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PRESBYTERIAN EDUCATION REPOSITORY.
THE CHRISTIAN IN THE FAMILY.
BY THE REV. JOHN M. LOWRIE, OF FORT WAYNE, INDIANA. “And they were both righteous before God, walking in all the commandments and
ordinances of the Lord blameless.”—LUKE 1: 6.
How honourable is the testimony borne by the Holy Spirit of that excellent pair, Zacharias and Elizabeth, the parents of John the Baptist. They were united in the bonds of marriage, but not less in the holy fellowship of true piety; and in their united capacity they maintained in blameless deportment the reputation of a godly household. We may appropriately take Zacharias as an example of what a Christian should be in his family; we may look upon this venerable pair, and recognize their pious character,—both righteous before God; and mark their upright consistency, as they walked in the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless.
We have in them an example of what a husband and wife should be as to their personal character,—both righteous. We know, indeed, that this is not always so. There is too often no profession of piety in either; sometimes one pays a service, more or less devoted to Christ, but necessarily imperfect for want of the co-operation of the other; and, again, there is in some families, the formality of a professed subjection to the Gospel, yet so lamentably inconsistent that the parents are neither righteous before God, nor blameless in the eyes of man. We will not now delay, even to lament the imperfections and guilt of delinquent parents. Suffice it to say, that the duties of the family are substantially the same in every household. There should be the same uprightness of personal character, the same steadfastness in holy principles, the same carefulness in individual and relative duties, and the same loftiness of aim, exalting
spiritual and eternal things above things earthly and perishing. Of every married pair it ought to be true, if it is not, that they are both righteous before God, and blameless before man. Where this is not 80, there is sin to be repented of; there is a new and better way in which they should go.
The duty of parents, for the proper regulation of their households, is a topic of serious reflection, whose importance can scarcely be over-estimated. It is one, too, of general interest. all parents or children. As children, it may possibly be true that our parents have not always maintained a blameless and judicious deportment for our education. It does not imply any disrespectful feeling to the memory of a parent, when a child discovers and mourns over his delinquencies. We may possess a true filial regard and temper, even when we know parental errors. And when a child discerns the faults of his early training, he can use the needful measures to protect himself from the evils which naturally result. Thus every man has an interest in the subject of parental duty. And let it not be thought, that parents, whose children are yet young, may be less guarded and careful in their household arrangements, than those whose children are now approaching mature years. For it is perhaps one of the dangers and difficulties of this entire matter, that the character of every family, as a family, is formed gradually, and, we may justly say, insensibly. Many a man, at the middle age of life, has gathered about him just such a family as he never intended to rear. There are practices and habits in his household, such as he has warmly condemned in others; such as he thought he never would tolerate. But there they are; and they are in his children; and he does endure them; and, possibly, he may now have reached the point of making apologies for them, and of saying that such things cannot be helped. Where the fault lies, may not always be easy to say. In many cases, parents begin too late to feel their responsibilities; in many cases, they never feel them. Any instruction that can arouse parents to take just views of this whole matter, is well worthy of our thoughts.
As already intimated, duty in every household is substantially the same; and of course any indisposition to perform any duty, cannot annul the obligation of it. Underlying all family duties is the great truth, THE FAMILY IS A RELIGIOUS INSTITUTION, and the promotion of true piety should be the great aim of every household.
We propose to discuss this great principle in these two propositions :
