes tenderly ask you why so plain a duty is neglected; or if they throw their arms around your necks, and intreat you to acknowledge the God of all your mercies in your habitation. I regard the Sunday School as one of the means prompting to family prayer, and not the least of its blessings do I esteem it to be, that it throws an influence back upon your families, and makes your children pleaders for God, and prompters to duty, in the business of family religion.
But while the duty of family prayer appears thus manifest and clear, while every parent would probably admit that lie can see the propriety of the duty, and that most important benefits would result from its observance, yet it has so happened that there is not probably any single duty against which so many objections are urged as this. To what this fact is owing, it is not now necessary to inquire. It may be remarked, however, that the fact of the existence of so many objections, is no small confirmation of the strength of the arguments in favour of family prayer. Men do not commonly invent and urge objections where a duty is not strongly and plausibly pressed. The amount of objection will be in proportion to the strength and frequency with which the argument is urged. When that occurs daily, as in the case of family devotion, where the duty is palpable and obvious, and yet from any cause there is an unwillingness to engage in it, then it is necessary that there should be some excuse always at hand, and sufficiently plausible to turn aside, at least for the present, the force of the argument. It is of importance to notice these objections.
The first and most plausible is, that the duty of family prayer is not expressly enjoined in the Scriptures. This I admit—and having frankly made the admission, let us advance to ascertain, if possible, the precise shape which this subject assumes in the sacred volume. This will be seen by the following observations.—1. One design of law, and especially of laws pertaining to morals, is to give general statutes, or injunctions, applicable to all the cases which may occur. It is not to specify each case, in which business there could be no end—but to advance general principles that can be readily understood, and applicable to all the cases which may occur. That you should relieve your neighbour when he is sick, or defend his child when in danger, is not expressly commanded; but the golden rule of the Saviour will meet any number of cases of that kind which may happen. To legislate about each particular case would be endless. The general rule to do to others as you would wish them to do to you, is easy and easily applied to all the instances which may exist. 2. It is not the manner of the Scriptures to command a thing which was already in existence, and which it was supposed would be performed if there were right feeling. Thus, that men should love their children, and provide for them, was assumed without express statute, because the very organization of the family relation supposed it, and it was secured by a more ancient law than by any express statute. 3. The whole subject of prayer was left substantially in this manner. There is no injunction to prayer at all in the Scriptures, until the world was three thousand years old, nor until eight hundred years after the calling of Abraham.* Ps. cxxii. 6. Jer. xxix. 7. Yet during this time, the subject of prayer is not unfrequently mentioned; and the/act is recorded that men did call on God. Gen. xxiv. 63. Job xv. 4; xvi. 17, 15; xxiii. 26. 4. There is not in the Scriptures any injunction to any particular kind of prayer. Thus when secret prayer is mentioned, it is not as a command, but as a thing which .was practised, and which it was assumed would be practised. All that was needed in the case, was to regulate the manner of its performance. Matt. vi. 5, 6. The same is true of public worship. The general command to pray is given; the fact is recorded that the church did pray; and regulations are suggested about the proper way of performing it. Is it not to be presumed, that the subject of family prayer would be left in the same manner? 5. There are injunctions respecting prayer, which imply the duty of fa
* Dr. Dwight.
