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Family Worship

by Philip Doddridge (1702-1751), English nonconformist minister and hymn writer.

PPhilip DoddridgeThis Address may come into the hands of many, who have long been exemplary for their diligence and zeal in the duties I am about to recommend. Such, I hope, will be confirmed, by what they read, in pursuing the good resolutions they have taken and the good customs they have formed; and will also be excited more earnestly to endeavour to contribute towards introducing the like into other families over which they have any influence, and especially into those which may branch out from their own, by the settlement of children or servants.

But I have those principally in view, who have hitherto lived in the omission of family prayer.

While I write this, I have that awakening Scripture before me: 'Pour out thy fury upon the heathen that know thee not, and upon the families that call not on thy name.' Jer. 10:25. I appeal to you, whether this does not strongly imply, that every family, which is not a heathen family, which is not quite ignorant will call upon his name. Well may it then pain my heart, to think that there should be a professedly Christian family, whom this dreadful character suits: well may it pain my heart, to think of the divine fury, which may be poured out on the heads and on the members of it: and well may it make me desirous to do my utmost to secure you and yours, from every appearance and possibility of such danger. Excuse the earnestness with which I may address you. I really fear lest while you delay, the fire of the divine pleasure should fall upon you. Gen. 19:16,17. And as I adore the patience of God in having thus long suspended the storm, I am anxious about every hour delay, lest it should fall heavier.

What I desire and entreat of you is, that you honour and acknowledge God in your families, by calling them together every day to hear some part of his Word read to them, and to join, for a few minutes at least, in your confessions, prayers, and praises to him. And is this a cause, that should need to be pleaded at large by a great variety of united motives? Truly the petition seems so reasonable, and a compliance with it, from one who has not quite renounced religion, might seem so natural, that one would think worship the bare proposing of it would suffice. Yet experience tells, it is much otherwise. Some, who maintain a public profession of religion, have refused, and will continue to refuse, year after year.

Reflect, Sir, (for I address myself to every particular person) seriously reflect on the reasonableness of family religion. Must not your consciences presently tell you, it is fit that persons who receive so many mercies together, should acknowledge them together? Can you in your mind be satisfied that you and your nearest relatives should pay no joint homage to that God, who hath set you in your family, and who hath given to you, and to the several members of it, so many domestic enjoyments? Can it be right, if you have any sense of these things, each of you in your own hearts, that the sense of them should be concealed and smothered there, and that you should never join in your grateful acknowledgments to him? Can you imagine it reasonable, that when you have a constant dependence upon him for so many mercies, without the concurrence of which your family would be a scene of misery, you should never present yourselves together in his presence to ask them at his hand? Upon what principles is public worship to be recommended and urged, if not by such as have their proportionable weight here?

Indeed the force of these considerations hath not only been known and acknowledged by the people of God in all ages; we have not only Noah and Abraham, Joshua and David, Job and Daniel, each under a much darker dispensation than ours, as examples of it; but even the poor heathen had their household images, some of them in private chapels, and others about the common hearth, where the family used to worship them by frequent prayers and sacrifices. brass, and wood, and stone, of which they consisted, shall (as it were) cry out against you, shall rise up against you, and condemn you if, while you call yourselves the worshippers of the one living and eternal God, and boast in the revelation you have received by his prophets and by His Son, you persume to omit a homage, which the ignorant worshippers of such vanities as these, failed not to present to them, while they called them their gods. Be persuaded then, I beseech you, to be consistent in your conduct. Either give up all pretences to religion, or maintain a steady and uniform regard to it, at home as well as abroad, in the family, as well as in the closet, or at church.

1. Consider the happy influence which the duty I am recommending might have upon the young members of your family, the children and servants committed to your care. For I now consider you, as a parent and a master. The father of a family is a phrase that comprehends both these relations; and with great propriety, as humanity obliges us to endeavour to take a parental care of all under our roof. And indeed, you ought to consider your servants, in this view, with a tender regard. They are probably in the flower of life, for that is the age which is commonly spent in service; and you should recollect how possible it is, that this may be, if rightly improved, the best opportunity their whole life may afford them for learning religion, and being brought under the power of it. Let them not, if they should finally perish, have cause to testify before God in the day of their condemnation, that 'under your roof they learn the neglect and forgetfulness of God and all that their pious parents, perhaps in a much inferior station of life to you, had in earlier days been attempting to teach them.' Or, if they come to you quite ignorant of religion, (as if they come from prayerless families, it is very probable that they do,) have compassion upon them, I entreat you, and endeavour to give them those advantages which they never yet had; and which it is too probable, as things are generally managed, they never will have, if you will not afford them.

