The Family Alter - 2
For convenience and simplicity we shall group our thoughts under three main headings.
First we shall think of The Biblical Authority and Background for this practice. Of the very much that might be said in this connection, we shall here present only a few brief tokens, but even these will be more than adequate to show that this simple practice of "Family Prayers" is most certainly supported by the Word of God.
Beginning in the New Testament, we notice that Christian parents are expressly enjoined to bring up their children "in the nurture and admonition of the Lord" (Eph.6: 4). This, of course, embraces many matters, but including, we would say, this matter of a daily occasion for family prayer together. The root idea in the verse is that the Christian home is intended to function as the child's first happy "school" in the realm of spiritual things. If this is so, what better occasion could possibly present itself than this daily meeting with the Lord at the "Family Altar"? Here, most certainly, we can do much to bring up our children "in the nurture and admonition of the Lord", and we can count on the Lord's wonderful presence with us at those times.
We are told, for instance, that, "from a child", Paul's beloved Timothy had "known the holy scriptures" which were able to make him "wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus" (2Tim.3: 15). We learn that he was Blessed, too, by having a mother called Eunice who had "unfeigned faith", and his grandmother Lois was just the same (2 Tim.1: 5). No one will question, then, that it was in that homely domestic setting that the boy himself had come to know those Holy Scriptures, and had been made wise unto salvation through faith in Christ. The faith had come by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God (Rom.10: 17). We are not expressly informed of the details, but we can well imagine how, in that home at Lystra, the children were regularly assembled, and the Word of God was opened to them by parents and grandparents who had already proved for themselves the power of its saving message. Little did they imagine, at that time, how the captivated boy before them was destined to become the chosen associate and companion of the great Apostle Paul! Day by day, and little by little, the Word of God was
finding entrance into the heart of the attentive child, and creating, as it always does, a beautiful "faith unfeigned". No doubt Lois and Eunice had their difficulties in arranging these occasions, for evidently there were particular complications in the home (Acts 16:1), but, by their "unfeigned faith", they pressed through these difficulties, and blessing followed. In answer to their prayers, the occasions WERE made possible, and in the end they had this great reward.
Reverting now to the Old Testament, it is very noticeable that, again and again, the Israelites were expressly commanded to be specially diligent in teaching the Word of God to their children (Deut.4: 9,1 0). A few chapters further on the instructions are repeated, and further details added: " And these words, which I command thee this day, shall be in thine heart: And thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest in the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up" (Deut. 6:6-7). Surely, in these verses, we have strong warrant and support for our present practice of Christian Family Prayers! "These words shall be in thine heart, and thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children...when thou liest down and when thou risest up".
As if this were not enough, the great divine demand echoes out again, just a few pages further on, and in terms, this time, which will surely move our hearts to action. Almost word for word, the Spirit repeats the call to lay up God's words in our hearts and in our souls, and to teach them to our children, when we are seated in our homes, when we lie down, and when we rise up. Then are added the wonderful words: "That your days may be multiplied, and the days of your children, in the land which the Lord swore unto your fathers to give them, as the days of heaven upon the earth" (Deut.11: 21).
What could be more inviting and alluring? Days of heaven upon the earth; days in the land which He swore unto our fathers to give us! This is what we may know if we will lay up God's Word in our hearts, and if we will teach it to our children.
And let us remember that, in this dispensation, we do not have to think of an earthly and material land, which the Lord has given us! We, thank God, are privileged to live in the days of the vastly greater spiritual antitype! To us "the land" is that Great Rich "Fulness of Christ" in which the grace of God has set us! (1 Cor.1: 30; Eph.1: 3). If then, we will lay up God's Word in our hearts, AND TEACH IT TO OUR CHILDREN, our days shall be multiplied in That Land, and so shall the days of our children! We shall find ourselves eating and drinking continually into that great All -sufficiency of our Living and Exalted Lord, for, what He is in glory, He is for us, and we shall find ourselves declaring exultingly with Paul, "I can do all things THROUGH Christ which strengthened me" (Phil.4: 13).
O that Christian parents, in our day, might really dwell in this Great Land of CHRIST! And O that our children, too, might come into that Same Land, and live long in it! We may be sure that, if they were truly enjoying the Greatness and All - sufficiency of Christ, the subtle appeals of Egypt and "the wilderness" would cease to captivate them. Rather would they say with their parents and with the ancient prophet, "...What have I to do any more with idols? I have heard him, and observed him" (Hos.14:8).
But we must not digress. We are simply noting that all these blessings, physical and spiritual, are the fruits of laying up God's Word in our hearts and souls, and teaching it to our children.
How wonderful if God could say of parents now-a-days what He said of Abraham; "...1 know him, that he will command his children and his household after him, and they shall keep the way of the Lord...that the Lord may bring upon Abraham that which he hath spoken of him" (Gen.18: 19).
What a commendation that was of the ancient patriarch! God was confident that he, at least, would teach his children after him. O that He might be able to have the selfsame confidence in those who are the heads of Christian families today! And to such, the daily "Family Altar" would be the suitable and prized occasion.
Before we close this section we would like, perhaps, to go a little deeper, and mention a matter, which is of
tremendous significance in this connection.
We refer to the place given to the Christian Home in the Epistle to the Ephesians. As we scan that Epistle as a whole, we see that all those precious doctrines of the "Church", presented in the first three chapters, are made to focus down immediately, and very strongly, on the Christian Home. Twenty-one verses are given to this subject, and, in effect, the Apostle is pleading earnestly for the establishing of families and households, which will, in their very constitution and behavior, worthily express the exalted truths, which he has earlier set forth. This is most impressive. There is no mention, just here, of local churches, nor of elders or deacons, nor of the problems of the local work! Even the passage in chapter four regarding the various gifts distributed by the ascended Lord upon His members, envisages, for the time, the universal Church, and the universal work..."until we ALL come to a Perfect Man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ!"
Why this silence, then, for the time, regarding local churches, and why this emphasis instead upon the Christian Home? The answer, surely, is very obvious. The Holy Spirit is carefully showing that the Christian Home is intended by God to be the first collective outworking of redemption. Here, in the homely family circle, God plans to have His initial glorious expression of "the Church". Here, first of all, shall "the Mystery" be seen. That is what God always works for, and that, incidentally, is why He said to the Philippian Jailor, "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved AND THY HOUSE".
Needless to say, the local church becomes, in turn, the fuller sphere of testimony, for it is the happy aggregate of all such homes, but, on that matter, even Ephesians; for the time, is silent. It all starts in the HOME! The rest will surely follow!
In practical terms, it means that, in regular family affairs, first of all, Christ is to have the preeminence; there, in the family circle, He is to be known as Lord; there, in everything, His will is to be consulted and His directions followed. There, beneath that roof, His Name is to be worshipped and His glory praised. There, in everyday affairs, the Great Ascended Lord of Glory is to be our All in All. In such a situation will be found the first clear focus of the Eternal Mystery.
It may appear that we have deviated somewhat from the simpler matter of our subject, the daily practice of Christian Family Prayers, but to those who have eyes to see, the connection will be very obvious. God wants His testimony established in our homes, and, while this has its bearing on numerous far-reaching issues, we ask, "What could be more conducive to this great end and purpose than this daily gathering of the family to the Word of God and to the ministry of prayer?" This, surely, would be altogether foundational to the testimony in view