... Great and marvellous are thy works, Lord God Almighty; just and true are thy ways, thou King of saints.—Revelation 15.3.
The Necessity and Usefulness of Family-prayer Manifested.
Which is the 8th Chapter of
A Pious and Elaborate Treatise Concerning Prayer;
John Brown of Wamphray
There are (as is known) various kinds of species of Prayer and diverse ways how this duty may and should be performed; as public Prayers in the church, private and solitary Prayers, performed by each alone in their retirements and closets: And these are either more solemn, whether ordinary or extraordinary and occasional, or ejaculatory, whether mental or vocal: Of all which little or no doubt is made, either of the lawfulness, or necessity of them, howbeit they be but too much neglected by one and other. But as to family Prayer, that is, prayer performed by a family, as such, unto God: as it is too too much neglected and laid aside; so many are ready to plead the non-necessity thereof, and look on it as a piece of unnecessary, if not unrequired, devotion; or at least satisfy themselves with this, That seeing it is not expressly required, They may safely omit it, and it may be looked upon, as a thing indifferent, and so be performed, or not performed; as they think good. In order therefore to the setting forward of this piece of religion, we shall show, that the same is a duty, required in the law of God. And consequently is necessary by reason of the command, and cannot be ordinarily omitted without sin. And next shall mention something of its usefulness, or of the profit, that is to be had thereby, and of the hurt and damage, that attendeth the neglect thereof.
24 Proofs that Family-Worship is a Duty Required by the Law of God.
As to the first of these, many things might be mentioned to clear up the duty, and to make it manifest to be commanded of the Lord, we shall name a few: As,
1. All societies as such, should be societies for God intending his glory and honour, and laying out themselves for celebrating his praises, that he may be exalted in the world, and his Name made great: Families, as such, are societies; and therefore they should, as families, advance the glory of God, by Prayer and praises. That God is to be worshipped by many together, by companies of men and women, and by societies, none will deny, seeing churches are societies, and seeing all societies, fixed or occasional, should be godly, and holy societies, that God may be glorified in and by them; none can, with any shew of reason, say, that this is not required of families, the first and most stated, and fixed societies, that are, God having made man a sociable creature, requireth service of him, and honour of him, as such; and man in that capacity is bound to glorify his creator, and to worship him, and serve him, in all companies and societies he cometh into, and much more must he do this in family-society, which is not an uncertain or occasional society; but fixed and stated; and wherein he hath more fit occasion and opportunity, and that more frequently, even daily to celebrate the praises of God, and to keep fellowship and communion with him by Prayer and Supplication.
2. If members of distinct families, occasionally meeting together, and acted by a principle of godliness have thought it their duty, to celebrate the praises of God, and to acknowledge their dependence upon him, by Prayer, as occasion required; as we see by their practice they did, Acts, 1.14 & 2.42. & 4.31 & 12.12. and 20.36. Matth. 18.28. James 5.15,16. Then certainly the members of one and the same family, having always more ready occasions to meet together, and having the same moving causes, or occasions calling for Prayer, and the same obligations to celebrate God's praises and to acknowledge their dependence upon God alone, for all they need, should much more think it their duty, and of concernment, to mind this work, whether it be upon a more public, or upon a more private occasion, especially seeing they can get it done with more conveniency, and less distraction.
3. If we consider what relation families have to God we will see, and cannot but read their engagement unto this duty. The Lord is supreme Lord author and instituter of families, or of family-societies, he is their preserver, nourisher, and protector; for all are of him, Rom. 11.36. And all blessings are from him, Jam. 1.17. He is the Father of all. Eph. 4.6. And if so, doth not reason and nature require, that this should be acknowledged by families, as such by praise and thanksgiving; and that they should live, as professing their owning of him for their Lord, their supreme governor, their preserver, yea, and their Father, by worshipping him, and Praying to him, Mal. 4.6.
4. Seeing God hath made all things for his own glory, and disposeth of all things for the same; and seeing he hath appointed families, family-societies, & relations, that he may be glorified thereby: And seeing flocks of birds and beasts do preach forth the glory of God's wisdom and goodness, in their kind: why should not flocks of men; who are rational creatures, created to gather in the rent from all the world, and to sing and set forth the praises of the Lord in a more articulate and rational manner, praise the Lord, after their kind? And why should not families, as little flocks, more constantly associated together, having their hearts and affections more united, and all things more one, than others, set up the worship of God, that they may sing his praises together, and learn of the birds, which sing more cheerfully when together, than when scattered asunder.
