Friday, May 12, 2017

Review of James W. Alexander's "Thoughts on Family Worship"

This is a wonderful book. It is far more organized than the title would lead one to believe. It is not random “thoughts” on family worship; it is a systematic presentation of this gravely neglected duty by way of Scriptural arguments on the nature of the family, the church, the covenant, and worship.

After presenting a thoroughly Biblical case for the practice and Christian duty of family worship in Chapter 1, Alexander proceeds to demonstrate, both from Biblical precept and living examples, the various benefits of family worship. So, for instance, he discusses the influence of family worship on individual piety, on parents, children, on domestic harmony, on the church, on the nation, on posterity, etc. These chapters are filled with amazing practical wisdom.

He then concludes the work with some suggestions on how most effectively to conduct family worship. Yet he is cautious not to set down any hard and fast rules because he recognizes Christian liberty and the fact that each family has its own set of circumstances.

The force of Alexander's work obviously comes from real life. The work is dedicated to his parents, “by whose hands I was first led to family-worship.” A cursory look at Alexander's ancestry find several preceding generations training up their children in the “nurture and admonition of the Lord.” One could look at Alexander's own descendants and see the familial piety continuing. It is plain as day that nothing in the book is merely theoretical. When Alexander speaks of the holy influence of family worship on domestic tranquility (i.e., husbands and wives living peaceably and affectionately, children living in respect and honor for their parents and in love and respect for siblings), it is obvious that these are statement made from experience, not from ivory tower speculations. He knows by personal experience the love that is engendered between spouses when they pray with and for each other. He knows by personal experience the peace and love that obtains between siblings that pray with and for each other. He knows the personal piety that is produced by sitting daily under the reading of God's word. This is conveyed in many subtle ways. For one, his high respect for the practice is hinted at by the fact that he always writes it as “Family-Worship.” Secondly, the authority with which he writes can only come from personal experience.

There are a few features of the book that don't have much relevance to the contemporary reader. He is clearly writing in an agricultural society, so he expects that families will have long work days, but which will follow a highly regular schedule, hence he anticipates no difficulty on gathering the whole family to prayer early each morning and gathering everyone again each evening for family-worship. He does not anticipate someone working 3rd shift, but neither does he anticipate someone working 1st shift either. He recommends that family-worship be done in the evening before dinner because waiting till after dinner means dealing with a tired head of the home, tired farm hands and servants, and tired children. For most of us, this is not an issue. We are not usually eating dinner at 9 PM, nor are we exhausted from 12 hours of 19th century farm labor. Nevertheless, many of the suggestions he makes to cope with such situations are clearly transferable to our contemporary situations.

James Waddel Alexander has done the Church a great service in writing this book.

Monday, May 8, 2017

Lead Us Not Into Temptation

I will call your attention to a number of particulars, in which a somewhat comprehensive, and yet summary view, shall be given of the subject of temptation, which is one of great practical importance.

1. We are always to avoid temptation as much as we can, without neglecting, refusing, or deserting our duty. Whoever rushes carelessly, or unnecessarily into temptation, has no reason to expect that he will escape without injury; far less can he reasonably hope to avoid even gross sin, if, as it has sometimes been expressed, "he tempts the devil to tempt him;" that is, seeks for scenes or objects of temptation, to gratify an unhallowed curiosity, or rather, (as I suspect in such a case is always the fact) is prompted by the desire of indulging, mentally at least, in the sin to which he knows he will be allured. In a word, we are never voluntarily, and of choice, to expose ourselves to any temptation, but on the contrary, to avoid it by all proper precautions. Hence we ought not to think it an extreme, if admonished carefully to consider our constitutional make, to know what are the transgressions to which we are most prone, that we may with peculiar vigilance guard against provocatives to easily besetting sins. This is a consideration that should have influence on youth, in choosing a trade or profession, and even on those who are thinking of offering themselves as missionaries, when they examine into their qualifications for the under taking they contemplate. The inquiry should be, will not the course of life on which I think of entering, expose me to temptations, to a compliance with which I am, from constitutional make, or some other cause, peculiarly prone. But on the other hand, when ever in the providence of God, without our seeking, and contrary to our choice, "we fall into temptation," and plain and important duty requires us to meet it, we ought to look to God for special aid, and go for ward with determined resolution.

