A Blessing in the Family
George Everard, 1866
Mention is made in the Old Testament of three arks, and from what is recorded of each, may we gather a special lesson.
The ark built by Noah has its lesson. It reminds us that security can only be found in the shelter appointed of God himself. In being true members of His Church — in other words, abiding in Christ alone — the sure hiding place — shall we be safe when the great waterfloods prevail.
The ark of bulrushes tells of God's providential care. By the banks of the river, in this ark lay the infant Moses. The eye of Pharaoh's daughter is directed to it. In the good providence of God, her heart is touched with compassion, and she saves the life of the child. Tenderly our Father cares for the least and feeblest of His children. The sparrow is not forgotten by Him, much less are those who are redeemed by the blood of Christ.
The ark of testimony may also be our teacher. It was a small chest, some five feet in length, and three feet in height and in breadth. Within it were placed the tables of the law, a golden pot of manna, and the rod of Aaron.
To trace its history, as far as it is known, opens out much profitable instruction. Take but one lesson among many. The presence of Jehovah brings death to His enemies — but peace and blessing to those who fear Him. When the ark was placed in the temple of Dagon, the idol fell down and was broken. While it remained in the country of the Philistines, many of the people were smitten with tumors and died. The men of Beth-shemesh, through irreverently gazing into it, were slain. But Obed-edom welcomed it into his house, and gained in consequence a rich blessing.
It is written, "And the ark of the Lord continued in the house of Obed-edom the Gittite three months: and the Lord blessed Obed-edom, and all his household. And it was told king David, saying, The Lord has blessed the house of Obed-edom, and all that pertains unto him, because of the ark of God." (2 Samuel 6.11,12.)
It is not told us in what the blessing consisted, but it was manifest to all, that such there was. Perhaps from being a poor man, as Josephus states, he suddenly became rich. His health, his circumstances, his family, alike prospered — for God was with him. Far beyond this, the love and favor of God shone both upon him, and all belonging to him.
Who would not covet such a portion? Who sees not what a priceless treasure it is, to have the blessing of the Most High God abiding in our dwelling?
In olden times it was fabled that somewhere might be found a stone that changed into gold whatever it touched. This magic stone has been found. It is the blessing of our Father in Heaven. Whatever it touches, it gives to it a new value. It makes it tenfold as precious as otherwise it could be. "The blessing of the Lord, it makes rich; and He adds no sorrow with it." It makes a country prosperous and happy. It makes good husbands, good wives — good parents, good children — good masters, good servants. It touches a man's heart, and sheds there a heavenly peace. It mingles with his afflictions, and takes away the chief part of their bitterness, by showing the loving hand that brings them. It enters a man's home and transforms it into a little Eden. It makes it a hallowed spot. In some measure it becomes "Paradise re-gained." In spite of all opposing influences, in spite of the evils that will arise — yet is it felt to be true that "the voice of rejoicing and salvation is in the tabernacles of the righteous." A few thoughts may illustrate this point.
Consider the blessing belonging to a Christian family — in contrast with the curse that rests upon the home of the ungodly.
Side by side does Solomon place these two: "The curse of the Lord is in the house of the wicked; but He blesses the habitation of the just."
The curse of the Lord in a house is no light matter. By the prophet Zechariah, it is described as a flying scroll — it is written within and without with judgments and threatenings. It enters into the house of the thief and the swearer. It remains in the midst of his house, and consumes it with the timber thereof and the stones thereof. Such is the picture of the sad curse that flies swiftly, and shall abide in the house of the ungodly.
The house indeed may be one worthy of a prince: it may be adorned with all that are can provide. The walls may be covered with rare and valuable paintings. Every luxury and comfort may abound. Gold and silver, and costly furniture may be there. The cellar may be replenished with the choicest wines. Yet is there also beneath that roof, something beside which may be little thought of. The curse of the Lord is there! It may work slowly, but it works surely. It is like a fretting leprosy in the walls of a house. The end will be that the house must fall!
Twenty-five centuries ago, a king dwelt in cedar, and was clothed in vermilion. Seated upon the throne of a great nation, he had at command a powerful army, and abundant resources. But one element of stability, and that the chief one, was lacking. Not one spark of the fear of God was to be found in the breast either of king or queen. "No king was like in iniquity unto Ahab, whom Jezebel his wife stirred up." The grossest idolatry, together with the shedding of innocent blood, brought down a double curse from the Almighty.
