Teaching Children the Word of God
By C. H. Mackintosh
[taken from Notes on Deuteronomy, Chapter 4]
"And ye shall teach them your children, speaking of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, when thou liest down, and when thou risest up. And thou shalt write them upon the door-posts of thine house, and upon thy gates" (Deut. 11:19-20). Do we, Christians, enter into such words as these? Has the Word of God such a place in our hearts, in our homes, and in our habits? Do those who enter our houses, or come in contact with us in daily life, see that the Word of God is paramount with us? Do those with whom we do business see that we are governed by the precepts of holy Scripture? Do our servants and our children see that we live in the very atmosphere of Scripture, and that our whole character is formed and our conduct governed by it?
These are searching questions for our hearts, beloved Christian reader. Let us not put them away from us. We may rest assured there is no more correct indicator of our moral and spiritual condition than that afforded by our treatment of the Word of God. If we do not love it—love to study it—thirst after it—delight in it—long for the quiet hour in the which we can hang over its sacred page and drink in its most precious
teaching—meditate upon it, in the closet, in the family, in the street; in short, if we do not breathe its holy atmosphere—if we could ever give utterance to such a sentiment as that given above, that "we cannot be always reading the Bible," then, verily, we have urgent need to look well to our spiritual state, for we are sadly out of health. The new nature loves the Word of God—earnestly desires it, as we read in 1 Peter 2:2, "As new-born babes, desire the sincere milk of the Word, that ye may grow thereby."
This is the true idea. If the sincere milk of the Word be not sought after, diligently used and eagerly fed upon, we must be in a low, unhealthy, dangerous condition of soul. There may not be any thing outwardly wrong in our conduct, we may not be publicly dishonoring the Lord in our ways, but we are grieving His loving heart by our gross neglect of His Word, which is but another term for the neglect of Himself. It is the very height of folly to talk of loving Christ if we do not love and live upon His Word. It is a delusion to imagine that the new life can be in a healthy, prosperous condition where the Word of God is habitually neglected in the closet and the family.
We feel that this entire subject demands the most serious consideration of all God’s people, and we trust that the Spirit of God may use our meditation on the chapter before us to stir up our hearts and consciences in reference to what is due to the Word of God, both in our hearts and in our houses.
No doubt, if it has its right place in the heart, it will have its right place also in the house; but if there be no acknowledgment of the Word of God in the bosom of the family, it is hard to believe that it has its right place
in the heart. Heads of houses should ponder this matter seriously. We are most fully persuaded that there ought to be, in every Christian household, a daily acknowledgment of God and His Word. Some may perhaps look upon it as bondage, as legality, as religious routine, to have regular family worship. We would ask such objectors, Is it bondage for the family to assemble at meals? Are the family reunions around the social board ever regarded as a wearisome duty—a piece of dull routine? Certainly not, if the family be a well-ordered and happy one. Why, then, should it be regarded as a burdensome thing for the head of a Christian household to gather his children and his servants around him and read a few verses of the precious Word of God, and breathe a few words of prayer before the throne of grace? We believe it to be a habit in perfect accordance with the teaching of both the Old and the New Testaments—a habit grateful to the heart of God—a holy, blessed, edifying habit.
What should we think of a professing Christian who never prayed, never read the Word of God, in private? Could we possibly regard him as a happy, healthy, true Christian? Assuredly not. Indeed we should seriously question the existence of divine life in such a soul. Prayer and the Word of God are absolutely essential to healthy, vigorous Christian life; so that a man who habitually neglects these must be in an utterly dead state.
Now, if it be thus in reference to an individual, how can a family be regarded as in a right state where there is no family reading, no family prayer, no family acknowledgment of God or His Word? Can we conceive a God-fearing household going on from Lord’s day morning to Saturday night without any collective recognition of the One to whom they owe every thing? Day after day rolls on, domestic duties are attended to, the family assembles regularly at meals, but there is no thought of summoning the household around the Word of God, or around the mercy-seat. We ask, Where is the difference between such a family and any poor heathen household? Is it not most sad—most deplorable to find those who make the very highest profession, and who take their places at the Lord’s table, yet living in the gross neglect of family reading— family worship?
Are you the head of a household? If so, what are your thoughts on the subject? and what is your line of action? Have you family reading and family prayer, daily in your house? If not (bear with us when we ask you), why not? Search and see what is the real root of the matter. Has your heart declined from God, from His Word and His ways? Do you read and pray in private? Do you love the Word and prayer? Do you find delight in them? If so, how is it you neglect them in your household? Perhaps you seek to excuse yourself on the ground of nervousness and timidity; if so, look to the Lord to enable you to overcome the weakness. Just cast yourself on His unfailing grace, and gather your household around you at a certain hour each day, read a few verses of Scripture and breathe half a dozen words of prayer; or, if you cannot do this at first, just let the family kneel for a few moments in silence before the throne.
Anything, in short, like a family acknowledgment, a family testimony: any thing but a godless, careless, prayerless life in your household. So, dear friend, suffer the word of exhortation in this matter. Let us entreat you to begin at once, looking to God to help you, as He most assuredly will, for He never fails a really trusting, dependent heart. Do not any longer go on neglecting God and His Word in your family circle. It is really terrible. Let no arguments about bondage, legality, or formalism weigh with you for a moment. We almost feel disposed to exclaim, Blessed bondage! If indeed it be bondage to read the Word, we cordially welcome it, and fearlessly glory in it.
