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MASTERS OF FAMILIES.
Masters Of Families !—You have often heard, and perhaps always admired the resolution of Joshua. He had gathered all Israel together in Shechem, and thus he addressed them—" If it seem evil unto you to serve the Lord; choose you this day whom ye will serve, whether the gods which your fathers served that were on the other side of the flood, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land ye dwell: but as lor me and my house, we will serve the Lord."
This Determination Derives A ConsiderAble FORCE FROM THE PERSON WHO FORMS IT.
It was Joshua. But who was Joshua? A soldier, a hero, a commander-in-chief of the armies of the living God, the governor of Israel, the principal man in the state. He it was who in the presence of an assembled country was not ashamed to say, "As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord."
And does religion degrade talents, tarnish dignity, disparage greatness? It ennobles titles, and adds lustre to a crown. Are they only the vulgar, the foolish, the dastardly, who profess to acknowledge God? God has been served by persons of all ranks, and of all distinctions. In every age of the world some of the wise, the mighty, the noble have been called. And no where does religion shine to more advantage than in circumstances of elevation. Nothing is more pleasing tlian to see a combination of greatness and goodness in the same character. And nothing can be more useful. The higher classes have more opportunities and capacities for doing good than others. They are like a city set upon a hill; they cannot be hid. They are widely visible. Their influence is extensive and powerful. Their example regulates not only manners, but morals: for it would be easy to prove that morals, equally with fashions, work downwards from superiors to inferiors. If the great distinguish themselves by the profession of truth, the worship of God, the practice of virtue, they will be sure to draw others after them. Whereas if they are infidel, irreligious,
vicious, they are infected fountains, poisonmg the multitudes that drink of the streams, and spreading mischief all around.
Observe also The Independence With
WHICH THE DETERMINATION IS EXPRESSED.
Joshua was by no means indifferent to the welfare of others. He wished all who heard him to choose the God he had chosen, and serve the God he served. But he could not allow himself to be influenced by them. If they will not follow him, he resolves to go alone. "O ye seed of Abraham! if you forsake him, which God forbid, not I. If you will not cleave to him, I must If there was no individual in the nation, in the world to accompany me, I would say as I now do— 'As fur me and my house, we will serve the Lord.'"
The case which Joshua here supposes is neither an impossible, nor an unusual one. In a thousand instances you will find yourselves alone if you are resolved to obey the dictates of truth, and the calls of duty. If " the whole world lieth in wickedness," and you will bo "holy in all manner of conversation and godliness," you must be singular. If you live among fools, and are wise, you must be singular. If you live among the poor, and are rich, you must be singular. And it is presumed that you would have no great objection to be distinguished by wisdom, or wealth. And why should you be so terrified at the charge of singularity, in a cause infinitely more honourable? Nothing is so excellent as goodness, and no goodness is so praiseworthy as that which is singular. This shows a purity of motive, and a dignity of principle. This argues a grandeur of mmd, a soul not meanly enslaved by custom, but asserting its own freedom, and daring to think and act for itself . Such a man does not wait for the company and countenance of others to embolden him—he can venture by himself: and despise the shame—when as he advances, abandoned crowds pursue him with their sneers and reproaches. Such was Abdiel.
"FaithfUl found Among the faithless, faithful only be; Among innumerable false, unmoved, Unshaken, unseduced, unterrified, His loyalty be kept, his love, his zeal; Nor number nor example with him wrought To swerve from truth, or change his constant mind Though single. From amidst them forth he passed Long way through hostile scorn, which he sustained Buperior, nor of violence feared aught."
On such a man the Saviour fixes his eye, and cries, "Them that honour me, I will honour. He that confesseth me before men, him will I confess before my Father and the holy angels. Be thou faithful unto death, and I win give thee a crown of life."
It may be remarked, that The Resolution Is Personal. Indeed he begins with himself: "As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord."
