Seven Reasons Families Should Pray - by Thomas Doolittle (1630-1707)Articles on The Christian Family
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REASON 1: Because we receive every day family-mercies from the hand of God. He loads us daily with His benefits (Psa. 68:9). When you wake in the morning and find your dwelling safe, not consumed with fire, not broken through by thieves, is not this a family-mercy” When you wake and find none dead in their beds, that news is not brought you in the morning, there is one child dead in one bed and another in another, and there is not a lodging-room in the house but the last night one or other died in it; but on the contrary you find all well in the morning and refreshed by the rest and sleep of the night” are not these and many more such mercies to the family, that when you rise you should call them all together jointly to bless God for” If it had been otherwise, [if] master or mistress [were] dead, children or servants dead, would not the rest say, “It would have been a mercy to us all, if God had spared him, her, or them?” If your house had been consumed by flames, and God had turned you all out of doors before morning, would you not have said, “It would have been a mercy, if God had safely preserved us and our dwellings and caused us to rest and sleep and rise in safety?” Why, Sirs, will you not acknowledge mercies to be mercies, till God hath taken them away from you” And if you do, should you not give the praise daily unto God” Was it not God Himself that watched over you while you did sleep, and could not, did not, watch yourselves” “Except the Lord keep the city, the watchman waketh but in vain. For so he giveth his beloved sleep” (Psa. 127:1, 2).
And as you have had many family-mercies in the night to bless God for in the morning, so you have many family-mercies in the day to give thanks to God for at night before you go to bed. Methinks you should not quietly sleep till you have been together on your knees, lest God should say, “This family that hath not acknowledged My mercy to them this day, nor given Me the glory of those benefits of which to them I gave the comfort, shall never see the light of another day, nor have the mercies of one day more to bless Me for. What if God should say unto you when you are laid down in your beds, “This night your souls shall be required of you, you that went to bed before you had given Me the praise of the mercies that I had given unto you all the day, and before you had prayed for My protection over you in the night.” Take heed: though God be patient, do not provoke Him.
REASON 2: You should pray to God daily in your families, because there are sins committed every day in your families. Do you indeed sin together, and will you not pray together” What, if you should be damned all together” Doth not every member of your family commit many sins every day” How great is the number then of all, when considered or put together” What! So many sins every day under your roof, within your walls, committed against the glorious, blessed God, and not want prayer” One sin should be lamented with a thousand tears; but you have not one tear shed by one, and another by another, in prayer together, for a thousand sins. Is this to repent daily, when you do not confess them daily” Would you have God to pardon all the sins of your family” Say, would you or no” If you would not, God might justly let you go to your graves and hell too, with the guilt of sin upon your souls. If you would, is not pardon worth asking for? Would you have it and not beg it at the hands of God? Would not all judge that man worthy of death, that being justly condemned, might yet have life for asking for and will not? How do you, how can you quietly go to your beds and sleep with the guilt of so many sins upon your souls and have not prayed to have them blotted out? What is your pillow made of, that your heads can rest upon it under the weight and load of so much guilt” Is indeed your bed so soft or your heart so hard, that you can rest and sleep, when to all the sins of commission in the day, you add this sin of omission in the evening? Lay to heart your daily family-sins, and you will feel a reason why you should pray to God in your families daily.
REASON 3: You should pray in your families daily unto God, because you have many daily family-wants, which none can supply but God. God [needs] not your prayers, but you and yours [need] God’s mercies! And if you will have them, should you not pray for them” Can you supply your families’ wants” If they want health, can you give it them” If they want bread, can you give it them except God first give it unto you” Why then did Christ direct us to pray, “Give us this day our daily bread” (Mat 6:11). If they want grace, can you work it in them” Or do you not care though they die without it” Is not God the Giver of every good gift? “Every good and perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights” (Jam 1:17).
