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JOSHUA'S PIOUS RESOLUTION;
DUTIES OF FAMILY RELIGION,
HOUSEHOLD GOVERNMENT ENFORCED.
Josh xxiv. 15.
FAMILY religion is of very ancient, and no less extensive practice; to be traced back as far as the days of our great progenitors, in whose family the God of heaven was worshipped by sacrifice, as is pretty evident from the spoils of the beasts which they wore, as well as from the account we have of the several offerings made by Cain and Abel. From Adam down to Joshua it is easy to trace it in the seed of the promise ; but to them it was not confined; for, however misled the ancient pagans were, in respect to the object and modes of their worship, this practice of worshipping God in families was pretty general amongst them, as most writers of antiquity do testify. Homer, both in bis Iliad and Odyssey, and Virgil in the Æneid, make mention of household gods held in great veneration by their contemporaries and predecessors, such, I suppose, as those which Rachel stole from her father Laban, and after which he made such grievous lamentation, Gen. xxx. 30. The retaining of Teraphim images and household gods, shews, at least, that household worship was performed by the ancient pagans, and that therefore they had more religion than many who call themselves Christians.
But, however moderns may reject the practice of worshipping God in their families; this good man, this *Jesus of the old Testament, resolves and publishes his resolution that the Lord should be served and worshipped in his family. After a recital of God's benefits to Israel, and the wonders which his hand had performed in their behalf, he reasons with them upon the
* Jesus of the Old Testament. Such is the import of his name, and such the office to which lié was called; as the leader or saviour of ancient Israel, by bringing them into Canaan, and appearing at their head in all their enterprises and conquests.
propriety of serving the Lord on one hand, and the danger of rejecting his commandments on the other; may not my reader and me look back and survey the benefits received from the Almighty Governor? What evils have been averted by his vigilance, and what deliverances his ever-watchful Providence has wrought for us though undeserving? And on the review we shall be obliged to say, “What hath God done? Is this the manner of man, O Lord ?" We may also, without subjecting ourselves to the charge of legality, bring the matter laid before Israel home to ourselves, and ask whether or not we will serve the Lord ? And if we will, whether we see it our duty and are inclined to serve him in our houses with holy Joshua ? For my own part, I do not see how church or congregational religion can long subsist, much less flourish without a due regard being paid to family godliness. And, indeed, it is a rule almost universally observed, that those who neglect the worship of God in their families, are remiss in the duties of social religion if not enslaved by temptation and sin.
Amongst those who are called Christians, two sets of men fall under the censure of scripture. 1. Such who totally neglect the service of God in their families. 2. Those who do not altogether neglect this duty, but are irregular and defective in regard to the manner in which it is performed.
1. Those who totally neglect the worship of God in their families, amidst all their pretensions to higher pleasures than others enjoyed. If poor pagans, from the law of nature, considered it as their duty to worship their supreme Creator in their houses; how culpable must they be, who, having the Bible in their hands, and gospel light shining all around them, neglect to worship him, whose only Providence doth make them houses and fix their dwellings in a valley of vision.
1. But who in a Christian land do neglect the worship of God in their families ? One would suppose that there are none such. But common observation shews us, that the profane herd in general live, in this respect, without God; call not upon him, except to damn themselves and others. Awful prayer! And which, in the issue, may be answered. Many live from day to day, from week to week, from month to month, and even from year to year, without any manner of prayer and devotion at all. Others content themselves with a weekly attendance on public worship, without so much as the smallest traces of religion in their families, or regard paid to God, as the God of the families of Israel.
2. Many of the sensible, polite, and civil, whose external deportment in other respects is lovely, join with the vulgar and profane herd in slighting the God who made them, and class with those who call not upon his venerable name. These are amongst all denominations of people; for both churchmen and
dissenters may be found, who live without the fear of God in their hearts, and his worship in their houses.
3. Some are yet, if possible, more inconsistent, and whilst they profess the assurance of faith, and pretend to have no fear of death and futurity, live altogether destitute of family religion and worship. But such people, whoever they are, give but a very slight, if any evidence at all, of the excellency of their faith, or even of its reality. They set a shocking example before their children and servants, instead of training them up in the way they should go, they are to them destroyers instead of nursing fathers, at whose hands the blood of their uncultivated children will be required in judgment. Such neglecters of family religion and godliness, give all possible reason for us to believe, that their hearts are unsound, and that all their religion is mere hypocrisy. I pity the children of such ungodly parents. I pity the servants whose unhappy lot it is to dwell under their roofs.
Such heads of families are undoubtedly under that awful imprecation, Jer. x. 25. Pour out thy fury upon the heathen, and upon all the families that call not upon thy name.' Ranked along with heathens in spite of a lofty profession ; exposed to the out-pourings of the divine fury, notwithstanding their pretensions to faith and its assurance. To blunt the edge of this scripture, some will tell you that they call upon God privately, and so may the other branches of their families ; so that they ought not to be ranked along with those who call not on the divine name.
But they ought to know, that if every individual were at one instant of time to call on the name of the Lord, separately and apart, it can with no propriety be called family worship. A family cannot be said to call on the name of the Lord, but in its own proper capacity, in the convention of its members. But a backsliding heart will shelter itself from conviction under any lying refuge whatever, and use the meanest subterfuges.