5. The dim light of nature taught heathens to think on this duty; Wherefore they in their idolatrous and superstitious manner, had their household gods, their Lares and Penates, and their household services and sacrifices, as knowing, that as God was to preserve and do good to families, and as families stood in need of favour and blessings from God; so should they, as families knit together, in that relation, pay him due homage, and openly acknowledge their subjection to, and dependence upon him: And shall the light of nature teach the blind heathens this, and shall they in their superstitious way, follow it; and shall Christians who have the light of the word, and thereby all their duty laid out before them in plain & distinct terms, and enforced with more pungent and perspicuous reasons, be strangers unto this duty? How shall heathens rise up in judgment, and condemn such ungodly families, who carry towards God, as if He were not the God of their family, nor bestowed favours upon it, nor did not concern himself with what were done in families, and as if their families could subsist without him; and do not recognize his Sovereignty, his power, his goodness, and dominion over them; do perform no homage, or token of subjection unto him, nor do pay him service as their King and LORD?
6. The very light and law of nature teacheth, that every one is obliged in his station, and relation in the world, according to his power, to set forth the glory of God, to celebrate his name and attributes, to proclaim him to be God over all the earth, and to be their God, even as standing in such a relation, and in such a station in the world. The light of nature taught the king of Nineve, to put his family and whole city to that duty, which the present dispensation, the sad and terrible threatening of ruin, did call for, that is, to fasting and prayer, and to cry mightily unto God, if possibly they might be spared: And will not the same light, now more clearly shining forth in the scriptures, teach fathers and masters of families, to lay out themselves in their stations and capacities, for advancing God's glory, according to the power that they have: and so to call all under them, or within the family, together, to cry unto the Lord with one mouth, heart and voice, both at ordinary and at extraordinary seasons; and to bless him for mercies and favours received; and so to set up Family-Prayers, and family-praises? See Mal. 1.6.
7. Doth not Christianity teach, That masters of families should devote their families unto God, consecrate them for his service, go before them, for this end, in a good example; and call them together for concurring in the more solemn service of God, that all of them together might offer themselves unto God, and to his service, and for this end seek his counsel and advice, his blessing and acceptance, his helping and leading hand, that they may serve him acceptably, in all holiness and fear, and walk before him in his fear and love? What else is imported by the Lord's appointing his people under the law, to dedicate their houses, Deut. 20.5. According to which we have David's Prayer at the dedication of his house. Psalm 30. Title.
8. The neglect of this duty of family worship, is inconsistent with that love to God, and to his glory, which is called for from the hands of one and other. How can parents or masters of families evidence it, that they love the Lord with all their heart, soul, and Strength, when they do not lay forth themselves, in their domestic capacity, to bring all under them with them, that they may exalt the Lord together? We find the Psalmist zealously inviting all, even inanimate creatures, to concur with him, in setting forth the praises of God, as Psalm. 69.34. and 106.1,48. and 111.1. and 112.1. and 113.1,9. and 115.18. and 116.19. and 117.2. and 135.1. and 146.1,10. and 147.20. and 148.2-4. and elsewhere, thereby manifesting the great and vehement desire he had to have the name of the Lord made great; And therefore seeing how excellent the Lord was, and how little all that he could do, would signify to the exalting of him, who was above all praises; he sought help of angels and men, yea, and of birds and beasts, of sea and dry land; of all creatures rational and irrational, animate and inanimate: but now, where is their zeal for the Lord of Hosts, and their ardent affection for him, and strong desire to have him set on High, who will not call their own children, and their own family to help them, or to concur with them in celebrating the virtues and praises of God? How ashamed must such be of their neglect, when they read such Apostrophe's such invitations and calls to all creatures to concur in this Work?
9. We find the Lord careful by his instructions & commands to have families kept in a godly order and walk, each in reference to other, in their mutual relations and duties; therefore are the duties of the husband, in reference to his wife, and of the wife in reference to her husband; the duties of the parents in reference to their children, and of the children again in reference to their parents; The duties of masters in reference to their servants, and of servants again in reference to their masters, so particularly and so frequently inculcated, as we see in Paul's epistles; beside the special command, Deut. 6.6,7. Now what should all this import, but that the Lord would have families, as temples for him to dwell in, or as churches, fit for glorifying of him, that he might delight to dwell among them: And should not all his temples or churches be houses of praises and of Prayers to him? And further do not all these family and mutual duties, call for divine help and grace, for the right discharge of them; and should not family prayer be made use of, for this End? Is not Family prayer a suitable mean to get grace, for performance of Family duties? And seeing the duties lie upon all the members of the Family, in order to one another, Reason requireth, that all should concur in one body, for lifting up a Prayer for grace and assistance, that each may be helped to perform his duty to other, they to others, and others to God; that so God may be glorified by all.
