Rev. James Wood, D.D.
II. We will now adduce some motives to influence parents and heads of families to maintain household religion; or in other words, to adopt as their own, and to carry into practical effect, Joshua's resolution to serve the Lord.
1. The great end of household religion, viz., serving the Lord, is the highest object for which intelligent beings ought to live. Hence parents and heads of families are under solemn obligations to God, to acknowledge him as their God, and the God of their households, by such acts as manifest their belief in his existence and attributes, their supreme veneration for his character, and their profound regard for his authority. To live without religion is practical atheism, and parents who have no religion in their families, teach their children, so far as their own example goes, to be atheists. They virtually say, that there is no being in the uni verse whom they are bound to worship. Such persons are rebuked by the very heathen, who teach their children, both by precept and example, to pay homage to idols. Let the multitudes in this Christian land, who bring up their children without any religious recognition of the only living and true God, consider the unreasonableness of their conduct. "The God in whose hand their breath is, and whose are all their ways, they do not glorify." They do not mention his name religiously to their offspring, though "children are a heritage of the Lord."
Some may probably reply, that they worship God in secret. This is highly important. But if they have no family religion, their households, as such, live "without God in the world." Their children witness no religious acts, by which their parents are distinguished from the veriest infidels. Is not this treating God with neglect and dishonour? Others, perhaps, may say, that they avoid teaching their children religion, in order that they may learn and judge for themselves, when they arrive at mature age. This is a serious mistake. On any other subject except religion, it is universally regarded as preposterous. Let it be understood, that by teaching religion, we do not mean coercion, but the communication of scriptural light and knowledge; such instruction and influence, such precepts and examples, as will give their minds the right direction, and furnish them with the requisite materials for forming a correct and enlightened judgment. This is a duty which cannot be neglected, without a practical denial of the true God, and of his claims to our service. It is not possible, therefore, for parents to frame a valid excuse for withholding from their children proper instruction concerning the character of God, and their relations and obligations to him. The knowledge of God is the most important of all knowledge, and the service of God is the most reasonable of all claims. "A son honoureth his father, and a servant his master: if then I be a father, where is mine honour? and if I be a master, where is my fear? saith the Lord of hosts." Having then in view the high and holy end of glorifying God, we remark,
2. That household religion is very important to parents and heads of families, as indicative of their own desire and purpose to serve the Lord, and also as an aid and encouragement thereto. Notice for example family worship, which is an essential part of household religion. Those parents who habitually neglect this duty, seldom worship God in secret, and the habitual neglect of secret devotion, indicates the absence of piety in the heart, and even of a desire to become pious. It is therefore a hopeful sign when men begin to offer prayer to God. "Behold he prayeth," was mentioned by the Lord concerning Saul of Tarsus, as indicating that his inward feelings had undergone a great and glorious change. This change was visible; and it will be so, more or less, in every other case, where a disposition to pray has been implanted in the soul. Even when the change has not yet become radical, but there is only an earnest desire to become pious, a resort to the closet for secret prayer is an almost invariable consequence. Suppose heads of households to have arrived at the point of a sincere and prayerful desire to serve God; if, in addition to daily prayer in their closets, they erect the family altar and maintain regularly the worship of God in their households, the happy tendency of this course will be to increase their desire, and to ripen it into a solemn and fixed resolution, in reliance on divine grace, to devote themselves to the service of the Lord.
3. Household religion will generally secure the filial obedience of children to their parents, and brotherly love and affection to wards each other. The Bible enjoins upon children to obey and honour their parents; but it also requires parents to train up their children in a religious manner, and thus secure these happy results. "Fathers, provoke not your children to wrath: but bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord." By the Jewish law, "a stubborn and rebellious son" was to be stoned to death. But this law was predicated on the fact that his parents had " chastened him, and he would not hearken unto them." Of course it implied the duty of parental fidelity in maintaining this part of household religion. This was a vital point; and the silence of Scripture history, with regard to these extreme cases, shows that faithfulness on the part of parents, seldom failed to render their children obedient and dutiful.
And further, as parents are the common bond of union between the members of the household, it follows that where parental authority is maintained on religious principles, and these principles are impressed on -the minds of their children, the impressions thus made, are not only reciprocated towards their parents, in the form of filial love and obedience, but are sensibly and sweetly felt among themselves in all their domestic intercourse. This is especially so, when household religion assumes a devotional aspect; when the head of the family becomes the medium of conveying the common wants and desires of all present to the throne of divine grace; and when all unite with him in songs of praise and thanksgiving to God for mercies received. An affection is thus kindled for each other of a more sacred character than is possible to be produced without the benign influence of religious devotion.
