The Great Duty of Family Religion
AUTHOR: Whitefield, George
PUBLISHED ON: April 3, 2003

George Whitefield        Sermon 4

The Great Duty of Family Religion

Joshua 24:15  “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.
Word Count: 5,118

    These words contain the holy resolution of pious Joshua, who
having in
a most moving, affectionate discourse recounted to the Israelites what
great things God had done for them, in the verse immediately preceding
text, comes to draw a proper inference from what he had been
and acquaints them, in the most pressing terms, that since God had
been so
exceeding gracious unto them, they could do not less, than out of
for such uncommon favors and mercies, dedicate both themselves and
to his service. “Now therefore, fear the Lord, and serve him in
and truth, and put away the Gods which your fathers served on the
side of the flood.” And by the same engaging motive does the prophet
afterwards enforce their obedience to the commandments of God, 1 Sam.
12:24, “Only fear the Lord, and serve him in truth, with all your
for consider how great things he hath done for you.” But then, that
might not excuse themselves (as too many might be apt to do) by his
them a bad example, or think he was laying heavy burdens upon them,
he himself touched them not with one of his fingers, he tells them in
text, that whatever regard they might pay to the doctrine he had been
preaching, yet he (as all ministers ought to do) was resolved to live
up to
and practice it himself: “Choose you therefore, whom you will serve,
whether the Gods which your fathers served, or the Gods of the
Amorites, in
whose land ye dwell: but as for me and my house, we will serve the
    A resolution this, worthy of Joshua, and no less becoming, no
necessary for every true son of Joshua, that is entrusted with the
care and
government of a family in our day: and, if it was ever seasonable for
ministers to preach up, or people to put in practice family-religion,
was never more so than in the present age; since it is greatly to be
feared, that out of those many households that call themselves
there are but few that serve God in their respective families as they
    It is true indeed, visit our churches, and you may perhaps see
something of the form of godliness still subsisting amongst us; but
that is scarcely to be met with in private houses. So that were the
angels to come, as in the patriarchal age, and observe our spiritual
oeconomy [meaning not in dictionary, but oecumenical=ecumenical, so
oeconomy may be same as economy] at home, would they not be tempted to
as Abraham to Abimilech, “Surely, the fear of God is not in this
Gen. 20:11.
    How such a general neglect of family-religion first began to
overspread the Christian world, is difficult to determine. As for the
primitive Christians, I am positive it was not so with them: No, they
not so learned Christ, as falsely to imagine religion was to be
solely to their assemblies for public worship; but, on the contrary,
behaved with such piety and exemplary holiness in their private
that St. Paul often styles their house a church: “Salute such a one,
he, and the church which is in his house.” And, I believe, we must for
despair of seeing a primitive spirit of piety revived in the world,
till we
are so happy as to see a revival of primitive family religion; and
unanimously resolving with good old Joshua, in the words of the text,
for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”
    From which words, I shall beg leave to insist on these three

    I. First, That it is the duty of every governor of a family to
care, that not only he himself, but also that those committed to his
charge, “serve the Lord.”

    II. Secondly, I shall endeavor to show after what manner a
and his household ought to serve the Lord.  And,

    III. Thirdly, I shall offer some motives, in order to excite all

governors, with their respective households, to serve the Lord in the
manner that shall be recommended.

    And First, I am to show that it is the duty of every governor of
family to take care, that not only he himself, but also that those
committed to his charge, should serve the Lord.

