« AnteriorContinuar »
I. The sacredness of the family as a divine institution. It is the oldest of all earthly institutions, older than the church or the state, or even than the Sabbath, which "was made for man," and not man for it. The materials of creation finished, there in the formation of the first family in Eden, history, properly speaking, began. Imposing and significant was that first marriage ceremony, in which Adam must for a time return to unconsciousness, to the image of death from which he is raised to a new life, to new and strange relations, which, by a striking sign-even by a miracle wrought-are ordained to be permanent. The soul of the first man understood the meaning of God, when he said, "This is now bone of my bone, and flesh of my flesh." It was the confession for all times, that separation would be as unnatural as it would be profane. And it also, you will recollect, allowed no cruelty, no misfortune, no external disgrace, not even insanity, to be a sufficient ground in the sight of God for divorce, signifying that it were better great calamities and wrongs should be suffered in single instances than that mankind should come to regard lightly the bonds of a divinely appointed institution. If we enter then the human household, and look upon it even in the light of nature, it is seen to be a kingdom ordained of God, with its own laws, interests, and responsibilities; in the earliest times, its patriarch, the eldest born, being its ruler and priest, to whom disobedience was a crime. But, in the light of revelation, is it seen a kingdom of such importance in the divine economy, that the King of heaven comes down to issue regulations for its administration. He leaves the state mainly to make its own laws, but He takes every member of the family under His own supervision, from the master of the house to the servant, and even the dumb animal that serves; the husband, the wife, the children, the man-servant, and maid-servant, and the cattle, whose treatment is also seen to have a mighty influence on the moral character of the whole household. In relation to all these, God as Governor of the world issues special edicts, and not only general principles of action but the minutest directions. And it was because He, who does nothing in vain, knew what the family was, and its indestructible influence for weal or woe upon every other relation of life, and would impress upon us that this institution was not an institution of man. Probably most of us could be astonished at the vast collection of laws for the family which would be made from the word of God, which is a statute for the household. And continually, as Christianity extends its influence, does the family become more sacred, and a grandeur is seen to invest it to which we are blind, only because sin has blinded us to all the real grandeur of life, and contracted our views to what is only paltry and sensual. Christianity will yet bring forth this holy institution, so long neglected, degraded, perverted, and debased, to its true position. Already the light is glimmering upon
some minds, and already is it seen, that with increase of knowledge and with moral elevation, the members of the household are bound in closer bonds, and that each member falling into his proper position is necessary to complete a symmetry of God's own devising. To every believer the family of the Christian ought to be sacred, because God has declared its members holy, and has ordered the sacred seal of baptism to be set upon them, even upon the infant, including all in one covenant of grace, and allowing the parent to exercise faith, and to plead promises for the child. And no Christian ought to forget that Jesus Christ was a member of the human family, and that His infant smile once answered to a mother's, as nature was weaving around Him the mysterious household ties, and that he knew filial reverence and brotherly affection. Neither when His soul expanded with the mighty thoughts of his mission, nor when the God-head shone out with power, nor when the earth was reeling under the great expiation for sin were those ties lessened. Looking down from the cross He sees His mother weeping, and near her the beloved disciple, and the affection of a son still speaks from amid the agonies of death, "Woman, behold thy son!" and to his disciple, "Behold thy mother !" and thus in the life of Jesus, which is the example for all generations, do we find proof that the family should be perpetual, and thus also forever in the eyes of the believer is the family consecrated.
There are also mysterious and unexplained bonds which unite the human family, and the oldest tragedies in the world are founded upon the dark woes of a household, scattered and suffering for the crime of one of its members. Everywhere the avenging power is upon their track. Ignorant of one another, even of their relationship, and flying from refuge to refuge, a relentless fate shuts them up to a common and terrible destiny. Even the darkened heathen mind in distant ages could see that families are bound by ties stronger than interest or affection, and with shuddering could see how a crime sent mysteriously its fatal influence through them all like the stroke of an axe through all the leaves and branches of the same tree, or, as a desecration polluted the whole temple, which from thenceforth was devoted to destruction. There was pone to tell him the great lesson made known to us why death so relentlessly pursues us all, because we are the family of man. "By one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin, and so death passed upon all men for that all have sinned;" neither for him was there any sanctuary from the destroying and invisible power.
The blindest can see that physical, intellectual and moral qualities come down in the family; the family resemblance reaching to the very soul, and the results of evil actions and of good ones descending to the third and fourth generations. God visits the iniquities of the fathers on the children, and when
Dathan and Abiram sinned, their wives and children, standing with them in the doors of their tents, are seen to descend alive with their fathers into the abyss. But we also behold Noah entering with his house into the ark: we can see that God meant the strange family bond for good.
These bonds of the family are more than imaginary; they are grounds of imputation. They belong to us as "fearfully and wonderfully made;" and as death visits the household, and a parent, a brother, a sister, or a child falls and is borne to the tomb, the souls of them that remain mourn in the depths of their nature as if a part of their very life were taken away. Human institutions, however carefully erected, though consecrated by oaths solemnly taken, and imposing ceremonies, yet reach no farther than interest or, at best, sentiment; but God's institutions reach to the very life of man, and take hold of his spiritual nature.
