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Household Duties (2) - Family Prayer, William Thomas (1593-1667).


Men, devoted to the world, and the flesh, are very witty to keep out of their houses this kind of devotion, in as much as it seems to be a disadvantage and impediment to their better beloved ways: I shall (therefore) lay before the religious reader, such considerations, as I conceive most material for the urging and establishing of this holy exercise. Wherein, all I have to say, may be summed up into grounds of Scripture; and reason agreeing with Scripture.

The First Position: General rules and doctrines of Scripture, are binding in all those particulars that are rightly drawn and deduced from them.


In this way our Saviour proves the resurrection of the body, to wit, from this general ground of Scripture, that God is the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; and he is not the God of the dead, but of the living. Hence it follows, that Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, must of necessity live, and that everlastingly, God being their God for evermore, because the Covenant is an everlasting Covenant; yet, their bodies are now dead, therefore to make good the promise of their eternal enjoyment of God in their living persons (consisting of body and soul) their bodies shall certainly and unquestionably be raised.

This being established let us take note of some general scripture grounds, tending to the establishing of family prayer; particularly, God’s glory, and, our own good.


1. God’s Glory


All we do, should be as much as may be for the glory of God. Now, it is more for God’s glory, that a whole family should be on their knees together, than that there should be here and there, a single suitor; for as, in the multitude of people is the King’s honour; so, in the multitude of praying people, is the honour of the King of Heaven: Hence David (studying the glory of God) saith, O magnify the Lord with me, and let us exalt his name together, Psalm 34. 3. And Paul is still earnest for Saints joint supplications, because when they help together in prayer, then, for the gift bestowed by the means of many persons, thanks is given by many (2 Cor 1. 11). And, as he that offers praise to God, glorifies him; so, by many thanksgivings to God, he is more abundantly glorified, 2 Cor. 9. 12, 13.


2. Our Own Good


God would have us to be wise for ourselves, and to know things for our own good. Now, the more suitors there be, the more like they be (other things being alike) to have their suit granted; else, why are the people of God called upon (on more important occasions) to seek him together (Joel 2. 15, 16)? It is true, there cannot be so solemn an assembly in a private house, as when the trumpet is blown in Zion; but yet a Christian householder, kneeling before the Lord, with his wife, and children, and whole family, is (in some part, and with a religious resemblance) like Jehoshaphat and Judah, standing before the Lord with their little ones, their wives, and their children (2 Chron. 20. 13); a thing which the Lord likes so well, that he undertakes that himself (verse 15) which is by so many cast upon him. Go, gather together all the Jews (saith Esther) and fast ye for me, and if I perish, I perish; I’ll venture my life upon that concurrent course. We find also in the New Testament, that the prayer of the Christian company, made the house shake where they were assembled together (Act. 4.23, 31.). And church prayers, bring Peter out of prison; in witness whereof, he comes to that very house where many were gathered together praying. Nor is the joining of the family in prayer, beneficial only for the better hearing of the petitions presented to God in the generality; but, in special, for the better speeding of all household affairs; for, as our nourishment, so our employment, is sanctified by the word and prayer (1 Tim. 4. 5.); which is the more considerable in a family, because the Scripture lets us know, how much the prosperity thereof depends on the blessing of God (Psalm 127. 1. 2.); which is, (as was said before) like to be more obtained, when it is sought by more, and when God is wrestled with, by an united strength of faith and fervency.


If it be here objected (as it is like enough to be) that in ordinary families, there are divers persons in whom there is little appearance of faith, and grace; and then, what strength can they give to the duty of prayer?


To this I answer,


1. That the same objection might have been made against all Judah that stood before God with their little ones, their wives, and their children: for (sure) they were not all Israel (that is, truly gracious and clean in heart (Psalm 73. 1)) that were of Israel (Rom.9. 6). And yet we find that of that general appearing, there was a great acceptation; yea, God will have gathered together children, and those that suck the breasts (Joel 2. 16). Besides that, it is required, that in the Church (which will always be a mixed company (Matt 22. 14)) “Amen” should be said by the whole Assembly, which notes such a conjunction, as makes the prayer common to all; yea, and commodious also: for God requires no unprofitable thing. Now the reason why God requires and accepts this joining together is, because he is honoured; yea, his honour is heightened by the submission and seeking of his people when they are gathered together, though divers or many of the company are not persons truly gracious. And howsoever infants and sucklings cannot pray, (and so, sorry men and women are like to pray very poorly themselves); yet others, by looking on them, and taking to heart their hazardous condition, may thereby be stirred up to pray much more earnestly and effectually. Yea, the beasts of Niniveh may lowden their cry, Jonah 3. 8.