4. Household religion will exert an important influence in rendering our children respectable and useful members of society. Intelligence and virtue are the two pillars on which society rests; and the household is the place where the materials are to be moulded for future use. If parents suffer their families to grow up in ignorance and irreligion, they must blame themselves if their children, who ought to be their honour and pride, shall bring down their gray hairs with sorrow to the grave. They may leave their children rich patrimonies, but, if they lack early intellectual and moral training, they can never, except by a rare combination of circumstances, acquire those qualifications which fit them for important social positions. It was remarked by an old author, that "golden citizens, who will make golden laws, and practise golden principles, are far more valuable than golden metal." Such citizens constitute a nation's wealth; and they generally proceed from households in which due care was taken to form their characters according to the principles of God's Word. The divine precept, "Honour the king," is placed in immediate juxtaposition with the command, "Fear God;" thereby teaching us that good citizenship is closely connected with a religious reverence for the Divine Being. Hence the importance of household religion, where this reverence is daily inculcated. In such a country as ours, where all the people are rulers, as well as citizens, the importance of household religion is incalculable. Our civil government is like the wheels in Ezekiel's vision, "a wheel in the middle of a wheel;" and if these wheels are controlled by men who have not the fear of God before their eyes, what can be anticipated but disaster and ruin? Let parents and heads of families consider the important relation which they sustain to the future citizens of our land, and to the destiny of our country; and let their patriotism, as well as their piety, prompt them to give to the rising generation the advantages and benefits of household religion. "What man is he that feareth the Lord?" "his seed shall inherit the earth:" i.e. they shall be prosperous, honourable, and useful.
5. Household religion is God's ordinary method of perpetuating his Church, and transmitting the true religion from one generation to another. The reason assigned in the Second Commandment for prohibiting idolatry, is both awful and blessed in its import. "For, the Lord thy God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me, and showing mercy unto thousands of them that love me, and keep my commandments." The fearful curse which is here pronounced upon ungodly households ought to excite the apprehension of those parents, who "worship and serve the creature more than the Creator;" who teach their children to set a high value on worldly possessions, but to place a low estimate on spiritual things; who run riot in sinful pleasures, but take no thought to secure for themselves or their families an interest in Christ.
But, not to dwell on this awful picture, let us consider the pleasing converse of this, in the promise of mercy to the descendants of those who love God and keep his commandments. This has been remarkably fulfilled, by the manner in which the history of the Church has moved on in grand parallel with family genealogies. From the calling of Abraham to the advent of Christ there were forty-two generations. Of these the Bible furnishes two distinct records, with the design of showing the genealogy of our Lord; but giving incidentally the progress of the Church during that period. These records illustrate the interesting fact that the covenant which was made with Abraham and his household, and his seed after him, embraced his seed, not merely as individuals, but as households; and they also teach the instructive lesson that the ecclesiastical and spiritual benefits of that covenant were preserved from one generation to another, by God's blessing on the moral influences of house hold religion. Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, according to the conditions of the Abrahamic covenant, successively commanded their children and households after them.'to keep the way of the Lord; and, in conformity with these acts of household piety, God was pleased to announce his gracious purpose of perpetuating his Church through their families; saying "I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob;" while this high privilege was lost to the posterity of Ishmael, Lot, and Esau, on account of their criminal neglect of religious duty.
The blessing of Abraham has come on the Gentiles, through Jesus Christ; and the same principle is in operation under the Gospel dispensation as in the Old Testament church. It was concerning Gospel times that the prophetic promise was made, "I will give them one heart and one way, that they may fear me forever, for the good of them and their children after them." "The children of thy servant shall continue, and their seed shall be established before thee." We have known a pious family (and there are doubtless many such families) who could distinctly trace their descent for nearly two hundred years; and they could show by authentic records, that their ancestors during that entire period had been pious. Though God is able of stones to raise up children unto Abraham, he usually proceeds on the principle which we are now illustrating; and it furnishes a powerful motive for maintaining household religion. The inheritance of grace is incomparably more valuable to our descendants than any earthly possession.
6. Household religion is the appropriate means for preparing parents and their families for heaven. To show this, nothing further is necessary than to restate the several particulars in which household religion consists; viz., the possession of personal piety by the heads of families; a public profession of faith in Christ; the daily performance of family worship; the faithful religious instruction of their children; proper parental restraint and correction; a pious dedication of their children to God in the ordinance of baptism; succeeded by a diligent use of all the other means of grace appointed in God's Word; such as teaching them to improve in a right manner their infant baptism, preparing them to become worthy recipients of the Lord's Supper, and enjoining upon them the duty of praying for themselves; and finally, the requisition that they properly observe the Christian Sabbath, by a suspension of business and worldly recreation, by reading God's Word, and by a regular attendance upon the public ministrations of the Gospel. These are all scriptural means of grace and salvation, and if per formed in a right manner, they involve a true Christian experience; while with reference to parents and heads of families, the entire discussion is predicated upon their own sincere and pious purpose, by the aid of the Holy Spirit, to serve the Lord. With regard to themselves, therefore, these means are designed, for the most part, to promote their sanctification, rather than their conversion; and they have a sufficient scripture-warrant for their further use in securing the conversion and salvation of their children.
