A Church in the House
A Sermon Concerning Family Religion
Preached in London, April 16, 1704
by Matthew Henry
Full sermon pdf here.
“With the church that is in their house.“
1 Corinthians 16:19
Among the salutations presented by the Apostle Paul in his first epistle to the Corinthians, was that from Aquila and Priscilla, and “the church that is in their house” (1 Cor. 16:19). Some very good interpreters, I know, understand this of a settled, stated, solemn meeting of Christians at the house of Aquila and Priscilla, for public worship; and they were glad of houses to meet in, where they wanted those better conveniences, which the church was afterwards, in her prosperous days, accommodated with. When they had not such places as they could wish, they thankfully made use of such as they could get.
But others think it is meant only of their own family, and the strangers within their gates, among whom there was so much piety and devotion, that it might well be called a church, or religious house. Thus the ancients generally understood it. Nor was it only Aquila and Priscilla whose house was thus celebrated for religion (here and Rom. 16:5), but Nymphas also had a church in his house (Col. 4:15 and Phil. 1:2). Not but that others, to whom and from whom salutations are sent in Paul’s epistles, made conscience of keeping up religion in their families; but these are mentioned, probably because their families were more numerous than most of those other families were; which made their family devotions more solemn, and consequently more taken notice of.
In this sense I shall choose to take it; hence to recommend family religion to you, under the notion of a church in the house. When we see your public assemblies so well filled, so well frequented, we cannot but thank God, and take courage; your diligent attendance on the ministry of the word and prayers, is your praise, and I trust, through grace, it redounds to your spiritual comfort and benefit. But my subject at this time will lead me to inquire into the state of religion in your private houses, whether it flourish or wither there? Whether it be on the throne, or under foot there? Herein I desire to deal plainly and faithfully with your consciences, and I beg you will give them leave to deal so with you.
Family religion is essential for, and the beginning of, Reformation.
The pious and zealous endeavours both of magistrates and ministers for the reformation of manners, and the suppression of vice and profaneness, are the joy and encouragement of all good people in the land, and a happy indication that God has yet mercy in store for us: “If the Lord were pleased to kill us, he would not have shewed us all these things” (Judges 13:23). Now I know not any thing that will contribute more to the furtherance of this good work than the bringing of family religion more into practice and reputation. Here the reformation must begin. Other methods may check the disease we complain of, but this, if it might universally obtain, would cure it. Salt must be cast into these springs, and then the waters would be healed.
Many a time, no doubt, you have been urged to this part of your duty; many a good sermon perhaps you have heard, and many a good book has been put into your hands with this design, to persuade you to keep up religion in your families, and to assist you therein: but I hope a further attempt to advance this good work, by one who is a hearty wellwisher to it, and to the prosperity of your souls and families, will not be thought altogether needless, and that by the grace of God it will not be wholly fruitless: at least it will serve to remind you of what you have received and heard to this purpose, that you may hold fast what is good, and repent of what is amiss (Rev. 3:3).
The lesson then which I would recommend to you from this text, is this:
That the families of Christians should be little churches; or thus, That wherever we have a house, God should have a church in it.
Unhappy contests there have been, and still are, among wise and good men about the constitution, order, and government of churches. God by his grace heal these breaches, lead us into all truth, and dispose our minds to love and peace; that while we endeavour herein to walk according to the light God has given us, we may charitably believe that others do so too; longing to be there where we shall be all of a mind.
But I am now speaking of churches, concerning which there is no controversy. All agree that masters of families who profess religion, and the fear of God themselves, should, according to the talents they are entrusted with, maintain and keep up religion and the fear of God in their families, as those who must give account; and that families, as such, should contribute to the support of Christianity in a nation, whose honour and happiness it is to be a Christian nation. As nature makes families little kingdoms (and perhaps economics were the first and most ancient politics), so grace makes families little churches; and those were the primitive churches of the Old Testament, before “men began to call upon the name of the Lord” in solemn assemblies (Gen. 4:26), and “the sons of God came together to present themselves” before him (Job 1:6).
Not that I would have these family churches set up and kept up in competition with, much less in contradiction to, public religious assemblies, which ought always to have the preference: “The Lord loves the gates of Sion more than all the dwellings of Jacob” (Ps. 87:2), and so must we; and must not forsake the assembling of ourselves together (Heb. 10:25), under colour of exhorting one another daily at home. Far be it from us to offer any thing that may countenance the invading of the office of the ministry, or laying it in common, and the usurping or superseding of the administration of sacraments. No, but these family churches (which are but figuratively so), must be erected and maintained in subordination to those more sacred and solemn establishments.
