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How Can I Train My Child’s Character?

How Can I Train my Child’s Character?

How Can I Train my Child’s Character?

by Pam Guenther

He’s ___________ [insert bad character trait here] and I
can’t punish it out of him. What do I do now?

Children do not outgrow bad habits like laziness, selfishness, and pride and you can’t punish it
out of them, either. I’m sure you can imagine, or may have even experienced, how you can
force a child to work but you cannot force him to be industrious. You can force him to give
something away but you cannot force him to be generous.
If you’re a parent and you’re anything like me, your days are already full of schooling, working,
chauffeuring, changing diapers, getting dinner, getting kids in bed, and the list goes on and on.
How in the world are you supposed to find time for life lessons on character while all of that is
going on? And if he won’t outgrow the bad habit and you can’t punish it out of him, what is there
left to do? The answer is actually quite simple: the best way to train character lies in habits. You
can use habits; you ARE using habits to some degree whether you know it or not, to train your
child’s mental and moral character.

Moral Habits

First and foremost is obedience.
We all have someone that we must obey: a parent, a boss, the government, God himself. The
sooner your child learns to obey the one or ones to whom obedience is due, the better life will
be for him as he gets older. From the get-go, or starting right now if he’s already older, expect
quick, complaint-free obedience the first time he’s asked to do something. If not, a sure but not
unnecessarily harsh consequence, given out of duty and not of anger, will effect a change.

The best way to deal with a bad temper is to avoid its development in the first place. Respect
your child’s time and activity. Don’t micromanage him. Give him a heads up when you will need
him to do something else instead of demanding it without warning. If you see him start to lose
his temper, divert his attention quickly to something else before he has a chance to do so.
If he has already developed the habit of a bad temper, you must be very vigilant to divert his
attention elsewhere as soon as you see the signs of an explosion coming on. It’s best to do this
without his awareness that he is being “treated.” If he is older and has a well-established habit
of losing his temper, you may have to employ his mind and will to divert his attention and avoid
losing his temper.

Fear and Courage

Keep your child from unnecessary fears while giving him the mental strength to face the
unavoidable evils of life in this fallen world. Children need to see hardiness and delayed
gratification by example. Let him make mistakes and take the natural consequences where you

Justice and Generosity

Handle your child and his possessions with justice. Don’t force him to share his things. When he
feels that his possessions are valued and safe, he is free to share them on his own. One way
that we manage this at our house is to keep “stuff” to a minimum and have many common
things. The child will have his own special things that he is free to keep put away when people
come over and not share.

Let him see you serving others and find some area of service that you can do as a family. Let
your child help you make a meal and take it to a new mom, take your son with you to help a
family move. Whatever way in which you serve, include your child and talk to him about what
you are doing and why.

Much more could be said about all of these and other moral character areas such as truth,
pride, pretense, manners, and order but let’s touch on a few mental character areas.

Attention to task

Keep a young child’s task time short and expect full attention to the task for that short time.
Teach him that one time is not as good as another. Give your child ample time to complete a
task without dawdling and if he finishes early, that time is his own to do as he pleases.

Activity, Industry, and Leisure

Being busy for the sake of busyness is useless and even dangerous. We should spend the bulk
of our time on important but not urgent tasks and teach our children to do the same. Industry
(energetic, devoted activity to any work or task) is contagious and capable of drowning out
harmful thoughts and activities. Teach your child to do as much for himself as he can, as early
as he can. This may require some planning and forethought on your part. Give him opportunities
for meaningful leisure: learn a musical instrument, participate in a sport (team or individual),
and/or have good books and music available. Channel surfing and random time browsing the
internet are not meaningful leisure activities.


In the first decade or so of his life what a child learns is not nearly as important as learning to
love learning and how to learn and think. Keep the lessons short and varied so that he has lots
of time left for meaningful leisure activities (mostly aka playing outside).
Make learning as agreeable as possible. There are so many good and real books available that
there really is no need for dry and boring textbooks or drill and kill. Use real books and firsthand
accounts, hands-on activities, and real-life experiences as much as possible to bring the
lessons home.

Train my childs characterThese are a few short thoughts on what I learned from Charlotte Mason on Habits and wrote
about in my book “Habits: The Mother’s Friend.” Learning how to use habits to train my
children’s character has given me the tool that my parental toolbox had been missing. I hope
that you, too, have found a nugget or two here that you can use.

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Luther in Love

Luther in Love

Luther in Love Grace and Truth Books

I bet you’ve read a few books about those we call Heroes of the Faith which seem to speak so highly of them, they seem to come off as nearly superhuman.  You can’t imagine how you could ever match up to the achievements of these people!  This 500th anniversary of the Great Reformation is a time during which we’re all going to hear a lot about Martin Luther, the famous German reformer who nailed those 95 theses to the door of Wittenburg church and ignited a theological revolution.   Well, a sweet book has just been published, and one of its sweetest features is, the very human way in which Martin Luther is portrayed in this volume – Luther in Love – which will make you laugh at the foibles and also the human side of this giant of a man.

