The loveliest feature of a matchless scene;
Beneath its shading elm, with pious fear,
An aged mother draws her children near,
While from the Holy Word, with earnest air,
She teaches them the privilege of prayer.
Look! how their infant eyes with rapture speak;
Mark the flushed lily on the dimpled cheek;
Their hearts are filled with gratitude and love,
Their hopes are centered in a world above!"
The Christian home demands a family religion. This makes it a "household of God." Without this it is but a "den of thieves." It is "the one thing needful."
What is "family religion?" It is not an exotic, but is indigenous to the Christian home. It is not a "new measure," but an essential ingredient of the home-constitution, -- coexistent with home itself. The first family "began to call upon the name of the Lord;" the first parent acted as high-priest of God in his family.
It is not individual piety as such, not simply closet devotion, but family service of God, -- religion taken up in the home-consciousness and life. Hence a family, and not simply a personal religion.
Such religion, we say, is as old as the church. We find it in Eden, in the tents of the patriarchs and in the wilderness of the prophets. We find it in the tent of Abraham in the plains of Mamre, in the "house" of Moses, in the "service" of Joshua, in the "offerings" of Job, and in the palace of David and Solomon. It is also a prominent feature of the gospel economy. The commendation bestowed by Paul upon Timothy, was that "from a child" he enjoyed the "unfeigned faith" of his mother Eunice and his grandmother Lois. Paul exhorts Christians thus: "Rule well your own houses; speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs." The same family religion was a prominent feature of the homes of the primitive Christians. With them, every house was a sanctuary, and every parent a minister in holy things to its members. The bible was not only a parlor ornament, but a lamp to their feet and a guide to their path, used, meditated upon, prayed over. Says Turtullian of its members, "They are united in spirit and in flesh; they kneel down together; they pray and fast together; they teach, exhort and support each other with gentleness."
How, alas! have Christian homes degenerated since then in family piety! They received a reviving impulse in the Reformation; yet even this was meteor-like, and seemed but the transient glow of some mere natural emotion. The fire which then flashed so brilliantly upon the altar of home, has now become taper-like and sepulchral; and the altar of family religion, like the altar of Jehovah upon Mt. Carmel, has been demolished, and forsaken. Only here and there do we find a Christian home erect and surround a Christian altar. Parents seem now ashamed to serve the Lord at home. They have neither time nor inclination. Upon the subject of religion they maintain a bashful, sullen, wonderful silence before their families. They seem to be impressed with the strange idea that their wives and children put no confidence in their piety, (and may they not have reason for it?) and that it would, therefore, be vain for them to pray, or exhort their households. "Many walk thus," says Paul, "of whom I have told you often, and now tell you even weeping, that they are the enemies of the cross of Christ!" Upon them shall be answered the prayer of Jeremiah, "Oh Lord, pour out thy fury upon the families that call not upon thy name!"
Thus, therefore, we see that the Christian home demands a family religion. The private devotion of the individual can be no effectual substitute for it.
"The parents pair their secret homage,
Family religion includes parental bible instruction, family prayer, and religious education, government, discipline and example. These involve the parent's position in his household as a prophet, priest, and king. "Thou shalt teach my words diligently unto thy children, and talk of them when thou sittest in thy house."
"Daily let part of Holy Writ be read,
Thus felt and acted our primitive fathers. By every winning art, they sought to fill their children with the knowledge of God's Word. The entire range of nursery instruction and amusement was comprised in scripture pictures and hieroglyphics. They intermingled religion with all their home pursuits, and entwined it with their earliest and purest associations of childhood. If Christian parents would follow their example now, in these days of parental delinquency, we would not behold so many of their children grow up in religious ignorance and indifference.
The same may be said of the family altar and prayer. A prayerless family is an irreligious, godless family. Says Henry, "They who daily pray in their houses do well; they that not only pray, but read the scriptures, do better; but they do best of all, who not only pray and read the scriptures, but sing the praises of God."
Besides, the religion of home implies that we "command our children and household to keep the way of the Lord," -- that we "bring them up in His nurture and admonition," and "train them up as He would have them go;" and that in things pertaining to their spiritual welfare we "go in and out" before them as their pattern and example, bidding them to "follow us even as we follow Christ," and living in their midst as "the living epistles of Christ, known and read" of them all.
Family religion must "show itself by its works" of Christian charity and benevolence to the poor, the sick and the distressed. We should "lay by" a certain amount each year of what God bestows, for the support of the church and the propagation of the gospel. Oh, how little do Christians now give to these benevolent objects! A penurious, close-fisted, selfish home cannot be a religious household. Family religion must be reproductive, must return to God as well as receive from Him. But as these characteristic features of the Christian home will be considered hereafter, we shall not enlarge upon them here. Suffice it to say that the mission of home demands family religion. Its interests cannot be secured without it. Let our homes be divorced from piety, and they will become selfish, sensual, unsatisfactory, and unhappy. Piety should always reign in our homes, -- not only on the Sabbath, but during the week; not only in sickness and adversity, but in health and prosperity. It must, if genuine, inspire and consecrate the minutest interests and employments of the household. It must appear in every scene and feeling and look, and in each heart, as the life, the light, the hope, and the joy of all the members.
