by J. R. Miller
There are many reasons why true religion is needed to complete the happiness and blessedness of a home. One is that nothing in this world is full and complete without the blessing of God. "The blessing of the Lord, it makes rich." All that labor and skill and soil and seeds can do for field or garden—will not avail, unless heaven give rain and sunshine. Our very breath is God's gift, moment by moment. Our daily bread must come day by day from his hand. All our plans are dependent upon his prospering favor. Nothing can succeed without his approval and help. We are taught in the Scriptures to look to God for his blessing on every undertaking. The people were to bring the first sheaf of their harvest and the first ripe clusters from their vineyard to God's altar, before they had reaped a handful or gathered a grape for themselves, that his blessing might rest upon the whole harvest and vintage. They were to bring their children to God in the very opening of their life for consecration to him, that his blessing might rest upon all their years.
In the old patriarchal days, when the tent was set up, if only for a night, an altar was also erected and sacrifices of prayer and praise were offered to God. We need the divine blessing on everything we have and everything we do. Surely there is no work, no plan, no undertaking, in all the range of the possible things we may do in the longest and busiest lifetime, on which we so much need God's blessing as upon our home! In nothing else are so many sacred interests and such momentous responsibilities involved. Nowhere else in life do we meet such difficult and delicate duties.
In nothing else is failure so disastrous. A business venture may miscarry, and the consequences will be much chagrin and disappointment, some financial loss, some hardship and suffering; but if one's home is a failure, who can tell what wreck and sorrow may result! If we need the divine blessing on some little work of an hour, how much more do we need it in the setting up of our home, which carries in itself our own happiness and the happiness of the hearts that are dearest to us, and the eternal destinies of souls that shall creep into our bosom and find shelter beneath our roof!
Every home in this world is exposed to a thousand dangers. Enemies seek to destroy it, to desecrate its holy beauty and to carry away its sacred treasures. The very institution itself is assailed by the apostles of infidelity and licentiousness. Countless social influences tend to disintegrate the home, to rob it of its sanctities, to break down its sacred barriers, and to sully its purity. Nothing but the cross of Christ will save it!
Those who are setting up a home, their hearts full of precious hopes of happiness and blessing, should consecrate it at once—by erecting the altar of God in the midst of it. This will throw over it the protecting armor of divine love.
We need true piety in our homes, to help each one perform his responsibility. Take the parents for example—whose duties and responsibilities have been considered in a former chapter—into whose hands come tender young lives with infinite possibilities of development. They are to train these immortal souls into beauty, and build up in them a noble manhood or womanhood. These lives are so sensitive that the slightest influences will leave imperishable impressions upon them, that a wrong touch may mar them forever. They may have in them the elements of great power or usefulness; God may want them trained to be leaders in the world. For the upbuilding of their character, for the impressions that shall be stamped upon their souls, for their protection from unholy influences, for the molding and shaping of their lives, for the development and training of their powers and for their preparation for life's mission and for eternity—the parents are responsible! Who is sufficient alone for these things? Where is the parent who feels ready in himself to assume all this responsibility—to take an infant child from God's hands—to be tended, sheltered, taught, trained and led, and to answer at the end before God's bar, for the faithful keeping of his sacred trust? Where is the parent who is prepared to engage to do all this and who wants no help from God? That so many do become fathers and mothers who never ask divine aid and wisdom—only proves how thoughtlessly men and women can enter the most solemn mysteries of life, and with how little conception of their responsibility they accept the most momentous duties. Only the religion of Christ, can fit parents for their high and holy responsibility.
We need true religion in our homes in the time of sorrow. And where is the home into which sorrow comes not? We can build no walls strong enough or high enough, to shut it out. We can gather within our doors no treasures so sacred—that sorrow will never lay its hand upon them! Then when sorrow comes where shall we find comfort—if not in the religion of Jesus Christ? Shall we find anything in the splendors of architecture, in the beauties of art, in the luxuries of costly furnishing or adorning—to bring calm and comfort to our hearts, when one of our household lies in the struggle of death?