2. It ought to be habitually impressed on our minds, that we are not sufficient of ourselves to resist any temptation. It has been justly observed, that the foul transgressions of eminent saints, of which we read in sacred story, took place by the commission of sins to which we should suppose they, of all men, were the least exposed — as Moses, the meekest of men, sinned by intemperate anger; Abraham, the father of the faithful, by a distrust of the providence of God; and so of several others. The truth is, that as through Christ strengthening them, his people can do all things, so without him they can do nothing. Hence they are taught, in all things to distrust themselves; and to be sensible of their insufficiency, without divine aid, for any good work, or for the avoidance even of enormous sins; and to look constantly to him to uphold and guard them — thus showing, that "when they are weak, then they are strong" — strong, not in themselves but in the grace which is in Christ Jesus.

3. In connexion with what has just been said, it is proper to notice what has been called tempting God. "Men tempt God, when they unseasonably and irreverently require proofs of his presence, power, and goodness; when they expose themselves to danger from which they cannot escape, without the miraculous interposition of his providence; and when they sin with such boldness as if they wanted to try whether God could, or would, know and punish them." (Brown's Dictionary, under the word tempt.) Good men may commit this sin by expecting extraordinary interpositions in their favour, beyond what God in his word has authorized them to expect. But none except the most impious and abandoned, can do that which is last mentioned by the author I have quoted.

4. It is of importance to remember, that when a temptation solicits or assaults, if we would have any rational prospect of withstanding it ultimately, it must be resisted at once, and with the most decisive resolution and effort. Indeed, all dallying with temptation, as I have elsewhere shown, is sinful in itself ; and it may provoke God to withhold, or withdraw that gracious influence, without which we are sure to fall. Let a temptation, whether it be alluring or terrifying, get possession of the fancy and the feelings, and its full prevalence is all but certain. On this point, let me recommend to your review and careful attention, what I have said in my fifteenth lecture, on the temptation by which our first mother was fatally seduced.

5. The sources of temptation are the world, the flesh, and the devil. The world proves a source of temptation both from the good and the evil which we may meet with, in our progress through it. The profits, pleasures, and emoluments of the world, often prove a snare and the occasion of sin. Hence we should pray with the Psalmist, that God would " incline our hearts unto his testimonies, and not unto covetousness,". and that he would dispose and enable us, agreeably to the apostolical injunction, " to set our affections on things above, and not on things on the earth." The dismaying evils of the world which may prove temptations, are the outward troubles and afflictions which we meet with in it — poverty, persecution, the death of friends and relatives, loss of reputation, and sometimes of life itself. " In the world," said our Saviour, "ye shall have tribulation." When we are exercised with temptations of this description, we should think much of what Christ our Saviour endured for us, and how little, in the comparison, we are called to suffer for our fidelity to him; and we should pray that our outward afflictions may be "for our profit, that we may be partakers of his holiness," and that we may neither "despise the chastening of tha Lord, nor faint when we are rebuked of him."

Ashbel Green, Lecture 76, Lectures on the Westminster Shorter Catechism, Volume 2

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Cultivating Filial Obedience, Part 2

But how, asks the parent, shall I show this spirit of love which I acknowledge is the spirit whereby God rules heaven, and Jesus Christ holds, my heart? It seems to me that my children ought to know that 1 love them and be mindful that I provide for them; and if they would only think, they might know that it gives me nothing but pain to punish them.

But, reader, it is very possible that your children do not know as much as they ought to, and it is quite sure that they do not think as much as they ought to; and if they did, they might be very likely to think, for ought they discover, that you punish them in the same spirit in which they seek to enforce their wills among one another. Suppose your Heavenly Father proceeded on a similar assumption in his dealings with you, and with all the family of man. He could surely do it with much more righteousness.

Suppose he had said of this lost race, when he first entertained the thought of displaying his love to effect our redemption — why should I do this? They ought to know that I love them — that I built the earth, and garnished it for their dwelling place — that I up hold them, and give them all they have. If they would only think, they must know that, as I live 1 have no pleasure in the death of the wicked.

This was not the language that was used in heaven. It might all be true and just, but God condescended to show us his love — to declare his pity, and to stoop to our blindness; and Jesus Christ stooped even unto death, in his accommodation to our depravity, that he might convince us — of what was written as plain as noonday, above us, if we would only look — that "God so loved the world." Now we see it; it touches our hearts: the voice of love, speaking from Calvary, awakens our love; and the displeasure qf such love, we cannot endure; we fly every sin that wounds it. It is verily true that we never should have been reclaimed, had not God condescended to our blindness, and wrought out, in blood, the demonstration that he loved us.