Here’s a fellow who thought he would never get married, and he lived like the ultimate bachelor in his monastery – including not changing the bed sheets for a year, which his new bride Katharina von Bora couldn’t help but notice on their wedding night!  Luther had been so utterly absorbed in his work for the cause of reforming the churches that he took very poor care of himself and neglected many of the simple pleasures of life – not to mention the hygiene!  Many of you married ladies will understand quite well that his health took a great turn for the better after marrying Katharina, which of course had the added benefit of lengthening his very worthwhile ministry.

A Good Wife

More than this, many features of their unique and fascinating relationship will put a smile on your face, as you read of this lady who had hardly ever been around men, marrying this man who had hardly spent any time with women!  But once married, they were a constant delight to one another, and as you can see depicted on the book cover, their home became one known for much song and joy together, as Luther played the lute to entertain them and they relished life together for the glory of God.

But Katharina wasn’t afraid to correct Martin, either, when needed such as on the occasion when he had been so grumpy and disgruntled for so long. Weeks on end! She decided to start dressing all in black. When Martin asked her why she was dressing as though there was a funeral, she notified him that God was dead! “You foolish thing!”, he shouted, “why this foolishness?” But, Katharina persisted, “It is true. God must have died, or Doctor Luther would not be behaving with such sorry.” She snapped him out of his blues with this reproof. Yes, all of us are just men and women of ordinary flesh and similar weaknesses, and Luther in Love puts this on display concerning one of history’s most admired theologians, while showing the inestimable blessing of a good wife and how even the best of men have their lives improved by one!

Recommended Resources:

Luther in Love 

Luther and His Katie: The Influence of Luther’s Wife on His Ministry


 And for your children — 


From Dark to Dawn: A Tale of Luther and the Reformation

Reformation Fire: Martin Luther (a Trailblazers volume!)


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The Delight of Discovering the Unsung Heroine

The Delight of Discovering the Unsung Heroine

Chosen Daughters Series Grace and Truth Books

If you’ve ever noticed that the stories of Christian history seem to present the same personalities to us over and over, you’ll understand why our family has found the new Chosen Daughters series to be a source of delightful reading.
The Bible which tells of Abraham, David, and Moses also includes in the honor roll of the faithful some lesser-known characters named Barak, Jephthah, and Samson (Hebrews 11:32).  The Apostle Paul was a member of the most elite group of Christian leaders ever – the Apostles – but went out of his way to tell us of the valuable contributions and ministry of ladies named Dorcas, Phoebe, and Priscilla.

Does it matter that their names don’t ring a bell of fame as resounding as those of Daniel or Joshua or Joseph? We’re each given gifts which with to serve our Lord and His people.

So, after seeing countless biographies of many of the same women in Christian history, ala Amy Carmichael, Susanna Wesley, Sarah Edwards, Katrina Luther — what a blessing to have volumes telling of the devout lives of Margaret Wilson, Olympia Morata, Edith Cavell, Juliana von Stolberg, Queen Jeanne d’Albret, Johanna and Henriette Kuyper … and you ask “Who?”

Like me, perhaps you’ve never heard of these ladies before. But now they are beloved sisters to us in the faith, whose stories we’ve loved reading and sharing with others.

Because it’s a joy every time to get an opportunity to discover the special contributions of the unsung heroines.

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Old Children’s Books and Character Building


5 Ways God Forms Character Through Literature | Character Building Literature

5 Ways God Forms Character Through Literature | Character Building Literature

My wife Naomi and I first heard of homeschooling in the 1978, at our church in Oklahoma.  We were stunned.  “Is that legal?!”, we exclaimed.  Well yes, it is, we were informed.  It did sound like a neat idea.  We could teach our own children what we actually believe and not turn them over to strangers to be taught what they believe. How about that?  We went for it.

But one of our first questions was, “How will we choose books without the school?  Where are we going to get the books we need?”  Well, for math and English skills, there was always the local Tulsa school book depository, where many old texts were stored and anyone with an interest could pick up these allegedly “outdated” texts at no charge.  And we kept hearing from the veteran homeschoolers, “Look for those older books. They’re better.”

That puzzled us at the time.  Why are these homeschoolers saying the older books are better?   

In the 38 years since then, we’ve learned a lot. So much that, we now publish about 40 books ourselves from the 1800s.  Most of them, children’s stories from that era.  We’ve found those to be remarkably different than many a children’s story of today, even the ones written by Christians. They were written at a time when a Christian worldview permeated our culture more; and so they just fit the aspirations of Christian parents who want their children to grow in godly character.  And how does that show itself?

