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in a most glaring light. Is he in danger of being ensnared into indecent levity, or of contracting a habit of foolish jesting and talking ? he recollects he is soon to appear as the mouth of his family in addressing the blessed God. Is he surrounded with temptations to an immoderate indulgence of his fleshly appetites in meats and drinks; should he yield to the temptation, how would he bear, in the eyes of his family, to appear on his knees before God? Is he tempted to use harsh and provoking language to his children ? he recollects he is in a few hours to bear them in his arms before the Lord. He is to commend his companion in life to the divine mercy and protection; how, then, can he be “bitter against her ?" The case of his servants is to be shortly presented before God in social prayer: under such a recollection, it will surely not be difficult for him to forbear threatening, reflecting that he himself has a Master in heaven. Knowing that in the hearing of all his inmates he is about to bewail the corruptions of his nature, to implore pardon for his sins, and strength to resist temptation; will he not feel a double obligation, on this account, to struggle against that corruption, and anxiously to shun temptation ? The punctual discharge of the duty we are contending for will naturally strengthen his sense of the obligation of domestic duties, forcibly remind him of what he owes to every member of the domestic circles and cement the ties of conjugal and parental affection.
5. I proceed to notice a few of the probable pleas which will be urged for the neglect of this duty.
(1.) The most plausible I can think of is want of ability. To this it would not be easy to furnish a reply, did it absolutely require a degree of ability above the most ordinary measure. They who urge this plea may be conscious of their incapacity to become the mouth of others in extemporary prayer, but this is by no means necessary. Excellent forms, expressive of the wants and desires of all christian families may be obtained, which, supposing the inability alleged to be real, ought by all means to be employed. We, as dissenters, for the most part use and prefer free prayer. But God forbid we should ever imagine this the only mode of prayer which is acceptable to God. We cannot doubt that multitudes of devout persons have used forms of devotion with great and eminent advantage. To present our desires before God, in reliance on the atonement of the Mediator, is the real end of prayer, [and] is equally acceptable, whether it be offered with or without a preconceived form of words.
The plea of mental inability will not stand the test of an examination, unless it include an incapacity to read; a case comparatively rare, and which, we hope, is continually becoming rarer, and applies to few instances of the neglect we are complaining of.
It is more than probable that those who complain of this inability have never made the trial,
and, consequently, never can form any accurate judgement of their qualifications. Were you to make the attempt, beginning with the use of a form if absolutely necessary, and making variations and additions as your feelings may suggest, you would find the accomplishment of that gracious promise, “They that wait on the Lord shall renew their strength.”
If your omission of family prayer is accompanied with a similar neglect of private devotion, your situation is, indeed, deplorable; you are living “without God in the world.” But supposing you to make conscience of private prayer, why not adopt the same method in domestic worship, with the addition of such petitions as the circumstance of its greater publicity may require? Beware lest a secret disaffection to God, a secret enmity to his person and his ways, lies at the foundation of this apology. It wears a shew of humility, but it is but a mere shadow of it without the substance.
(2.) Another class of persons are ready to admit the propriety and utility of this practice, but allege that such is the variety and multitude of their worldly avocations, that they cannot spare the time requisite for this exercise. Let such be urged to remember that the time necessary for the purpose we are recommending is very small-five minutes will suffice for reading an ordinary chapter; [not many more for the utterance of a fervent] prayer; so that the exercise, morning and evening, need occupy little, if any thing, more than
half an hour. And is this a space too much to be allotted, in the most busy life, for an exercise so sacred in its obligation, and so replete with advantage as this has been shewn to be? Where is the man so incessantly occupied as not to allow himself more leisure than this, frequently, if not habitually; that does not allot more time to objects of confessedly inferior magnitude ?
In addition to what has been advanced, it would not be difficult to prove that no loss of time will usually result ; for what may seem a loss will be more than compensated by that spirit of order and regularity which the stated observance of this duty tends to produce. It will serve as an edge and border to preserve the web of life from unravelling; it will tend to keep every thing in its proper place and [time]; and this practice will naturally introduce a similar regularity into other employments.
Consider for a moment on what principle does the plea of want of time depend. Plainly on this: that religion is not the grand concern ; that there is something more important than the service of God; that the pleasing and glorifying of our Maker is not the great end of human existence;—a fatal delusion, a soul-destroying mistake, which militates against the whole spirit of the gospel, and presumptuously impeaches the wisdom of that Saviour who exclaimed, “Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.”*
* Matt. vi. 33.
(3.) Another class will perhaps reply, “ We are convinced of the urgent obligation of the duty which has been recommended; but we have so long neglected it that we know not how to begin,are ashamed at the prospect of the surprise, the curiosity, it will occasion.
But there is much impiety in this shame ; and if it be permitted to deter you from complying with the dictates of conscience and the commands of God, it will unquestionably class you with the fearful and unbelieving, who shall have their portion in the second death. To be ashamed of the service of Christ is to be ashamed of Christ and his cross; and you have heard the divine denunciation of judgement on such characters. “ Whosoever shall be ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation; of him also shall the Son of Man be ashamed, when he cometh in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.”* You are afraid of presenting yourself under a singular aspect to your domestics and acquaintance: have you not reflected on the awful and trying situation in which you will be placed by the infliction of the sentence, justly merited, “Of him will I be ashamed ;" “Rise up, Lord, and let thine enemies be scattered; and let them that hate thee flee before thee?”
II. Hints on the practice. Best mode of performing it.
* Mark viii. 38.