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here, can this be thought to exclude his ordinary course of family proceeding? No, certainly, it rather implies and includes this.
In prosecuting the subject I shall use this method, 1. Explain what I mean by altars in families.
2. Prove it to be the duty of householders to set them up.
3. Answer objections against this practice.
4. Make some deductions and application.
OF WHAT IS MEANT BY FAMILYALTARS, AND WHAT IS REQUIRED OF HOUSEHOLDERS.
By altar I mean (considered as an instance of synecdoche) all the worship of God to be performed in families. To an altar in old times literally, and in gospel-times mystically, or metaphorically; there are four things requisite :
1. The institution or consecration; none can appoint an altar to be erected but God, Exod. xx. 24, " An altar of earth shalt thou make." None hath power to order God's worship but himself alone. Men may not add or diminish at their pleasure. Ministers must teach, Christians must observe all things whatsoever our Lord commandeth us.* Men may dedicate an altar-it is God alone that properly consecrates or sanctifies it; yet men are said to consecrate themselves to the Lord, yea, and other things in a secondary way, and instrumentally: but as God appoints, so himself * Matt. xxviii. 20. + Numb. vii. 10. 2 Chron. xxix. 31, 33. VOL. IV. X
only doth authoritatively, efficiently, actually, consecrate persons and things. Let us see, we have a warrant from God for what we do in his worship.
2. An altar requires a priest. Before the Mosaic law, the first-born of the family was priest to offer on the altar; but afterwards God took the tribe of Levi instead of the first-born, in remembrance of the Lord's smiting the first-born in Egypt, Numb. iii. 12, 13. Aaron and his family were the blossoming rod whom God had chosen in a peculiar manner to appear before
him:* but our Lord Jesus is our New Testament Aaron, yet above him, even after the order of Melchizedeck; a higher order than that of Aaron. Upon whose account all God's saints are kings and priests:‡ for as Christ's divinity sanctified his humanity, since our Lord as God sanctified himself as man; so he also sanctifies all his saints; "By one offering he hath perfected for ever them that are sanctified;|| for this end, that they may be a holy priesthood to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ."§
3. A priest must needs have something to offer upon this altar. The priests under the law offered bulls, goats, and other brute beasts. Christ offered himself as a sacrifice for our sins. Saints offer their souls and bodies as a thank-offering unto the Lord; besides their prayers and praises, as was hinted before: but the Holy Ghost adviseth us to be more ready to hear, than to give the sacrifice of fools, Eccles. v. 1. or than fools to give sacrifice, who vainly think to please God with the variety and costliness of their offerings. "Obedience is better than sacrifice; and the sacrifice of the wicked is an abomination unto the Lord;" therefore it becomes us all to look to our state and standing, and also to
the manner of our sacrificing, as well as the matter sacrificed.
4. As to the altar, there must be respect to the end and design of this altar; for the end either makes or mars the action. Now the text saith, "I will make there an altar unto God ;" and God saith, "an altar shalt thou make unto me;" not to idols, nor to themselves, to please their own fancy, or for vain-glory.* God threatens he will break down all such altars:† for though every family must have their distinct altar in their peculiar relative capacities, yet they must only make use of the one altar Christ Jesus for acceptance, and worship God after the pattern shewed in the mount; that the Lord may be one and his name one, that is, his worship uniform, and the same in all places. Hence it was that when the two tribes and a half had made an altar, the other tribes were offended, and prepared war against them; till they were assured it was not in opposition, but as a testimonial of their relation, and worshipping the same God, therefore they called it Ed, a witness: read the story, Jos. xxii. 10, 34. Every family must erect such an altar, to be a witness that they serve the same God who is worshipped in public assemblies, and in the catholic church in all times and places.
Only this altar of which I am now treating, is distinct from public, and also secret personal altars.
1. It is not properly public, either national or congregational, such as that which David erected, 2 Sam. xxiv. 18, "Gad came to David and said, go up, rear an altar unto the Lord." This was for all Israel to make an atonement, and this was the place where the temple was to be built, whither all the tribes were to go up to worship God: however, this family-altar must not *Exod. xx. 24. Hos. viii. 11. + Ios. x. 2. Zech. xiv. 9.
exclude public ordinances, upon which holy David's heart was so set, that he envies the sparrow and swallow that built their nests near God's altars,* and is transported with an extacy of holy joy at his approach to it: "Then will I go to the altar of God, unto God my exceeding joy." No, no, the more a Christian is conversant with God in his family, the more will he prize and improve public ordinances.
2. This is distinct from secret acts of worship or personal altars, such as Abraham erected, Gen. xii. 7, 8, "The Lord appeared unto Abraham; and there he builded an altar unto the Lord :" and in the next verse, "called upon the name of the Lord." Howbeit some expositors think this was a family-altar, which Abraham erected, to keep his family in the true religion; and to separate himself and them from the idolatrous neighbourhood if so, it confirms my assertion in favour of family-altars. But certainly that in Gen. xxii. 9. was more personal: so was Jacob's, Gen. xxviii. 18.
This therefore that I am speaking of is a familyaltar, an emblem of family worship.
It is true sometimes a family signifies a whole nation, a kingdom, Amos iii. 1. "The whole family which I brought up from the land of Egypt:" that is all the Hebrews, afterwards divided into the two families of Judah and Ephraim, Jer. xxxiii. 24. The sons of Adam were all one family, and after the confusion of languages they were distributed into the several regions of the world, and had their names from the head and root of that family from whence they sprung.‡ This is not the notion of family here: but it is to be taken strictly for persons dwelling together in one house; Lev. xx. 5 "Then I will set my face against that inan, and against his family:" this is distinct from king* Psal. lxxxiv. 3. † Psal. xliii. 4. Deut. xxxii. 8. Jer. viii. 3.
doms and provinces; Judg. i. 25. “ "They let go and all his family." Esth. ix. 28, where family is distinguished from province and city: and this is the most obvious and ordinary use of the word: and in the text the restriction is to Jacob and his house. Lawyers, civilians, divines thus use the word and say, that a house or family is a society most agreeable to nature. In this house are such as are most ordinarily and familiarly conversant together, that work, eat, drink, and sleep under one roof. To a complete family (say they) are requisite father, mother, son, and servant :† but indeed the proper constituent, essential parts of a family are but these two, such as govern, and such as are governed.
And ordinarily the person governing must set up this altar, and order the worship of God in his house or family together with the rest: hear what a great divine, now with God, saith on this point: Baxter's Christian Directory, tom, 2. fol. 490, "Note therefore that the governor is an essential part of the family, and so are some of the number of the governed, but not each member; if therefore twenty children or servants shall worship God without their father or master of the family, either present himself, or in some representative, it is not family-worship in a strict sense: but if the head of the family personally (or his delegate, or representative) be present with any of his children or servants, though all the rest be absent, it is yet a family-duty, though the family be incomplete and maimed, (and so is the duty therefore, if culpably so performed;)" thus far that reverend man of God.
If it be inquired, how must a householder act the part of a priest in his family? what must he do? I
* Domus est naturæ consentanea societas.
+ 1. Paterfamilias. 2. Materfamilias. 3. Filius. 4. Servus.