The Sitting-Room by J.W. Alexander

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In most eloquent fashion, James Waddel Alexander reminds us why families need a place to come together, as well as a routine where the heart of family life is nourished. This piece was originally published in The Presbyterian Magazine (Jan. 1851) under the pseudonym “C.Q.” (for “Charles Quill,” a favorite nom de plume of Alexander), and later republished posthumously with the author’s true name. Though he wrote in the 19th century, the need expressed here is no less greater, perhaps much more so, in the 21st.

The Sitting-Room

There is, or there ought to be, in every house, a room where all the household come together every day; a dear, well-remembered chamber, hung round by memory with the portraits of father, mother, brothers, sisters, servants, kinsfolk, friends, neighbours, guests, strangers, and Christ's poor. O, my reader, do you not remember such a room? In your wanderings, in your voyages, in the group of your own family, and among your own children, does not your thought go back to the days when you gathered around that ruddy, crackling fire, and when the heads, which are now laid low, were as a crown of glory to their offspring?

In some houses, this common-room, or “living-room,” as our Puritan neighbours call it, is the only room in the house; it is parlour, bed-room, kitchen, all in one. Blessed compensation of Providence to the poor man and his offspring; they can be always together. Wealth multiplies apartments and separates families. Go to the western clearing, and before you reach the cabin, you descry through the chinks the glow of a fire, which would serve a city mechanic for a week; entering, you behold the illumination of a whole circle sitting around the blaze, perhaps singing their evening hymn. Are they less happy than the dwellers in ceiled houses? Change the scene to the uptown seats of wealth, where the merchant prince abides in greater conveniences than Nebuchadnezzar or Charlemagne; for he has baths, hot and cold water on every floor, furnace-heat, and gas-lights. You can scarcely number the apartments. You think it a paradise. Hold! reconsider the social, the domestic part. It is three o'clock. What a solitude: The father is slaving at his counting-house. The mother is dropping cards at fifty doors, or stiffly receiving fifty visits. The boys are sparring or walking Broadway or Chestnut-street. The girls are with masters in Italian, dancing, and philosophy. The babies are airing with French nurses. Do these ever come together? Not in the true family sense. Some Christian merchants have few home joys, and are content to pray with their families once a day. The very name of a sitting-room, living-room, or common-room sounds plebeian, and savours of “the country.” Yet I know men, rich believers, who make conscience of gathering their family, all their family; and to effect this requires a place. God's blessing is on the room, whether covered with Axminster carpets or unplaned plank, whether hung with damask or with hunting-shirts and bear-skins, where that little kingdom, a Christian household, daily meets for prayer, for praise, for kind words, for joint labours, for loving looks, for rational entertainment, for reading aloud, for music, for neighbourly exchanges, for entertaining angels unawares. Thanks be to God for our Presbyterian sitting-rooms!

"A nation is but a congeries of families" - Moses D. Hoge

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It was at the Sixth General Council of the Pan-Presbyterian Alliance, meeting in Glasgow, Scotland in 1896, that the Rev. Moses Drury Hoge delivered an address on “The Educative Influence of Presbyterianism on National Life.” He spoke of the importance of the family in relation to the health of the commonwealth, and took note especially of the role of mothers for the good that they do on behalf of their families which in turn is a service to the nation at large.

A nation is but a congeries of families, and what the family is, the nation will be….Under the great dome of the sky I do not believe there are any surpassing our Presbyterian mothers in the faithful training of their children to walk in the right ways of the Lord, nor do I believe that there are any who have influences transcending those of Presbyterian households in preparing children to become good citizens of the country and of the kingdom of Christ.

The death of our old Calvinistic mother has been frequently announced, and her funeral oration pronounced. Well, the death of a mother is a great event in the lives of her children. A minister in my own country says, “When we came to lay our mother in the grave, one of us said to a friend at his side, ‘We will remember the works that will follow her.’ ‘What works?’ asked the friend to whom he spoke. He replied, ‘She bore ten sons and trained them all for Christ. We are all standing around her grave to bless God that she ever lived.’”

