Family Worship

By Sylvester Hassell

The Gospel Messenger–January 1891

In the form of Church Covenant, given on the 695th page of the Church History, and adopted, in substance, by a large number of the Primitive Baptist churches, occurs the declaration, “We agree, with God’s assistance, to pray in our families.”

In the preface to the London Baptist Confession of Faith, the Ministers and Messengers of the Baptist churches of England and Wales in 1689, say: “Verily there is one spring and cause of the decay of religion in our day which we cannot but touch upon and earnestly urge a redress of, and that is the neglect of the worship of God in families by those to whom the charge and conduct of them is committed. May not the gross ignorance and instability of many, with the profaneness of others, be justly charged upon their parents and masters, who have not trained them up in the way wherein they ought to walk, when they were young, but have neglected those frequent and solemn commands which the Lord hath laid upon them, so to catechize and instruct them that their tender years might be seasoned with the knowledge of the truth of God as revealed in the Scriptures, and also by their own omission of prayer and other duties of religion in their families, together with the ill-example of their loose conversation, have inured them first to a neglect, and then contempt of all piety and religion! We know this will not excuse the blindness and wickedness of any, but certainly it will fall heavy upon those that have been thus the occasion thereof. They, indeed, die in their sins, but will not their blood be required of those under whose care they were, who yet permitted them to go on without warning, yea, led them into the paths of destruction! And will not the diligence of Christians, with respect to the discharge of these duties, in ages past, rise up in judgment against, and condemn many of those who would be esteemed such now!”-Church History, page 666.

In the 6th section of the 22d chapter of the London Confession, it is said: “God is to be worshipped everywhere in spirit and in truth, as in {Ac 10:2} private families {Mt 6:2} daily and {Mt 6:13} in secret, each one by himself, so more solemnly in the public assemblies, which are not carelessly nor willfully to be {Heb 10:25; Ac 2:42} neglected or forsaken, when God, by his word or providence, calleth thereunto.”- Church History, page 687.

In 1799 this query was put to the Kehukee Association: “Is it not wrong for a man who is a member of a church and the head of a family, wholly to neglect family worship on account of the smallness of his gifts in prayer?” And the answer given by the Association was: “It is wrong.” Church History, pages 832 and 833.

In the sketch of my father’s life in the appendix of the Church History (page 929) I have said: “As far back as I can remember he was in the habit of assembling his family around the family altar every morning and evening, to read a portion of Scripture, sing a hymn of praise, and to pour forth in the most humble and reverend manner his thanksgivings and supplications at the throne of grace: I can truly say that these were the most affecting, happy and blessed seasons of my life. They are ever-green spots in memory’s waste, forming the nearest approach to heaven that I have ever realized on earth. He sang well and taught his children to sing. On Sunday morning, after prayers, he took great delight in instructing his children in Scripture history and the plan of salvation, and continually, both by precept and example, be strove to raise them in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. I have often felt and said that I would rather have such a father than all the riches, honors and pleasures of the, world.”

The very general and deplorable neglect of family prayer among the people of God is both a sign and an occasion of the rapidly increasing degeneracy of these evil and perilous times, when Christianity has almost entirely evaporated into an empty and delusive name, when true and living faith has almost wholly departed from the earth. “Pour out thy fury upon the heathen that know Thee not,” prays Jeremiah to the Lord, (x. 25)” and upon the families that call not upon Thy name.” O, for the spirit and voice of an inspired prophet or apostle! O, for the spirit of the Living God, to arouse his people from their deathful slumbers {Eph 5:14} to a realization of the transcendent importance of eternal things, to a lively sense of their obligations to their Saviour and their fellow-creatures! O, that the light and glory of the Lord Jesus might soon shine within and upon them, and end the long, cold, dark night, and usher in the brightness, beauty and fruitfulness of a heavenly day!-Isa 60:1-22; Song 2:10-13.

