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One of Robert Burns’ most beloved poems is the word picture of family worship that constitutes his 1785 “The Cotter’s Saturday Night” (the full text can be read here). The scene was portrayed as a painting by William Kidd (c. 1850). This portrayal also served as inspiration for Moses Dury Hoge in an “unpremeditated address delivered before the Conference of the Evangelical Alliance” in Copenhagen, Denmark, in 1884. Philip Schaff asked Hoge to deliver this address (which is also reproduced in the appendix to Peyton Harrison Hoge’s Moses Dury Hoge: Life and Letters) at the very last possible minute, but it proved to be a memorable and profitable deliverance on the subject of “Family Religion.”
After quoting lines from William Cowper, Hoge moved on to discuss Burns’ memorable poem:
And as one quotation suggests another, you, my friends from another land, will allow me to remind you of the hallowed scene depicted by one of the greatest bards, not only of Scotland but of the world — the picture of "The Cotter's Saturday Night," when the family, gathered for the evening worship, formed a circle around the fireside, and when the old patriarch, having read a portion from "the big ha' Bible," and all together having sung a psalm, borne upward by "Dundee's wild warbling notes," or "plaintive Martyrs" or "noble Elgin" —
"Then kneeling down to Heaven's eternal King,
The saint, the husband and the father prays.
Hope springs exulting on triumphant wing.
That thus they all shall meet in future days,
No more to sigh or shed the bitter tear.
Together hymning their Creator's praise,
In such society, yet still more dear,
While circling time moves round in an eternal sphere."
There is a picture of family worship whose outlines will never grow dim, and whose colors will not fade.
Well was it said, "From scenes like these old Scotia's grandeur springs," and as long as piety in the household continues to be the characteristic of the life of the people of any land, it will never be with out the patriot soldier to defend its rights, or the patriot bard to sing its glories. Then let family worship open the gates of the morning with praise, and close the portals of the day with peace; let the children grow up under the hallowing influences of household piety, and these salutary impressions will never be effaced.
Words to consider on a weekend over a century later. “…but as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord” (Joshua 24:15).