Well, I’ve noticed at least these five features in children’s books from those past eras which seem to me a striking match for some of the ways the Bible itself says God forms character in His children. These traits are noticeably present in those 19th century books:

1) The Word of God is Given Prominence

The Lord tells us that taking in His own Word has a prominent role in building character in us; and the children’s stories from the 1900s are flat-out loaded with the Word.  They quote it, apply it, illustrate with it, they keep it in front of a child’s mind all the time.  If you try to talk to kids about good behavior, right and wrong, family values, all that good stuff, but you leave the Bible out of the conversation, you’re evaporating the Spirit’s power.  You’re delivering do-good-ism with the power cord unplugged.

2) Good (and bad!) Examples are Vividly Presented

Children don’t learn about character from theory; they have to see it in practice. Chances are, so do you. You’ve probably heard only a few life-transforming sermons in your times;  and you have forgotten a thousand sermons. But that person who has really had an impact on you from the example of his life, the way he walked with God, and the way he portrayed that to you — that is someone you remember.

And children’s books from the 1800s have this tendency to put the power of good and bad example in front of the reader in potent ways!  Ways not found as much in literature today. The good guys were very notably good, and the bad guys – well, they were decidedly bad, and you couldn’t miss it!  The design of the book was that you wouldn’t miss it.  Let books that keep these examples clear be the constant companions of your kids.

3)  Growing Through Worthwhile Work

Children grow – and again, really everyone grows! – in part by having some worthwhile work and service to others in their routine. If a child is going to amount to any kind of adult one day, he’s going to need parents who teach him to serve for the benefit of others as part of daily life.  And the children’s stories from the 1800s tended to show children in setting where their help was needed – it was vital!  They contributed valuable work to the household. It apparently wasn’t child abuse then!

Of course, if you know even a little about American history, much of this was because, in many past times, every member of the family had to pitch in if they were going to make it.  So that’s why the stories were written that way. They show that, character consists in part of, what you are day in and day out, doing the commonplace duties of life.

4) Growing in the Midst of Suffering

It doesn’t take being in the Christian life for very long before you start to notice that God builds character in you through trials. His Word is quite frank about that, and even though we may not like it, it’s really just comparable to how exercise makes you stronger. The trials He sends our way make us wise up and walk more closely with Him.

And older literature for children from the 1800s faced the truth that God sent trouble, pains, trials, suffering, for good purposes. The families depicted in such stories are commonly found in situations which test their faith. Tough times; and the children are found right in the midst of it all, taking up their share of the burdens, bearing their cross too. From which, the children who read it learn that a genuine walk with God will require that we can’t always shun pain – sometimes, the only path to honor God means we’ll have to walk right through it. But – even when that’s happening, we must add:

5) Making Plain the Wonder of God’s Grace! 

No matter what we’re going through, God is treating us better than we deserve. That’s one side of it.  Our endurance for Him never makes us heroes – He’s always the real hero of the story of our lives.

But the other side of this truth I meant to point to is: stories for children can’t just be obsessed all the time with what we’re supposed to do, how we should behave, being obedient and all that. At some point, we’ve got to be faced with the admission that, we’ve still got plenty of sin in our lives and we need His forgiveness. We’re not going to be right with God based on our good deeds!  I’m saying, excellence in Christian character will never be achieved without understanding grace.  The most godly people I know are those who have a firm grasp on the fact that, it’s not about me and how good I am … it’s always been about God and how good He is to me.

Many a story that is filled with wonderful, moving lessons about behavior does not tell a child anything about the grace of God. And we’ve got make sure that our children get it: that we are made right with God by the mercy of Christ to us, contrary to what we deserve. We can’t ever live well enough to earn His favor.  We don’t gain it by our good deeds, and make sure you feed them Christian stories that do not neglect this.

So use books to plant sound thinking.  Gospel-focused, grace-filled, Christ-honoring thinking!   Fill your family library with books like that, and pour on this blessing in your home.  Because really, you’re doing more than providing an education: you’re preparing someone to know God, for eternity.

Recommended resources:

The Children’s Character Building Collection

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What’s a Depressed Christian to do?


Often, I’ve heard it asserted that there’s no way a Christian should ever be depressed, and that if you are, it’s a sinful state of mind  and you just need to repent. Is this true? Or is it just one of many conditions of life we experience, and in which we can live and walk to the glory of God?

Funny, I never hear anyone ask, “How can you be a happy Christian in this world, and not be in sin? In a wicked, troubled world like this – I mean, how could you be right to be content and happy?”  Of course we don’t ask that. So why do we ask it – or worse, just assert it to be so – about depression?