Nothing can dispense with an obligation to personal piety. Nothing merely oflicial, or relative; nothing ,we do for others, while we are destitute of the grace of God in our own souls, can secure us. "Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils! and in thy name done many wonderful works?" And indeed those who are regardless of their own souls are not likely to be very attentive to the souls of others. Mere profession and a regard to decency may carry you some way; but there is nothing like a personal experience of divine things to inflame zeal. Unless you serve God yourselves, your eflorts will be transient, partial, irregular. Thev are also likely to be unsuccessful. A drunken master is a poor preacher of sobriety to servants. A proud father is a miserable recommender of humility to children. They will do as you do, rather than do as you say. Your example will counteract all the eflect of your counsel; and all the convictions you would fix in the mind will fall like arrows from an impenetrable shield. "Thou therefore, which teachest another, teachest thou not thyself! Thou that preachest a man should not steal, dost thou steal! Thou that say est a man should not commit adultery, dost thou commit adultery? Thou that abhorrest idols, dost thou commit sacrilege!"
You should therefore begin "both to do, and to teach." You should be able, in a humble measure at least, to say to those who are under your care, "Be ye followers of me, even as I also am of Christ" Personal religion must precede domestic—therefore Joshua does not say my house shall serve him without me. But domestic religion must accompany personal—and therefore Joshua does not say / will serve him without my house: he includes both—
And thus, finally, the determination is ReLative and Extensive: "As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord."
But the question is—How could he say this? Could he be answerable for his family
as well as for himself! We may consider this two ways, as expressing either his happiness or his duty.
If he could say this from a knowledge of his family; if after observation he was assured of the good and pious dispositions of all those who were under his care—we should envy his happiness. This has sometimes been the case. But the privilege is not common.
The words therefore are rather to be considered as an expression of his duty. Not that he supposed it was in the power of his resolution to make the members of his household truly pious. He knew that God alone is the author of conversion; but he knew also that God uses means, and requires us to use them: that it is only in the use of them he has promised his blessing; and therefore that it is only in the use of them we can expect it. Were we to hear a pious husbandman saying, "This year I will have wheat in this field, and in yonder I will have barley," you would not mistake him. He does not mean to intimate that he can produce the grain, but he can manure, and plough, and sow, and weed —he intends to do this—and then to look for the divine blessing to give the increase.
Thus Joshua resolves to endeavour in the wise and zealous use of all proper means to render the family he governs truly religious. He would instruct, reprove, admonish, encourage them. He would address every principle of action. He would rouse every passion m their bosoms. He would seize every favourable opportunity, improve every striking occurrence to impress the mind with seriousness. He would cherish every promising appearance. He would lead them to the house of God, and keep them from profaning his holy day. He would pray not only for them, but also with them. He would worship God not only in the closet, but in the parlour, and with his children and servants in the train.
And this, O ye masters of families! this is that which I wish to enforce upon you all. O thatl could find out acceptable words, as well as words of truth! O that I knew by what arguments I could induce you to establish the worship of God in your own houses!
To render our reasoning upon this subject easy of apprehension and remembrance, let me call upon you to consider domestic religion in reference to God—in reference to yourselves—and in reference toyour families.
I. Think of it In Reference To God. To him family religion has a threefold relation. The first is a relation of Responsibility. For we are required to glorify God in every condition we occupy, and in every capacity we possess. For instance: If a person be poor, he is commanded to serve God as a poor person. But suppose he should become rich. He would then be required to serve him as rich: and from the time of his acquiring this wealth, he would be tried by the rule of wealth. If a man be single, he is commanded to serve God as single; but no sooner is he placed over a family than he is required to serve God as the master of a family: and from the moment of his obtaining this new connexion he will be judged by the duties which belong to it. God has committed to him a trust, and he expects him to be &ithful to this trust He has given him a talent, and he expects him to use this talent In a word, he has mode him a steward, and he will call him to give an account of his stewardship. When, so to speak, the man has been tried, then comes forth to be judged the master of the family! Bring forth the law of the bouse —Have you walked by this rule? What have you done for me here?—Nothing! Did I not assign you the government of a family: and to qualify you for this vqry purpose did I not give you a peculiar authority and influence? How have you employed them ?— Anticipate the proceedings of this awful day, and "judge yourselves, that you may not be condemned with the world."