2. That it is too high and hard for us, to pronounce who (in a family) have true grace, and who have not; and we are not to reason away conjunction in religious exercises by uncertain conjectures. Nay, though they do by their outward and ill carriage, give great occasion to judge them bad and unregenerate men, and they be (indeed) such; yet, the having and holding of them to a course of religion in the family, may (through the blessing of God) prevail for their reformation; yea, we do not know, but that the prayers of the company and household (wherein there be some that have grace) may be a means (through grace) of the working of grace in those that join with them, though as yet, they have no grace: So Saul’s conversion is supposed to be given in of God, by the prayer of Steven (Act. 7.58, 60). And the conversion of Augustine (who was, as Saul, much corrupted in opinion), by the prayers and tears of his ever-weeping and seeking mother. August. confess. lib. 3.12. & 4.9.


3. I answer further, and grant, that there is not the same acceptance of prayer from persons that want the grace of God, as from them that have it; for gracious persons, being in Christ, are in him accepted (Eph. 1. 6), as having a right to all the promises of God, which in him are Yea, and in him Amen, and whereof they are the heirs (Heb. 6. 17). But though they that want grace, faith, and interest in our High-Priest, cannot come boldly to the throne of grace to obtain mercy, and find grace (Heb. 4. 15. 16), as believers may; yet, they may be so far accepted, as to be helpers for the obtaining of outward blessings. We find, pilgrims, and prisoners; sick men, and seamen; crying to God in their distress, and he (who takes notice of the voice of nature and necessity) saves and delivers them in that way, out of all their troubles (Psal. 107.4, 10, 17, 23, &c.). Nor were the Ninevites deceived in the hope they had of preventing perishing by praying, and crying mightily unto God: for in that way they prevailed, though we cannot say, for the pardon of their sin, and saving of their souls; yet, for the saving of their city, (at least, at that time).


4. To shut up this; if this objection will hold, we must exclude all men that are not good men, from the duty of prayer; yea, of private prayer; when yet we know that prayer is a general duty (Luk. 18. 1. & 1 Thess. 5. 17. & Jam. 5. 13.). And unto Simon Magus (that had no part nor lot in Gospel saving privileges, but lay in the gall of wickedness, and bond of iniquity, unto him, notwithstanding) Peter saith, Repent of this thy wickedness, and pray God if perhaps the thoughts of thine heart may be forgiven thee. Its true that Peter bids him repent first, and then pray; for prayer cannot be heard for pardon of sin, (unless by pardon, we understand, the removal of some outward judgement). I say, prayer cannot be heard for the pardon of sin, unless in a way of true repentance, and yet God is so full of compassion as to forgive iniquity: So as not to destroy (Psal. 78.34, to ver. 39.) even those who seek him, because he slays them, whose professions and fair promises are but flatteries; and whose hearts are not right with him, nor stedfast in his Covenant, in their returnings to him.


Having been so long in the first position, I shall be shorter in those that follow.

The Second Position: Approved examples are binding to the end of the world, in those things wherein the case is alike.


For why are they written and recorded in Scripture, but for our learning? (Rom. 15. 4) And why are they approved and commended in Scripture, but for our imitation? Sure, it is a duty to follow the servants of God, in any thing that is a part of their heavenly conversation (Phil. 3. 17, 20), such as family piety is, Act. 10.2.


Now, we find in Scripture, divers examples of heads of families, joining with their household in the duty of prayer. And on that only I shall now insist, to wit, men praying with their families; the time when they should do it, I shall speak to afterwards.


1. Then, we find, that Abraham (journeying with all his family) did build an Altar unto the Lord, who appeared unto him, and called on the name of the Lord (Gen. 12.7. & 13.1, 4.). The like we find in Jacob with his household, Gen. 35. 2, 3, 7.


2. We have the example of Job, who sent and sanctified his sons, which some understand thus; he prepared them, not only ceremonially, but spiritually, and namely by prayers, and then it shows that they joined together in praying. Others understand it thus, that he sent a messenger to them, and required them to sanctify themselves, that they might be present in an holy and pure manner at those sacrifices which he (as the father, and priest of the family) intended to offer for them; And if we take it so, then it holds forth thus much, that Job and his sons joined together in sacrificing, with which sacrificing, prayer was adjoined, as we see 1 Sam. 7.9. & 1 King. 18.24. Also we read of David's excusing himself by an yearly sacrifice for all his family: of which howsoever David made a plea for the appeasing of Saul, yet it shows, that in those days family conjunction in sacrificing and praying, was not unusual. And when it is said, thus did Job continually, or all the days, (to wit, wherein his sons feasted, every one his day; Beza (thereupon) gives us this note, There's no doubt (saith he) but that the daily worship of God was also diligently observed in this most holy family, and that every seventh day at least was, as God from the beginning of the world had ordained, Gen. 2.3. exactly sanctified.


