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Many I know will agree with me when I say that the normal idea of family prayer ought to be that of worship, and nothing but worship, and that this idea cannot be realized unless we secure the attention of the entire family to the whole service.
To a great extent both these ideas have, I think, been lost sight of; the gathering of the family morning and evening is too often for other purposes than worship, sometimes descending so low, by its rigid punctuality, as to be nothing more than a piece of domestic clockwork; at other times the reading of the Scriptures in some historical part, long, tedious, and uninteresting, has no connexion with our daily and social life; at other times the prayers are mere summaries of doctrinal articles put into the second person and addressed to God,-mere confessions of faith translated into a form approaching, and only approaching, the idea of prayer; at other times the whole service proceeds upon the supposition that all present are mature Christians, while the young and the ignorant mechanically sit still, or mechanically kneel down, to the close of a service of which they know and feel nothing; and at other times the whole prayer is clothed in those stereotyped and conventional, but barbarous, forms of religious phraseology that constitute one of our greatest incumbrances, when in thought and feeling we should draw near to God in words warm and fresh from hearts of filial obedience.
It would be worse than presumption in me to think
that I have met or remedied all these evils; I have attempted no such task; I have confined myself to the one idea of my book, and given only 'hints and examples,' for what I think would be, otherwise I would not have written it, an 'improved FAMILY worship.' I believe that if the children and servants of the household could unite in the brief family responses here suggested, the morning and evening service would no longer be a weariness to many, but might become an expected delight to all.
The portions of Scripture selected are mostly devotional, interspersed with a few doctrinal statements of the love of God. I am sure that the histories of the Old Testament, so often read, have no connexion with the thought that brings us together for worship as a family, and I would have them omitted altogether, because, however valuable, we meet for worship and not for instruction.
Many families have adopted various plans with a view of overcoming what they have felt to be the unsatisfactory character of their family worship. Some read the Bible through in course; the Old Testament in the morning and the New Testament in the evening. Hardly anything can be more absurd. To say nothing of portions of Scripture that must from their gross impropriety be omitted from all public reading, (for though ingenious commentators may say so, no plain Christian believes there is or can be any gospel in Leviticus,) there is this grave objection to
reading the Bible in course, that it goes upon the supposition that the Books are arranged in their chronological order; and so, the reader first leaving the patriarchal, is afterwards brought into the Mosaic system, and is then carried back in retrogression to the patriarchal days of Job, the king and priest of his family. Then he reads the account of the return of the Jews from captivity in Ezra and Nehemiah before he reads the Psalms of David, or the Prophecies of Hosea to Israel, and of Isaiah to Judah, long before the captivity.
Other families I have found adopting the plan of reading round a verse at a time, all present thus taking part in the Scripture reading; but there are many objections to this; it embarrasses servants and young children whose mistakes prevent anything like the preservation of unity, and sometimes of gravity, during the worship; besides which, often hard words and objectionable phrases come to the wrong persons who do not know how to pass them over; and in addition to this, the different methods, tones, and voices of the readers, young and old, male and female, instructed and uninstructed, mar the impressiveness and beauty of this our simplest but sublimest gathering for social worship.
Other families read an exposition; but I have never yet met with a whole family that has derived much benefit from this plan; the head of the household and a few adults may; but as I have seen servants and children
weary and listless, longing for the whole to be over, I have thought within myself, 'what a hardship religion must seem to these! These sheep, what have they done?' I have sometimes asked the question, 'What did your father read about this morning,' and have often received an answer of this kind, 'Oh I am sure I do not know, but it was something very dry.'
Of course this little service may very soon like other things become a form; let me say therefore that it is not intended to supplant any accustomed method, but simply to be used as a variation, and as an endeavour to interest all in the high praise and solemn service of our heavenly Father. Should this attempt to meet a deeply felt want find favour with the public, it is my intention to extend it immediately, so as to comprehend a month's services.
And now may the Master, whose honour I have truly sought in this labour of love, smile upon this feeble but earnest attempt to introduce amongst the thoughtful and the intelligent an improved method of family worship. And "let young men and maidens, old men and children, praise the name of the Lord; for his name alone is excellent, and his glory is above the earth and heaven."
July 21, 1854.
W. G. B.