Dear brethren and sisters, let us address our fervent and unceasing petitions to the Most High for an early fulfillment of these precious promises. How can we expect the dead world of unbelievers to do any better than they do, when the church of Christ itself is so deeply immersed in the slumbers of worldliness or indifference! Is not this the Laodicean age of the church, wherein God says to her, “Because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spew thee out of my mouth.” We can quarrel and fight each other to the death on idle and unprofitable questions of form and philosophy, and neglect the manifestation, in our words and lives, toward each other and our fellow-men, as well as towards our God, of the loving, humble, blessed and all-important spirit of Jesus, without which all our profession of religion is, in the sight of the Lord, an abominable mockery-nothing but sounding brass and a tinkling cymbal, though we might know all things, and have faith to move mountains, and speak with an eloquence equal to that of angels {1Co 13:1-13} May the Lord speedily emancipate his people from the bondage and delusion of legalism, psuedospiritualism and antinomianism, and enable all of them to stand fast in that heavenly liberty wherewith Chris hath made them free, {Ga 5:1} acknowledging Him their only master, their only prophet, priest and king. -Mt 23:5-12; Ac 3:22-23; Heb 7:21; Re 19:16.

And one of the most vitally important matters in which we should heartily obey the commandment and follow the example of our Saviour-King, is the cultivation of the spirit of prayer {Lu 18:1; Ro 12:12; Eph 6:18; Php 4:6} -to be continually coming in spirit unto God, humbling ourselves before Him, adoring and thanking Him, and supplicating Him for us mercies to ourselves and to our fellow-creatures. No mere man ever prayed so much as Jesus, our Divine High Priest-early in the morning, a great while before day (Mr 1:35, all the night, {Lu 6:12} when He was baptized, {Lu 3:21} when transfigured, {Lu 9:29} in Gethsemane, {Lu 22:44} on Calvary, {Mt 27:46; Lu 23:34,46} in his advocacy with the Father for all His people, {Joh 17:1-26} and his perpetual intercession for them at the right hand of God. {Heb 1:1-14; 3:1-19; 7:25} We are sinful and weak and blind, and can do nothing of ourselves; and it, therefore, pre-eminently becomes us to apply continually to God for cleansing, for strength and for guidance in everything that we do. Prayer has well been called “the offering up of our desires to God, for things agreeable to His will, in the name of Christ, by the help of His spirit, with confession of our sins, and thankful acknowledgement of His mercies.” It is called in the Scriptures, “an asking, a seeking and knocking, a lifting up of the soul, a pouring out the heart, a looking up to and talking with God, a wrestling with God, a taking hold of God, meditation, inquiring, crying, sighing, mourning, groaning, weeping, breathing, supplication and entreaty.” The temple of God was “the house of prayer,”, {Isa 56:7; Mt 21:13} and his people have always been, from the beginning of their spiritual life, a praying people {Ac 9:11; Lu 18:7; Jer 31:9; Zec 12:10}

If we ought to pray always, {Lu 18:1; Eph 6:18} and everywhere, {1Ti 2:8} we certainly ought to pray once or twice a day in our families. The ancient Jews had three regular times of prayer each day, the third hour (9 AM, morning sacrifice), the sixth hour and the ninth hour (3 PM, evening sacrifice). -Ps 55:17; Da 6:10; 9:21; Ac 3:1; 10:3; 2:25. The Psalmist praised the Lord seven times a day (Ps 119:164), “that is continually, seven being the number for perfection.” Prayer may be ejaculatory, secret, family, social and public. Daily family worship, including the reading of the Scriptures, the singing of a hymn, and the offering of prayer to God, is of far greater importance to the well-being of a people than all the Sunday schools, Theological Seminaries, money-based religious societies, and men-made revivals in the world: We have beautiful and inspiring examples of family worship in the cases of Abraham (Ge 12:7-8; 18:19); Job (Job 1:5) Joshua (Jos 24:15), David, {2Sa 6:20} Daniel (Da 6:10), Cornelius, {Ac 10:2,30} Priscilla and Aquila, {Ro 16:3,5; 1Co 16:19} Nymphas, {Col 4:15} Philemon (Phm 1:25), and Mary. {Ac 12:12} Abraham, wherever he fixed his tent, built an altar to the Lord, both praying with and instructing his family. “If ye be Christ’s, then are ye Abraham’s seed,”; {Ga 3:29} and Jesus said to the Jews, “If ye were Abraham’s children, ye would do the works of Abraham,” {Joh 8:39} The Apostles formed the household of Christ, {Mt 10:25} and He both instructed them and often prayed with them Lu 9:18,28; 11:50). And that “beautiful model of all proper supplication-the prayer that He taught them-implies in its very structure that it is to be used daily in some community like a family. It is to be a daily supplication-‘give us this day our daily bread.’ It is to be used not by an individual, but by a community. ‘Our Father,’ not my Father-who art in Heaven. ‘Give us this day’-‘forgive us our trespasses’-‘lead us not into temptation’-‘deliver us from evil.’ Yet there is no community that can use this but a family; no other that are together each day, and where the prayer would be so directly adapted to the wants of the petitioners, as in a household dependent on God, bowing down before Him in the morning to ask the supply of their returning wants, and to implore protection and defense in the various trials to which the household would be exposed. It is given as a characteristic of those who know not God, that they call not on His name, and as classifying them with the heathen world.”-Jer 10:25.