3. The example of Joshua is remarkable, who thus declares his resolution, As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord (Jos. 24. 14): which he speaks not of, as his duty only, but as proposing himself an example of that which was the peoples duty generally in their several houses and dwellings, from whence arises this argument, Every family in Israel was, and by the same reason every Christian family is, bound to do with their households what he did with his, that is, to serve the Lord, or the only true God. If any ask, What is this to the duty of prayer? I answer, he that saith, I will serve God, saith also, I will pray to him, as (to take an homely similitude), he that saith, I will be your hind, saith, I will plough your ground, for the one comprehends the other as the main thing in it; And so it is here; prayer is so special, and comprehensive a service, that it is put in Scripture, for the whole worship of God (Rom. 10. 13); therefore they that resolve to come in to be the servants of God, express themselves thus; Let us go to pray before the Lord, and to seek the Lord of Hosts (Zech. 8.21, 22, 23. See Dan. 6.10. The forbidding of prayer, was to forbid the owning of the true God): And when atheistical men say, What is the Almighty that we should serve him? their next word, (wherein they explain themselves) is, And what profit shall we have, if we pray unto him? And (indeed) there is no other service wherein the whole family is so reverently, seriously, and solemnly, conjoined, and so directly make their address to God (whose servants they profess themselves to be) as in the duty of prayer; for that's a looking of God in the face, 2 Chron. 7. 14. & Zech. 8. 21.


4. It is expressly said of David, that after he had been about the solemn service of God, that is, the carrying of the Ark in public, he returned to bless his household( 2 Sam 6. 20): And what is that, but, in the name of the Lord, to desire the blessing of the Lord upon them (Psal. 118. 25, 26. & 129. 8.); As when Isaac prayed earnestly for Jacob, departing from him; Esau resolves it into this, that he had blessed Jacob.


5. We have the example of Esther, who saith, I also (not resting there, but) I, and my maidens, will fast likewise, which fasting is still joined with prayer, 1 Sam. 12. 16. & Mark. 9. 29.


6. Of the nation of the Jews in Gospel-times, of whom it is said, that the land shall mourn, every family apart (Zech 12. 12), that is, there shall not only be mourning in a public way, but there shall be also (with respect to the crucifying of Christ) private and household humiliation, (families laying to heart their horrible sin) which implies confession and prayer (Hos. 14. 2), and the bringing home of the national provocation to their own doors; yea, this is spoken of, as that which shall be the practice of the most eminent persons, The family of the house of Nathan, of Levi, and of Shimei, shall mourn apart (Zech 12. 13. 14); And so, all other families generally. It has regard to the Jews mourning, as then was in use amongst them, as the Dutch Annotations observe.


7. We read, in divers Scriptures, of the Church in such and such an house (Rom. 16.5. 1 Cor. 16.19. Col. 4.15. Philem. v. 2). This is understood two ways;


(a) That such houses are called churches, because therein the Church, in those times used to meet for the worship of God. A learned man excepts against this, and saith, It is not like that Paul (in that place of the Romans) means the Saints which met there for the public service of God, by reason of the particular salutation of divers of them following. But if we take that meaning, it will not hinder but help in what we have now in hand; it being very unlike, that they who entertained others into their houses to pray, (for prayer was a main thing in their public meetings, Act. 16. 13.) would suffer their houses to be without prayer when they were absent.


(b) Many others understand it thus, to wit, that by "church in the house" is meant the inhabitants of the family, called a church:


(i) Because of the largeness and numerousness of the family making up a little church.


(ii) And because of the duties of reading, catechising, prayer, singing of Psalms, and godly discipline, whereby the private family resembles the Church in their public church-worship. If thus we understand the words, then here is a plain example of performing the duty of family prayer in the first Christian families; their houses being (like God’s house) houses of prayer, Isa. 56. 7.


Perhaps that of Erasmus (in his Annotations on Rom. 16.2.) might rightly compose the former difference; for he tells us, that the Christian family; and any other that came to them and joined themselves with them (as we find in the house of Mary, many gathered together praying, Act. 12.12.) are called by the name of church; And then it will show that it was then the use of Christians to perform religious duties in their families, wherein they were glad to have others accompany them (as it is with godly householders at this day.)