10. In the primitive time of the world, until the days of Enos, Gen. 4.26. all the public and solemn worship, that God got, was in families; and after that, Men began in a more solemn and public way, to call upon the name of the Lord, as is there said; we have no ground to think, that this primitive domestic worship was quite laid aside by the holy patriarchs: for we find several plain vestiges thereof remaining, as in Enoch's family; for of him it is said, Gen. 5.22. He walked with God, after he begat Methuselah three hundred years, and begat sons and daughters. And this walking with God, as master of a family, cannot well consist with the neglect of family-worship; which is a special point of walking, and of keeping communion with God. So of Noah it is said, Gen. 6.9. That he was a just man, and perfect in his generation, and Noah walked with God: And this when all the rest of the world had corrupted their ways, and the imaginations of the thoughts of their heart, was only evil continually, Verse 5. Shall we then suppose, that Noah's family was as void of worship, as all the rest of the families of the world? How is this consistent with his being a just man, and a perfect man; and (as Peter saith, 2 Pet. 2.5.) a preacher of righteousness? Of Abraham we hear, That he was the friend of God, and so no doubt kept family-familiarity with him: And when he went with his son Isaac towards the mount, pointed forth to him by the Lord, he told his servants, that he and the lad would go and worship, Gen. 22.5. Intimating that his worshipping with his family, or with part of them, was no strange thing to him; otherwise his servants should not well have understood what he meant. So the Lord said of him, Gen. 18.19: 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 judgment, &c. Pointing forth what a godly master of a family he was, and would be: And shall we think, that all this instruction and injunction would be without Prayer? Was not this a part of the way of the Lord, wherein they were to be instructed, how to pray, that they may be enabled with grace, to do justice and judgment? And would he not in this go before them himself, and give them good example, and instruct them by his own practice. We read also of his building an altar, and calling upon the Name of the Lord, Gen. 12.8. And that where he pitched his tent, or where his habitation or family was: So likewise, when he removed from Bethel towards Hebron, and pitched his tent there, Gen. 13.18. Thus also did Isaac. Gen. 26.25. and Jacob. Gen. 33.20. and 35.1. And it is observable (which may fully clear the import of Abraham's and Isaac's building of altars) that when God said unto Jacob, Gen. 35.1. Arise go up to Bethel, and dwell there, & make there an altar unto God. Jacob immediately laboured to prepare his whole family for the worship of God, saying, Verse 2,3. To his household, and to all that were with him, 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. Whence we see, That these altars which these patriarchs built, were not for themselves alone, but for them and their families; and therefore Jacob's family must be sanctified and prepared for the worship of God, by putting away the strange gods & changing of their garments.
11. So under the law, families were solemnly to worship God: their eating of the passover at the beginning, within their doors, was a solemn piece of worship: And when afterward they were to go up to Jerusalem, unto that feast; yet their families did eat it apart; And parents were enjoined to instruct their families, Deut. 6.7,8. and 4.10. and 11.18,19. And to feast with their families before the Lord, in the place, which he was to choose for them, Deut. 12.18,19. And moreover, the words of the fourth commandment are clear for families sanctifying of the Sabbath, as families, within their ports [doors or gatesas in Exod. 20.10]: For all the members thereof are distinctly and particularly mentioned, and the very stranger, that sojourneth there for the time, is not omitted; and the charge is in a special manner laid upon the master of the family, in order to all the rest: So that all of them, as in the family, and as related to the father of the Family, either as their father or master, &c. and he with them, are to sanctify that day, as a family: Otherwise if this had not been required, why should the master of the family have been spoken to, and that in reference to all the particular members of the family? If the Lord had only said, Remember thou to sanctify the Sabbath day, as in the other commands, this would have reached all persons, young and old, superior and inferior, as we see other commands do; therefore when here, particular mention is made of all the members of a Family, something else must be imported, even the observation of this commandment by a family, as a family; that is, the sanctifying of the day of the Lord, by Family-worship, as well as by public and solitary worship: And sure, something else is required, in this command, of a master of a family, in order to his family, and to the members thereof, than in order to the members of another family; And what can this be, but their conjunct worship of God, as such a family, in order to the sanctifying of that day?
12. All reasons requireth, That a manifest difference ought to be put betwixt the carriage of Christian families, and the carriage of the families of Turks, and Pagans; which commonly know nothing of this worship; as also betwixt the families of the godly, and the families of the profane and wicked. Therefore all Christian families, and particularly godly families should evidence their being devoted unto God, and taking pleasure in his worship, and delighting in drawing near to him, and in calling upon his Name.
