‘The Cotter’s Saturday Night’, by William Kidd, c. 1850
Based on Robert Burns’ poem about family worship (below)
ed. Myers, Andrew – ‘Snapshots of Family Worship’ being three extended quotes from Hughes Oliphant Old on puritan family prayer, a poem by Robert Burns and a quote from a book entitled The Family Altar.
John Knox 1577
‘A most wholesome counsel how to behave ourselves in the midst of this wicked generation, touching on the daily exercise of God’s most holy and sacred word’, a letter, in Selected Writings of John Knox 1577
“[D]ear brethren, if you look for a life to come, of necessity it is that you exercise yourselves in the book of the Lord your God. Let no day slip or want some comfort received from the mouth of God. Open your ears, and He will speak even pleasant things to your heart. Close not your eyes, but diligently let them behold what portion of substance is left to you within your Father’s testament. Let your tongues learn to praise the gracious goodness of him, whose mere mercy has called you from darkness to life.
Neither yet may you do this so quietly that you admit no witness. No, brethren, you are ordained of God to rule your own houses in his true fear, and according to his word. Within your houses, I say, in some cases, you are bishops and kings; your wife, children, servants, and family are your bishopric and charge. Of you it shall be required how carefully and diligently you have instructed them in God’s true knowledge, how you have studied to plant virtue in them, and [to] repress vice. And therefore I say, you must make them partakers in reading, exhorting, and in making common prayers, which I would in every house were used once a day at least. But above all things, dear brethren, study to practice in life that which the Lord commands, and then be you assured that you shall never hear nor read the same without fruit. And this much for the exercises within your homes.”
Oeconomie: or, Household-Government, in Works 3:670
Those families wherein this service of God [family worship] is performed, are (as it were) little churches, yea, even a kind of Paradise upon earth.
An Exposition of Christ’s Sermon on the Mount, in The Works of William Perkins, volume 1, ed. Stephen Yuille, Reformation Heritage Books, 2014, p. 448-9
But masters of families especially must look to the practice of this duty, and labor to bring God’s kingdom into their families. For this end they must see to these things:
First, that there be no manifest or open sin permitted in their families. Rid your house of such a person, if you cannot reform him (Ps. 101:7).
Secondly, instruct your family in the way of the Lord, that they may know to live righteously and uprightly both before God and man
Thirdly, set up and maintain the private worship of God in your family, join you with them in holy duties, especially in daily calling upon the name of God.
In regard of these and such like duties it is that the Scripture ascribes salvation to a family [Luke 19:9], where the master or the governor of the house is converted to the faith. And for the practice hereof, the holy patriarchs are commended to all posterity [Gen. 18:19; 35:2; Josh. 24:15].
Peaceable and Temperate Plea for Paul’s Presbytery in Scotland, 1642, London
Ch. 20, Whether or not the government of the Church of Scotland can be proved by God’s Word to be lawful?
Article 13, Private Worship
The worship of God is commanded by our [Church of Scotalnd] Assemblies to be in private families, as catechizing by the master of the family, or some other better gifted in every family, Deut. 6:6-8; Gen. 18:19; Eph. 6:1,2,3; 2 Tim. 3:15, praying, Zech. 12:10.
Also singing of Psalms is commanded by our Church in families, as Ex. 29:39; Psal. 55:17; Eph. 5:18-20, and house-discipline, as Job 1:3; Deut. 21:18; Ps. 101:7, and private fasting in families, Neh. 1:4; Esth. 4:16; Zech. 12:11.
Nathaniel Holmes 1599–1678
Gospel Music, or the Singing of David’s Psalms, 1644, p. 12
Every well minded family by singing can make themselves a little church. And every church make themselves a little heaven.
The Case for Family Worship, p. xiii
When you thoroughly search into the Scripture grounds and reasons for family worship, you will find them to be as strong and prevalent to establish daily worship as the worship itself. For you may observe that our blessed Savior, giving directions about prayer, prescribed this petition: ‘Give us this day our daily bread.’ Here it is evident that daily bread must be daily asked for. It is not then sufficient that we pray for bread once a month, once a week, or every three or two days, but this must be done every day. And I doubt not but every serious person believes daily grace to be as valuable and necessary as daily bread, and that our souls want supplies as well as our bodies. I am willing to hope that family worship (of which prayer is an essential part) will be sufficiently asserted in the discourse to follow, and, if so by our Savior’s determination, there must be daily family prayer.
John Angier 1605–1677
Help to Better Hearts for Better Times
The more we worship God in secret, the fitter shall we be for family worship, and the more we worship God in our families, the fitter shall we be for public worship.
Those do well that pray morning and evening in their families, those do better that pray and read the scriptures, but those do best that pray and read and sing the psalms.
A Christian Directory, in The Practical Works of Richard Baxter, Vol. 1, p. 427
Family reformation is the easiest and the likely way to a common reformation; at least to send many souls to heaven, and train up multitudes for God, if it reach not to national reformation.
The Christian’s Reasonable Service, Vol. 3, pp. 464-465
First, the time of prayer, considered in a general sense, is every day, every opportunity — always. Specific times of prayer are when we engage in it corporately — be it in public gatherings, in private gatherings, or in our individual family worship which ought to be conducted in every Christian family. This ought to occur both morning and evening, and if the opportunity permits it, also at noon. At this time the father — or if he is absent or unable to do this, the mother — must read a chapter, speak about it, catechize children and servants, sing a psalm together, and bow and offer prayer — all in accordance with the ability the Lord grants each one. Joshua desired to serve the Lord with his house (Josh. 24:15), and Cornelius feared God with all his house (Acts 10:2). One must make of his home a small church, for then the Lord will bless the home. Children and servants will learn to fear the Lord and thus will experience salvation. It will beget mutual love, there will be mutual respect, restraining everyone from sin, and one will exemplify godliness to each other and follow each other in this way. We must make use of all these opportunities, and take them into consideration, both when praying and when following the example of others.
