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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