12 January 2011

The Family


The Family is a book on, what else, the family by J. R. Miller, a pastor in the late 1800s. The book is arranged to highlight the various duties and roles of each member of a Christian family and to give a vision of what a biblical family ought to be. Various chapters focus on the husband, the wife, parents, children, and siblings. Each chapter is full of poetry, hymns, anecdotes, and parables to illustrate his points.

Overall, Miller does a great job of painting a beautiful picture of the family and of showing the nobility and importance of fulfilling god-given roles within the family. I loved his chapter on the wedded life and on husbands in particular. The one problem I have with Miller’s book, and this is kind of a big deal, is that he never really talks about sin or how to deal with sin. He sets up the perfect family life and shows how to achieve it. However, such a life is impossible to achieve without the grace of God and a lot of forgiveness among family members. As my wife is fond of saying, “It doesn’t do to leave sin out of your calculations when dealing with little children.” In the context of a family home imbued with God’s grace and in the constant habit of seeking and giving forgiveness, the guidelines in this book would be an excellent exhortation to faithfulness. However, in the hands of someone simply looking for “the right way to do things,” I can see this book being the source of much frustration with God and with other members of the family when it turns out that they can’t live up to the noble ideals of the book. “But I want my best family now!” So, this book could have used a little pastoral balance. We are all fallen sinners. Even the babies among us, my pastor points out, “are just little sinners waiting for motor skills,” and so grace is the necessary theme of the happy home.

Another thing that may be off-putting to some readers is the fact that the writer is a Victorian. While loving the beautiful language of the book, I felt like I needed a testosterone shot after reading certain portions of it. Somehow, the pre-Victorians seemed to be able to use beautiful language without it becoming sentimental or maudlin (eg.- Jane Austen), but the Victorians often descended into the worst sort of sentimentality. A couple of examples will explain what I mean.

“You have a sister pure as a lily. She has grown up beside you in the shelter of the home. Her eyes have never looked upon anything vile. Her ears have never heard an impure word. Her soul is as white as the snowflakes that fall from the clouds. You love her as you love your own life. You honor her as if she were a queen.”

No. No, I’m afraid your sister is a fallen sinner just like the rest of us. And if her eyes have never looked upon anything vile, it probably means that she is horribly na├»ve and needs an education. Someone get this woman a copy of Eusebius or Tacitus. Here’s another example:

“Little Willie Newton was a child of about five years old. One day his mother had taken him into her room and prayed for him by name, and when she arose, he exclaimed, ‘Mamma, mamma, I am so glad you told Jesus my name; now he’ll know me when I get to heaven. When the kind angels that carry little children to the Saviour take me and lay me in his arms, Jesus will look at me so pleased and say, “Why this is little Willie Newton; his mother told me about him; how happy I am to see you Willie!” Won’t that be nice, mamma?’”

Eurrgggh… Anyway, in final analysis, this is a good book for reminding people of their god-given duties as members of a Christian family, and is full of good advice. However it is weak on grace and long on sentimentality. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I suddenly feel the need to drink beer and do something manly.

4/5 stars

1 comment:

Erica said...

And this is why I've read Jane Eyre exactly once, and that six years ago.