The second is a relation of Oratitcdk. How numerous and pressing are your obligations to his kindness and his care! He has crowned your wishes, and supplied all your wants. When you were a poor, solitary, insignificant individual, he raised you into consequence, and multiplied you into a family. Behold "thy wife, like a fruitful vine, by the sides of thy house; and thy children like olive plants round about thy table." Whose "secret has been upon thy tabernacle?" Whose providence has "blessed the labour of thy hands?" Whose vigilance has suffered " no evil to befall thee, nor any plague to come nigh thy dwelling?" And will you basely refuse him the glory which is due unto his holy Name? Will you refuse to honour him in a family in which he has scattered so many blessings? Shall thy house, which should be the temple of his praise, be only the grave of his mercies?
The third is a relation of Dependence. For can you dispense with God in your dwellings? Are not all your schemes, your exertions, and the assistances you secure, "less than nothing, and vanity," without his aid and his blessing ?" Except the Lord build the house, they labour in vain that build it. Except the Lord keep the city, the watchman wakcth but in vain." "It is vain for you to rise up early, to sit up late, to eat the bread of sorrows: for so he giveth his beloved sleep." The wisest course therefore is to secure his favour, who has all events under his control, and "is able to do for us exceeding abundantly above all we ask or think." And is this to be done by irreligion?
Observe his promises and his threatenings. Or rather let us observe one of them. "The curse of the Lord is in the house of the wicked: but he blesseth the habitation of the just"
What a dreadful look has this Scripture towards a wicked family! What a benign aspect towards a righteous one! What a tremendous thing is "the curse of God:" and this does not hover over the building, does not look in at the window, does not stand at the door—but is "in the house," spreading through every apartment, and feeding like a worm upon all the possessions. You may see the appearance of pleasure, and as you draw nigh, you may "hear music and dancing"—but " there is no peace, saith my God, unto the wicked." Magnificence may reign there; there may be rich furniture, and a table spread with dainties—but what are all these when the divine anger has said, "Let their table be made a snare, a trap, and a stumbling-block, and a recompense unto them?" And if this be the case with their good things—what will they do in the evil day? What can be expected under their disappointments and afflictions—but impatience, and rage, and despair?
But he " blesseth the habitation of the just;" and his blessing with bread and water is a good portion. If they have but little, it is sanctified. Their enjoyments are relished. Their trials are alleviated. Religion opens a refuge, when every other refuge fails, and applies a remedy to evils otherwise remediless. They have a God in trouble. His grace is still the same. His providence is making all things work together for their good. Their walls are continually before him. The voice of rejoicing and of salvation is in the tabernacles of the righteous! This brings us,
IE To consider family religion In ReferEnce TO YOURSELVES.
And here, in the first place, you ought to be concerned for your spiritual welfare. You ought to value that which has a tendency to restrain you from sin, and to excite you to holiness. Now it is easy to see that the practice we arc recommending has such an influence. Can he who is going to prayer with his family swear or be obscene? He will be upon his guard, if it be only to preserve himself from the charge of hypocrisy. Another feels no such motive. He can indulge himself in bad words, and vile tempers, without incurring the reflection of inconsistency. And because he makes no pretensions to virtue, he may imagine himself at liberty to practise vice.
And upon this principle it is that many refuse to make a profession of religion—to come to the table of the Lord—and to adopt family worship. They reason properly enough —that in consequence of this they must become more watchful and circumspect. But what can we think of the principle? What can we think of a man who fears to be restrained from the commission of sin, and to be urged to the performance of duty?
