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PLAIN AND SERIOUS ADDRESS, &c.
OU may easily apprehend, that the many interruptions to which personal visits are liable, make it difficult for ministers to find a convenient time, in which they may apply themselves suitably and largely to those committed to their care; or at least, if they resolve to do it, will necessarily make their progress through large congregations Yery slow. I therefore take this method of visiting you while alone, and of addressing you on the very important subject of family religion. For your own sake, and the sake of those dearest to you, I intreat you to give me a calm attentive hearing. And I would particularly desire, that if it be by any means practicable, (as with little contrivance and resolution I hope it may,) you would secure one hour on the morning of the Lord's-day after you receive it, not merely to run over this letter in a cursory manner, but deliberately to weigh and consider it, and to come to some determination, as in the sight of God, that you will, or that you will not, comply with the petition which it brings ; if I may not rather say, with the demand which in his name it makes upon you.
As I purpose to deliver it to every master of a family under my stated care, or to every mistress where there is no master, (that no offence of any kind may be taken, which it is in my power to prevent,) I know it will come to many, who have long been exemplary for their diligence and zeal in the duties I am recommending; to many, whom their own experience hath instructed in the pleasures and advantages which flow from them; an experience, which will inforce them more effectually than any thing which it is possible for me to say. Such will, I hope, by what they read, be confirmed in pursuing the good resolution they have taken, and the good customs they have formed; and will also be excited more earnestly to endeavour to contribute towards introducing the like, into other families over which they have any influence, and especially into those which may branch out from their own, by the settlement of children or servants. In this view, as well as to awaken their thankfulness to divine grace, which hath inclined them to the
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discharge of their duty in so great, yet so frequently neglected, an article of it, I hope the heads of praying families will not peruse this letter in vain. But it is intended as an address to those, who have hitherto lived in the omission of it: And if there were but one such master of a family under my care, I would gladly submit to the labour in which I am now engaging for his sake alone. To such therefore I now turn myself; and Oh that divine grace might engage every one of such a character to hear me with attention, and might enforce upon his conscience the weight of reasons, the evidence of which the lowest may receive, and to which it is impossible that the highest should find any thing solid to object!
Oh my dear friend, whoever you are, (for I know no one under my care to whom I may not address that appellation,) give me leave to tell you plainly, that while I write this I have that awakening scripture in my view: Pour out thy fury upon theheathen that know thee not, and upon the Families That Call Not On Thy Name.* I appeal to you as a man of ordinary sense and understanding, (as it needs no more,) to judge whether this do not strongly imply that it may be taken for granted, every family, which is not a heathen family, which is not quite ignorant of the living and true God, will call upon his name. Well may it then pain my heart, to think that there should be a professedly christian family, whom this dreadful character suits. Well may it pain my heart, to think of the divine fury, whidh may be poured out on the heads and on the members of it: And well may it make me desirous, to do my utmost to secure you and yours, from every appearance, from every possibility of such danger. Excuse the earnestness with which I Inay address you. I really fear, lest while you delay , the fire of the divine displeasure should fall uponyouf: And as I adore the patience of God in having thus long suspended the storm, I am anxious about every hour's delay, lest it should fall the heavier.
I will therefore, as plainly and seriously as I can, endeavour to convince you of your duty, if peradventure you are not already secretly convinced of it; as truly I believe, most who neglect it, under the regular administration of gospel ordinances, are.—I will then touch on a few of those objections, which have been pleaded to excuse in some degree so shameful an omission.—And this will naturally lead me to conclude with a few hints, which may serve by way of direction, for the proper introduction and discharge of the services to which I am endeavouring to engage you.
I mean not to handle the subject at large, which would
• Jer. x. 85. f Gen. xix. 16, IT.
afford abundant matter for a considerable volume; as indeed several volumes have been written upon it, by divines of different denominations, who, however various in other opinions, agree here ; as what intelligent christian can disagree? But I mean to suggest a few plain things, which it is evident you have not sufficiently considered, and which if duly weighed, may by the blessing of God answer my present purpose. Now the arguments I shall propose will be such, that if you will not regard them, little is to be hoped from any other: For surely the mind of man can discover none of greater and more universal importance; though I readily acknowledge, that many others might inforce them with greater energy and address. Yet if the desire, the most earnest desire of succeeding can add any of the proper arts of persuasion, they will not be wanting here. And I would fain speak, as one who considers, how much of the glory of God, how much of your own happiness, and that of your dear children, for time and eternity, depends on the success of what I am now to lay before you.
