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ART. III.–FAMILY RELIGION; OR, HOME PIETY.
THERE is no such phrase in the Bible that I can remember as
“family religion,” but there is this precept, “Let them first learn to show piety at home ;” and there are precepts enjoining the relative duties of husband and wife, parent and child, servant and master, which prove that religion in the family was both recognised and taught by the Apostles.
Now there is to an Englishman no spot on earth so sacred, so dear, so attractive, as home, when it is a right one. It is a lovely miniature of heaven when it is a happy home, but it is a sad foretaste of hell if it be a bad one. It ought to be made the most charming spot on earth by every one in it. The first buds of knowledge and love open and bloom at home. The most sweet and tender ties of life are at home. It is only at home that we find the dear relationships of husband and wife, father and mother, brother and sister. The scenes and sounds that were experienced at home strike the mind, and heart, and memory, with a force and a vividness that no joy or sorrow or time can ever obliterate. How precious the memory of childhood's days if the home has been a happy one! Who can wonder if some men, even amid prosperity, sigh to live over again the pleasant years of childhood and home-life! But if that home has been a bad one, how cold and withering the recollection of its sad experience! Many a withered heart, many a sour and morose temper, many a fierce and malignant disposition, may be traced to the effects of a bad home.* But the effects of a good, a happy, a pious home are lasting as eternity. Its effects go to mould our character and to shape our destiny for ever. How vast is the importance of home piety.
1. The first essential of a religious home consists in husband and wife being truly pious. How any man can hope to have family religion who deliberately takes for his wife a woman without religion, we have yet to learn. Certain it is, that if she never oppose or persecute him in his religion she can never help him, nor even sympathize with bim ; and his having married her, knowing her to be unconverted, will be no small barrier in the way of her own conversion. She will have but a poor opinion of his religion, when it can allow him to ally himself for life with one who has none; and that will in many cases prejudice her against religion itself.
* Lord Byron is a specimen of this, if we are to receive his testimony of the character of his mother.
But supposing that both husband and wife are religious, the next thing will be to cultivate religious dispositions in each other. Religion, consisting as it does of thought and affection, words and actions, sanctified and guided by Christian truth and grace, can only be healthy and progressive by being nursed and cultivated. It is allowed by sensible and true-hearted people that courtship should go on after marriage, as much as before. And if courting means the cherishing and exhibiting of tender affection for each other, it should be as vigorous after as before marriage, or, alas ! for the happiness of such a marriage. Now, if natural affections require nursing by kind words and deeds, so do religious dispositions and graces need it. Religion is intended to make a man all the more kind, considerate, and helpful to his wife, amid her many cares, privations, and weaknesses, and to render a woman all the more sweet, gentle, thoughtful, and respectful towards her husband. And this will be its regular effects if religion be cultivated by husband and wife. Do not fall into the too common error of supposing that gentle, forbearing, meek, and patient dispositions will keep up their vigour amid the struggles and sorrows of life without means being used for their development. And what means should be used ?
(1.) A husband should spend the most of his leisure time with his wife. Do not startle at such a proposal. If she be to him the most loved object on earth—and he hasno doubt said that she is, he should act as if that were the case. If he find it more agreeable to spend those hours which business and the means of grace do not require in other society than hers, he loves them better than his wife. And does not every consideration of kindness and justice require that she should enjoy the privilege of his leisure hours ? For him she has joyfully forsaken home and friends, and for him she is content to give her time, and strength, and affection, that she may render his home such as he could desire; and all she asks is his love in return. And is there anything that would prove his love so much as preferring her society to that of all others? The man who feels the society of his own wife to be dull and unsatisfying ought not to have done such an injustice as to have married her; and now that he has married her he has no right to rob her of what she has a right to claim. The husband should spend his leisure hours with his wife for their mutual improvement. There is no woman, however little cultivated, but may be improved by the kind efforts of her husband; and there is no man, however refined or unfurnished, but may be elevated, and refined, and softened by the society of his wife.
(2.) And one way of husband and wife being mutually helpful at improvement is, by reading to each other. It will generally happen that the wife will require her evenings for her needle, and in that case let her husband read to her such books as will profit them both. A good book is like a pleasant, profitable companion, and when read aloud adds much to the comfort of home, while its contents will furnish food both for reflection and conversation. How often will the pleasant reading of the evening soothe the mind of the wife after the toils of the day, and as often furnish material for profitable meditation during the next day! The evening's reading would soon be welcomed as a feast, or the face of a loving friend. And such reading would often suggest useful thoughts for enlivening and improving the hours of meal-time. And while the mind is thus pleasantly and usefully employed much care will be driven away, much comfort and joy will be imparted, and the domestic atmosphere will become regularly more sweet and healthful.
(3.) Spiritual conversation should be practised if family religion is to grow.
It is true there are men who seldom talk to their wives, except about the every-day concerns of the house; men whose tongues can please and edify any one but their own wives. Such men have usually begun their courting with very little sense, and carried on their married life in the same style. The woman of their choice has been treated more like a big, foolish child that liked to be toyed and amused, than as a sensible woman that could enjoy sensible conversation. Such men need to turn over a new leaf if they are to have any family religion. But even sensible men, who can converse with their wives on any other subject, often feel a strange reserve on the subject of personal religion. This is one of Satan's devices to hinder those from benefiting each other. If husband and wife would be free and frequent in religious conversation, they would daily stimulate each other to greater earnestness of faith and love. Such conversation needs not to be set or studied, but may be the fruit of incidental occurrences, weaving itself like a silver thread into the fabric of every-day conversation.