Nor was it without its terrible fruit. A few years pass by, and the result is seen. Ahab is slain in battle. Accursed Jezebel also miserably perishes. Her carcass is devoured by dogs; and their whole posterity is brought to an untimely end.
As much now as then, does the curse of the Lord bring after it, fearful consequences. It may be manifested in a different way, but it is no less certain.
A man is prospering in all outward circumstances. "His house for a season is safe from fear, and the rod of God rests not upon it. He sends forth his little ones like a flock, and his children dance for joy." But if the favor of God is unsought, if these gifts of His providence are thanklessly received, if no grateful incense of praise ascend from the family altar — we may be sure that a dark cloud is resting over that house, that will break one day, not in mercies but in judgments! The holy wrath of an offended Creator will one day mar all the happiness that for a season may be enjoyed.
Even now the bitter fruits of ungodliness are too often witnessed, in blighting the fair promise of happiness that may appear in the early days of family life.
Could the secrets of home-life be divulged, it would be found that the profligacy of a husband, or the vanity and extravagance of a wife — have frequently proved utter destruction to all its comfort.
Only take as an example, the revelations of the Divorce Court. What a painful view comes out from time to time, of that which is passing within the homes of the middle and upper classes of society. What dark sin, and jealousy, and dissensions are there, as a cankerworm, ever at work, in some cases to issue in utter misery, and the complete breaking up of the family circle!
Other homes are there also, where to an occasional visitor there may seem nothing amiss. The wheels of home-life appear to run smoothly enough, there is much that is pleasant and agreeable. Yet notwithstanding, the lack of religious principle is here too, bearing its natural fruit. Beneath the surface, there is a root of evil working. Parents have neglected their plain duty, obedience has not been enforced — and now the children are unruly and will not be controlled. Or perhaps the violent temper of one in the house breaks forth like a hurricane, and drives away all quietness and peace. Or perhaps selfishness reigns there, and instead of congenial, kindly love — this deadly foe to human happiness exercises its hard and cruel sway.
True it is, that in many godly homes one or other of these evils is sorely felt, but then grace comes in. The temper is watched over. The adorning of a meek and quiet spirit is desired and prayed for. The conversion of one or more, who may yet be strangers to God — is the burden of many a fervent cry. Thus light bursts through the darkness. As years advance, the jarring notes become fewer. There becomes more and more of peaceful harmony in the domestic circle.
In the house of the ungodly it is otherwise. That blessed Spirit, who alone can make men of one mind in a house, is no guest there. Evil remains unsubdued, and is as leaven, leavening the whole.
In the future, still darker is the prospect. Let adversity approach, let sorrows come, let death knock at the door of that home, and summon one of its inhabitants — what can there be but gloom and sadness? Where is the needful consolation? Where is the balm of Gilead for wounded hearts? Even if there is then a willingness to receive the message of salvation and hope which the Gospel brings — yet amidst the distraction and anxiety of such a season, how seldom can those realize any true comfort, who only then begin to seek it!
But there is something yet darker than this. It ought to be said — and yet very painful is it even to glance at it. That family, passing one by one behind the veil that hides from us the future state, will meet again. Where will it be? What is that eternal world to those who venture upon it unprepared? What will it be, should father and mother, brothers and sisters meet again unsaved!
Does any reader shrink from the bare possibility that such may be the case?
But are there no homes without the fear and love of God? Are there no homes, where genuine prayer is never heard — where the Bible is seldom read — where the name of Jesus is not loved? Are there not homes, of which not a single member is a follower of the Lamb?
What must be the end of this, unless a great change is made — unless the Spirit is poured forth upon such a household? In a future world alone, can be fully known, what is the depth of misery incurred by such a family.
Turn now to the brighter side. As the silver moon shines forth more beautifully from behind the dark cloud — so does the blessing on the godly home stand out more clearly from the contrast that has been drawn.
What a firm bond of union links together the members of such a home. Strong natural affection indeed binds closely together many families. It is a most precious gift, and ought not to be undervalued. It is an excellent handmaid to religion. But can we doubt that grace in the heart forms a still stronger tie? It holds out where natural affection would fail. Besides this, it purifies and deepens it.
There is one Father — one Savior — one Spirit — one Book, by which all are comforted and all are directed; one Mercy-seat, where all alike worship; one Home, to which all are tending. In ordinary seasons they have common ground for the most profitable fellowship. Any fresh light upon Scripture, any accounts of the progress of the kingdom of Christ, any doors of usefulness opened around, these will touch the sympathies of the whole family.
