Monday, January 27, 2014

A Call to Family Worship

Perhaps few neglect the call on their lives as much as they do in disobedience to gather and lead in family worship. George Whitefield says as much in one of his great sermons, The Great Duty of Family-Religion. In typical Whitefield fashion he employs his exegetical skills to exposit a single verse to make countless heads turn as they wonder in his ability to unfold the Scriptures. 

Family worship is for Whitefield a divine privilege and calling according to Joshua 24:15, As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord. Yet Whitefield pines and laments that this is not the case among many in his day:
"Out of those many households that call themselves Christians there are but few that serve God in their respective families as they ought. It is true indeed, visit our churches, and you may perhaps see something of the form of godliness still subsisting among us. But even that is scarcely to be met with in private houses" (97).
While standing in the pulpit at St. Vedast in the heart of London, Whitefield then began to show the high calling of leading a family into worship of the Lord as encouraged in Joshua 24. Perhaps my favorite line in his sermon serves to call husbands and wives, fathers and mothers to a high privilege of opening the eternal things of God to one another: "For every house is as it were a little parish, every governor...a priest, every family a flock. And if any of them perish through the governors neglect, their blood will God require at their hands" (98).

How then ought one to lead his family to serve the Lord? Whitefield highlights three ways in particular and I commend them to you this day as you ponder how you can lead your spouse and your children to serve and glory in the Lord.

  1. First, Whitefield calls all to lead their families in reading God's Word. He references Deut. 6:6-7 which commands that God's words be stored up in their hearts and taught diligently to their children.
  2. Second, he calls each family to gather regularly for Family prayer. His words of necessity are strong and neglect terrifying. May we lead our families in prayer, bringing them forward as the priests of old into the presence of the Lord and His care.
  3. Thirdly, Whitefield highlights the importance of family instruction or catechism. Instruction in the realities of Christ are an essential matter and not to be neglected. For if we believe that regeneration in Christ is a life or death issue, might we then with all haste instruct those whom we love the most in this awesome reality?
After having addressed the "how" of family worship, Whitefield then turns, as any good preacher should, to a closing section on the "motivations" for family worship. If the three ways in which we can worship as a family were not sufficient reason for why one should do so, he now spells it out plainly and convincingly.
  1. We should lead our family to serve the Lord out of gratitude for God's blessings.
  2. We should lead our family to serve the Lord out of love for our family.
  3. We should lead our family to serve the Lord out of honesty and justice for our family's well-being.
  4. We should lead our family to serve the Lord out of self-interest, since a godly family will bring much joy to oneself.
  5. We should lead our family to serve the Lord out of a reverent fear of the Lord should we lead them in any direction other than to the Lord. We will account for how we have lead.
May we heed the call from Joshua and Whitefield to serve the Lord with our families. I leave you with these words from the great preacher himself:
"For every house is as it were a parish and every master is concerned to secure, as much as in him lies, the spiritual prosperity of everyone under his roof, as any minister whatever is obliged to look to the spiritual welfare of every individual person under his charge" (99).
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Sermon referenced in Lee Gatiss ed., The Sermons of George Whitefield (Wheaton: Crossway, 2012)

JT Holderman is Assistant Pastor of Bellevue Evangelical Presbyterian Church in Gap, PA.

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