( Originally Published 1879 )
A PRAYERLESS family cannot be otherwise than irreligious. They who daily pray in their homes, do well; they that not only pray, but read the Bible, do better; but they do best of all, who not only pray and read the Bible, but sing the praises of God.
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 bed-side, and teaching them the privilege of prayer! And what a safeguard is this devotion, against all the machinations of Satan!
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.
The influence of family worship is great, silent, irresistible and permanent. Like the calm, deep stream, it moves on in silent, but overwhelming power. It strikes its roots deep into the human heart, and spreads its branches wide over the whole being, like the lily that bears the tempest, and the Alpine flower that leans its cheek upon the bosom of eternal snows—it is exerted amid the wildest storms of life, and breathes a softening spell in our bosom, even when a heartless world is paying up the foundations of sympathy and love.
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.
But in order to do this, the worship must be regular and devout, and the whole family engage in it. Some families are not careful to have their children present when they worship. This is very wrong. The children, above all others, are benefited, and should always be present. Some do not teach the children to kneel during prayer, and hence, they awkwardly sit in their seats, while the parents kneel. This is a sad mistake. If they do not kneel, they naturally suppose they have no part or lot in the devotions, and soon feel that it is wrong for them to bow before the Lord. We have seen many cases where grown up sons and daughters have never bent the knee before the Lord, and thought it wrong to kneel till they were Christians. In this way they were made more shy and stubborn, and felt that there was an impassable barrier between them and Christ. This feeling is wrong, and unnecessary. If family worship had been rightly observed, they would have felt that they were very near the Savior, and would easily be inclined to give their hearts to him. Indeed, children thus trained, seldom grow to maturity without becoming practical Christians.
Indeed, in itself, it embodies a hallowing influence that pleads for its observance. It must needs be, that trials will enter a household. The conflict of wishes, the clashing of views, and a thousand other causes, will ruffle the temper, and produce jar and friction in the machinery of the family. There is needed then, some daily agency that shall softly enfold the homestead with its hallowed and soothing power, and restore the fine, harmonious play of its various parts. The father needs that which shall gently lift away from his thoughts the disquieting burden of his daily business. The mother that which shall smooth down the fretting irritation of her unceasing toil and trial; and the child and domestic that which shall neutralize the countless agencies of evil that ever beset them. And what so well adapted to do this, as for all to gather, when the day is done, around the holy page, and pour a united supplication and acknowledgment to that sleepless Power, whose protection and scrutiny are ever around their path, and who will bring all things at last into judgment? And when darker and sadder days begin to shadow the home, what can cheer and brighten the sinking heart so finely as this standing resort to that fatherly One who can make the tears of the loneliest sorrow to be the seed-pearls of the brightest crown? 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.
Compare an irreligious home with this, and see the vast importance of family worship. 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 chords, ardent hopes, and promised interests, becomes engulfed in the vortex of criminal worldliness !
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 fire-sides. 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 you mourning parents, "Is it well with the child? is it well with thee?" you can answer with joy, "It is well!"