The duty in question is fully settled by the authority of Holy Writ. :There is, indeed, no specific and formal command on the subject. This we had no reason to expect, any more than a formal injunction, requiring men to eat and sleep. The Scriptures do not stop to announce every thing which is clearly taught by the light of nature, but proceeds on the supposition of such things being already known. The being of a God is nowhere professedly announced as a matter of information: hence the Scriptures begin by declaring that God created the heavens and the earth. The being of this Creator, is supposed to be already known, having been so long and so distinctly declared by the works of his hand. So, the religious duties of families, are nowhere prescribed or specifically enjoined, because easily discovered by the light of nature, as is evident from the existence of household gods among the heathen. Now, this family idolatry was not practised in the room and stead of irreligion or no religion, but of the true religion. While this idolatry is sinful in the sight of God, its habitual practice certainly discovers a sense of obligation, which should cause nominal Christians to blush, who neglect the duty we are considering. If the want of an explicit command be any argument against this duty, it will apply with equal force to public prayer, for which there is no such professed command. Both these duties are dictated by the nature and spirit of genuine religion. And where this exists and reigns in the heart of any man, he does not require, nor wait for, such a command. He is prompted to their observance, by the influence of divine grace, just as he is moved to eat or sleep, by the natural appetites of the body. ‘The world had gone on for many ages,’ says a late judicious writer, ‘and been favoured too, with no small portion of divine revelation, without prayer in any form, having been once enjoined or instituted as a duty, whether in the closet, the family, or the church. No; from the beginning, the piety of the heart led men to take up this subject in the only way which was natural, and proper, and safe; from the beginning, such men had always prayed and worshipped, and that, thousands of years before Paul had said to Timothy, ‘I will that men pray everywhere, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and doubting.’
‘The very first injunction in Scripture, therefore, respecting such a moral duty, was likely to occur, not in the way of positive institution, as something which then only had began to be incumbent, and then only to be begun, and much less something which was before unknown. Accordingly it turns out, that the first injunction respecting prayer, in the volume of inspiration, the terms of which regard it, as in any sense generally obligatory, does not occur until the world was at least three thousand years old, and the Jewish church about eight hundred. Psalms 122:6. Perhaps the passage which might be styled the second, does not occur till at least two hundred years after. Jerem. 29:7. At the same time, the manner, the seasons, the spirit, the constancy, the universality of prayer, as the attendant of piety, I find scattered over the whole volume, from the earliest times. Nay, it is not a little remarkable, that the very first passage in which prayer is recorded, happens to be the supplication of a parent—the fervent wish of a father for his son. Gen. 17:18. And the very next presents this same parent before us, interceding with peculiar earnestness, for the vilest of men. Gen. 18:24.'
Had there been an express command given, in regard to this duty, as to time, place, and frequency, it would doubtless have occasioned much distress to tender consciences, wherever and whenever it could not be performed, for want of time or opportunity, in a proper manner. It seems, moreover, to have been left in the way that we find it, for the purpose of trying the spirits of men, whether they be of God or not. It certainly does operate as a test, by which the character and degree of every parent’s religion, faith, and love, are determined. And it points out those who would excuse themselves from the duty, on the ground of there being no express command on the subject.
We are not left, however, without sufficient light, even from Scripture, on this subject. There are general exhortations to the duty of prayer, in connexion with a specification of other family duties, from which it would be difficult to argue an exception in favour of that now under consideration, and in which it is as evidently included, as that of private or public prayer. No particular form is specified, while prayer in general is enjoined; and that too, in such a connexion as makes it evident that family prayer is particularly meant. For example; the apostle Paul writing to the Colossians, enters into a minute detail of family duties, and winds up by saying, ‘continue in prayer, and watch in the same with thanksgiving.’ Col. 3. 4:1, 2. We find a similar detail of domestic duties in his epistle to the Ephesians, which he also concludes by saying, ‘praying always with all prayer and supplication in the spirit.’ Eph. 6:1-18. ‘Praying ALWAYS with ALL PRAYER,’ is a mode of expression which clearly includes family prayer, And to make an exception of this species of devotion, would certainly be presumption, and a trifling with Scripture. Again: this Apostle, writing to Timothy, says, ‘I will, therefore, that men pray everywhere.’ 1 Tim. 2:8. Is a family circle nowhere, or is it included in the everywhere? The apostle Peter exhorts husbands and wives to dwell together, as ‘being heirs of the grace of life, that their prayers be not hindered.’ 1 Peter, 3:7. This exhortation, also, is in connexion with a partial detail of domestic duties. Social, united family prayer seems here to be primarily intended: for if there be contention, bitterness, and unkindness between the heads of the family, how is it possible that they can unite their hearts and their devotions at the family altar? Social prayer is a union and communion of desire and thanksgiving towards God; but this will be hindered, if there be not a proper understanding and feeling between those who come together for worship: and certainly there will be none, if they do not pray together at all. They should live, therefore, together as the heirs of the grace of life, praying together with the family, and entertaining for each other a suitable affection.
