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The Word of God and Family Prayer Thomas Doolittle (1630-1707)
Masters of families ought to read the Scripture to their families and instruct their children and servants in the matters and doctrines of salvation. Therefore, they are to pray in and with their families. No man that will not deny the Scripture can deny the unquestionable duty of reading the Scripture in our houses, governors of families teaching and instructing them out of the Word of God. Amongst a multitude of express Scriptures, look into these: “And it shall come to pass, when your children shall say unto you, What mean you by this service? that ye shall say, It is the sacrifice of the Lord's Passover, who passed over the houses of the children of Israel in Egypt, when he smote the Egyptians, and delivered our houses” (Exo 12:26, 27). And there is as much reason that Christian parents should explain to their children the sacraments of the New Testament, to instruct them in the nature, use, and ends of baptism and the Lord's Supper: “And these words, which I command thee this day, shall be in thine heart: and thou shalt teach [whet or sharpen] them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up,” that is, morning and evening (Deu 6:6, 7; 11:18, 19). “And, ye fathers, provoke not your children to wrath: but bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord” (Eph 6:4). And God was pleased with this in Abraham: “For I know him, that he will command his children and his household after him, and they shall keep the way of the Lord” (Gen 18:19). This then is undeniable, if the Word is to be believed, received as our rule, and obedience to be yielded thereunto. And the Heathens taught a necessity of instructing youth betimes.1
The reason of this consequence, from family reading and instructions to family praying, is evident, (we need to beg of God the illumination of His Spirit, the opening of the eyes of every one in the family,2 the blessing of God upon our endeavors, without which it will be to no saving benefit) and will be more manifest, if we consider and lay together these things following:
1. Whose word it is that is to be read in the family together—the Word of the eternal, blessed, glorious God. And doth this call for and require preceding prayer, no more than if you were to read the book of some mortal man? The Word of God is that out of which God speaketh to us. It is that by which He doth instruct us and inform us in the highest and weightiest concernments of our souls. It is that from which we must fetch remedies for the cure of our spiritual maladies. It is that from whence we must have weapons of defense against our spiritual enemies that do assault our souls and be directed in the paths of life.3 And is not prayer together needful then, that God would prepare all their hearts to receive and obey what shall be read to them of the mind of God? Is all the family so serious and so sensible of the glory, holiness, and majesty of that God that speaketh to them in His Word, that prayer is not needful that they may be so? And if it be needful, should it not first be done? And when it hath been read, and the threatenings, commands, and promises of the glorious God been heard, and your sins discovered and God's wrath against them, and duties enjoined, and precious privileges opened, and promises of a faithful God, both “great and precious promises,” made to such as do repent, believe, and turn to God with all their hearts unfeignedly;4 have you not all need together to fall down upon your knees, to beg and cry and call to God for pardon of those sins that by this Word you are convinced you are guilty of and to lament them before the Lord? And that when your duty is discovered, you might have all hearts to practice and obey, and that you might unfeignedly repent and turn to God, that so you may apply those promises to yourselves and be partaker of those privileges? From this then, there is great reason, [that] when you read together you should also pray together.
2. Consider what great and deep mysterious things are contained in the Word of God which you are to read together. And there will appear a necessity of praying together also. Is there not in this Word the doctrine concerning God, how He might be known, loved, obeyed, worshipped, and delighted in? Concerning Christ, God-man, a mystery that the angels wonder at and no man fully understands or can express and fully unfold?5 Concerning the offices of Christ—Prophet, Priest, and King? The example and the life of Christ, the miracles of Christ, the temptations of Christ, the sufferings of Christ, His death, the victories of Christ, the resurrection, ascension, and intercession of Christ, and His coming to judgment? Is there not in the Scripture the doctrine of the Trinity, of the misery of man by sin, and his remedy by Christ? Of the covenant of grace, the conditions of this covenant, and the seals thereof? The many precious, glorious privileges that we have by Christ—reconciliation with God, justification, sanctification, and adoption? The several graces to be got, and duties to be done, and of men's everlasting state in heaven or hell? Are these, and such like, contained in the Word of God that you ought to read daily in your houses? And yet do not you see the need of prayer before and after your reading of it? Weigh them well, and you will.
3. Consider how much all the family are concerned to know and understand these things so necessary to salvation. If they are ignorant of them, they are undone. If they know not God, how shall they love Him? We might love an unseen God and an unseen Christ (1Pe 1:8), but not an unknown God. If they in your family know not Christ, how shall they believe on Him? And yet they must perish and be damned, if they do not. They must for ever lose God and Christ and heaven and their souls, if they do not repent, believe, and be converted. And yet when that Book is read by which they should understand the nature of true saving grace, is not prayer needful? Especially when many have the Bible and read it, yet do not understand the things that do concern their peace!
4. Consider further, the blindness of their minds and their inability, without the teachings of God's Spirit, to know and understand these things. And yet is not prayer needful?
5. Consider, yet further, the backwardness of their hearts to hearken to these weighty, necessary truths of God, and their unwillingness naturally to learn, show prayer to be necessary that God would make them able and willing to receive them.
6. Once more, consider that prayer is a special means to obtain knowl edge from God, and a blessing upon the teachings and instructions of the master of the family. David prayed that God would “open his eyes,” that he might “behold wondrous things out of God's law” (Psa 119:18). There are “wondrous things” in the Word of God. That fallen man should be recovered is a wondrous thing. That a holy God should be reconciled to sinful man is a wondrous thing. That the Son of God should take upon Him the nature of man, and God be manifested in the flesh, and a believer justified by the righteousness of another—these are wondrous things. But there is darkness upon our minds and a veil over our eyes, and the Scripture is a clasped, closed book that we cannot savingly understand these great wonderful things, to have our love chiefly upon them and our delight in them, except the Spirit of God take away the veil and remove our ignorance and enlighten our minds. And this wisdom is to be sought from God by fervent prayer. You that are masters of families, would you have your children and servants know these things and be affected with them? Would you have impressions made upon their minds and hearts of the great concernments of their souls? And therefore you do instruct them? But can you reach their hearts? Can you awaken their consciences? Can you not? And yet doth it not become you to pray to God with them, that He would do it? While you are a-praying jointly with them, God may be secretly disposing and powerfully preparing their hearts to receive His Word and your instructions from it.