Seems like a temple, while yon soft lamp sheds
A faint and starry radiance through the room
And the sweet stillness, down on yon bright heads
With all their clustering locks, untouched by care, And bowed, as flowers are bowed with night, -- in prayer. Gaze on, 'tis lovely -- childhood's lip and cheek
Mantling beneath its earnest brow of thought!"
Home-sympathy will prompt to family devotion. The latter is the fruit of the former. A prayerless home is destitute of religious sympathy. The family demands prayer. Its relation to God, its dependence and specific duties, involve devotion. Communion with God constitutes a part of the intercourse and society of home. The necessity of family prayer arises out of the home-constitution and mission. Family mercies and blessings; family dangers and weaknesses; family hopes and temptations, -- all bespeak the importance of family worship. If you occupy the responsible station of a parent; if God has made you the head of a religious household, and you profess to stand and live on the Lord's side, then, tell me, have you not by implication vowed to maintain regular family worship? Besides, the benefits and privilege of prayer develop the obligation of the family to engage in it. Is not every privilege a duty? And if it is a duty for individuals and congregations to pray, is it not, for a similar reason, the duty of the family to establish her altar of devotion? As a family we daily need and receive mercies, daily sin, are tempted and in danger every day; why not then as a family daily pray?
But what is family prayer? It is not simply individual prayer, not the altar of the closet; but the home-altar, around which all the members gather morning and evening, as a family-unit, with one heart, one faith and one hope, to commune with God and supplicate his mercy. "In the devotion of this little assembly," says Dr. Dwight, "parents pray for their children, and children for their parents; the husband for the wife, and the wife for the husband; while brothers and sisters send up their requests to the throne of Infinite Mercy, to call down blessings on each other. Who that wears the name of a man can be indifferent here? Must not the venerable character of the parent, the peculiar tenderness of the conjugal union, the affectionate intimacy of the filial and fraternal relations; must not the nearest of relations long existing, the interchange of kindness long continued, and the oneness of interests long cemented, -- all warm the heart, heighten the importance of every petition, and increase the fervor of every devotional effort?"
What scene can be more lovely on earth, more like the heavenly home, and more pleasing to God, than that of a pious family kneeling with one accord around the home-altar, and uniting their supplications to their Father in heaven! How sublime the act of those parents who thus pray for the blessing of God upon their household! How lovely the scene of a pious mother gathering her little ones around her at the bedside, and teaching them the privilege of prayer! And what a safeguard is this home-devotion, against all the machinations of Satan!
"Our hearths are altars all;
It is this which makes home a type of heaven, the dwelling place of God. The family altar is heaven's threshold. And happy are those children who at that altar, have been consecrated by a father's blessing, baptized by a mother's tears, and borne up to heaven upon their joint petitions, as a voluntary thank-offering to God. The home that has honored God with an altar of devotion may well be called blessed.
"Child, amidst the flowers at play,
The duty thus to establish family prayer is imperative. It is a duty because God commands it, and the mission of home cannot be fulfilled without it. It is a duty because a privilege and a blessing, and the condition of parental efficiency in all other duties; -- because the moral and spiritual growth of the child depends upon it. It is one of the most effectual means of grace. All the instructions, all the discipline and example, of the parent will be in vain without it. Hence both natural affection and Christian faith should suggest its establishment. Parents are bound to do so by their covenant vows, by the obligations of baptism, by all the interests and hopes of their household. They have dedicated their children to God, and pledged themselves to educate them for Him, and to train them up in His ways. Tell me then, can you be faithful to these vows and obligations without family prayer? Can you fulfil your covenant engagements, hope to receive your reward, and see your children grow up in the nurture of the Lord's vineyard, without rearing up a family altar?
