Thursday, March 08, 2007

Thoughts on Family-Worship - A Book Review

Alexander, James W. Thoughts on Family Worship. Philadelphia: Presbyterian Board of Publications, 1847.

James W. Alexander was the pastor of the Duane Street Presbyterian Church in New York. He was the author of at least five other books, including Thoughts on Preaching and Consolation: Addresses to the Suffering People of God. His book on family-worship is one of the most complete books available on the subject. It has been quoted extensively in many other books written on the same topic, including the book, Family Worship in the Bible, in History & in Your Home by Donald S. Whitney.

In the preface, the author states his reason and defense for writing the book Thoughts on Family-Worship. James Alexander, who was writing over one hundred and fifty years ago, seems to speak as if he were writing to counter problems of today. He states that he is in a “period when the world is every day making new inroads on the church” and “where it has especially invaded the household” (1). He says that along with things like “Sabbath observance, and the catechizing of children, Family-Worship has lost ground” (2). He also states that there are even reports of “ruling elders and deacons, who maintain no stated daily service of God in their dwellings” (2) It is to “awaken such to their duty” (2) that the author undertook to write this book.

The book itself is divided into eighteen short chapters. These are all arranged in a very logical fashion. The author begins the first chapter by discussing the nature, warrant, and history of Family-Worship. The next section of the book begins in the second chapter and ends with chapter thirteen. In this section the author discusses the influence that family-worship has on the various aspects of life; beginning with the individual, then moving to the family, and then others inside the household. From there he moves to those outside the family, to include guests, then the church, and finally the commonwealth. He finishes this logical section with a discussion of the influence of family-worship on posterity. In the next four chapters, the author gives some practical information regarding the actual act of family-worship. These chapters include some practical examples of a typical family-worship service in various types of households, and they offer suggestions on things to include and things to leave out. The author closes the volume by answering many of the common difficulties and objections that have been offered for neglecting the responsibility of family-worship.

The author begins his awakening call by establishing the biblical foundation for family-worship in the home. He skillfully uses both the Old and the New Testaments to prove his case. After laying the foundation based on Scripture, he then makes his appeal to history. He gives examples from the early church and also from the reformers. He then makes his final appeal to one of the historic confessions of the Christian faith; the Westminster Confession of Faith. This confession states that “God is to be worshipped every where, in spirit and in truth; as in private families daily, and in secret each one by himself” (25). After compiling all his evidence in favor of family-worship, the author is ready to move to its influence.

In this second section, which is by far the longest, the primary theme is the influence that family-worship has on the various aspects of life. The author first focuses on that area of life within the family itself. He begins by covering the effects on the individual, and on the parents and also on the children. According to the author, one of the most significant influences comes from simply reading the Word of God. He states, “The daily regular and solemn reading of God’s holy word, by a parent before his children, is one of the most powerful agencies of the Christian life” (62). This particular fact has been demonstrated to me personally as I have taken up this practice of family-worship in my own household. However, the effects do not stop within one’s own household, the author continues this section to give several other areas of influence, many of which I have also personally experienced. Of all the influences mentioned by the author, the final one is the most compelling, and that is the influence on posterity. Since God’s relationship to man is covenantal in nature, the author points out that this covenant is most easily passed from “father to son” (177) as can be clearly seen in the pages of Holy Writ. Examples of this are Adam to Seth, Noah to his sons, Abraham to Isaac to Jacob, and many others. As Scripture clearly states, “For the promise is unto you, and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call” (Acts 2:39).

The next section is filled with practical information regarding how to carry out family-worship. This includes advice on what to do and what not to do. I found this portion of the book to be especially helpful as I looked to conduct family-worship in my own home.

In the final section, the author answers many of the common objections to conducting family worship. This includes such objections as “I have not time for family-worship” (250), “Our family is so small” (252), “The truth is, I am ashamed to begin” (255) and several others. In each case the author gives a more than adequate answer with practical advice on how to overcome each obstacle.

In summary, I will say this was a most excellent book. I have read many books on the topic of family-worship, and this one is by far the best. I would recommend this book to any adult Christian who is not currently practicing family-worship. Whether they are a family of one, or part of a very large family, there is information in this book that could be immensely helpful. However, even if the reader is already practicing daily family-worship, there is still plenty of material here that could be of value. James Alexander’s book is without a doubt one of the most thorough of all books on this particular topic. If I must say something critical about the book it would be; the only drawback that I can see is that it is well over one hundred and fifty years old. This being the case, the language, and some of the subjects and examples are a bit dated. Other than that, I would highly recommend this book. Many fathers and heads of household would greatly benefit from the information found in this book.