But I would especially, if I might be allowed to borrow the pathetic words of Job, entreat you by the children of your own body. Job 19:17. I would now as it were present them all before you, and beseech you by the bowels of parental affection, that to all the other tokens of tenderness and love, you would not refuse to add this, without which many of the rest may be worse than in vain.

Give me leave to plead with you, as the instruments of introducing them into being. O remember, it is indeed a debased and corrupted nature you have conveyed to them. Consider, that the world, into which you have been the means of bringing them, is a place in which they are surrounded with many temptations, and in which, as they advance in life, they must expect many more; so that it is much to be feared, that they will remain ignorant and forgetful of God, if they do not learn from you to love and serve him. For how can it be expected they should learn this at all, if you give them no advantages for receiving and practicing the lesson at home?

And let me further urge and entreat you to remember, that these dear children are committed to your special care by God their Creator, who has made them thus dependent upon you, that you might have an opportunity of forming their minds, and of influencing them to a right temper and conduct. And can this by any means be effectually done, if you do not at proper times call them together, to attend to the instructions of the word of God, and to join in solemn prayers and supplications to him? At least, is it possible it should be done any other way, with equal advantage, if this be not added to the rest?

Family worship is a most proper way of teaching children religion, as you teach them language by insensible degrees; a little one day, and a little another; for to them line must be upon line, and precept upon precept. They may learn to conceive aright of the divine perfections, when they hear you daily acknowledging and adoring them: their hearts may be early touched with remorse for sin, when they hear your confessions poured out before God: they will know what mercies they are to ask for themselves, by observing what turn your petitions take: your intercession, may diffuse into their minds a spirit of love to mankind, a concern for the interest of the church and of their country, and what is not, I think, by any means to be neglected, sentiments of loyalty towards our sovereign and his family, when they hear you often invoking the divine blessing upon them: and your solemn thanksgivings for the bounties of Providence, and for benefits of a spiritual nature, may affect their hearts with those gracious impressions towards the gracious Author of all, which may excite in their little breasts love to him, the most noble and genuine principle or all true and acceptable religion: thus they may become Christians by insensible degrees, and grow in the knowledge and love of truth, as they do in stature. Indeed were this duty properly attended to, it might be expected, that all Christian families would, according to their respective sizes and circumstances, become nurseries of piety; and you would see, in the most convincing view, the wisdom of Providence, in making human infants so much more dependent on their parents, and so much more incapable to shift for themselves, than the offspring of inferior creatures are.

Let me then entreat you, my dear friend, to look on your children the very next time you see them, and ask your own heart, how you can answer it to God, and to them, that you deprive them of such advantages as these—advantages, without which, it is to be feared, your care of them in other respects will turn to but little account, should they be ever so prosperous in life. For what is prosperity in life without the knowledge, and fear, and love of God? What, but the poison of the soul, which swells and kills it? What, but the means of making it more certainly, more deeply, more intolerably miserable? In short, not mention the happy influence family devotion may have on their temporal affairs, by drawing down the divine blessing, and by forming their minds to those virtues, which pave the way to wealth and reputation, health and contentment which make no enemies, and attract many friends; it is, with respect to the eternal world, the greatest cruelty to your children to neglect giving them those advantages, which no other attentions in education exclusive of these can afford, and it is impossible you should ever be able to give them any other equivalent. If you do your duty in this respect, they will have reason to bless you living and dying, and if you neglect it, take care that you and they come not, in consequence of that neglect, into a world where (horrid as the thought may seem,) you will be for ever cursing each other.

