Part one can be read here.
The principal means by which Jonathan Edwards expressed the “true and gracious longings after holiness” of which he spoke in Religious Affections was through the practice of the spiritual disciplines he found in Scripture. Edwards’s God, he believed, was self-revealed in the Bible, and that “the Scriptures are the word and work of a divine mind.” Thus the Bible was the centerpiece of his devotional piety.
But Edwards did not merely read Scripture, rather he meditated on and prayerfully studied it by the hour. This is plainly evidenced by the abundant fruit of these practices represented in the works cited previously. Throughout his life, the Bible was the supreme means by which Edwards sought to know and experience God and to pursue conformity to the person and work of Jesus Christ.
Edwards’s devotional meditation on Scripture was inevitably intermingled with prayer, especially in the late afternoon when it was his habit to “walk for divine contemplation and prayer.” But Edwards also prayed alone in his study, as well as with his children and with Sarah, as noted in the previous post. He did the same with church members who came seeking his counsel or with young ministers living as interns in his home. Samuel Hopkins, an early biographer of Edwards who was one of those pastoral interns, indicates that sometimes Edwards devoted entire days to prayer.
Next to a hunger for the Bible, Edwards believed that the most important indicator of a person’s relationship to God or, conversely, the absence thereof, was prayer. This is revealed in his sermon, “Hypocrites Deficient in the Duty of Prayer.” In Edwards’s personal piety, prayer was planned, but it was also informal; it was scheduled, yet it was also spontaneous—all on a daily basis. In terms of method, Edwards spoke of prayer mostly as propositional communication, that is, addressing God with rational thought.
Beyond the essential elements of meditation on Scripture and prayer, Edwards’s piety was frequently characterized by worshipful song. Especially when walking alone late in the day he found that “it always seemed natural . . . to sing or chant forth my meditations.”
Much of Edwards’ devotional life was somehow connected with writing. Whether in his “Diary,” “Miscellanies,” “Notes on Scripture,” or “Blank Bible,” Edwards frequently recorded insights that occurred to him as he meditated on Scripture, creation, or God’s providence. Today such practices would sometimes be designated a type of “journaling.”
Another aspect of Edwards’s devotional piety was fasting, that is, abstaining from one or more meals for spiritual purposes. Hopkins observed that Edwards frequently fasted, and Edwards himself wrote, “fasting is a part of Christian worship.” Occasionally he declared “fast days” for the Northampton congregation.
All the aforementioned disciplines practiced by Edwards—reading and meditating on Scripture, praying, worshipful singing, spiritual diary and devotional writing, and fasting—occurred in the context of his discipline of God-focused solitude. It may be that Edwards’s pastoral ministry suffered due to his preference for solitude, nevertheless he steadfastly maintained, “It is the nature of true grace, that however it loves Christian society in its place, yet it in a peculiar manner delights in retirement, and secret converse with God.”
Though little has been written of it, Edwards’ devotional piety extended to his immediate family. As previously mentioned, he read Scripture with his wife and children each morning and prayed with them more than once daily. By this means he practiced in his home what he preached from his pulpit: “A Christian family is as it were a little church.”
Edwards was persuaded that God had most clearly revealed himself—his nature, attributes, and will—in Scripture, and that to know God in an increasingly intimate way necessitated a biblically-saturated piety. He never appeared to question the methods of spirituality located in the biblical text, nor did he seem to find them unsatisfying or ineffective in his pursuit of God. To be sure, he did not limit his encounters with God’s presence to the pages of the Bible, for Edwards constantly looked to see and savor the revelation of God in creation as per Romans 1:20. And yet, as often and as deeply as he rejoiced in the glory of God in creation, Edwards never allowed this to take precedence in his piety over the specific revelation of God found in Scripture.
Edwards’s piety was a manifestation of his view that this life should be lived in preparation for eternity. He believed passionately in the existence of heaven and hell as taught in the Bible, that true and everlasting joy was found only in the presence of God in heaven, and that life on earth should be spent in the pursuit of and preparation for happiness in the coming world. For Edwards, the primary means of experiencing God in this life, and the wisest way to use his time, and the best method of preparing for eternity was to devote as much time as possible to biblical piety.
Original artwork by Caffy Whitney
For more about Jonathan Edwards and his spirituality:
A God-Entranced Vision of All Things—The Legacy of Jonathan Edwards, edited by John Piper and Justin Taylor. Don’s contribution to this book is the chapter on “Pursuing a Passion for God Through Spiritual Disciplines: Learning from Jonathan Edwards.”