13. It is observable, That the Apostle Paul writing to the Colossians, Chapters 3 and 4, after he had exhorted them, To let the word of Christ dwell in them richly, in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another, in Psalms and Hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in their hearts to the Lord, Col. 3.16. Which most commodiously can be performed by families, as such: And after he had further exhorted them, Verse, 17. That whatsoever they did in word or deed, to do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God and the Father by him. Which also can be performed publicly by families together: He cometh in the following verses, and in the beginning of the next Chapter, to press upon them the mutual duties which all of them as members of a family, owe each to other: to teach us, That in order of the right performance of the fore-mentioned Christian duties, each in their family relations, must mind the special duties, required of them, in reference to other; whereby also he signifieth, that the duties of mutual instruction of singing and of thanksgiving, were to be performed by them, particularly in Families. And moreover after mentioning of duties of all the family-relations, he closeth that purpose, Chap. 4.2,3. Thus continue in prayer, and watch in the same with thanksgiving; withal praying also for us. Thereby clearly manifesting, That as he would have had the forementioned duties, Col. 3.16,17. performed by Families, as such, and not only by each particular person in their particular station; So in order to the right performance of all the mutual duties, in their Family-relations, he presseth them to Prayer, and to continuing and watching in the same: And this he presseth upon all the fore-mentioned Family-members, husband and wife, parents, and children, masters & servants; and thus manifestly presseth Prayer upon them, as a Family. So the same Apostle, writing to the Ephesians, after he had pressed upon them the duties required in their family-relations, he in end, Eph. 6.18. urgeth them to mind the duty of Prayer, saying, Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the spirit, and watching thereunto with all perseverance. Which must include Family-prayer, which is one way and manner of praying; and who must pray always, at all times and seasons, must not neglect Family-seasons and times, this being especially accommodated unto the performance of Family-duties; and a special mean and help thereunto; as also unto family wrestling against the wiles of the devil, who knoweth how to carry on his wicked designs, by Family-disorders, Family-scandal, and the like.
14. So we find Family duties urged in order to the carrying on of Prayer, which must be Family-prayer. Peter (1 Pet. 3.7.) saith, Likewise ye husbands dwell with them, (i.e. with their wives) according to knowledge, giving honour unto the wife, as unto the weaker vessel, and as being heirs together of the grace of life, that your prayers be not hindered. The neglect of mutual duties betwixt man and wife hindereth their prayers, as man and wife; and this cannot be of their separate Prayers, or solitary prayers, only; but chiefly of their Family prayers. So Paul, 1 Cor. 7.5. saith, Defraud not one the other, except with consent for a time, that you may give yourselves to fasting and Prayer, and come together again, &c. Hereby ordering their mutual duties, as man, and wife, in order to extraordinary duties of fasting and Prayer; which must be together, as man and wife, in their Family relation. And this would by parity hold good, in reference to ordinary Family-Prayer.
15. It is recorded, That godly masters of Families have been careful of their Families, to keep them fixed unto God in worship; Of Joshua it is said, Josh. 24.15. But as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD. He engageth not only for himself, but for his whole household also, in order to the public serving of God, and that in opposition to those, who would serve other gods, which was also done, and might in time coming be done, by families as such, as well as by singular persons, or by more numerous and public assemblies; as we see Gideon's father had an altar for Baal, Judges 6.25. And though the men of the city did also worship that idol, and were careful of keeping of it, verses 28-30. Yet it is particularly called the altar, which Gideon's father had; and when Gideon brake it down, it is said, verse 27, He feared his father's household, as well as the men of the city: Whereby we see, That his father and his father's household were particularly engaged in this idolatrous worship, So we see what care David resolved to take, in ordering his Family. Psalm 101. and 1 Sam. 6. after he had blessed the whole congregation, verse 18. It is said of him, verse 20, That he returned to bless his own house. So in the New Testament, we read, Acts 10.2. of Cornelius, who feared God with all his house, and Prayed always: Which must include praying with his house. And it is likely that Daniel prayed with his Family. Dan. 6.10. Both in regard, that that was more easy to be observed by his adversaries, than his closet-praying would have been; and in regard that hereby his testimony against that sinful decree, was the more public, which zeal for God had now prompted him to. See Job's practice, Job 1.5.
16. It is prophesied, and promised as a special blessing, in the day of the Lord's returning unto his people the Jews with mercy and kindness, That a spirit of grace and supplication shall be poured forth upon Families, as such; so that each Family or families (as it is in the original) should mourn apart, Zech. 12.10-14. This therefore must be a special duty.
