The Directory for Family Worship, 1647
The Directory for Family Worship
APPROVED BY THE GENERAL ASSEMBLY OF THE CHURCH OF SCOTLAND, FOR PIETY AND
UNIFORMITY IN SECRET AND PRIVATE WORSHIP, AND MUTUAL EDIFICATION, WITH AN
ACT OF THE GENERAL ASSEMBLY 1647 FOR OBSERVING THE SAME
DIRECTIONS OF THE GENERAL ASSEMBLY, CONCERNING SECRET AND PRIVATE WORSHIP, AND
MUTUAL EDIFICATION; FOR CHERISHING PIETY, FOR MAINTAINING UNITY, AND AVOIDING SCHISM
By God’s mercy, public worship has been established in this land in great purity. Besides
this however, it is both expedient and necessary for each person to be involved in “secret
worship”, and for families to worship together privately as a family. By this, along with
our national reformation, the profession and power of godliness, both personal and
domestic, shall be advanced.
1. And first, for secret worship, it is most necessary, that everyone take part in
private prayer and meditation. This practice brings benefits that are impossible to
describe, and which are only fully appreciated by those who are most careful to
put it into practice. This is the means whereby, in a special way, one communes
with God, and is properly prepared for the Christian life. Therefore it is necessary
that pastors encourage everybody to this practice, morning and evening, and at
other times as well. But it is also the duty of the head of every family, to take
good care that both they themselves, and those in their care are diligent in this
practice every day.
2. The ordinary duties which should be part of a godly family met for family worship
are these: Firstly, prayer and praise touching the life and present needs of the
church at large, the nation, and of every member of the family. Secondly the
reading of the Scriptures, with a plain explanation of the text so that all [children
especially] may be better able to benefit from attendance at public worship, and
profit from their own private reading. As well, there should be some discussion
with application to all members of the family, with appropriate rebukes and
corrections explained by those in authority in the home.
3. Just as the duty and office of interpreting the Scriptures is a ministerial office, and
no-one regardless of their qualifications should usurp that without being properly
called and set apart for that office, so too it is the specially called duty of the head
of the family, to read the scriptures plainly to the family. After this, it is
commendable that there be some discussion and application of what has been
read. For example, if in the reading there is some sin rebuked, then the whole
family should be warned against it and urged to be watchful. If there is a Divine
judgement threatened, or described, then all should be cautioned lest through
their complacency and lack of watchfulness, the same judgement, or even
something worse, should come upon them. Finally, if there is some duty
commanded, or some comfort promised, this can be used to stir up each one to
seek Christ’s strength to perform that duty, or to seek His gracious provision of 2
that comfort. In all of this the head of the family is to give the lead, and family
members should seek answers to their questions and doubts from him.
4. The head of the family is to take care that no-one in the family withdraws from
family worship. Further, since the responsibility for family worship belongs to the
head of the home, the minister is to stir up those who are lazy, and train those
who are weak, so that all will be equipped properly. It is also quite proper for a
man to engage anyone else approved by the Presbytery to train him and his
family. Then too if the head of the family is unfit to lead family worship, another
member of the family approved by the minister and session may be given that
task. The minister and session are accountable to the presbytery for those whom
they recommend in this way. If through the providence of God the minister should
be present and convene family worship, he should do so with the whole family
present, unless there are special reasons [eg something that should be discussed
privately] for meeting only with some.
5. No-one who is lazy, whose Christian faith is unknown, or who is unsettled in their
faith should be allowed to lead family worship even if they volunteer themselves.
This is the way error subtly and deceitfully enters homes, causes division, and
leads the gullible and unthinking astray.
6. Family worship should be kept a private matter, and not the opportunity for wider
invitations to others, unless they are visitors in the home, or guests for meals,
etc. when they should most definitely be invited to be a part.
7. Even though God has clearly used and blessed the gathering together of different
families for worship in times of great difficulty and trouble [when the usual order
of things can be often overturned] yet in times of peace and stability and gospel
purity, we believe that multiple gatherings of families should not be encouraged.
It tends to limit the fuller participation of each family and family member; and in
time can prejudice against the need for public ministry, cause divisions between
families in congregations, and even split the Church. All this can be the entry
point for further error, cause the ungodly to harden their hearts further, and bring
great grief to the godly.
8. On the Lord’s Day, after every member of the family separately, and the whole
family together have sought the Lord to prepare their hearts and fit them for
worship and make that time a blessing to them, the head of the home is to take
care that all under his care then attend public worship and be part of the local
congregation. Then, after public worship is concluded, and a time of prayer, he is
to go over what they have heard with them. The rest of the day ought to be set
apart for catechising and discussing some aspect of the Word of God together.
Alternatively, family members should give themselves to private reading,
contemplation and prayer, so that their own fellowship with God is increased. All
of this is so that the blessing and benefits of publicly gathering together will be
increased and appreciated properly, and each person given a greater appreciation
of Eternal Life.