It seems to me we haven’t taken seriously the many conditions that the Scriptures show us godly men and women going through. Everything from cast down to crushed; distressed, grieved, lowly, broken-hearted, mourning and sorrowful, undone and “woe is me!” – it sounds like an experience of some sort of depression is pretty common among people who know the Lord.

Depression’s causes are likewise numerous: deferred hopes and ambitions; situations that never get better; heart-crushing problems that turn into lengthy trials that just won’t ever go away; severe mental or physical strains that tax our humanity and health, robbing us of sleep and sapping our strength. But sometimes, we can just get depressed because God is at work in our lives, humbling us and sanctifying us.

None of us wants to stay depressed. How do you pull out? The longer a time of depression goes on, the more earnest we become to find a way out, and sometimes that earnestness turns into a desperation that goes looking in the wrong places. Some turn to isolation; some turn to bed; some turn to alcohol or drugs; some turn to people instead of isolation (too many people); some turn to sex; some turn away from God. Some turn to God.

How will you, in a time of depression, make the correct turn? Here are a few proposals that I know have helped others. Not a comprehensive to-do list, because I know that the last thing you feel capable of when depressed is something to do. You yearn more to be delivered or rescued!  I’ve found that, on the track of these ideas, the Lord has rescued many.

1st, Resist the Temptation to be Annoyed or Angry at God

Because the key is Him – turning to Him.  If you’re embittered at Him, letting anger get a foothold in your heart because you’re depressed, you’re not going to turn to Him. So you won’t find the powerful Deliverer you need.  Calm yourself with the realization that my anger at Him does not solve anything; it alienates me from Him and keeps me from trusting the One who can help me. If you do get angry with Him, you always take it back in repentance later anyway, right? So what’s the point? Know that, while I don’t understand at all now what He is doing, a big step one is to not turn bitterly away from the God that I must cling to for help at this time.

2nd, Believe that God’s Plan of Suffering to Make you like Christ is a Good Thing

When suffering stuns us, pause and face that biblically evident fact again: God’s plan is to make me like Christ, and that will include suffering, just as it did in His life. You and I have no conception of how much suffering it takes to transform us to only be even a little like Christ.

3rd, Don’t Settle for Any One Answer

Depression begs and screams for an answer. The depressed heart yearns for something to solve the problem. And that makes you susceptible to hastily grasp an answer and settle too easily, thinking “That’s it! This is why I’m down.”  Be patient. Go ahead and grab it – but keep looking. Take each idea that seems to be The Answer prayerfully before the Lord and ask for wisdom, to see if it’s really as helpful as it sounds. For instance, a change of diet or exercise may make a difference – but you also may need to address that strained relationship you haven’t made efforts to reconcile. Or, maybe you have taken those steps, but ignored some sin in your life that you know in your heart is to blame. The point is, our quest to find one specific cause might not help; it may be several features of life simultaneously.

4th, If you Need Household Help, Humble Yourself and call out for it

Too many Moms and Dads simply bear too much of the load themselves at home and other family members aren’t taking part in the work. Make sure your child training includes having your children learn to serve others, taking on a fair share of the work load. Identify chores or tasks that would take a load off you and get children to do them; even graciously ask your husband if there are areas he would take on for you, if that’s a possibility.

5th, Find new Ways to Serve

This may sound like the contradiction of the previous point, but the remedies to depression can be both remarkable and unexpected. Being overwhelmed with too much to do can be part of the cause (draining you) but likewise, being too wrapped up in your own world and not serving others can also be part of the cause (leaving us dissatisfied with life that seems empty). One of the best benefits of being freed up from some household tasks (by having others do more of a part) is, it can free you up to minister to others in fresh and satisfying ways. Maybe delivering meals to that elderly family; making time to be mentored by that older woman (or being a mentor); or participating in some church ministry team.

6th, Wallow in the Word: Nourish, don’t just Read or Study

We sometimes find ourselves in a spiritually weak or low condition because we have tended to limit our diet of the Word too much; and we often focus only on the points we like or prefer. We overdose on certain truths in the Word while others are totally neglected.

When you’re down, you definitely don’t just need short devotions – that is, little Bible snipits (often verses out of context). But you may not need intensive, in-depth Bible study either!  You’re just not mentally up to that. But here is something you do need: every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God. Try soaking in long portions of Scripture. Find everything you possibly can for your faith to grasp onto; to find it, I suggest you devour the Word in great volume. Read long sections without studying them – just hose yourself down in the Word. You’ll find truths, perspectives, insights, and help you have ignored for a long time.

7th, Get Outside!

