Meditations For Household Piety - by Lewis Bayly (1575-1631)Articles on The Christian Family
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1. If thou be called to the government of a family, thou must not hold it sufficient to serve God and live uprightly in thy own person, unless thou cause all under thy charge to do the same with thee. For the performance of this duty God was so well pleased with Abraham, that he would not hide from him his counsel: “For,” saith God, “I know him that he will command his sons and his household after him that they keep the way of the Lord, to do righteousness and judgment, that the Lord may bring upon Abraham that he hath spoken unto him.” (Gen. xviii. 19.) And Abraham had 318 men-servants, which were thus born and catechised in his house (Gen. xiv. 14;) with whose help he rescued also his nephew Lot from the captivity of his enemies. And religiously valiant
Joshua protesteth before all the people, that if they all would fell away from the true worship of God, yet that he and his house would serve the Lord (Josh. xxiv. 15.) And God himself gives a special charge to all householders, that they instruct their family in his word, and train them up in his fear and service: “These words which I command thee this day shall be in thy heart, and thou shalt whet them continually upon thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou tarriest in thine house, and as thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up,” &c. “Thou shalt fear the Lord thy God and serve him.” (Deut. vi. 6, 7.) David, according to this law, had so ordered his family, that no deceitful person should dwell in his house, but such as would serve God and walk in his way (Psal. ci. 6, 7.). And religious Esther had taught her maids to serve God in fasting and prayer (Esth. iv. 16.) And, the more to further thy family in the zeal of religion, settle ever thy chiefest affection on those whom thou shalt perceive to be best addicted to true religion. This also will turn to thine own advantage in a double respect—First, God will the rather bless and prosper the labour and handiwork of such godly servants; for Laban perceived that God blessed him for Jacob’s sake (Gen. xxx. 27;) and Potiphar saw that the Lord made all that Joseph did to prosper in his hand (Gen. xxxix. 3;) yea, when innocent Joseph was cast into prison, his keeper saw that whatsoever he did the Lord made it to prosper (Gen. xxxix. 22, 23;) and therefore the keeper committed all the charge of the prisoners into Joseph’s hand. Secondly, the trulier a man serves God, the more faithfully he will serve thee.
2. If every householder were thus careful, according to his duty, to bring up his children and family in the service and fear of God in his own house, then the house of God should be better filled, and the Lord’s table more frequented every Sabbath day, and the pastors’ public preaching and labour would take more effect than it doth;—the streets of towns and cities would not abound with so many drunkards, swearers, whoremongers, and profane scorners of true piety and religion;—our courts would not be so full of contentions, wrangling suits, and unchristian debates;—and the prisons would not be every session so full of thieves, robbers, traitors, murderers. But alas! most householders make no other use of their servants than they do of their beasts: whilst they may have their bodies to do their service, they care not if their souls serve the devil. Yet the common complaint is, that faithful and good servants are scarce to be found. True, but the reason is, because there are so many profane and irreligious masters; for the example and instruction of a godly and religious master will make a good and a faithful servant; as may witness the examples of Abraham, Joshua, David, Cornelius, &c., who had good servants because they were religious masters, such as were careful to make their servants God’s servants. It is the chief labour and care of most men to raise and to advance their house: yet let them “rise up early and lie down late, and eat the bread of carefulness,” all will be but in vain; for “except the Lord build a house,” that is, raise up a family, “they labour in vain.” (Psal. cxxvii. 1, 2.) For God hath sealed this as an irrevocable decree, that he will pour out his wrath upon the families that call not upon his name (Jer. x. 25;) yea, “God will take the wicked, and pluck him out of his tabernacle, and root him out of the land,” &c. (Psal. lii. 5;) yea, when his iniquities are full (Gen. xv. 16), he will make the land to spue out every Canaanite (Lev. xviii. 25.) Religion, then, and the service of God in a family, is the best building, and surest entailing of house and land to a man and his posterity; for “the righteous man shall inherit the land, and dwell therein for ever.” (Psal. xxxvii. 29.)
Therefore, if thou desirest to have the blessing of God upon thyself and upon thy family, either before or after thy own private devotions, call every morning all the family to some convenient room; and first either read to them thyself a chapter in the word of God, or cause it to be read distinctly by some other. If leisure serve, thou mayest admonish them of some remarkable notes; and then kneeling down with them in reverent sort, as is before described, pray with them in this manner:—
Morning Prayer for a Family.