But in the home of prayer, when trial comes there is help at hand. An unseen presence walks amid the shadows. A voice others hear not, whispers peace. A hand others see not, ministers consolation. True religion pours light in the darkness. The sorrow is no less bitter—but the stricken hearts are sustained in their pain or loss—by the rich consolations of divine love. No home is prepared for the trials which are at some time inevitable, which has not its altar standing in the center, whereon the fires burn perpetually.
Every home needs the refuge of true piety. We live in a world of danger. Every life that grows up here, must grow up amid countless perils. Human souls are delicate and tender. Our dear ones are exposed on every hand. Storms sweep the sea and the wreck goes down, burying noble lives beneath the waves; there is sorrow in homes when the missing ones do not return. The battle rages on the bloody field—and many a brave soldier falls to rise no more, or to rise scarred, maimed for life; there is grief in the homes where the cruel bullet strikes.
But there are fiercer storms raging in this world than those upon the sea, and our dear ones are exposed to them. There are more terrific battles on earth than those whose crash makes the mountains shake and which decide the fate of nations, and the tender souls of our households are in the very center of the strife! When our children go out from us in the morning to the day's duties, or in the evening to the night's scenes and pleasures, we know not to what terrible dangers they will be exposed, before we see them again. We mourn for our dead—but if they have died in the arms of Christ they are safe! No danger ever can reach them. They have no more battles to fight. Do we never weep for our living when we remember to what perils they are exposed?
Yes, our dead in Christ are safe. It is our living who are in peril. It is life which is hard and full of danger; it is for our living that we need to be anxious, lest they be defeated in the field, where foes are thick and battles sore! Where shall we find protection for these tender lives—but in the keeping of the almighty Savior? We cannot shelter them ourselves. We cannot make our home doors strong enough to shield them. We cannot protect them even by love's tenderness or by the influence of beautiful things—of art, of luxury, of music, or by the refinements of the truest and best culture. From amid all these things, children's souls are every day stolen away. All history and all experience proves that nothing but the religion of Christ, can be a shelter for our loved ones from this world's dangers and temptations!
A friend was telling of a wonderful little flower, which he discovered high up on the Rocky Mountains. In a deep fissure among the rocks, one midsummer day, he found the snow still lying unmelted, and on the surface of the snow he saw a lovely flower. When he looked closely he perceived that it had a long, delicate stem, coming up through the deep snow from the soil in a crevice of the rock underneath. The little plant had grown up in spite of all obstacles, its tender stem unharmed by the cold drifts, until it blossomed out in loveliness above the snow! The secret was its root in the rich soil in the cleft of the rock, from which it drew such fullness of life, that it rose through all to perfect beauty.
This little flower is a fit picture of every tender child-life in this world. Over it are chilling masses of evil and destructive influences—and if it ever grows up into noble and lovely character, it must conquer its way by the force of its own inward life, until it stands crowned with beauty, with every obstacle beneath it! This it can do only through the power of the divine grace within. Its root must be homed in the sheltered warmth of piety, in the cleft of the Rock of Ages! Those who grow up in truly Christian homes, imbibing in their souls from infancy the very life of Christ, will be strong to overcome every obstacle and resist every temptation. The influence of godly example, the memories of the home altar, the abiding power of holy teachings and the grace of God descending perpetually upon the young life in answer to believing prayer—give it such inspirations and impulses toward all that is noble and heavenly, that it will stand at last crowned with honor and beauty!
To make a home godless and prayerless is to send our children out to meet all the world's evil without the strength of holy principle in their hearts to make them able to endure the fierce storm.
But what is it that makes a home a Christian home? What is home religion? These questions are important enough for most thoughtful consideration. Those who wish to cultivate flowers so as to bring out the richest possible beauty in them, study long and diligently the nature of plant life and the many conditions of soil, of temperature, of air and moisture essential to the growth of each particular kind of plant and the development of each variety of flower—and then with scientific exactness produce in each case the right conditions.