The necessity of family religion is seen in the value of the soul. The soul is the dearest treasure and the most responsible trust of home. What shall it profit the family if its members gain the whole world and lose their own souls? What would Christian parents give in exchange for the souls of their little ones? Is it not more important that they teach them to pray than to dance, to "seek the kingdom of heaven" than the enjoyment of "the pleasures of sin for a season?" Oh, what is home without a title to, and personal meetness for, that kingdom? It is a moral waste; its members move in the putrid atmosphere of vitiated feeling and misdirected power. Brutal passions become dominant; we hear the stern voice of parental despotism; we behold a scene of filial strife and insubordination; there is throughout a heart-blank. Domestic life becomes clouded by a thousand crosses and disappointments; the solemn realities of the eternal world are cast into the shade; the home-conscience and feeling become stultified; the sense of moral duty distorted, and all the true interests of home appear in a haze. Natural affection is debased, and love is prostituted to the base designs of self, and the entire family, with all its tender cords, ardent hopes, and promised interests, becomes engulfed in the vortex of criminal worldliness!
But reverse the picture! See what home becomes with religion as its life and rule. Human nature is there checked and moulded by the amiable spirit and lovely character of Jesus. The mind is expanded, the heart softened, sentiments refined, passions subdued, hopes elevated, pursuits ennobled, the world cast into the shade, and heaven realized as the first prize. The great want of our intellectual and moral nature is here met, and home education becomes impregnated with the spirit and elements of our preparation for eternity.
The relations of home demand family religion. These are relations of mutual dependence, involving such close affinity that the good or evil which befalls one member must in some degree extend to all the other members. They involve "helps." Each member becomes an instrument in the salvation or damnation of the others. "For what knowest, O wife, whether thou shalt save thy husband? or how knowest thou, O man, whether thou shalt save thy wife?" -- 1 Cor. vii., 16. "If one member Suffer, all the members suffer with it." They stimulate each other either to salvation or to ruin; and hence those children that go to ruin in consequence of parental unfaithfulness, will "curse the father that begat them, the womb that bare them," and the day they entered their home.
Many parents seek to excuse themselves from the practice of family religion, upon the ground that they have not the capacity nor the time. If so, you should not have married. But if you are Christians, you have the capacity, and you will take the time.
But some are ashamed to begin family religion. Ashamed of what? of your piety? of your children? of the true glory and greatness of your home? Then you are ashamed of Jesus! You should rather blush that you have not begun this good work.
The great defect of family religion in the present day is, that it is not educational. Parents wait until their children have grown up, and established habits of sin, when they suppose that the efforts of some "protracted meeting" will compensate for their neglect in childhood. They overlook the command of God to teach them His words. The influence of this defect and delusion has been most destructive. Many Christian homes are now altogether destitute of religious appliances. If the angel that visited the homes of Israel were to visit the Christian homes of this age, would he not be tempted to say, as Abraham said to Abimelech, "Surely the fear of God is not in this place!"
One great reason, perhaps, why there are so many such homes is, that there are now so many irreligious marriages, where husband and wife are "unequally yoked together," one a believer and the other not. "How can two walk together except they be agreed?" Can there be family religion when husband and wife are traveling to eternity in opposite roads? No! There will be hindrances instead of "helps." If they marry not "in the Lord," religion will not be in their home. Says the pious Jay, "I am persuaded that it is very much owing to the prevalence of these indiscriminate and unhallowed connections, that we have fallen so far short of those men of God, who are gone before us, in the discharge of family worship, and in the training up of our households in the nurture and admonition of the Lord."
Family religion is implied in the marriage relation and obligation. It is included in the necessities of our children, and in the covenant promises of God. The penalties of its neglect, and the rewards of our faithfulness to it, should prompt us to its establishment in our homes. Its absence is a curse; its presence a blessing. It is a foretaste of heaven. Like manna, it will feed our souls, quench our thirst, sweeten the cup of life, and shed a halo of glory and of gladness around our firesides. Let yours, therefore, be the religious home; and then be sure that God will delight to dwell therein, and His blessing will descend, like the dews of heaven, upon it. Your children shall "not be found begging bread," but shall be like "olive plants around your table," -- the "heritage of the Lord." Yours will be the home of love and harmony; it shall have the charter of family rights and privileges, the ward of family interests, the palladium of family hopes and happiness. Your household piety will be the crowning attribute of your peaceful home, -- the "crown of living stars" that shall adorn the night of its tribulation, and the pillar of cloud and of fire in its pilgrimage to a "better country." It shall strew the family threshold with the flowers of promise, and enshrine the memory of loved ones gone before, in all the fragrance of that "blessed hope" of reunion in heaven which looms up from a dying hour. It shall give to the infant soul its "perfect flowering," and expand it in all the fullness of a generous love and conscious blessedness, making it "lustrous in the livery of divine knowledge." And then in the dark hour of home separation and bereavement, when the question is put to thee, mourning parents, "Is it well with the child? is it well with thee?" you can answer with joy, "It is well!"