The Third Position: A promise contains the command.


Every promise of Scripture (made to any duty) contains in it a virtual command, (as every command contains a promise (Psalm 19. 11)): else, if that be not done, which is the condition of the promise, the promise will lie unperformed, and so come to nothing. Now the promise is, that, If two agree together on earth, as touching any thing that they shall ask, it shall be done for them in heaven; for where two or three are gathered together in my name, (saith Christ) there am I in the midst of them. It's true, that as the words stand in the context, they have a respect to Church discipline, and are (in their more particular application) a confirmation of that; but, yet the words (being general) they are justly appiyed to the religious meetings of God’s people in a generality; As otherwhere therefore (saith Calvin) God promises to lend a gracious ear to the private prayers of every one of his servants; so here Christ adorns, and honours public prayers with a singular promise, that thereby he may more earnestly draw us to a regard of them; which may appear, because Christ’s speech is so large, as that he saith "touching any thing they shall ask": so that he does not appropriate the promise to that particular case which is there spoken to; but extends it to any other thing which shall be presented to God, (according to his will) in the united petitions of his united servants. Hence I argue, that if there be two or three (more or fewer) in a family, if they will challenge the benefit of this promise, they must come together, (yea, by this gracious promise, they are called together) to pray and seek God together; for it is union in duty, and particularly in prayer, that our Saviour in that text and promise does allure and encourage us unto. And what two or three are there (who have any acquaintance with God) that would be without more of God for want of coming and praying together, the more to enjoy him?

The Fourth Position: Every dreadful threatening, contains in it a real and a moving forbidding of that which will bring upon us the thing threatened.


Now the Scripture saith, Pour out thy fury upon the heathen that know thee not, and the families which call not upon thy name (Jer. 10. 25), who if they be not heathens, yet in that, they are like heathens. Here it may be said, (and I shall grant it) that the word "families" in Scripture, is an expression of nations; for at one time it was said to Abram, In thee shall all the families of the Earth be blessed (Gen.12. 3), and at another time, all the nations of the Earth (Gen. 18. 1); but withal I add, that it is an expression and description of nations as they are distributed (as all nations are (Jos. 7. 14),) into families and households, and so the curse lies (as upon such nations, so) on all families (not calling upon God) as the subordinate bodies of those nations, yea, therein it lies most heavily upon the whole nations.


Objection: The prophet Jeremiah speaks there of idolaters that call not on the true God.


Answer: I deny not that; but here let it be observed, that the thing which the prophet mentions, is not the worshipping of false gods, but the not-worshipping, or the not-calling upon, the true God, which is a thing that not only heathens are guilty of, but bad men in the Church also (Psal. 14.4. Isa. 43.22. & Mal. 3.14.); withal, it is to be marked, that he names families, and fixes the curse on them under this title of not calling on the name of God. If then, other families agree with them in their description, that is, that they do not know and own God in calling upon his name; let them consider, whether they be not under the danger of this imprecation. I know, there is a further reason of the curse added in the conclusion, that is, because they eat, devour, and consume Jacob; but, yet the subjects of the curse are such as know not God, and call not on his name; And this, and opposing and oppressing the servants of God go together, not only out of the Church, but in it: I am loth to speak over-severely of families, wherein, for want of instruction and acquaintance with the necessity of such a duty, prayer is wanting; but let all men mark, (when there is a persecution), whether prayerless families, be not the persecuting-families (though all of them be not such.) In this, the Scripture is clear, which speaks of corrupt men in the Church, just as Jeremy speaks of heathens here, describing them to be such as know not God; for they say, There is no God (Ps 14. 1), and that eat up God’s people as bread, and call not upon the Lord (Ps 14. 4); so that the neglecting of all religion (set forth by calling on God) and the hatred and opposition of godly men, go together.


To conclude this, what are the households of Christians? Are they not, or should they not be, families fearing God? And the fear of God with all a man’s house, and praying to God alway, are joined together (Acts 10. 2), as the casting off fear, and restraining prayer before God, (though ill applied to Job) elsewhere are (Job 15. 4): Again, should not the particular household of Christians be (like the whole household) households of faith? And if they be so, then (surely) they will be praying families; for trusting in God, and pouring forth the heart before him, go together (Psalm 62. 8).