We might have been so made as to live and labor and suffer and die alone; but our wise and merciful Creator saw that such solitude would not be good for us, {Ge 2:18} and therefore He ordained the distribution of mankind in families, not only for natural, but also for spiritual purposes. {Ex 12:21; Jer 10:25; Zec 12:12,14; Isa 44:3; 59:21; Ps 103:17-18; Ac 2:39; 2Ti 1:5; 3:15} Their temporal interests, resources, sympathies, labors, joys and sorrows are one; surely there cannot but be a longing desire among all the gracious members of a family, that all the other members should be partakers of the same spiritual blessing. They are involved in a common apostasy, and are going to a common tomb; and especially must the husband and father, if he is a Christian in reality as well as name, more earnestly desire spiritual than even temporal blessings for his family, and he cannot but wish at times to commend his dear ones to his Heavenly Father for guidance, support and protection amid the difficulties, trials and temptations of their sinful natures and an evil world; and most especially must he desire to pray for his children, who are inexperienced, unsuspecting, and impressible, and to whom the world is full of fresh and bright and strong attractions. “Greatly do I wonder, that, in a world of temptations like this, and at a period of life so exposed as that of childhood and youth, any parent dare suffer his children to go forth into the allurements which they will certainly meet without having asked the Father of mercies to take them beneath His protecting care, and to defend them from the ills that may ruin them and bring anguish into your own souls. Much do I marvel that you can fail to implore the help of Him, who, when your eye shall sleep in death, and the child shall walk over your unconscious grave, can stretch forth a hand more mighty than yours, and speak with a voice more tender than yours, to save him from the ways of ruin and despair. And much do I wonder that there is rest to your pillow, when you have offered no sacrifice of praise to God for His preserving mercy, and sought no protection from Him whose eye never slumbers nor sleeps. Your household is practically heathen, {Jer 10:25} if no God is adored, no voice of prayer heard, no song of praise offered, no hands of faith stretched out to the heavens to implore the salvation of your beloved sons and daughters.” True family worship is the richest privilege and blessing to every member of the household, and the most beautiful sight on earth. It says to all, “There is a God! There is a spiritual world! There is a life to come!” “There is something infinitely more important than all natural things!” “It inspires thoughts of the invisible and eternal, increases reverence for God and His word, affords instruction in heavenly things, imparts strength to perform duty, resist temptation, and encounter sorrows, sweetens and strengthens family ties, and may extend a hallowing influence to unborn generations.”

Family prayer should be “short, simple, direct, solemn, regular, and connected with the reading of the Holy Scriptures,” which at times, if necessary, may be briefly explained. It need take but a few minutes; “the substance of the Scriptures read may often be advantageously turned into prayer, both to prevent sameness and to impress them on the mind and heart;” the petitions in the prayer which the Lord taught His disciples and in other Scriptures may be used, and the smallest gifts will improve with exercise, and the Holy Spirit will graciously help our infirmities.-Mt 25:14,30; Ro 8:26.

`Prayer is the simplest form of speech
That infant lips can try;
Prayer the sublimest strains that reach
The Majesty on high.

`The saints in prayer appear as one,
In word and deed and mind,
When with the Father and the Son,
Their fellowship they find.

“Prayer is the Christian’s vital breath
The Christian’s native air,
His watchword at the gates of death,
He enters heaven with prayer.

“Prayer is the contrite sinner’s voice
Returning from his ways;
While angels in their songs rejoice,
And say, ‘Behold, he prays!’

“O Thou, by whom we come to God,
The Life, the Truth, the Way,
The path of prayer Thyself hast trod,
Lord, teach us how to pray!”

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