The Psalmist says, ‘The Lord loveth the gates of Zion more than all the dwellings of Jacob.’ Ps. 87:2. It is not said that he loves hot the dwellings of Jacob, but that he loves the gates of Zion more. He loves them both for the same reason, namely, the worship that is paid him in both. The worship of the sanctuary is a more public and solemn act of devotion. But that of the family is not the less obligatory. And this obligation, the pious of every age have felt and acknowledged. Hence, ‘the voice of rejoicing and salvation is in the tabernacles of the righteous.’ Ps. 118:15. The promise connected with the duty of social prayer, was designed to embrace the smallest number that can constitute a family; for it is where but two or three are gathered together for this purpose, that he is in the midst of them.
‘I query if that beautiful form of prayer, which our blessed Lord gave to his followers, does not involve an argument In favour of family prayer; nay, of daily family devotion. It is worthy of remark, that in the sixth chapter of Matthew, after he had directed his disciples with regard to private prayer, he did. not stop there. In the seventh verse, he begins to use the plural number, and proceeding to a social act of worship, he refers to the prayers of such as could pray together daily. In this most comprehensive prayer, after giving to God that place and honour which corresponds to the first table of the moral law, he descends to matters of daily and common interest in a family; and among these, here instructing the poorest parent how to dismiss inordinate anxiety, as to the common provision for his little band, he directs him to prays—‘Our Father who art in heaven—give us this day our daily bread.’ The petition immediately preceding this, had been—‘thy will be done on earth as it is done in heaven.’ Now, I would only ask, if over the wide world, the will of God were done, by whom would, nay, by whom could this petition, in general, be offered, if not by the parent, at the head of his family, to whom, as an instrument under God, we, look for the provision of such daily sustenance? Or, I ask, can a more beautiful morning-picture be conceived, than that of the fathers below, thus beginning the day? Meanwhile, should the solitary christian, retiring to his closet, and carrying the social spirit of christianity, along with him, use this form, unquestionably he will be heard; and in the house of God, leaving the world behind us, let us do the same occasionally; but still in form and spirit, this will ever remain a week-day social family prayer.'
God is certainly not regardless of those families who honour him by their social devotions. Nor is he indifferent to those that neglect this important duty. He will ‘pour out his fury upon the heathen that know him not, and upon the families that call not on his name.’ Jer. 10:25. Heathen families call not on the name of the true God, but he that neglects to provide for his own house, both temporally and spiritually, is worse than an infidel. What, then, shall be his portion? ‘If he that despised Moses’ law, died without mercy under two or three witnesses, of how much sorer punishment, suppose ye, shall he be thought worthy, who hath trodden under foot the Son of God?’ Heb. 10:28, 29. As the Lord would not suffer the destroying angel to come into their houses to smite them, whose lintels and two side-posts of the door, were sprinkled with the blood of the lamb, so we may confide in his mercy, that he will smile upon those houses where the morning and evening sacrifice of praise, is offered up to the Lamb of God.
It is related that an earthquake once destroyed a town in Switzerland, consisting of ninety houses: every house was thrown down except the half of a house, in which part, a family were assembled and engaged in worship The observance of family duties, or of any other duties is not, indeed, a meritorious ground of acceptance with God, for we are not justified by works, but by the righteousness of Christ; yet it is equally true, that God is pleased in mercy to bless them that honour him. He establisheth the habitation of the righteous.