I. In the Bible alone we have a clear exposition of the principles which control the Family institution; and
II. With the Bible for our Family Directory, every household must be the home of religion.
I. The foundations of social order are settled in infinite wisdom, and so deeply fixed in the constitution of man, that even the workings of human depravity, which has everywhere been brought into violent conflict with them, have never been able entirely to uproot them in any age or any community of men. So it is found that ideas of conjugal fidelity, parental control, and filial dependence and inheritance, men everywhere possess; the laws to govern them are everywhere recognized; and though they are broken in every form, yet the breach is ever regarded as a violation of right. But the thoughts of the human race at large on the subject of the family, are but as the fragmentary relics of a majestic temple which time and violence have despoiled of its fair proportions, and whose materials have been barbarously appropriated to ignoble uses, leaving scarcely enough of foundation and pillar to determine the original form and dimensions of the structure. In the written word of God alone are the just principles expressed which control the family; there alone are the respective duties of husband and wife, of parent and child, of brother and sister, duly set forth. It is indeed corroborative proof of the Divine authority of the Scriptures, that while the due regulation of the family is of so vital importance to human happiness, we find in the Bible alone satisfactory principles and a just exposition of them. Look abroad over the face of the earth, and it is perfectly evident that, except in Christian lands, but little is known of the simple principles which bring harmony and happiness into our dwellings. See woman everywhere degraded into a slave; the wife jealously secluded from society; the mother in subjection to her own sons ; and the father blushing to let it be known that a thing so abject as a daughter has been born in his house! Even in Christian lands we have no laws, and we cannot have any–either enacted or enforced-that can enter into our families, and direct and govern them as the Bible does. There are a thousand matters of family rule where human laws cannot define an offence, or discover it when committed ; and the minute oversight of the affairs of a family could neither be wisely nor safely intrusted to any superior human tribunal. The family can never be rightly governed except through the affections and the conscience of each member. Hence to a volume that has authority over the heart and conscience we naturally turn, to learn the true principles and duties of the family. The Bible alone gives us these. This holy book starts out with a family divinely constituted, in the persons of our first parents; and wherever its influences are felt, the influence of the family is most conservative and holy. All the writings of human learning in all ages may be challenged to produce, within the compass of a dozen volumes, principles so clear, so just, so well adapted to promote household prosperity and happiness, as the Apostle Paul has given us in twenty consecutive verses of the Epistle to the Ephesians. The truth is, we have nothing precise, definite, particular, and authoritative for family government, except what we find in the Bible. This book is the great charter of the family constitution, and the chief promoter of family happiness; and it should be the great regulator of our family affairs.
We do not adopt the unscriptural opinion which makes marriage a sacrament of the church, and requires every one to be a church member by profession before the marriage can be solemnized. For an Apostle teaches us that a marriage contracted when the parties were Pagans is still binding when one becomes a Christian. (1 Cor. 7: 12, 13.) But we allege that the duties of piety are obligatory, even when its principles are most disregarded. When a man assumęs all his obligations—to God and to man--he is the better prepared to discharge each duty in particular. That irreligious families exist, is no disproof of the truth that a well-regulated family will be a religious one.
II. For a happy family the Bible must be the charter of rights and the guide of duty; and the promotion of piety should be the grand aim of every household.
If any man will dare to say that there is no God, and no immortal life for man, and that religion is a mockery, then let him make his falsehood as consistent as a lie can be; and let hiin arrange his domestic affairs with no care to please God, and no reference to another and brighter world than this. But if we acknowledge the immortality of the soul, and the truth of the redemption purchased by the Lord Jesus Christ, it follows necessarily that our highest aim, both in individual and in social life, is to be righteous before God, and to walk in his commandments and ordinances blameless. Look at the relationships of the family and decide; can these be justly sustained where religion is left out of view; or even where it holds a subordinate place? Look at the covenart of marriage, on which the family institution rests, and decide what it involves. This one man and one woman have voluntarily and solemnly entered into a relationship, not only the most intimate and tender known upon earth, but also in the very nature and the very words of the covenant, designed to end only with their mortal life. Now as these persons are always to live together; as their worldly interests are blended; as they share each other's joys and sorrows; and are acquainted with the workings of each other's minds : so it is natural and appropriate that they should make provision together for the life that is to come. And surely no friend can help a wife, disposed to be pious, on her heavenward journey, as her husband can; no friend can sustain a husband in his pious resolutions and efforts as a wife can; no two persons can more help or hinder each other in serving God, than can a married pair. They, who tain this relation to each other, must have in common, many earthly cares, and duties, and enjoyments; but they cannot fail to care for each other's souls without crying guilt. A deep natural responsibility for eternal interests is inseparable from this relationship. These two persons have promised to live and love together until death shall separate; and this very reminding of the marriage vow itself, of a separating hour certain to come, and possibly near at hand, should further remind them that between the vow and the separation, one party at least must make all possible provision for the eternal world.