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 statements 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.

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