What I desire and intreat of you is, that you would honour and acknowledge God in your families, by calling them together every day, to hear some part of his word read to them, and to offer, for a few minutes at least, your united confessions, prayers and praises to him. And is this a cause, that should need to be pleaded at large by a great variety of united motives Truly the petition seems so reasonable, and a compliance with it from one who has not quite renounced religion might seem so natural, that one would think the bare proposing it might suffice. Yet experience tells us, it is much otherwise. This letter will come into the hands of some, who, though they maintain a public profession of religion, have been again and again exhorted to it in vain, and that perhaps for succeeding years. I might say a great deal to upbraid such especially, on account of this neglect; but I rather chuse to intreat to the future performance of the duty; humbly hoping, that, criminal as former negligence has been, a gracious God will mercifully forgive it, to those who repent and desire to reform.
And Oh that I could engage you to this, by representing in the plainest, kindest, and most affectionate manner, the reasonableness, and advantage of this duty! For if it be reasonable, if it be evidently advantageous, there are numberless general precepts of scripture, which must comprehend and inforce it, if it were less immediately supported than it is by particular passages; which yet, as I shall presently shew, do many of them strongly recommend it to us.
Consider, Sir, for I address myself to every particular person, seriously consider the apparent reasonableness of family religion. Must not your consciences presently tell you, it is fit that persons who receive so many mercies together, should acknowledge them together? Can you in your own mind be satisfied, that you and your nearest relatives should pay no joint homage to that God, who hath set you in your family, and who hath given to you, and to the several members of it so many domestic enjoyments? your Creator and theirs, your preserver and theirs, your daily benefactor and theirs? Can it be right, if you have any sense of these things each of you in your own hearts, that the sense of them should be concealed and smothered there, and that you should never join in your grateful acknowledgments to him? Can you imagine it reasonable, that when you have a constant dependence upon him for so many mercies, without the concurrence of which your family would be a scene of misery, you should never present yourselves together in his presence, to ask them at his hand? Upon what principles is public worship to be recommended and urged, if not by such as have their proportionable weight here?
Indeed the force of these considerations hath not only been known and acknowledged by the people of God in all ages; we have not only Noah and Abraham, Joshua and David, Job and Daniel, each under a much darker dispensation than ours, as examples of it: But we may venture to say, that wherever there has been a profession of any kind of religion, it has been brought into private houses as well as public temples. The poor heathens, as we certainly know from the remaining monuments of them, had their lares and their penates, which were household images, some of them in private chapels, and others about the common hearth, where the family used to worship them by frequent prayers and sacrifices. And the brass, and wood, and stone, of which they consisted, shall (as it were) cry. out against you, shall rise up against you and condemn you, if while you call yourselves the worshippers of the one living; and eternal God, and boast of the revelation you have received by his prophets and by his Son, you presume to omit an homage, which the stupid worshippers of such vanities as these failed not to present to them, while they called them their Gods. Be persuaded then I beseech you, to be consistent in your conduct. Either give up all pretences to religion, or maintain a steady and uniform regard to it, at home as well as abroad, in the family, as well as in the closet, or at church. But the reasonableness of this duty, and the obligations which bind you in conscience to the practice of it, will farther appear, if you consider,
The many advantages, which will, by the divine blessing, attend a proper discharge of it. And here, I would more particularly represent the good influence, which family devotions are likely to have,—upon the young persons committed to your care,—upon your own hearts,—and upon the advancement of a general reformation, and the propagation of religion to those that are yet unborn.
Consider in the first place, what is most obvious, the happy influence which the duty I am recommending might have upon the young members of your family, the children and servants committed to your care. For I now consider you, as a parent, and a master. The father of a family is a phrase, that comprehends both these relations; and with great propriety, as humanity obliges us to endeavour to take a parental care of all under our roof. And indeed,
You ought to consider your servants, in this view, with a tender regard. They are probably in the flower of life, for that is the age which is commonlv spent in service; and vou should recollect how possible it is, that this may be, if rightly improved, the best opportunity their whole life may afford them for learning religion, and being brought under the power of.it. If your servants are already instructed in it, by being brought up in families where these duties have been maintained; let them not, if they should finallv miscarry, have cause to impute it to you, and to testify before God in trie day of their condemnation, "that it was under your roof that they learnt the neglect and forgetfulness of God, and of all that their pious parents, perhaps in a much inferior station of life to you, had in earlier days been attempting to teach them; to teach them, in moment:, taken from labour, or from repose almost necessary for their subsistence." On the other hand, if they come to you quite ignorant of religion, (as if they come from praverlcss families, it is very probable that they do,) have compassion upon them, I entreat you, and endeavour to give them those advantages which they never yet had ; and which it is too probable, as things are generally managed, they never will have, if you will not afford them.
But I would especially, if I might be allowed to borrow the pathetic words of Job*, intreat you by the children of your own body. I would now as it were present them all before you, and beseech you by all the bowels of parental affection, (which I have myself so strongly felt,) that to all the other tokens of tenderness and love, you would not refuse to add this, without which many of the rest may be worse than in vain.
• Job xix. 17.