Mercies are above and good things are from above, and prayer is a means appointed by God to fetch them down. “If any man lack wisdom, let him ask of God.” (Jam 1:5). Do you think you do not want wisdom to discharge your duties to God and man, that you do not want wisdom to manage your family for their temporal, spiritual, and eternal good” If you think so, you are fools. And if you think you want it not, by those very thoughts you may discern your [lack] of it. If you think you have enough, it is plain that you have none. And should you not ask it of God, if you would have it? If you and yours want health in your family, should you not ask it of God” Can you live without dependence upon God? Or can you say you have no need of God’s help to supply your wants” Then you speak contradictions: for to be under wants and not to be dependent beings is a contradiction. To think you do not live in dependence upon God is to think you are not men nor creatures. And if you do depend on Him and want His help to supply your [needs], your own indigency1 should bring you upon your knees to pray to Him.
REASON 4: You should pray in your families daily because of your families’ daily employments and labors. Every one that puts his hand to work, his head to contrive, should set his heart to pray. For will not your trading be in vain and your laboring and working, your carking2 and projecting for the world, be to no purpose without the blessing of God” Will you be convinced if God Himself doth tell you” Then read Psalm 127:1, 2: “Except the Lord build the house, they labour in vain that build it. It is vain for you to rise up early, to sit up late, to eat the bread of sorrows.” Bread of sorrows! What bread is that” Bread gotten with much care, and labor, and toil, is “bread of sorrows.” Without God, you labor to get bread for yourselves and families in vain. You might miss of it after all your labors. And without God’s blessing, if you eat it when you have got it with much toil and care, you eat it in vain; for without Him it cannot nourish your bodies. And yet is it not necessary to pray to God to prosper and succeed you in your callings” Prayer and labor should both promote what you aim at. To pray and not to do the works of your callings would be to expect supplies while you are negligent. To labor and trade and not to pray, would be to hope for increase and provision without God. Religion that puts you upon holy duties doth not teach you to neglect your callings, nor yet to trust to your own endeavors without praying unto God. But both are to keep their place and have a share of your time.3 Prayer is a middle thing betwixt God’s giving and our getting. How can you receive, if God do not give” And why do you expect that God will give, if you do not ask? “Ye have not, because ye ask not” (Jam 4:2).
What ye work for, pray for. And what ye pray for, work and labor for. And this is the true conjunction of labor and prayer. Or will you be like to them [whom] the apostle speaks to” “Go to now, ye that say, Today or tomorrow we will go into such a city, and continue there a year, and buy and sell, and get gain” (Jam 4:13). You will” But will you not ask leave from God whether you shall or no” You will go” What! Though God cast you upon a bed of sickness or into your graves” Do, if you can. You will continue there a year” What! If death drag you out as soon as you come there” If death fetch your bodies to the dust and grave and devils fetch your souls to hell, after this will you “continue in such a city for a year?” If one part of you be in the grave and the other part in hell, what is left of you to continue in the city” You will buy and sell, will you” What! If God give you neither money nor credit” With whom, I wonder” And you will get gain” You are resolved upon it; you will thrive, and prosper, and grow rich. What! If God curse your endeavors and say, “You shall not?” You will all this, and you would have your will; but your power is not equal to your will. Here is much will, but not a word of prayer. You should not go unto your work nor to your shops and callings, till you have first prayed unto God.