Now, that I may the more distinctly open to you, and press upon you, this great duty of family religion, from the example of this and other texts, of a “church in the house,” I shall endeavour, I. To show what this church in the house is, and when our families may be called churches. And, II. To persuade you by some motives, thus to turn your families into churches. And then, III. To address you upon the whole matter by way of application.
I. What family religion is.
I. I am in the first place to tell you what that family religion is which will be as a church in the house, and wherein it consists, that you may see what it is we are persuading you to.
1. Devoted to God.
1. Churches are sacred societies, incorporated for the honour and service of God in Christ, devoted to God, and employed for him: so should our families be.
Churches are societies devoted to God, called out of the world, taken in out of the common to be enclosures for God; he has set them apart for himself; and because he hath chosen them, they also have chosen him, and set themselves apart for him. The Jewish church was separated to God for “a peculiar people,” and “a kingdom of priests” (Deut. 14:2; Ex. 19:6; cf. 1 Pet. 2:9).
Thus our houses must be churches; with ourselves we must give up our houses to the Lord, to be to him for a name and a people. All the interest we have, both in our relations, and in our possessions, most be consecrated to God; as under the law all that the servant had was his master’s for ever, after he had consented to have his ear bored to the door-post. When God effectually called Abram out of Ur of the Chaldees, his family assumed the appearance of a particular church; for in obedience to God’s precept, and in dependence on God’s promise, they took all the substance they had gathered, and the souls they had gotten, and put themselves and their all under a divine conduct and government (Gen. 12:5). His was a great family, not only numerous, but very considerable; the father of it was the father of all them that believe; but even little families, jointly and entirely given up to God, so become churches. When all the members of the family yield themselves to God, subscribe with their hands to be the Lord’s, and surname themselves by the name of Israel—and the master of the family, with himself, gives up all his right, title, and interest, in his house, and all that belongs to it, unto God, to be used for him, and disposed of by him; here is a church in the house.
Baptism was ordained for the discipline of nations (Mat. 28:19), that the kingdoms of the world, as such, might, by their conversion of the people to the faith of Christ, and the consecration of their powers and governments to the honour of Christ, become his kingdoms (Rev. 11:15). Thus by baptism households likewise are discipled, as Lydia’s and the jailer’s (Acts 16:15, 33), and in their family capacity are given up to him, who is in a particular manner the God of all the families of Israel (Jer. 31:1). Circumcision was at first a family ordinance, and in that particular, as well as others, baptism somewhat symbolizes with it. When the children of Christian parents are by baptism admitted members of the universal church, as their right to baptism is grounded upon, so their communion with the universal church is, during their infancy, maintained and kept up chiefly by, their immediate relation to these “churches in the house;” to them, therefore, they are, first, given back, and in them they are deposited—under the tuition of them, to be trained up till they become capable of a place and a name in particular churches of larger figure and extent. So that baptized families, who own their baptism, and adhere to it, and in their joint and relative capacity make profession of the Christian faith, may so far be called little churches.
More than once in the Old Testament we read of the dedication of private houses. It is spoken of as a common practice. “What man is there that hath built a new house, and hath not dedicated it?” (Deut. 20:5) that is, taken possession of it; in the doing of which it was usual to dedicate it to God by some solemn acts of religious worship. The 30th Psalm is entitled, “A Psalm and Song at the Dedication of the House of David.” It is a good thing when a man has a house of his own, thus to convert it into a church, by dedicating it to the service and honour of God—that it may be a Bethel, a house of God, and not a Bethaven, a house of vanity and iniquity. Every good Christian who is a householder, no doubt does this habitually and virtually; having first given his own self to the Lord, he freely surrenders all he has to him. But it may be of good use to do it actually and expressly, and often to repeat this act of resignation, “This stone which I have set for a pillar shall be God’s house” (Gen. 28:22). Let all I have in my house, and all I do in it, be for the glory of God; I own him to be my great Landlord, and I hold all from and under him: to him I promise to pay the rents (the quit-rents) of daily praises and thanksgivings; and to do the services, the easy services, of gospel obedience. Let “Holiness to the Lord” be written upon the house, and all the furniture of it, according to the word which God has spoken (Zech. 14:20-21). That every pot in Jerusalem and Judah shall be Holiness to the Lord of hosts. Let God by his providence dispose of the affairs of my family, and by his grace dispose the affections of all in my family, according to his will, to his own praise. Let me and mine be only, wholly, and for ever his.
