As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord. Joshua 24.15.
A resolution, this, worthy of Joshua, and no less becoming, no less necessary, for every true son of Joshua, who is entrusted with the care and government of a family in our day. If it were ever seasonable for ministers to preach up, or people to put in practice family-religion, it was never more so than in the present age. It is greatly to be feared, that out of those many households that call themselves Christians, there are but few that serve God in their respective families as they ought.
Visit our churches, and you may perhaps see something of the form of godliness still subsisting amongst us; but even that is scarcely to be met with in private houses. So that were the blessed angels to come, as in the patriarchal age, and observe our spiritual attitudes at home, would they not be tempted to say as Abraham to Abimelech, “Surely, the fear of God is not in this place?” Gen. 20.11. I believe we must for ever despair of seeing a primitive spirit of piety revived in the world, till we are so happy as to see a revival of primitive family-religion; and persons unanimously resolving with good old Joshua in the words of the text, “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”
It is the duty of every head of a family to take care, that not only he himself, but also that those committed to his charge, “serve the Lord.” This will appear, if we consider that every
head of a family ought to look upon himself as obliged to act in three capacities: as a prophet, to instruct; as a priest, to pray for and with; as a king, to govern, direct and provide for them. It is true, indeed, the latter of these, their kingly office, they are not so frequently deficient in but, as for the two former, their priestly and prophetic office, like Gallio, they care for no such things.
What precedents men who neglect their duty in this particular can plead for such omission, I cannot tell. Doubtless not the example of holy Job, who was so far from imagining that he had no concern, as head of a family, with any one’s soul but his own, that the scripture acquaints us, “When the days of his children’s feasting were gone about, that Job sent and sanctified them. and offered burnt offerings, according to the number of them all; for Job said. It may be that my sons have sinned and cursed God in their hearts: thus did Job continually.” Nor can they plead the practice of good old Joshua, whom, in the text, we find as much concerned for his household’s welfare as his own. Nor, lastly, that of Cornelius, who feared God, not only himself, but with all his house. And if Christians were of the same spirit of Job, Joshua, and the Gentile centurion, they would act as Job, Joshua, and Cornelius did.
But alas! if this be the case, and all heads of families ought not only to serve the Lord themselves, but likewise to see that their respective households do so too; what will then become of those who not only neglect serving God themselves, but also make it their business to ridicule and scoff at any of their house that do? Who are not content with “not entering into the kingdom of heaven themselves; but those also that are willing to enter in, they hinder.” Surely such men are workers for the devil indeed. Surely their damnation slumbereth not.
Secondly. I shew after what manner a head and his household ought to serve the Lord.
1. And the first thing I shall mention, is reading the word of God.
This we find was the order God gave to His peculiar people Israel; for thus speaks His representative Moses, Deut. 6.6-7. These words,” that is, the scripture words, “which I command thee this day, shall be in thy heart, and thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children,” that is, as it is generally explained, servants as well as children, “and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thy house.” From whence we
may infer, that the only reason why so many neglect to read the words of scripture diligently to their children is, because the words of scripture are not in their hearts; for, if they were, out of the abundance of their heart their mouth would speak. Would not one imagine that such had turned converts to the church of Rome; that they thought ignorance to be the mother of devotion; and that those were to be condemned as heretics who read their Bibles?
2. The second means whereby every head and his household ought to serve the Lord, is family prayer.
This is a duty, though as much neglected, yet as absolutely necessary as the former. Reading is a good preparative for prayer, as prayer is an excellent means to render reading effectual. And the reason why every head of a family should join both these exercises together is plain,Â—because a head of a family cannot perform his priestly office, without performing his duty of family prayer.
Thus we read our blessed Lord behaved, when He tabernacled amongst us; for it is said often, that He prayed with His twelve disciples, who were then His little family. And holy Joshua, when he set up the good resolution in the text, that he and his household would serve the Lord, certainly resolved to pray with his family, which is one of the best testimonies they could give of their serving Him.
Besides, there are no families but what have some common blessings, of which they have been all partakers, to give thanks for; some common crosses and afflictions, which they are to pray against; some common sins, which they are all to lament and bewail: but how this can be done, without joining together in one common act of humiliation, supplication, and thanksgiving, is difficult to devise. Yet how few attend to this duty. Were God to send out an angel to destroy us, as He did once to destroy the Egyptian first-born, and withal give him a commission to spare no houses but those that called upon Him in morning and evening prayer, few would remain unhurt by his avenging sword. Shall I term such families Christians or heathens? Doubtless they deserve not the name of Christians;
and heathens will rise up in Judgment against such profane families of this generation: for they had always their household gods, which they worshipped, and whose assistance they frequently invoked. And a pretty pass those families surely are arrived at, who must be sent to school to pagans. But will not the Lord be avenged on such profane households as these? Will He not pour out His fury upon those that call not upon His name?