mily prayer as well as any other. Thus the command, Eph. vi. 18. Praying always (Gr. in every time—or at all times) with all prayer—that is, with all kinds of prayer, or offering it on all proper occasions. 1 Tim. ii. 8. I will that men pray every where. Phil. iv. 6. In every tiling by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving let your requests be made known before God. l Pet. iv. 7. Be ye therefore sober and watch unto prayer. Now if a question should arise, what kind of prayer was contemplated in these places, on the principle of the objector it would be impossible to determine; or rather the tendency of his objection is to nullify the whole precept. He objects that the commands do not imply the duty of family prayer. They do not distinctly specify it, and therefore it is not a part of the injunction. For the same reason /may object that secret prayer is not commanded here, and as it is not specified, it cannot be intended. A third person, with the same reason and propriety, shall remark that 'social and public prayer are not commanded, and he feels released from that. What is this but to trifle with the Scriptures, and to make them unmeaning? If the command to pray with all prayer does not imply family prayer, it implies nothing and means nothing. 6. The duty of family worship—and I may assume that there will be no worship without prayer—is often mentioned with approbation, and so mentioned as to show that it is acceptable to God. Thus of Abraham. I know that he will command his children, and his household after him, that they shall keep the way of the Lord, to do justice and judgment. Gen. xviii. 19. Thus said Joshua. As for me, and my house, we will serve the Lord. Josh. xxiv. 15. Thus Job offered daily worship in his house—by offering daily sacrifices to obtain the blessing of God, and to turn away the divine indignation from his sons. Job. i. 4. And thus also our Saviour with his apostles, and the apostles after his ascension, offered united prayer; expressed their common wants, and commended themselves to the common paternal guidance of God. That beautiful model of all proper supplication—the Lord's prayer— implies in its very structure that it is to be used daily, and in some community like a family. It is to be a daily supplication—"give us this day our daily bread." It is to be used not by an individual, but by a community. "Our Father," not my Father—which art in heaven. "Give us this day"—" forgive trs our trespasses"—"lead us not into temptation"—"deliver us from evil." Yet there is no community that can use this but a family; none that are together each day, and none where the prayer would be so directly adapted to the wants of the petitioners, as in a household dependent on God, bowing down before him in the morning to ask the supply of their returning wants, and to implore protection and defence in the various trials to which the household would be exposed. "What a live coal," says Dr. Hunter, "is applied to devotion, when the solitary my Father and my God, is changed into the social our Father, and our God!" 7. God has expressly declared his abhorrence of the neglect of family devotion. It is given as a characteristic of those who know not God, that they call not on his name, and as classifying them with the heathen world. Jer. x. 25. "Pour out thy fury upon the heathen that know thee not, and upon the families that call not on thy name." 8. I would only add here, that to a parent it would seem that there was no duty that less required an authoritative injunction from heaven. I would not sit down here to an inquiry into the nature of abstract statute and law. I would not look for iron enactments, and Gothic and terrific mandates here. A parent's love for his children, prompts him to do all that is possible for their welfare. For them he toils, he denies himself, he watches around their beds of pain. What is there which a mother or a father will not sacrifice for the welfare of their children? How freely do health, and property, and rest, go to promote their peace, and train them for usefulness and felicity? And who, when a child is sick, asks for an iron statute, to learn whether he shall send for a physician? Who, when the storm howls, or the flames rage, looks for inexorable law to know whether he shall stretch out his arms to aid? Why is it not so, we ask, in regard to all the great helps and blessings that may establish their virtue and promote their welfare here, or prepare them for glory hereafter? You, and your children, rise from beds of repose, protected by the hand of God. The blessings of his providence crown your board, and fill your houses with rejoicing. Protected by an unseen arm, raised by unseen power, and blessed by an invisible hand. what inexorable law is demanded to induce you with them, to express thanksgiving to your great Benefactor? You go forth to the duties of the day. You know not its temptations, its toils, its dangers. No eye can see what unexpected occurrence may meet you—what dangers may assail—what temptations may lie in your path. Who can crown your goings with blessings but God? Who can watch over them but his unseen and never slumbering eye? And do we look for statutes to bind us to seek his blessing and ask his protecting care? The shades of evening come around you. Again protected, defended, shielded, you come into the family circle. Peace is there, and health, and cheerfulness, and plenty. Do I need a formal law when I go into such an abode, and say, here the goodness of God should be acknowledged; here it is appropriate that heaven's Eternal King should listen to the voice of praise, and the watchfulness of that eye that never slumbers nor sleeps, should be invoked? Your children go into—what? a world of peace, and friendship, of virtue and of joy? O no. They tread a vale of sorrow. You have given them existence in a dwelling of temptation and of danger. Foes, deadly, and malignant, are in their path. The most fragrant bower may be the residence of the serpent, beguiling to destroy. The most lovely glade, the fairest path, and most charming stream, may be the residence of foes that shall attack their peace or endanger their souls. They will be in peril —they will be allured, beguiled. Other lips than yours will attempt to influence them; and the giddy and the voluptuous may seek to make them their prey. They will weep. They will feel—yes, deeply feel, that they are in a cold, unfriendly, guilty world. They will be laid on beds of pain; will pant, will struggle, will expire. But one eye can mark their dangers or their pains, when you are dead Far away from them in the cold grave, your eye will have lost its power to pity, and your hands their strength to relieve. Say, parent—father, mother, do we need the formality of law, the sternness of command, to tell us we Must seek the blessing of God on our family? Is it not the instinctive feeling of every father, "May I bend before the God of heaven; and will his ear be open: and can I have the assurance that he is ready and willing to defend my children?" Cast the eye onward. What shall be the doom of your children beyond the grave? Whither shall they wander in that undiscovered world? Shall they repose forever in the arms of heaven's King, or shall they be vagrants and outcasts, excluded from the place of mercy and of peace, and driven away with the polluted and the lost forever! On whom is dependent their eternal doom? On that Being who is to be invoked by prayer. Who alone can save them from being cast down into hell? None but that Almighty God, whose blessing you never ask for your children, whose protecting care you never seek.