Be persuaded (brethren) thus to dedicate your houses to God, and beg of him to come and take possession of them. If you never did it, do it tonight with all possible seriousness and sincerity. “Lift up your heads, O ye gates; and be ye lift up, ye everlasting doors; and the King of glory shall come in” (Ps. 24:7). Bring the ark of the Lord into the tent you have pitched, and oblige yourselves, and all yours, to attend it. Look upon your houses as temples for God, places for worship, and all your possessions as dedicated things, to be used for God’s honour, and not to be alienated or profaned.
2. Employed for God.
2. Churches are societies employed for God, pursuant to the true intent and meaning of this dedication.
There are three things necessary to the well-being of a church, and which are most considerable in the constitution of it. Those are doctrine, worship, and discipline. Where the truths of Christ are professed and taught, the ordinances of Christ administered and observed, and due care taken to put the laws of Christ in execution among all who profess themselves his subjects, and this under the conduct and inspection of a gospel ministry, there is a church. And something answerable hereunto there must be in our families, to denominate them little churches.
Masters of families, who preside in the other affairs of the house, must go before their households in the things of God. They must be as prophets, priests, and kings, in their own families; and as such they must keep up family doctrine, family worship, and family discipline; then is there a church in the house, and this is the family religion that I am persuading you to.
(1.) Keep up family doctrine.
(1.) Keep up family doctrine. It is not enough that you and yours are baptized into the Christian faith, and profess to own the truth as it is in Jesus, but care must be taken, and means used, that you and yours be well acquainted with that truth, and that you grow in that acquaintance, to the honour of Christ and his holy religion, and the improvement of your own minds, and theirs who are under your charge. You must deal with your families as men of knowledge (1 Pet. 3:7), that is, as men who desire to grow in knowledge yourselves, and to communicate your knowledge for the benefit of others, which are the two good properties of those who deserve to be called men of knowledge.
That you may keep up family doctrine:
[1.] Read and ensure understanding of the Scriptures.
[1.] You must read the Scriptures to your families, in a solemn manner, requiring their attendance on your reading, and their attention to it; and inquiring sometimes whether they understand what you read. I hope you are none of you without Bibles in your houses, store of Bibles, every one a Bible. Thanks be to God, we have them cheap and common in a language that we understand. The book of the law is not such a rarity with us as it was in Josiah’s time. We need not fetch this knowledge from afar, nor send from sea to sea, and from the river to the ends of the earth, to seek the Word of God; no, the Word is nigh us. When popery reigned in our land, English Bibles were scarce things; a load of hay (it is said) was once given for one torn leaf of a Bible. But now Bibles are every one’s money. You know where to buy them; or if not able to do that, perhaps in this charitable city you may know where to beg them. It is better to be without bread in your houses than without Bibles, for the words of God’s mouth are and should be to you more than your necessary food .
But what will it avail you to have Bibles in your houses, if you do not use them? To have the great things of God’s law and gospel written to you, if you count them as a strange thing! You look daily into your shop-books, and perhaps converse much with the news-books, and shall your Bibles be thrown by as an almanac out of date? It is not now penal to read the Scriptures in your families, as it was in the dawning of the day of Reformation from popery when there were those who were accused and prosecuted for reading in a certain great heretical book, called an English Bible. The Philistines do not now stop up these wells (Gen. 26:18), nor do the shepherds drive away your flocks from them (Ex. 2:17), nor are they as a spring shut up, or a fountain sealed; but the gifts given to men have been happily employed in rolling away the stone from the mouth of these wells. You have great encouragements to read the Scripture; for notwithstanding the malicious endeavours of atheists to vilify sacred things, the knowledge of the Scripture is still in reputation with all wise and good men. You have also a variety of excellent helps to understand the Scripture, and to improve your reading of it; so that if you or yours perish for lack of this knowledge, as you certainly will if you persist in the neglect of it, you may thank yourselves, the guilt will lie wholly at your own doors.
Scripture reading part of family worship.
