Excerpt: The Practical Directions as to the Mode of Conducting Family-Worship

By Crossmap On Oct 12, 2018

To one who is conscientiously resolved to honor God in his household, a clear conception of the duty itself and some method in the observance of it are indispensable.

The very first question which offers itself, is, by whom is this service to be rendered? To this the name is a reply: It is Family Worship. All the dwellers in one house. More particularly the parents, the children, or such as occupy the children’s place, as wards, pupils, apprentices; the lodgers, and other inmates; the guests and sojourners.

Every Christian householder should acknowledge his solemn obligation to extend the blessings of domestic religion to his neighbors, as much as to his children. All proper means should be used to secure the attendance of every individual, even if this should render it needful to sacrifice some momentary convenience in regard to meals and other arrangements.

The beauty of this service depends, in no small degree, on the presence of the whole family. The reverse of this is too common, and there are houses, where, from sloth or irreligion, some members habitually absent themselves from the prayers. Even in boarding-houses and inns, we have known the happiest effects to flow from the practice of gathering all who were under the roof at the time of worship. It is also a good usage, to proceed with the accustomed devotion, even though casual visitors may be present, Providence may thus be opening a door for unexpected influence.

The time for Family-Worship demands our consideration. By common consent the Christian world has allotted to it the two seasons of morning and evening; not that there is any virtue in this number, or in these seasons, but because it seems just and fit to place our acknowledgment of God at these natural terms of our working day. There have been those who have found edification in three hours of prayer: “Evening and morning, and at noon, will I pray, and cry aloud, and he shall hear my voice.”(Psalm 55:17)

That which is most important in regard to the time of Family-Worship, is, that it should be fixed. We ascribe great value to this particular. It adds dignity to the service, by showing that it is not to give way to the changes or caprice of business or amusement. It saves the time of the household; and it tends to that method and punctuality in domestic affairs, which is a chief ornament of a Christian house.

Morning Prayer should, in our humble judgment, be early in the morning. Here there is the diversity of usage, and we are not of those who would impose our own preferences on others, or invent any ceremonial yoke. But we have noted striking advantages, in observing family devotion at as early an hour as the whole household can he assembled. There is a Christian decorum in resorting to God before we gather around the table of his bounty. The refreshment of food seems to acquire a blessing; “for it is sanctified by the word of God and prayer.” (1 Tim. 4:5) It appears right to seek food for the soul before we seek food for the body. Otherwise, we lose the delightful feeling of having begun the day with God. The moment of repletion from a meal is of all others the least comely for a solemn approach to heaven. Moreover, by seizing an early hour, we avoid numerous interruptions, and that sense of hurry and impatience which attend the time immediately preceding the forenoon’s business. All these reasons may, however, be controlled by considerations of health and business, and every man must be left to his own judgment.

Evening Prayer is, of course, the closing domestic service. Hence it has been the prevalent custom to make it the last thing before retiring for the night, and there is certainly something beautiful in the arrangement. In many houses, it is the only time which can be secured. Yet it must be acknowledged that there is a practical difficulty connected with this; and Family-Worship may be too late for those who, agreeably to our view of the subject, are principally concerned, to wit, servants, and especially children. The younger members of a family are apt to be unfit for the service, as being overcome with sleep; and it is scarcely just that they should be robbed of one half of domestic prayer, as they must be if they retire at an early hour. Even adults are often disqualified for enjoying the work of praise, by the weariness and stupor consequent on a long day of toil. Hence some have thought they found an advantage in calling together the family immediately before, or immediately after the evening meal. It is a laudable method; but, here, as in all things connected with form, we would ask and give the largest liberty, only let all things be done decently, and in order.” (1 Cor. 14:40)

The person, whose office it is to lead in Family-Worship, is undoubtedly the head of. the household. The father is here in his proper place, as the prophet and patriarch of his little State. In the occasional absence of the father, or in the lamented event of his removal, Providence has devolved this, with all other parental trusts, on the solitary, or the widowed mother. And though it brings with it a keen trial to diffidence and feminine reserve, it is also eminently amiable and touching; and dutiful sons will make every sacrifice in order to lessen the burdens of the maternal heart when engaged in such a duty. The parent may sometimes see cause to depute this office to a son or brother, when the latter, from education, gifts, or graces, is qualified to take his part with edification. In a house which is so happy as to comprise several such persons, rotation in the service may be allowed; always reserving to the father, or head, his prerogative, and responsibility of direction.

