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FORM OF PRAYER
USE OF FAMILIES.
IN WHICH ARE INCLUDED THE NECESSARY PRINCIPLES AND
DUTIES OF CHRISTIANITY.
As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.—Josh. xxiv. 15.
The intention of the following form of prayer is to furnish families with a proper instrument for their devotions, and at the same time to convey a short and clear summary of all the necessary duties, whether of faith or practice, in which a Christian ought to be instructed; to the end that every master of a family, at the same time that he 'performs the duty of family prayer, may without much farther trouble, fully instruct his children and servants in the principles of our most holy religion.
Every person in a family where this form shall be constantly used, will of course soon commit the whole to memory: and in so doing will, with the help of a very little explanation, be made sufficiently acquainted with all that is required of a Christian either to believe or practise. This, it is hoped, will render the Christian duty of a parent or master so short and easy, that none who think at all of answering to God for the discharge of that duty, can reasonably desire to have it put on a more practicable footing. The two duties of prayer and instruction are here drawn into one, and that one made so brief, and so agreeable, that no excuse is left for the omission of it.
Nothing is more common than to hear parents complaining in the most affecting terms, of the undutifulness shewn to them by their children. Masters are still louder in the complaints they make of their servants.
In this both are often unreasonable; for, although it is but too true that the children in many families are very undutiful, and the servants extremely idle and dishonest, yet their parents and masters, generally speaking, can have no right to complain of them either to God or man ; not to God, who knows that they have neglected to teach them the very first principles of religion, on which all duty and virtue necessarily depend; nor to man, since most of the bad members of all public societies have learned their vices in ill regulated families, under careless parents, and irreligious masters.
The minds of young people easily receive impressions, are inquisitive and fond of knowledge. Their hearts are tender and penetrable. Their memories are strong and retentive. The principles therefore of virtue or vice must soon take deep root in so kindly a soil. If timely care be not taken to seize their affections and passions in favour of God and a good life, by means of religious instructions, and the most engaging examples of piety and virtue, the busy enemy of mankind will not fail to intrude with his temptations ; and finding all empty, and an open passage, will take such a possession of the heart as it will be almost impossible ever to drive him from afterward. How does any parent expect to answer before the face of a just God for those children, whom although he hath produced them out of his own bowels, he hath nevertheless by his neglect given over to ignorance, wickedness, and final destruction ?
How shall an earthly master, who believes that he hinself hath a master in heaven, account for his suffering those poor creatures, who come young into his service from parents, too ignorant or too careless to instruct them, to run on in ignorance and wickedness to eternal misery, while they are labouring to support him in ease and plenty ? Surely parents and masters, who are capable of this, have no bowels of compassion, no fear of God, no right to good children or servants; and they will find at the last, that in this great crime of omission, they have as effectually neglected and undone their own souls, as those of their unhappy offspring and domestics.
And yet their duty in this respect, is most delightful in itself, and most happy when duly discharged, in its effects. Can any man be more agreeably employed, than in training up
his child or his fellow-creature to the service of God and eternal happiness? Can he so effectually recommend himself to the Father and Master of the world by any other means? Or can be expect either comfort or satisfaction in those under him, if he suffers them to grow up, without any sense of duty to God or him, and harden, perhaps beyond all reclaiming, in habits of impiety and vice?
Nor is the duty of family prayer less necessary or agreeable. Families depend as absolutely on God as kingdoms
or single persons. That family, which does not worship God, is as properly speaking heathen or ungodly, as any particular man can be, who refuses to worship him. Besides, the performance of this important duty hath something so pleasing and so affecting in it, that the general disuse of it is hardly to be accounted for. A good man can never surely think himself in a more honourable or happy situation, than when he is on his knees, uttering the devotions of himself, his dear wife and children, and dutiful domestics. He has before him, at that delightful juncture, all the occasions of happiness that God hath blessed him with, and is then employed in adoring the giver, and praising his benefactor. There is a transport of joy in this most tender act of worship, which none but the basest minds can be insensible of. Farther, the neglect of this duty must argue as great a want of wisdom as of piety, if it is true that God does really govern the world, and that all we enjoy or suffer flows immediately from his disposing hand, which turns the course of all events with irresistible power in favour of those, who claim, by an humble and constant worship of him, the protection of his providence ; and directly against all such as resist his will, and despise his service. That infinitely gracious Being must look with peculiar favour and love on a family, that is ever sending up its voice and eyes to him for protection, and ever blessing him for his mercies. But such as turn their eyes downward on the world, and put their trust in themselves and their possessions, which is the same as to renounce God, and league with his enemy, are no doubt perfectly odious and abominable in his sight, and must be guilty of strange presumption, if they expect his assistance and blessing, which as a family, they do not think it worth their while to apply for.
Were God more known, he would be better served. Whoever knows, for instance, that he is a Being of infinite power and justice, must fear him. Whoever considers him as present in every family, nay, and in every heart, must be always greatly on his guard, since he is continually in so awful a presence. Whoever regards him as a Father, a Saviour, a Comforter, a Friend, and a Protector, of infinite compassion and goodness, cannot but love him. Now he who is possessed with a due fear and love of God, who is