Let me, therefore, with all earnestness press it upon you to make the solemn reading of the Scripture a part of your daily worship in your families. When you speak to God by prayer, be willing to hear him speak to you in his word, that there may be a complete communion between you and God. This will add much to the solemnity of your family worship, and will make the transaction the more awful and serious, if it be done in a right manner; which will conduce much to the honour of God, and your own and your family’s edification. It will help to make the Word of God familiar to yourselves, and your children and servants, that you may be ready and mighty in the Scriptures, and may thence be thoroughly furnished for every good word and work (2 Tim. 3:17). It will likewise furnish you with matter and words for prayer, and so be helpful to you in other parts of the service.
If some parts of Scripture seem less edifying, let those be most frequently read that are most so. David’s Psalms are of daily use in devotion, and Solomon’s proverbs in conversation; it will be greatly to your advantage to be well versed in them. And I hope I need not press any Christian to the study of the New Testament, nor any Christian parents to the frequent instructing of their children in the pleasant and profitable histories of the Old Testament. When you only hear your children read the Bible, they are tempted to look upon it as no more than a schoolbook; but when they hear you read it to them in a solemn, religious manner, it comes, as it ought, with more authority. Those masters of families who make conscience of doing this daily, morning and evening, reckoning it part of that which the duty of every day requires, I am sure they have comfort and satisfaction in so doing, and find it contributes much to their own improvement in Christian knowledge, and the edification of those who dwell under their shadow—and the more, if those who are ministers expound, themselves, and other masters of families read some plain and profitable exposition of what is read, or of some part of it.
It is easy to add under this head, that the seasonable reading of other good books will contribute very much to family instruction. In helps of this kind we are as happy as any people under the sun, if we have but hearts to use the helps we have, as those who must give an account shortly of them among other talents which we are entrusted with.
[2.] You must also catechise your children and servants, so long as they continue in that age of life which needs this milk. Oblige them to learn some good catechism by heart, and to keep it in remembrance; and by familiar discourse with them help them to understand it, as they become capable. It is an excellent method of catechising, which God himself directs us to (Deut. 6:7), to teach our children the things of God, by talking of them as we sit in the house, and go by the way, when we lie down, and when we rise up. It is good to keep up stated times for this service, and be constant to them, as those who know how industrious the enemy is to sow tares while men sleep. If this good work be not kept going forward, it will of itself go backward. Wisdom also will direct you to manage your catechising, as well as the other branches of family religion, so as not to make it a task and burthen, but as much as may be a pleasure to those under your charge, that the blame may lie wholly upon their own impiety, and not at all upon your imprudence, if they should say, “Behold what a weariness is it!“
This way of instruction by catechising does in a special manner belong to the “church in the house;” for that is the nursery in which the trees of righteousness are reared, that afterwards are planted in the courts of our God. Public catechising will turn to little account without family catechising. The labour of ministers in instructing youth, and feeding the lambs of the flock, therefore proves to mum labour in vain, because masters of families do not do their duty, in preparing them for public instruction, and examining their improvement by it. As mothers are children’s best nurses, so parents are, or should be, their best teachers. Solomon’s father was his tutor (Prov. 4:3-4), and he never forgot the lessons his mother taught him (Prov. 31:1).
Baptism obligates parents to promoting family doctrine.
The baptism of your children, as it laid a strong and lasting obligation upon them to live in the fear of God, so it brought you under the most powerful engagements imaginable to bring them up in that fear. The child you gave up to God to be dedicated to him, and admitted a member of Christ’s visible church, was in God’s name given back to you, with the same charge that Pharaoh’s daughter gave to Moses’s mother, “Take this child and nurse it for me” (Ex. 2:9); and in nursing it for God, you nurse it for better preferment than that of being called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter. It is worth observing, that he to whom God first did the honour of entailing the seal of the covenant upon his seed, was eminent for this part of family religion: “I know Abraham,” says God, “that he will command his children and his household after him, and they shall keep the way of the Lord” (Gen. 18:19). Those, therefore, who would have the comfort of God’s covenant with them and their seed, and would share in that blessing of Abraham which comes upon the Gentiles, must herein follow the example of faithful Abraham. The entail of the Covenant of Grace is forfeited and cut off, if care be not taken, with it, to transmit the means of grace. To what purpose were they discipled if they be not taught? Why did you give them a Christian name, if you will not give them the knowledge of Christ and Christianity? God has owned them as his children, and born unto him (Ezek. 16:20), and therefore he expects that they should be brought up for him; you are unjust to your God, unkind to your children, and unfaithful to your trust, if, having by baptism entered your children in Christ’s school, and enlisted them under his banner, you do not make conscience of training them up in the learning of Christ’s scholars, and under the discipline of his soldiers.