Thus has God set off every family from all other families, and given to it in all lands a seclusion, and a seclusion the more sacred as His word obtains a power the more sacred over the heart. The important reasons of this seclusion we shall see as we come to the second part of our discourse; but there is another thought connected with the sacredness of the institution which we cannot pass by. It is, that God has made the human family the symbol of heaven and of heavenly things. And so generally is this the case, that, were infidelity to succeed in its miserable attempt to break up the household, a vast portion of the word of God would become unintelligible, and all the best portions of our knowledge and highest conceptions of spiritual things would disappear. He that sitteth in the heavens shall laugh," nature itself has our modern reformers in derision, as they attempt to stir, and upheave, and re-arrange the pillars of this mighty government of God, in which it is the wisdom and the blessedness of ignorant man to take refuge as a bird in its mountain. How without the family could we comprehend God as a Father? The Parable of the Prodigal Son would be forever lost to us, and the Spirit of Adoption and our Father's House would become to us sounds of unknown significance. The life of Jesus would be as worthless to us as a myth to be swept into the rubbish of the past, for we could no longer comprehend the beauty of its pervading spirit of love, nor imitate His acts of fraternal and childlike affection. It is by the family that we understand the relations of the church to Christ as the Bride of the Lamb, and the Church as the mother of us all, by whom we are nourished and nurtured for a higher life, or the relations the redeemed are to sustain unto each other as they dwell in the "many mansions" and eat bread with the Elder Brother. But what a sanctity does the employment of the family images for such a purpose throw around this institution on which we are prone to look so slight
ingly. Taken for the service of the temple, "Holiness to the Lord" is written upon it. Having its origin in the dawnings of time, it has through all ages been a shadow of spiritual and heavenly realities-a reflection in these turbid waters of the light of our distant home. Ah! Christian parent, it was not when the stranger died that you looked from the symbol to the reality. It was when your child left you, you saw the mute beckonings of the young spirit as it was ascending to a Father's bosom, and to dwell with its kindred; then only you found consolation in the thought that this is the shadow that passeth away, but the substance abideth forever.
From what we have said it is evident that the family can be no otherwise than an institution of vast influence and power in the world. However simple its organization or limited its resources, there are in it so much of the wisdom and authority of God, that we can only cease to regard it with awe when we have lost all reverence for Him, or respect for His purposes, or fear of His judgments.
II. But we must now proceed to inquire, "What is the design of the Family institution in the divine economy?
Temporal though it be in its nature, yet the briefest observation will show us its most intimate connection with the eternal, its solemn bearing upon all that goes to make up our life in this world and the next-the divinely appointed habitation in which the young and ignorant spirit finds a temporal home. Unconscious as yet of its origin or destiny, of its capacities, of duty, of danger, coming an entire stranger into the universe it is never again to leave; it here derives its first impressions (which give a coloring to all others). It finds its ideas of what life is, or what is its end, where it meets the true or pretended guides which lead it onward or send it forth with instructions upon its endless journey. The family is the nursery of all those affections, the regulation and exercise of which is in all after-life to constitute the happiness or wretchedness of their possessor. Here it is, if ever, the basis is to be laid in parental authority for reverence and the spirit of submission; in parental truth for faith; in parental affection for filial love. We may best conceive how much we owe to the family in the development of the social affections by bringing before us a complete household, modelled and conducted according to the divine command. The father, remembering that he is the representative of God and therefore careful to mingle his commands with affection, to see that they are founded in perfect righteousness and that therefore they are always obeyed. The mother, ever conscious that God has made her the representative of the church, and taking for her guidance the law of her God. And both looking up to Him who "giveth wisdom," and consecrating their children to holi
ness, would be sure of the return of reverential, affectionate, and trustful hearts. If affliction come, all their sons and daughters would rise up to comfort them; if disease-if poverty-enter as an "armed man," filial love would protect them as the shield of the mighty. When old age comes on, no neglect from ungrateful children would dishonor their "crown of glory," as leaning on the strong arm of manhood they would go down to rest in the grave. The moral effect of such a life no mind can estimate, or the value of such an education just when it is possible in the life of the soul, when it is to be decided what affections shall predominate, when the foundations are laid to which the building must conform. In such a family rise up the brotherly affections and their accompaniments, self-denial and mutual assistance, compassion for the sick, tenderness for the weak, sense of mutual rights, obedience to law among equals and for inferiors. In a word, all those characteristics which fit man for life in the world are here developed, and for this end the family is instituted. Qualities, which in individual men have awed or charmed the world, are traceable back to the family; and the greatest men the world has known, have confessed that to a father's or a mother's teaching they owed the impulse which sent them onward. The man's life as a citizen of this world will be mainly shaped by the influences of home. The orderly citizen most generally has come from the orderly home; the law-breaker from the lawless household. Go into the state prison and you will find it so; and hundreds, with one voice, will tell you in effect, "I was never in my home inspired with one high or true conception of life. My father never seemed to think of my futurity, or to know any responsibility. My mother lived for show and dress and vanity, and never imparted to me one lofty guiding thought. Without an idea of government I was sent into the world, and only by the stern, harsh, soulless edicts and penalties of the civil State am I educated for time and eternity. I had no home, or my home was like a hell." Thus does every family send out its representatives into the world to tell its secrets. But a truth of far greater importance is that in the design of God the Family is the nursery of the Church. Whether in the case of Abraham, the Family and the Church being one, God designed to lay down a great principle we need not now inquire; but that He afterwards taught the intimate connection of the two institutions is sufficiently evident, for He not only ordained the rite of circumcision and baptism to the household, but He solemnly enjoined upon His people to teach to their households, and especially to their children, the great truths held by the church, and to impress upon their minds its principles. "Thou shalt teach these things diligently to thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thy house, and when thou walkest by the way; when thou liest down, and when thou risest up." Train up