This is probably going to go down as the book that’s had the biggest influence on me in 2009. Though it should be said that it’s actually two books in one volume, published by Sprinkle Publications, a publishing house in Virginia which specialises in old Christian books from the 1800s, which they reprint in beautiful hardbound facsimile editions.

The first book in this volume is The Family In Its Civil And Churchly Aspects by Benjamin Palmer, pastor of First Presbyterian in New Orleans in 1876. It’s split into two parts. The first part explains how the Biblical model of family (monogamous husband and wife, with children) is at the very core of society.

Because God has created the institution of families, children grow up learning how to obey authority, how to treat each other kindly, in an environment with just the right mix of affection and discipline – thus preparing them to be model citizens of society.

He then goes on to expound this point with a chapter devoted to each role in the family (husband, wife, parents, children, and – most controversially – servants).

I must admit, I was expecting a book from 1876 to be full of cringeworthy advice along the lines of, “The husband calls the shots. The wife does blindly whatever she’s told. The children obey or get smacked.” I’m not sure why I thought this was the standard view of the 19th century – but that’s what I was expecting.

However, I was amazed at one of the most balanced descriptions of marriage and parenting that I’ve ever read. The chapter on the authority of parents is worth the price of admission in and of itself.

The second part of Palmer’s book on the church was a little bit less convincing for me, because I had more trouble tracing his line of thought, compared with the first part. I understand that he sees family as showing us something of the relationship of Christ and the church, but it wasn’t made as clear as the first part. Still worth a read, though.

After a very strong first book, I thought the second book in this volume would have to be a strong contender to match it. It was.

Thoughts on Family-Worship by James Alexander (pastor of a Presbyterian Church in New York) and originally written in 1847, is the most sustained and passionate argument for families to worship together in their homes that I’ve ever read.

Chapter by chapter, Alexander hammers home at families (especially fathers) that they should be gathering their family every day to read the Bible, sing praises to God and pray together. He spells out the benefits for fathers, for children, for families, for what it does in hard times, for how it benefits society, how it benefits the church, etc. etc.

While there are bits here and there that may be legalistic (for instance, I’m not sure where Alexander gets the idea that kneeling is the only legitimate position for praying), but the overall vision that he paints of what could be achieved in the church and amongst Christians if we took the time to focus on God every day (and he’s arguing for morning and night, by the way) is challenging and inspiring. It made me realise that if many of these old stalwarts of the faith were to show up in 2009, they might think those of us calling ourselves Christians are a bit soft . . .

Anyway, I didn’t need to read very far in the book, before I got back in the habit of gathering my family together and reading the Bible and praying straight after dinner. I’m not sure how many of my Christian friends (especially those who are fathers), would make the time to read two books written in somewhat flowery language from the 1800s, but the ideas in this book have given me the most refreshing re-think about my family that I’ve had in years.

5 out of 5.


One thought on “Book Review: The Family (B.M. Palmer / J.W. Alexander)

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