Children are capable of family doctrine.
Consider what your children are now capable of, even in the days of their childhood. They are capable of receiving impressions now which may abide upon them while they live. They are turned as clay to the seal, and now is the time to apply to them the seal of the Living God. They are capable of honouring God now, if they be well taught; and by their joining, as they can, in religious services with so much reverence and application as their age will admit, God is honoured, and you in them present to him living sacrifices, holy and acceptable. The Hosannas even of children well taught will be the perfecting of praise, and highly pleasing to the Lord Jesus.
Children are designed for family doctrine.
Consider what your children are designed for (we hope) in this world: they must be a seed to serve the Lord, which shall be accounted to him for a generation. They are to bear up the name of Christ in their day, and into their hands must be transmitted that good thing which is committed to us. They are to be praising God on earth, when we are praising him in heaven. Let them then be brought up accordingly, that they may answer the end of their birth and being. They are designed for the service of their generation, and to do good in their day. Consult the public welfare then, and let nothing be wanting on your parts to qualify them for usefulness, according as their place and capacity is.
Consider especially what they are designed for in another world: they are made for eternity. Every child thou hast has a precious and immortal soul, that must be for ever either in Heaven or Hell, according as it is prepared in this present state; and, perhaps, it must remove to that world of spirits very shortly: and will it not be very mournful, if through your carelessness and neglect, your children should learn the ways of sin, and perish eternally in those ways? Give them warning, that, if possible, you may deliver their souls, at least, that you may deliver your own, and may not bring their curse and God’s too, their blood and your own too, upon your heads.
Results are up to God.
I know you cannot give grace to your children, nor is a religious conversation the constant consequent of a religious education—”The race is not” always “to the swift, nor the battle to the strong” (Eccl. 9:11)—but if you make conscience of doing your duty, by keeping up family doctrine; if you teach them the good and the right way, and warn them of by-paths; if you reprove, exhort, and encourage them as there is occasion; if you pray with them, and for them, and set them a good example, and at last consult their soul’s welfare in the disposal of them, you have done your part, and may comfortably leave the issue and success with God.
(2.) Keep up family worship.
(2.) Keep up family worship. You must not only as prophets teach your families, but as priests must go before them, in offering the spiritual sacrifices of prayer and praise. Herein likewise you must tread in the steps of faithful Abraham (whose sons you are while thus you do dwell); you must not only like him instruct your household, but like him you must with them call on the name of the Lord, the everlasting God, (Gen. 21:33). Wherever he pitched his tent, there he built an altar unto the Lord, (Gen. 12:7-8; 13:4, 18.) though he was yet in an unsettled state, but a stranger and a sojourner; though he was among jealous and envious neighbours, for the Canaanite and the Perizzite dwelled then in the land, yet, wherever Abraham had a tent God had an altar in it, and he himself served at that altar. Herein he has left us an example.
Families, as such, have many errands at the throne of grace, which furnish them with matter and occasion for family prayer every day. Errands which cannot be done so well in secret, or public, but are fittest to be done by the family, in consort, and apart from other families. And it is good for those who go before the rest in family devotions, ordinarily to dwell most upon the concerns of those who join in their family capacity, that it may be indeed a family prayer, not only offered up in and by the family, but suited to it. In this and other services we should endeavour not only to say something, but something to the purpose.
Five things especially you should have upon your heart in your family prayer, and should endeavour to bring something of each, more or less, into every prayer with your families.
[1.] Family dependence upon God.
[1.] You ought to make family acknowledgments of your dependence upon God and his providence, as you are a family. Our great business in all acts of religious worship, is to give unto the Lord the glory due unto his name; and this we must do in our family worship. Give honour to God as the founder of families by his ordinance, because “it was not good for man to be alone” (Gen. 2:18); as the founder of your families by his providence, for he it is “who buildeth the house” (Ps. 127:1) and “setteth the solitary in families” (Ps. 68:6). Give honour to him as the Owner and Ruler of families; acknowledge that you and yours are his, under his government, and at his disposal, as “the sheep of his pasture” (Ps. 100:3). Especially adore him as the “God of all the families of Israel” (Jer. 31:1), in covenant relation to them, and having a particular concern for them above others. Give honour to the great Redeemer as the head of all the churches, even those in your houses; call him the Master of the family, and the great upholder and benefactor of it; for he it is in whom all the families of the earth are blessed (Gen. 12:3). All family blessings are owing to Christ, and come to us through his hand by his blood. Own your dependence upon God, and your obligations to Christ, for all good things pertaining both to life and godliness; and make conscience of paying homage to your chief Lord, and never set up a title to any of your enjoyments in competition with his.