    And this will appear, if we consider that every governor of a
ought to look upon himself as obliged to act in three capacities as a
prophet, to instruct: as a priest, to pray for and with; as a king, to
govern, direct, and provide for them. It is true indeed, the latter of
these, their kingly office, they are not so frequently deficient in,
in this they are generally too solicitous) but as for the two former,
priestly and prophetic office, like Gallio, they care for no such
But however indifferent some governors may be about it, they may be
assured, that God will require a due discharge of these offices at
hands. For if, as the apostle argues, “He that does not provide for
his own
house,” in temporal things, has denied the faith, and is worse than an
infidel;” to what greater degree of apostasy must he have arrived, who
takes no thought to provide for the spiritual welfare of his family!
    But farther, persons are generally very liberal of their
against the clergy, and think they justly blame the conduct of that
minister who does not take heed to and watch over the flock, of which
Holy Ghost has made him overseer: but may not every governor of a
be in a lower degree liable to the same censure, who takes no thought
those souls that are committed too his charge? For every house is as
were a little parish, every governor (as was before observed) a
every family a flock; and if any of them perish through the governor’s
neglect, their blood will God require at their hands.
    Was a minister to disregard teaching his people publicly, and
house to house, and to excuse himself by saying, that he had enough to
to work out his own salvation with fear and trembling, without
himself with that of others; would you not be apt to think such a
to be like the unjust judge, “One that neither feared God, nor
man?” And yet, odious as such a character would be, it is no worse
that governor of a family deserves, who thinks himself obliged only to
his own soul, without paying any regard to the souls of his household.
(as was above hinted) every house is as it were a parish, and every
is concerned to secure, as much as in him lies, the spiritual
prosperity of
every one under his rood, as any minister whatever is obliged to look
the spiritual welfare of every individual person under his charge.
    What precedents men who neglect their duty in this particular,
plead for such omission, I cannot tell. Doubtless not the example of
Job, who was so far from imagining that he had no concern, as governor
of a
family, with any one’s soul but his own, that the scripture acquaints
“When the days of his children’s feasting were gone about, that Job
and sanctified them, and offered burnt-offerings, according to the
of them all; for Job said, It may be that my sons have sinned and
God in their hearts: thus did Job continually.” Nor can they plead the
practice of good old Joshua, whom, in the text, we find as much
for his household’s welfare, as his own. Nor lastly, that of
Cornelius, who
feared God, not only himself, but with all his house: and were
but of the same spirit of Job, Joshua, and the Gentile centurion, they
would act as Job, Joshua, and Cornelius did.
    But alas! If this be the case, and all governors of families
ought not
only to serve the Lord themselves, but likewise to see that their
respective households do so too; what will then become of those who
only neglect serving God themselves, but also make it their business
ridicule and scoff at any of their house that do? Who are not content
“not entering into the kingdom of heaven themselves; but shoe also
that are
willing to enter in, they hinder.” Surely such men are factors for the
devil indeed. Surely their damnation slumbereth not: for although God,
in his good providence, may suffer such stumbling-blocks to be put in
children’s way, and suffer their greatest enemies to be those of their
households, for a trial of their sincerity, and improvement of their

yet we cannot but pronounce a woe against those masters by whom such

offenses come. For if those that only take care of their own souls,
scarcely be saved, where will such monstrous profane and wicked
    But hoping there are but few of this unhappy stamp, proceed we
now to

    Second thing proposed: To show after what manner a governor and
household ought to serve the Lord.

    1. And the first thing I shall mention, is READING THE WORD OF
This is a duty incumbent on every private person. “Search the
for in them ye think ye have eternal life,” is a precept given by our
blessed Lord indifferently to all: but much more so, ought every
of a family to think it in a peculiar manner spoken to himself,
because (as
hath been already proved) he ought to look upon himself as a prophet,
therefore agreeably to such a character, bound to instruct those under
charge in the knowledge of the word of God.
    This we find was the order God gave to his peculiar people
Israel: for
thus speaks his representative Moses, Deut. 6:6-7, “These words,” that
the scripture words, “which I command thee this day, shall be in thy
and thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children,” that is, as
it is
generally explained, servants, as well as children, “and shalt talk of
when thou sittest in thy house.” From whence we may infer, that the
reason, why so many neglect to read the words of scripture diligently
their children is, because the words of scripture are not in their
for if they were, out of the abundance of the heart their mouth would
    Besides, servants as well as children, are, for the generality,
ignorant, and mere novices in the laws of God: and how shall they
unless some one teach them? And what more proper to teach them by,
than the
lively oracles of God, “which are able to make them wise unto
And who more proper to instruct them by these lively oracles, than
and masters, who (as hath been more than once observed) are as much
concerned to feed them with spiritual, as with bodily bread, day by
    But if these things be so, what a miserable condition are those
unhappy governors in, who are so far from feeding those committed to
care with the sincere milk of the word, to the intent they may grow
thereby, that they neither search the scriptures themselves, nor are
careful to explain them to others? Such families must be in a happy
indeed to do their Master’s will, who take such prodigious pains to
it! Would not one imagine that they had turned converts to the Church
Rome, that they thought ignorance to be the mother of devotion; and
those were to be condemned as heretics who read their Bibles? And yet
few families are there amongst us, who do not act after this unseemly
manner! But shall I praise them in this? I praise them not; Brethren,
thing ought not so to be.
    2. Pass we on now to the second means whereby every governor and
household ought to serve the Lord, FAMILY-PRAYER.
    This is a duty, though as much neglected, yet as absolutely
as the former. Reading is a good preparative for prayer, as prayer is
excellent means to render reading effectual. And the reason why every
governor of a family should join both these exercises together, is
because a governor of a family cannot perform his priestly office
(which we
before observed hs is in some degree invested with) without performing
duty of family prayer.
    We find it therefore remarked, when mention is made of Can and
offering sacrifices, that they brought them. But to whom did they
them? Why, in all probability, to their father Adam, who, as priest of
family, was to offer sacrifice in their names. And so ought every
son of the second Adam, who is entrusted with the care of an
household, to
offer up the spiritual sacrifices of supplications and thanksgivings,
acceptable to God through Jesus Christ, in the presence and name of
all who
wait upon, or eat meat at his table.
    Thus we read our blessed Lord behaved, when he tabernacled
amongst us:
for it is said often, that he prayed with his twelve disciples, which

