THE NECESSITY AND EXCELLENCE OF FAMILY-RELIGION.
j 9"im. r. 8. But if any provide not for his own, and especially for those of his own house, he hath denied the faith, and is worse than an infidel.
THE great Author of our nature, who has made us sociable creatures, has instituted various societies among mankind, both civil and religious, and joined them together by the various bonds of relation. The first and radical society is that of a family3
which is the nursery of the church and state. This was the society instituted in Paradise in the state of innocence, when the indulgent Creator, finding that it was not good for man, a sociable creature, to be alone, formed an help meet for him, and united them in the endearing bonds of the conjugal relation. From thence the human race was propagated ; and when multiplied, it was formed into civil governments and ecclesiastical assemblies. Without these associations the worship of God could not be publicly and socially performed, and liberty and property could not be secured. Without these, men would turn savages and roam at large, destitute of religion, insensible of the human passions, and regardless of each other's welfare. Civil and religious societies are therefore wisely continued in the world, and we enjoy the numerous advantages of them. But these do not exclude, but presuppose domestic societies, which arc the materials of which they are composed; and as churches and kingdoms are formed out of families, they will be such as the materials of which they consist. It is therefore of the greatest importance to religion and civil society that families be under proper regulations, that they may produce proper plants for church and state, and especially for the eternal world, in which all the temporary associations of mortals in this world finally terminate, and to which they ultimately refer.
Now in families, as well as in all governments, there are superiors and inferiors ; and as it is the place of the latter to obey, so it belongs to the former both to rule and to provide. The heads of families are obliged not only to exercise their authority over their dependents, but also to provide for them a competency of the necessaries of life; and indeed their right to rule is but a power to provide for themselves and their domestics.
This is implied in my text, where the apostle makes the omission of this duty utterly inconsistent with christianity; and a crime so unnatural, that even infidels are free from it. If any man provide not for his ozan, and especially for those of his own house, he hath denied the faith, and is luorse than an infidel.
The apostle, among other things, in this chapter is giving directions how widows should be treated in the church. If they were widows indeed; that is, widowed and entirely destitute of relations to support them; then he advises to maintain them at the public expense of the church. (ver. 3, 9, 10.) But if they were such widows as had children or nephews, then he orders
I would not have you perform any thing as a duty, till you have sufficient means to convince you that it is a duly ; and I would not confine you to an over-frequent performance of the duty I am now to open to you; therefore, when I have briefly mentioned the various parts of family religion, I shall,
I. Prove it to be a duty, from the law of nature and scripturerevelation.
II. Shew in what seasons, or how frequently family-religion should be statedly performed.
III. I shall consider what particular obligation the^ heads of families lie under, and what authority they are invested with to maintain religion in their houses. And,
IV. And lastly, I shall answer the usual objections made against this important duty.
As to the parts of family-celigion, they are prayer, praise, and instruction. We and our families stand in need of blessings in a domestic capacity, therefore in that capacity we should pray for them ; in that capacity too we receive many blessings ; therefore in that capacity we should return thanks for them ; and singing of psalms is the most proper method of thanksgiving. Further: Our domestics need instructions about the great concerns of religion, therefore we should teach them. But I need not stay to prove each of these branches to be a duty, because the following arguments for the whole of family-religion, will be equally conclusive for each part of it, and may be easily accommodated to it. Therefore,
I. I shall prove that family-religion is a duty, from the light of nature and of scripture. >
To prepare the way, I would observe that you should hear what shall be offered with a mind in love with your duty when it appears. You would not willingly have a cause tried by one that is your enemy ; now the carnal mind is enmity against God, and consequently while you retain that carnal mind, you are very unfit to judge of the force of those arguments that prove your duty towards him. If you hate the discovery, you will shut your eyes against the light, and not receive the truth in love. Therefore lie open to conviction, and I doubt not but you shall receive it from the following arguments.
If family-religion be due to the supreme Being upon the account of his perfections, and the relation he bears to us,—if it be one great design of the institution of families,—if it tend to the advantage of our domestics,—if it be our privilege,—then familyreligion appears to be our duty from the law of nature.
1. If family-religion be a just debt to the supreme Being, upon account of his perfections and the relation he sustains to us as families, then it must be our duty to maintain it according to the law of nature. Now this is the case in fact.