This won’t be for everybody (there are people who don’t enjoy the great outdoors much ….. Ok, I don’t understand those people). You may like it more than you think, if you get out into it. Because I don’t mean you need to walk a trail, explore a cave or get on a surfboard – just find a pretty nearby park, maybe even a spot on your own property, to sit outside and rest. Enjoy God’s gifts. Charles Spurgeon said “Next to our need for the Word of God is, a need to feel a blast of cold air in your face off the lake.”

This is so different than the shallowness of “I need a vacation!”  No – you don’t need a long break. You need regular breaks.

There’s a lot more to be said on this subject than this brief post can provide. Seek help from the body of Christ – your church. There are sure to be others there who have been through depression, and God comforts each of us in our afflictions, 2 Corinthians 1 says, “so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.”




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Family Worship by A.W. Pink

There are some very important outward ordinances and means of grace which are plainly implied in the Word of God, but for the exercise of which we have few, if any, plain and positive precept; rather are we left to gather them from the example of holy men and from various incidental circumstances. An important end is answered by this arrangement: trial is thereby made of the state of our hearts. It serves to make evident whether, because an expressed command cannot be brought requiring its performance, professing Christians will neglect a duty plainly implied. Thus, more of the real state of our minds is discovered, and it is made manifest whether we have or have not an ardent love for God and His service. This holds good both of public and family worship. Nevertheless, it is not at all difficult to prove the obligation of domestic piety.

Consider first the example of Abraham, the father of the faithful and the friend of God. It was for his domestic piety that he received blessing from Jehovah Himself, ‘For I know him, that he will command his children and household after him, and they shall keep the way of the Lord, to do justice and judgment’ (Gen. 18:19). The patriarch is here commended for instructing his children and servants in the most important of all duties, ‘the way of the Lord’—the truth about His glorious person. His high claims upon us, His requirements from us. Note well the words ‘he will command’ them, that is, he would use the authority God had given him as a father and head of his house, to enforce the duties of family godliness. Abraham also prayed with as well as instructed his family: wherever he pitched his tent, there he ‘built an altar to the Lord’ (Gen. 12:7; 13:4). Now my readers, we may well ask ourselves, Are we ‘Abraham’s seed’ (Gal. 3:29) if we ‘do not the works of Abraham’ (John 8:39) and neglect the weighty duty of family worship? The example of other holy men are similar to that of Abraham’s. Consider the pious determination of Joshua who declared to Israel, ‘As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord’ (24:15). Neither the exalted station which he held, nor the pressing public duties which developed upon him, were allowed to crowd out his attention to the spiritual well-being of his family. Again, when David brought back the ark of God to Jerusalem with joy and thanksgiving, after discharging his public duties, he ‘returned to bless his household’ (2 Sam. 6:20). In addition to these eminent examples we may cite the cases of Job (1:5) and Daniel (6:10). Limiting ourselves to only one in the New Testament we think of the history of Timothy, who was reared in a godly home. Paul called to remembrance the ‘unfeigned faith’ which was in him, and added, ‘which dwelt first in thy grandmother Lois and thy mother Eunice.’ Is there any wonder then that the apostle could say ‘from a child thou hast known the Holy Scriptures’ (2 Tim. 3:15)!

On the other hand, we may observe what fearful threatenings are pronounced against those who disregard this duty. We wonder how many of our readers have seriously pondered these awe-inspiring words ‘Pour out Thy fury upon the heathen that know Thee not, and upon the families that call not on Thy name’ (Jer. 10:25)! How unspeakably solemn to find that prayerless families are here coupled with the heathen that know not the Lord. Yet need that surprise us? Why, there are many heathen families who unite together in worshiping their false gods. And do not they put thousands of professing Christians to shame? Observe too that Jer. 10:25 recorded a fearful imprecations upon both classes alike: ‘Pour out Thy fury upon…’ How loudly should these words speak to us.

It is not enough that we pray as private individuals in our closets; we are required to honor God in our families as well. At least twice each day,—in the morning and in the evening—the whole household should be gathered together to bow before the Lord—parents and children, master and servant—to confess their sins, to give thanks for God’s mercies, to seek His help and blessing. Nothing must be allowed to interfere with this duty: all other domestic arrangements are to bend to it. The head of the house is the one to lead the devotions, but if he be absent, or seriously ill, or an unbeliever, then the wife would take his place. Under no circumstances should family worship be omitted. If we would enjoy the blessing of God upon our family, then let its members gather together daily for praise and prayer. ‘Them that honour Me I will honour’ is His promise.

An old writer well said, ‘A family without prayer is like a house without a roof, open and exposed to all the storms of Heaven.’ All our domestic comforts and temporal mercies issue from the lovingkindness of the Lord, and the best we can do in return is to gratefully acknowledge, together, His goodness to us as a family. Excuses against the discharge of this sacred duty are idle and worthless. Of what avail will it be when we render an account to God for the stewardship of our families to say that we had not time available, working hard from morn till eve? The more pressing be our temporal duties, the greater our need of seeking spiritual succor. Nor may any Christian plead that he is not qualified for such a work: gifts and talents are developed by use and not by neglect.

