The observance of family worship was very common in Scotland in years that are past. But we have good reason to fear that this admirable practice has now become out of date in popular estimation, and that it is only in comparatively few households that it is still observed. The newspaper – valuable in a subordinate way – has usurped the place which belongs to the Bible, and the nation is everywhere poorer, morally and spiritually, on this account. It is plain to all who have studied carefully the history of religion among us that worship in the family has proved a blessing of incalculable value to many generations of our countrymen. Some, we believe, have received their first serious impressions of eternal things at the family altar, impressions which eventually issued in a change from Satan’s darkness to God’s marvellous light. Equally certain is it that thousands have derived moral benefit of a high order from this sacred institution. Scotland and England have risen to the high place which they occupy among the nations, as a result, under God, of personal and family religion. But, sad to say, declension has begun; the light of God’s Word is rejected from many homes; and we are in danger if not arrested, of universal decay and ruin. The voice of the Lord in this terrible war is a call to return to His Word and Worship.
In making a few observations on this important subject, let us notice, first, the Scriptural basis for family worship.
The Scriptures clearly teach us that as the individual is a unit formed by the Most High, so is the family. The marriage tie was constituted in Eden by the hand of the Lord, and the offspring of the marriage union are compared in Scripture to the branches of a tree. There is a certain oneness between the tree and its branches. It seems, therefore, plain that it is the natural duty of parents and children as one body or company, possessing certain mutual relations, responsibilities and advantages, to acknowledge together their Maker as the fountain of all their good, and in the light of the special revelation of righteousness and mercy He has given, to confess their sins, and seek His forgiveness and help through Jesus Christ.
We observe also, that there are concrete examples given us in the Scriptures of family worship. If we go back to the earliest times, we see ,that the visible Church was confined to particular families – Adam and his family, Noah and his family, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and their families. The worship of the Church in those ages was family worship. We find that Abraham raised up altars for worship in the various places whither he went, and he is highly commended by the Lord for his attention to the religion of his family: “For I know him, that he will command his children and his household after him, and they shall keep the way of the Lord” (Gen 18:19). Abraham was “the father of the faithful,” and a typical servant of God for all subsequent ages. We might also cite the cases of Joshua, Job, David, and others. All these prayed with and for their families. Joshua’s memorable resolution bears strongly upon the point: “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”
Coming to New Testament times, we see that the Lord Jesus, the Head of the Church, taught His disciples to engage in united worship: “When ye pray, say, Our Father, which art in heaven,” etc. True, we may not find a distinct, explicit case of family worship recorded in the New Testament, but that is quite unnecessary, as unnecessary as it is to find an explicit case of a woman sitting at the Lord’s Table in order to prove that women may sit there. Family worship was no ceremonial part of the old dispensation destined to pass away, but an institution adapted to, and binding upon all generations, as long as there is a family in the world. The New Testament has on record many cases of families and households being brought into the visible Church, and can it be supposed that these, with their greater privileges, were under less obligation to acknowledge and worship God than the people of the former dispensation? The supposition is absurd.
Still further, we find that fearful woes are pronounced in the Scriptures on households that do not acknowledge God or serve Him. “The curse of the Lord is in the house of the wicked.” Forgetfulness of God is wickedness, though often not thought or believed to be so. Witness, again, the burning petitions of Jeremiah: “Pour out thy fury upon the heathen that know Thee (or own Thee) not, and upon the families that call not upon Thy name” (Jer 10:25). These words – expressive not of malice, but of holy indignation – contain a solemn warning to families who neglect God’s Worship.
In view of the above teaching of Scripture, we think it is as plain as it possibly can be that social worship is obligatory upon all families to whom the Bible has come.
Perhaps some person may ask, “Is it right or Scriptural for people who are unrenewed, and without spiritual life, to engage in family worship?” We answer without hesitation that it is. Read the 148th Psalm. There “dragons and all deeps,” beasts and all cattle, kings and judges, young men and maidens, old men and children, are all commanded without exception to “praise the name of the Lord.” If they are capable in a lawful sense of the high exercise of praising Him, surely they are capable in a lawful sense of the humbler exercises of reading His Word, and calling upon His name. We must not be wiser than God, and it is only a presumptuous sickly spirituality that He will frown upon, which forbids what He has expressly commanded. Do we forbid the unregenerate from engaging in public worship where a number of families are gathered together? No. If it is competent for them to engage in worship along with a number of families, it must be equally competent for them to do so when met as members of one family.
It is further our personal opinion that, when the leader in worship does not feel himself or herself competent to engage in prayer extempore, such may lawfully use a form of supplication. While it is wrong to depend upon a mere formal repetition of words in prayer for acceptance with God, yet we think that the employment of a “form of sound words” in private, if necessary, is not wrong in itself. Witness the fourteenth chapter of Hosea, where the Lord puts the very words of supplication into the mouth of Israel, and observe also the pattern of prayer that Christ left with His disciples. Is it not entirely proper, and eminently helpful, for us oftentimes to use the very language of Scripture both in public and private at a throne of grace?
It would be an excellent thing if all families, where a measure of decency prevails, would regularly observe a form of family worship, and that not merely once a week on the Sabbath evening, but morning and evening each day. It would, to say the least, act in general as a preserving salt from many outward evils, to which fallen humanity is prone. The Lord also blesses the reading as well as the preaching of His Word unto salvation. It is open to us to hope that such a blessing might attend it.
The present time in the history of our country is one in which there should be renewed diligence in the matter of all religious exercises, public and private. God’s judgments are clearly in the earth. He is angry with us for, among other things, our practical atheism, forgetfulness of His being and claims, and our negligence of prayer. If ever there was a message from heaven to people asleep in spiritual death and indifference, it is at the present crisis. “What meanest thou, O sleeper? arise, call upon thy God, if so be that God will think upon us, that we perish not” (Jonah 1:6). Thus spoke “the shipmaster” to Jonah in the storm. The same call comes to every slothful soul today. It would be well if people who have become remiss in family worship or have been utterly neglectful of it, would awake and give it regular attention. Who can tell but the Lord, in His infinite mercy, might send us at present a special blessing as a nation?
[Editorial from the November 1915 issue of The Free Presbyterian Magazine.]