Now I would only ask of any parent, to look at his children with a parent's feeling, and remember they go to a world of dangers, and woes; to inevitable scenes of sorrow and of death; to an illimitable eternity; and to remember that none but the arm of Jehovah can shield them; and then to contemplate his household as practically heathen, where no God is adored; no voice of prayer is heard; no song of praise is offered; no hands are stretched out to the heavens to save your beloved sons and daughters!
We are here tempted to ask, can there be such scenes 1 Certainly we do ask, can there be such a scene among the friends of God, and among parents, feeling that they are professedly devoted to the service of the Most High? If I speak to such an one, I address you as a Christian father, as a dying man, and beseech you that this night the God of heaven may be invoked in your abode, and that your dwelling become consecrated as the dwelling place of the Most High.
2. A second objection is want of time. This objection scarce deserves a serious answer; and yet it is one of the most frequent that is made. I reply to it —1. That the objection is one which may be turned to account, and do good, if you ever establish family worship. The great fault of devotion in families is, that it is too tedious, monotonous, and long—that it becomes wearisome and disgusting. It will be well if you can enter on it with all the advantage of the objection so often urged, and witli the hope that you will feel the propriety of being short. 2. I reply, make your devotions in the family as short as you please. I am not pleading for long services. I am pleading for the thing itself. And assuredly it would not greatly impede the more important business of making money, or enjoying the world, to give five minutes or three minutes to God. 3. Is this objection ever urged by those who are conscientious about this thing, and who feel that time was given them for some valuable purpose? Is it urged by those who have actually engaged with interest in this duty, and who love it? From them should come the objection, if from any quarter; and it is not fair for an objector to presume that he, of all men, is conscientious about his time; and that those who offer prayer in their families are the idle, and the prodigal. An investigation on this subject might show that all conscience is not on the side of the objector, and that the acknowledgment of God interferes with no man's welfare; and that there may he a conscientious appropriation of time, even among those who regard family devotion as a pleasure and a duty. To such objectors I respectfully submit whether no time is spent in unnecessary sleep; whether the toilet claims no time that God might claim; and whether no time is spent in unprofitable reading or remark, on which God might nave a claim on the head of the family. I feel that I am letting down this subject by noticing this objection. It requires some self-denial to meet the reasonings of men, who suppose that God is an aggressor, and an usurper; that the Eternal King is violating all the laws of property, and is rudely intruding, when he claims a jurisdiction over your hours, or moments; and that for God, your Creator, to demand even a few moments of human life, is to come in as an unbidden and unwelcome guest into your family; and is such an act of trespass on a man's castle, as to demand the deliberate purpose of a father to exclude him each day from the domain. I add in the language of Barrow, "Do we take devotion itself to be no business, or a business of no consideration? Do we conceit, when we pay God his debts, or discharge our duty toward him, when we crave his mercy, when we solicit the main concernments of our souls, that we are idle, or misemployed? that we lavish our time, and lose our pains? What other affairs can we have of greater moment, or necessity, than this? Can there be any interest more close, and weighty, than this, of promoting for our own souls eternal health and happiness? Is not this indeed the great work—the only necessary matter—in comparison with which, all other occupations arc trifling? What are the great businesses of this world? What but scraping for pelf, compassing designs of ambition, courting the respect and favour of men, gratifying sinful curiosity, and carnal humour? Shall these images, these shadows of business, suppress or crowd out devotion?—that which procureth wealth inestimable, pleasure infinitely satisfactory, and honour incomparably noble; above all that this earth can afford? Is it not, beside, no such indispensable business, but rather some base dotage on lucre, some inveigling bait of pleasure, that crosseth our devotion? Is it not often a complimental visit, an appointment to tattle, a wild ramble in vice or folly, that so deeply urgeth us to put off our duty? Nay, is it not commonly sloth, rather than activity, an averseness from this, rather than inclination to any other employment, which diverts us from our prayers? Is it not the true reason why we pray so seldom, not because we are very busy, but because we are extremely idle: so idle, that we cannot willingly take the pains to withdraw our affections from sensible things, to reduce our wandering thoughts, to compose our hearts to right frames, to bend our untoward inclinations to a compliance with our duty? Do we not betake ourselves to other conversations and commerces, merely for refuge, shunning this intercourse with God, and with ourselves?"