2. Let me now press you to consider, how much your own interest is concerned in the matter.

Your spiritual interest is concerned. Let me seriously ask you, do you not need those advantages for religion, which the performance of family duty will give you, added to those of a more secret and a more public nature, if peradventure they are regarded by you? These instructions, these adorations, these confessions, these supplications, these intercessions, these thanksgivings, which may be so useful to your children and servants—may they not be useful to yourselves? May not your own hearts have some peculiar advantage for being impressed, when you are the mouth of others in these domestic devotions, beyond what in a private station of life it is otherwise possible you should have? Nay, the remoter influence they may have on your conduct, in other respects, and at other times, when considered, merely in the general as religious exercises performed by you in your family, is to be recollected as an argument of vast importance.

A sense of common decency would engage you, if you pray with your family, to avoid a great many evils, which would appear doubly evil in a father or a master, who kept up such religious exercises in his house. Do you imagine, that if reading the Scriptures, and family prayer were introduced into the houses of some of your neighbours—drunkenness, and lewdness, and cursing and swearing, and profaning the Lord's day, would not like so many evil demons, be quickly driven out? The master of a family would not, for shame, indulge them, if he had nothing more than the form of duty kept up; and his reformation, though only external, and at first on a kind of constraint, would carry with it the reformation of many more who have such a dependence on his favour as they would not sacrifice, though, by a madness very prevalent among the children of men, they can venture to sacrifice their souls to every trifle.

And may it not perhaps be your more immediate concern, to recollect, that if you prayed with your family, you would yourself be more careful to abstain from all appearance of evil? 1 Thess. 5:22. You would find out a way to suppress that turbulency of passion, which may now be ready to break out before you are aware, and other imprudences, in which your own heart would check you by saying, 'Does this become one, that is by and by to kneel down with his domestics, his children, and servants, and adore God with them, and pray against every thing which displeases God, and makes us unfit for the heavenly world? I will not say, this will cure every thing that is wrong, but I believe you are already persuaded it would often have a very good influence. And I fear it is the secret desire of indulging some irregularities without such a restraint, that, shameful as such a conduct is, hath driven out family prayer from several houses where it was once maintained, and hath prevented its introduction into others. But if you have any secret disinclination of heart rising against it in this view, it becomes you seriously to take the alarmed for spiritual condition.

After this, it may seem a matter of smaller importance, to urge the good influence which a proper discharge of family duty may have upon your own temporal affairs; both by restraining you from many evils, and engaging you to a proper conduct yourself, and also by impressing your children and servants with a sense of religion. And it is certain, the more careful they are of their duty to God, the more likely they will be to perform their duty to you. Nor can any thing strengthen your natural authority among them more, than your presiding in such solemnities, if supported by a suitable conduct. But I would hope, nobler motives will have a superior weight. And therefore waiving this topic, I entreat you as the last argument to consider,

3. The influence it may have on a general reformation and on the propagation of religion to those who are yet unborn. You ought to consider every child and servant in your family, as one who may be a source, not only of life, but (in some degree) of character and happiness, to those who are hereafter to arise into being; yea, whose conduct may in part affect those that are to descend from them in a remote generation. If they grow up, while under your eye, ignorant of religion, they will certainly be much less capable of teaching it to others; for these are the years of discipline, and if they be neglected now, there is little probability of their receiving instruction afterwards. Nor is this all the evil consequence; for it is highly probable, that they will think themselves sanctioned by your example in a like negligence, and so you may entail heathenism under the name of Christianity, on your descendants and theirs for ages to come. Whereas your diligence and zeal might be remembered, and imitated by them, perhaps when you are in your grave; and the stock which they first received from you, might with rich improvements be communicated to great numbers, so that one generation after another might learn to fear and serve the Lord. On the whole, God only knows what a church may arise from one godly family, what a harvest may spring up from a single seed; and on the other hand, it is impossible to say, how many souls may at length perish by the treacherous neglect of a single person, and to speak plainly, by your own.

These, Sir, are the arguments I have to plead with you, and which I have selected out of many more: And now give me leave seriously to ask you, as in the presence of God, whether there be not on the whole, an unanswerable force in them? And if there be, what follows, but that you immediately yield to that force, and set up Family Worship this very day. For methinks, I would hardly thank you for a resolution to do it tomorrow, so little do I expect from that resolution. How can you excuse yourself in the continued omission? Bring the matter before God: He will be the final judge of it, and if you cannot debate the question as in his presence, it is a sign of a bad cause, and of a bad heart too, which is conscious of the badness of the cause, and yet will not give it up, not comply with a duty, of your obligations to which, you are secretly convinced, while in effect you say, "I will go on in this sin, and venture the consequence." O! it is a dreadful venture, and will be found provoking the Lord to jealously, as if you were stronger than he, 1 Cor. 10:22.