then his little family. And he himself has promised a particular

to joint supplications: “Wheresoever two or three are gathered
together in
my name, there am I in the midst of them.” And again, “If two or three
agreed touching any thing they shall ask, it shall be given them.” Add
this, that we are commanded by the Apostle to “pray always, with all
of supplication,” which doubtless includes family prayer. And holy
when he set up the good resolution in the text, that he and his
would serve the Lord, certainly resolved to pray with his family,
which is
one of the best testimonies they could give of their serving him.
    Besides, there are no families but what have some common
blessings, of
which they have been all partakers, to give thanks for; some common
and afflictions, which they are to pray against; some common sins,
they are all to lament and bewail: but how this can be done, without
joining together in one common act of humiliation, supplication, and
thanksgiving, is difficult to devise.
    From all which considerations put together, it is evident, that
prayer is a great and necessary duty; and consequently, those
that neglect it, are certainly without excuse. And it is much to be
if they live without family prayer, they live without God in the
    And yet, such an hateful character as this is, it is to be
that was God to send out an angel to destroy us, as he did once to
the Egyptian first-born, and withal give him a commission, as then, to
spare no houses but where they saw the blood of the lintel, sprinkled
the door-post, so now, to let no families escape, but those that
upon him in morning and evening prayer; few would remain unhurt by his
avenging sword. Shall I term such families Christians or heathens?
Doubtless they deserve not the name of Christians; and heathens will
up in judgment against such profane families of this generation: for
had always their household gods, whom they worshipped and whose
they frequently invoked. And a pretty pass those families surely are
arrived at, who must be sent to school to pagans. But will not the
Lord be
avenged on such profane households as these? Will he not pour out his
upon those that call not upon his name?
    3. But it is time for me to hasten to the third and last means I
recommend, whereby every governor ought with his household to serve
Lord, CATECHIZING AND INSTRUCTING their children and servants, and
them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.
    That this, as well as the two former, is a duty incumbent on
governor of an house, appears from that famous encomium or
commendation God
gives of Abraham: “I know that he will command his children and his
household after him, to keep the way of the Lord, to do justice and
judgment.” And indeed scarce any thing is more frequently pressed upon
in holy writ, than this duty of catechizing. Thus, says God in a
before cited, “Thou shalt teach these words diligently unto thy
And parents are commanded in the New Testament, to “bring up their
in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.” The holy Psalmist
acquaints us,
that one great end why God did such great wonders for his people, was,
the intent that when they grew up, they should show their children, or
servants, the same.” And in Deut. 6 at the 20th and following verses,
strictly commands his people to instruct their children in the true
of the ceremonial worship, when they should inquire about it, as he
supposed they would do, in time to come. And  if servants and children
to be instructed in the nature of Jewish rites, much more ought they
now to
be initiated and grounded in the doctrines and first principles of the
gospel of Christ: not only, because it is a revelation, which has
life and immortality to a fuller and clearer light, but also, because
seducers are gone abroad into the world, who do their utmost endeavor
destroy not only the superstructure, but likewise to sap the very
foundation of our most holy religion.
    Would then the present generation have their posterity be true
and honorers of God; masters and parents must take Solomon’s good
and train up and catechize their respective households in the way
they should go.
    I am aware but of one objection, that can, with any show of
reason, be
urged against what has been advanced; which is, that such a procedure
this will take up too much time, and hinder families too long from