In our homes we are growing immortal lives! The problem is to bring out in each one, the very highest possible development of godly character. There are certain conditions which are essential to all true growth. If men take such pains to know how to grow flowers, which fade in a day—should we not take pains to know how to grow souls which live forever? What should be the pious atmosphere of a home, to make it a true spiritual conservatory? If there is to be true family piety—a home life blessed and sweetened by the grace of Christ, there must also be a family worship where all assemble to listen devoutly to God's Word and bow reverently in supplication at God's feet. There are many reasons why such worship should be observed. Shall we take all God's daily benefits from his hand—and return to him no thanks? Shall we be dependent continually on his bountiful providence for food, for clothing, for protection, for love and all the tender joys of home—and shall we never ask or thank him for one of these blessings? Shall we call our home a Christian home, and yet never worship Christ within our doors? Shall we call ourselves God's children, and yet never offer any praise to our Father? Should there not be some difference between a Christian and a heathen home? Should not God's children live differently from the children of this world? What mark is there that distinguishes our home from the home of our godless neighbor—if there is no family altar?
There are many things which tend to cause friction in a household. There are daily cares. There are annoyances of a thousand kinds, which break in upon the even flow of the family life. None of us are angels, and our interaction together is ofttimes marred by selfishness or impatience or irritability or arguments. Sometimes our quick lips speak the harsh word which gives pain to more than one tender heart in the household. We sometimes misunderstand each other, and a wall of separation hangs between two souls who love each other very truly. There is nothing that will smooth out all the little tangles, and set all wrong things right again—like the daily worship together. Every burden is there brought and laid off on the great Burden-bearer. Harsh feelings are softened as the admonitions of God's Word fall on the ear. Hearts are drawn closer together as they approach the same throne of heavenly grace, and feel the Spirit's power. Impatience vanishes from face and speech, while all wait together before God. No bitterness against another member of the family, can live through a tender season of household worship; while we plead with God to forgive our sins we cannot but forgive one another. Peace comes to the perplexed soul while bowing at God's feet and feeling the great calm of his own peace brooding over us and lying all about us. We are ashamed of our disquiet and worry when we look up into our Father's face and see how faithfully he loves and cares for us.
Bowing in prayer together in the morning, strengthens all the household for life's active duties. Wisdom is sought and obtained for the decisions and plans of the day. Guidance is asked and received. Help is drawn down from the throne of God. The children go out under sheltering wings—and are safe in danger, guarded by angels and kept by Christ himself. Thus reasons multiply why there should be family worship in every home. It is hard to see how any parent who realizes his responsibility, can fail to have his household altar.
Consider the matter frankly and honestly. You are a Christian man or a Christian woman. Your children look to you for the witness of Christ. What do they think of the absence of family prayer in their home? How does it impress them? Is your testimony before them—what it should be? Can your pious life stamp itself on them—if you never bow with them in prayer? Are you bringing to bear upon their tender lives, all the hallowing influences needed to purify and keep pure the fountains of their hearts? You want their characters to be permeated with the truths of God's Word. Can you hope that this will be so—if they are not from childhood accustomed daily to hear these truths in their own homes? It is impossible to estimate the influence of the reading of the Word in a home—day after day, and year after year. It filters into the hearts of the young. It is absorbed into their souls. It colors all their thoughts. It is wrought into the very fiber of their minds. It imbues them with its own spirit. Its holy teachings become the principles of their lives, which rule their conduct and shape all their actions. Where every day the Bible is read in a home in the ears of the children, and its lessons simply and prayerfully taught—the effect is incalculable!
It was thus that God himself commanded his ancient people to do—"You must commit yourselves wholeheartedly to these commands I am giving you today. Repeat them again and again to your children. Talk about them when you are at home and when you are away on a journey, when you are lying down and when you are getting up again. Tie them to your hands as a reminder, and wear them on your forehead. Write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates." Deuteronomy 6:6-9. This was the divine plan for bringing up a family—not a lesson now and then—but the incessant, uninterrupted and continuous teaching of the Holy Scripture in the ears of the children. Such teaching unconsciously assimilates the character to the divine likeness. Can any parents who desire to see their children become Christians, afford to lose out of the school for their nurture, these mighty influences? Even if there were no family prayer, the mere daily reading of the Scriptures year after year continuously would be in itself an inestimable influence for good. But where prayer is added, the household waiting together daily around God's feet while heavenly gifts and favors are tenderly supplicated, who can sum up the total of blessing? What parent can afford to omit this duty and lose out of his home nurture, this mighty element of power?