[2.] Family confession of sin.
[2.] You ought to make family confessions of your sins against God; those sins you have contracted the guilt of in your family capacity. We read in Scripture of the iniquity of the house, as of Eli’s (1 Sam. 3:13-14). Iniquity visited upon the children (Ex. 20:5), sins that bring wrath upon families, and a curse that enters into the house to “consume it, with the timber thereof, and the stones thereof” (Zech. 5:4). How sad is the condition of those families who sin together, and never pray together! Who, by concurring in frauds, quarrels, and excesses, by strengthening one another’s hands in impiety and profaneness, fill the measure of family guilt, and never agree together to do any think to empty it!
And even religious families, that are not polluted with gross and scandalous sins, yet have need to join every day in solemn acts and expressions of repentance before God for their sins of daily infirmity. Their vain words and unprofitable conversation among themselves; their manifold defects in relative duties, provoking one another’s lusts and passions, instead of provoking one another to love and to good works—these ought to be confessed and bewailed by the family together, that God may be glorified, and what has been amiss may be amended for the future. It was not only in a time of great and extraordinary repentance that families mourned apart (Zech. 12:11), but in the stated returns of the day of expiation the priest was particularly to make atonement for his household (Lev. 16:17). In many things we, all, offend God, and one another; and a penitent confession of it in prayer together, will be the most effectual way of reconciling ourselves both to God, and to one another. The best families, and those in which piety and love prevail most, yet in many things come short, and do enough every day to bring them upon their knees at night.
[3.] Family thanksgiving.
[3.] You ought to offer up family thanksgivings for the blessings which you, with your families, receive from God. Many are the mercies which You enjoy the sweetness and benefit of in common; which, if wanting to one, all the family would be sensible of it. Has not God made a hedge of protection about you and your houses, and all that you have! (Job 1:10). Has he not created a defense upon every “dwelling place” of Mount Zion, as well as upon her assemblies? (Isa. 4:5). The dreadful alarms of a storm, and the desolations made, as by a fire, once in an age, should make us sensible of our obligations to the Divine Providence for our preservation from tempests and fire every day and every night. “It is of the Lord’s mercies that we are not consumed” (Lam. 3:22), and buried in the ruins of our houses.
When the whole family comes together safe in the morning from their respective retirements, and when they return safe at night from their respective employments, there having been no disaster, no “adversary,” no evil occurrence—it is so reasonable, and (as I may say) so natural, for them to join together in solemn thanksgivings to their great Protector, that I wonder how any who believe in a God, and a providence, can omit it. Have you not health in your family, sickness kept or taken from the midst of you? Does not God bring plentifully into your hands, and increase your substance? Have you not your table spread, and your cup running over, and manna rained about your tents? And does not the whole family share in the comfort of all this? Shall not then the voice of thanksgiving be in those tabernacles where the voice of rejoicing is? (Ps. 118:15). Is the vine by the house-side fruitful and flourishing, and the olive plants round the table green and growing (Ps. 128:3)? Are family relations comfortable and agreeable, not broken nor embittered, and shall not that God be acknowledged herein who makes every creature to be that to us that it is? Shall not the God of your mercies, your family mercies, be the God of your praises, your family praises, and that daily?
The benefit and honour of your being Christian families, your having in God’s house, and within his walls, a place and a name better than that of sons and daughters, and the salvation this brings to your house, furnishes you with abundant matter for joint thanksgivings. You hath he known above all the families of the earth, and, therefore, he expects in a special manner to be owned by you. Of all houses, the house of Israel, the house of Aaron, and the house of Levi, have most reason to bless the Lord, and to say, “His mercy endureth for ever” (Ps. 136).
[4.] Family petitions.