Francis Fontaine (1697-1749) and Peter Fontaine (1691-1759)
The Fontaines were two of the first ministers at the French Huguenot Church at Manakin-towne, Virginia, near Richmond. This excerpt is from a letter cited in Ernest Trice Thompson, Presbyterians in the South, 1607-1861, Vol. 1, p. 16
In the year 1700 great numbers of Huguenots [French reformed Christians] landed in America; some on the James River, and some on the Rappahanock. They selected for their place of residence the Manikin Town… There the Huguenots built a house for the worship of God in the center of the settlement. Here they had worship twice a day on the Sabbath, conducting the service after the manner of the Germans. Such sweet singing [of psalms] I have never heard since. They kept up worship in their families three times a day.
“The Cotter’s Saturday Night”
The cheerfu’ supper done, wi’ serious face,
They, round the ingle, form a circle wide;
The sire turns o’er, with patriarchal grace,
The big ha’bible, ance his father’s pride:
His bonnet rev’rently is laid aside,
His lyart haffets wearing thin and bare;
Those strains that once did sweet in Zion glide,
He wales a portion with judicious care;
And “Let us worship God!” he says with solemn air.
They chant their artless notes in simple guise,
They tune their hearts, by far the noblest aim;
Perhaps Dundee’s wild-warbling measures rise;
Or plaintive Martyrs, worthy of the name;
Or noble Elgin beets the heaven-ward flame;
The sweetest far of Scotia’s holy lays:
Compar’d with these, Italian trills are tame;
The tickl’d ears no heart-felt raptures raise;
Nae unison hae they with our Creator’s praise.
The priest-like father reads the sacred page,
How Abram was the friend of God on high;
Or Moses bade eternal warfare wage
With Amalek’s ungracious progeny;
Or how the royal bard did groaning lie
Beneath the stroke of Heaven’s avenging ire;
Or Job’s pathetic plaint, and wailing cry;
Or rapt Isaiah’s wild, seraphic fire;
Or other holy seers that tune the sacred lyre.
Perhaps the Christian volume is the theme,
How guiltless blood for guilty man was shed;
How He, who bore in Heaven the second name,
Had not on earth whereon to lay His head:
How His first followers and servants sped;
The precepts sage they wrote to many a land:
How he, who lone in Patmos banished,
Saw in the sun a mighty angel stand,
And heard great Bab’lon’s doom pronounc’d by Heaven’s command.
Then, kneeling down to Heaven’s Eternal King,
The saint, the father, and the husband prays:
Hope “springs exulting on triumphant wing,”^1
That thus they all shall meet in future days,
There, ever bask in uncreated rays,
No more to sigh, or shed the bitter tear,
Together hymning their Creator’s praise,
In such society, yet still more dear;
While circling Time moves round in an eternal sphere
“A Pastoral Visit”, p. 362-363
If we want to bring up a godly family, who shall be a seed to serve God when are heads are under the clods of the valley, let us seek to train them up in the fear of God by meeting together as a family for worship
We deeply want a revival of domestic religion. The Christian family was the bulwark of godliness in the days of the puritans, but in these evil times hundreds of families of so-called Christians have no family worship, no restraint upon growing sons, and no wholesome instruction or discipline. How can we hope to see the kingdom of our Lord advance when His own disciples do not teach His gospel to their own children?
Oh, Christian men and women, be thorough in what you do and know and teach! Let your families be trained in the fear of God and be yourselves ‘holiness unto the Lord’; so shall you stand like a rock amid the surging waves of error and ungodliness which rage around us.
from Ernest Trice Thompson, Presbyterians in the South, 1607-1861, Vol. 1, p. 37, cited in Kerry Ptacek, Family Worship: Biblical Basis, Historical Reality, Current Need, p. 57
Their custom of family worship also kept the faith alive. Children learned the catechism from their elders and the church officers examined them frequently on it. Before each hearth where there was reverence for the forms of the Scottish church the whole family read the Bible aloud every day and repeated the Shorter Catechism.
Abraham Van De Velde
The Wonders of the Most High: A 125 Year History of the United Netherlands 1550-1675
All parents, fathers, mothers, must take care that they are a good example to their children and families, that they express God’s holy truth in their lives. Godly examples are like the soul of the doctrine to children. Are parents desirous for their children to be religious, love God’s Word, pray much to the Lord, be humble, sober, friendly, modest, righteous; let the parents be a good example, for therewith God’s truth will be pressed into their hearts. ‘For’, says Plutarchus, ‘the life of the parents is like a mirror, and by its light the children will refrain from evil.’ Plutarch. de liber. educat.
A particular powerful method to gain this end is that family devotions are well taken care of in the home, as reading of God’s Word, fervent prayers, singing of psalms, necessary reprimands, teaching of the catechism, and summarizing sermons. We must take care that our families are little Churches, like those of Priscilla and Aquila, of Cornelius and others, Rom. 16: 5; Acts 10. For by continuous exercise the hearts of the members are influenced to love and obey the Word of the Lord.