Mr. President, fathers and brethren, we, too, bless God for our dear old Presbyterian mother, who has borne ten thousand times ten thousand children and trained them all for Christ; but we are not standing around her grave! We rejoice that she is still a living mother — her eye not dim, nor her spiritual force abated, and when our descendants are as near the close of the twentieth century as we are to the end of the nineteenth, another council will meet to celebrate her virtues and her works in strains of adoring gratitude compared with which our utterances tonight are cold and poor. — Source: Peyton Harrison Hoge, Moses Drury Hoge: Life and Letters, pp. 370-371

T.V. Moore on "God's University"

In 1853, the Board of Managers for the House of Refuge in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania organized a contest to draw attention to the problem of juvenile delinquency. Prize money was offered and, ultimately, three prize essays were published in 1855, which dealt with the problem in dramatically different ways, as evidenced by at least the first two titles: (1) “The State's Care of Its Children: Considered as a Check on Juvenile Delinquency;” (2) “God’s University; or, The Family Considered as a Government, a School, and a Church, the Divinely Appointed Institute for Training the Young, for the Life that Now is, and for that which is to Come”; and (3) “An Essay on Juvenile Delinquency.” The author of the second essay, which is highlighted here, is Thomas Verner Moore.

Whereas the first essay emphasizes the role of the state in restraining juvenile delinquency, and the third essay emphasizes education as the chief remedy for the problem, Moore takes the Biblical position that we should look to the Scriptures to understand both the problem and the remedy. And in doing so, he focuses our attention squarely on the role of the family, God’s institution, designed especially for the good of society and the seminary of the church. (In the words of the English Puritan William Gouge, “The family is a seminary of the church and commonwealth”)

To the extent that the youth of Moore’s day were involved in the common vices of the era, he began exploring the problem by looking at the failure of the family to train its young people in the ways of piety and obedience in the Lord. And although he speaks with conviction about the necessity for parents to inculcate obedience in their children at an early age, he also emphasizes above all love as the guiding principle of family well-being.

The grand agent in executing family laws, is love. This should manifest itself in words, looks, and tones, to be properly effective. The parent whose cold and repulsive manner represses all confiding familiarity in the child, is building a wall of ice between himself and his offspring, which even the warmth of love cannot penetrate. The child should be early taught to confide his feelings freely to his parent, by the open and loving manner of the parent, or he will seek companions and confidants elsewhere.

But family religion involves more than family worship. As all religion is included in love, so all family religion is contained in family love; and where there is this genuine love to God and one another, the family is not only a church, but an earthly type of heaven.

As the family is the nursery of society and the church, he tells us that education is happening whether intended or not, and that the memory of childhood lessons is of such importance and its influence of such longevity that:

There is a species of parchment manuscripts called palimpsest, which contain some recent monkish work of devotion, written over a copy of some ancient classic, but which, by a little care in removing the later writing, will give back the original copy in clear and legible distinctness. Every human soul is such a palimpsest, in which, beneath its superficial con tents, there lies an earlier and more indelible tracing of what was written on the heart, in the fresh, unblotted susceptibility of childhood and youth.

Moore concludes his essay with a summary of his points that we shall list here because in a few words of Biblical wisdom addressed to parents that are timeless he points us to Scriptural principles that will help any family.

We therefore sum up a few hints in conclusion, that embody the principles of the foregoing essay, attention to which will tend to make a happy home and a virtuous family.

  1. Learn to govern yourselves, and to be gentle and patient.

  2. Guard your tempers, especially in seasons of ill-health, irritation, and trouble, and soften them by prayer, penitence, and a sense of your own short comings and errors.

  3. Never speak or act in anger, until you have prayed over your words or acts, and concluded that Christ would have done so, in your place.

  4. Remember that valuable as is the gift of speech, the gift of silence is often much more so.

  5. Do not expect too much from others, but re member that all have an evil nature, whose developments we must expect, and which we should forbear and forgive, as we often desire forbearance and forgiveness ourselves.

  6. Never retort a sharp or angry word. It is the second word that makes the quarrel.

  7. Beware of the first disagreement.

  8. Learn to speak in a gentle tone of voice.

  9. Learn to say kind and pleasant things whenever an opportunity offers.

  10. Study the character of each one, and sympathize with them in their troubles, however small.

  11. Do not neglect little things, if they can affect the comfort of others in the smallest degree.

  12. Avoid moods and pets, and fits of sulkiness.

  13. Learn to deny yourself, and to prefer others.

  14. Beware of meddlers and tale-bearers.

  15. Never charge a bad motive, if a good one is conceivable.

  16. Be gentle but firm with children.

  17. Do not allow your children to be away from home at night, without knowing where they are.

  18. Do not allow them to go where they please on the Sabbath.

  19. Do not furnish them much spending money.

  20. Remember the grave, the judgment seat, and the scenes of eternity, and so order your home on earth, that you shall have a home in heaven.

