And if it seem evil to you to serve the LORD, choose you this day whom you will serve…
I wish now to speak of the good works of the Christian household, its religious standing and progress within, and its beneficent employments without, for the good of man and the glory of God. Now we must lay the foundation of all such external duties in the religion of the household. Let the well-spring of the religion of the family be in the closet and by the bedside of the father and mother. And not only this, but let the children, let the servants see that it is so, and learn to take not precept only, but pattern from them. And if the foundation be thus laid, let us go on to inquire what, and how raised, must be the building. First of all, it must be real, consistent with itself; raised for a dwelling, and not for a show. In a man's own religion reality is the first and most constant requisite; but where influence is to be exerted over others it is even doubly necessary. Hearts are not won by words, nor will knees ever so often bended prompt one syllable of prayer. And here is often a fault in Christian heads of families. Their own religion is real — felt in their hearts, and shown in their lives. But their way of putting it forth is unreal. They are perhaps the bondsmen of a rigid system, or they fall into the opposite extreme, and leave that on which they themselves feel so deeply to take its chance among those whom God has given them to train for Him. In the one case, that of rigid adherence to system, the force of their own example is marred, the attraction of their own faith and love disturbed; in the other they are bearing indeed good seed, but sow it not, letting human nature, which ever wants help from above and from around, get its good as it best may. How often do we see heads of families, whom we know to be earnest and genuine Christian men and women, yet attempting to guide their households by the merest and emptiest commonplaces, which never had, and never can have, life or power in them. Oh that we knew and remembered this — that nought unreal will ever stand God's test of time and trial. You may teach the child his theological lesson ever so well; he may be apt to distinguish, apt to retain, ready to profess; yet meantime, if you have not preoccupied it, the heart, which really guides the life, will have been learning from things themselves another and a surer lesson, and you will find, when the voyage of life begins, that voyage which you had expected would be so straight and so sure, that another hand than yours is on the helm. In promoting family religion let parents study the hearts of their children. Let them see what those cords really are which, according as they are drawn one way or the other, turn the course of life itself. Let them remember what it was in their own case which really influenced them for good, and reflect that their children are like themselves. Win the heart, and the victory is yours. Lose that, and you have lost all. Before I pass to the outward acts and fruits of family religion let me exemplify these remarks in two departments of the inner life of the household: in their use of the Bible and in family prayer. The Bibles of a household, if they could testify, would be no bad witnesses respecting its religion. And I fear their testimony would be often of a sad and a startling kind. The Bible in the chamber, how often is it taken down for genuine use? The contents of that Bible, how much is known of them? I do not believe there ever was an age when the Bible has been so much printed and so little read as in our own. And this is the book which is to be a light to our feet and a lamp to our paths. And therefore one of the very first cares in a Christian and Protestant household ought to be that the Bible may be known by all its members: known, I mean, by familiarity with its contents, and a habit of thinking and speaking intelligently on them, and a habit also — for this should never be forgotten — of their devotional use. It is plain that this subject might be pursued much further, but we must drop it now, to mention another nearly connected with it — I mean that of family prayer. Family prayer is an absolute necessity of the Christian household. It is indeed an affecting and solemn sight; and it might be a vast opportunity for good. Here is a priest of whose power we can never speak too highly, a teacher standing in the place of God Himself. But what are, for the most part, his ministrations — what his instructions? To judge from the books which have been printed for use at such times, for the most part, I fear, formal, disconnected, lifeless; or if earnest and fervent, then passing perhaps into another fault equally fatal to usefulness-lengthy and tedious. The effect of this must be mischievous. You cannot expect children, you cannot expect servants, to love and consult and study a work which you have accustomed them to loathe and to be weary over. Nor, to recur back to the other fault again, can you expect them really to feel wants which have been so long lifelessly and formally expressed; uttered perhaps in words far above their comprehension, and in a strain to which their simple minds never attained. Of all united acts of the family this one should most bear the impress of life and reality. Read no more than the ear, no more than the mind can retain — and that little with earnestness and solemnity. If explanation is given let it be short and to the point — neither dilating nor diluting. And with regard to prayer, the rule should be of the same kind. The simpler the better. And I may also say, without fear of being misunderstood, the shorter the better. But from these counsels respecting the inner life of the family we must pass now to its outward fruits of its religion. And here at once let me say that such fruits ought always to be found. There never ought to be such a thing as a hidden family religion in any sense, and least of all in the sense of being without visible and sensible fruit for good. And in family charity, as in all other family duties, the spring must ever be found in the heads of the household. Let them be known by their children and dependents to be engaged in works of charity and mercy. And in their places and proportions let each, even the humblest member, be encouraged, as soon as self-control and responsibility begin, to bear a part in such works. And I cannot impress it too strongly on young persons that this duty is binding on them from the moment that they can call money or time their own. Whatever is allowed you by your parents for ordinary purposes, all of it belongs to God, and you are but His steward. On the beneficence due from every Christian household to the poor and needy around it I will not at present enlarge; it is a wide subject, and comes before us in the course of our teaching in various ways. I will only say no household can escape its claims or venture, from any excuse, to set them aside. But I would especially now speak of that other department of a Christian family's benevolence which should be spent in their work as disciples of Him who commanded us to enlighten all nations with the word of His truth. Every Christian is described in Scripture as holding forth the word of truth, shining as a light in the world. Every Christian is a missionary, and ought to be employed in the work of one — either in personal labour and influence, or by contribution to institutions established for the purpose. And as a family duty this possesses peculiar interest. In Christ are all families of the earth blessed.
Parallel VersesKJV: And if it seem evil unto you to serve the LORD, choose you this day whom ye will serve; whether the gods which your fathers served that were on the other side of the flood, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land ye dwell: but as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD.
WEB: If it seems evil to you to serve Yahweh, choose this day whom you will serve; whether the gods which your fathers served that were beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you dwell: but as for me and my house, we will serve Yahweh."