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blessing of God, to suggest a few hints respecting the best method of performing it.
1. The passage before us invites us to consider it as a practice by which good men have been distinguished in every age.
It pleads the sanction of the highest example. It was exemplified, we see, in the conduct of David, “the sweet Psalmist of Israel,” “the man after God's own heart;” a great victorious prince, who did not suppose the cares of royalty a sufficient reason for neglecting it. In the various removals of Abraham from place to place, we find that wherever he came to sojourn he built an altar, to call upon the name of the Lord: an altar at which there is the greatest reason to believe he was wont to assemble his family, and to present his addresses on their, as well as his own, behalf. We know, from the testimony of scripture, that he was eminently conspicuous for the care he took of the religious instruction of his household. This part of his character is attested in the following emphatic manner : “ For I know him, that he will command his children and his household after him, and they shall keep the way of the Lord, to do justice and judgement; that I may bring upon Abraham that which I have spoken of him.”*
But wherein, we may safely ask, was this solicitude for the spiritual welfare of his household displayed, if he never bowed the knee before them in prayer; never exemplified before their eyes so important a duty as that of devout supplication to the Almighty?
* Gen. xviii. 19.
In the history of Isaac we read of his building an altar at Beersheba, and calling upon the name of the Lord. Such also was the custom of Jacob at the different places where he fixed his habitation. On one of these occasions we find him thus addressing his household: “ Put away the strange gods that are among you, and be clean, and change your garments: and let us arise, and go up to Bethel; and I will make there an altar unto God, who answered me in the day of my distress, and was with me in the way which I went.” *
Thus ancient is the practice on which we are now insisting. It appears to have formed a prominent part of the religion of patriarchal times, and it has subsisted in every period of the christian church.
In later ages, who among the devoted servants of Christ can be mentioned, who have neglected it? The pious reformers, the venerable founders of the Established Church of England, we know, conscientiously practised and earnestly enforced it; and so did our pious forefathers amongst the nonconformists. This was a branch of their conduct for which they incurred the ridicule of a careless and ungodly world; and in their days it was ever recognized as an inseparable appendage of true piety. They would have required
* Gen. xxxv. 2, 3.
further proof of the absence of the fear of God in a family than the want of a domestic altar, at which its members might call on the name of the Lord.
2. Family prayer is a natural and necessary acknowledgement of the dependence of families upon God, and of the innumerable obligations they are under to his goodness. The union of mankind in families is ascribed to God, and is a distinguished (mark] of his loving-kindness. “He setteth the solitary in families.”* “ He maketh the barren woman to keep house, and to be a joyful mother of children.”+ The ties of domestic society are of his forming: the birth and preservation of children are eminent instances of his favour and beneficence. It is surely incumbent on families, then, to acknowledge him in their domestic relation.
Every family is a separate community, placed under one head, and governed by laws independent of foreign control. This sort of society is the root and origin of every other; and as it is the most ancient, so it is bound together by ties [the most] tender and sacred. Every other social bond in which men are united is loose and incidental, compared to that which unites the members of the same family.
On what, let me ask, does the obligation of social worship rest? Is it not in the social nature by which man is distinguished ? It is because we are destined to live in society, and are bound * Psalm lxviii. 6.
† Psalm cxiii. 9.
together by mutual wants and sympathies, that it becomes a duty to worship the Creator in a social manner. Man being essentially a social creature, his religion takes the forms of his nature, and becomes social.
Supposing the justice of these observations to be admitted, they conclude with the greatest force in favour of the obligation of family worship. Does the duty of social worship result from man's being placed in society? Here is the closest and most intimate society. Is it right that mercies received in common shall be publicly acknowledged; that the interposition of divine goodness we in common want should be implored in company with each other? Here is a perfect identity of wants and necessities; a closer conjunction of interests than can possibly subsist in any other situation. In an affectionate and well-ordered family, that quick sympathy is felt which pervades the members of the body: if one member suffer, all suffer with it; or if one member be honoured, all the members rejoice with it.
No earthly blessing can befall the head of a family, in which its members do not share the benefit: no calamity can befall him, without spreading sadness and distress through the household. Whatever is suffered, or whatever is enjoyed, extends its influence through the whole circle. Whoever, consequently, reflects on the true foundation of social worship, must perceive that the arguments which evince its propriety, apply to the worship of families with still greater cogency, in proportion as the ties of domestic union are more close and intimate than all others. It is hardly possible to conceive of two individuals, who are actuated by a principle of true religion, passing years together under the same roof, without uniting in their addresses to a throne of grace. We feel a persuasion, that two such individuals, though nowise related to each other, will be led to signalize their union by acts of social piety, and that, as they must often “hold sweet counsel together,” so they will frequently be disposed to pour out their united supplications to God.
How much more may this be expected to take place betwixt those who are united in the close relation of husbands and wives, parents and children! It most assuredly will, unless that ingredient in the character be wanting, which in the former instance was supposed,-a principle of real piety. Thus we perceive that family religion is the natural result of the social nature of man, when sanctified by divine grace; that it is, in truth, a most important branch of social religion. Viewed in that light, it is clearly comprehended within the extent of the injunction, of “ praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, and watching thereunto with all
3. The duty we are recommending is enforced by its tendency, under the blessing of God, to
* Eph. vi. 18.