James W. Alexander, Thoughts on Family Worship (Presbyterian Board of Publication, 1847; reprint ed., Morgan PA: Soli Deo Gloria, 1996.)
Family worship has fallen on hard times. It is almost nonexistent in Christian homes today. But there are some signs that it is being recovered, and Alexander's book can help encourage and show the way.
James W. Alexander was the eldest son of Archibald Alexander, the first professor of Princeton Theological Seminary. He attended both Princeton College and Princeton Seminary, later teaching at both institutions. His first love, however, was the pastorate, and he labored in churches in Virginia, New Jersey and New York until his death in 1859.
Alexander gives us several fundamental reasons for engaging in family worship.
The husband has the duty of providing spiritual leadership for his wife. Since he is to love her as Christ loved the church, the husband must do all he can to prepare his wife for heaven (Eph. 5:23-27). He must teach her the Scriptures and pray with her, pointing her again and again to our risen Savior. Similarly, fathers have a duty to raise their children in the discipline and instruction of the Lord (Eph. 6:4). How will we do this unless we read and explain the Scriptures to our children and catechize these precious ones whom God has entrusted to our care? Regular family worship is the best way to obey these commands from God. This is not a duty we can abdicate to the church or Christian school; God will hold fathers accountable for how they have instructed their children.
Nothing will spur a father toward godly, spiritual discipline in his own walk with Christ more than leading his family in worship. In order to teach his wife and children, he will have to study the Scriptures on his own. A godly woman will be encouraged and inspired as she sees her husband take responsibility and lead in family worship. This practice sets a tone of harmony and love in the household and is a source of strength when they go through affliction together. As they pray for each other their mutual love is strengthened. Reading and memorizing Scripture and the catechisms of the church results in incredible development of children, both spiritually and intellectually. What families regard as important is evidenced by the manner in which they spend their time. Therefore, regular family worship shows the children that their parents believe that Jesus Christ is central to all of life. This practice leaves a legacy that will benefit thousands in generations to come.
From the patriarchs to the early Christians, from the Reformers to the Puritans, family worship has been a constant in Christian homes. We can see this in the recorded prayers of Luther in his home which are full of warmth and instruction. The flame of family devotion burned perhaps most brightly in Scotland. When the Church of Scotland adopted the Westminster Confession of Faith, it contained this provision. "God is to be worshipped everywhere, in spirit and in truth; as in private families daily, and in secret each one by himself." The Puritans saw the family as a "little church" within the church and the elders held fathers accountable to lead their families in worship. Those who failed in this duty were censured. Throughout church history, periods of renewal in doctrine and devotion have corresponded with a resurgence of family worship. In times of spiritual decline, however, the practice of family worship was irregular or non-existent.
Offering not only exhortations to perform this significant duty, but also practical suggestions in carrying it out, Alexander encourages us to read through the whole Bible with our families. The Scriptures are not only to be read, but also to be explained according to the gifts and abilities of the father. Alexander reminds us that children pick up much more than we assume. Singing psalms and hymns should not be neglected. Music is powerful, and the songs children learn in their youth will often be with them throughout their lives. Much excellent theology can be learned by singing a few carefully chosen hymns.
Similarly, catechisms can be of great influence. They are powerful tools which can teach theological truths even to preschoolers. My own family has derived great benefit from memorizing a Catechism for Young Children: An Introduction to the Westminster Shorter Catechism. Finally, prayer for many concerns, both great and small, is an essential part of family worship. Our children should learn early in life to depend on the faithfulness of God to fulfill the promises made to us in His word.
Family worship plays a key role in promoting and sustaining spiritual renewal in the church, because healthy families make healthy churches. Alexander's book is solid food, yet it is easy to read. It is highly recommended if you need encouragement to start the practice of family worship in your home-or if your practice has waned. Fathers who are faithful in this area will reap a great harvest.
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