God is represented as giving this reason to his angels for a particular favor to be bestowed on Abraham—I know that he will command his children and household to keep the way of the Lord, that he may obtain the blessing promised. Gen. 18:19. Did he not hereby intend to declare his approbation of the care which Abraham took to support religion in his family? And can it be supported in a total neglect of prayer?—Again, Do you not in your conscience think, that the Spirit of God meant that we should take Joshua for an example, when he tells us, that he resolved (and publicly declared the resolution,) that he and his house would serve the Lord; Josh. 24:15. which must express a religious care of his family too?—Do you not believe, that this blessed Spirit meant it as a commendation of Job, that he offered sacrifices for all his children. Job 1:5; sacrifices, undoubtedly attended with prayers: when he feared least the gaiety of their hearts in their successive feastings might have betrayed them into some moral evil?—And was it not to do an honour to David, that the Scripture informs us, that he 'went home to bless his household,' 2 Sam. 6:20, that is, to perform some solemn act of domestic worship, when he had been spending the whole day in public devotion?—And do you think, when our blessed Lord, whose life was employed in religious services, so frequently took his disciples apart to pray with them, that he did not intend this as an example to us, of praying with those under our special care, or in other words, with the members of our own family, who are most immediately so?—Or can you by any imaginable artifice delude yourself so far as to think, that when we are solemnly charged and commanded to pray 'with all prayer and supplication,' Eph. 6:18. this kind of prayer is not included in that apostolical injunction?

Were there not one praying family in the whole world, methinks it should instigate you to the practice, rather than tempt you to neglect it, and you should press on as ambitions of the glory of leading the way: For what could be a nobler object of ambition, than to be pointed out by the blessed God himself, as Job was; of whom he said, with a kind of triumph, 'Hast thou considered my servant Job, that there is none like him in the land, or even on the earth?' Job 1:8. But blessed be God, the neglect we have supposed is far from being universal. Let it however rejoice us, if God may say, 'There are such and such families, distinguishable from those in their neighbourhood on this account; as prevalent as the neglect of family-prayer is, they have the resolution to practise it, and, like my servant Daniel, fear not the reproach and contempt which profane and ungodly men may cast upon them, if they may but honour me and engage my favour; I know them; I hearken and hear, and a book of remembrance is written before me for them that fear me, and think on my name.'

Say not, you have no time. How many hours in a week do you find for amusement, while you have none for devotion in your family? And do you indeed hold the blessing of God so very cheap, and think it a matter of so little importance, that you conclude your business must succeed the worse, if a few minutes were daily taken to implore it before your family? Let me rather admonish you, that the greater your business is, the more need you have to pray earnestly, that your hearts may not be engrossed by it. And I would beg leave further to remind you, that if your hurry of business were indeed so great as the objection supposes, (which I believe is seldom the case) prudence alone might suggest, that you should endeavour to contract it. For there are certain boundaries, beyond which a wise and faithful care cannot extend; and as an attempt to go beyond these boundaries has generally its foundation in avarice, it often has its end in poverty and ruin. But if you were ever so secure of succeeding for this world, how dear might you and your children pay for that success, if all the blessed consequences of family-religion, for time, and for eternity, were to be given up as the price of that very small part of your gains, which is owing to the minutes you take from these exercises, that you may give them to the world? For you plainly perceive the question is only about them, and by no means about a strenuous application to the proper duties of your secular, calling through the day. And if you will be rich upon such profane terms as are here supposed, (for truly I can call them no better than profane,) you will probably plunge yourself into final perdition, and may in the mean time pierce yourself through with many sorrows; 1 Tim. 6:9,10. while religious families learn by happy experience, that the blessing of the Lord, which they are so often imploring together, 'maketh rich, and addeth no sorrow with it;' Prov. 10:22. or that 'a little with the fear of the Lord is better than great treasure, with that intermingled trouble, Prov. 15:16. which in the neglect of God must necessarily be expected.