17. So wrath is threatened against Families, that neglect this duty, Jer. 10.25. Psalm 79.6. Pour out thy fury upon the heathen, that know thee not, and upon the families, that call not upon thy Name. And though Families here may signify tribes, or nations, made up of so many household and Families; yet the ground will be good by consequence; for if larger families should be thus punished, for neglect of this duty; why should lesser families think to escape, when guilty of the same crime? and how can this be charged on a nation, if the particular families be not to be charged therewith?
18. We find whole Families devoted solemnly unto Christ by baptism, Acts, 10.48 and 11.14. and 16.13-15,31-33. and 18.8. 1 Cor. 1.16. And shall we suppose, That these served God no way thereafter, as families, & did not walk as families devoted unto the fear and service of God? We read also of churches in Families, Col. 4.15. Rom. 16.5. 2 Cor. 16.19. Philem. 2. Yea, every Christian Family should be a Christian little church, in order to the solemn worship of God.
19. Christian communion doth in a special manner call for this, at the hands of Christians, living so commodiously together, and having so many advantages, occasions, helps and encouragements, to go about, and keep up this work; as such have, who are members of one family. If Christians occasionally meeting together, should be ready to worship the Lord, according to the present exigent, whether by Prayer or praises; much more should families, or such who are statedly and fixedly constituent members of one economical body, be ready and willing in a more stated & fixed manner, to celebrate the praises of God especially seeing they may more readily partake of the plagues, which others of the company procure by their sins, as we see, Gen. 20.7,17,18. and 12.17. Josh. 7.24,25. 1 Kings 13.10,11. 2 Chron. 21.14. 1 Sam. 21-23.
20. It cannot be denied, but families, as such, are capable of mercies and favours at the hand of God: as also of judgments and plagues because of sin. Wherefore it is most certain, that as favours bestowed upon private persons, call for a suitable acknowledgment thereof at their Hands, 1 Thes. 5.17,13. Col. 4.2. and 3.16. And as the like Favours bestowed on Nations, or Country-sides, or on cities and churches, call for thanksgiving at their hands, in the same capacities, wherein they receive these good things: so the like, bestowed on Families, call for a suitable acknowledgement in their capacities, and a return of thanks at their hands, as families: and upon the other hand as judgments threatened, imminent, or impedent, or executed upon kingdoms, or churches, or cities, yea, or upon single persons, call for mourning and humiliations at their hands, in these respective capacities; so when families are trysted with the like dispensations, they, in that capacity, are called to a suitable deportment, as nature and religion will teach. So also because they have need of many favours and blessings out of the hands of God, both temporal and spiritual: Nature and religion will say, that they, as families, should ask these of God, through Jesus Christ: For all things are sanctified by Prayer 1 Tim. 4.5.
21. The general commands of praying everywhere, 1 Tim. 2.8. and without ceasing, 1 Thes. 5.15,17,18 and the like. Col. 4.2. and 3.16,17. Eph. 6.18. do manifestly enforce this; for here are singular advantages occasions and opportunities.
22. The neglect of this is a rejecting of the mercy love and kindness of God, offered them in their access to God, as a family.
23. Families must seek God's blessing to, and give thanks for their meat, 1 Tim. 4.3-5. Ergo, For other favours also.
24. Masters of families must teach their families: Ergo they must pray with them.
These reasons may suffice to prove, that Family-prayer, is a duty: and as to the advantage thereof, we shall content ourselves with naming a few, by which also we may understand the hurt, and disadvantages, that families lie open unto, which neglect this duty: All which will also enforce the duty.
12 Advantages of Family-Prayer.
1. What an honourable and advantageous thing is it, to have God shining in love on a family, and dwelling in it, as his temple and habitation: And when families are as churches and sanctuaries unto the Lord, by offering up unto him daily the sacrifices of praise, and the calves of the lips. When the Apostle, 2 Cor. 6.14. is pressing the Corinthians, not to be unequally yoked; that is, That Christians should not marry with infidels; he useth these arguments in the following Verses, 15-18, For what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? And what communion hath light with darkness? And what concord hath Christ with Belial? Or what part hath he that believeth with an infidel? And what agreement hath the temple of God with idols? For ye are the temple of the living God; as God hath said, I will dwell in them, and walk in them; and will be their God, and they shall be my people. &c. Whereby we see, That when families are consisting of Christians, and they demeaning themselves, as becometh Christians, they are the temple of God, wherein dwelleth righteousness, and light, and Christ; God dwelleth in them, and walketh in them, and becometh their God, when they carry as his people: And when they touch no unclean thing, he becometh a father unto them, and they his sons and daughters.
2. When families are thus carrying as Christian families, devoting themselves unto God, and worshipping him, they are fair to receive rich blessings from God, and lie open to his influences of love and mercy: When Jacob purged his family, and erected an altar unto the Lord, at Luz, or Bethel, Gen. 35. God appeared unto him, and blessed him, and gave him the name Israel, and renewed the promises made to Abraham and to Isaac, Verses 10-12.