Finding God in Solitude: The Personal Piety of Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758) and It’s Influence on His Pastoral Ministry. This is a popularization of Don’s Ph.D. dissertation. It is so expensive because it was published by an academic press and with a small print run.
 Namely his “Diary,” “Miscellanies,” and “Notes on Scripture.” We can also conjecture about Edwards’s own devotional habits from the commendation he gives to the missionary’s piety in The Life of David Brainerd, the counsel provided in his letter to Deborah Hatheway, the content of various sermons, the notes in his “Blank Bible,” and especially from the testimony in his Personal Narrative—the single best autobiographical resource on Edwards’s piety.
Broadly defined, “piety” refers to the aggregate of a person’s distinctly Christian beliefs and actions. Here Jonathan Edwards’s piety is considered in the more narrow sense of devotional piety, that is, those private practices intended to focus the heart and mind of the individual believer upon God and to develop authentic Christian beliefs, motives, and actions.
Although Edwards’s general Christian piety was exemplary, his personal devotional piety was exceptional, both in breadth and depth. It was grounded in Scripture, influenced by the patterns of his father Timothy and grandfather Solomon Stoddard—both of whom were pastors—and consistent with that of the ministers in Puritan England and New England through whom Edwards traced his theological lineage.
Even as a child Edwards sometimes manifested unusual inclinations toward devotional habits. Although he’d not yet experienced the converting influence of the “Divine and Supernatural Light” he would famously preach about in 1733, as a boy there was a period of months when he would “pray five times a day in secret,” often in a booth built for the purpose in a swamp.
After his conversion (1721) at age 17 his devotional duties became delights. He reported that now he “went to prayer, to pray to God that I might enjoy Him; and prayed in a manner quite different from what I used to do; with a new sort of affection.” He also began to experience “the greatest delight in the holy Scriptures, of any book whatsoever.” In the Bible he “seemed often to see so much light, exhibited by every sentence, and such a refreshing ravishing food communicated.”
Within months Edwards “solemnly vowed to take God for my whole portion and felicity; looking on nothing else as any part of my happiness, nor acting as if it were.” He built his life around disciplines that helped him pursue the enjoyment of God and cultivate happiness in him.
At 18, for example, he began the lifelong practice where he “very frequently used to retire into a solitary place, . . . for contemplation on divine things, and secret converse with God; and had many sweet hours there.” About the same time (no later than 1722) Edwards began his “Diary,” the volume containing his “Resolutions.”
In terms of daily routine, Edwards’s piety began each morning between four or five when by candlelight he would read the Bible and pray. Marsden says that afterward Edwards would lead his family in prayer and that “each meal was accompanied by household devotions.” At the close of each day, Sarah and Jonathan would pray together in his study.
Most every day of Edwards’s life was spent at home, and most of that time he worked in his study. A legendary line from Samuel Hopkins, who as a first-hand observer wrote of Edwards, “He commonly spent thirteen hours every day in his study.”
While the specific details and processes of Edwards’s devotional methods remain hidden behind his study door, we can draw the general contours of his personal spirituality from resources produced there such as his “Diary,” “Miscellanies,” and “Notes on Scripture.” We can also conjecture about Edwards’s own devotional habits from the commendation he gives to the missionary’s piety in The Life of David Brainerd, the counsel provided in his letter to Deborah Hatheway, the content of various sermons, the notes in his “Blank Bible,” and especially from the testimony in his Personal Narrative—the single best autobiographical resource on Edwards’s piety.
To read Edwards’s own account of his private spirituality, read his Personal Narrative. Believed to be a response to an inquiry about his testimony of his walk with God by his son-in-law, Aaron Burr, Sr. (president of Princeton University and father of Aaron Burr, Jr., who is best known for killing Alexander Hamilton in a duel) it is by far my personal favorite among Edwards’s writings. It’s less than thirteen pages of volume 16 in the Yale edition of the Works of Jonathan Edwards, a collection of seventy-three volumes found in their entirety and fully searchable at edwards.yale.edu.
Part two is found in the next post.
Original artwork by Caffy Whitney
For more about Jonathan Edwards and his spirituality:
A God-Entranced Vision of All Things—The Legacy of Jonathan Edwards, edited by John Piper and Justin Taylor. My contribution to this book is the chapter on “Pursuing a Passion for God Through Spiritual Disciplines: Learning from Jonathan Edwards.”
Finding God in Solitude: The Personal Piety of Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758) and It’s Influence on His Pastoral Ministry. This is a popularization of my Ph.D. dissertation. It is so expensive because it was published by an academic press and with a small print run.
