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Elkhorn Baptist Association (KY)
Circular Letter, 1861

Family Prayer
By T. J. Stevenson

      We propose to address you a few thoughts on the subject of family prayer. We apprehend that this duty is shamefully neglected in many christian households, and that in consequence of the neglect of it, the blessing which it is calculated to bring to a family are lost, that many fathers and mothers have reason to dread, lest the wrath invoked by Jeremiah, "pour out thy fury upon the families that know not God," should fall upon their own households. If we can say anything to draw the attention of Christian households to consider the impotance of this duty, we shall feel that we have not spoken in vain.

      We shall endeavor, 1st - To urge the importance of prayer in families, and secondly - To show the invalidity of the more common excuses for its neglect.

      I. We would urge its importance from three considerations.

      1st. The intimate personal relation sustained by the members of a family to each other, and the community of interests under which they are joined, renders it highly proper that they should unitedly seek the favor of God upon themselves. All communion in divine worship is founded upon a community of interests among those engaged in it. - Wherever such a community of interests exists among any number of persons, whether nations, neighborhoods or families, it is proper that they should, on suitable occasions, join so far as practicable in divine worship. Now, in a family, communion in divine worship is daily practicable. Besides, the members of a family have, in almost all respects, common interests. They are joined together by the dearest natural ties. They are bone of each other's bone, and flesh of each other's flesh. Each is vitally interested in welfare of all the rest. Whatever affects one, affects all. When any trial or affliction rests upon one, all are interested in having it removed. When one needs any temporal or spiritual blessing, all are interested in asking God to bestow it. Whenever one receives any special token of divine favor, all are interested in asking God to bestow it. Whenever one receives any special token of divine favor, all are interested in praising God for its bestowal. It is then eminently proper that the whole family should, at stated seasons, join in asking God, from whom all blessings must come, to bestow blessings upon themselves. Worship among persons thus closely joined, together in life, may be peculiarly exalted and fervent. The close community of interests in a family, lead us to conclude that such passages as the following: "Ask, and ye shall receive; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you;" "Men ought always to pray;" "Continue in prayer;" "Prayer without ceasing;" are as fully designed to enforce the duty of prayer in the family as in the closet or in prayer.

      2d. The duty of prayer in families is enforced by the example of both the Old and New Testament believers.

      We learn from several references to the subject in Scriptures, that it was a custom among these old saints to hold divine worship in their households. That such was the the custom of Abraham, we infer from the language which God uses concerning him in Genesis 18, 19; "For I know him that he will command his children and his household after him, and they shall keep the way of the Lord." This passage, though not a declaration of the fact, gives grounds to infer that he set apart times for instructing and praying in his household.

      David also held worship in his family. On one occasion, after he had attended upon the public sacrifices offered in behalf of all the people, we are told he returned to bless his household. The circumstances which led him to hold worship in his house on this occasion, rendered it proper for him to repeat it on other occasions. So with Job. - After the revelry of his sons and daughters, recorded in the first chapter of the book which bears his name, had ended, Job, fearing that they had sinned and cursed God in the midst of their feasting, rose up early and offered burnt offerings according to the number of them all. And we are informed, thus did Job continually. We have moreover the example of Joshua. Rebuking the Jews for worshipping false Gods, he says: "As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord." So of Cornelius. Among the incidents connected with his wonderful vision, he mentions: "At the ninth hour I prayed in my house." These ancient believers acted according to divine direction in the matter of

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holding divine worship in their families. Their example is as binding upon beleiversw at this day, as a positive precept would be. God blessed them and their families with tehm in the peformance of this duty. He has thereby given assurance that he will bless all those families who scrupulously adhere to their example in this respect.

      3rd. The importance of prayer in a family appears, from its influence, in promoting piety among the members. There is no more efficient means of promoting their spiritual welfare, than proper attention to this duty. It serves also to remind them of their responsibility to their welfare, than proper attention to this duty. It serves also to remind them of their responsibility to their children. It impressed upon them the duty of training up these immortal souls entrusted to them in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. It leads them to feel the necessity of setting before them a consistent, godly example. The father appearing daily before his family in the capacity of a priest of God, feels constrained to mainfest in his life, a character in keeping with that lofty position.

      It answers a most important purpose in the early training of children. They early become familiar with the truths concerning God, concerning Christ, concerning their natural condition, concerning the plan of salvation, and concerning the various duties of life. They learn early that the Bible is true and its teachings important. They learn in what true religion consists, and are made to feel the importance of early dedicating themselves to the service of God. They are saved, from many of those prejudices against religion, which spring up in the minds of those whose early training is neglected. They are led to reverence God, respect his worship and honor his servants. They become impressed with the idea that life is not merely a period for eating, drinking and making merry, but a period to prepare for the judgment.

      The principles of true religion thus instilled into their minds while young, when they grow older, lead to a happy consecration of their hearts to God. The same good impressions are made upon the minds of the servants of a family.

      Family prayer then, properly ovbserved, tends to make better fathers and mothers - better brothers and sisters - better children and servants. Above all, it trains a family for membership in the great family in heaven.

      II. We propose now to show that the excuses sometimes urged for the neglect of family prayer are invalid.

      1st. Some persons plead want of time as an excuse for neglecting prayer in their families.

      What! have you no time for doing that, which duty to God, your family and yourself imperatively claims at your hands. For what purpose is your time alloted you, if it is not to serve God in the closet, in the sanctuary, and in the family? How can you allow secular business to fill up the time which ought to be sacredly set apart for God? Do you place not higher estimate on your religion, than to suppose twenty or thirty minutes spent each day in training your children for eternity, could be more profitably spent in providing for their temporal wants? Throw away the idea that you have not time to spend in promoting religion in your family, when the greatest favor you can possibly bestow upon them is a proper religious training.

      2d. Some have caught the idea that the ability to pray is an especial gift bestowed only upon a few, and they plead their supposed lack of this gift as an excuse for neglecting this duty. The idea tha tprayer is a gift bestowed only upon a privileged class, has no foundation in Scripture. It is the offspring of other mnds than those of Christ and His Apostles. On the contrary, they teach that prayer is a gift of every child of grace. The sacred poet reflects the sentiment of Scripture, when he says:

"Prayer is the christian's vital breath,
The christian's native air."

      Every christian parent who has desires to be made known, and blessings for which to be thankful, with a tongue for utterance, can pray and ought to pray in his family.

      Lastly, Others make timidity a barrier to the performance of this duty. But thousands who were naturally as diffident as yourself, have overcome this difficulty. And why may not you? Besides there is no real grounds for undue timidity in this matter. You have no difficulty in talking with your children about every day affairs. You could just as well, if you would, read the Bible to them, and pray for the blessings of God upon them in their presence.

      Finally, we urge every family who live in the neglect of household prayer, to erect an altar of prayer forthwith in their midst, and never leave off surrounding it daily throughout life. Let it never be said of christian parents that they have no family altar, around which to gather their children daily, to instil[l] into them the principles of the gospel, and to ask God for the bestowal of his blessings.


[Transcribed from an original document at Elkhorn Baptist Association, Lexington, KY; 1861, pp. 4-5. Scanned and formatted by Jim Duvall.]

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