Family worship should be conducted reverently, earnestly and simply. It is then that the little ones will receive their first impressions and form their initial conceptions of the Lord God. Great care needs to be taken lest a false idea be given them of the Divine Character, and for this the balance must be preserved between dwelling upon His transcendency and immanency, His holiness and His mercy, His might and His tenderness, His justice and His grace. Worship should begin with a few words of prayer invoking God’s presence and blessing. A short passage from His Word should follow, with brief comments thereon. Two or three verses of a Psalm may be sung. Close with a prayer of committal into the hands of God. Though we may not be able to pray eloquently, we should earnestly. Prevailing prayers are usually brief ones. Beware of wearying the young ones.

The advantages and blessings of family worship are incalculable. First, family worship will prevent much sin. It awes the soul, conveys a sense of God’s majesty and authority, sets solemn truths before the mind, brings down benefits from God on the home. Personal piety in the home is a most influential means, under God, of conveying piety on the little ones. Children are largely creatures of imitation, loving to copy what they see in others. ‘He established a testimony in Jacob and appointed a law in Israel, which He commanded our fathers that they should make them known to their children: That the generation to come might know them, even the children which should be born; who should arise and declare them to their children: That they might set their hope in God, and not forget the works of God, but keep His commandments’ (Psa. 78:5-7). How much of the dreadful moral and spiritual conditions of the masses today may be traced back to the neglect of their fathers in this duty? How can those who neglect the worship of God in their families look for peace and comfort therein? Daily prayer in the home is a blessed means of grace for allaying those unhappy passions to which our common nature is subject. Finally, family prayer gains for us the presence and blessing of the Lord. There is a promise of His presence which is peculiarly applicable to this duty: see Matt. 18:19,20. Many have found in family worship that help and communion with God which they sought for and with less effect in private prayer.

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Great Duty of Family Religion

‘As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.’ – Joshua 24:15

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 the text, comes to draw a proper inference from what he had been delivering; 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 gratitude for such uncommon favors and mercies, dedicate both themselves and families to his service. ‘Now therefore, fear the Lord, and serve him in sincerity and truth, and put away the Gods which your fathers served on the other side of the flood.’ And by the same engaging motive does the prophet Samuel 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 heart; for consider how great things he hath done for you.’ But then, that they might not excuse themselves (as too many might be apt to do) by his giving them a bad example, or think he was laying heavy burdens upon them, whilst he himself touched them not with one of his fingers, he tells them in the 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 Lord.’

A resolution this, worthy of Joshua, and no less becoming, no less 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, it 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 Christians, there are but few that serve God in their respective families as they ought.

It is true indeed, visit our churches, and you may perhaps see something of the form of godliness still subsisting amongst us; but even that is scarcely to be met with in private houses. So that were the blessed angels to come, as in the patriarchal age, and observe our spiritual economy at home, would they not be tempted to say as Abraham to Abimilech, ‘Surely, the fear of God is not in this place?’ 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 had not so learned Christ, as falsely to imagine religion was to be confined solely to their assemblies for public worship; but, on the contrary, behaved with such piety and exemplary holiness in their private families, that St. Paul often styles their house a church: ‘Salute such a one, says he, and the church which is in his house.’ And, I believe, we must for ever 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 persons unanimously resolving with good old Joshua, in the words of the text, ‘As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.’

From which words, I shall beg leave to insist on these three things.

  1. First, That it is the duty of every governor of a family to take care, that not only he himself, but also that those committed to his charge, ‘serve the Lord.’
  2. Secondly, I shall endeavor to show after what manner a governor and his household ought to serve the Lord. And,
  3. 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 a 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 family 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, (nay in this they are generally too solicitous) but as for the two former, their priestly and prophetic office, like Gallio, they care for no such things. But however indifferent some governors may be about it, they may be assured, that God will require a due discharge of these offices at their 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 invectives 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 the Holy Ghost has made him overseer: but may not every governor of a family, be in a lower degree liable to the same censure, who takes no thought for those souls that are committed to his charge? For every house is as it were a little parish, every governor (as was before observed) a priest, 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 from house to house, and to excuse himself by saying, that he had enough to do to work out his own salvation with fear and trembling, without concerning himself with that of others; would you not be apt to think such a minister, to be like the unjust judge, ‘One that neither feared God, nor regarded man?’ And yet, odious as such a character would be, it is no worse than that governor of a family deserves, who thinks himself obliged only to have his own soul, without paying any regard to the souls of his household. For (as was above hinted) every house is as it were a parish, and every master is concerned to secure, as much as in him lies, the spiritual prosperity of every one under his roof, as any minister whatever is obliged to look to the spiritual welfare of every individual person under his charge.