II. Some there be, who make conscience of the duties of family worship, and dare by no means give them up; who, notwithstanding, are very defective and irregular in the performance and spirit of them. This defect proceeds from hurry of business, or the want of a right plan of household government, rather than from any particular prevalency of an iniquitous or impious principle. And, if I mistake not, ariseth chiefly from the following misconduct.
1. The deferring of morning prayer, till the world has laid hold of the heart, and the business of the day is fairly set in. What disadvantages this alone is attended with, let the man of business, the man of conscience say, for he has experienced it. It were well, if before business is at all begun, this part of duty were embraced as a privilege, and the divine name were invoked early in the niorning. This would prevent its being entireiy
was a duty under the law, it is not less so under the gospel. To which may be added, that parents and masters, being now under an higher dispensation, have many advantages unknown to the patriarchal age; and the truths of God's gospel, in a more clear and ample manner, than were ever known to the Jewish church.
This divine precept was duly regarded by the faithful of old, who accordingly were careful and vigilant in the instruction of their children and servants, as appears from that in Psal. lxxviii. 2---8. 'I will open my mouth in parables, I will utter dark
sayings of old ; which we have heard and known, and our faothers have told us. We will not hide them from our children, shewing to the generation to come, the praises of the Lord, and
his strength, and his wonderful works that he hath done. For • he established a testimony in Jacob, and appointed a law in • Israel, which he commanded our fathers, that THEY SHOULD • make them known to their children. That the generation to
come might know them, even the children which should be born, • should arise and declare them unto their children : that they
might set their hope in God, and not forget the works of God, but keep his commandments.' Such was the conduct of the Jewish fathers; how much more ought it to be the study of Christians, who are blessed with such superior advantages.
David, notwithstanding his foreign wars, and the weighty affairs of government which lay heavy upon him, neglected not this part of parental duty, as appears from Solomon's testimony, Prov. iv. I---5. Hear, ye children, the instruction of a father, • and attend to know understanding. For I give you good doc• trine, forsake not you my law. For I was my father's son, • tender and only beloved in the sight of my mother. He taught
me also, and said unto me, Let thine heart retain my words, keep my commandments and live. Get wisdom, get under• standing : forget it not, neither decline from the words of my * mouth.' So David taught Solomon his son, who, by his subsequent conduct, evidently shewed that instruction had not been administered to him in vain ; for, according to the advice of his holy parent, his whole heart was set upon getting wisdom and understanding. Eunice, mother of Timothy, is highly honcurea by the apostolic pen, which records her assiduity in teaching her son, even from a child, the knowledge of the scriptures, 2 Tim. iii. 15. But alas ! the ignorance of many of our children, betray the carelessness, and manifest the dishonour of the parents. Thus it appears, that when Joshua resolves to serve the Lord with his house, that he also resolves to instruct his household in the knowledge of his will whom they serve. A
2. Thing implied in this resolution is, a purpose properly to exert paternal authority in his family, as under God 'its immediate governor. He who resolves to serve the Lord with his
house, must first determine to command his family. Hence it is required of a bishop or pastor of a church, that he should, I Tim. iii. 4. ' rule well his own house, having his children in
subjection with all gravity. And if indispensably necessary to that important office, it must certainly be very proper to all masters of families whatever. man must look exceedingly mean and contemptible, who has not authority sufficient in his own family to command all their attendance upon the worship of God. Though a parent cannot give grace to his children, nor a master to his servant, he may with propriety and justice insist on their presence and decent deportment in the worship of God.
When the master of a family quits the reins of domestic discipline, he introduceth the most fatal disorders into his household, and becomes accessary to the ruin of his children and dependants. The house of Eli seems to be hung up, as a fag of warning to all future parents, to caution them against loosing the reins of household government. “His sons made themselves • vile, and he restrained them not; on which account the severest judgments were inflicted on him and his,' 1 Sam. iji. A conscientious regard to this paternal duty, and good conduct in his numerous family, were some of the gems which embellished the character of faithful Abraham. For I know Abraham that he will command his children and his household after him, and they shall keep the way of the Lord,' Gen. xviii. 19. A remarkable proof of which we have in the case of ELIEZER of Damascus, who, although sprung from a Gentile stock, having long sujourned under Abraham's roof, gave the most illustrious proof of his unfeigned sanctity and fidelity, on his embassy to Mesopotamia. So true is it, that he who from a child bringeth up a servant as he ought to do, shall have him for a son at last.
Three things are to be observed, respecting domestic discipline, as indispensably necessary.
1. It should be begun early; for it is more easy to bend the young and tender sapling, than the sturdy and inflexible oak. Seemingly apposite to my present purpose, I would present my reader with a quotation from a very great master of this subject.* “ The great mistake I have observed in people's breeding of their children, has been, that care has not been taken in due season, to make the mind obedient to discipline, and pliant to reason, when at first it was most tender, and most easy to be bowed. Parents, being wisely ordained by nature to love their children, are very apt, if reason watch not that natural affection very warily, to let it run into fondness. They love their little ones, and it is their duty ; but they often, with them, cherish their faults too. They must not be crossed forsooth; they must be perunitted to have their wills in all things : and by being in their infancy, but
• Locke on Education, pag. 33, 34. edit. 9.