worldly business. But it is much to be questioned, whether persons

start such an abjection, are not of the same hypocritical spirit as
traitor Judas, who had indignation against devout Mary, for being so
profuse of her ointment, in anointing our blessed Lord, and asked why
might not be sold for two hundred pence, and given to the poor. For
has God
given us so much time to work for ourselves, and shall we not allow
small pittance of it, morning and evening, to be devoted to his more
immediate worship and service? Have not people read, that it is God
gives men power to get wealth, and therefore that the best way to
in the world, is to secure his favor? And has not our blessed Lord
promised, that if we seek first the kingdom of God and his
all outward necessaries shall be added unto us?
    Abraham, no doubt, was a man of as great business as such
may be; but yet he would find time to command his household to serve
Lord. Nay, David was a king, and consequently had a great deal of
upon his hands; yet notwithstanding, he professes that he would walk
in his
house with a perfect heart. And, to instance but one more, holy Joshua
a person certainly engaged very much in temporal affairs; and yet he
solemnly declares before all Israel, that as for him and his
they would serve the Lord. And did persons but redeem their time, as
Abraham, David, or Joshua did, they would no longer complain, that
duties kept them too long from the business of the world.
    III. But my Third and Last general head, under which I was to
some motives, in order to excite all governors, with their respective
households, to serve the Lord in the manner before recommended, I
will serve instead of a thousand arguments, to prove the weakness and
of any such objection.
    1. And the first motive I shall mention is the duty of GRATITUDE,
which you that are governors of families owe to God. Your lot, every
must confess, is cast in a fair ground: providence hath given you a
heritage, above many of your fellow-creatures, and therefore, bout of
principle of gratitude, you ought to endeavor, as much as in you lies,
make every person of your respective households to call upon him as
long as
they live: not to mention, that the authority, with  which God has
you as parents and governors of families, is a talent committed to
trust, and which you are bound to improve to your Master’s honor. In
things we find governors and parents can exercise lordship over their
children and servants readily, and frequently enough can say to one,
and he goeth; and to another, Come, and he cometh; to a third, Do
this, and
he doeth it. And shall this power be so often employed in your own
and never exerted in the things of God? Be astonished, O heavens, at
    Thus did not faithful Abraham; no, God says, that he knew Abraham
would command his servants and children after him. Thus did not
Joshua: no,
he was resolved not only to walk with God himself, but to improve his
authority in making all about him do so too: “As for me and my
we will serve the Lord.” Let us go and do likewise.
    2. But Secondly, If gratitude to God will not, methinks LOVE AND
TO YOUR CHILDREN should move you, with your respective families, to
the Lord.
    Most people express a great fondness for their children: nay so
that very often their own lives are wrapped up in those of their
“Can a woman forget her sucking child, that she should not have
on the son of her womb?” says God by his Prophet Isaiah. He speaks of
it as
a monstrous thing, and scarce credible; but the words immediately
following, affirm it to be possible, “Yes, they may forget” and
also assures us they may. Father and mother may both forsake their
children: for what greater degree of forgetfulness can they express
them, than to neglect the improvement of their better part, and not
them up in the knowledge and fear of God?
    It is true indeed, parents seldom forget to provide for their
children’s bodies, (though, it is to be feared, some men are so far
beneath the beasts that perish, as to neglect even that) but then how
do they forget, or rather, when do they remember, to secure the
of their immortal souls? But is this their way of expressing their
for the fruit of their bodies? Is this the best testimony they can
give of
their affection to the darling of their hearts? Then was Delilah fond

Samson, when she delivered him up into the hands of the Philistines?