What precedents men who neglect their duty in this particular, can plead for such omission, I cannot tell. Doubtless not the example of holy 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 us, ‘When the days of his children’s feasting were gone about, that Job sent and sanctified them, and offered burnt-offerings, according to the number of them all; for Job said, It may be that my sons have sinned and cursed 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 concerned 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 Christians 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 not only neglect serving God themselves, but also make it their business to ridicule and scoff at any of their house that do? Who are not content with ‘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, is in his good providence, may suffer such stumbling-blocks to be put in his children’s way, and suffer their greatest enemies to be those of their own households, for a trial of their sincerity, and improvement of their faith; 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, can scarcely be saved, where will such monstrous profane and wicked governors appear?

But hoping there are but few of this unhappy stamp, proceed we now to the Second thing proposed: To show after what manner a governor and his household ought to serve the Lord.

1. And the first thing I shall mention, is READING THE WORD OF GOD. This is a duty incumbent on every private person. ‘Search the scriptures, 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 governor 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, and therefore agreeably to such a character, bound to instruct those under his 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 is, the scripture words, ‘which I command thee this day, shall be in thy heart, 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 them when thou sittest in thy house.’ From whence we may infer, that the only reason, why so many neglect to read the words of scripture diligently to their children is, because the words of scripture are not in their hearts: for if they were, out of the abundance of the heart their mouth would speak.

Besides, servants as well as children, are, for the generality, very ignorant, and mere novices in the laws of God: and how shall they know, 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 salvation?’ And who more proper to instruct them by these lively oracles, than parents 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 day.

But if these things be so, what a miserable condition are those unhappy governors in, who are so far from feeding those committed to their 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 way indeed to do their Master’s will, who take such prodigious pains to know it! Would not one imagine that they had turned converts to the Church of Rome, that they thought ignorance to be the mother of devotion; and that those were to be condemned as heretics who read their Bibles? And yet how 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, this thing ought not so to be.

2. Pass we on now to the second means whereby every governor and his household ought to serve the Lord, FAMILY-PRAYER.

This is a duty, though as much neglected, yet as absolutely necessary as the former. Reading is a good preparative for prayer, as prayer is an excellent means to render reading effectual. And the reason why every governor of a family should join both these exercises together, is plain, because a governor of a family cannot perform his priestly office (which we before observed hs is in some degree invested with) without performing this duty of family prayer.

We find it therefore remarked, when mention is made of Can and Abel’s offering sacrifices, that they brought them. But to whom did they bring them? Why, in all probability, to their father Adam, who, as priest of the family, was to offer sacrifice in their names. And so ought every spiritual 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 was then his little family. And he himself has promised a particular blessing 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 are agreed touching any thing they shall ask, it shall be given them.’ Add to this, that we are commanded by the Apostle to ‘pray always, with all manner of supplication,’ which doubtless includes family prayer. And holy Joshua, when he set up the good resolution in the text, that he and his household 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 crosses and afflictions, which they are to pray against; some common sins, which 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 family prayer is a great and necessary duty; and consequently, those governors that neglect it, are certainly without excuse. And it is much to be feared, if they live without family prayer, they live without God in the world.

And yet, such an hateful character as this is, it is to be feared, that was God to send out an angel to destroy us, as he did once to destroy 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 on the door-post, so now, to let no families escape, but those that called 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 rise up in judgment against such profane families of this generation: for they had always their household gods, whom they worshipped and whose assistance 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 fury upon those that call not upon his name?

3. But it is time for me to hasten to the third and last means I shall recommend, whereby every governor ought with his household to serve the Lord, CATECHIZING AND INSTRUCTING their children and servants, and bringing them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.

That this, as well as the two former, is a duty incumbent on every 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 us in holy writ, than this duty of catechizing. Thus, says God in a passage before cited, ‘Thou shalt teach these words diligently unto thy children.’ And parents are commanded in the New Testament, to ‘bring up their children 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, ‘to 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, God strictly commands his people to instruct their children in the true nature 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 were 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 brought life and immortality to a fuller and clearer light, but also, because many seducers are gone abroad into the world, who do their utmost endeavor to 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 lovers and honorers of God; masters and parents must take Solomon’s good advice, and train up and catechize their respective households in the way wherein 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 as this will take up too much time, and hinder families too long from their worldly business. But it is much to be questioned, whether persons that start such an abjection, are not of the same hypocritical spirit as the traitor Judas, who had indignation against devout Mary, for being so profuse of her ointment, in anointing our blessed Lord, and asked why it 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 some 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 who gives men power to get wealth, and therefore that the best way to prosper in the world, is to secure his favor? And has not our blessed Lord himself promised, that if we seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, all outward necessaries shall be added unto us?