3. God who heareth prayers, will hear Family-prayers, & give a return in mercy, when he is sought unto, and served in the due manner: He is called the hearer of Prayers indefinitely, without restriction to individual persons, or to churches. The eyes of the Lord are upon the righteous, and his ears open unto their cry, Psalm. 34.15. So his eyes are upon righteous families, and his ears open to their cry; as the opposition in the next verse will clear; for there he saith, The face of the Lord, is against them that do evil, to cut off the remembrance of them from the earth: Now this cutting off their remembrance is a stroke against their families and posterity; when families are wicked, God's face is against them to destroy them; but when families are righteous, the Lord's eyes are upon them, to bless them, to preserve their memorial and remembrance, and to multiply them. Beside that, righteous families may meet with trouble: And so when they cry, the Lord heareth and delivereth them out of all their troubles, verses 17,19. O! what a rich & noble advantage is this, that they have God's ear? We see what a rich blessing came on Cornelius's family, which was a family of prayer, their prayer was heard, and fully answered, Acts. 10.4,5, &c. How blessed must that family be, that hath God so near to them, in all that they need, dwelling in the midst of them, hearkening to their supplications, taking all their petition out of their hand. When a family becometh the seed of the blessed of the Lord, and their off-spring with them; as it is Isa. 65.23. then it cometh to pass, as it is in the following Verse, That before they call, I will answer, & whilest they are yet speaking, I will hear saith the Lord: And who can imagine what the worth of this advantage is?
4. As families receive outward favours from the hand of God, as well as particular persons; so when these come unto them by the means of Prayer, how sweet and singular do these favours become? How do they smell of heaven, & of love of free grace? when families are fearing the Lord, and hoping in his mercy, and evidencing the same in their instant Prayer unto him, then his keeping them alive in famine, & becoming their help and their shield, as it is, Psalm 33.18,19. hath a peculiar sweetness and relish of fatherly care and protection. It is said, Psalm. 34.7-10. The angel of the Lord encampeth round about them that fear him, and delivereth them. O taste & see, that the Lord is good, blessed is the man that trusteth in him. O fear the Lord ye his saints, for there is no want to them, that fear him. The young lions do lack and suffer hunger, but they that seek the Lord, shall not want any good thing. And as this holdeth good of particular saints; so also of families; for the angel of the Lord encampeth about families that fear him; as we see he did encamp about Jacob's family, that their neighbors did not pursue after them, when Simeon and Levi, had committed that bloody act upon the Shechemites, See Gen. 35.5. When families fear the Lord, and draw nigh him in fear, they need not fear want; for they that seek the Lord, be they nations, cities, churches, families or persons, shall not want any good thing. And when praying families receive all their good thus, what a peculiar heavenly smell must they have; when they flow from free grace, through a promise, after prayer, and dependence upon him by Prayer; they cannot be common favours, but special tokens of love, care, kindness, & faithfulness.
5. Prayer is the mean to obtain the sanctified blessing unto family-mercies; The family must have food and raiment, and other things of that nature necessary for its sustentation and preservation: Now all these things are sanctified by Prayer, 1 Timothy 4.4,5. 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.
6. There may be in the family some young or old, one or other, or more, who have need of the pouring out of the spirit, for their conviction and conversion; who stand in need of clean water to be poured upon them, and of the spirit to sanctify and purge them: There may be one or other carried away with corruption, and under the power thereof, under the power of some lust: And much sin may be lying upon the family; Now, in order to the obtaining of the spirit of God, in order to, the delivery from these evils, Prayer is requisite, for as to all these things, promised in the new covenant, the Lord will be enquired of by the house of Israel. Ezek. 36 & 47. and consequently by every family & the house of Israel, Job was careful to sanctify his family, & to offer burnt offerings, according to the number of them all; For he said, It may be that they have sinned, and cursed God in their hearts. And this was Job's daily work. Job. 1.5.
7. It is pleasant and comely, to see families walking in the fear of God, each minding their duty to other, in a Christian manner, and all walking in their places, and stations, in an edifying and holy way. Husbands and wives carrying to other as becometh; Masters and servants minding their mutual duties to one another; and parents and children walking each in their station, in the fear of God; whileas, when all things are out of course, mutual duties laid aside, the fear of God cast off, and all things turned upside down; yea, or when any one person in the family is out of order, what a discord is caused, where a sweet harmony ought to be? and how do the family become worse than a prison? Now, by continuing in Prayer, is this great good had; for it is a mean to keep all the respective members of the family, in their due places, and to keep them at their several respective duties, as we cleared above, from Coloss. 3. & 4.