God is the most excellent of beings, and therefore worthy of homage in every capacity, from his reasonable creatures. It is the supreme excellency of the Deity that renders him the object of personal devotion, or the religion of individuals, and the same reason extends to family-religion ; for such is his excellency, that he is entitled to all the worship which we can give him; and after all, he is exalted above all our blessing and firaise. Nehem. ix. 5. that is, he still deserves more blessing and praise than we can give him- Hence it follows, that our capacity is the measure of our obligation to serve him; that is, in whatever capacity we are that admits of service to him, we are bound to perform all that service to him, because he justly deserves it all. Now we are capable of worshipping him as a family, for family-devotion, you must own, is a thing possible in itself, therefore we are bound to worship him in that capacity. If any of you deny this, do but put your denial into plain words, and you must shudder at yourselves: it must stand thus, 'I must own thai such is the excellency of the Deity, that he has a right to all the homage which I can pay him in every capacity: yet I owe him none, I will pay none in the capacity of an head of a family. I own I owe him worship from myself as an individual, but my family as such shall have nothing to do with him.' Will you, Sirs, rather run into such an impious absurdity as this, than own yourselves obliged to this duty?
Again, God is the Author of our sor.iahle natures, and as such claims social worship from us. He formed us capable of society, and inclined us to it: and surely this capacity ought to be improved for religious purposes. Is there any of you so hardy as to say, ' Though God has made me a sociable creature, yet I owe him no worship as such, and will pay him none V You may as well say, 'Though he formed me a man, and endowed me with powers to serve him, yet as a man or an individual, I will not serve him.' And Vhat is this but to renounce all obligations to God, and to cut yourselves off from all connection with him. Now if your social nature lays you under an obligation to social, religion, then it must oblige you to family-religion, for a family is the first society that ever was instituted; it is a radical society, from which all others are derived, therefore here social religion began (as it must have begun in families before it had place in other societies) and here it ought still to continue.
Again, God is the Proprietor, Supporter, and Benefactor of our families, as well as of our persons, and therefore our families as such should pay him homage. He is the owner of your families, and where is the man that dares deny it? Dare any of you •ay, God hath nothing to do with my family; he hath no right there, and I will acknowledge none ? Unhappy creatures ! Whose property are you then? If not God's you are helpless orphans indeed ; or rather the voluntary avowed subjects of hell. But if your families are his property, must you not own that you should worship him as such? What ! pay no acknowledgment to your great Proprietor? how unjust! The apostle argues, that because our persons are his, therefore we should serve him, 1 Cor. vi. 19, 20. and surely the argument is equally strong in this case. Further, Are not your families entirely dependent upon God as their Supporter and Benefactor? Should he withdraw his supporting hand, you and your houses would sink into ruin together. Are you not then obliged in a family-capacity to acknowledge and praise him ? You also receive numberless blessings from him in a domestic capacity: every evening and morning, every night and day you find his mercies flowing: down upon your houses, and shall no grateful acknowledgments ascend from them to him? You also every moment stand in need of numerous blessings, not only for yourselves, but for your families, and will you not jointly with your families implore these blessings from your divine Benefactor? Here again consider the language of your refusal, and it must strike you with horror: ' I own that God is the proprietor of my family, that he is the constant support of my family, that I and mine every moment receive mercies from him, and depend entirely upon him for them, yet my family as such shall pay no worship, shall serve him no more than if we had no concern with him.' Can you venture upon such a declaration as this?
2. If family-religion was the principal design of the institution of families, then is family-religion our indispensable duty.
That families were founded by God may be inferred from the creation of different sexes, the institution of marriage, and the various relations among mankind, and from the universal agency of his providence. Psalm lxviii. 6. and cxiii. 9.
And that family-religion was the principal end of the institution, is evident; for can you think that Cod would unite a number of immortals, heirs of the eternal world, together in the most intimate bonds, in this state of trial, without any reference to their future state? Were your families made for this world only, or for the next? If for the next, then religion must be maintained in them, for that alone can prepare you for eternity: or if you say your families were formed for this world, pray what was this world made for? To be the final residence? or to be only a stage along which to pass into your everlasting home, a place of probation for candidates for immortality? And must not religion then be maintained in your families? They should be nurseries for heaven; and that they cannot be, if you banish devotion from them.
