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into a better course? Oh, but a greater evil befalls you, your own precious souls are endangered by neglect.
8. Suppose a red cross, with a "Lord have mercy upon us," were set upon your doors, and the pestilence were within your house, seizing on you, one after another, and you had nothing else to do but to get ready to die; would you not spend some time in prayer for yourselves and families? Behold a worse plague is upon you, the plague of sin, and will you not pray?
9. Suppose, upon every omission of family prayer you should lose a limb, or member of your body, first one finger, then a toe should be cut or torn off, till all be gone, and you dismembered; would not this force you to this duty? and yet your precious souls, which are ten thousand times more worth than a limb, yea, than the whole body, are in hazard by wilful neglect.
10. Suppose a gallows were set at your door, and you must be hanged thereupon the next time you go out of your door, when you have not prayed in your family; would you venture to be hanged rather than omit this duty? do you love your lives no better? Oh! but eternal death is far more dreadful, and are eternal torments, that lake which burneth with fire and brimstone, nothing to you?* Is the second death easy? And shall not sinners perish for their omission of good, as well as commission of evil? Be it known to you, that if you will not do so, that is, as God commands, behold, "ye have sinned against the Lord,t and be sure your sin will find you out;" it will hunt you as a blood-hound, and haunt you as an evil spirit in conscience here, and in torments hereafter; if God said to Cain for a defect in his sacrifice, "If thou doest not well sin lies at the door," that is, guilt shall + Gen. iv. 7.
* Rev. xxi. 8.
+ Numb. xxxii. 23.
be charged upon thee, (and you know how it dogged him, though he failed but in the manner of his sacrifice, not acting faith on Christ for acceptance :) Oh what will become of you that fall short even in the matter also; and do nothing of what God commands you? You even think it a needless ceremony, and mock them that do carefully, constantly, and conscientiously perform this duty; woe unto you if you die in this sin, you are undone for ever.
But one word more, if any offer themselves to be members of particular churches, and to partake of the Lord's supper, I should judge them not fit to be communicants, except they pray in their families; and if any be admitted and perform not their duty, I should think them as worthy of church censures, as those that are idle and omit working in their particular callings, which is enjoined, 2 Thess. iii. 6, 12, 14. What censure this is, less or greater, whether only withdrawing familiar converse with the offender; or upon obstinacy, public excommunication, I leave to the judgment of the learned: but Dr. Lightfoot* tells us out of the Rabbins, that if any one refuse to nourish his children, they must reprove him, make him ashamed, and urge him; if he still refuse, they must publicly proclaim in the synagogue, such a one is cruel and will not nourish his children; he is more cruel than the unclean fowls, for those nourish their young ones; and may we not say the same of such as neglect these needful family exercises for the souls of their dependants?
* Si quis renuit liberos suos alere, reprehendunt eum, pudefaciunt eum, urgent eum: si adhuc renuit, publicé in eum proclamant in synagoga dicentes, hic crudelis est, non vult alere liberos suos vel ipsis volucribus immundis crudelior, nam illæ pullos suos alunt, &c.-Dr. Lightfoot in Evang. Matthæi Bora Hebraica, cap. 18, 17, p. 215.
DIRECTIONS FOR SETTING UP AN ALTAR IN FAMILIES, AND FOR THE MANAGEMENT OF FAMILY WORSHIP.
I HAVE now done with persuasives to the important exercises of family worship; whether all that I have said will prevail, I know not; but loth I am that all this should be in vain; it is a pity so needful a practice should fall to the ground, and all that I have said should rise up in judgment against you. I again renew my exhortation in the name of the Lord Jesus: You that are young set up your families with religion, whatever you have of the world beside to set up with, this will be your treasure, your palladium, your defence; you cannot miscarry if you begin with God. You that are old, and have been housekeepers long, set up this altar, turn over a new leaf, begin a new life, you are not too old to learn, nor too good to be taught, "better late than never," though you begin at the eleventh hour, you shall not be rejected; death looks you in the face, look up to God and be saved; say not, I will go to hell because I have been long travelling in the road thither; be not ashamed to undo all you have done or misdone, unravel this confused skein; what makes you hesitate? Is not the infinite God worthy of your love, fear, and worship? Are not the souls of your families precious? Is not heaven worth your seeking and having?
Oh! say you, I would gladly set up an altar in my family to the Lord; I would offer him a sacrifice, and worship him, but I know not how to set about it, or manage it in any way so that it may be acceptable
to God, profitable to my family, or comfortable to my own soul, I pray you give me some directions for this purpose. I answer, that I shall very willingly, but first I do solemnly require your promise to set about it in the name and strength of Christ, and do the best you can to do it right. My instructions I shall reduce to two heads: namely, preparatives to it, and management of it.
For the preparatives to your erection of this family altar, I shall but mention these four:
1. See that your heads and hearts be well furnished; your heads with sound knowledge, and your hearts with saving grace. Without either of these you will not be fit for this undertaking; without the former you will have no ability, without the latter, you will have no disposition for the practice, but go to it as a bear to the stake.
First, Be sure you get scripture knowledge, a knowledge of God the object of worship, of the mediator by whom only you must have access to the Father, a knowledge of the Holy Spirit that must help your infirmities, a knowledge of yourselves, of divine truths, precepts, and promises; "for that the soul be without knowledge it is not good,' otherwise you will worship you know not what, or you care not how, or regard not why; you will degenerate into formality and superstition. In the nineteenth chapter of Isaiah the prophet, having in verse 19, told us of an altar, he informs us of a sacrifice, ver. 22, but between those he saith, that the Lord shall be known to Egypt, and that the Egyptians shall know the Lord in that day, and shall do sacrifice and oblation. By altar is meant gospel worship; by a pillar at the border of it, is meant, a monument of the true religion, exhibiting evidence of
* Prov. xix. 2.
their piety in all places. But without the true knowledge of God in Christ, they would set up the Athenian altar, "To the unknown God:"* and therefore it is said, that the Lord shall be known to Egypt, in gospel times, and not only so, but that the Egyptians shall know the Lord, savingly, sincerely, sensibly, and experimentally for the words denote affection and practice, then and never till then will they be fit to offer an oblation; for if men offer the blind for sacrifice, is it not evil? and if the offerer be blind and ignorant, is not he evil?† will God accept such a person? what cares he for men's ignorant devotions? if there be no knowledge of God in the land, there is no mercy nor truth;‡ for saving knowledge is the door and window to let in saving grace.
Secondly, You must all have a saving principle of grace in your hearts, a submissive will, a renewed conscience, sanctified affections, a soul set with a bias heaven-wards, that you "may delight in the law of God, after the inward man," and "may worship God in spirit and in truth," || else your praying will be but cant, your labour will be but lip-labour, and so lost labour; all your piety will be but hypocrisy, and your hearts will not be engaged in it, then you will be heartless in setting about it, and soon weary of it; without union to Christ, you can do nothing, see then that Christ dwell in your hearts by faith-that is the mystical bond; to be united to him by love-that is the moral bond.§ From this spring flow holy desires, delight in God, fear of God, repentance, humility, self-denial, zeal, and all other graces, without which you will be but cold worshippers of God; set up with some thing within, or you are formalists at best. But you will
* Acts xvii. 23.
+ Mal. i. 8.
Hos. iv. 1.
|| Rom. vii. 22. John iv. 24. § Eph. iii. 17. 1 John iv. 16.