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FAMILY RELIGION. ITS NATURAL TENDENCIES.
ACTS X. 1, 2.
There was a certain man in Cæsarea called Cornelius, a devout man, and one that feared God with all his house.
THESE words of Scripture offer us a good foundation upon which to lay some thoughts on the highly interesting subject of religion in families.
Among the very few imaginable points on which we should be all agreed, with one consent, is this that neither our own, nor any other Christian neighbourhood which we have ever seen or heard of, lives in the way in which a brotherhood of Christians ought to live. All ranks continue their complaints of evil and of wrong; do all consider equally what may be tried, with reasonable prospect of success, in way of at least partial remedy? Or, to propose the question
in another shape, do all whom it concerns reflect becomingly, how far some of themselves may possibly be answerable for the neglects or the offences, upon the prevalence of which complaints are grounded?
I think there may be some profitable light thrown upon this matter by an examination of the subject now before us-the exercise of family religion. I beg of you to give your best attention to the subject, and then to judge of what is said without self-favour, soberly and honestly. Observe, I do not mean to say too much in favour of the means of grace in question: not only will it work no visible wonders, but its success must be expected to depend upon the mind with which it is employed. Too many cases may be instantly imagined, in which the use of it could never be thought better than a mere form, if it should not be viewed as an offence, and an unholy mockery. I wish to speak of it no otherwise than as an instrument of good, where it shall spring from, and be used in company with, other evidences of Christian faith. It is most sure that many things are needed to reform the mass, and the variety, of evil with which we are encompassed; I do not claim for this, that it should be considered more than one among those many, which may contribute
its own share to the relief desired and the improvement wanted.
The first and greatest thing of all—" the one
thing needful"-unto every soul of man is, "individual (or personal) religion;" (as it has been endeavoured to demonstrate") by which I mean, the heartily embracing of the doctrine and the rule of Jesus Christ by every one among us for himself. But when, by help of the divine grace, the individual has once been brought to understand and feel the nature of his covenant with God, and to accept (as 1 may say) of the glad tidings of salvation, of the atonement freely offered in Christ Jesus, for himself, and has in consequence resolved to keep the vow and promise of his baptism; no second thought comes earlier than a desire that others should be brought unto the same right mind. And, among all besides, who shall demand a first place in his care and his anxiety, if it be not the members of a Christian's own family? That is to say, in any humbler calling and estate, his wife and children-his own flesh and blood; in any richer lot, the same, with his dependents the immediate members of his own household: in either case, the fellow-creatures among whom a Christian daily lives; who dwell
a Sermon XIII.
with him beneath his own roof, and either minister unto his daily pleasure, or partake his daily toil. Considered in this point of view, family religion appears to be the very earliest brotherly work of a sincere and simple faith, beyond the door of a believer's own heart. Which if it be, there can remain no further question as to its importance. In order, then, to come to something like a rational and Christian apprehension of so grave a duty, let us examine what the sense of Scripture on the point may fairly be pronounced, or honestly believed, to be.
It has been said, that no direct command upon the subject of that which in our own days takes the name of family religion is to be found in all the Scriptures. And therefore it has been maintained, with a decision and a haste that too much savour of dislike of every stricter obligation, that "it can never be a
necessary duty, which is not even found so "much as once commanded." But does this seem to be, when rightly looked into, a just conclusion?
Now certainly I do not mean to say the duty is commanded by any positive, specific precept. Let us admit, that it is not so ordered; and then
335 we shall be sure we do not claim too much for it on that ground. Suppose, however, that we put a very different construction on the silence of Scripture, and argue from it rather thus ; Nay, "wherefore should the holy Spirit of God, (for "He it was that spake by the Apostles and Prophets and Evangelists,) foreknowing with "a perfect certainty what his own fruits must be, "wherever any Christian mind should thoroughly "receive him, have gone about to set in order " and prescribe minuter practices of piety, which "of their own accord would grow up in the ground of a believing heart?"
God's way of speaking to his chosen servants has always for its end the preparation of the whole heart. He has most surely left it to our own spirits, renewed and purified by his Spirit, to prove themselves (in one way) by deciding for themselves in lesser particulars of conduct. I know not why we should be careful to dispute or disallow this. If every thing which each particular Christian ought to do-its time, its manner, and its measure, and every single point concerning it-were to be written down, verily (as the Evangelist has said of the Redeemer's works of wonder and of love)
suppose that even the world itself could not