The excuses that are offered for the omission are familiar. One pleads lack of time. But he finds time for everything else which he really wants to do. Besides, time taken for duty is never lost! Will not the divine blessing on the day—be worth more than the few moments of time it takes to invoke it? Is there nothing worth living for in this world—but business and money-making? Is the pious culture of one's home such a trivial matter—that it must be neglected to get a few moments more each day for toiling and moiling in the fields of Mammon? Is the spiritual nurture of one's children so unimportant, that it may with impunity be crowded out altogether to give one time to sleep a little later, or read the morning paper more leisurely, or chat with one's neighbors a few minutes longer? But honesty will compel men to confess that this excuse is never offered in sincerity.
Another pleads timidity. He cannot make a prayer in his family. He would break down. But is timidity a sufficient plea to excuse one from a duty so solemn, on which such vital interests of time and eternity depend? We had better test all our actions as we go on through life by inquiring how they will look at the judgment day—or from amid their own consequences at the end. When a parent stands at God's bar and this sin of omission is charged against him, will his answer, "I was too shy," be sufficient to wipe out the charge? If his children, left unblessed in their tender years by the influence of household worship, grow up worldly and godless, drift away in sin and are lost—will it console the father and satisfy him, as he sits in the shadows of his old age and sees their ruin, to say, "I was too timid"? A Christian mother says that her husband is not a Christian, and that she has never had the courage to establish family worship. But many godly mothers have done so. There are mothers who every morning and every evening gather their children together, sing a hymn with them, read a chapter from God's Word and then bow in prayer invoking heaven's grace upon their heads and upon the beloved father. It would be easy to cite examples proving the power of such hallowed faithfulness. It may at first be a cross for a mother to take up—but, like all crosses taken up for Christ's sake and for love's sake—the burden becomes a joy and an uplifting influence, and out of the hard duty comes such blessing—that the hardness is soon forgotten!
There are men in heaven today or engaged now in earnest Christian service on the earth—because their godly wives had the courage to establish a family altar in the home. There are children all over the world in whose hearts the sweetest memory of early years is that of the tender moments in the old home when they bowed in the daily prayer and the mother with trembling tones implored God's blessing upon her household. It would be easy to add many other words to enforce and illustrate the importance of this duty. If these pages are read by parents who have no household altar, they are affectionately entreated, for the sake of their children, to set it up at once!
Family piety will bind the family more closely together. It will sweeten every joy and lighten every burden. It will brighten every path of toil and care. It will throw about the children a holy protection as they go out amid dangers. It will fill their hearts with the truths and influences of the divine Word. It will weave into the memory of their home golden and silver threads, which will remain bright forever. It will keep continually open, a way between the home and heaven, setting up a ladder from the hearthstone on earth—to the Father's house in glory, on which the angels shall come and go continually in faithful ministry. Blessed is the home which has its family altar whose fires never go out! But sad is the home, though it be filled with splendors and with the tenderness of human love, in which the household never gather for united prayer.
It is very important that the family worship be conducted in such a way as to interest the younger members of the household, and even the little children. It ought to be made the brightest and most pleasant exercise of the day. In some instances it is rendered irksome and wearisome. Long chapters are read, and read in a lifeless and unintelligible manner. The prayer is the same day after day, a series of petitions of the most general kind, reaching out over all classes and conditions of men—except the little group that kneels about the altar, and embracing all the great needs and wants of the world—except the needs and wants of the family itself which bows together. If singing is part of the worship, the psalm or hymn is not carefully chosen for its appropriateness and fitness to the experiences and hearts of those who are to sing it. In the whole exercise there is nothing to win the attention of the children or to interest them in the holy service.