Throughout the foregoing remarks, it will be observed that the Heavenly Model of a Christian Family has been kept constantly in view. The author trusts that it has not been consulted in vain; and that the view of it will not fail to be instructive to parents who desire to be followers of God in the duties of their parental relations, as well as in their personal characters.

If what has been said is just, it cannot fail to appear, as a necessary prerequisite to filial obedience, THAT THE AFFECTIONS OF THE CHILD BE CONCENTRATED UPON THE PARENTS ABOVE ALL EARTHLY persons or objects. True obedience must have its origin in love; and as the obedience required in this relation is of the highest earthly nature, so the love subsisting here should be the strongest.

Parents should use every lawful endeavour to cultivate the affections of their children, that leading them in the habits of early filial piety, they may prepare them for a higher piety toward their Eternal Father. And as God cultivates your obedience by appealing to and exciting and strengthening your love; so do to your children. Do something more than provide for their wants; stoop in numberless ways to show them that you love them. Since God accommodates his demonstrations to your criminal blindness; much more should you condescend to the feeble minds of your children. Use every endearment to win them to you. Never turn from them suddenly, or receive them coldly, as they run to greet your approaching footsteps. Teach them, not only that they may, but that you expect them to be joyful at the sound of your coming. Let them caress you; and then, caress them in return. It is unworthy of you, as a parent, to call this trifling business: for it is hard to find many things so important. It is more important than your money. God thus stoops to us; giving us every day some extra to kens of his love; winning us by unexpected, unmerited pains. And when, in like manner, you win your children, and convince them, by demonstrations adapted to their understanding and ad dressing their hearts, that you delight in their love — then, you may expect them to delight in your smiles and to grieve at the tokens of your dis pleasure — then, if, for any misdemeanor, they see, not sternness, but sadness and sorrow clothing your anxious brow, and shrouding its wonted smiles, they will feel the rebuke, and seek not to grieve you again.

It is delightful to witness those families where the tokens of parental displeasure which, per chance, from time to time, are needful, take effect upon the children's hearts, and draw forth tears of child-like, affectionate penitence. Who does not see that such parents have a mighty hold on filial obedience; and that, by a wise culture, they are laying, in these infantile exercises of their children towards themselves, a promising foundation of gospel penitence and contrition, for the full developments of which we may look, with some reasonable expectation, when the child's enlarged and chastened conceptions begin to apprehend its relations to its Heavenly Father?

Remember, then, that with the successful cultivation of the obedience, you must unite the cultivation of the affections of your children. Then your discipline will avail. Whereas, on the other hand, correction will only prove an irksome restraint, of short duration, from which they will violently break loose in future years.

Avoid any words or tones, in addressing your children, but those that are replete with kindness. In this, also, the example of our Heavenly Father instructs us. There is an inexpressible tenderness pervading all his remonstrances against the sins of his people. While he threatens judgments, and sore chastisements, he yet remembers mercy, and promises to return unto them, if they will return unto him. "Come now, and let us reason together, saith the Lord: though your sins be as scarlet they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson they shall be as wool." Let the parent whose tones of reproof are harsh and forbidding, turn and read the fifty-fourth chapter of Isaiah, and ponder its heavenly spirit, and ask himself for what he would consent that such language be banished from the Bible.

And now, beloved parent, if you would be like God — if you would keep him before your eyes as the great prototype of the parental relation — then guard your words, and let every tone be love. This may be enjoined as an universal rule; whether you are making a requisition, or reproving for disobedience. If you speak, speak pleasantly; speak moderately; for often hasty words are mistaken for angry ones. If you have a requisition to make of a child which you think may be unpleasant, make it with peculiar kindness of tone; if there is a reluctance, and you have to command, look pleasant while you do it; and let your accents, while they are firm, have much of the music of love. If you are compelled to correct, do not be content to say that you are pained, but let it be shown, in the tones and looks of continuing, unchanging love. And let the beginning, and the middle, and the end of the contest find you in the possession of the same love. When the child yields a cheerful obedience, then smile upon it, and stoop to tell it, in its own simple language, how sad you did feel.

