In other days, when godliness flourished in Scotland, the regular observance of family worship was a recognised feature of Scottish home li£e. The practice goes back to Reformation times and is one of the many blessings we owe to that wonderful work of God. To a great extent the glory of those days is departed, but in those homes where the worship of God is still regularly conducted there is at least a golden link with a glorious past, and who can predict the glory of those latter days with which that link may yet connect?
Our Reformers were wise enough to lay great stress upon the due observance of religion in the home. What the homes of a people are, so the country is – if God is neglected in the former the real well-being of the latter is impossible.
By the year 1647 the regular observance of family worship had assumed such importance that the General Assembly of that year passed an Act censuring the neglect of it. The inference is that the practice was very general throughout the country, and this is borne out by an observation made by Kirkton, a contemporary historian of the time. Of the ten years 1650-60 he writes, “I have lived many years in a parish where I never heard an oath, and you might have ridden many miles before you heard any. Also you could not for a great part of the country, have lodged in a family where the Lord was not worshipped.” Such testimony is all the more astonishing when we reflect that during those years Scotland, both religiously and politically, was passing through fiery trials which burned to the very soul. But we have more reason to thank God for our trials than we know, and as has often been the case, these years of bitter trial were years rich in blessing. The general prevalence of the regular worship of God in the families of these days is one proof, among many others, of that blessing.
It is interesting to note that many of the English Reformers and Puritans kept to the same order in the service as we use ourselves today. Beginning with a short prayer, they then sang a psalm, read a portion of the Scriptures and concluded at greater length with a prayer, during which all present knelt. Thus as in the days of old, when the
smoke of the morning and the evening sacrifice ascended on high, each day begins with God and with God it ends. Could anything be more becoming?
Philip Henry, the father of the well-known commentator, observed this order. Of him his biographer writes, “He managed his daily family worship so as to make it a pleasure, and not a task, to his children and servants; for he was seldom long and never tedious in the service; none of those who joined with him had ever reason to say, ‘Behold what a weariness it is!’ such an excellent faculty he had of rendering religion the most sweet and amiable employment in the world: and so careful was he, like Jacob, ‘to drive as the children could go.’ If some good men who mean well, would do likewise, it might prevent many of those prejudices which young persons are apt to conceive against religion when the services of it are made a toil and a terror to them.”
As a duty which we owe to God, the Great Fountain of all family life, the regular observance of family worship ought never to be neglected. Let every young man and woman going out from the homes of our people and setting up homes of their own resolve as Joshua, “As for me and my house we will serve the Lord.” Let it be a matter of conscience with each one that whatever may have to be omitted the regular observance of family worship, morning and evening, will, on no account be omitted. No doubt there is a danger here of falling into a self-righteous formalism. But that danger is present in all forms of worship – private, family and public – and must at all times be guarded against. The way to guard against it, however, cannot surely be by the total neglect of it. Such neglect is sin, which God will not permit to go unpunished; the evil effects ensuing reach unto children’s children.
It is a sad fact that family worship no longer holds the honoured place in Scottish home life that it once did. The neglect of it is both a sign of spiritual decadence, and a fruitful cause of it. The sad result, along with many other evils, is plainly seen in the alarming increase in juvenile crime which presents our magistrates with such a problem today. The responsibility for such a state of affairs must lie, to a great extent, upon those who, having had the privilege of joining in family devotions in their young days, have failed to emulate the good example thus held up to them when they came to set up house for themselves. During the past half-century the numbers guilty of this sin must run into thousands.
And what of the children reared under the influence of such God-dishonouring homes? They in their turn go out into the world and many of them do not know the meaning of the phrase “family worship.” The blight is one that spreads in all directions with great rapidity. Except the Lord graciously intervene, where is it going to end?
Not only is the daily worship of God in the family a solemn duty but it is also a means of precious blessing. On that account also it ought to be encouraged. David Livingstone, R M McCheyne, John G Paton and many others, whose names stand high in the religious life of Scotland, have testified to the benefits derived from impressions of Divine things early received around the family altar; impressions which were not only a blessing to themselves, but which went far to shape the after course of their lives, and thus resulted in blessing to others.
Moreover the concern, anxiety and responsibility inseparable from family life make constant and exacting demands upon the spirit. The strength, wisdom and patience necessary to meet these demands are derived only from God. The very act of putting every other consideration aside for a little time and deliberately bringing each member into the immediate
presence of God, conscious of His nearness and fulness of resource, becomes a means of blessing unspeakably precious. In the morning the spirit is refreshed at this fountain of living water and goes forth to the duties of the day strengthened and calmed. In the evening having again drunk at the same fountain and committed all persons and concerns to
Him who slumbers not, the night’s repose is doubly sweet.
In this service the various members of the family are united – those present in their persons, those absent in prayerful remembrance- in an exercise of the spirit which binds each to each and all to God, who is not only the God of Israel but God of all the families of Israel, with the strongest and tenderest bands. In a few years the various members of the household are in all probability scattered – the stern demands of life require it – but memory invests those sacred occasions with a fragrance which neither time nor distance can altogether spoil. One or other of the family, it may be, has turned his back upon his father’s God; prayer is abandoned, the Bible discarded and conscience defiled; but however far the road to ruin is followed there is “something” which keeps pace with him, something precious, the memory of which he cannot shake off. Who can tell when that “something precious” may be the means by the blessing of the Holy Spirit to allure him back to seek his father’s God. “I have sinned,” he penitently confesses, “I have perverted that which was right, and it profited me not; I will arise, I will return to my father’s God; in His house is bread enough and to spare, why should I perish
with hunger.” It has been so in the past, more often perhaps than we are aware, and doubtless it shall be so again.
[Editorial from the April 1944 issue of The Free Presbyterian Magazine.]