The promised blessings of family prayer show that every faithful Christian home must have its family altar. These are unspeakable. It is a sure defence against sin; it sanctifies the members, and throws a hallowed atmosphere around our household. The child will come under its restraining and saving influence. A mother's prayer will haunt the child, and draw it as if by magic power towards herself in heaven:
"He might forget her melting prayer,
It affords home security and happiness, removes family friction, and causes all the complicated wheels of the home-machinery to move on noiselessly and smoothly. It promotes union and harmony, expunges all selfishness, allays petulant feelings and turbulent passions, destroys peevishness of temper, and makes home-intercourse holy and delightful. It causes the members to reciprocate each other's affections, hushes the voice of recrimination, and exerts a softening and harmonizing influence over each heart. The dew of Hermon falls upon the home where prayer is wont to be made. Its members enjoy the good and the pleasantness of dwelling together in unity. It gives tone and intensity to their affections and sympathies: it throws a sunshine around their hopes and interests: it increases their happiness, and takes away the poignancy of their grief and sorrow. It availeth much, therefore, both for time and eternity. Its voice has sent many a poor prodigal home to his father's house. Its answer has often been, "This man was born there!" The child, kneeling beside the pious mother, and pouring forth its infant prayer to God, must attract the notice of the heavenly host, and receive into its soul the power of a new life.
"Who would not be an infant now,
And yet the neglect of family prayer is a very general defect of the Christian home. No home-duty has indeed been more grossly neglected and abused. Some attend to it only occasionally; some only in times of affliction and distress, as if then only they needed to pray to God; some only on the Sabbath, as if that were the only day to commune with Him. Some perform it only in a formal way, having the form without the spirit of prayer, as if God did not require the fervent, in order to the effectual, prayer that availeth much.
As a general thing, at the present day, not more than three or four families out of a whole congregation, have established the family altar. The parents may engage in closet prayer, but their children are strangers to the fact. Their devotions they seem zealous to conceal, as if they were ashamed of their piety. Can this be right? Is this the will of God? No! methinks if the parent is faithful to the duty of private prayer, he cannot omit the duty and privilege of family devotion. But why neglect family prayer? Are you ashamed of your children? Have you no time? Then you are unworthy of a family, and should not profess to act towards them as the steward of God. Think you that God will not answer and bless your prayers? What more could you do and hope for your children than to offer up supplications for them to God?
"What could a mother's prayer,
Many seek by the most frivolous excuses, to justify their neglect of family prayer. Some will urge the press of other duties, alleging that other engagements prevent it. This is false. God lays upon you no engagement that is designed to supersede the necessity of prayer. Besides, you will find that you really waste more time than it would require for family devotion. And further, can you spend your time to better purpose than in family prayer? I think not. It is the best husbandry of time. Says Philip Henry to his children, "Prayer and provender hinder no man's journey." But another pleads incapacity. He has not the gift of speech, and cannot make an eloquent prayer. This is no excuse. Prayer is the gift of the Holy Spirit; and if you have the spirit of prayer, you will find words for its utterance. Besides, eloquence does not condition the efficacy of prayer. Where there is a willing mind, it is accepted according to that a man hath, and not according to that he hath not.
"When we of helps or hopes are quite bereaven,
We have the capacity to ask for what we earnestly desire and feel the need of. The anger of God will kindle against you for this excuse, as it kindled against Moses for a similar one. When He called him to be his messenger to Israel, Moses said, as you do, "O my Lord, I am not eloquent, -- I am slow of speech, and of a slow tongue. And the Lord said unto him, who hath made man's mouth? or, who maketh the dumb, or deaf, or the seeing, or the blind? Have not I the Lord? The anger of the Lord was kindled against him."
Let me, therefore, urge upon you, Christian parents, to make prayer a prominent element of your home. You should be a priest unto your family, -- a leader in home-communion with God. Your children have a right to expect this from you. If you are a church member, how strange and startling must be the enunciation in heaven, that you are a prayerless Christian, and your home destitute of the altar! And do you think that, continuing thus, you will be admitted into that heavenly home where there is one unbroken voice of prayer and praise to God? Do you not tremble at the prospect of those tremendous denunciations which the Lord has uttered against those who neglect and abuse the privilege of prayer? "Pour out thy fury upon the families that have not called upon thy name." Oh then, make your home a house of prayer; lead your little flock in sweet communion with God. Establish in them the habit of devotion: Shape their consciences by prayer. In this way you shall secure for yourself and them the blessing of God: His smile shall ever rest upon your household: Salvation shall be the heritage of your children; they will grow up in the divine life; and will live amid the blessing's of prayer, and be faithful to its requisitions:
"Hold the little hands in prayer, teach the weak knees their kneeling; Let him see thee speaking to thy God; he will not forget it afterwards; When old and gray will he feelingly remember a mother's tender piety, And the touching recollection of her prayers shall arrest the strong man in his sin!"