"Provoke not your children to wrath;" do not be peevish; do not be fretful; do not be stern with your children. Our Heavenly Father is not so with us. When he corrects us, the Spirit whispers, "Whom he loveth, he chasteneth."

The following anecdote, from the Mother's Magazine, vol. vii. p. 263, is too apposite to be omitted. "Conversing the other day with an interesting little girl, between the ages of six and seven, I took occasion to impress upon her mind the debt of gratitude due from her to her heavenly Parent for bestowing upon her so good and kind a father, whom everybody loves. I was perfectly thunder-struck by her answer. Looking me full in the face with her soft blue eyes, she replied, 'He never speaks kind to me.' Perhaps this Christian father, harassed with the cares of business, was unconscious that he had roughly checked the fond attentions of his child; — but could cares, or the interruptions of his child, excuse unkindness, or a total want of tokens of endearment? Will fathers examine their habits on this point?"

It will aid all parents, who feel, under the first impulse, fretted by the fond and well meant interruptions of an affectionate child, to think, ere they repel the intrusion, of their own childlike relation to an Heavenly Father. The thought will lead them to hear the words, or receive the short caress, and then dismiss the unwitting intruder with a smile of reciprocated love. So we would have our Father do.

Manifest forbearance toward your children; for a relentless spirit is the last that fallen man should exhibit to a fellow creature. Forgive your children, and restore them to your confidence — even as your Father forgiveth you.

Parents, especially fathers, should seek, as much as possible, to be with their children. Remember that home has claims which, in their sphere, are not secondary to the claims of the counting house, or the shop. Some parents are necessarily absent more than others; but all should remember that if they would have their children's affections, they must give those children some of their time and attention. Our Heavenly Father communes with his children.

Thus, by this manifestation of uniform parental tenderness, there is reasonable hope that the affections of the child will be developed, and there will be laid the true and permanent foundation of filial obedience.

But to possess and manifest this uniform spirit of love, requires great vigilance and self-control on the part of the parent. He must seek daily, at the foot of the cross, to be imbued with the spirit of heaven. As an abiding disposition, it is of the grace of God. The father of the house- hold must draw nigh unto the Father of all. And when, christian parents, you do this and discharge your duties in any good measure as they have been described — then you will have indeed introduced into the government of your families, the same great principles and spirit by which the Eternal Father governs his children; — you will have faithfully modeled your family after the heaven above, that it may be, in itself, a little heaven on earth.

Erastus Hopkins Chapter 8 of The Family a Religious Institution, or, Heaven Its Model, Troy, NY, 1840

Monday, May 1, 2017

Cultivating Filial Obedience, Part 1

A general view has been taken, in the preceding chapter, of parental duties and responsibilities. The parent has been urged to be mindful of the object for which he is appointed to his station — of the high importance of that object — and the duty incumbent on him to administer his lesser government, upon those principles which he finds prevalent in that heavenly model after which his family is fashioned.

In speaking upon the latter topic, the duty of maintaining parental authority was specially enforced. But there arises here a question of great importance, a question concerning the mode of CULTIVATING FILIAL OBEDIENCE.

In answering this, let your attention be still directed to that family after which yours is to be modeled — that great family in heaven, where God is the Father, and where all the children, from the highest angel, down to the least of the redeemed, are obedient, and are styled "angels that do his pleasure." God requires of them obedience; but in the exercise of what spirit does he require it? Does he utter his stern mandate, and make heaven tremble? Does he gather thunder, and make the universe shake with fear, as he communicates his will? By no means. "God is love;" and he governs heaven by love: he administers all its concerns in the unvarying exercise of a spirit, beaming with kindness. The thunder of his power and the terror of his majesty, are for the lawless and disobedient; on whom they operate for restraint, or punishment. It would be absurd to suppose the obedience of heaven to be secured by the chief agency of these divine attributes. It would be the spurious obedience of fear, which could neither please God, or give joy to the creature — and not the genuine obedience of love. God secures the obedience of heaven by displaying his goodness and holiness — his equity and wisdom, and thus diffusing love and adoration of his character, in the hearts of all around him. They obey, because they love him; and this is what gives an acceptable savour to all creature-offerings — that they come from the heart.

