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Matthew Henry on the Legacy of Family Worship

16 November, 2008

matthew_henryWhy have a “little church” in your house, a family centered on Christ and together devoted to faith and godliness, through worship, prayer, Bible reading and discussion, and catechism? Matthew Henry writes that one of the most important reasons is in order to leave a good and faithful legacy to our children after us. Here’s what he has to say:

A church in the house will be a good legacy, nay, it will be a good inheritance, to be left to your children after you. Reason directs us to consult the welfare of posterity, and to lay up in store a good foundation for those that shall come after us to build upon: and we cannot do this better than by keeping up religion in our houses. A family altar [gathered family worship] will be the best entail; your children will for this rise up and call you blessed, and it may be hoped they will be praising God for you, and praising God like you, here on earth, when you are praising him in heaven.

You will hereby leave your children the benefit of many prayers put up to heaven for them, which will be kept (as it were) upon the file there, to be answered to their comfort, when you are silent in the dust. It is true of prayer, what we say of winter, ‘It never rots in the skies.’ The seed of Jacob know they do not seek in vain, though perhaps they live not to see their prayers answered. Some good Christians that have made conscience of praying daily with and for their children, have been encouraged to hope that the children of so many prayers should not miscarry at last; and thus encouraged, Joseph’s dying word has been the language of many a dying Christian’s faith, ‘I die, but God will surely visit you’ (Gen 50:24). I have heard of a hopeful son, who said he valued his interest in his pious father’s prayer far more than his interest in his estate, though a considerable one.

You will likewise hereby leave your children a good example, which you may hope they will follow when they come into houses of their own. The usage and practice of your families is commonly transmitted from one generation to another; bad customs are many times thus entailed. They who burnt incense to the queen of heaven learnt it of their fathers (Jer 44:17). And a vain conversation was thus ‘received by tradition’ (1 Ptr 1:18). And why may not good customs be in like manner handed down to posterity?

Thus we should make known the ways of God to our children, that they may arise and declare them to their children (Ps 78:6) and religion may become an heirloom in our families. Let your children be able to say, when they are tempted to sit loose to religion, that it was the way of their family, the good old way, in which their fathers walked, and in which they themselves were educated and trained up; and with this they may answer him who reproaches them.

Let family worship, besides all its other pleas for itself, be able in your houses to plead prescription. And though to the acceptableness of the service, it is requisite that it be done from a higher and better principle than purely to keep up the custom of the family, yet better so than not at all: and the form of godliness may by the grace of God at length prove the happy vehicle of its power; and dry bones, whilst unburied, may be made to live. Thus a good man leaves an inheritance to his children; and the generation of the upright shall be blessed.

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