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in every place, and whose ear is open to every prayer? Or should you leave them unblessed by devotion, and should sudden death or calamity come in among them; would there be no keen anguish added to the smart of Heaven's stroke, when you should reflect that you had not even asked for Heaven's protection? But the benefits of discharging this duty are not confined to the head of the family; they are calculated to affect the head and the members equally.
Family worship is an important means of religious instruction. A portion, though it be small, of God's word, read every day in the hearing of a family, will soon make them, in some measure, acquainted with the contents of the Bible. It is by doing a little, and doing it frequently, with seriousness, that our best acquirements are gained. And we may add, that this mode of gaining or giving religious knowledge, although in small portions, yet at frequent intervals, has the advantage of enabling us, if we will, to practice what we hear, and as we hear it. But further
The discharge of this duty is one most effectual means of promoting tomestic union and peace. Every family is happy and prosperous about in proportion as each member is disposed to study and act for the good of the whole. But, in almost every household, there are eyes that do not see, and hearts that do not feel alike: and even when wisdom and regularity have done their utmost, there are often little untoward events between parents and children, between masters and servants, that may mar the happiness of all, if they are not wisely controlled, by a spirit of mutual good-will and forbearance. And by no other means can this spirit of union and kindness be so effectually secured as by due attendance on the family altar. Under the influence of the holy flame which burns upon it, the heart has often been softened into a forgetfulness of those little irritations, that, if allowed to remain, would ripen into explosions, separating not only servant from master, and master from servant, but perhaps brother from brother, and parent from child. How must confidence in a parent or master-how must readiness to submit to his will and authority be produced and strengthened in a child or servant, when permitted to bow down with him and unite in supplicating mercies from one common Father and Master in heaven and how must his heart be guarded against every disposition to oppression, or unkindness when he kneels, and acknowledges their common transgressions before God, and entreats a common forgiveness. It is impossible but that union and peace should be the result of such oft-repeated scenes; and he that will seek thus to consecrate his dwelling, as a temple of peace, will find it so; for the God of peace will be with him.
Family worship is also a grand means of the growth of religion in the heart, and in the Church at large. It is not so extensively true, that families are what the Church makes them, as that both Church and State are what families make them. Magistrates and ministers of religion were once children in a family; and what they are to be as magistrates and ministers, is often to be determined from what they have gathered from the parent to whose examples and precepts they may have at first looked. It is a most fatal mistake to imagine that the ordinances of the public sanctuary are
enough of themselves to train up children "in the nurture and admonition of the Lord." The parent who is thus training them, will be sure to bring them to the sanctuary, that they may enjoy its ordinances.-But the seed lodged in the tender heart by the ministry of the sanctuary, must be watered and nurtured at home, or it will die; and what can water it so effectually as the father's prayers, offered up for all, in their immediate presence?
Religion is so essentially social in its nature, that if we are debarred, during the whole week, from those ordinances, in which heart may kindle heart, we experience a restlessness, and a decay, which the closet can not of itself remedy. Now it is between the devotions of the closet, and the public worship of the sanctuary, that God has ordained the worship of the family-in which all the ties of nature may unite to strengthen the principles of grace; and thus new strength be added daily to our love to God and to each other. And when I contemplate the spectacle of the master and the servant, the parent and the child, and perhaps too the aged grand-parent and the little prattlers, all bending reverently before the God of heaven to seek His favour; and when I know that this scene is repeated every morning before they scatter to the business of the day, and every evening before they retire to rest, methinks there is something so holy and heavenly in all this, that it must exert a sanctifying influence on old and young who dwell in the happy family. Such a dwelling has in it the ark of the covenant: and The Lord will bless it and all that pertain to it, because of the ark of the Lord. The name of God is honoured there, and His blessing will there descend a blessing on their basket and their store; a blessing on their bodies and their souls; and it shall last from generation to generation. They have the promise, "Our sons shall be as plants grown up in their youth; our daughters as corner stones polished after the similitude of a palace." Such an house stands near to Heaven: On its lintel and the posts of its doors, is the sprinkled blood of the slain lamb; and when angels of wrath are abroad in the land, they see the life-ensuring signal, and they pass by. Angels of light encompass that dwelling, when the darkness of night has covered it and by night and by day, He who is the angels' Lord and our Brother is there, "the Watchful Shepherd that never slumbers nor sleeps." O that, for our city's sake, our Church's sake, our souls' sake, our children's sake, such a home might henceforth be the dwelling of every one here!