In precisely the same way does God display himself to man in the dispensations of his grace. He reveals his love. True — He has exhibited to us many things which operate on our fears; but it is not by these things that he aims to gain our obedience. They are manifested for the sole purpose of restraining us from greater and hazardous lengths in disobedience — to make us pause, and tremble, and cry out, "What shall I do to be saved?" The obedience which we might be led to yield, under the influence of such displays, is merely of that fitful and transitory nature, which many have yielded for a little while, when con science has arisen in its power.

On Sinai, God displayed his awful attributes. But, why? It was because he came there as a Lawgiver to the disobedient, for whom, and for whom alone, the Law was ever reduced to statute form. He came not to call forth love; but to impress sinners with the truth, that it was a terrible thing to fall into the hands of the living God he came to promulge his violated law, and to engrave it before the eyes of a rebellious people. Hence it was, that not even so much as a beast should touch the mountain lest he die! And it is for a corresponding effect, in impressing with fear the lawless and the disobedient, that the solemn threatenings of God's word are written.

But different are those dealings which are appropriately termed, the dealings of his grace — different his manifestations when he determined to reclaim a people from among the children of men. He wins those that are his, by love; and he governs them by love. He speaks to them in ac- cents of kindness, of invitation, of forbearance: instead of threatening, he gives them promises: in- stead of terror, he shows them tenderness. He had this design when he went to guilty Adam, and promised him a Saviour; he had this design in all his promises to the patriarchs; he had this design — and it then shone forth the brightest — when he gave his only begotten Son, and caused his own glories to be displayed to human vision, in the per- son of the man Christ Jesus.

Thus, an unceasing and glorious manifestation of the loveliness of his own character, in all these displays and provisions of his grace, is what we plainly behold as that upon which he depends, instrumentally, to reclaim us to a spirit of accept able obedience. And, accordingly, we find, in the experience of the earthly church, that men may behold the terrors of the Almighty, till their spirits are well nigh crushed — but they are no better. It is not, until they behold the wonderful love of God, in Christ, and forget themselves in contemplating it, and experience the mysterious, but joy-giving sensations of corresponding love, that they enter, fully, the family of the redeemed. Love has won them, and they obey, they devote themselves cheerfully and forever to God. They were melted down under the invitation, "Come unto me, ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest;" and they find their love kindled still more, as they read, "In my Father's house there are many mansions," &c.

Now is it not manifest from this brief glance at the way in which God rules his family in heaven, and his family on earth, that he aims to secure, and that he actually does secure their obedience, only by love? — and that he, therefore, displays his glories to them to excite their love? In heaven, there are no terrors around him; on earth, where he has purposes of mercy, his love is preeminently displayed; while, in hell, only, where there is no hope, do his frowns and terrors dwell.

If, then, wherever he would perpetuate, or cultivate obedience, our great Father makes preeminent displays of love, in order to win that obedience as a cheerful offering; are not earthly pa- rents taught, thereby, the spirit, in the exercise and manifestation of which, they should govern their households? Do they desire to cultivate a spirit of cheerful, acceptable obedience — let them win it by love. The one that is to be obeyed must always be the one to be loved. It is so with our heavenly Father, and it should be so with every earthly father" If your children love you, they will delight to' please you, and they will feel sorrowful when they displease.you. This is the way that we should all feel toward God; and this is the way that you should train your little children to feel toward you.

Fathers, upon you especially rests the government of your families. You are supreme there, and you give a tone to all within. Your authority is the law in a higher sense than that of the mother. And, therefore, it is that a preeminent benignity should mark your deportment. If you would have yourselves obeyed chiefly, you must render yourselves loved, at least equally, by your children.

That maternal influence is generally greater than that of the father, is not questioned, as a fact — though it may be questioned as a necessary, and a reasonable fact; where such influence is greater, it is because the manifestation of maternal love is greater. But why should this be? If the father is actually constituted chief in authority, is it consistent that any other one should be constituted chief in filial affections? Does not actual supremacy in authority necessarily imply that no other one rises above an equality in dominion over the affections of the governed? How can the father be supreme in the former, while the mother surpasses him in the latter? Such an unequal proprietorship in filial affections, (as is very common) — and such an ascendant influence on the part of the mother, as necessarily follows, was never designed; it wars with the intended constitution of the family, and is therefore unnecessary. Fathers may be equally loved by their children, and they should guard against that ascetic influence of their avocations, by which they too often forfeit their appropriate share of ardent, filial affection.

