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ON FAMILY RELIGION.
"As for me and my house, we will serve the LORD."-JOSHUA Xxiv. 15.
1. IN the foregoing verse we read, That Joshua, now grown old, "gathered the tribes of Israel to Shechem, and called for the elders of Israel, for their heads, for their judges and officers, and they presented themselves before the Lord." ver. 1. And Joshua rehearsed to them the great things which God had done for their fathers, ver. 2-13, concluding with that strong exhortation, "Now, therefore, fear the Lord and serve him in sincerity and truth; and put away the gods which your fathers served on the other side the flood (Jordan) and in Egypt." ver. 14. Can any thing be more astonishing than this! That even in Egypt, yea, and in the wilderness, where they were daily fed, and both day and night guided by miracle, the Israelites, in general, should worship idols, in flat defiance of the Lord their God! He proceeds: "If it seemeth evil to you to serve the Lord, choose ye this day whom ye will serve: whether the gods your fathers served on the other side of the flood, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land ye dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord."
2. A resolution this worthy of a hoary-headed saint, who had had large experience, from his youth up, of the goodness of the Master to whom he had devoted himself, and the advantages of his service. How much is it to be wished that all who have tasted that the Lord is gracious, all whom he has brought out of the land of Egypt, out of the bondage of sin those especially who are united together in Christian fellowship, would adopt this wise resolution! Then would the work of the Lord prosper in our land; then would his word run and be glorified. Then would multitudes of sinners in every place stretch out their hands unto God, until "the glory of the Lord covered the land, as the waters cover the sea."
3. On the contrary, what will the consequence be, if they do not adopt this resolution?-If family religion be neglected?—If care be not taken of the rising generation? Will not the present revival of religion in a short time die away? Will it not be, as the historian speaks of the Roman State in its infancy, Res unius ætatis? An event that has its beginning and end, within the space of one generation? Will it not be a confirmation of that melancholy remark of
Luther's, That "a revival of religion never lasts longer than one gene ration? By a generation, (as he explains himself,) he means thirty years. But blessed be God this remark does not hold, with regard to the present instance: seeing this revival from its rise in the year 1729, has already lasted above fifty years.
4. Have we not already seen some of the unhappy consequences of good men's not adopting this resolution? Is there not a genera tion arisen, even within this period, yea, and from pious parents, that know not the Lord? That have neither his love in their hearts, nor his fear before their eyes? How many of them already "despise their fathers, and mock the counsel of their mothers!" How many are utter strangers to real religion, to the life and power of it! And not a few have shaken off all religion, and abandoned themselves to all manner of wickedness! Now although this may sometimes be the case, even of children educated in a pious manner, yet this case is very rare: I have met with some, but not many instances of it: the wickedness of the children is generally owing to the fault or neglect of their parents. For it is a general, though not universal rule, though it admits of some exceptions, "Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it."
5. But what is the purport of this resolution, "I and my house will serve the Lord ?" In order to understand and practise this, let us, First, inquire, What it is to serve the LORD? Secondly, Who are ⚫ included in that expression, my House? And, Thirdly, What can we do, that we and our House may serve the LORD?
I. 1. We may inquire, first, What it is to serve the Lord, not as a Jew, but as a Christian? Not only with an outward service, (though some of the Jews undoubtedly went farther than this,) but with inward; with the service of the heart, "worshipping him in spirit and in truth." The first thing implied in this service is faith; believing in the name of the Son of God. We cannot perform an acceptable service to God, till we believe on Jesus Christ whom he hath sent. Here the spiritual worship of God begins. As soon as any one has the witness in himself, as soon as he can say, "the life that I now live, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me," he is able truly " to serve the Lord."
2. As soon as he believes, he loves God, which is another thing implied in "serving the Lord." "We love him, because he first loved us;" of which faith is the evidence. The love of a pardoning God is "shed abroad in our hearts, by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us." Indeed this love, may admit of a thousand degrees: but still every one, as long as he believes, may truly declare before God, "Lord, thou knowest that I love thee." Thou knowest that " "my desire is unto thee, and unto the remembrance of thy Name."
3. And if any man truly love God, he cannot but love his brother also. Gratitude to our Creator will surely produce benevolence to our fellow-creatures. If we love him, we cannot but love one another, as Christ loved us. We feel our souls enlarged in love toward every child of man. And toward all the children of God we put on
"bowels of kindness, gentleness, long-suffering, forgiving one another," if we have a complaint against any, "even as God, for Christ's sake, hath forgiven us."
4. One thing more is implied in "serving the Lord," namely, the obeying him; the steadily walking in all his ways, the doing his will from the heart. Like those "his servants" above, "who do his pleasure, who keep his commandments, and hearken to the voice of his words;" these his servants below, hearken unto his voice, diligently keep his commandments, carefully avoid whatever he has forbidden, and zealously do whatever he has enjoined: studying always to have a conscience void of offence toward God and toward man.
II. "I and my house will serve the Lord," will every real Christian say. say. But who are included in that expression, my House? This is the next point to be considered.
1. The person in your house that claims your first and nearest attention, is, undoubtedly, your wife; seeing you are to love her, even as Christ hath loved the church, when he laid down his life for it, that he might "purify it unto himself, and render it a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing." The same end is every husband to pursue, in all his intercourse with his wife: to use every possible means, that she may be freed from every spot, and may walk unblameable in love.
2. Next to your wife are your children; immortal spirits whom God hath, for a time, intrusted to your care, that you may train them up in all holiness, and fit them for the enjoyment of God in eternity. This is a glorious and important trust; seeing one soul is of more value than all the world beside. Every child, therefore, you are to watch over with the utmost care, that when you are called to give an account of each to the Father of Spirits, you may give your account with joy and not with grief.
