It is a snare to the man who devoureth that which is holy, and after vows to make enquiry.—Proverbs 20.25.

[Family Worship.]
 
FAMILY WORSHIP.

Published by order of the
 

GENERAL MEETING
OF THE
REFORMED PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH,
Meeting at the House of William Edgar,
North Union, Butler County, PA., June 8, 1914.
"As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord."—Josh. 24:15.

The household or family is the centre where all human affections meet and entwine. No other earthly circle can be compared to it. It comprises all that the human heart most values and delights in on earth. That which is beautiful in human relationship, tender in human affection, and gentle in human intercourse:—that which is lovable and precious in the movements of the human heart are all bound up in the one name—family.

These postulates are true of the family when established and ordered according to God’s law. And the holy resolution of good old Joshua is recorded for a pattern to every governor or head of a household. Although the word, house, is sometimes used in a larger sense, the evident meaning is, household or family. Joshua spoke only of those for whom he would answer, at least as to their outward practice, and whom he had a power over. He esteemed the inestimable privileges of God’s service, and acknowledged the obligation put upon him by God’s law. "These words which I command thee this day, shall be in thine heart: and {16} shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and 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." Deut. 6.6,7.

Joshua knew, that as head of a household, he had duties to perform toward those under him, which he could not shift upon others nor neglect except at the peril of his own soul and the souls of those under his care. And family religion is no less vital to their interests now than in the days of the conqueror of Canaan. God established the family as the primal unit of society, and according as it is, so will be the church and the state; and their present condition is extremely woeful: error, crime, and brigandage [theft, robbery, plundering] of every sort are shaking society from centre to circumference. Many see a vision of impending ruin, but few or none trace it to the fountain head—lack of family training.

One of the prime wants [lacks] of the family today is, family worship. The family altar is almost universally thrown down or neglected as not needful to the present generation. And where it is not wholly abandoned it is performed only when convenient; often the hurry and bustle of the world crowd it out in the mornings and many times at evening also. In the morning they do not have time for it, in the evening are too tired and sleepy. While such worse than useless excuses may serve to satisfy their fellow mortals and to sear their own consciences, will they have any effect to justify their omission before God? Assuredly not! Nor is family worship ordinarily to be performed by merely reading a few verses of scripture and a prayer; but the proper order of "the church in the house" is that set down and followed by our ancestors of the Covenanted Church of Scotland. The first step in family worship is to see that the whole family is present; neither children nor servants should be allowed to absent themselves from God’s service.

Then a short prayer is offered invoking God’s presence and blessing, next a portion of psalm is sung, followed by reading a portion of scripture, and the whole concluded by {17} humble and fervent prayer and supplication at "the throne of grace." As the singing of the psalm is a part of the worship in which the whole family are to join with the voice as well as the heart, it should ordinarily be lined out before being sung, and especially if there are children or others unable to read. And we believe that the reading of the lines before singing rather promotes the devotion and spirituality of the worship. Under no circumstances should continuous singing be practiced in families where there are small children; for by hearing the lines read they may be able to follow in the singing, or get part of a line, or at least a word or two. We should endeavour to impress on the little ones the primal importance of God’s service. God delights in and requires the praise of the young as well as the old. "Out of the mouth of babes and sucklings hast thou ordained strength." Psalm 8.2. "Both young men, and maidens; old men and children: let them praise the name of the Lord." Psalm 148:12,13.

The scripture reading should be in order from Genesis to Revelation, that no part of God’s Holy Word be slighted. And when reading or hearing the words of inspiration, the attention should be unfaltering and faith in constant exercise to believe and hearken to what God speaks. In the prayer all should unite as one, in confession of sin, in earnest supplication for the tokens of the Lord’s favor and goodness, and thanksgiving for the mercies bestowed.

Some who would seek to justify their neglect of this duty and inestimable privilege may say, where is the command for it? But were they as diligent in searching to know duty as in excuses for their wicked course, they might discern the proof plain both from reason and scripture.

The General Assembly of the Church of Scotland in addressing the people under their charge on the subject of Family Worship, say: "In calling your attention to this momentous topic, we think it superfluous to enlarge on the high obligations by which this duty is enforced,—obligations {18} which are involved in the very constitution of our frail and dependent being, and impressed on the understanding and heart by the persuasive voice of scriptural authority, opening the ears of man and sealing the instructions; by which God speaketh not once or twice, but at sundry times and in divers manners, adding line upon line, precept upon precept, promise upon promise, threatening upon threatening, so as to bring perpetually to remembrance both the blessings which are multiplied to them that fear God, and the fury that is poured out upon the families that call not upon His name." [Jer. 10.25.]