In the great sorrows which fall upon a home, there will be common ground for hope and consolation.
A financial loss may come which greatly straitens their resources, a great disappointment threatens them, a sudden accident or sharp disease cuts down a beloved parent or child. These are no strange things, but, as God wills it, they visit every dwelling. The blessedness of the Lord's presence is then great indeed. The old promises shine forth with a brighter light. As the lamp in the railway carriage, though unperceived before, is at once seen and valued as soon as the dark tunnel is entered — so many a word of hope in Scripture seems for the first time to be really precious, when dark days are appointed to us.
The blessing of the Lord may also be marked in the ever-widening influence of each member of the household.
In the case of the irreligious family, the sins of parents are often reproduced in the lives of children, and of children's children.
Where true piety has leavened a household, we may often see its members going forth into the world, in their various relationships, scattering far and wide the blessings they themselves have enjoyed. It may be as the Christian merchant — or the zealous young pastor — or the head of a new household — or the mother of a little flock of her own — each one filling up some position of usefulness in the Church of Christ.
Are there not names known among us of men faithfully at work for the Master, their very names reminding us that they are descendants of godly men, who led the van of Christ's army fifty, or even a hundred years ago?
Who shall tell the ultimate blessing, the direct and indirect benefits to the Church of Christ, arising from a single family trained up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord?
The full blessing is reserved for the period when the whole family is re-gathered m a better world.
If religion served only to promote the peace and usefulness of the family now, it would be invaluable — but draw aside the curtain. Look beyond this passing world. One brief moment may break up a family. The best happiness it affords is but as brief as the flash of summer lightning. But beyond this, the bliss is stable and lasting. What must be the unutterable joy, should all be found safe, not one dear face absent!
An old house in Edinburgh, of several stories, was tottering to its downfall. It had long been in a dangerous state, but those who lived in it apprehended no immediate danger, and still remained beneath its roof. One Sunday, near midnight, the house gave signs of falling. A father hastily awoke his wife and children. He hastened them, even as they were, into an adjoining house. Scarcely had he left it, before the house sank, and many were buried in the ruins. He looked around him to see if all were safe. One was absent. Shortly after, the missing child, he found, had safely made her escape by another way. Who can tell the deep gladness of that father's heart, as he beheld his wife and nine children now gathered around him?
This joy was great, but it may picture to us one still greater. Think of the members of a Christian home all meeting hereafter around the throne, all rescued from the doom of sinners, all drinking of the same cup of bliss, all sitting down at the marriage-supper, all within the walls of that heavenly city, where pain and sorrow, and death can never enter!
It was something of this joy which filled the breast of a dying saint. "Blessed be God that ever I was born," said Halyburton. "I have a father and mother, and ten brothers and sisters in Heaven, and I shall be the eleventh. Blessed be God that ever I was born."
In whichever way we regard it, the blessing within a truly Christian home is absolutely without limit. Over such a house the pillar of cloud rests by day, and that of fire by night. The promises, like so many bright stars, shine in the sight of young and old. Angels encamp around it. The eyes of God are upon it for good, from the beginning of the year to its close.
A philosopher in Ancient Greece had an inscription over his little cottage, "The gods dwell here." Over the door of the Christian home still more truly may be written, "The Triune God dwells here — Father, Son, and Holy Spirit here make their abode." Through many a chink and crevice the wind and the cold may enter — yet the Sun of Righteousness shines upon that home all the year round. The face of a God of love is ever turned toward it.
Does the heart of any reader suggest that such a picture as I have drawn is only a beautiful imagination — that it is something far too exalted for this "working-day world" — that we can never reasonably expect such a home as this?
I answer, that no doubt difficulties lie in the way, and very great ones. It is no easy matter to overcome them. But shall we limit the power of Almightiness? "With God all things are possible."
Such households have been. Imagine the tent, where so often Abraham and Sarah called upon the name of the Lord. Think of that home in the hill country of Judea, where Zacharias and Elizabeth, and the son of their old age, knelt together; or the favored home at Bethany, of which every member was near to the heart of Christ.
Such households are also to be found now. A working man, with his wife, gave himself in early life to the service of the Lord. A large family was given to them, and not a few trials were their lot. The blessing of Obed-edom, however, was theirs also. Three or four children were called away in early life, but they died rejoicing in the Lord. The rest went forth into the world, following in the steps of their parents. In various positions of usefulness, are they now adorning the Gospel of Christ. The parents themselves, as they approach the close of a useful and busy life, are able to bless a Father in Heaven, for all His care exercised over them, and to look forward, in cheerful confidence to the Canaan yet to be possessed.