3. Your servants, of whatever kind, you are to look upon as a kind of secondary children: these, likewise, God has committed to your charge, as one that must give account: for every one under your roof that has a soul to be saved, is under your care: not only indented servants, who are legally engaged to remain with you for a term of years; not only hired servants, whether they voluntarily contract for a longer or shorter time: but also those who serve you by the week or day; for these too are, in a measure, delivered into your hands. And it is not the will of your Master who is in heaven, that any of these should go out of your hands, before they have received from you something more valuable than gold or silver. Yea, and you are in a degree accountable, even for "the stranger that is within your gates." As you are particularly required, to see that he does "no manner of work" on the Lord's day, while he is within your gates; so, by parity of reason, you are required, to do all that is in your power, to prevent his sinning against God in any other instance.
III. Let us inquire, in the third place, What can we do, that all these may serve the Lord ?"
1. May we not endeavour, first, To restrain them from all out
ward sin? From profane swearing, from taking the name of God in vain; from doing any needless work, or taking any pastime on the Lord's day? This labour of love you owe even to your visitants; and much more to your wife, children, and servants. The former, over whom you have the least influence, you may restrain by argument or mild persuasion. If you find that, after repeated trials, they will not yield either to one or the other, it is your bounden duty, to set ceremony aside, and to dismiss them from your house. Servants also, whether by the day, or for a longer space, if you cannot reclaim, either by reasoning, added to your example, or by gentle or severe reproofs, though frequently repeated, you must, in anywise, dismiss from your family, though it should be ever so inconvenient.
2. But you cannot dismiss your wife, unless for the cause of fornication, that is, adultery. What can then be done, if she is habituated to any other open sin? I cannot find in the Bible, that a husband has authority to strike his wife on any account; even suppose she struck him first; unless his life were in imminent danger. I never have known one instance yet of a wife that was mended thereby. I have heard, indeed, of some such instances; but as I did not see them, I do not believe them. It seems to me, all that can be done in this case, is to be done partly by example, partly by argument or persuasion, each applied in such a manner as is dictated by Christian prudence. If evil can ever be overcome, it must be overcome by good. It cannot be overcome by evil: we cannot beat the Devil with his own weapons. Therefore, if this evil cannot be overcome by good, we are called to suffer it. We are then called to say, This is the cross which God hath chosen for me. He surely permits it for wise ends: "let him do what seemeth him good." Whenever he sees it to be best, he will remove this cup from me. Meantime continue in earnest prayer, knowing that with God no word is impossible; and that he will either in due time take the temptation away, or make it a blessing to your soul.
3. Your children, while they are young, you may restrain from evil, not only by advice, persuasion, and reproof, but also by correction; only remembering, that this mean is to be used last not till all others have been tried, and found to be ineffectual. And even then you should take the utmost care to avoid the very appearance of passion. Whatever is done, should be done with mildness; nay, indeed, with kindness too. Otherwise your own spirit will suffer loss; and the child will reap little advantage.
4. But some will tell you, "All this is lost labour; a child need not to be corrected at all. Instruction, persuasion, and advice, will be sufficient for any child, without correction: especially if gentle reproof be added, as occasion may require." I answer, there may be particular instances wherein this method may be successful. But you must not, in anywise, lay this down as an universal rule: unless you suppose yourself wiser than Solomon, or, to speak more properly, wiser than God. For it is God himself, who best knoweth
his own creatures, that has told us expressly, "He that spareth the rod hateth the child; but he that loveth him, chasteneth him betimes." Prov. xiii. 24. And upon this is grounded that plain commandment, directed to all that fear God, " Chasten thy son while there is hope; and let not thy soul spare for his crying." chap. xix. 18.
5. May we not endeavour, secondly, to instruct them? To take care that every person who is under our roof, have all such knowledge as is necessary to salvation? To see that our wife, servants, and children, be taught all those things which belong to their eternal peace? In order to this, you should provide that not only your wife, but your servants also, may enjoy all the public means of instruction. On the Lord's-day in particular, you should so forecast what is necessary to be done at home, that they may have an opportunity of attending all the ordinances of God. Yea, and you should take care that they have some time every day for reading, meditation, and prayer. And you should inquire, whether they do actually employ that time, in the exercises for which it is allowed. Neither should any day pass, without family prayer, seriously and solemnly performed.
6. You should particularly endeavour to instruct your children, early, plainly, frequently, and patiently. Instruct them early, from the first hour that you perceive reason begins to dawn. Truth may then begin to shine upon the mind far earlier than we are apt to suppose. And whoever watches the first openings of the understanding, inay, by little and little, supply fit matter for it to work upon, and may turn the eye of the soul toward good things, as well as toward bad or trifling ones. Whenever a child begins to speak, you may be assured reason begins to work. I know no cause why a parent should not just then begin to speak of the best things, the things of God. And from that time no opportunity should be lost, of instilling all truths as they are capable of receiving them.
7. But the speaking to them early will not avail, unless you likewise speak to them plainly. Use such words as little children may understand, just such as they use themselves. Carefully observe the few ideas which they have already, and endeavour to graft what you say upon them. To take a little example: bid the child look up; and ask, "What do you see there?" "The Sun ?" "See, how bright it is! Feel how warm it shines upon your hand! Look, how it makes the grass and the flowers to grow, and the trees and every thing look green! But God, though you cannot see him, is above the sky, and is a deal brighter than the Sun! It is he, it is God that made the Sun, and you, and me, and every thing. It is he that makes the grass and the flowers to grow: that makes the trees green, and the fruit to come upon them! Think what he can do! He can do whatever he pleases. He can strike you or me dead in a moment. But he loves you: he loves to do you good. He loves to make you happy. Should not you then love him? You love me, because I love you and do you good. But it is God that makes me