It will always be observed, in consistency with the foregoing remarks, that where the power of affection is diminished, the power of control is diminished also. In a loosely governed family, though extravagant indulgences are lavished, there are fewer bonds of affection; while a regulated, disciplined household, where wholesome and painful correction has been wisely administered, is the one around which the bonds of filial and parental love are most securely fastened. Indeed affection, and a wise authority, are so inseparably wedded, by Him who has ordered tho constitution of all things, that the state of the one affords a remarkably sure indication of the state of the other.

It is not only true of fathers, but, frequently, of mothers also, that they fail to hold that high place in filial affection that they should; and many such parents wonder why their children are so disobedient. You are sure that you have commanded enough — watched enough — corrected enough; and it is very possible that your children will affirm each of these particulars; — but still your children remain unruly, and they pay nothing like an appropriate attention to your wishes. If it is so, then, in applying the foregoing principles to your case, it is evident that they do not love you as they ought; for if they felt their hearts full of love, and tenderness, and every filial feeling, they would not — they could not do so.

How has it occurred in your case? — that you have failed of winning filial affections. Perhaps you have mistaken the end of punishment, and, because Solomon has enjoined the rod, you have freely used it. It is, by no means, to be said, that the rod is never to be used; but it is of the high est importance that the physician wisely administer his remedies: it is not safe to administer the same medicine in all diseases, or in all stages of the same disease, merely because the medicine is known to be indispensable to the profession. So the rod, while indispensable in all spheres of human control, is not blindly to be seized as the ever suitable means. It frequently affords the shortest and most summary process, whereby to obtain an immediate result; and it is to be regretted that so many seem inconsiderately to use it for its labor saving advantages. But those disciplinarians will reap but little success, who aim to save labor in their early work. We must learn to be patient, and pains-taking, and always, while we seek to enforce present, have an eye to future obedience. And since every remedy, in proportion to the efficiency of its action, requires wisdom in its administration, the rod should be applied with care, and with a right apprehension of its appropriate effects.

By the rod, is understood to be signified correction, without any limit as to the mode; which may be either physical, or moral. Its immediate and legitimate operation is in checking and restraining disobedience, and it can operate, therefore, only negatively in producing genuine obedience. For all the inherent virtue it possesses, it can no more be relied on to cultivate a spirit of positive obedience, and to advance the great end of education, than the punishment of the lost can be expected eventually to purge away their dross and prepare them for heaven. Reliance is to be placed, in cultivating the obedience of your children, upon an entirely different instrumentality — upon the unvarying display of your kindness, mildness, equity and love. If this fails to beget, with the blessing of God, a corresponding love in your child to you, and thus to secure his cheerful obedience, as God secures angels' and as Christ secures yours — then your child is, to present appearance, as verily lost, as is the sinner who will not be won by the dis plays of redeeming love. The rod, and the pri son, while they may yet be of use in restraining and hedging in his disobedience, can no more re claim him than hell can reclaim the incorrigible.

But still there is an advantage in using the rod. This advantage, however, is found among its secondary effects. In perfect consistency with the previous statements, it may be maintained, that when applied by our heavenly Father to his earthly children, for their benefit, it has no inherent efficacy in reclaiming them. The benefit of the chastisement flows from the love that administers it. The rod causes God's people to smart — and they pause — and here all would end; but they look and see their Father's love — they think of the tears of Jesus as he wept over refractory Jerusalem, and this recognition of the tenderness of their Father is that which reclaims them to obedience. The rod would never do it; but it reveals the love which lies behind it, and speaks through it; for it is not, in itself, a means of grace, any more than is everlasting punishment.

Punishment, then, is efficacious in two respects. It is a salutary and effectual restraint upon those who trample under foot all the remonstrances of love — and it is a needful token of paternal dis pleasure, to touch the hearts of those who are generally obedient. For the former end, it is used by God, and may be freely used by us for the utterly incorrigible, who must be kept in chains of suffering and fear; while for the latter purpose, God employs it for the benefit of his people; and parents, in imitation of the great Father's exam- pie, may, in like manner, use it for their hopeful and affectionate children. But let it not be forgot ten that punishment, whenever resorted to, in hopeful cases, is to be used only as an emblem of painful displeasure. So that, really, the efficacy of all your corrections and discipline must depend up on the love which your child bears you. If he so loves you that he cannot bear your displeasure, then the needed correction will touch his little heart. But if he loves you not at all, or but little, the benefit of your discipline will be proportionate. Thus it is all-important that your child should entertain for you a supreme and ardent affection; else, all that you do toward cultivating obedience in early life will be of little avail.