[4.] You ought to present your family petitions for the mercy and grace which your families stand in need of. Daily bread is received by families together, and we are taught not only to pray for it every day, but to pray together for it, saying, “Our Father,” give it us (Mat. 6:9, 11). There are affairs and employments which the family is jointly concerned in the success of, and, therefore, should jointly ask of God wisdom for the management of them, and prosperity therein. There are family cares to be cast upon God by prayer, family comforts to be sought for, and family crosses which they should together beg for the sanctification and removal of. Hereby your children will be more effectually possessed with a belief of, and regard to, the Divine Providence, than by all the instructions you can give them; which will look best in their eye, when thus reduced to practice by your daily acknowledging God in all your ways.
Pray with, not only for, your children.
You desire that God will give wisdom and grace to your children, you travail in birth again till you see Christ formed in them. You pray for them, it is well, but it is not enough. You must pray with them. Let them hear you pray to God for a blessing upon the good instructions and counsels you give them. It may perhaps put them upon praying for themselves, and increase their esteem both of you, and of the good lessons you teach them. You would have your servants diligent and faithful, and this perhaps would help to make them so. Masters do not give to their servants that which is just and equal, if they do not continue in prayer with them. They are put together (Col. 4:1-2).
There are some temptations which families, as such, lie open to. Busy families are in temptation to worldliness, and neglect of religious duties. Mixed families are in temptation to discord, and mutual jealousies. Decaying families are in temptation to distrust, discontent, and indirect courses to help themselves. They should therefore not only watch, but pray together, that they be not overcome by the temptations they are exposed to.
There are family blessings which God has promised, and for which he will be sought unto, such as those on the house of Obed-edom for the ark’s sake; or the mercy which Paul begs for the house of Onesiphorus (2 Tim. 1:16). These joint blessings must be sued out by joint prayers. There is a special blessing which God commands upon families that dwell together in unity (Ps. 133:1, 3), which they must seek for by prayer, and come together to seek for it, in token of that unity which qualifies for it. Where God commands the blessing, we must beg the blessing. God by promise blesses David’s house, and, therefore, David by prayer blesses it too (2 Sam. 6:20).
[5.] Family intercessions for others.
[5.] You ought to make family intercessions for others also. There are families you stand related to, or which by neighbourhood, friendship, or acquaintance, you become interested in and concerned for; and these you should recommend in your prayers to the grace of God, and your family that are joined with you in the alliances should join with you in those prayers. Evil tidings perhaps are received from relations at a distance, which are the grief of the family; God must then be sought unto by the family for succour and deliverance. Some of the branches of the family are, perhaps, in distant countries, and in dangerous circumstances, and you are solicitous about them; it will be a comfort to yourselves, and perhaps of advantage to them, to make mention of them daily in your family prayers. The benefit of prayer will reach far, because he who hears prayer can extend his hand of power and mercy to the utmost corners of the earth, and to them that are afar off upon the sea.
In the public peace likewise we and our families have peace; and therefore, if we forget thee, O Jerusalem, we are unworthy ever to stand in thy courts, or dwell within thy walls. Our families should be witnesses for us that we pray daily for the land of our nativity, and the prosperity of all its interests; that praying every where we make supplication for the Queen, and all in authority (1 Tim. 2:2, 8). That we bear upon our hearts the concerns of God’s church abroad, especially the suffering parts of it. Thus keeping up a spiritual communion with all the families that in every place call on the name of the Lord Jesus.
In a word, let us go by this rule in our family devotions: whatever is the matter of our care, let it be the matter of our prayer; and let us allow no care which we cannot in faith spread before God. And whatever is the matter of our rejoicing, let it be the matter of our thanksgiving; and let us withhold our hearts from all those joys which do not dispose us for the duty of praise.
Singing of Psalms.
Under this head of family worship, I must not omit to recommend to you the singing of Psalms in your families, as a part of daily worship, especially Sabbath worship. This is a part of religious worship, which participates both of the Word and prayer, for therein we are not only to give glory to God, but to teach and admonish one another (Col. 3:16). It is, therefore, very proper to make it a transition from the one to the other. It will warm and quicken you, refresh and comfort you. And, perhaps, if you have little children in your houses, they will sooner take notice of it than of any other part of your family devotion; and some good impressions may thereby be fastened upon them insensibly.
(3.) Keep up family discipline.