3. A third objection arises from diffidence. This demands a more respectful consideration. And yet there is scarcely any thing in which men are more liable to err. I shall assume the strongest case. It is that where a father is naturally timid, and retiring. Where he finds it difficult to express himself, clearly and fluently, on any subject. Where lie has arrived to a somewhat advanced period of life, and his family have grown up around him. Where he even apprehends opposition, or ridicule, from his companion or children. In such a case, is it the duty of the father to establish the worship of God in his family? I reply, I. You can speak to your children about other matters, you can address them on any topic; why can you not, in their presence, address God? Does it require more talent, more learning, more eloquence? The simplest language, and the humblest petitions, are those which will be most acceptable to him. 2. Every parent must feel that it is no creditable thing for him to be afraid of his children, when called to do his duty. To fear them, is to throw disorder into all family government; and to fear them more than God, is more." It is to throw "shadows, clouds, and darkness" on all his piety. How can a man be a Christian, when he trembles more at the fear of his children, than he does at the presence of God; and when he regards their opinion as of more consequence than the judgment of heaven? This was not the spirit of the apostles and martyrs, who faced the world, and defied tyrants on their thrones, and feared not racks and flames rather than to depart from the will of heaven.
3. All duty demands self-denial. He who expects to reach the heavens by sailing on the bosom of a calm and unruffled stream, will find yet that he has greatly mistaken the nature of piety. And especially is this the case where duty has been long neglected. Then, to return is always difficult. Fear and shame will always plead for a longer indulgence. The man will be diffident just in proportion to the extent of his sin, and to the amount of influence that will be opposed to his return. The world will oppose him, perhaps deride and persecute him. But it is not reserved to this time to know what is to be done in such a case. It is long since made known. Duty is imperious. It yields nothing. And Christianity demands that whatever shame, or ridicule, or persecution, be to be encountered, it be cheerfully met and borne, even on the rack or in the flames. You will never be a Christian without self-denial. That matter is put beyond debate.
4. On this subject there is a most solemn and fearful declaration of Jesus Christ. He that is ashamed of me and of my words before men, of him shall the Son of man be ashamed before his Father, and the holy angels. 5. You are probably mistaken about your family. Suffer me to ask, what reason have you to suppose that they will regard an attempt to pray, with disapprobation, or derision? Have they thus ever met an attempt to do your duty? Have you made the experiment? Have you seen any indications that your attempt to obey God would meet with opposition? Then it is time that the authority of a father should be exercised, and attended by all the sanctions and pleadings of religion. If you have so long neglected to do your duty, so long neglected their religious training, that they begin to deride the religion of the Son of God, then no time is to be lost in meeting this influence, and showing them your sense of the value of the Christian religion, and the importance of being prepared to die. But you have not estimated aright the feelings of your children. Long since they have wondered that a father acknowledges no God in his habitation; and perhaps this may have been the burden of their secret prayers that the God of heaven might be honoured in their father's house. It is not common, in this land, at least, that a family is disposed to deride a father for a serious attempt to do his duty.—I will add here, that all these difficulties vanish when a man commences the duty in earnest. Mountains at once dwindle to mole hills. What was formidable in appearance, becomes easy in the reality; and delight comes in where you expected dismay and alarm. I appeal to your own experience in other things. How often have you found that all your difficulties have vanished when you have seriously resolved to do your duty. So you would find it in family prayer.