If the conjugal relation, which is the foundation of families, was first instituted for religious purposes, then certainly the worship of God ought to be maintained in them. But the former is true : Did not he make one? Mai. ii. IS. that is, one of each sex, that there might be one for one; and that the very areation of our nature might carry an intimation that polygamy was unnatural. 'And wherefore one?' that is, wherefore did God make but one of each sex, when he had the residue of the sfiirit, and could have made more? Why his design was that he might seek a godly seed; that is, that children might not only be procreated, but retain and convey down religion from age to age. But can this design be accomplished if you refuse to maintain religion in your families? Can you expect that godliness shall run on in the line of your posterity, if you habitually neglect it in your nouses! Can a godly seed be raised in so corrupt a soil? Therefore if you omit this duty, you live in families in direct opposition to the end of the institution, and deny your domestics the greatest advantage they can enjoy as members of a family: a consideration which leads me to another argument.
3. If family-religion tends to the greatest advantage of our families, then it is our duty ; and to neglect it is wickedly to rob ourselves and ours of the greatest advantage.
If you deny that religion is advantageous, you may renounce the name of christians; yes, and of men too. Religion places its subjects under the blessing and guardianship of Heaven ; it restrains them from those practices which may be ruinous to them in time and eternity; it suppresses such dispositions and passions as are turbulent and self-tormenting ; and affords the most refined and substantial joys.
Now I appeal to yourselves whether it he not more probable that your family will be religious, if you solemnly worship God with them, and instruct them- than it would be if you neglected these duties I How can you expect that your children and servants 'will become worshippers of the God of heaven, if they have been educated in the neglect of family-religion ? Can prayerless parents expect to have praying children? If you neglect to instruct them, can you expect they will grow up in the knowledge of God and of themselves? If they see that you receive daily mercies from the God of heaven, and yet refuse him the tribute of praise, is it not likely they will imitate your ingrati" tude, and spend their days in a stupid insensibility of their obligations to their divine Benefactor? Is it as likely they will make it their principal business in life to secure the favour of God, and prepare for eternity, when they see their parents and masters thoughtless about this important concern, as if they saw you every day devoutly worshipping God with them, and imploring his blessing upon yourselves and your households? Their souls Sirs, their immortal souls are entrusted to your care, and you must give a solemn account of your trust; and can you think you faithfully discharge it, while you neglect to maintain your religion in your families? Will you not be accessary to their perdition, and in your skirts will there not be found the blood of your poor innocent children? What a dreadful meeting may you expect to have with them at last! Therefore, if you love your children; if you would make some amends to your servants for all the service they do to you; if you would bring down the blessing of Heaven upon your families; if you would have your children make their houses the receptacles of religion when they set up in life for themselves; if you would have religion survive in this place, and be conveyed from age to age; if you would deliver your own souls—I beseech, I entreat, I charge you to begin and continue the worship of God in your families from this day to the close of your lives.
4. You are to consider family-religion not merely as a duty imposed by authority, but as your greatest privilege granted by divine grace. How great the privilege to hold a daily intercourse with Heaven in our dwellings! to have our houses converted into temples for that adorable Deity whom the heavens and the heaven of heavens cannot contain! to mention our domestic wants before him with the encouraging hope of a supply f to vent the overflowings of gratitude! to spread the savour of his Knowledge, and talk of him whom angels celebrate upon their golden harps and in anthems of praise! to have our families devoted to him while others live estranged from the God of their life! if all this does not appear the highest privilege to you, it is' because you are astonishingly disaffected to the best of Beings. And since the Almighty condescends to allow you this privilege, will you wickedly deny it yourselves? If he had denied it .to yout you would no doubt have cavilled at it as hard: you would have murmured had he laid a prohibition on your family and told you, " I will accept of worship from other families: they shall converse with me every day; but as for yours, I will have nothing to do with them, I will accept of no worship from ^hem; you may not make mention of the name of the Lord.* How would you tremble if God had marked your families with such a brand of reprobation? And will you put this brand upon them with your own hand? Will you deny that privilege tb' your families which would strike you with horror if God had denied it? Will you affect such an horrid singularity, that when other families are admitted into a familiar audience With' the Deity, you will keep off from him, and pay him no homage in yours! ,
These argurnents are chiefly derived from the light of nature j and plainly shew that family-religion is a duty of natural religion. Accordingly heathens and idolaters have observed it. The heathens had their Lares, their Penates, or household gods. Such were Laban's gods which Rachel stole from him, Gen.' xxxii 34. and such were that of Micah. Judges xvii. 4, 5.'" These indeed were idols, but what did they stand instead of? Did they not stand instead of the true worship of the true God t What reformation was necessary in this case? The renouncing of these idols, and taking nothing in their room? or the renouncing of them and taking the true God in their place? Undoubtedly the latter. And will you not blush that heathens should exceed you? that you should be, according to the text, ivortc than infidels? And must you not tremble lest they should rise up in judgment against you, and condemn you?