It is taken for granted that because it is a religious act—that it cannot be made pleasant and attractive, that children ought to sit still and listen attentively even if the service is dull and wearisome; and that it is an evidence of their depravity that they fidget and wriggle on their chairs or carry on their sly mischief while the 'saintly father' with closed eyes is droning over his stereotyped prayer. But there is no reason in the world why pious exercises should be made dull and irksome. The family worship should be of such a character that it would be anticipated with eagerness, and that its memories would ever be among the most hallowed recollections of the childhood's home.
Each portion of the exercise should be enlivened by pleasing variety. Instead of being stately and formal, it should be made simple and informal. Instead of requiring the children to listen in silence while the father goes through the whole worship alone, a part should be given to each member. Just in what manner it is best to do this—each household must decide for itself. Indeed, no one method is always best, as variety is one of the elements of interest. In some families the Scripture is read by verses in turn, every member reading. In others it is read responsively, the leader taking one verse and all the members together the next; in others the father alone reads.
The matter of the selection of passages to read, is important. Some heads of families follow the order of the Bible itself, going through it in course, not omitting a chapter or a verse, even stumbling over the long lists of names in the Chronicles. Many, in these later days, read the selection assigned for the day in the Home Readings in the Sunday-school lesson-helps. This is a good method, as it aids in the preparation of the lesson for the week, gathering the whole seven days' reading and study around some one Scripture passage in which the children are for the time particularly interested. An occasional topical lesson is pleasant and helpful. For instance, let the reading consist of verses in brief passages from different parts of the Bible, all bearing upon the central topic of the day's lesson. On some day in the spring, let all the verses that refer to flowers and plants be culled and read. When the first snow falls let all the passages that relate to snow be gathered from the Bible, with an appropriate word concerning each one. It will add to the interest in these exercises if the topic is announced in advance and each member of the family requested to find as many verses as possible bearing upon it. All Scripture-reading in the family worship will be brightened and its interest for children enhanced by an occasional explanatory remark or by an incident that illustrates the thought.
Singing should form part of the worship whenever possible. Occasionally—for instance, it will be found profitable to hold a little family service of song, reading a verse or two of Scripture and then singing a stanza of a psalm or hymn appropriate to the sentiment of the Bible passage.
The prayer in the household worship should be brief, particularly where the children are young. It should be fresh, free from all stereotyped phrases, couched in simple language that all can understand. It should be a prayer for the family at whose altar it is offered, not altogether omitting outside interests—but certainly including the interests of the household itself. It should be tender and personal, frequently taking up the members by name and carrying to the Lord the particular needs of each, remembering any who are sick, or in trouble, or exposed to danger or temptation. Some part in the prayer may also be given to the children. If the children are young they may repeat the entire prayer after the father, phrase by phrase. The Lord's Prayer may be used at the close, all uniting in it.
In these ways the whole family will be interested in the worship, and it will become a delightful exercise, full of profit and instruction and rich with influences for good.
But family worship is not enough. There are homes where prayer is never omitted, yet in which there is not the spirit of Christ; and only the spirit of Christ in a household makes a truly Christian home. If the altar is in the midst, the whole life of the home should be filled with the incense which burns upon it. There are some fields of grass from which in summer days rises a sweet fragrance, although not a flower is anywhere to be seen. But when you part the tall grass and look down among its roots, there, close on the ground, hidden under the showy, waving grass, you see multitudes of small flowers, modest and lowly, yet pouring forth a delicate and delicious aroma, filling all the air.
There are homes in which there is nothing remarkable in the way of grandeur or elegance, yet the very atmosphere as you enter is filled with sweetness, like "the smell of a field which the Lord has blessed." It is the aroma of love, the love of Christ shed abroad in human hearts. True religion is lived there. The daily prayers bring down the Spirit of heaven. Christ dwells there, and his blessed influence fills with divine tenderness, all the home life. It was said of one that "she looked like a prayer." If we would make our homes truly Christian homes—our daily lives must be like our daily prayers.