4. A fourth objection is want of ability to pray to edification. To this I answer, 1. It is not talent or eloquence that is required in addressing God. It is a humble and contrite heart. 2. You can speak before your family on other subjects with propriety. You make no plea of want of ability when you express your desires to them. Why urge this plea about expressing their and your desires to God? 3. You have as much ability in this case as the publican had. It was not eloquence or learning in him that received the commendation of the Son of God. 4. There is scarcely any thing in which pride is more apparent; and none in which it is more abominable, than in the excuses about prayer. If it were not for their fellow sinners, men could pray. Alone, they are never known to urge the plea of want of ability. And this is saying that they have more respect for their fellow men than they have for God. And this is the same as to say, if they were not proud they would find no difficulty in devotion. When an objection can be reduced to this condition, there it'is proper to leave it. 5. All this difficulty can be avoided by availing yourself of forms of prayer. If the objection be sincere, that is a full answer to it, and you should commence at once. Such forms are not forbidden in the New Testament, and as if to meet this whole difficulty, and with an expressed design to teach his disciples how to pray, Christ left that inimitably beautiful model which is known as his. That, you can at least use in your family. And whatever may be the abstract opinion about the comparative value of forms of pray er, yet there will be no question, I apprehend, that it is better to use a form, than not to pray at all.
5. There is but one other difficulty that I think it important to notice; and that is one that demands the utmost tenderness and kindness in the reply. It relates to the duty of a mother, and especially of a widowed mother; and the question is whether such a mother should lead a family advancing in years to the throne of Grace. The duty of a mother, where the father is opposed to it, is manifestly clear. It is not to assume authority, or to demand 'the privilege as a right, of conducting herself the devotions of the family. In retirement with her children, however, she may, and should, supplicate the blessing of God on them and him. When, however, he is unwilling to perform the duty himself, but willing that she should conduct the devotions of the house, there can be no violation of propriety in her maintaining family devotion. The more difficult question pertains to the widow. Let us look at this. On this, then, I remark, 1. She is obviously the very person who needs the aid of family prayer. God has taken away the head and earthly father in his mysterious dealings—he whose it was to conduct your devotions—and why should you not look to him who is your Father and Comforter in heaven? The benefit of the counsels of the earthly parent is withdrawn. You need the counsel of a higher Being; and why should you not seek it? You feel now more and more your dependence on God, and why should you not express it? 2. You especially need all this aid, in the business of governing and directing your children. They have lost their father's counsel, his example, his authority. On your feebler arm now all is dependent. It is yours to guide, to counsel, to govern. In this you need all the aid which can be obtained. What so direct and mighty as to call in the aid of religion—amid your sighs and tears to beseech the God of mercy to take you beneath his kind paternal care? It is not easy for children to treat with disrespect a praying, widowed mother. This is the very time, and occasion, for seeking the God of grace, and his ear will not be heavy to hear, nor his arm short to help her, that comes and pleads day and night before his throne, his own oft-repeated promises to the widow and the fatherless. 3. There is no scene on earth, it seems to me, so lovely as that of a bereaved family, thus pouring its sorrows into the ears of God, and seeking repose on his bosom. And in that family— that widowed and fatherless family where this is wanting, there is a chasm which no adorning, no amiableness, no intelligence can fill. God should be acknowledged there. It is the very place where there should be an altar. And if all places of worship should be broken up; if all our assemblies should be dissolved; if the fires of devotion every where else should grow dim, or expire, yet they should be seen to shed their pure beams on the abode of the widow, and to diffuse light and joy in the otherwise sad dwelling place of the fatherless. 4. The plea of want of ability should not be urged there. It is proper to use forms of prayer; and the widow comes to her duty under the advantage of more cheering promises made to her in the Scriptures, than are made to any other class of the human family. It is proper, before we close, to make a few remarks on the way in which family devotion should be performed. As general remarks on a subject like this do no good, I shall specify a few particulars.