But, no; we cannot for a moment regard it in any such light. We believe it to be a most delightful privilege for every one whom God has set at the head of a household to gather all the members of that household around him and read a portion of the blessed book, and pour out his heart in prayer to God. We believe it is specially the duty of the head so to do. It is by no means necessary to make it a long, wearisome service. As a rule, both in our houses and in our public assemblies, short, fresh, fervent exercises are by far the most edifying.
But this, of course, is an open question, as to which we merely give our judgment, which must go for what it is worth. The length and character of the service must, in every case, be left to the person who conducts it. But we do most earnestly trust that if these lines should be scanned by any one who is the head of a household, and if he has hitherto neglected the holy privilege of family worship—family reading, he will, henceforth, do so no more. May he be enabled to say, with Joshua, "Let others do as they will, as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord."
It is not, surely, that we would lead any to imagine that the mere act of family reading takes in all that is comprehended in that weighty sentence, "We will serve the Lord." Far from it. That blessed service takes in every thing belonging to our private and domestic history: it takes in the most minute details of practical daily life. All this is most true and invaluable. But we are most thoroughly persuaded that nothing can go right in any household in which family reading and family prayer are habitually neglected.
It may be said that there are many families who seem very particular about their morning and evening reading and prayer, and yet their whole domestic history, from morning till night, is a flagrant contradiction of their so-called religious service. It may be that the head of the house, instead of shedding sunlight upon the family circle, is morose in his temper, rude and coarse in his manners, rough and contradictory to his wife, arbitrary and severe to his children, unreasonable and exacting to his servants, finding fault with what is laid on the table, after having asked God’s blessing upon it; and, in short, in every way giving the lie to his reading and his prayer in the family. So also as to the wife and the mother, and the children and the servants. The whole domestic economy is out of order. There is disorder and confusion; meals are unpunctual; there is a want of kindly consideration one of another; the children are rude, selfish, and willful; the servants are thoughtless, wasteful, and disobedient, if not much worse; the tone, atmosphere, and style of the entire establishment are unchristian, ungodly, utterly unbecoming.
And then, when you travel outside the domestic circle, and mark the conduct of the heads and members of the family toward those outside—mark their business, if they be in business, hear the testimony of those who deal with them, as to the quality of their goods, the style and character of their work; the spirit and temper in which they carry on their business; such grasping and griping, such covetousness, such commercial trickery; nothing of God, nothing of Christ, nothing to distinguish them from the most thorough worldlings around; yea, the conduct of those very worldlings, of those who would never think of such a thing as family worship, would put them to shame.
Under such painful and humiliating circumstances, what of the family worship—the family reading—the family altar? Alas! it is an empty formality—a powerless, worthless, unseemly proceeding; in place of being a morning and evening sacrifice, it is a morning and evening lie—a solemn mockery—an insult to God.
All this is sadly true. There is a terrible lack of household testimony—of common, practical righteousness in our families and in the entire economy of our houses. There is but little of the white raiment—the fine linen, which is the righteousness of saints. We seem to forget those weighty words of the inspired apostle in Romans 14: "The kingdom of God is not meat and drink; but righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost." Some of us seem to think that whenever we meet with the word "righteousness," it must needs mean the righteousness of God in which we stand, or righteousness imputed to us. This is a very great mistake indeed. We must remember there is a practical and human side of this question; there is the subjective as well as the objective—the walk as well as the standing—the condition as well as the position.
These things must never be separated. It is of little use to set up or seek to maintain a family altar amid the ruins of family testimony. It is nothing short of a hideous caricature to begin and end with so-called family worship a day characterized throughout by ungodliness and unrighteousness, levity, folly, and vanity. Can aught be more unsightly or more miserably inconsistent than an evening spent in song-singing, charades, and other light games, closed up with a contemptible bit of religion in the shape of reading and prayer?
All this line of things is most deplorable. It ought not to be found in connection with the holy name of Christ, with His assembly, or the holy exercises of His table. We must measure every thing in our private life, in our domestic economy, in our daily history, in all our intercourse, and in all our business transactions, with that one standard, namely, the glory of Christ. Our one grand question, in reference to every thing that comes before us or solicits our attention, must be, Is this worthy of the holy name which is called upon me? If not, let us not touch it; yea, let us turn our back upon it with stern decision, and flee from it with holy energy. Let us not listen for a moment to the contemptible question, "What harm is there in it?" Nothing but harm if Christ be not in it. No truly devoted heart would ever entertain, much less put, such a question. Whenever you hear any one speaking thus, you may at once conclude that Christ is not the governing object of the heart.
We trust the reader is not weary of all this homely, practical truth. We believe it is loudly called for in this day of high profession. We have all of us much need to consider our ways, to look well to the real state of our hearts as to Christ; for here lies the true secret of the whole matter. If the heart be not true to Him, nothing can be right— nothing in the private life, nothing in the family, nothing in the business, nothing in the assembly, nothing any where; but if the heart be true to Him, all will be—must be right.
No marvel, therefore, if the blessed apostle, when he reaches the close of that wonderful Epistle to the Corinthians, sums all up with this solemn declaration: "If any man love not the Lord Jesus Christ, let him be Anathema Maranatha." In the course of his letter, he deals with various forms of doctrinal error and moral depravity; but when he comes to the close, instead of pronouncing his solemn sentence upon any particular error or evil, he hurls it with holy indignation against any one, no matter who or what, who does not love the Lord Jesus Christ. Love to Christ is the grand safeguard against every form of error and evil. A heart filled with Christ has no room for aught beside; but if there be no love to Him, there is no security against the wildest error or the worst form of moral evil.