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Antecedent to family prayers, should be the reading of the Scriptures. This duty has been lamentably neglected. And this is one great reason, why ignorance on divine subjects, and impiety, prevail so alarmingly, in the present generation. It was not so in the days of our fathers. Then the Bible was read, morning and evening, and then a seed was trained up to serve God. “That the soul be without knowledge, it is not good." Ignorance is surely not conducive to piety or devotion. Previously to reading the Scriptures, it may be well to offer a short prayer, that God would “open our eyes, that we might behold wondrous things out of His law” and that he would enable us to "receive, with meekness, the ingrafted word, which is able to save our souls." The Scriptures should be read in course, that regularity in reading may be maintained, and that the family, from day to day, may know what portion of Scripture is to be read. In reading the Scriptures, we should consider ourselves as holding a conference with the Divine Being. Herein we inquire after God and His will; and He reveals Himself and his will to us. The practice of reading the Bible will be found useful, as it creates a respect for the word of God, prepares the mind for devotional exercises, edifies Christians, and may be the means of converting sinners. *
Psalmody is the natural language of the heart, and seems to be a proper part of family devotion. This was practised in the days of the primitive church, and in the
*Archbishop Tillotson, who was no enthusiast in religion, speaks thus decidedly on this subject. “The principal part of family religion is prayer, every morning and evening, and reading some portion of Scripture; and this is so necessary to keep alive a sense of God and religion in the minds of men, that where it is neglected, I do not see how any family can in reason be esteemed a family of Christians, or indeed have any religion at all.”
days of our pious forefathers. Then the voice of rejoicing and salvation in song was in the tabernacles of the righteous. Singing the praises of the Lord is a pleasing, and useful part of religious worship, and the most proper method of expressing thanks. The Most High knowing the constitution of our nature, has wisely instituted psalmody, that the melody of the voice may affect the heart, and elevate the thoughts. Hence the apostle exhorts Christians to “teach and admonish one another in psalms, and hymns, and spiritual songs, singing with grace in their hearts to the Lord.” Paul and Silas prayed, and sang praises to God, when they alone worshipped together in prison. Family worship must be defective, where holy melody is altogether neglected. Pleasant, therefore, is the consideration, that the religious public is waking up, both in sentiment and practise, in some good measure, to this subject. And, as religion advances in its true spirit and lustre, no doubt the singing of sacred song
prevail in family devotion. Let it not be said, that most families cannot unite in this heavenly exercise. If this be true, it is not owing, generally, to a defect in natural powers, but to a defect in education and application. Were proper exertion made, but few would be unable to sing in the devotions of family worship. President Edwards the younger, justly observes: “As it is the command of God, that all should sing, so all should make conscience of learning to sing, as it is a thing, that cannot be decently performed at all without learning. Those, therefore, where there is no natural inability, who neglect to learn to sing, live in sin, as they neglect what is necessary in order to their attending one of the ordinances of God's worship.” Let those who are wilfully dumb in God's praises duly consider this observation.
Religious instruction is a part of Family Religion proper to be attended to, morning and evening, especially
on the Sabbath. Every Master of a family should set his house in order, and be in it what a preacher is in the pulpit. He should give instruction respecting the doctrines, duties, graces, and ordinances of the gospel. - The Israelites were expressly required to instruct their families. “These words, which I command thee, saith the Lord, shall be in thy heart, and thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and thou shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up.” They were commanded to teach their children particularly the nature and design of the Passover. And David in the seventy-eight Psalm, considers it the duty of parents to teach their children, from generation to generation, the wonderful works of God. Elsewhere, they are commanded to "bring up their children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord,” and to "train them up (catechise them) in the way they should go." In the religious education of children, it is not only important, that they should be taught to read the Bible, but they should commit to memory the most important portions of it, such as the Lord's Prayer, the Ten Commandments, some of the Psalms of David, and passages respecting the birth, life and death of Christ; and that they may be assisted clearly to understand its doctrines and duties, they should be taught catechisms, containing the fundamental principles of our holy religion, accompanied with Scripture proofs. Catechetical instruction is profitable, as it gives just and precise definitions of sacred truth, which the memory can easily retain, and which may serve as a basis, on which to raise the superstructure of divine knowledge. The pious Mr. Baxter said some years before his death, that he "esteemed catechising to be so necessary and useful, that he would be contented to spend the remaining part
of his life in that work, though he should do nothing else.” Too much exertion cannot be made to instil into the minds of the rising generation, the truths of Christianity. It was a true observation of Calvin, "If we would have the church flourish, we must begin in the good instruction of children.”
Speaking of the low state of religion in the English Church in his day, Bishop Beveridge, in his “Private Thoughts,” remarks: “This,” (meaning the neglect of catechetical instruction,) "therefore, being the great cause of that shameful decay of the Christian religion, that is so visible among us, we can never expect to see it repaired, unless the great duty of catechising be revived, and the laws that are made about it, be strictly observed all the kingdom over; as most certainly they ought to be, not only as they are the laws both of the Church and the State, under which we live, but likewise for that they are grounded upon the word of God Himself, who expressly commands the same thing by His apostle, saying, “Ye fathers, provoke not your children to wrath; but bring them up in the nurture and admonition” (the catechising, or putting of them in mind,) "of the Lord.” In reciting catechisms, children should be taught never to repeat them in such a manner, as bespeaks an unconsciousness of their holy nature. They should, too, be taught them with explanatory remarks and illustrations.
Another part of Family Religion is acknowledging God at our tables. To supplicate His blessing upon the provisions we receive and to express sentiments of gratitude to Him upon their reception, is reasonable, becoming, and according to Scripture. It is as proper thus to acknowledge God at one meal as another; and it should be done at every formal refreshment, whether in the morning, at noon, or in the evening. And uniform
ity, in this practice, is very desirable. Grace at meals
, . is practised, more or less, in most nations. Even the heathen, it is said, make libations to their gods at their refreshments. Our blessed Saviour and His disciples, when they ate, gave thanks, or blessed the provisions, that is, prayed for a blessing to attend them. Paul, when in the perils of the deep, asked a blessing on the food, before he, and those who were with him, partook of it. And saith God, “Ye shall eat in plenty and be satisfied and praise the name of the Lord your God;—when thou hast eaten, and art full, then thou shalt bless the Lord thy God.” Says the apostle, “God created meats to be received with thanksgiving of them, which believe and know the truth. For every creature of God is good, and nothing to be refused, if it be received with thanksgiving; for it is sanctified by the word of God and prayer.”
We will now, Thirdly, consider the manner, in which Family Religion should be observed.
The good effects resulting from religious worship in the family, depend very much upon the manner in which it is conducted. As “the preparations of the heart in man, and the answer of the tongue are from the Lord;" so divine assistance should be sought in all our attempts to worship Him. Our services must be offered from the heart. If we draw near to God with our mouths. and with our lips do honor Him, while our hearts are far from Him, vain indeed will be our worship. The directions of Scripture on this subject are,"pray in the spirit;" “lift up your heart with your hands unto God in the heavens." There must be pious sincerity. It is the fervent or inwrought prayer of a righteous man, that availeth much. We must pour forth our souls in devout aspirations. If we pray otherwise, our prayers will not only be heartless, but fruitless.
Family worship should be observed with solemnity and decency of manner, with deliberation, distinctness, and