(4.) Need it be said that praying together is an important means of promoting religion in the family. Why do people pray together? Is it not to stir up all that is good in the saved, and to increase it ? It will be more beneficial for husband and wife to pray together than for any other persons, because they are supposed to be more fully one in heart; and praying together will increase their love for each other, their sympathy with a perishing world, and will greatly elevate and strengthen the tone of their moral character. And will not praying together prompt each of them to live better at home? It will either do that or else lead them to give up family prayer. Where husband and wife have occasional disagreements, and can't pray together with comfort, Satan leads them to omit the duty that day. Sad mistake! They should rather have prayed twice than have omitted it once, under such circumstances. Family prayer once neglected, because one of the parties is in the pet, is often neglected for days or months as a consequence; because it is harder work to begin that duty again, when it is omitted on account of some sin or unpleasantness, than to persevere in the face of the first temptation to neglect it. Paul teaches husband and wife to “live together as heirs of the grace of life" for this very important reason, "that your prayers be not hindered.” To make family prayer profitable, husband and wife must live as Christians in each other's presence, or praying together will either be profitless or will be neglected. And what a powerful reason it will be for husband and wife to live together in holy consistency, to remember that they have to pray together! And how much such prayers will help them so to live, none can know but those who have practised it.
2. The second feature in family religion consists in parents training their children for Christ. Where children are born into a house as the fruit of marriage, there we find the natural condition of social and domestic life. And who, that has the heart of a man, not to say a Christian, objects to children, either as a burden or a trouble? A manly spirit will lead a man to say, Let me share the common lot of human life, and bear its common burdens, and thus enjoy its common comforts; and, feeling its daily woes, I shall have a heart to feel for humanity at large.
With children come growing toils, cares, and responsibilities; not, however, without compensating comforts, and joys, and hopes. And God, who gives to parents their children, holds them responsible, in a great measure, for the formation of their character and habits. And,
(1.) Parents should nurse their own children. This is the only natural rule, and, therefore, the only proper one. To put out a child to nurse may be necessary in some unfortunate cases that we need not mention, but it should never be done when the parents can do it themselves. The reason is obvious, that it is in infancy that a child's habits begin to be formed, and his character moulded; and the parents should superintend that important process themselves : nobody can do it for them as it should be done. And how sad to think of children placed under the care of some old woman, or some nurse-woman for the day, to be spoiled, neglected, or properly attended to, just as it may happen; and then brought home to their parents at night,-put under one authority at daytime, and then placed under another at night. Where can there be any authority exercised by parents who show so little affection for their children, and spend so little time with them ? Such children are generally left to themselves ; and is it any wonder if they grow up only to distress their parents, and to be a nuisance in society?
Parents too oft are in ignorance of the fact that the temper, health, and habits of a child are formed in the cradle ; that proper attention then may render the child all they could wish it to be; but that neglect then may foster diseases, tempers, and habits that will render the child a burden to itself and a pest to others. False economy, penny-wise management, and such like, may cry out against this doctrine, but any practice opposed to it is both unnatural, selfish, unjust, and awfully injurious.
2. Parents should train their children to pious habits. This is plainly enjoined in Scripture: “Train them up in the nurture and discipline of the Lord.” It means,
(1.) Instruction. It is as much the duty of parents to instruct as to feed and clothe their children. They have a mind to be cared for, infinitely more valuable than the body. And on parents devolves, by Divine appointment, the duty of teaching to their children "all the words of this life.” If the Sunday-school assists in that work, and the day-school gives the Bible as a lesson-book, they do not lessen the duty of parental instruction. It is mournful to think how little of instruction in religion is practiced, even by professed Christians, and to what an extent scolding and faultfinding take the place of proper instruction and gentle advice.
(2.) It means discipline as well as instruction. Too many parents suppose that instruction is discipline—that telling children their duty is training them. Nothing could be much further from the mark. Children are like young horses ; they require “ breaking in ” by a process not always the most agreeable, compelling to perform their duties as well as ordering to do them. It is only when the horse has been compelled to yield obedience to the rein till it becomes a habit that it is said to be trained ; and so it may be said of children. The sin of old Eli was not that his sons were not instructed or reproved by him, but that “he restrained them not" in their bad practices. Commands to children should be few and simple, but when once given should be strictly enforced. Threatenings should be seldom uttered, but when uttered ought to be executed, unless very strong reasons intervene to modify or annul them. Where parents are always commanding about the merest trifles as well as the most serious matters, their commands become contemptible. And where threatenings are freely uttered and seldom executed there will be no proper discipline in such a house. If parents allow fond and blind affection for their children to guide them, instead of that true regard for the welfare and happiness of the child which looks to the consequences of every evil unchecked and unpunished, they may be called kind parents, if you will, but such kindness is the grossest cruelty to the child, as well as the foulest injustice to society at large. Children who are habituated to obedience at home become through life orderly and agreeable members of social, civil, and religious societies. Å habit of obedience carried out at home prepares for obedience to Christ, and submission to his gospel. Early piety is one of the fruits of early and pious training to habits of holy obedience at