Abraham, no doubt, was a man of as great business as such objectors may be; but yet he would find time to command his household to serve the Lord. Nay, David was a king, and consequently had a great deal of business 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 was a person certainly engaged very much in temporal affairs; and yet he solemnly declares before all Israel, that as for him and his household, they would serve the Lord. And did persons but redeem their time, as Abraham, David, or Joshua did, they would no longer complain, that family duties kept them too long from the business of the world.

III. But my Third and Last general head, under which I was to offer some motives, in order to excite all governors, with their respective households, to serve the Lord in the manner before recommended, I hope, will serve instead of a thousand arguments, to prove the weakness and folly 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 one must confess, is cast in a fair ground: providence hath given you a goodly heritage, above many of your fellow-creatures, and therefore, bout of a principle of gratitude, you ought to endeavor, as much as in you lies, to 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 invested you as parents and governors of families, is a talent committed to your trust, and which you are bound to improve to your Master’s honor. In other things we find governors and parents can exercise lordship over their children and servants readily, and frequently enough can say to one, Go, 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 affairs, and never exerted in the things of God? Be astonished, O heavens, at this!

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 household, we will serve the Lord.’ Let us go and do likewise.

2. But Secondly, If gratitude to God will not, methinks LOVE AND PITY TO YOUR CHILDREN should move you, with your respective families, to serve the Lord.

Most people express a great fondness for their children: nay so great, that very often their own lives are wrapped up in those of their offspring. ‘Can a woman forget her sucking child, that she should not have compassion 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 experience also assures us they may. Father and mother may both forsake their children: for what greater degree of forgetfulness can they express towards them, than to neglect the improvement of their better part, and not bring 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 sunk beneath the beasts that perish, as to neglect even that) but then how often do they forget, or rather, when do they remember, to secure the salvation of their immortal souls? But is this their way of expressing their fondness 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 of Samson, when she delivered him up into the hands of the Philistines? Then 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 your children, will prevail on you; yet let a principle of COMMON HONESTY AND 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. But certainly, if any may be truly censured for their injustice, none can be more liable to such censure, than those who think themselves injured if 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 service, and masters not at the same time give them what is just and equal for their service?

It is true, some men may think they have done enough when they give unto their servants food and raiment, and say, ‘Did not I bargain with thee for so much a year?’ But if they give them no other reward than this, whet do they less for their very beasts? But are not servants better than they? Doubtless they are: and however masters may put off their convictions for the present, they will find a time will come, when they shall know they ought to have given them some spiritual as well as temporal wages; and the 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 all objections; yet let that darling, that prevailing motive of SELF-INTEREST turn the scale, and engage you with your respective households to serve the Lord.

This weighs greatly with you in other matters: be then persuaded to let it have a due and full influence on you in this: and if it has, if you have but faith as a grain of mustard-seed, how can you avoid believing, that promoting family-religion, will be the best means to promote your own 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 to 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 should 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 sewn, 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 obedience 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 religion. But since the precepts of this pure and undefiled religion, are all of them holy, just, and good; and the more they are taught their duty to God, the 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 in religious duties, is acting quite contrary to your own interest as well as duty.

5. Fifthly and Lastly, If neither gratitude to God, love to your children, common justice to your servants, nor even that most prevailing motive self-interest, will excite; yet let a consideration of the terrors of the Lord persuade you to put in practice the pious resolution in the 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 a solemn and strict account how we have had our conversation, in our respective families in this world. How will you endure to see your children 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 you; cursing the father that begot them, the womb that bare them, the paps which 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 of being accessory to the damnation of others also? O consider this, all ye that forget to serve the Lord with your respective households, ‘lest he pluck you away, and there be none to deliver you!’

But God forbid, brethren, that any such evil should befall you: no, rather will I hope, that you have been in some measure convinced by what 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 forbid that we should forsake the Lord;’ and again, ver. 21, ‘Nay, but we will (with our several households) serve the Lord.’

And that there may be always such a heart in you, let me exhort all 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 down 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 again of the Holy Ghost, you arrive at your primitive state of purity, have the image of God restamped upon your souls, and are thereby made meet to be partakers of the inheritance with the saints in light. Do, I say, but seriously and frequently reflect on, and act as persons that believe such 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 abroad in your hearts, will constrain you to do your utmost to preserve them: and the deep sense of God’s free grace in Christ Jesus, (which you will then have) in calling you, will excite you to do your utmost to save others, especially those of your own household. And though, after all your pious endeavors, some may continue unreformed; yet you will have this comfortable 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.

(From ‘The Works of the Reverend George Whitefield’)