Take time to read Moore’s prize essay on the family, and with application, you and your family will be greatly blessed.

Do you see your family as a religious institution, and heaven as its model? If not, read Erastus Hopkins.

Erastus Hopkins (1810-1872) was a Princeton Seminary graduate, and a Presbyterian pastor in South Carolina, New York, and Connecticut. His book The Family A Religious Institution: or Heaven the Model of the Christian Family is much needed reading for Christian families today, for in it he reminds us that the family is as truly a religious institution as is the church. After establishing this fact from the Scriptures, and showing how heaven is the model of the family, he examines the family from several different aspects: childhood piety, the habits of childhood, parental duties, the season of parental effort, the culture of childhood obedience, on guiding the affections to God, and the covenantal sign and seal of baptism. How we need to be reminded of these things today - and sometimes hearing it from a voice of a different century is just what we need to be awakened to our duties anew. 

Note: This post was originally published on September 12, 2017, and has been very slightly edited.

A Sabbath Afternoon Read for the Family from James R. Boyd

Are you seeking something edifying to read this Sabbath afternoon with your family? Consider The Child’s Book on the Westminster Shorter Catechism by James Robert Boyd. He designed it as a supplemental catechism for students 12 and under with the aim of reviewing the great divine truths found in the Westminster Shorter Catechism. He suggests that a half an hour on Sabbath afternoons be given to the study of this little book as a method of stirring up consideration religious conversation and promoting the spiritual interests of the family.

This is a good exercise for the family consistent with the aim of the Sabbath (see Boyd on the Fourth Commandment). And this is a means of involving the whole family in discussion of those matters which all should know about the basic divine truths of Christianity. Not meant to replace, but to supplement, the study of the Westminster Shorter Catechism, this little volume is a means of reinforcing the knowledge that every member of the family should know and can be used to stimulate further discussion. Here is one matter that may prompt a healthy family discussion:

Q. What is the best day of the week?
A. The Sabbath-day.

Q. Why is it the best?
A. Because it is to be kept holy, or spent in a religious manner.

If you are looking for a tool to help the family keep the Sabbath during the afternoon, this book will serve you well. For more in-depth study, be sure to check out Boyd’s other exposition: The Westminster Shorter Catechism: With Analysis, Scriptural Proofs, Explanatory and Practical Inferences, and Illustrative Anecdotes.

Samuel Miller on the High Calling of Parenting

Samuel Miller, in his discourses on the guilt, folly, and sources of suicide (a booklet we hope to reprint soon, Lord willing), has a marvelous paragraph about parenting. May the Lord enable every Christian parent to take these words to heart and live them out to some degree:

Parents! You see the numerous dangers to which the traveler through this vale of tears is exposed. How should your solicitude be excited, your zeal be roused, and all the tender anxieties of parental affection be called into exercise, in behalf of your Offspring, who are entering on the journey of life, and about to encounter all its perils! You are the guardians of their health and lives, you form their morals, you direct their pursuits, you are the depositories of their happiness in this world, and, in a degree, in that which is to come. With what unceasing care, then, should you imbue their minds with correct principles! With what sacred fidelity should you put them on their guard against the licentious opinions of the age, against the contagion of evil company, and against the destructive habits of intemperance and sloth! With what devout tenderness should you exhort them, warn them, pray over them, and endeavor to win them, both by precept and example, to the love and fear, as well as to the knowledge of God! O Parents! were these things duly considered, what a revolution should we witness in your mode of treating your children! We should see you more attentive to domestic instruction and discipline, than to the frivolities of a fashionable education. We should see you embracing every opportunity to inculcate on their minds, that virtue is superior to wealth; that holiness is a distinction infinitely more valuable than the magnificence and honors of this world. We should see you, in a word, making their moral and religious culture your chief concern, and studying daily to impress upon their hearts the conviction that, to fear God, and keep his commandments, is the whole duty and happiness of man.