My daughter, Laurelen, graduated from a small, classical Christian high school. The school enjoys a commencement tradition in which the parents hand the diploma to their child, but only after speaking a few words of encouragement (usually accompanied with some nostalgia) to him or her. The graduate responds with some brief, prepared remarks of his or her own.
A surprise for me
From her response to us, here’s the section Laurelen specifically addressed to me:
Dad, I can’t think of learning to read, reading, or books without thinking about you. I remember how encouraging you were when I first learned to read. I would finish those little books, so proud of myself, and you would encourage me to start another one right away. I remember you reading to me when I was little and telling me how exciting it would be when I learned to read and could read to you. For as long as I can remember, you’ve been bringing home books from used bookstores for me to read and enjoy. By the time we moved from Kansas City, I had 4 or 5 bookcases full of books that you had lovingly brought home for me.
Reading has always been such an important part of us as a family. Dad, the way you have so consistently led us in family worship every single night of the week for every night of my life [Note: her memory certainly failed her here] is so meaningful and inspirational for me. I’m going to cherish those moments together for as long as I live. You have been a wonderful, loving, spiritual leader for my entire life. Not only our time reading the Bible or Christian books together, but also our time reading classic books will be something I’ll remember forever. Thank you so much, Dad, for making that such a huge part of our time as a family.
As meaningful to me as they obviously were, Laurelen never finished reading these two precious paragraphs (which, with her permission, I copied from her manuscript). When she started talking about how much family worship had meant to her, Laurelen began to cry. And when I say cry, I mean I cannot remember her weeping that hard since she was a preschooler. She came and sobbed on my shoulder, and the photo of that moment is my all-time favorite of the two of us together.
Perhaps a surprise for you
Now before you imagine something that isn’t true, I want you to know that I cannot recall once in the thousands of nights before Laurelen wrote these words when we concluded family worship and I had some atmospheric sense of the presence of God. Not one time did we finish family worship where I would have said afterward, “The Lord evidently moved in great power among us tonight.”
On the contrary, most nights our family gathering was more like, “Will y’all pay attention; I’m reading the Bible here. . . . Please put down your phone. . . . Are you listening?”
Was anything accomplished tonight?
Many times after family worship I wondered if anything good had been accomplished. Almost nightly I had to remind myself to trust in the Lord to do His work through His Word, and not in my perceptions or feelings about what had or had not occurred.
Often came the nights when I perceived no enthusiasm to gather for family worship, and frankly, many times I had very little myself. In many such cases you know you need to proceed with at least a brief time of family worship out of sheer discipline and a resolve that refuses to cave in to plausible excuses of everyone’s fatigue or busyness. Sometimes you’ll sense that for you to mandate family worship on that occasion would be received as harsh and legalistic, so you simply for a quick circle and sing the Doxology or offer a brief prayer. And you’ll second-guess yourself just about every time you have to make such a call.
It will be worth it
Strive for faithfulness in family worship, not immediate results. I fully understand that what you may see night-after-night, week-after-week, month-after-month, year-after-year in family worship may be uneventful. Just realize that the effects are rarely immediate; usually they’re cumulative.
Oaks aren’t grown by the effects of an occasional spectacular day of weather, but by long-term, consistent exposure to the elements that encourage their growth. The same patient persistence is true for growing “oaks of righteousness” (Isa. 61:3).
Don’s book on Family Worship (Crossway, 2016) can be ordered here.
To receive the free, five-day video course on practical tips for family worship that Don developed with Crossway, click here.
Just about everyone I know feels overwhelmed, and most are busier than they’ve ever been, especially if they have children at home.
Pair that with my observation that most Christians I know would affirm that family worship—if they are familiar with it—would probably be a worthwhile practice if they were to make the time for it.
If these things are true for you, then my prayer is that this article will persuade you, despite the many demands on your schedule, to make a priority of family worship.
And I hope to persuade you—regardless of the size of your family, and even if you’ve never had children, or no longer have children in your home—by means of the following five reasons.
1. God deserves to be worshiped daily in our homes by our families.
This is the teaching throughout the Bible. While there is no direct command regarding family worship, it is implied throughout Scripture. In Genesis 22:7, when Isaac asked his father Abraham, “Where is the lamb for a burnt offering?”, he knew something was missing in the worship of God because Abraham had led Isaac and the rest of the family in the worship of God before.
Job 1:5 says that after any of his grown children held a feast, Job would send for them and offer up a burnt offering of worship for them in their presence, and “Thus Job did continually.”
In 1 Peter 3:7, Jesus’s apostle exhorts “husbands” (note: he addresses all married men, not just those who are fathers) to live with their wives “in an understanding way.” In part, Peter says this to husbands so that “your prayers may not be hindered.” The prayers here are not just those of the husband, rather Peter is referring to mutual prayer. He assumes that Christian couples pray together in their home.