And if the full blessing is unspeakably precious — let no one despise a smaller measure of it. If there is not the shower — then there may be a few droppings. Is it no reward, if religion exercises a restraining influence, or if one and another learn to follow Christ? Though we may not see all we would — yet more than enough shall be granted, richly to repay our efforts and our prayers.
What are the CHOICE MEANS by which a household may hope to secure the blessing of the Lord?
Foremost of all would I place, The hearty piety of the heads of the family.
The consistent piety of any single member — of a son or daughter, or even a servant, may ultimately be the salvation of the rest; but until the father and mother, if both are alive, are decided in their Christian course, we have no reason to expect the special presence of God in the midst of the house. It is in vain to look for a good crop from bad seed — or for clusters of grapes from a thorn bush. Just so, we seldom find, as a rule, genuine piety in the younger branches of the family — if it is otherwise with the parents.
The father and mother are representatives of the household before God. Times without number, for their sake, a blessing has descended upon the children.
The life of a godly parent also is a daily sermon. It has been said, "The children of godly parents go to church every day!" In fact, such a home is a temple, where children every day may see and hear that which tells them that God is there.
Here may be discovered the reason that sound faithful teaching in Sunday schools, has comparatively effected so little good. It is not the fault in the school teaching — but in the home's pernicious influence. The evil that is witnessed at home, more than counteracts the lessons learned at school. On the other hand, piety in the parent often is salvation to the child. The well known account of the conversion of Richard Cecil is in point. The sight of his mother, patiently and cheerfully enduring her heavy cross of suffering, was the sermon that awakened him to repentance. It is right that parents should test their own piety, as well for the sake of their children as of themselves.
Of great importance would it be to a family, if the parent would often question his own heart:
"Am I walking in all good conscience before God?"
"Do I abide in fellowship with the Father and the Son?"
"Do I daily lean upon the grace and strength imparted by the Spirit?"
"Am I so living, that I declare with Joshua — As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord?"
Never doubt for a moment, that genuine piety and eminent holiness are the first requisites for all spiritual work. Neither the pastor in the parish, the teacher in the school, or the parent in the family — can expect to influence others for good, without themselves walking wisely and worthily in the narrow path of holiness.
Erect the family altar, and take good heed that the worship offered there be a reality.
To read together the Word of God, to bend the knee together at the throne of grace, may be a blessed preparation for the united worship of the whole family above.
But beware of making it a mere formality. With too many it is practiced as only a part of the daily routine that is necessary to be gone through — but it brings with it no profit and no comfort. It is a cloud without water. It is time worse than wasted, for it is an affront to Him who searches the heart. If it has been thus with any reader, do not discontinue it because you feel this to have been the case — but strive to throw life into it. Ask for Divine assistance. Read the portion of Scripture very distinctly. If it is possible, let there be a few words of practical application, or of necessary explanation of a difficult verse. Avoid making the prayer too long; but let it be hearty and fervent. Whether it be extempore or written, let it be offered with all reverence and earnestness "in the Spirit." The reality and true profit of the family devotion should be, to every Christian, a matter for much painstaking and prayer.
Maintain family discipline.
It is the will of God that parents should exercise control over their children. They must command that which is right — and they must forbid that which is wrong. It was spoken to the praise of Abraham, that God knew that he would command his children after him to keep the way of the Lord. It was the overthrow of the house of Eli, that his sons made themselves vile — and he restrained them not.
In Scripture children are compared to arrows — but all depends upon the direction given to the arrow by the hand that guides it. They are compared to vine branches — but a vine unpruned will bear no fruit worth gathering. So it is written, "A child left to himself brings his mother to shame!"
A remark may be made here as to the grievous harm that is often inflicted on a family, by the mother neglecting home duties for other work. Usually the right place of a mother with young children is at home, in the midst of them. In agricultural villages, more is often lost than gained by a poor mother going out into the fields for a few pence, while her children's clothes, for need of mending, are growing worse and worse, besides the fact, that her children are left to a neighbor's care, or even to run wild about the fields or streets.
