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“I am come to set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her mother, and the daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law.”—MAT. X. 35.
The subject which is suggested by these words, is, THE GREAT SEPARATION WHICH RELIGION MAKES IN FAMILIES. The Savior, in the text, simply states a fact. He does not say that he aimed at such a separation; or that it was in itself desirable; or that religion would be responsible for it; or that there would be no possibility of avoiding it: he states the fact simply as it would occur—evidently in his view a lamentable fact, and one that would be attended sooner or later with unhappy results. The union of families is desirable. It is such an object as the “Prince of peace” would seek. But the meaning of the Savior in the text is, that his religion, by calling out one part of a family from another, would in fact tend to divide them, and would be the innocent cause of alienation. “I am come,” said he, " to set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her. mother, and the daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and a man's foes shall be they of his own household.” Endeavoring to keep the spirit of these words in view, and to pursue such a line of thought as shall best illustrate them, I shall invite your attention to two points.
I. The union of families in religion is desirable. And,
I. The union of families in religion is desirable; or, in other words, it is desirable that a family should be all united in the same faith, and in the same hope of heaven.
Before suggesting the reasons for this which indeed appear obvious almost without argument or illustration- I would observe, that in other subjects than religion, separations often occur in a family which create no evil, and which are in fact unavoidable. They are such as
relate to the professions and callings in life, the daily avocations in the domestic circle, or the separation of a family when children advance to years of maturity. There is often much painfulness attending such separations, but there is no blame, and no injury is done to individual interests, or to society at large. In the distinct departments of labor pursued by the husband and wife; in the different professions which the father and his sons may follow; in the separations which occur when one is a merchant, another a physician, another a lawyer, a fourth a clergyman, a farmer, or a mariner, no injury is done ; no alienation of feeling of necessity occurs. The great interests of society are not endangered; nor need the harmony of a family be disturbed, for its affairs move on like machinery where every wheel has its place, and where the revolution of one promotes the beautiful action of the whole.
If religion were something of this description, and affected no more vital interests than these different callings, the same thing might occur in regard to it, and no more injury would follow were one member of a family a christian, another an atheist, another a scoffer; were one member to delight in prayer, and another to disregard it; one to love the bible, and another to regard it as a cheat and an imposture. What is there in religion, it may be asked, which makes it so much more desirable that the members of a family should be united in that than in their professional pursuits? What is there that makes separation a subject of special regret? I shall submit a few considerations which are so obvious that they will probably at once occur to your own minds; at any rate they will commend themselves to you as true. They are these.
1. Union in a family on the subject of religion is desirable, because all its members have the same interests at stake. It is not here as it is in regard to worldly matters. The same great object, substantially, may be obtained in a family in worldly matters, in separate callings in life. Happiness, health, property, respectability, may be secured though one be a farmer, another a merchant, another a mechanic, another connected with one of the liberal professions. Indeed, so nicely is this adjusted and balanced by the Great Disposer of events, that it is to this day a question with every young man still undecided, though the experiment has been made some thousands of years, which of these callings furnish the most favorable field for the attainment of these objects. Either of them is still open as an ample and an honorable department where the great objects sought in the present life may be gained. But no such remark can be made in reference to the differences in religion. Neither reason, experience, nor the Bible, furnish any evidence that the same things in regard to man's immortal welfare can be obtained where there are radically different views in religion, or that the christian, the impenitent sinner, the infidel, the scoffer, and the atheist, though in the same family, can equally secure the favor of God. The history of the world has furnished impressive lessons on these points, and the Bible abundantly confirms all that that history has taught.
In reference to religion, all the members of a family have substantially the same interests at stake. The soul of one is of the same value as that of another, and is to be saved, if saved at all, in the same way. Each one has been redeemed by the same blood; and each one is advancing to the same judgment-bar. Pardon, needed equally by all, is to be obtained by each in the same manner; and being obtained will confer the same peace on all. In a family there is no reason why the wife should be a christian and the husband not ; why the father or the mother should be the friend of the Savior, and the son or daughter not; or why the sister should seek her happiness in the hope of heaven, and the brother feel that he has resources which can compensate for this, though he is not a christian. Neither the husband, the son, the daughter, nor the brother, can secure the salvation of the soul without religion, any more than the wife, the father, the mother, or the sister. As they have the same great interests at stake, it is desirable that they should be united in religion.
2. It is desirable because they are all under substantially the same obligation. That obligation may be slightly varied by age, or capacity, or the relation sustained, but it rests substantially on all. There is no special obligation which binds a wife to love God which does not rest also on the husband; there is none which claims the affection of a sister which does not also demand the heart of a brother; there is none which is laid upon the child which is not also upon the parent. Of the husband, whose wife is a christian, no one can show, that God has exempted him from the duty to which she responds; of the parent who has sons or daughters in the church, no one can show that he is exempt from the duty which they feel resting on them. If one is bound to love God, so is the other; if the father, so is the son; if the mother, so is the daughter; if the daughter-in-law, so is the mother-in-law. The claim is the same, and for the same reason. It rests on the broad basis of the duty which all men owe to their Maker, and so far as obligation is concerned, it is desirable that a family should be united in religion.