Such a practice also will secure tranquillity of mind. The omission of this duty leaves a sting in the conscience, occasions many a bitter reflection through life, and plants a dying pillow with thorns. When you see those who were placed under your care going astray, becoming the victims of error and vice and misery, it will not be easily in your power to suppress the rising, or to soothe the inful accusation—" Ah! this might have en prevented, had you discharged your duty. Does not their destruction lie at your door?" But the man who has faithfully discharged his obligations, feels an internal composure. If indeed his efforts be not crowned with success, he will lament; but this grief differs very materially from that torture which springs from self-condemnation for a trust betrayed, for opportunities neglected, for exertions omitted. He has a satisfaction under all his distress; and his rejoicing is this, the testimony of his conscience, that in simplicity and godly sincerity, not by fleshly wisdom, but by the grace of God, he has had his conversation with the world, and more abundantly to them-ward.
But surely you are not indifferent to your temporal circumstances. You wish to have peace and order in your dwelling. You wish to have your property secured, and your business well performed. You wish to see fidelity, diligence, submission. You wish to be honoured and obeyed. But do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles? Surely you cannot expect these things to be produced without principle; and what principle can so certainly and fully produce them as religion? What else can enforce them by sanctions and motives so awful, so binding, and which operate equally in all places and at all times; and thus secure the performance of duty, when you are absent as well as present! By teaching them to regard God, you teach them to regard yourselves. Piety is the firmest basis on which to build morality. To which we may add, that when religion is flirly exemplified in character, there is a majesty and a force in it: it surrounds the possessor with an awe that represses a thousand impertinences, and extorts respect "Abraham commanded his children and his household after him"—nnrl what a son had he in Isaac! what a servant in Eleazar!
III. Let us therefore consider this subject In Reference To Your Family. The members which compose it are in reality parts of yourselves: children are natural part", and servants are civil parts of yourselves. These have therefore peculiar claims upon you ; and what would people think of you were you to avow that you had no regard for them, and would do nothing that would advance their welfare? If in the cold you denied vour servants warmth, if you gave them bad food, and short allowance; if you turned them out
of doors as soon as they were sick, and they knew not where to lay their head—the world would execrate you. If you were to suffer your children to go naked, to beg their bread, to perish with hunger in a ditch, or take your little ones and dash them against the stones —you would be shunned as a monster. But you act a far more criminal, and a far more infamous part, by disregarding their spiritual and everlasting welfare. Doubtless Herod after killing the infants in Bethlehem was viewed and shunned with horror—but he was far less cruel than you. He only destroyed the body, you damn the soul . He only slew the children of others, but you murder your own!" If any provide not for his own, and especially for those of his own house, he hatb denied the faith, and is worse than an infidel." And can you imagine you have done this, when you have endeavoured to answer the question, " What shall they eat, and what shall they drink, and wherewithal shall they be clothed?" What is the body to the soul t What is time to eternity? You may amass for them riches, you may leave them an estate; but your house is the way to hell, going down to the chambers of death.
Under this article, let us observe more distinctly two things.
The first is the importance of Religion to the individuals under your care. Is it not "the one thing needful?" Is it not "profitable to all things, having promise of the life that now is, and of that which is to come?" You cannot deny this. Can yon then be indifferent to the religion of your off'spring, without being indifferent to their welfare? While you say by your practice, that it is nothing to you whether they be pious or vicious—do you not at the same time, and in the most undeniable manner, declare—that it is nothing to you whether they be respectable or infamous? loved or abhorred of God? saved or lost for ever?
And the second is this—the probability of their becoming religious by your means. Baxter gives it as his opinion, That if family religion was duly attended to, the public preaching of the word would not long be the common method of conversion. Without adopting this sentiment in all its extent, we may observe that there is certainly enough to encourage the heads of families to exert themselves, and to condemn them if they do not If the crop be so valuable, who would not sow, especially if he could "sow in hope?" And who knows not the force of early impressions, and the strength of early habits? Who has not read, "Train up a child in the way that he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it?" In such families there has generally been a seed to serve the Lord. And this has appeared not only in children; how often have servants had reason to say, "Blessed be God that ever I entered