And now, brethren, we affectionately ask, why is this duty not faithfully performed by you all? What is your objection ?-what your excuse?
I know I speak to some, who have found the worship of God in their families to be one of their most delightful employments; and who are no strangers to the benefits arising from it. But probably there are others present whose families have never been thus blessed. To such fathers and heads of families I would now make my appeal, and ask, why is it so? what is your excuse?
One very common plea is, the want of ability, suitably and comfortably to discharge the duty. To this I would reply, that every thing must have a beginning; and if we never attempt any thing, until we feel adequate to
do it well, life from beginning to end would be one unbroken scene of idleness. We never know what we can do, till we try-and especially in duties of religion. The great fault generally is, that we do not venture far enough. In every duty to which God's authority invites us, we have God's promise, that He himself will be our Helper, and will carry us through. And when His providence places you at the head of a family, and his authority calls you to worship Him in the midst of it; venture, trusting His promise to pour out upon you the spirit of grace and supplication; and your heart will be enlarged, and your mouth opened, as sure as there is power and grace in heaven. But, we can not trust.' Ah! this is the secret of all the worst failings that ever overtake the Christian from the beginning to the end of his course on earth. And as I know some do feel this want of ability deeply and painfully, let me suggest to them a remedy, or means of help.
I am opposed to the use of forms in prayer when the individual can with comfort and enlargement address his Maker without them. But I am altogether in favour of using them, rather than that the individual should either not pray at all, or pray with such embarrassment and feebleness, as both to destroy his own comfort, and the edification and profit of those around him. Now you all know there are some excellent forms of prayer, prepared by holy men, adapted also for use in families. These, I would say, it is the duty of every one to use, who can not conduct family devotion profitably without them. And he who will begin in this way, and will aim to gain strength, by using the proper diligence to store his mind with divine promises and petitions, from God's word, will generally find himself, after a time, able to lay aside this aid, and to fulfil the duty, not only to his own joy, but to his own surprise. Most generally, the full heart will ultimately make the fluent tongue. But should a form, from whatever cause, be necessary to the last, let it be used to the last :-for "it is accepted according to that which a man hath, and not according to that which he hath not.”—And, granting this aid to all who need it, is there a father before me, who can any longer plead the want of ability to worship God in his family, as an excuse for omitting the duty? Oh, how many have spent hours in reading to their families from the light publications of the day; who yet shrink from even reading a prayer in their presence!
By others the want of time is urged. Their families are large-their business presses them-it is of such a nature that they can not control their hours. Thus they plead that they have not time for a duty, which they confess to be all-important. On this point permit me to remark, that good people do sometimes err, in spending more time in the performance of this service than is wise or dutiful. We may be so long, as to become tedious in our prayers; and whenever this is the case, it creates a weariness, especially in the minds of the young, that is too apt to end in disgust or aversion. But when we urge the duty of allowing no day, in ordinary circumstances, to pass by, without, as a family, spending ten, fifteen, or twenty minutes, in the solemn worship of our Maker; and when the objection made against it, is the want of time, we ask, Can men be serious, when they say so? It is not a little remarkable, that the illustrious men, whose names are on record
as most faithful in this duty, were occupied with callings, which might seem to furnish the best excuses for omitting it. Moses, bearing all the concerns of Israel's host, on their march from Egypt, yet found time to be " 'faithful in all his house."—Joshua, a warrior, and, under his banner, leading Israel to the conquest of nation after nation, yet declares his purpose, "As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord."-Or shall I name one of later day? A greater ornament of the bench, or a more laborious servant of his country, never sat as Judge, than was Sir Matthew Hale. And yet his family worship, morning and evening, was as regular as the rising and setting of the sun. And with the example of such men before us, who sustained the most important interests of States and nations,-shall we, whose duties scarce carry us beyond the immediate concerns of our own persons and families,—shall we say we have no time to worship God in our houses? Brethren, we shall never have time for any thing unless we choose to take it; and we all could find time for this duty, if we had correct views of its importance, and were really desirous of peforming it. For, think but a moment of your plea. No time! Brethren, I ask in God's holy name, what becomes of your time? Spend all that your opportunities will allow you to spend in the pursuit of the world, and gather up its very fragments which you now throw to the winds, and you will have the time I ask for the worship of your Maker.-Save what you now spend in frivolous conversation, or in conversation worse than frivolous,—save what you now spend in unwise and intemperate reproof of your families; and spend that time, and that breath in praying for them and with them; and the sacred duty will be uniformly discharged.