1. Prayer should be short. A family cannot be brought to attend with interest to a prayer that shall much, if any, exceed five minutes in length. It is better to fall short of that than to exceed it. The tendency of long prayers is to disgust and weary, and to train them up to dread, and to hate the whole business of family devotion.
2. Prayer should be simple and plain. The Lord's prayer is on this subject an inimitable model of devotion. It is unsurpassed in simplicity, and it is one of the first things that a child can be made to understand. A family will soon be disgusted with that which is above their comprehension; and the only way to interest children in such devotions is to frame them so that they can understand them and feel an interest in them.
3. It should be direct. There should be some object to be prayed for. It should be commonly limited to a few topics, and those should be presented in the most simple way possible. The practice of praying for every body and every thing, in every prayer, has a direct tendency to destroy all the effects of devotion. Historical prayers—prayers beginning with the creation of man, and tracing all his history to the times of the millennium, repeated from one day to another, soon disgust and weary any audience, and soonest of all, a family. Till men learn to concentrate their feelings, and have really some object for which they wish to pray—an object in which they feel some interest, the business of praying will be dull, monotonous, disgusting.
4. Prayer should be solemn. It should not be a matter of form. Nor should it be in an affected tone, or mock solemnity. Few audiences understand the real nature of such prayers, sooner than a family. The God whom you worship is not an idol. Your wants are not fictions. Your sins are real. The dangers of your children are mighty and pressing. Your relation to God and eternity, is not a cold formality. It has every thing to thrill, to pierce, to awe, to overwhelm. And coldness, and spiritual death, become any place better than the family altar. Let the snows of Greenland, and the ice of the northern seas, be in any other place of devotion, rather than on that where you plead with God for the guidance and salvation of your sons and daughters.
5. Prayer should be regular. It is not the business of the sabbath merely; nor of scenes of affliction merely; nor a matter to be attended to when you are not otherwise employed. It is to be the real business of the family—a part of its systematic organization, and employment. Without this its interest will expire. When I plead with you that God be acknowledged in your family, I plead that it may enter into your plans, that religion is to be a prominent part of the design for which you live.
6. Family prayer should obviously be connected with instruction, and especially with the perusal of the Holy Scriptures. Its interest may also be heightened, and its great ends furthered, by making it the occasion of celebrating the praises of God, by psalms and hymns. I add—
7. That it should be the offering of the family. I deem this remark of more importance than any one which I have made. When I say that it should be the offering of the family, I mean that it should enter into the plan, and the arrangement, that children, and servants, should be present at the time of devotion. 1 make the observation, because it is so easy to forget that our servants are a part of the family, or that they have any sympathies in common with us. Whoever looks into the epistles of Paul, will see that the religious treatment of servants occupies a large place in his instructions to the churches. It is clear, that proper religious attention will not be shown to them, unless it is made a matter of conscience with you to admit them to the privileges of family prayer. They are a part of your family. They are under your care. Their religious instruction is to be subject to your control. And it is perfectly manifest that their attachment to you, their fidelity, their good conduct, can be in no way so effectually secured as to admit them to the privileges of the Christian, and share with them the hopes of the mercy of heaven, and the favour of God. If you wish to secure their attachment, show them that you are interested in their religious welfare. If you wish to bind them to your family, admit them to the privileges of that religion, where there is neither Jew nor Greek, neither bond nor free; but where Christ is all and in all. These great interests you have in common. The hopes of heaven may be theirs, as well as yours. And rank, and wealth, and the relation of master, afford no passport to the favour of God, and confer no elevation before the throne of grace. Besides, there is no so effectual way of producing humility, kindness, and fidelity, among servants, as by imbuing them with a knowledge of that religion which recognises their condition; teaches them their duty, and makes them prayerful and conscientious. Before the throne of God masters and servants should bow in common. They will soon stand at a common bar of judgment. And it is well even for the rich and the powerful, to feel every day, that in the great interests of human existence, wealth and splendour confer no prerogatives; and that those poor, dependent, and ignorant, have spirits precious as our own, and that it is ours to attempt to raise them up to the blessings of redemption, and that there is no respect of persons with God.