8. What a comely, pleasant, and desirable sight is it to a spiritual soul, to see a family assembling together, and daily devoting themselves unto God, to be for him, all the day; to be led by his counsel, to be guided by his spirit, in all Christian obedience, to be devoted to his fear, and service, as wholly for him and his glory in the world; and subordinating all things, that concern them, unto him, and his interest. And again returning at evening, giving due thanks unto the Lord for favours received, and consecrating the gain of all unto him? Now all this is done by Prayer, rightly gone about, in the family; There, all with one voice offer up themselves, and present their bodies a living sacrifice, holy acceptable unto God, even their reasonable service, Rom. 12.1. and all again with one voice, offer him the calves of their lips, and return him thanks for his goodness and mercy: How desirable a thing is this to see families like temples, wherein was daily the morning and evening sacrifice offered up upon the Altar.
9. When any visitation, ordinary or extraordinary, is on the family, any rod upon any member thereof, any cross, or sad dispensation upon the whole, or upon any part, young or old, what a great advantage have such families, as have been and are making conscience of this duty? For they have no ground to look upon that plague, as a fruit of that wrath, which God poureth forth on the families, that call not on his name; in regard that they have been in some measure, aiming and minting at the duty: They have access to God through Jesus Christ, for seeking of his blessing unto that dispensation, and the sanctified improvement thereof: every creature of God (and crosses may be reckoned among his creatures) is sanctified by Prayer.
10. This moreover is a great advantage, that they are not in such hazard (ordinarily) of Satan's wiles, who daily watcheth [for] opportunity to ensnare; and hath his baits and temptations shaped for families, as well as for private persons; and families must wrestle against these principalities, against the powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, and against wicked spirits, as well as others; and therefore they must be armed, with the whole armour of God; and must pray always with all prayer and supplication, Eph. 6.11,12,18. Now such families, as are thus praying always with all Prayer and supplication, and are delivering themselves over unto the protection of God, that they may be kept from the snares of that fowler, have a great advantage of [over] others, who laying aside this duty, lie open unto the arrows of that wicked one; how soon can satan sow discord in a family, whether betwixt man and wife, or betwixt master and servant, or betwixt parents and children, to the disturbance of the whole? And what peace can such families have, when it is so with them, & that as the fruit of their neglect of this duty? or what ground of hope can any family have, of being protected herefrom, which neglecteth this mean of safety?
11. Where families are making conscience of this duty, they are all in a better case to serve God acceptably in the more public assemblies of his People, than otherwise. When churches are made up of churches, and every family is a small church; and when God is worshipped in those smaller churches carefully and religiously; the public worship, in the assemblies of the saints, must be carried on with greater beauty, unanimity, cheerfulness, and heavenly concord: but on the contrary, where this is neglected, and families assemble together without this previous preparation, how little spiritual harmony can there be expected? When hearts are out of tune, the sound must be jarring.
12. Families have hereby their communion kept with God, & thus are kept in the suburbs of heaven; hereby they tell him all their wants, and make known to him all their desires, cast all their care and burdens on him, consult him in all difficult cases, & get their resolutions from: Thus they get help, relief, strength, support, light, and what their case calleth for. O! what a satisfying, pleasant, and delectable life must this be?
By these things we may see what an advantageous duty this is, and how much good it is to be expected thereby, and how hurtful the neglect of it must needs be, whereby all such as are concerned should consider the encouragements they have hereby unto this duty, which should be as so many arguments.
7 Resolutions to Questions and Objections.
But it will be enquired, who in the family should go before, in this duty of family-prayer? Answer: Doubtless, the duty lieth upon the master of the family; for he is the head of the wife, and an head to his children and servants, and so is head to the whole Family: The charge of the whole Family lieth mainly upon him: And in the fourth command, he is spoken to, as having charge of, and authority over the whole family.
But what, in case the head of the family hath not the gift of Prayer; and so is not in case to carry on the work, with any tolerable decorum, as a part of the worship of God? Answer: Yet the duty lying chiefly upon him, he is to pray, and all the rest also in private for him, that the Lord may be pleased to pour on him his spirit, enabling him for the duty, in some measure: And if there were a willing mind and due means used with dependence in singleness upon God, there is ground of hope, that in due time, his gift may grow, and he be made more able to carry on the work handsomely: Yet if the wife be more fit for the work, she may help forward the work; Nay, before the work be neglected, it were better that a servant, being thereunto fitted of the Lord, should discharge the work; yet so, as the head of the family should not judge himself exonered, and so lay aside all endeavours after abilities to discharge this duty: Yea, a stranger may at some occasions do it.