3. I shall recommend catechizing and instructing your children and servants, and bringing them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.
That this, as well as the two former, is a duty incumbent on every head of an house, appears from that famous commendation God gives of Abraham: “I know that he will command his children and his household after him, to keep the way of the Lord, to do justice and judgment.” Scarce anything is more frequently pressed upon us in holy writ, than this duty of catechizing. Thus, says God, in a passage before cited, “Thou shalt teach these words diligently unto thy children.” And parents are commanded in the New Testament, to “train up their children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.” The Psalmist acquaints us, that one great end why God did such great wonders for His people, was, “to the intent that when they grew up, they should shew their children or servants the same.”
Would then the present generation have their posterity be true lovers and honourers of God, masters and parents must take Solomon’s good advice, and train up, and catechize, their respective households, in the way wherein they should go.
I am aware but of one objection that can, with any shew of reason, be urged against what has been advanced; which is, that such a procedure as this will take up too much time, and hinder families too long from their worldly business. But have not people read, that it is God who gives men power to get wealth, and therefore that the best way to prosper in the world is to secure His favour? And has not our blessed Lord Himself promised, that if we seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, all outward necessaries shall be added unto us?
My Third, and last intention, is to offer some motives, in order to excite all heads, with their respective households, to serve the Lord in this manner.
1. The first motive I shall mention is the duty of gratitude, which you that are heads of families owe to God. Your lot, every one must confess, is cast in a fair ground. Providence has given you a goodly heritage, above many of your fellow-creatures; and the authority with which God has invested you as parents and heads of families, is a talent committed to your trust, and which you are bound to improve to your Master’s honour. In otherthings we find heads and parents can exercise lordship over their children and servants readily, and
frequently enough can say to one. Go, and he goeth; and to another, come, and he cometh; to a third, do this, and he doeth it. And shall this power be so often employed in your own affairs, and never exerted in the things of God? Be astonished, O heavens, at this!
2. But, secondly, if gratitude to God will not, methinks love and pity to your children should, move you, with your respective families, to serve the Lord.
Can a woman forget her sucking child, that she should not have compassion on the son of her womb? says God. Yea, they may forget; and experience also assures us they may. Father and mother may both forsake their children: for what greater degree of forgetfulness can they express towards them, than to neglect the improvement of their better part, and not bring them up in the knowledge and fear of God? Is this the best testimony they can give of their affection to the darling of their hearts? Then was Delilah fond of Samson, when she delivered him up into the hands of the Philistines: then were those ruffians well affected to Daniel, when they threw him into a den of lions.
3. But, thirdly, if neither gratitude to God, nor love and pity to your children, will prevail on you, yet let a principle of common honesty and justice move you to set up the holy resolution in the text.
It is true, some men may think they have done enough when they give unto their servants food and raiment, and say, “Did not I bargain with thee for so much a year?” But if they give them no other reward than this, what do they less for their very beasts? But are not servants better than they? A time will come, when they shall know they ought to have given them some spiritual as well as temporal wages; and the cry of those that have mowed down their fields, will enter into the ears of the Lord of Sabboth.
4. But, fourthly, let that darling, that prevailing motive of self-interest turn the scale, and engage you with your respective households to serve the Lord. This weighs greatly with you in other matters; be then persuaded to let it have a due and full influence on you in this: for “godliness has the promise of the life that now is, as well as that which is to come.”
Besides, you all, doubtless, wish for honest servants, and pious children; and to have them prove otherwise would be as great a grief to you, as it was to Elisha to have a treacherous Gehazi, or David to be troubled with a rebellious Absalom. But how can it be expected they should learn their duty, except those set over them take care to teach it them? Is it not as
reasonable to expect you should reap where you had not sown, or gather where you had not strawed?
5. Fifthly and lastly. Let a consideration of the terrors of the Lord persuade you to put in practice the pious resolution in the text. Remember, the time will come when we must all appear before the judgment-seat of Christ. And how will you endure to see your children and servants coming out as so many swift witnesses against you; cursing the father that begot them, the womb that bare them, and the day they ever entered into your houses? Think you not, the damnation which men must endure for their own sins will be sufficient, that they need load themselves with the additional guilt of being accessary to the damnation of others also? O consider this, all ye that forget to serve the Lord with your respective households, “lest he pluck you away, and there be none to deliver you!”
Remember, I beseech you, remember, that you are fallen creatures; that you are by nature lost and estranged from God;
and that you can never be restored to your primitive happiness, till, by being born again of the Holy Ghost, you arrive at your primitive state of purity, have the image of God estamped upon your souls, and are there by’ made meet to be partakers of the inheritance with the saints in light; and to sit down in the kingdom of heaven with Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joshua, and Cornelius, and all the godly householders, who in their several generations shone forth as so many lights in their respective households upon earth.