If the members of the family wrangle and quarrel, the fact that the father is a minister or an elder, and the mother president of a benevolent society, or secretary of an association to send the gospel to China, does not make the home religious. If a blessing is asked at the table before the meal begins, and if then, instead of cheerful and affectionate conversation, the table-talk is made up of faultfinding with the food, of ill-tempered disputes and acrimonious bickerings, the asking of a blessing scarcely makes the interaction Christian! If family worship is observed with scrupulous fidelity, and the members rise from their knees to violate the simplest lessons of Christian love and kindness in their interaction as a household—the fact that there is family worship does not make a Christian home. The prayers must be lived. The Scripture lessons must find their way into the heart—and then into the speech and conduct. The songs must sing themselves over and over all day—in the household interaction. The lips that have breathed the sacred words of family prayer—should never speak bitter, angry or unkind words. A home in which the altar has been set up is thenceforth a consecrated spot. To surrender it to bickerings and strifes is sacrilege. It is holy unto the Lord, and should be a scene only of love and tenderness, of joy and peace.
It is said that in Greenland when a stranger knocks at the door, he asks, "Is God in this house?" If the answer is "Yes," he enters. So blessings and joys pause at our doors and knock to ask if God is in our dwelling. If he is, they enter; if he is not, they flee away, for they will not enter or tarry in a godless home.
A young girl was employed in a wealthy but prayerless household, as a domestic servant. After spending one night under the roof, she came to her mistress pale and agitated and told her she could not stay with her any longer. When pressed for her reason she at length replied that she was afraid to live and sleep in a house in which there was no prayer. There are no heavenly blessings that will enter or abide, in a prayerless home. No divine guest is there. No wings of love droop down to cover the dwelling. It is a house without a roof, as it were—for it is written that God will pour out his fury upon the families which do not call upon his name. But into the home where God abides, heaven's richest blessings come, and come to stay. Angels encamp around it. It is roofed over with the wings of God. Its joys are all sweetened by the divine gladness. Its sorrows are all comforted by the divine sympathy. Its blessing rests upon all who go out from its doors. It is but the vestibule to heaven itself!
There is no inheritance which the richest parent can bequeath to a child, which can compare for one moment with the influence and blessing of a truly godly home! It gives to the whole trend of the life, away into the eternal years, such a direction and such an impulse that no after-influence, no false teachings, no terrific temptation, no darkening calamity, can ever altogether turn it away from its course. For a time it may be drawn aside by some mighty power of evil—but if the work in the home has been true and deep, permeating the whole nature, the deviation from rectitude will be but temporary.
If parents give money to their children, they may lose it in some of life's vicissitudes. If they bequeath to them a home of splendor, they may be driven out of it. If they pass down to them as a heritage only an honored name, they may sully it. But if they fill their hearts with the holy influences and memories of a happy Christian home, no calamity, no great sorrow, no power of evil, no earthly loss, can ever rob them of their sacred possessions! The home songs will sing themselves out again in the years of toilsome duty. The home teachings will knit themselves into a fiber of character, rich in its manly or womanly beauty, and invulnerable as a coat of armor. The home prayers will bind the soul with gold chains, fast round the feet of God. Then, as the years go on and the old home of earth is broken up, it only moves from behind, as it were, and goes on before, where it draws the soul toward the better life.
For there is a home in which this earthly home, even at its best—is but a type. Into that home—God is gathering his great family. The Christian household which is broken here or scattered—shall be reunited there. A father and his son were shipwrecked at sea. They clung to the rigging for a time, and then the son was washed off. The father supposed he was lost. In the morning the father was rescued in an unconscious state, and after many hours awoke in a fisherman's hut, lying on a soft, warm bed. He turned his face, and there lay his son beside him on the same bed. Just so, one by one our families are swept away in the sea of death. Our homes are emptied and our fondest ties are broken. But one in Christ Jesus, we shall awake in the heavenly world to see beside us again our loved ones whom we have lost here—yet who have only gone before us into the eternal home!