From all this, it follows, that calling on the name of the Lord, is not only that which puts a difference between the Church and heathens (Jer. 10. 25), and between persons converted and unconverted (Act. 9.11. & Psal. 14. 4, 6.); but, (which we may observe at this day) that which makes a remarkable difference between householders fearing God, and acquainted with religion, and those that are not such. I do not say, that all that have prayer in their family, are truly good; but certainly, their goodness is very young, and very immature, that have it not, and they have very much cause to inquire whether they have any at all, that care not to have it.


In such ways as these, God calls upon us to call upon him, together with our family. Though it be not said in so many words, that every Christian householder is to pray with his household, yet this is really said in Scripture, that they are to glorify God in their families; And, that they are to serve God in their families, by performing that duty of prayer wherein the whole service of God is held forth; And that they should bless their households, and take the best course (which is the course of prayer) with them to procure God’s blessing upon them. If such things as these will not serve to make householders godly, they will (sure) serve to make them inexcusable for their ungodliness. As it will never serve to excuse the excess of intemperate and immodest men and women, that God has not told them how much they shall eat, or what clothes they shall put on; so neither will it serve to excuse their defects in prayer, or any other Christian duty, that God has not spoken particularly and punctually of it; for they ought to reverence the general rules, and, as near as may be, to mould their carriage according to the mind of God, and herein be like the Angels, who do not only obey the precise precepts of their glorious Lord and God, but delight to fulfil all his pleasure, and what they conceive, by any hint they have from him, to be acceptable to him. Psalm 103. 21.


Grounds of Scripture, whereon Family-Prayer is Founded.


I come now to some reasons (agreeable unto Scripture) which may further persuade to this duty. I shall insist up∣on three only.


First Reason


God requires homage and service not only from single persons, but from societies and companies of men; As


1. From a land and nation, as appears from the Lord’s calling of his people the Jews, to the three solemn feasts ordinarily, (besides the new-moons, wherein families used to join together in sacrificing); And, to the duty of fasting, both yearly (i) and on extraordinary occasions, Joel 2.15, 16.


2. From particular churches in the New Testament, which (according to the will God) were to join in spiritual worship, and in the duty of prayer, 1 Tim. 2, 1, 2. 1 Cor. 11.4. with 1 Cor. 14.14, 15, 16.


3. From particular companies partaking in the same favour. If ten lepers be cured, and but one return to give thanks; Christ saith, Where are the other nine? being not content that less then ten should join together in thanksgiving for the mercy that ten receive.


Second Reason


Secondly, this reason, and this duty is the rather to be urged from a further reason, which is this; wheresoever there are common concernments, or common causes of seeking to God, there should be a common and joint seeking, and therefore in families: for there are there, sins, wants, mercies, and afflictions, wherein the whole family is concerned.


1. Sins


Sins which though committed by some, or by one only, yet endanger the whole household, as we know Achan's sin did; and therefore for the glorifying of God, and the preventing of their general suffering, it behooves all of them, with one consent, to acknowledge the sin committed by any of them: in which way they may hope for reconciliation, such as Abigail found with David, when (being not guilty herself) she confessed the folly of her guilty husband, 1 Sam. 25.25,—34, 35. It's wisdom for the father of a family to be like Aaron; that is, to take a course for an atonement for himself and his household, which will be best done in Job's way, that is, by calling the family together, sanctifying them, offering the sacrifice of a broken heart, and flying to the sacrifice of a broken Christ, Job 1. 5.


2. Wants


Family wants there are, and ever will be, as want of health, of strength, of ease, perhaps of bread: Here all should join together to beg of God what is wanting, because there will be a common comfort in the enjoying of it, and by their common prayer they are the more like to obtain it (as has been shown before.)


3. Mercies


As peace, protection, health, plenty, wherein (the whole family partaking) the head thereof has great reason to say to all that are under his roof, O magnify the Lord with me, and let us exalt his name together. God loves to hear the voice of rejoicing, not only in the closets and chambers, but in the tabernacles of the righteous (Psal. 118. 15.). And therefore gave this command to his people of old. Thou shalt rejoice in every good thing which the Lord thy God hath given unto thee, and unto thine house, Deut. 26.11.


4. Afflictions


If but one person in a family, being under the hand (especially an heavier hand) of God, the whole family suffers; The more reason therefore there is to join together, that by the joint petition of all, that may be removed which is grievous to all. Even nature will teach that coming with one accord, is the most likely way to remove high displeasure.


This may (in part) show that to omit family prayer is not only an ungodly thing, but an unreasonable, and a great disadvantage as well as a defect.