If you have believed the gospel of Jesus Christ, you are surely convinced by both the Bible and the Holy Spirit that God, by virtue of who He is and what He’s done for us, deserves to be worshiped daily in our homes by our families.
2. There’s no better way to speak the gospel into the lives of your family members every day.
The grit in our souls and the grind of life puts us in need of remembering the glorious truths of the gospel daily. Jerry Bridges (summarized here by Tim Challies) has reiterated so helpfully in his books the need for us to “preach the gospel to ourselves every day.” Family worship gives us the opportunity to do that for the entire household.
If you have children, are you sure that they are clear on the message of the gospel? Even if they’ve not yet believed it in a saving way, are you confident they can articulate the essence of the message of what God has done in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus? Don’t assume that other people will make it plain to them and ensure that they understand it. In the context of family worship, you can be certain that they know the only message by which they can know God and go to Heaven.
3. There’s no better way to provide a regular time for your children to learn the things of God from you.
Certainly you want your children to learn the Bible and how to live as a Christian from your pastor and others who teach in your local church. That’s essential to Christian parenting. But you don’t want to outsource to the parents of other children all the Christian teaching your children receive.
Besides, the opportunities your children have with these teachers each week is limited in comparison to the time you can spend with them daily. Family worship is the best and most consistent way for you to transmit your core beliefs to your children.
4. There’s no better way for your children to see the ongoing, positive spiritual example of their parents in real life.
During daily life in your home, your children see you at your worst. They often see you when you aren’t acting like a Christian. Make sure they see you at your best, when you clearly live like a follower of Jesus in their presence.
Let them see you—a man or woman they know to be imperfect and a sinner—return every day to the Bible and to the centrality of Christ in the home. Let them see, not a hypocrite who attempts to partition their sin from their faith, but someone who regularly comes to God in family worship and humbly acknowledges their sin and need for a Savior.
Those who do will also discover how family worship fosters the times of confession, forgiveness, and restoration that all healthy families need.
5. Isn’t this what you really want to do?
Should it be necessary to persuade any genuine Christian to want to worship God in his or her home with the family? Doesn’t God Himself plant that desire in the heart of all those who love Him?
Do what you really want to do. Begin the worship of God with your family in your home tonight.
I have partnered with Crossway Books to offer a free, five-day video course on family worship. Go to this link and sign up at the bottom of the page simply by providing your email address. At the top of the page is a two-minute video where I introduce the course. After you sign up, you’ll get an email each day for five days. Each email will contain a brief (3 to 5 minute) video providing practical tips about how to begin and continue family worship.
Happy New Year from The Center for Biblical Spirituality!
Just two items in this edition of the newsletter:
1. Links to the five recent DesiringGod/Ask Pastor John podcasts where Don was a guest and answered questions about spiritual disciplines.
2. An announcement about dramatic discounts on both the print and audio editions of Don’s Family Worship: In the Bible, in History, and in Your Home.
At the end of 2015 and the beginning of 2016, Don was the guest on the “Ask Pastor John” podcast produced by DesiringGod Ministries. Filling in for Pastor John Piper, here are questions Don was asked each day by host Tony Reinke:
As a bonus, here’s a link to a conversation I had with ten years ago with Dr. Albert Mohler shortly after my life-saving cancer surgery. In this “Redeeming Cancer” interview, we also discuss John Piper’s then new, but now famous piece on “Don’t Waste Your Cancer”, for Piper had recently had cancer surgery as well. (Note: you’ll probably want to skip the brief review of the news in the first five minutes.)
Second, a new edition of my Family Worship book is coming soon. To make room, we are selling the remaining stock of the current edition at deep discounts on bulk orders especially.
Family Worship book Originally While supplies last
1 book $10.50 $9
10-pack $46 $26
50-pack $215 $87
Family Worship CD Originally While supplies last
5-pack $35 $20
10-pack $65 $30
To order online, click here.
To order by phone or get more information, call Terry at 502-883-1096
Each bulk order will include a copy of the CD (while supplies last).
This enhanced audio CD of Don presenting the book also includes a two-page printable, detailed outline of the book as well as a printable discussion guide.
ABOUT THIS BOOK AND CD
Family Worship is a 64-page book by Don Whitney that surveys the biblical teaching on family worship, demonstrates how our heroes throughout church history have practiced it, and then gives fathers/husbands the simple, specific, practical how-to’s of family worship.
There’s also a section dealing with common questions such as,
A Discussion Guide for each of the five chapters concludes the book.