(3.) Keep up family discipline, that so you may have a complete church in your house, though in little. Reason teaches us that every man should bear rule in his own house (Esther 1:22). And since that as well as other power is of God, it ought to he employed for God; and they who so rule must be just, ruling in his fear (2 Sam. 23:3). Joshua looked further than the acts of religious worship, when he made that pious resolution, “As for me and my house we will serve the Lord” (Josh. 24:16). For we do not serve him in sincerity and truth, which is the service he there speaks of (Josh. 24:14), if we and ours serve him only on our knees, and do not take care to serve him in all the instances of a religious conversation. Those only who have clean hands, and a pure heart, are accounted the generation of them that seek God (Ps. 24:4, 6). And without this those who pretend to seek God daily, do but mock him (Isa. 53:2).
The authority God has given you over your children and servants is principally designed for this end, that you may thereby engage them for God and godliness. If you use it only to oblige them to do your will, and so to serve your pride, and to do your business, and so to serve your worldliness, you do not answer the great end of your being invested with it. You must use it for God’s honour, by it to engage them, as far as you can, to do the will of God, and mind the business of religion. Holy David not only blessed his household, but took care to keep good order in it, as appears by that plan of his family discipline, which we have in the 101st Psalm, a psalm which Mr. Fox tells us that blessed martyr Bishop Ridley often read to his family, as the rule by which he resolved to govern it.
You are made keepers of the vineyard, be faithful to your trust, and carefully watch over those who are under your charge, knowing you must give account.
[1.] Encourage the good in your children.
[1.] Countenance everything that is good and praiseworthy in your children and servants. It is as much your duty to commend and encourage those in your family who do well, as to reprove and admonish those who do amiss; and if you take delight only in blaming that which is culpable, and are backward to praise that which is laudable, you give occasion to suspect something of an ill nature, not becoming a good man, much less a good Christian. It should be a trouble to us when we have a reproof to give, but a pleasure to us to say, with the apostle “Now I praise you” (1 Cor. 11:2).
Most people will be easier led than driven, and we all love to be spoken fair to: when you see anything that is hopeful and promising in your inferiors, anything of a towardly and tractable disposition, much more any thing of a pious affection to the things of God, you should contrive to encourage it. Smile upon them when you see them set their faces heavenwards, and take the first opportunity to let them know you observe it, and are well pleased with it, and do not despise the day of small things. This will quicken them to continue and abound in that which is good, it will hearten them against the difficulties they see in their way; and, perhaps, may turn the wavering, trembling scale the right way, and effectually determine their resolutions to cleave to the Lord. When you see them forward to come to family worship, attentive to the word, devout in prayer, industrious to get knowledge, afraid of sin, and careful to do their duty, let them have the praise of it, for you have the comfort of it, and God must have all the glory. Draw them with the cords of a man, hold them with the bands of love; so shall your rebukes, when they are necessary, be the more acceptable and effectual. The great Shepherd gathers the lambs in his arms, and carries them in his bosom, and gently leads them; and so should you.
[2.] Discourage the evil in your children.
[2.] Discountenance everything that is evil in your children and servants. Use your authority for the preventing of sin, and the suppressing of every root of bitterness, lest it spring up, and trouble you, and thereby many be defiled. Frown upon everything that brings sin into your families, and introduces any ill words, or ill practices. Pride and passion, strife and contention, idleness and intemperance, lying and slandering, these are sins which you must not connive at, nor suffer to go without a rebuke. If you return to the Almighty, this among other things is required of you, that you put away iniquity, all iniquity, these and other the like iniquities “far from thy tabernacle” (Job 22:23). Make it to appear, that in the government of your families you are more jealous for God’s honour, than for your own authority and interest; and show yourselves more displeased at that which is an offence to God, than at that which is only an affront or damage to yourselves.
You must indeed be careful not to provoke your children to wrath, lest they be discouraged (Eph. 6:4); and as to your servants, it is your duty to forbear, or moderate, threatening (Eph. 6:9). Yet you must also, with holy zeal and resolution, and the meekness of wisdom, keep good order in your families, and set no wicked thing before their eyes (Ps. 101:3), but witness against it. “A little leaven leaveneth the whole lump” (1 Cor. 5:6; Gal. 5:9). Be afraid of having wicked servants in your houses, lest your children learn their way, and get a snare to their souls. Drive away with an angry countenance all that evil communication which corrupt good manners (1 Cor. 15:33), that your houses may be habitations of righteousness, and sin may never find shelter in them.