The constituent parts of Family-Worship, when fully observed, are, first, the reading of the Scriptures; secondly, the singing of praise to God; “and, thirdly, prayer; and these may very properly follow each other in this order. But we propose to enlarge on these particulars below. The length of the domestic service is worthy of attention. If it was insufferably long, this goes far to destroy all good influence on the young, by creating weariness and disgust.

The manner and spirit of the service should never be neglected. In every part, it should be solemn and fitted to repress all levity. Of course, every secular task or amusement will be suspended and absolute silence and quiet will be enforced, even in the case of the youngest children, who thereby gain a most important lesson. The greatest simplicity should characterize every word and every petition. Those who have the greatest interest in the worship, are often little more than babes. But we would especially recommend a holy animation, as that which will arrest attention, and make way for pleasant memories.

Prayer is the essential part of Family Worship and therefore merits the first place in our consideration. It is not necessary to enlarge on those things which are common to all acts of prayer; these belong to another subject. That which concerns us is family prayer. This, its distinguishing character, ought never to be out of sight. It is the worship of those who are joined together by Providence as dwellers in the same house, and who now come to the throne of grace in their family capacity. This will give a tinge to the whole service, where it is conducted with life and discrimination. Many things may be proper here, which would be out of place in a promiscuous assembly, or even a small meeting. There is no domestic want, danger, sorrow, or dispensation, which may not be remembered. Special cases in the household will be faithfully and affectionately commended to God, but without that rudeness and irreverence with which we have known vulgar minds to drag forward the circumstances, and even names of shrinking individuals. But our Heavenly Father permits us to spread before him our minutest trials, and this is one of the principal blessings of domestic religion.

What has been said of brevity, applies especially to prayer, as a part of Family Worship. Few things are more hardening and deadening in their influence than the daily recurrence of long and unawakening prayers. For these, there is no necessity. For, while family-prayer includes petitions for blessings far more widespread than those of the family alone, it may be comprised within easy limits; and nothing will so much tend to this as earnestness and directness in supplication. The prayer should be by all means simple and intelligible; free from hard words and involved periods; because he who leads is putting words into the mouths of children. The best model is found in the brief and childlike petitions which we find in the Psalms, and other parts of Scripture.

Family-prayer should be varied; otherwise, the inevitable result will be formalism and tediousness. Indeed the snare into which we are most prone to fall, in this service, is that of sameness and routine. Daily changes in the condition of a family will infallibly work a corresponding change in the prayers if they are sincere. Nothing will really secure this needful quality, but the “spirit of grace and of supplications,” shed down from on high, which should, therefore, be most earnestly sought by every head of a household, with reference to this daily service; for which purpose no preparation can be so valuable, as attendance on the previous devotions of the closet.

The question has been much agitated, whether any forms of prayer should be recommended as a help to family-devotion. The spirit of our church institutions and our perpetual testimony has been against the imposition of any prescribed form, and in favor of entire liberty in prayer. We are fully persuaded that the best of all prayers in the family, as everywhere else, are those which proceed, without the book, from hearts which “God hath touched.” And our unhesitating counsel to everyone who essays this duty, is, that he cast himself upon the help of the Spirit, without any written form. Nevertheless, we are so earnestly desirous to remove every hindrance out of the way even of halting believers, that we would infinitely rather they should pray with a form, than that they should not pray at all.

It only remains to be observed, that if the father of a family would make this service one of the greatest advantage, he must deem it worthy of being in his thoughts at moments when he is not actually engaged in it. He will seek to keep his mind in such a frame as not to unfit him for leading his children to God. He will look to his steps, lest his example should be in disastrous contrast with his devotional acts. And he will not consider it unimportant, to seek from God special direction and strength for the discharge of a duty so nearly connected with the everlasting interests of his house.

Where anyone feels himself called of God to establish daily worship in his house, he should act with solemn decision. In this, as in a thousand other affairs of life, the shortest method is the best. Instead of parleying with objections, or waiting for some happy conjuncture, or seeking to prepare the way by gradual approaches, or timorously sounding the opinions of those whose place it is to submit, let him, in reliance on God, without other preliminary, and without allowing another sun to set, call his family together, state his purpose in the very fewest terms, and carry it into immediate accomplishment. The burden of months, or years, will have rolled away! That day will be remembered as one of the brightest in his calendar, and will probably open a new era of domestic profit and joy.

By James W. Alexander, “THOUGHTS ON FAMILY WORSHIP”