Perhaps, I may be told by some, that they have a different hinderancethey feel the ability and they would make the trial; but they are opposed in their own families; and to enforce attendance would create a discord, that might defeat the great object of the duty itself. To this I reply, we do not know that it would create such discord, until we have tried it, and the duty is fairly introduced. And are we to omit the performance of a positive and important duty, because of an apprehended evil, the following of which is at most uncertain, and rather improbable ; and at the worst far from a natural result of the duty itself? But, apart from this, God has made you the head of your family; and you are responsible to Him, for the rule of that family, in His fear. At the worst of peradventures then, you are bound to do your duty; you are not to resign your rule, because some child of disobedience chooses to dispute it. And if in any thing, you would resolutely maintain it, you should do so in serving God. And even should opposition be ever so fixed; be you determined and persevering; and you will see that the most stout-hearted shall find that the arm of the Almighty is above them.
But in this I am supposing and granting one of the greatest of extremes. No-I cannot believe, that there is before me one father, who is cursed with children, so lost to every thing kind in the feelings of nature, so estranged from, and hostile to every thing good and pure in the worship of the true God-so fixed in the seat of the scorner-as either rudely, or obstinately to oppose the wishes of a parent to pray with and for them; to bring down
from Heaven upon them, the blessings that may enrich them through life, and in eternity. Rather let me hope better things of the young around me; and believe that they would feel the faithful performance of this duty, as a new claim upon them for filial obedience and gratitude.
And now let me for a moment entreat the young, who are yet under a parent's roof, where the family prayer is heard in its season, to reflect on the mercies that surround them, and the claims which lie upon them. Let no hour, no employment of your lives be accounted more precious than when you bend at the family altar. Come to it cheerfully and solemnly. Let no temptation of evening or morning make your place empty, when the holy offering is to be made. Be you there to add your coal to the flame, and have your share in the incense which goes up before God. Let the prayers of your parents, put up for you, be embalmed in your memory. They will be a cordial to your spirit, in the sad day when you shall turn away from their fresh grave, and think what a father and mother you have buried. And they will be a treasure and a defence to you through life; for, answered they will be, when God shall see most fit. Oh! of all the patrimonies that we should most desire, to make us happy here and hereafter-honoured among men, and beloved in heaven; it is the ardent and frequent prayer of a sainted father or mother, who, in childhood and youth, has led us to Heaven's mercy-seat, and there implored for us, and with us, Heaven's favour as our portion.
Parents and Heads of families, let me entreat you not only to perform this duty, but also to consider how you perform it. Let it be done in such a way, and with such a spirit, as will show that you value it. When you undertake it, let your worldly cares and concerns be so adjusted, your dwelling be so silent and peaceful, that but one sound shall be heard in it-the sound of true devotion. Let there be no temptations left to distract yourself, or others:-show by your earnestness and devotedness, that your heart is in your work--that you feel yourself and your family to be before God, waiting for his hearing and his blessing. And when your worship is thus presented, see that your conduct throughout the day corresponds with it. Beware that no unholy deed or word should destroy the heavenly influence, which your devotion may have spread around you; and thus make your very duties rather a stumbling-block and a reproach to religion, than its aid and ornament.
Is there before me, the Head of a family who is yet young? let me entreat him to begin this duty now. The longer you defer it, the more are you in danger of never beginning; for the more will difficulties multiply. Or is there before me the Head of a family, who is in mature years, or old age, and whose house is not yet a house of prayer? let me say affectionately to such, you have not a moment to lose. Begin this night. Should your first attempt be no more than reading a portion of God's word, and bowing with your family merely to ask God's protection till the morning; begin this night. For to-morrow and to-morrow's night are not yours. To-morrow's dawn may find you in eternity, or on eternity's dread brink!