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performed by one or two, what a tedious labour must it prove? What effect can divine truths delivered once a week have, unless the impression of them be afterwards kept alive by family devotion and domestic religion? It is no wonder that a tender plant should wither and die, which is seldom visited or watered; and it is as little wonderful, that those should continue wicked and impenitent, who but once a week come under the influence of a religious ordinance; and who neither see nor hear any thing of God, but when the stated season of public instruction returns. If religion die in families, how can it live in nations? Is it not an inevitable consequence, that all our public devotions must in this case dwindle away into mere hypocrisy, and lifeless unavailing forms of worship?
I have thus endeavoured to represent to you the manifold advantages which would arise from maintaining the worship of God in your families. And I have now only to add, that though you were willing to be without these advantages, yet this loss is not the whole penalty which must attend the neglect of that duty. This avowed disregard of God will not always pass unpunished. The day is coming, when “God will pour out his fury upon the heathen that know him not, and upon the families that call not upon his name.”—“ Consider this, ye that now forget God, lest he tear you in pieces, when there is none to deliver."
I would now conclude the subject, by pressing you, with all the earnestness of which I am capable, to the performance of this necessary and important duty, were it not that I think it may be of use to consider some of those excuses by which the neglect of it is commonly defended.
Some plead their rank and station in the world, but on what principles I could never yet discover. I cannot conceive any principle of reason more strong and obvious, than that uttered by our Saviour, Luke xii. 48. “ Unto
whomsoever much is given, of him shall much be required; and to whom men have committed much, of him will they ask the more." And certainly if benefits conferred deserve any return, they at least deserve thanks: if God hath placed us in a more distinguished station, we owe to him a more solemn and devout acknowledgment. Riches and honours, instead of setting a man above the obligation of family worship, rather bind it more strictly on him; and that it is below no man of
station what soever to perform this office, appears by the example in my text--the example of one in the most elevated station known among men, returning from the public worship of God, to bless his household.
Others plcad, that it has not been the practice of their families, and that they are not inclined to bring a new custom into it. To these I answer, that the reason of this duty is as old as eternity itself, and the practice of it is as ancient as the first family of mankind. In every succeeding age, down to the present day, there have been families in which God was worshipped, and there will be such until the end of the world. Nay, I dare venture to affirm, that there are few now hearing me, whose fathers or grandfathers did not at least maintain the form of this duty. For however much it is despised now, it is certain that it was in reputation about an hundred years ago,
and generally practised by men of all ranks. It deserves therefore to be inquired into, when, or by whom, and for what cause, this good old custom was laid aside; what was the shameful period in which the worship of God was turned out of doors, to make way for irreligion, and a contempt of divine things. Then indeed a most base and dishonourable innovation was made in your families; and therefore it must be your glory to restore things to their ancient state, and to give the worship of God that room in your houses which it formerly possessed.
But if it be really true, that this important duty has been always neglected in your families, believe me it is now high time to introduce it. Your danger is greater than you are aware of. Punishment loseth nothing by delay: the slower it advances, the heavier it will prove. And therefore you have reason to fear, that the wrath of God, which has been so long restrained, shall at length break forth with double violence, if it is not prevented by a speedy reformation.
Another excuse, by which some defend their neglect of this duty, is their inability to perform it well. They cannot pray to God in public, in so decent a manner as they would incline. In answer to this, I need only observe, that next to the divine blessing, nothing contributes more to teach men to pray, than frequent practice and use. So that if, upon this account, you neglect the duty, your inability can pass for nothing else than a feigned pretence to cover your unwillingness : for, were you as willing to learn to pray, as to acquire the knowledge of any art, you would soon, by diligent endeavours, attain a competent measure of this excellent gift. Besides, if there is first a willing mind, it is accepted according to what a man hath. It is the sincerity of your desires which God regards, and not the expressions with which you clothe them; and if you set about this duty in good earnest, and in the best manner you can, though perhaps you may come short of what you wish, God will botlı accept and assist you in your humble and well meant attempts to honour him.
Upon the whole then, may I not hope that you hearken to what I have said? God is now offering himself to be your guest, and is by us demanding an entrance into your hearts, and into your houses ; and can you resolve on refusing him? Shall the great King of heaven thus stand at your doors, and knock, and yet meet with a repulse ? If the authority of God has any weight with you; if your reason can prevail with you; if your own immortal souls, or the souls of those who dwell with you, appear worthy of your regard : in a word, if duty, gratitude or interest can move you, all these conspire to e
force my exhortation, and to plead the cause of family worship. And must these powerful advocates plead in vain; must they turn evidences against you, and appear at last in judgment to condemn you ? God forbid. I desire to hope better things of you, and things that accompany salvation, though I thus speak.
May the Spirit of all grace seal these instructions, and powerfully determine you to the practice of this duty, that by the exercise of social worship here below, you may be gradually prepared for the more exalted worship of the triumphant society above, who all with one heart, and one voice, ascribe salvation to him that sitteth on the throne, and to the Lamb, for ever and ever Amen.
Tue correspondence between heaven and earth is preserved and conducted by Christ alone: “ For no man cometh," or can come,“ to the Father, but by him," John xiv. 6. It is he who presents all our homage to God; it is he who transmits to him all our petitions, and by his hands all mercy and grace are conveyed to us. Our most ferrent prayers, the devoutest breathings of our souls, must not only be purged from that defilement which cleaves to them, but even in their greatest purity, they must be offered up in his censer, in order to their accertance, and can only ascend by the incense of his sacrifice.
It should therefore be our first care, in all our approaches to the throne of grace, to solicit the favour of this powerful Mediator, and to procure his friendly interposition in our behalf; and then we shall have no cause to dread a repulse, for his intercession is, and must be, always prevalent. The dignity of his person, his relation to the Father, and especially the perfection of that sacrifice upon which his intercession is founded, effectually seoure acceptance to us; so that if once we are fully per
* Preached before the Society in Scotland for Propagating Christian Knowledge, January 4. 1748.