3. Such union is desirable in order to promote the happiness of a family; for religion enters more deeply into the things that promote or mar domestic enjoyment than anything else. Other differences, as has already been intimated, do not necessarily produce a jar, or lead either to alienation or to anxiety. A son may be a merchant or a lawyer while the father is a farmer, and the separation shall produce no alienation, and cause no regret or solicitude. All the wishes of the father's heart may be gratified in his virtuous life, and in the honor which a son of rising worth and reputation shall reflect on the family. But this cannot occur in religion. A christian father can never have such feelings in the contemplation of the fact that his son is an infidel, or a mere neglector of religion. All the father's hopes are identified with his religion, and all his expectations that his children will ever be happy are identified with that also; and when there is not reason for that hope in regard to the child, there must be anxiety in proportion to the sense which the parent has of the value and importance of religion. Accordingly it is a fact with which every one is familiar, that there is nothing that enters so deeply into the happiness of a family as unity of religious views, and of course nothing that will so much mar the peace of a family as discord on this subject. So important has this been usually regarded, that it has been felt that every sacrifice, but that of conscience, should be made to secure this union, and that in the case of a husband and wife attached to different denominations, one of them should be willing to sacrifice the preference, if it can be done with a good conscience, that they may “walk to the house of God in company.”
Besides. Religion is as needful to the happiness of one member of a family as another. If it has a good effect on the temper of a wife, it would also have on that of the husband. If it sustains one in times of trial, it would also the other. If it enables one to meet the rebuffs of adverse fortune with a calm spirit, it would enable the other to do it also. If it makes one serene and cheerful in the prospect of approaching death, or when a child is laid in the grave, what shall forbid us to suppose that it would minister the same consolation to the other also ?
4. In like manner, unity in religion in a family is desirable to promote the happiness of those who are christians. In most of the families that compose the congregations associated for public worship, there is one or more who is a sincere christian. The happiness of such is in religion. Their most intense and ardent aspirations are for heavenfor themselves, and for their friends. Their feelings of solicitude in behalf of their families are indeed often unknown to others. They are sometimes—often, I believe-criminally negligent in making them known; but there are often difficulties in the way which they cannot overcome. It is not easy for a daughter, who has the most intense solicitude for the salvation of a father, to express that desire to him; and there
may be cases where if a wife were to express the wishes of her heart to her husband, she may be certain that it would be met with a sneer, a witticism, a rebuke, or with most withering indifference. Even a mother may have so frequently pressed the subject on the attention of her sons, and may have so exhausted all the sources of appeal at her command, that she may have become disheartened, and feel almost the effort would be vain. Yet though silent, the solicitude of the wife and the mother is not extinguished. It may no longer be manifest as it once was to the husband of the son. It is now poured forth in the closet; and the appeal is transferred from their closed ears and hardened hearts to an ear that is never closed, a heart that never ceases to feel. Now if a child desired to pour into the bosom of a tender parent the purest, sweetest, most enduring joy, he would become a christian. If a husband so loved the partner of his bosom as to desire to promote her happiness in the highest degree, he would become a christian. For there is nothing else that will make a family so blessed; no increase of wine or oil will diffuse such deep-felt and permanent bliss around the fireside.
5. Unity in religion in a family is desirable, in order to give consolation in times of affliction. Nothing is more common than the breaking up of a family circle. No securities that we can throw around our domestic comforts, can save them from the entrance of sickness and death. The ranks of all families will be broken. Death comes. A husband, a father, a mother, a child is removed, and the survivors go forth and weep together. They have common sorrows. There is no jar, no discord there. The same chord has been struck in each heart, and the tones of its vibration are deep and long. In their affection for the departed, and in their sorrows, there is entire harmony of feeling. But not so in their consolations. One heart acquiesces in God, even in the unsearchable mysteries of his dealings, and feels that all is right. That heart is calm, and rests on the unfailing promises. The eye of that weeper looks up through tears to heaven, and the Father of mercies regards the desire of the suppliant, and gives peace. But not so with all. Another heart may have no consolation. It may be full of murmuring, and repining, and rebellion. There is no submission, and no looking to God. Nothing is seen by the eye of this one but clouds and darkness. Not a ray penetrates the gloom; not even momentary respite and consolation visits the soul. Now religion would have made all that weeping circle calm and submissive. It would have met their common sorrows by common joys, and though afflicted here together, yet they could have looked forward to a world where they would rejoice together, where all tears shall be wiped from
6. Once more. Unity in religion in a family is desirable, in order to promote the eternal welfare of all. There is no reason to believe that one can be saved in one way and another in another. There is but one path that leads to heaven, and that is a “straight and narrow" one. It accords not with reason any more than it does with the Bible, to suppose that one can be saved by christian piety, and another by infidelity; that faith will conduct one to the skies, and the want of it another; that he who prays has a well founded hope of glory, and that he has the same ground of hope who does not pray, that the righteousness of the Redeemer is the robe by which one is to be clothed in heaven, and that the morality of another is to constitute the " white garment” in which he will appear on the banks of the river of life; that one is to be borne up to receive the crown, ransomed by the blood of Jesus, and with the song of salvation on his lips as he ascends, and that another, who is a reviler, and a scoffer, and a blasphemer, is to ascend to the same world of glory, borne on the wings of imprecations and curses. Not thus do men ascend to the skies. If anything is clear from the Bible, and from all the deductions of reason, that they who have different characters in this world must meet a different doom in the next, and that this great principle cannot be set aside by all the tenderness of ties in the domestic relation. The mere fact that we are united there in love, and interest ; that the most tender of all chords bind the heart of a christian father even to an impenitent