Reason teaches that family worship is a debt which rational creatures ought to pay to Deity:

1. As he is the most excellent of beings there is an obligation to worship him; and it is plain that my obligation is measured by my capacity, for I can never go beyond what I owe him in point of homage. And if this is true of each one for himself, it is equally so for those under his care and authority.

2. The obligation arises also from our dependence on the Divine Being as our Creator and preserver, and consequently our owner. And who will dare say, though I am under obligation to worship God, my family is not?

3. It is further evidenced from the very nature of man as he is a sociable creature, so he is under obligation to render social worship or worship in society; and in that society wherein he is first capable of rendering it, that is, in the family.

4. The constitution of the family. God in His wise ordering of things, brings so many single persons into such relations as to constitute a family: "God setteth the solitary in families." Psalm 68.6. And why in families? but that they may be nurseries of religion. The false worship of heathen families plainly confirms this: Besides their temple worship the heathen had their lares and penates—their household gods which they worshipped. {19}

Family religion is also to be considered as an advantage to men. True religion is plainly the greatest advantage to man that he is capable of. Lost, undone creatures under a sense of the divine wrath and seeking some way to appease offended Deity, have cried out in anguish of soul: "Shall I give my first-born for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul," Micah 6.7. The answer shows the way of acceptable service: "To do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God," verse 8.

To those who follow this prescribed course, God has graciously promised his favor and all blessings, "all things are yours," 1 Cor. 3.21. "In all places where I record my name, I will come unto thee, and I will bless thee," Exod. 20.24. At every domestic altar where the family homage is performed in spirit and in truth we may look for God’s presence and blessing.

Then paternal love doth oblige every governor of a family to take care that the fire on the family altar be kept burning; for to allow it to go out speaks the greatest cruelty any could be guilty of. It is, in effect, saying, I care not what becomes of the souls of those under my charge.

2. Paternal fidelity doth oblige to family worship. The Lord has committed to every head of a family a trust concerning those under his charge. He is their guardian to provide for them, and to see they each one receive their portion.

Of the unfaithful trustee it is said: "If any provide not for his own, and specially for those of his own house (family) he hath denied the faith and is worse than an infidel," 1 Tim. 5.8. The verb here translated "provide" denotes, to take thought or care for beforehand, and shows that masters of families must give good heed to the care lying upon them. But to what should this provision extend? Is it only to the wants of the body? Plainly the souls of those in their household should be their first concern. "Take no thought saying, What shall we eat? or, What shall we drink? or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed?…. {20} But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and His righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you." Matt. 6.31,33.

2. We will cite some little of the scripture proof for family worship. First, In general there is a charge lying on the heads of families to establish and keep up the worship of God in their households.

1st. The power wherewith God has invested superiors declares it: "Honour thy father and thy mother." Exod. 20.17. In reference to the inferior relatives of the family they have a governing power. And Paul tell us how that power is to be exercised: Ye fathers, provoke not your children to wrath: but bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord," Eph. 6.4. This necessitates a diligent and constant attendance to family religion.

2nd. The fourth commandment is addressed directly and particularly to heads of families; which clearly implies a power given them and consequently a care answerable thereto.

3rd. How else could Joshua engage for his household as well as for himself? He well knew that as God had placed him in a station of superiority; so duty required that he religiously observe the worship of God with all his family: "As for me and my house we will serve the Lord." And the commended example of Abraham (Gen. 18.19) is of the same import.

Secondly, it has well been observed, that in those places of scripture where the domestic relations are largely spoken of, there is subjoined some charge concerning prayer. Thus, after Peter gives directions concerning the duties of domestic relatives he adds: "For the eyes of the Lord are over the righteous, and His ears are open unto their prayers," 1 Pet. 3.12. As much as to say, be careful to keep up a stated course of family worship, for the eye of Jehovah is upon you, and he is ready to answer your requests. And, after the apostle Paul, in the 5th and 6th chapters of Ephesians, gives commands for the various members of families, he says: {21} "Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the spirit," Eph. 6.18. Also after speaking of the things required of those in the family relation he directs: "Continue in prayer," Col. 4.4. A continued course of family worship sanctifies the domestical relations, and without it all else is in vain and to no purpose.

If to pray with other Christians as opportunity offers has a promise of blessing by our Savior, (Matt. 18.19,20;) then it is especially commendable to do so with those of our own family.