As for ability, where the heart is rightly disposed, it does not require any uncommon abilities to discharge family worship in a decent and edifying manner. 'The heart of a wise and good Man, in this respect, teacheth his mouth, and addeth knowledge to his lips.' Prov. 16:23. 'and out of the fulness of it, when it is indeed full of pious affections, the mouth will naturally speak,' Luke 6:45. There is no need at all of speaking elegantly. The plainest and simplest language, in addresses to the Majesty of heaven, appears to me far preferable to laboured, pompous, and artificial expressions. Plain, short sentences, uttered just as they rise in the mind, will be best understood by them that join with you; and they will be more pleasing to God than any thing which should proceed from ostentation and parade.

I must also desire you to consider, how many helps you may easily procure. The Scripture is a large and noble magazine of the most proper sentiments, and most expressive language; which, if you will attend to with a becoming regard, will soon furnish you for this good work. We have too in our language a great variety of excellent forms of prayer for families as well as for private persons; which you may use, at least at first, with great profit. And if it be too laborious to you to learn them by heart, or if having learnt them, you dare not trust your memory, what should forbid your reading them reverently and devoutly? I hope the main thing is, that God be reverently and sincerely adored, that suitable blessings, temporal and spiritual, be sought from him for ourselves and others, and cordial thanksgivings returned to him for the various gifts of his continual bounty. I know in a great variety of instances, that it is very possible for Christians of no extraordinary genius, and with a very low education, to acquit themselves honourably in prayer without the assistance of forms: And they who at first need them, may, and probably, if they seriously set about it, would soon out-grow that need. But if they not, God might be glorified, and families edified by the continued use of such helps.

If opposition be made in your family, you ought to let any in whom you discover it know, that your measures are fixed, and that you cannot and will not resign that just authority, which the laws of God and men give you in your own house, to their unhappy temper, or daring impiety. Make the trial, whether they will dare to break with you, rather than submit to so easy a condition, as that of being present at your hours of family worship. If it be a servant that disputes it, you will no doubt think it a great blessing to your family to rid it of so detestable a member, in that relation. And if a child grown up to years, that should be years of discretion, should set himself against this reformation, though it is certain that, wherever such a son of Belial be, he must be a great grief to your heart, you will be delivered from a great deal of distress which the sight of his wickedness must daily give you, by refusing him a place in your own family, which he would only disgrace and corrupt, and leaving him to practise those irregularities and scandals which always go along with such a presumptuous contempt of religion, any where else rather than under your own roof.

May God give you resolution immediately to make the attempt! And may he assist and accept you, and scatter down every desirable blessing of providence and of grace on you and yours! So that this day may become memorable in your lives, as a season from whence you may date a prosperity and a joy hitherto unknown, how happy soever you may have been in former years; for, very imperfect, I am sure, must that domestic happiness be, in which domestic religion has no part.

But if, after all, you will not be persuaded, but will hearken to the voice of cowardice, and sloth, and irreligion, in defiance of so many awakening and affecting reasons, you must answer it at last. If your children and servants grow up in the neglect of God, and pierce your hearts with those sorrows, which such servants, and especially such children, are like to occasion: if they raise profane and profligate families; if they prove the curse of their country, as well as the torment and ruin of those most intimately related to them; the guilt is in part yours, and (I repeat again,) you must answer it to God at the great day, that you have omitted the proper and appointed method of preventing such fatal evils. In the mean time, you must answer the omission to your own conscience; which probably has not been easy in former days, and in future days may be yet more unquiet. Yet, Sir, the memory of this address may continue to torment you, if it cannot reform you: and if you do not forsake the house of God as well as exclude God and his worship from your own house, you will meet with new wounds; for new exhortations and admonitions will arm reflection with new reproaches. And in this uncomfortable manner you will probably go on, till what has been the grief and shame of your life, become the affliction of your dying bed; nor dare I presume to assure you, that God will answer your last cries for pardon. The best you can expect under the consciousness of this guilt, is to pass trembling to your final doom;—But whatever that doom be, you must acquit the friend who has given you faithful warning; and this address, transcribed as it were in the records of the divine omniscience, shall testify, that a matter of so great importance hath not been kept out of your view, nor slightly urged on your conscience.

From The Publications of the American Tract Society. Vol. 1; no. 18. Printed for the Society by Flagg and Gould, 1824.

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