Let parents exercise faith in God's holy covenant, and in his gracious promises to those who are faithful in the discharge of Christian duty. Let them pray and labour for the conversion of their children, and persevere therein amidst all discouragements and delays. "In due season they shall reap, if they faint not." The following is a forcible illustration of God's mercy and grace in this particular. The Rev. A. D. Merrill states, that "there was once a pious father with seven children, who had maintained the worship of God in his family, until all his children had grown up to mature years, and not one of them had been as yet converted to God. At last the old man's faith began to fail in relation to the promise; and growing 'weary and faint in his mind,' he resolved to give up family worship, and confine his devotions to the closet, and to leave his children to do as they pleased. But before proceeding to do this, he determined to call his children together once more, and explain to them his reasons for this course. Taking up the 'old family Bible,' from which he had so often read to them 'the words of eternal life,' he thus addressed them: 'My children, you know that from your earliest recollection I have been accustomed to call you together around this altar for family worship. I have endeavoured to instruct you in the ways of the Lord, and to imbue your minds with the truth. But you have all grown up, and not one of you is converted to God. You are yet in your sins, and show no signs of penitence. I feel discouraged, and have concluded to make no further efforts for your salvation — to demolish my family altar — to confine my devotions to my closet, and thus endeavour still to work out my own salvation, while I leave you to yourselves.' Upon his speaking thus, first one and then another fell upon their knees, and besought him that he would not do as he proposed, but that he would continue to pray for them, and that he would do it now; for they were now ready to give their hearts to God. He bowed with them. The Holy Spirit descended, and before they rose from their knees, they were all rejoicing in the Lord. One of their number who was married, and away from home, upon returning on a visit, and hearing what great things the Lord had done for the rest of the family, likewise became anxious for her soul, and gave her heart to Christ. Thus they were all saved, and the covenant promise fulfilled."
What a cheering fact! A whole family converted as the fruit of parental faithfulness! A whole household made heirs of God, and joint heirs with Christ, to the inheritance of heaven! How wonderfully changed their prospects! Before, they were children of wrath, as all ungodly households are now! The wrath of God abiding on them, and they constantly exposed to his eternal wrath! How indescribably awful is the thought of a household congregating in hell! The rich man mentioned by our Lord greatly dreaded the presence of his former family associates. "I pray thee, therefore, father [Abraham], that thou wouldst send him [Lazarus] to my father's house; for I have five brethren; that he may testify unto them, lest they also come into this place of torment." If parents fear to meet their children in perdition, where they will be the accusers and tormentors of each other forever, let them first come to Christ themselves, and then lead their families to him, that they may thus be made the common partakers of his salvation.
The assembling of households in heaven will be a joyful meeting. Parents appear there more venerable than when in hoary age they received the filial regards and attentions of kind and dutiful children, while every indication of infirmity and decay has forever departed, and they are as verdant, healthful, and vigorous as in their early manhood. Around them are their once happy children, of all ages, from the buoyant youth to tender infancy — children still in gentleness, docility, and beauty, but ripe, or rapidly maturing in divine wisdom and knowledge. Family ties, once severed by death, are reunited, never again to be broken. Their tears, often shed below, are forever wiped from their eyes, and their countenances, which were here so often sorrowful, now beam with ecstatic joy. While in the flesh, they may have toiled hard, yet have received as their daily pittance less than was needful for the comfort able supply of their bodily wants. But now "they rest from their labours," they eat freely of "the hidden manna," and they drink of "the water of life." On earth, they may have occupied an humble domicile — now they have apartments in the "King's palace." In this world, their clothing may have been coarse and homely — now they are "brought to the King in raiment of needlework;" their "clothing is of wrought gold." While passing through this life, their habitations were not always luminous with their Redeemer's presence, even when they were offering him their homage. At best, they saw "through a glass darkly;" and sometimes, for just cause, he temporarily hid from them the light of his countenance. But now they see him "face to face;" they behold the "King in his beauty;" they are daily in "his temple;" they unceasingly celebrate his praise. With such glorious hopes as these, let Christian parents be prompted to perform with constancy and zeal the several duties involved in household religion.
The above article was originally published The Home, The School, and The Church, Volume 8 (1858)