REASON 5: You should pray to God in your families daily, because you are all every day liable to temptations. As soon as you wake, the devil will be striving for your first thoughts. And when you are risen, he will be urgent with you to do him the first service and attend you all the day to draw you into some heinous4 sin before night. And is the devil a subtle, watchful, powerful enemy and unwearied” And do you not all need to get together in the morning that Satan might not prevail against any of you before night, till you come to God together again” How many temptations might you meet with in your callings and your company, which without God you will not be able to resist! And how might you fall and dishonor God, discredit your profession, defile your souls, disturb your peace, and wound your consciences! This Origen5 bewailed in his lamentation. For, that day [in which] he omitted prayer, he heinously sinned: “But I, O unhappy creature! Skipping out of my bed at the dawning of the day, could not finish my wonted6 devotion, neither accomplish my usual prayer; [but] folded and wrapped myself in the snares of the devil.”7
REASON 6: You should pray in your families daily because all in your families are liable to daily hazards, casualties, and afflictions. And prayer might prevent them, or obtain strength to bear them, and prepare you for them. Do you know what affliction might befall your family in a day’s time or in a night’s time, either in regard of sickness, death, or outward losses in your estate” Might not you hear of one man’s breaking in your debt and gone away with so much, and another gone away with so much” And are you indeed so weaned from the world, that this shall not put you into a passion and cause you to sin against God, or that you can bear it without murmuring and discontent, that you need not pray for a composed frame of heart, if such things befall you? Do you know if you go abroad yourself or send a son or servant that you or they may return alive again” Though you go out alive, you may be brought back again dead. Had you not then need to pray to God in the morning, that He would keep you in your goings-forth and comings-in and bless Him together in the evening, if He do” How many evils is man exposed to, whether he be at home or abroad! Anacreon8 lost his life by the kernel of a raisin going wrong down his throat. Fabius,9 a senator of Rome, in a draught of milk swallowing a small hair, was strangled. Do not your daily sins cry aloud for daily punishments” And should you not in daily prayer cry as loud that God in mercy would prevent them? Or if they come upon you, to sanctify them for your good or remove them” Or, if they remain, to support you under them” Know indeed that you are nowhere safe without God’s protection, night or day. If your houses were built upon foundations of stone, and the walls were made of brass or adamant, and the doors of iron, yet you would be no longer safe than [so long as] God protects you from all dangers. Pray, then.
REASON 7: You must pray to God in your families daily, or the very Heathen will rise up against you Christians and condemn you. Those that never had the means of grace (as you have had), nor a Bible to direct and teach them (as you have), nor ministers sent to them (as you have had in abundance), do shame many that are called “Christians” and go for great professors too. When I have read the sayings of some Heathens, showing what they were wont to do, and consider and know the practice and negligence of many Christians in their families, I have been ready to conclude the Heathen to be the better men. It was their manner to sacrifice to their gods morning and evening, that they might have the favor of them and be successful in their outward estates as you may learn from their poets.
Do not the Heathen shame many of you? They were wont to say, “Now we have sacrificed, let us go to bed.” You say, “Now we have supped, let us go to bed,” or, “Let us play a game or two at cards and go to bed.” Are you men or swine in the shape of men? Mr. Perkins10 likened such to swine that live without prayer in their families, “Which are always feeding upon the mast11 with greediness, but never look up to the hand that beats it down, nor to the tree from ‘whence it falleth.”
From “How May the Duty of Family Prayer Be Best Managed for the Spiritual Benefit of Every One in the Family?” Puritan Sermons 1659-1689, Being the Morning Exercises at Cripplegate, Vol 2, Richard Owen Roberts, Publisher.
1. indigency: poverty.
2. carking: care; anxiety; distress.
3. Desiderius Erasmus (c.1466-1536) “ “We must not confide so much in our own industry as to neglect the Divine aid; nor, on the contrary, ought we so to depend upon that gracious aid as to remit our exertions, and to neglect our duty.”
4. heinous: grossly wicked; abominable.
5. Origen (c.185-c.254) theologian, heretic, and Biblical scholar of the early Greek Church.
6. wonted “ accustomed; habitual.
7. Eusebius of Caesarea (c.260-c.339) theologian, church historian, and scholar. Quoted from his Ecclesiastical History.
8. Anacreon (c.587-c.485 BC) “ancient Greek poet born in Teos, Asia Minor.
9. Quintus Fabius Pictor (fl 200 BC) “one of the first Roman prose historians and member of the Roman Senate.
10. William Perkins (1558-1602) “Puritan preacher and theologian educated at Cambridge and sometimes called the “Father of Puritanism.”
11. mast: the nuts of forest trees accumulated on the ground, used especially as food for swine.