In too many lamentable instances this seems to be overlooked, and parents who are truly anxious, and conscientious seize the rod, and forget that, as certain kinds of evil spirits go out only by prayer and fasting, so disobedience can be effectually driven from the heart of a child only by love: arid they ply the rod; and they speak in tones of sternness and severity, and the mandate goes forth with an accent that makes every infant heart tremble. And it is very possible that the parent does all this without an angry feeling, but merely under the influence of a commendable determination that his authority be sustained. But he errs in executing his purpose; the child feels the rod, but he does not see the love. The parent may be conscious of its real indwelling, but he does not reveal it. Sinai, in its influence upon our lost race, effects nothing in cultivating obedience, until we read the same laws, shedding a milder radiance from Calvary.

 
Erastus Hopkins Chapter 8 of The Family a Religious Institution, or, Heaven Its Model, Troy, NY, 1840

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Review of Erastus Hopkins' "The Family a Religious Institution."

This is a book I never wanted to end. Rev. Hopkins has thoroughly imbibed the Scriptural doctrine of the family and he teaches it masterfully.

The gist of the book is that the family is a microcosm, a model, if you will, of God’s reign in heaven – and it was intended to be. He starts with the fact that God is the original father on whom human fatherhood is modeled – not the other way around. And since the family is an institution created by God (before the Fall even!), it is ipso facto, a religious institution. Every act that every member of the household makes should be conducted with this notion in mind. 
Family worship, catechesis, religious education, all play a central role in Hopkins’ teaching. It is a dereliction of parental duty (a duty, mind you, placed upon us by God), to entrust our children’s intellectual and spiritual education to forces outside the home. Outside influences may be utilized as aids, but they are never to be substituted for the parents’ primary role. Whatever any other relation may be, the role of parent is irrevocable and irreplaceable. It can be neither avoided nor skirted without incurring Divine displeasure. God gave the children to you, placed them upon your knee, entrusted their lives from infancy onward to your care and oversight. And you can never separate yourself from these responsibilities. But if you see the fitness of the institution, the beauty of its design as a picture of God's relationship to His church, why would you want to?
Hopkins has a masterful chapter on the importance of creating a culture of filial obedience in the home. Little children, infants, toddlers, etc., live under the complete authority, direction and rule of their parents in a way that exactly mirrors the parents’ life under the rule of God. Therefore, it is of the utmost importance that children in Christian home be taught to obey their parents from birth. The only real acts of religion minor children living at home are capable of, are submission and obedience to their parents – “Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right.” By teaching the importance of obedience to parental authority, you are instilling the substrate of a blessed adult Christian life.
One paragraph in this section stands out, and deserves particular mention. The wisdom of this paragraph is remarkable. It cuts against the grain of much of contemporary Evangelicalism (even ostensible Reformed evangelicalism). Personal observation is that babies are baptized, a few years in the nursery are passed, after which the church constantly pressures for an Augustine-like conversion experience, not unlike that peddled by the Arminian evangelists – almost as if they don’t really believe the promise of Genesis 17:7. Hopkins writes: "And we hold that the religion of such little children, as far as its manifestations are concerned, must consist, for the most part, during that period in which they are too young to understand much about God, in exercising the same dispositions and forming the same habits toward the earthly father, that they are hereafter to possess toward God. And the usual operations of divine grace, in blessing and succeeding parental exertions, and in answering parental prayer, are to be seen, — not in the little infant outstripping its years, and descanting on the wonders of redeeming love, and striding on to angels' themes — but, rather, in its faithful, affectionate, conscientious and cheerful fulfillment of its earthly father's will."