I now proceed to some arguments more purely scriptural, Which prove the necessity of family-religion in general, or of some particular branch of it.
1. We may argue from the examples of the saints, recorded and commended in scripture.
Good examples infer an obligation upon u« to imitate them; and when they are transmitted down to posterity with honour in the sacred records, they are proposed to our imitation, and as really bind us to the duty as express precepts.
Now we are here surrounded with a bright cloud of witnesses. Even before the introduction of the clearer dispensation of the gospel, we find that the saints carefully maintained family-religion." On this account Abraham was admitted into such intimacy with God, that he admits him into his secrets. Shall I hide from Abraham that thing which I do; since—.1 know him, that he will command hi* children, and his household after him, and they shall keefi the way of the Lord, &c. Gen. xviii. 16, 18.
We find Isaac and Jacob, by the influence of his good example and instructions, follow the same practice. They, as well as he, built an altar to the Lord wherever they pitched their tents; an altar then being a necessary utensil for divine worship. This you will find repeatedly in the short history we have of these patriarchs, particularly in Gen. xxvi. 25. xxv. 1, 3. and xxxiii. 20. We find Job so intent upon family-devotion, that he rises up 'aarly in the morning and offers burnt-offerings : and thus he did, we are told, not upon extraordinary occasions only, but continually. Job i. 5.
The devout king David, after he had spent the day in the glad solemnity of bringing the ark to its place, returned to bless his house. 2 Sam. vi. 20. He had his hour for family-devotion; and when that is come, he leaves the solemnity of public worship, and hastens home. This was agreeable to his resolution, / will behave myself wisely in a fierfect way: I will walk within my house with a perfect heart. Psal. ci. 2.
Daniel ran the risk of his life rather than omit this duty, which some of you omit with hardly any temptation. When the royal edict prohibited him, upon penalty of being cast into the lions' den, lie still firayed and gave thanks to God. as he did aforetime.— As he did aforetime. This is added to shew that he had always observed a stated course of devotion in his family, and that it was not a transient fit of zeal that now seized him. Dan. vi. 1°.'
V9L. 11. 7
These illustrious patterns we bad wader the dark dispensation of the Old r—MM—11 How mack wtorc zealous should we be, who enjoy the meridian light of the gospel, to keep the religion of Jesus in oar families!
In the Sew Testament we repeatedly find oar blessed Lord in prayer with his family, the apostles. St. Paul thrice mentions a church in a private bouse. Rom. Xtu 5. 1 Cor. xvi. 19, and Col. ir. 15. by which he probably means the religious families of Xymphas. and that pious pair Priscilla and Aquila. And Cornelius is an instance peculiarly observable, who, though an heathen, and ignorant of the coming of Chr'aujtartd God (an expression that often signifies to worship God) with all hi* haute; and prayed unto God always; that is. at all proper seasons. And when a divine messenger was sent to him to direct him to send for Peter, we are told he was found praying in bis house; that is, with his domestics, as the word often signifies. Acts x. 3, 30.
If it might have any weight after such authentic examples as these, I might add, That in every age, persons of piety have been exemplary in family-religion. And if you look round you, my brethren, you will find that by how much the more religious persons are, by so much the more conscientious they arc in this duty. What though some, like the Pharisees, use it as a cloke for their clandestine wickedness, this is no objection against the practice; otherwise there is hardly one branch of religion or morality but what must be rejected too ; for every good thing has been abused by hypocrites to disguise their secret villany.