The same remarks are applicable to your children. The evil of disorganized families results from irregularity in their attendance on family devotion. Indulge them in sleep; or suffer them to be absent amid the scenes of gaiety, fashion, splendour, or dissipation, at the regular times of devotion, and it is not difficult to foresee what will be the character of your sons and daughters. Deeds of wickedness are commonly literally deeds of darkness; and more than half the evils inflicted on a community, result from the want of power or inclination of parents to restrain, and bind to proper hours, and times, the headlong, and daring propensities of children. That parent, in my view, greatly fails in his duty, and is pointing thorns for a future pillow, who suffers his children to be absent from his view at the proper seasons of devotion. Summon them to your side, and present them before God; and there, if any where, they are safe.
In conclusion, I remark, that there is not on earth a scene more interesting than a family thus bending before the God of heaven. A collection of dependent beings, with tender feelings, with lively sympathies, with common hopes, fears, joys, blending their bliss, and their woes together, and presenting them all to the King of kings, and the Great Father of all the families of mankind. There is not on earth a man more to be venerated, or that will be more venerated, than the father who thus ministers at the family altar. No other man, like that father, so reaches all the sources of human action, or so gently controls the powers yielding in their first years, and following the direction of his moulding hand, that are soon to control all that is tender and sacred in the interests of the church and state. No Solon or Lycurgus is laying the foundation of codes of laws so deep, or taking so fast a hold on all that is to affect the present or future destiny of man. We love, therefore, to look at such venerable locks; and to contemplate these ministers of God which stand between the rising generation— feeble, helpless, and exposed to a thousand perils— and the Eternal Parent of all. They stand between the past and the coming age—remnants of the one, and lights to the other; binding the past with that which is to come; living lights of experience to guide the footsteps of the ignorant and erring; to illuminate the coming generation—to obtain for it blessings by counsel and prayer, and then to die. And if the earth contains, amid its desolations, one spot of green on which the eye of God reposes with pleasure, it is the collected group, with the eye of the father raised to heaven, and the voice of faith and prayer commending the little worshippers to the protecting care of Him who never slumbers nor sleeps.
The inimitable language of Burns, on this subject, is not fiction. In hundreds of families you might witness all that is pure and sublime in the scene contemplated by the Scottish bard.
"They chant their artless notes in simple guise:
They tune their hearts, by far the noblest aim:
Perhaps Dundee's wild warbling measures rise,
Or plaintive Martyrs, worthy of the name:
Or noble Elgin beats the heav'nward flame,
The sweetest far of Scotia's holy lays:
Compar'd with these, Italian trills are tame;
The tickl'd ears no heart-felt raptures raise;
Nae unison hae they with our Creator's praise.
"The priest-like father reads the sacred page,
How Mram was the friend of God on high;
Or Moses bade eternal warfare wage
With Amahk's ungracious progeny;
Or how the royal bard did groaning lie
Beneath the stroke of Heaven's avenging ire;
Or Job's pathetic plaint, and wailing cry;
Or rapt Isaiah's wild, seraphic fire;
Or other holy seers that tune the sacred lyre.
"Perhaps the Christian volume is the theme,
How guiltless blood for guilty man was shed;
How He, who bore in heaven the second name;
Had not on earth whereon to lay his head:
How his first followers and servants sped;
The precepts sage they wrote to many a land;
How he who lone in Patmos banished,
Saw in the sun a mighty angel stand; And heard great Bab'lon's doom pronounc'd by Heaven's command.
"Then kneeling down, to Heaven's Eternal King,
The saint, the father, and the husband prays; Hope " springs exulting on triumphant wing,"*
That thus they all shall meet in future days; There ever bask in uncreated rays,
No more to sigh, or shed the bitter tear. Together hymning their Creator's praise,
In such society, yet still more dear; While circling time moves round in an eternal sphere."
* Pope's Windsor Forest.