Great is the mischief also, when Christian ladies neglect the training of their own children for spiritual work out of doors. If both can be fairly accomplished, a double benefit ensues; but for no other work is it right for a parent to put her children in the background. Irreparable evil has been wrought by the wife of the clergyman being busied in the parish, while her children are left in the care of others, and in consequence, it may be, instead of being helpers, grow up a scandal to the Church of Christ.
"I really scarcely ever see my children," was the remark of a Christian lady. "I have so many religions objects to look to in London; and then I have Scripture readings that I attend, and so large a circle of valued friends, that I seldom have an evening at home with my family."
Was this right? Was it the best means of adorning the Gospel of Christ?
In training their children, let parents begin early. Long before a child is two years old, it will know the meaning of an emphatic "no." Even at that tender age, some measure of discipline may begin.
Unite firmness and gentleness.
Yield not to the self-will or pettishness of a child. What you once say, let it be law. Without some special cause, turn not from it. Especially punish lying and disobedience; they are the root of all that is evil.
Yet with firmness be very gentle. It is written, "Your gentleness has made me great." Harshness is a cold wind, that nips in the bud the beginnings of better things in the heart. Byron's character was ruined by the cruelty of a harsh and unfeeling mother.
Win your children by love. Draw rather than drive. Make home to them the happiest place in the world. Make friends of them. Confide in them, and they will confide in you. Do not keep them at a distance. As soon as they are old enough, entrust them with the knowledge of family affairs. The spirit of confidence will effectually aid in knitting together the whole family.
Plead for the spirit's grace to rest upon each one within the house.
Let each believer in a house consider it a bounden duty, never to let a day pass by without his naming each one of the family before God in prayer.
Doubly does this privilege belong to parents. A father's prayers have not often been spoken of, but they avail much. A father took up into his arms his little boy, shortly after his birth, and taking him into his study, fell upon his knees, and there presented him to the Lord, and besought for him His grace. The solemn dedication of the child was ratified in Heaven. He grew up to be a most able and successful preacher of the everlasting Gospel. By many in the neighborhood of Brighton and elsewhere, the name of Sortain will long be had in honor.
Upon the mother, however, rests much of the responsibility connected with the children. She is more constantly with them, and it is most natural that her prayers should incessantly be offered in their behalf.
Great indeed is the difference between one who neglects the souls of her children, and one who labors and prays for their salvation.
A young man was condemned to death, in Glasgow, for the perpetration of a most brutal murder. His mother entered his cell. The son fixed his eyes upon her, and said, "Mother, had it not been for you — I would never have been here."
"I am sure," she said "I never taught you any harm."
"I am sure," he answered, you never taught me any good."
From that moment his lips were sealed, and to the fatal hour he never spoke another word. Here was the reward of the neglectful mother!
The late Richard Knill, for many years a missionary in Russia, returned home to his native village. It so happened that he slept in the same chamber where he had been accustomed to sleep in early life. Early in the morning he looked out of the window, and saw a tree in the garden, under which his mother had taken him forty years before, and had said to him, "Richard, let us pray." He went out, and in the very same spot knelt down, and thanked God for a mother's prayers. Here was the reward of the praying mother.
Prayer is a mighty agent. It secures that which no unassisted efforts can obtain. Only thus will God grant His Spirit to quicken dead souls. Only thus may we confidently anticipate a sure blessing on our dwelling place.
O happy house! O home supremely blessed!
Where You, Lord Jesus Christ, are entertained,
As the most welcome and beloved Guest,
With true devotion and with love sincere;
Where all hearts beat in unison with Thine,
Where eyes grow brighter as they look on Thee,
Where all are ready, at the slightest sign,
To do Your will, and do it heartily.
O happy house! where man and wife are one,
Through love of You, in spirit, heart, and mind;
Together joined by holy bands, which none,
Not death itself, can sever or unbind.
Where both on You unfailingly depend,
In weal and woe, in good and evil days,
And hope with You eternity to spend,
In sweet communion and eternal praise.
O happy house! — where with the hands of prayer
Parents commit their children to the Friend,
Who, with more than mother's tender care,
Will watch and keep them safely to the end;
Where they are taught to sit at Jesus' feet,
And listen to the words of life and truth,
And learn to lisp His praise, in accents sweet,
From early childhood to advancing youth.
O happy house! — where You do share the weal,
Where none forget You, whatso'er befall;
O happy house! — where You the wounds do heal,
The Healer and the Comforter of all;
Until every one his stated task has done,
And all at length shall peacefully depart
To the bright realms, where You Yourself are gone:
The Father's house — where You already are!