9. All those who can pray should do so remembering that prayer is a gift from God
to be used, and those who are young in the faith can well begin by using set
outlines for prayer. However they should not be content with that, or use it as an
excuse for spiritual sluggishness. Rather, in their own private devotions they
should frequently and earnestly ask God to enable them to pray, by moving their
hearts to think of and their mouths to express, those things that are necessary for
their family. A sample set form is outlined below:
Prayer should include:
o Confession as to their unworthiness to come before God in prayer and worship, and an earnest
desire that He would grant a truly prayerful spirit.
o Confession of sin, both individual and family, and in such a way as to bring about true
o The earnest, Spirit-led, pouring out of the soul’s cry to God for forgiveness of sin through
o Thanksgiving to God for His many mercies to His people, to themselves particularly, and
especially for his love in Christ, and for the light of the gospel.
o Prayer for such particular spiritual and temporal blessings as are needed at the time [whether
morning or evening] whether in health, sickness, prosperity or adversity.
o Intercessory prayer for the church of Christ in general, for all churches where reformed
doctrine and practice are evident, and for their local church in particular; for all who suffer for
the sake of Christ; for all in positions of authority and government, the royal household, those
in the administration of justice, ministers, the whole body of the local congregation, as well as
for their neighbours.
o Closing with an earnest desire that God would be glorified in the coming of the kingdom of His
Son, and in the doing of His will; with confidence that their prayers have been heard, and that
what they have asked according to His will shall be done.
10. The exercise of family worship should be sincere, and without delay, avoiding all
worldly distractions, and hindrances, and in spite of any scorn from atheists and
worldly men. And to better bring this about, the leading men and all the elders of
the Church, should stir up themselves and their own families to this practice. Not
only that, but they should also agree to try and introduce family worship into all
the families they have under their spiritual care.
11. Besides the ordinary duties in family worship as mentioned above , there are
special duties of humiliation, repentance and thanksgiving which should be
carefully attended to within families when [either in public or in private] the Lord
calls them forth by His providential workings.
12. Because the word of God requires that we should consider how to provoke one
another to love and good deeds, every member of the Church should always be
diligent to stir up themselves and others in the duty of mutual edification. This is
especially necessary in these days when profanity abounds, and when mockers
are amazed that we will not follow them in their lusts and excesses. This common
encouragement comes by instruction, admonition, and rebuke, as each exhorts
the other to show the grace of God by denying ungodliness and worldly lusts; in
living godly, soberly and righteously in the world; and by comforting the faint
hearted and praying with and for one another. These things will be especially
necessary when others seek advice and comfort in times of calamity, or when an
offender is to be reclaimed through private rebuke by one or more as set down in
13. Not everyone is always able to give the right counsel to one who is wearied or
distressed in conscience. If in such cases, after pursuing all private and public
means, there is still no peace, they should then seek out their own Pastor, or
some other experienced Christian. However, if the circumstances are such that
discretion, modesty, or fear of scandal require a second person present as a
witness, [eg because of the sex or state of the person in trouble] this should be
14. In the providence of God members of different families are often brought together
away from home through employment, or other reasons. As they would want the
Lord’s presence with them wherever they are, so also they should want to obey
God and not neglect the duties of prayer and thanksgiving. They should therefore
arrange for the one best equipped among them to lead them in “family” worship.
They should also take care that no corrupting speech come forth from their
mouths, but only that which is good and edifying, which brings grace to their
The purpose and scope of all these directions is twofold. Firstly that the power and
practice of godliness amongst all ministers and members of the Church whatever their
calling, may be cherished and advanced, and that all irreligiousness and mocking of the
Christian life will be stopped. And secondly, that no meetings or practices be allowed
which are likely to breed error, scandal, schism, contempt or disregard for public worship 4
and the ministry, the neglect of one’s Christian duty, or any other evils which are the
works, not of the Spirit of God, but of the flesh, and contrary to truth and peace.
The wording of the act which the Assembly of the Church of Scotland passed in relation
to the above Directory is given verbatim below. You will see how seriously the Church
leaders then perceived this matter of Family Worship, and how it was to be strongly
pressed upon everyone as a simple matter of Christian obedience, from which there could
be no reasonable excuse.
“The General Assembly, after mature deliberation, doth approve the following Rules and
Directions for cherishing piety, and for preventing division and schism; and doth appoint
ministers and ruling elders in each congregation to take special care that these Directions
be observed and followed; as likewise, that presbyteries and provincial synods enquire
and make trial whether the said Directions be duly observed in their bounds; and to
reprove or censure [according to the quality of the offence], such as shall be found
reprovable or censurable therein. And, to the end that these directions may not be
rendered ineffectual and unprofitable among some, through the usual neglect of the very
substance of the duty of Family-worship, the Assembly doth further require and appoint
ministers and ruling elders to make diligent search and enquiry, in the congregations
committed to their charge respectively, whether there be among them any family or
families which use to neglect this necessary duty; and if any such family be found, the
head of the family is to be first admonished privately to amend his fault; and in the case
of his continuing therein, he is to be gravely and sadly reproved by the session; after
which reproof, if he be still found to neglect Family-worship, let him be, for his obstinacy
in such an offence, suspended and debarred from the Lord’s Supper, as being justly
esteemed unworthy to communicate therein, until he amend.”
Now, after thinking about such things, what are we going to do about it? There are many
helps [some good, others not so good] available today, but even these are not absolutely
necessary. There were no Daily Bible Reading Notes around in 1647!! but thanks to the
Reformation there were Bibles. All a godly father needs is his Bible and a desire to honour
God through reading it to his family. The Bible is its own teacher today as it always has
been, and if we begin with the Psalms, or one of the Gospels, then go to Genesis, then to
one of the Epistles, and so on, we will soon be amazed at what God has taught us, and
wonder why we ever thought spiritual understanding was so difficult. There is nothing to
stop a godly father using the same passages read in family worship, as the basis for his
own devotions, [perhaps a day or so in advance] so that he has had ample time to reflect
on the passage before it is opened up to the family.
We would do well to consider how far short of this ideal we have come in the 20th
century, and how this has contributed to the weakness and double-mindedness in the
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