The book closes with a two-part study of the family covenant. If the family is modeled after heaven, as a creation of God, then we have much to learn from the simple, basic instincts with which God has endued parenthood.Again, it is better to simply quote Hopkins than to paraphrase:
“Look at the famished mother whose little children are gathering around her, and pleading, in vain, for bread. Her own body faints with hunger; but that is nothing to the aching of her heart under the cries of her babes. See a man approaching with a half loaf for her relief. Hear him tender it on the condition that she will eat it, for her life is valuable, and it is not sufficient for them all. How almost valueless the offer! Her children cannot share it!
“God forbid that I should say the offer of personal salvation would be almost valueless, if it were not associated with the family covenant; but this I may say, that the connection of the latter with the former does enhance, beyond measure, the value of redemption. Our children are provided for, and we may say to others, as Paul to the jailer, ‘Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house.’ We can go with the full blessing, — with balm for every wound. 
“But, it may be said, this partakes more of feeling than argument; that we cannot reason from the fact that such an arrangement would please us, that therefore it is so. True — but still it is safe to reason that God has as truly made provision, in the kingdom of his grace, for those right desires which he has implanted; as he has, in the kingdom of nature, for our natural wants. While we cannot reason from depraved, we may reason from correct desires. And there is a fitness in the belief that the whole economy of grace is nicely adjusted to the wants of our spiritual and social natures. 
“Who has reared the family institution, and constituted all its endearing relations — was it not God? Who has woven these tender ties; and whose eternal fingers have bound around us these silken cords of household love? Is not the answer, — God? Who has so bound the parent to the child that in order to the full enjoyment of any blessing by the former, it must be shared with his children? Was it not God? 
“These feelings and all their proper, outgrowing desires, God has implanted, and from their indication we may safely reason. He has not made us to thirst, without causing the earth to gush forth with springs; nor to hunger, without causing it to teem with plenty; nor to be weary, without providing ‘tired Nature's sweet restorer, balmy sleep.’ And has he implanted within us these higher emotions, without providing for them in the economy of his grace! On no other supposition than the one advocated, can we understand why an abundance of children is so frequently promised, as a blessing, to God's people. Such was the promise to Abraham; and such were made, frequently, to the children of Israel. But is it a blessing to bring forth children unto eternal death? Can such an increase be promised by God as a blessing, unless at the same time he has made sure provision for their good? Such a provision we believe he has made, instrumentally, and every generation of parents may know that if they will keep all the commandments of God always, it will be well with their children forever. God multiplies the generations of the righteous, because he knows that they, like Abraham, will command their households after them. And he cuts off the generations of the wicked.”
Let those paragraphs sink in. God’s kingdom grows through the family in the line of generations. This is why large families are always portrayed in Scripture as a sign of God’s favor! It is through this that He grows His church and overthrows the counsel of the wicked. As Jeremiah 10:25 warns, God will pour out His wrath on families that call not upon His name.
This leads to the subject of prayer as a family. While not knocking private prayer, Hopkins argued forcefully that children will only learn prayer by example. He writes: “How can you expect them to pray to God, unless they see you pray, and thus confess your dependence, going to him for all things? If you would teach them to pray, and to be chiefly mindful of God and unseen and eternal things, there must be something - some arrangement holding a prominent place amid your household, calculated continually to cultivate these spiritual habits. Precepts will effect but little. Let them see that you are ever mindful of God, and of the great end of your spiritual existence - that you are thus mindful when you first wake from slumber, and when you lie down at eventide. Let them see that God is so prominent in your thoughts, that you cannot undertake the duties of the day without his blessing, nor rest in quiet at night without a committal of yourself and your beloved household to his kindness and care. Let them see that while they are your children, you acknowledge yourself to be a child of a greater Father, and kneel down with affection, and simplicity, and sincerity, to pour out your soul before him. Let your language in these exercises be simple, and your words few, that your children may neither be weary, or entirely uninstructed. O what a place and a posture is this for the parent, by solemn illustration, to teach his family the beauty of penitence for wrongs committed, and the delights of chastened love and obedience! Secret prayer does not subserve the desired end. It is witnessed only by the eye, and it enters only into the ear, of God. Household worship is the needed arrangement.”

I could cite paragraph after paragraph in demonstration of this book’s greatness, but to do so would be to virtually duplicate the whole volume. Suffice it to say that replacing every book on Christian parenting that has been published in at least the last 80 years with this one would be a trade worth making a thousand times.
Hopkins concludes the book with this reminder that captures much of the essence of the work: “Forget not, beloved readers, if you are parents, that, as such, you are invested with a mighty influence, and that on you is reposed a weighty responsibility; that, as such, you are to rule for God, to make your own dwellings little sanctuaries, to employ your inalienable authority for righteousness; and that, as such, you have a precious covenant of grace proffering to you all needed aid. Look upward; be holy — be prayerful — be diligent.”

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