2. We may argue from several scripture precepts, which either directly or consequentially refer to the whole, or lo some branch of family-religion.
The apostle Paul, having given various directions about relative duties in families, subjoins, Continue in firayer, and watch in the tame with thanksgiving. Col. iv. 2. Peter exhorts husbands to dwell with their wives according to knowledge, ice—that their prayers mitrht not be hindered. 1 Pet. iii. 7. which certainly implies that they should pray together. And here I may observe y the by, what is perhaps immediately intended in this text, that
tide the slated worship of God, common to all the family, it
»ory proper for the husband and wife to retire for prayer
'seasons by themselves together. As there is a pecu
v between them, they ought to be peculiarly intimate
rise up in Q1 religion ; and when retired together, they may pour out their hearts with more freedom than before all the family, and particularize those things that could not be prudently mentioned before others. But to return : we are enjoined to pray always with all prayer and supplication. Ephes. vi. 18. and surely family-prayer must be included in these comprehensive terms.
As to family-instruction, it was expressly enjoined upon the Israelites. These words which I command thee shall be in thy heart, and thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shall tali of them when thou siltestin thy house. Deut. vi. 6, 7. and xi. 19. They were commanded to instruct their domestics in the nature and design of the ordinances of that dispensation) particularly the passover. Exod. xii. 26, 27. And the psalmist mentions all ihe wonderful works of God as what ought to be taught by parents to children from age to age. And must not parents now be under even superior obligations to inform their children of the more glorious doctrines and ordinances of the gospel? Again, It is enjoined as a duty common to christians in general, though they should not be united in one family, to exhort one another daily, Heb. iii. 13. and to teach and admonish one another. Col. iii. 16. How much more then is it our duty to teach, and admonish, and exhort our families, which are more particularly entrusted to our care?
As to family-praise, it is a duty, because thanksgiving is so often joined with prayer in scripture, Phil. iv. 6. Col. iv. 2. 1 Thess. v. 17, 18. and psalmody must be owned the most proper method of expressing thankfulness by such as own it a part of divine worship. The voice of joy and salvation is in the tabernacles of the righteous, Psalm cviii. 15. an expression that may properly signify, praising God in psalms, and hymns, and spiritual songs, as we are commanded. Col. iii. 16.
And now, my brethren, 1 presume you are convinced that family-religion is a duty, unless you shut your eyes against the light of nature and the light of scripture j and if convinced, you are reduced to this dilemma, either to set up the worship of God immediately in your families, or sin wilfully against the knowledge of the truth. And which side will you choose ? O Sirs, the case is so plain, you need no time to deliberate; it is as plain as whether you should choose life or death, heaven or hell I
If you from henceforth make conscience of this important duty, it will be a most happy omen to your families, and to this congregation. If the grateful incense of family-devotion were ascending to heaven every morning and evening, from every family among us, we might expect a rich return of divine blessings upon ourselves and ours. Our houses would become the temples of the Deity, and our congregation feel his gracious influences. Our children would grow up in the knowledge and fear of God, and transplant religion from our families into their own whenever they shall be formed. Our servants and slaves would become the servants of righteousness, and heirs with us of the grace of life. The animosities and contests that may now disturb our households, and render them like the dens of wild beasts, would cease. Vice would wither and die among us, and languishing religion would lift up its head and revive. This would certainly be the consequence in several instances, if we were but to maintain family-religion in a proper manner; for God hath not commanded us to seek his face in vain ; and if this desirable success should not be granted universally, we shall still have the comfort to reflect that we have done our duty.
But how shocking is the prospect, if you determine to resist conviction, and live in the wilful neglect of this duty! Your families are like to be nurseries for hell; or if there should be an Abijah in them, one in whom some good thing is found towards the Lord God of Israel, (1 Kings xiv. 13.) no thanks to you■ for it; you must be punished for your neglect of him as though he had perished by your iniquity.