O Lord our God and heavenly Father, who art the only Creator and Governor of heaven and earth, and all things contained therein, we confess that we are unworthy to appear in thy sight and presence, considering our manifold sins which we have committed against Heaven and before thee; and that we have been born in sin, and daily break thy holy laws and commandments, contrary to our knowledge and consciences; although we know that thou art our Creator, who hast made us—our Redeemer, who hast bought us with the blood of thine only-begotten Son—and our Comforter, who bestowest upon us all the good and holy graces which we enjoy in our souls and bodies. And if thou shouldst but deal with us as our wickedness and unthankfulness have deserved, what other thing might we, O Lord, expect from thee but shame and confusion in this life, and in the world to come, wrath and everlasting condemnation? Yet, O Lord, in the obedience of thy commandment, and in the confidence which we have in thy unspeakable and endless mercy in thy Son, our Saviour Jesus Christ, we thy poor servants, appealing from thy throne of justice, where we are justly lost and condemned, to thy throne of grace, where mercy reigneth to pardon abounding sin, do from the bottom of our hearts most humbly beseech thee to remit and forgive unto us all our offences and misdeeds; that by the virtue of the precious blood of Jesus Christ, thine innocent Lamb, which he so abundantly shed to take away the sins of the world, all our sins, both original and actual, may be so cleansed and washed from us, as that they may never be laid to our charge, nor ever have power to rise up in judgment against us. And we beseech thee, good Father, for Christ’s death and passion’s sake, that thou wilt not suffer to fall upon us that fearful curse and vengeance which thy law hath threatened, and our sins have justly deserved. And forasmuch, O Lord, as we are taught by thy word, that idolaters, adulterers, covetous men, contentious persons, drunkards, gluttons, and such-like inordinate livers, shall not inherit the kingdom of God, pour the grace of thy Holy Spirit into our hearts, whereby we may be enlightened to see the filthiness of our sins, to abhor them, and may be more and more stirred up to live in newness of life, and love of thy majesty, so that we may daily increase in the obedience of thy word, and in a conscientious care of keeping thy commandments. And now, O Lord, we render unto thee most hearty thanks for that thou hast elected, created, redeemed, called, justified, and sanctified us in good measure in this life, and given us an assured hope that thou wilt glorify us in thy heavenly kingdom when this mortal life is ended. Likewise we thank thee for our life, health, wealth, liberty, prosperity, and peace; especially, O Lord, for the continuance of thy holy gospel among us, and for sparing us so long, and granting us so gracious a time of repentance. Also we praise thee for all other mercies bestowed upon us, more especially for preserving us this night past, from all danger that might have befallen our souls or bodies. And seeing thou hast now brought us safe to the beginning of this day, we beseech thee protect and direct us in the same. Bless and defend us in our going out and coming in this day, and evermore. Shield us, O Lord, from the temptations of the devil, and grant us the custody of thy holy angels to defend and direct us in all our ways. And to this end we recommend ourselves, and all those that belong to us, and are abroad from us, into thy hands and almighty tuition. Lord, defend them from all evil, prosper them in all graces, and fill them with thy goodness. Preserve us likewise this day from falling into any gross sin, especially those to which our natures are most prone. Set a watch before the door of our lips, that we offend not thy majesty by any rash or false oaths, or by any lewd or lying speeches. Give to us patient minds, pure hearts, and all other graces of thy Spirit which thou knowest to be needful for us, that we may the better be enabled to serve thee in holiness and righteousness. And seeing that all man’s labour without thy blessing is in vain, bless every one of us in our several places and callings; direct thou the work of our hands upon us, even prosper thou our handiwork; for except thou guide us with thy grace, our endeavours can have no good success. And provide for us all things which thou, O Father, knowest to be needful for every one of us, in our souls and bodies, this day. And grant that we may so pass through the pilgrimage of this short life, that our hearts being not settled upon any transitory things which we meet with in the way, our souls may every day be more and more ravished with the love of our home, and thy everlasting kingdom. Defend likewise, O Lord, thy universal church, and every particular member thereof: especially we beseech thee to continue the peace and prosperity of these churches and kingdoms wherein we live. Preserve and defend from all evils and dangers our gracious Queen, with all the royal family; multiply their days in bliss and felicity, and afterwards crown them with everlasting joy and glory.
Bless all our ministers and magistrates, with all graces needful for their places; and govern thou them, that they may govern us in peace and godliness. And of thy mercy, O Lord, comfort all our brethren that are distressed, sick, or any way comfortless, especially those who are afflicted either with an evil conscience, because they have sinned against thy word, or for a good conscience, because they will not sin against thy truth. Make the first to know, that not one drop of the blood of Christ was a drop of vengeance, but all drops of grace, powerful to procure pardon upon repentance, for the greatest sins of the chiefest sinner in the world. And for the other, let not, O Lord, thy long sufferance either too much discourage them, or too much encourage their enemies: but grant them patience in suffering, and a gracious and speedy deliverance, which way may stand best with their comfort and thy glory. Give every one of us grace to be always mindful of his last end, and to be prepared with faith and repentance, as with a wedding-garment, against the time that thou shalt call for us out of this sinful world. And that in the meanwhile we may so in all things, and above all things, seek thy glory, that when this mortal life is ended, we may then be made partakers of immortality and life eternal, in thy most blessed and glorious kingdom. These, and all other graces, which thou, O Father, seest to be necessary for us, and for thy whole church, we humbly beg and crave at thy hands; concluding this our imperfect prayer, in that absolute form of prayer which Christ himself hath taught us—“Our Father which art in heaven, hallowed be thy name,” &c.
After prayers, let every one of thy household (taking in the fear of God such a breakfast or refreshing as is fit) depart—the children to school, the servants to their work: every one to his office, the master and mistress of the family to their callings, or to some honest exercises for recreation, as they think fit.