It is doubtless family religion, and especially the regular and stated exercises of family worship, to which the Psalmist refers when he says, "The voice of rejoicing and salvation is in the tabernacles of the righteous," Psalm 118.15. Service acceptable to God, and of infinite advantage to those who "pour out their hearts before God," Psalm 62.8.

Besides that of Joshua and his house we have a number of scripture examples for family worship. From righteous Abel down through the ages, the offering of sacrifices must be accompanied with invocation and prayer. Wherever Abraham pitched his tent, there he set up a family altar (see Gen. 12.7,8,) and the same course was pursued by Isaac and Jacob.

When David had "set the ark of the Lord in his place" he "returned to bless his household" (2 Sam. 6.20); very probably his regular family devotions. He so timed God’s public worship as not to interfere with that of the family. And right here, we think, is sufficient objection to night meetings for worship; they seriously interfere with or lead to the omission of family devotions. God has given sufficient time for both the public and private exercises of his worship without infringing upon, or crowding out, either one: for he has established a comely and beautiful order in all his service.

And it was most likely family worship for which Daniel was accused and cast into the lions den. See Dan. 6.10. Cornelius kneeling before God with his family (Acts 10.30,) {22} as was no doubt his usual course; had a signal stamp of the Divine approval, God sending His angel to speak to him.

As to the stated times of family worship it is plain from God’s Word that it is to be daily.

In asking God for the acceptance of his homage the Psalmist says: "Let my prayer be set before thee as incense; and the uplifting of my hands as the evening sacrifice," Psalm 141.2. And in Psalm 145.2, "Every day will I bless thee." And this service is required both morning and evening. "It is a good thing to give thanks unto the Lord, and to sing praises unto thy name, O Most High: to show forth thy lovingkindness in the morning, and thy faithfulness every night," Psalm 92.1,2. "The Lord will command his lovingkindness in the day time, and in the night his song shall be with me, and my prayer unto the God of my life," Psalm 42.8. Sometimes we read of thrice a day: "Evening and morning, and at noon, will I pray, and cry aloud: and he shall hear my voice," Psalm 55.17. But the noon services are perhaps the blessing and thanksgiving at the midday meal.

Do but consider what an inestimable privilege it is to be permitted to draw near to God with all your household. As Joseph presented his sons before his father Jacob to receive his blessing; so let us bring our children to the family altar and present them before our "Father which is in heaven," (Matt. 6.1,) that He may bless them. "He will bless them that fear the Lord both small and great." Psalm 115.13.

And as Israel of old, however widely they were separated in their several families, had fellowship one with another at the hours of offering the morning and evening sacrifice; so now have the families of the saints, as morning by morning, and evening by evening, they meet together at Jehovah’s mercy-seat. From this consideration all may derive mutual aid, encouragement, and comfort.

When the prophet Elijah, on Mount Carmel, confronted the multitude of devotees of Baal worship; to show the {23} help which God’s people derive from one another’s prayers, and to honor family worship; that zealous servant of the Lord waited until the hour of evening prayer, and gained a notable victory over priestly and princely votaries of idolatry. As one says: "Where was ever an ordinance of God more signally honoured than Family Worship in that miraculous interposition of Jehovah for his people."

And as this duty is enjoined of God, and has been blessed of him in all ages; and as it is a part of our covenant engagements, we must diligently take heed to observe it. Satan, the world, and the flesh are ever ready to draw us aside from this hallowed duty; but any relaxation or omission here is like the "letting out of water."

We see by God’s Holy Word that he adjudges the omitters of it heathen, and threatens them with destruction: "Pour out thy fury on the heathen that know thee not, and upon the families that call not upon thy name." Jer. 10.25.

"The appointment of the reasonable service of bowing down at the domestic altar before the Lord our Maker, that in waiting for the promised effusion of the spirit of grace and supplication, we may be filled with the fruits of righteousness, has ever been regarded by all men of sound mind and Christian experience not as an irksome task, but as an inestimable privilege; for as often as we mark the tokens of God’s power and presence in making the outgoings of the morning and evening to rejoice, must every enlightened and purified heart, lifting up its affections to the Father of spirits, acknowledge with triumphant satisfaction that it is a good thing to draw near to God, and to show forth his lovingkindness in the morning and His faithfulness every night." It is said, that during the Reformation in Scotland, in many of the parishes hardly a family could be found who did not offer the morning and evening sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving. {24}

As sure as the rising of tomorrow’s sun, is the fact that there will never be any revival of religion until it begins in the family, and the thrown-down family altars are built again, and the worship performed according to God’s laws; and the hearts as well the voices of the worshippers proclaim His praise.