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A Remedy for Decaying Religion - by Oliver Heywood (1629-1702)

Articles on The Christian Family

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Rev. Oliver Heywood (1629-1702): non-Conformist Puritan divine. Ejected from his pulpit in 1622 and excommunicated, Heywood preached mainly in private homes after the Great Ejection. He covers – How the order of the household will affect the religion of the household.

FOR your sakes, dear Friends, I presume again to appear upon the public stage to be your faithful monitor, to prompt you to your duty, and to promote the work of God in your souls and the worship of God in your families. And I know not how a minister can employ his time, studies, and pen better (next to the conviction and conversion of particular souls), than in pressing upon householders a care of the souls under their charge. This hath a direct tendency to public reformation. Religion begins in individuals and passeth on to relatives, and lesser spheres of relationship make up greater: churches and commonwealths consist of families. There is a general complaint of the decay of the power of godliness and inundation of profaneness, and not without cause. I know no better remedy than domestic piety: did governors teach their inferiors by counsels and examples; did they severely discountenance and restrain enormities and zealously promote holiness and then call on God unitedly and earnestly that He would efficaciously work what they cannot effect, who can tell what a blessed alteration would follow?

In vain do you complain of magistrates and ministers, while you that are householders are unfaithful to your trust. You complain that the world is in a bad state: what do you do to mend it? Do not so much complain of others as of yourselves, and complain not so much to man as to God. Plead with Him for reformation, second also your prayers with earnest endeavors, sweep before your own doors, act for God within your sphere. As you have more opportunity of familiarity with the inmates of your house, so you have more authority over them from their dependence on you to influence them. And if you improve not this talent, you will have a dreadful account to give, especially as their blood will be required at your hands because their sin will be charged on your neglect.

Oh, sirs! Have you not sin enough of your own, but you must draw upon yourselves the guilt of your whole families? It is you that make bad times and bring down judgments on the nation. Would you rather see the agonies of your children and hear them crying amidst infernal torments, than speak a word to them for their instruction, hear them cry under your correction, or supplicate God for their salvation? Oh, cruel tigers and barbarous monsters! You may imagine yourselves to be Christians, but I cannot judge that man worthy to be a fit communicant at the Lord’s Table that maintains not the worship of God ordinarily in his family. And he deserves admonition and censure for this sin of omission as well as for scandalous sins of commission; for he bewrays his base hypocrisy in pretending to be a saint abroad, when he is a brute at home. For a right-bred Christian [has respect] to all God’s commandments. Such as are righteous before God “walk in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless” (Luke 1:6). Let these then go amongst the herd of the profane, and fare as they do at the last, that make no conscience of family or relative godliness. Such as will not pray now will cry too late, “Lord, Lord, open to us,” when the door is shut (Mat 25:11). Yea, they that now will not cry for a crumb of mercy shall in Hell cry out for a “drop of water, to quench their scorched tongues in those eternal torments” (Luke 16:22-24). To these self-destroying hypocrites, I recommend the serious consideration of Proverbs 1:24-31; Job 8:13-15; 27:8-10. O what an honor is it, that the King of Heaven gives you an admittance into His presence-chamber with your families twice a day to confess your sins; [to] beg pardon and supplies of mercy; to give Him the glory of His goodness; and to lay your load on Him and get ease. I hope you will never be averse to it or weary of it. God forbid you should: you are not weary of meal times, if you be healthy. Know and keep these appointed times of coming to God. If you promise to meet a person of quality at such an hour when the clock strikes, you rise up, crave pardon, and tell the company [that someone] tarries for you, you must be gone. Oh, take not more liberty with God than you would do with men, and keep your hearts continually in a frame for duty.

From “The Family Altar,” The Works of Oliver Heywood, Vol 4, reprinted by Soli Deo Gloria Publications.

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