were those ruffians well affected to Daniel, when they threw him into
a den
of lions?
    3. But Thirdly, If neither gratitude to God, nor love and pity to
children, will prevail on you; yet let a principle of COMMON HONESTY
JUSTICE move you to set up the holy resolution in the text.
    This is a principle which all men would be thought to act upon.
certainly, if any may be truly censured for their injustice, none can
more liable to such censure, than those who think themselves injured
their servants withdraw themselves from their bodily work, and yet
they in
return take no care of their inestimable souls. For is it just that
servants should spend their time and strength in their master’s
and masters not at the same time give them what is just and equal for
    It is true, some men may think they have done enough when they
unto their servants food and raiment, and say, “Did not I bargain with
for so much a year?” But if they give them no other reward than this,
do they less for their very beasts? But are not servants better than
Doubtless they are: and however masters may put off their convictions
the present, they will find a time will come, when they shall know
ought to have given them some spiritual as well as temporal wages; and
cry of those that have mowed down their fields, will enter into the
ears of
the Lord of Sabaoth.
    4. But Fourthly, If neither gratitude to God, pity to children,
nor a
principle for common justice to servants, are sufficient to balance
objections; yet let that darling, that prevailing motive of
turn the scale, and engage you with your respective households to
serve the
    This weighs greatly with you in other matters: be then persuaded
let it have a due and full influence on you in this: and if it has, if
have but faith as a grain of mustard-seed, how can you avoid
that promoting family-religion, will be the best means to promote your
temporal, as well as eternal welfare? For “Godliness has the promise
of the
life that now is, as well as that which is to come.”
    Besides, you all, doubtless wish for honest servants, and pious
children: and to have them prove otherwise, would be as great a grief
you, as it was to Elisha to have a treacherous Gehazi, or David to be
troubled with a rebellious Absolom. But how can it be expected they
learn their duty, except those set over them, take care to teach it to
them? Is it not as reasonable to expect you should reap where had not
or gather where you had not strawed?
    Did Christianity, indeed, give any countenance to children and
servants to disregard their parents and masters according to the
flesh, or
represent their duty to them, as inconsistent with their entire
to their father and master who is in heaven, there might then be some
pretense to neglect instructing them in the principles of such a
But since the precepts of this pure and undefiled religion, are all of
holy, just, and good; and the more they are taught their duty to God,
better they will perform their duties to you; methinks, to neglect the
improvement of their souls, out of a dread of spending too much time
religious duties, is acting quite contrary to your own interest as
well as
    5. Fifthly and Lastly, If neither gratitude to God, love to your
children, common justice to your servants, nor even that most
motive self-interest, will excite; yet let a consideration of the
of the Lord persuade you to put in practice the pious resolution in
text. Remember, the time will come, and that perhaps very shortly,
when we
must all appear before the judgment-seat of Christ; where we must give
solemn and strict account how we have had our conversation, in our
respective families in this world. How will you endure to see your
and servants (who ought to be your joy and crown of rejoicing in the
day of
our Lord Jesus Christ) coming out as so many swift witnesses against
cursing the father that begot them, the womb that bare them, the paps
they have sucked, and the day they ever entered into your houses?
Think you
not, the damnation which men must endure for their own sins, will be
sufficient, that they need load themselves with the additional guilt

being accessory to the damnation of others also? O consider this, all

that forget to serve the Lord with your respective households, “lest
pluck you away, and there be none to deliver you!”
    But God forbid, brethren, that any such evil should befall you:
rather will I hope, that you have been in some measure convinced by
has been said of the great importance of FAMILY-RELIGION; and
therefore are
ready to cry out in the words immediately following the text, “God
that we should forsake the Lord;” and again, ver. 21, “Nay, but we
(with our several households) serve the Lord.”
    And that there may be always such a heart in you, let me exhort
governors of families, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, often to
reflect on the inestimable worth of their own souls, and the infinite
ransom, even the precious blood of Jesus Christ, which has been paid
for them. Remember, I beseech you to remember, that you are fallen
creatures; that you are by nature lost and estranged from God; and
that you
can never be restored to your primitive happiness, till by being born
of the Holy Ghost, you arrive at your primitive state of purity, have
image of God restamped upon your souls, and are thereby made meet to
partakers of the inheritance with the saints in light. Do, I say, but
seriously and frequently reflect on, and act as persons that believe
important truths, and you will no more neglect your family’s spiritual
welfare than your own. No, the love of God, which will then be shed
in your hearts, will constrain you to do your utmost to preserve them:
the deep sense of God’s free grace in Christ Jesus, (which you will
have) in calling you, will excite you to do your utmost to save
especially those of your own household. And though, after all your
endeavors, some may continue unreformed; yet you will have this
reflection to make, that you did what you could to make your families
religious: and therefore may rest assured of sitting down in the
kingdom of
heaven, with Abraham, Joshua, and Cornelius, and all the godly
householders, who in their several generations shone forth as so many
lights in their respective households upon earth. Amen.

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