When is the fittest season of this? Answer: Nature seemeth to have determined morning and evening, at least, for this work the morning before the family be engaged in their daily work, that thanking the Lord for the mercies of that morning, they may seek his favour and blessing for the whole day: And the evening that having returned thanks for the mercies of the day, they may roll themselves over unto God's protection for the night: But as to the particular time, or season in the morning, or evening, or at mid-day; each family can best judge of their own circumstances, and so determine of the season, wherein they will best be in case to discharge the duty, and have fewest distractions or difficulties to meet with; or when the family can be best assembled, and attend the work without distraction. There being here no positive determination, made by the Lord, Christian prudence is to direct, so as the duty may be best performed, and thereby God most glorified, and all concerned most edified.
But some will say, their necessary and sore work will not allow them so much time, as is requisite to spend in family duty. Answer: if the work be necessary and sore, they have the more need of God's help and blessing, knowing that, Except the Lord build the house, they labour in vain that build it; Except the Lord keep the city, the watchmen waketh but in vain. And that it is in vain for them to rise up early, to sit up late, to eat the bread of sorrows; for so he giveth his beloved sleep. Psalm 127.1,2. God's blessing can reach far, and make little do much. And when a family is careful to give God his due honour and homage, and to leave all their concerns upon him; he will think himself concerned to care for them, according as he seeth fit. I grant withal that when something occurreth in providence, that could not be foreseen, or prevented, which will make that time, which usually was spent in that work, less commodious for the same; The Lord alloweth us not to be superstitiously bound unto any set hours, but to use our Christian liberty; so as his work be not wholly deferred, nor his service postponed to our private concerns.
What if there be some members of the family dissolute and disorderly, that will but mock, instead of concurring cheerfully in the duty? Answer: If that disorderly person be under authority, as a servant or son, they should be kept by authority in order. And a servant that will mock, should not dwell in the family; The master of the family should use his authority to keep his house undefiled, after David's example, Psalm 101. and a son should be rebuked; and if he continue rebellious, and cannot be restrained from his wickedness by all that parents can do, he should be delivered into the magistrates hands according to the law, Deut. 21.18-21. The duty should not, because of this, be neglected, it being a mean to rectify these evils, and to bring the blessing of God, even in spiritual things, upon the family: if either the husband or the wife be the guilty person here, I grant the difficulty is the greater; but yet there are means appointed of the Lord to rectify this, if after all private means essayed in vain, church discipline be dully execute upon the guilty person, much evil might be remedied in disorderly Families.
But is it not enough, that every member of the family seek God in secret? Answer: No, For as we have cleared above, this is a duty required of families as such, every family apart, as well as every person apart, should call upon the Lord, and mourn before him. And as this secret prayer ought not to prejudge the public worship of God, in churches; so neither ought it, to shut out this family worship. Nay, where prayer in private is made conscience of by every member of the family; as they are in greater fitness for the performance of this family duty; so there will be a greater real readiness to go about it, as the wise man saith, Prov. 28.9. He that turneth away his ear from hearing the law, even his prayer shall be an abomination: That is, he, who neglecteth the public worship, shall find his private less acceptable: So he who neglecteth this more public worship of God in the family, shall find less acceptance in his more Private and solitary devotions, his secret prayers shall be an abomination unto the Lord, if he despise family worship, and think it needless, or withdraw his presence therefrom under pretext of serving God in private.
But (it will be said) how can so much time be had from our ordinary and necessary employments, in our calling, as is requisite both for our private prayers, & for this family duty? Answer: Where there is an unwilling heart unto, or an heart wearying of the service of God, everything will prove a lion in the way and a strong impediment and objection: But a willing and ready mind will easily find out a satisfying answer to all: The soul being more precious than the body, and our care of God's honour, being preferable to our care of our own and our family's outward welfare: Whatever be neglected, God and our own souls should not be forgotten: But the Lord desireth not, that we should wholly neglect families, having said, 1 Tim. 5.8. But if any provide not for his own and especially for those of his own house (or kindred) he hath denied the faith, and is worse than an infidel. Only he willeth us to do all with a due subordination; and willeth us to use spiritual wisdom, in order to the redeeming of the time, and to ordering of all our affairs so, as there be no interfering of the one duty with the other, but both may be duly and rightly performed, to the glory of God, and to our own spiritual advantage. The righteous man will guide his affairs with discretion Psalm 112.5. As others know, how to manage their time, in a market day, to the best advantage; so should the godly man know how to manage his time and opportunity best, in this spiritual trade, to most spiritual advantage, Eph. 5.15,16. Col. 4.5.