Family Worship is designed for individual reading or for group study. Many churches have given a copy of this book to every family in their church.
WHAT OTHERS HAVE SAID
“Don Whitney has written a book we truly need. . . . This book belongs in every Christian home and in the hands of every Christian parent.”
—R. Albert Mohler, Jr., President, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary
Family Worship by Don Whitney is a priceless little volume. Whitney makes a compelling case from the Bible for the practice and illustrates it richly with historical examples. He even answers the frequently asked questions and responds to common objections. This book is persuasive, practical, and most of all, doable.
—Dr. Tedd Tripp, Pastor and author of Shepherding a Child’s Heart
Solid, substantial, gospel-centered, God-glorifying resources to recommend to families to help them either begin or to strengthen their family worship.
—Dr. Ligon Duncan, President, Reformed Theological Seminary
To order Family Worship online, click here.
To order by phone or get more information, call Terry at 502-883-1096.
I was interviewed by Jason Allen, president of Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kansas City, MO, about family worship.
At the link below you will find both audio and a transcript of the interview.
You can link to the page on President Allen’s website here.
On this page you can find information about my book, Family Worship.
Charles Spurgeon (1834-1892) was a Baptist pastor in London for most of the second half of the nineteenth century. His is one of the most recognized names in Christian history, but he’s best-known today as the Prince of Preachers.
An electronic search of the mountain of material produced by Spurgeon reveals that he often referred to family worship, which he also called “family prayer.” “I esteem it so highly,” he said, “that no language of mine can adequately express my sense of its value.”
Some may think that Spurgeon lived in a much simpler era that afforded him more time to practice family worship than Christians would have today. I’ve conducted a great deal of Ph.D. research on Spurgeon’s life and pastoral ministry, and can confirm this isn’t so.
Spurgeon’s autobiography, as well as many first-hand observers, tell us that Spurgeon. . .
(1) pastored the largest evangelical church in the world at that time (with more than six thousand active members),
(3) edited his sermons for weekly publications, and thereby
(4) produced (in the sixty-four volume Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit) the largest collection of works by any single author in English,
(5) wrote an additional one hundred and twenty books (one every four months throughout his entire adult life),
(6) presided over sixty-six different ministries (such as the pastor’s college he founded),
(7) edited a monthly magazine (“The Sword and the Trowel”),
(8) typically read five books each week, many of which he reviewed for his magazine, and
(9) wrote with a dip pen five hundred letters per week.
And I think I’m busy! Five hundred hand-written letters? I couldn’t write five hundred tweets per week! Even if I were just copying verses from the Bible!
God gave Spurgeon an extraordinary capacity for work and productivity. And yet, despite the ceaseless, crushing demands on his schedule, at 6:00 each evening, setting aside a to-do list that few could match today, he gathered his wife, twin boys, and all others present in his home at the time for family worship.
After his death, his wife Susannah wrote this glimpse into their lives together with their twin boys, both of whom became pastors:
After the meal was over, an adjournment was made to the study for family worship, and it was at these seasons that my beloved’s prayers were remarkable for their tender childlikeness, their spiritual pathos, and their intense devotion. He seemed to come as near to God as a little child to a loving father, and we were often moved to tears as he talked thus face to face with his Lord.
A visitor to the Spurgeon home once wrote,
One of the most helpful hours of my visits to Westwood was the hour of family prayer. At six o’clock all the household gathered into the study for worship. Usually Mr. Spurgeon would himself lead the devotions. The portion read was invariably accompanied with exposition. How amazingly helpful those homely and gracious comments were. I remember, especially, his reading of the twenty-fourth of Luke: “Jesus Himself drew near and went with them.” How sweetly he talked upon having Jesus with us wherever we go. Not only to have Him draw near at special seasons, but to go with us whatever labour we undertake. . . . Then, how full of tender pleading, of serene confidence in God, of world-embracing sympathy were his prayers, . . . His public prayers were an inspiration and benediction, but his prayers with the family were to me more wonderful still. . . . Mr. Spurgeon, when bowed before God in family prayer, appeared a grander man even than when holding thousands spellbound by his oratory.
You may know of no one as busy or as burdened as yourself, but can you honestly say you have more responsibilities than Spurgeon?
Despite his innumerable and important responsibilities, Spurgeon made the privileges and delights of family worship a priority. How about you?
 C. H. Spurgeon, C. H. Spurgeon’s Autobiography. Susannah Spurgeon and J. W. Harrald (comps.). (London: Passmore and Alabaster, 1899; reprint, Pasadena, TX: Pilgrim Publications, 1992), 64.
Don has published a book on Family Worship: In the Bible, In History and In Your Home.