Remember, Sirs, that the omission of a known, practicable duty against the remonstrances of your conscience, is a certain evidence that you are entirely destitute of all religion ; and therefore I must discharge the artillery of heaven against you in that dreadful imprecation which, as dictated by inspiration, is equivalent to a prediction or denunciation. Pour out thy fury u/ion the heathen that know thee not, and ufion the families that call not ufion thy name. Jer. x. 25. Observe here that you are ranked with heathens that know not God; and that the divine fury is imprecated upon you, and it shall fall, it shall fall speedily upon your devoted heads and your prayerless families, unless you fly out of its reach by flying to the Lord in earnest supplications in your houses. Will you rather run the venture, will you rather destroy yourselves and your domestics too, ■ than spend a quarter or half an hour, morning and evening, in the most manly, noble, heavenly, evangelical exercises of devotion! Surely you are not so hardy i surely you are not so averse to Godi and careless about your own welfare, and that of your dearest relatives and domestics! I request, I beg, I adjure you by your regard to the authority of God, by your concern for your own salvation and that of your families, by the regards you bear the interests of religion in this place, and your poor minister, that this may be the happy evening from whence you may date the worship of God in your houses; that this may be the blessed era from which you and your houses "will serve the Lord.
II. To shew in what seasons, or how frequently, family-religion should be statedly performed.
Now it is more than intimated in scripture, that it should be performed every day, and particularly morning and evening. Thus the sacrifices under the law, which were attended with prayer, were offered daily, morning and evening. To this the psalmist alludes: Lei my prayer be set before thee as incense, which was offered in the morning, and the lifting ufi of my bands a* the evening sacrifice. Psalm cxli. 2. He elsewhere resolves, Every day will I bless thee, Ps. cxlv. 2. Yea, his devotion was so extraordinary, that he resolves, Evening and morning and at noon, will Ipray and cry aloud. Psalm lv. 17. So Diniel performed family-worship thrice a day. Hence we are undoubtedly bound to perform family-religion twice at least in the day. And thus frequently it seems to be enjoined for common. It is a good thing to shew forth thy loving kindness in the morning, and thy faithfulness every night. Psalm xcii. 1, 2. Farther, reason directs us to morning and evening as the proper season for familyworship: for, pray, which would you omit? Dare you venture your families out into the world all the day without committing them to the care of Providence in the morning? Can you undertake your secular pursuits without imploring the divine blessing upon them? And as to the evening, how can you venture to sleep, without committing yourselves and yours to the divine protection, and returning thanks for the mercies of the day ? Again, the very course of nature seems to direct us to these seasons. Our life is parcelled out into so many days; and every day is a kind of life, and sleep a kind of death. And shall we enter upon life in the morning, without acknowledging the Author of our life? Or shall we, as it were, die in the evening, and not commend our departing spirits into his hands? Night is a kind of
56 Necessity and Excellence of Family-Religion.
long, and yet do not know what to ask of God? Alas! what have you been doing?
Again, Is neglecting prayer the way to improve in knowledge and qualify you to perform it?
Finally, May you not easily furnish yourselves with forms of prayer, which you may use as persons weak in their limbs do their crutches, till you can lay them aside? It is bigotry only that will say that you should neglect the substance of the duty, if you cannot perform every circumstance of it in the best manner.
3d Objection. 'I am ashamed.'
But is this shame well grounded? Is it really a shame to worship the God of heaven, and share in the employment of angels?
Are sinners ashamed to serve their master?
A little practice will easily free you from all this difficulty.
4ih Objection. 'But, alas! I know not how to begin it.'
Here, indeed, the difficulty lies; but why will you not own that you were hitherto mistaken, and that you would rather reform, than persist obstinately in the omission of an evident duty i
5t.h Objection. 'But my family will not join with me.'
How do you know? Have you tried? Are you not master of your own family? Exert that authority in this which you claim in other cases.
6th Objection. 'But I shall be ridiculed and laughed at.'
Are you then more afraid of a laugh or a jeer than the displeasure of God ? Would you rather please men than him?
Will you never become religious till you can obtain the applause of the wicked for being so? Then you will never be religious at all.
Think how you will bear the contempt of the whole universe at last for the neglect of this duty!
Therefore, wherever you have your habitations, there let Jehovah, may I so speak, have an altar, and there let morning and evening prayers and praises be presented, till you are called to worship him in his temple above, where your prayers shall be swallowed up in everlasting praise. Amen.