The Law of God, as Contained in the Ten
Commandments, Explained and Enforced
By William S. Plumer, 1864
The Fifth Commandment
"Honor your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land
the Lord your God is giving you." Exodus 20:12
In Deut. 5:16, this commandment is given thus: "Honor your father and your
mother, as the LORD your God has commanded you, so that you may live long and
that it may go well with you in the land the LORD your God is giving you." The
substance of this command is also given in the opposite form in the chapter next
following that which contains the moral law. "He who curses his father or his
mother shall surely be put to death." Exodus 21:17. Again: "Everyone that curses
his father or his mother shall surely be put to death: he has cursed his father
or his mother; his blood shall be upon him." Levit. 20:9. Jesus Christ unites
these two forms of the commandment, when he explains it and rescues it from the
glosses of the scribes and Pharisees. Matt. 15:4-6. The apostle thus refers to
this commandment: "Honor your father and mother; which is the first commandment
with promise; that it may be well with you, and you may live long on the earth."
Eph. 6:2, 3. When he says this "is the first commandment," the meaning probably
is, it is the first commandment of the second table, or that it is the first
commandment that has a particular promise annexed to it; for there is a general
promise of a very comprehensive nature annexed to the second commandment.
The general design of this precept is to regulate our conduct in the several
vocations of life. The foundation of all the social relations is that of husband
and wife. But this subject will naturally come up, when we consider the seventh
commandment, and is for the present passed over. The next relation is that of
parent and child. The word father is used in the Scriptures to express the
relation between God and his creatures. He is the Father of spirits. We are his
offspring. Heb. 12:9; Acts 17:28, 29. In him we live, and move, and have our
being. God is our Father in a sense higher than is any other being. And as in
the first table, God fitly provides for due honor to himself, it is by an easy
transition that he provides for due honor to our parents.
Stowell: "In the care and interest, the tenderness and authority of the
parent, we behold a faint image of the superintendence, compassion, and
government of God." Some have misconstrued the teachings of our Savior, when he
taught us to "call no man father." The whole passage reads thus: "But you are
not to be called 'Rabbi,' for you have only one Master and you are all brothers.
And do not call anyone on earth 'father,' for you have one Father, and he is in
heaven. Nor are you to be called 'teacher,' for you have one Teacher, the
Christ. The greatest among you will be your servant. For whoever exalts himself
will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted." Matthew 23:8-12.
From this it is evident that what our Savior forbade was assuming dominion over
the faith of others, or allowing others to assume dominion over our faith.
The word father may be taken in several senses:
1. As the teacher or inventor of any art. Jabal was the father of such as
dwell in tents; and Jubal the father of all such as handle the harp or organ.
Gen. 4:20, 21.
2. Sometimes it is a mere term of civil respect, as when Naaman's servants
said, "My father," etc. 2 Kings 5:13.
3. Again, it designates people who are our superiors in age, or experience.
"The elders entreat as fathers, and the elder women as mothers." 1 Tim. 5:1, 2.
4. Again, it is the title of a wise and influential counselor. Joseph says,
"God has made me, father to Pharaoh." Gen. 45:8.
5. It describes the relation between converts and those honored of God as the
means of their salvation. Paul says, "Though you have ten thousand instructors
in Christ, yet have you not many fathers: for in Christ Jesus I have begotten
you through the gospel." 1 Cor. 4:15.
6. A respectful term for a religious teacher. Thus Elisha addressed Elijah,
"My father, my father, the chariots of Israel and the horsemen thereof." 2 Kings
7. A respectful title given in many nations to the chief magistrate. There
was a line of kings in Philistia, called Abimelech, which word signifies, The
King, my Father. For many centuries the king of France was styled Sire, etc.;
8. The fathers of our flesh, Heb. 12:9; the instruments of our earthly
In the fifth commandment, the father being the head of the wife is named
first. But that no slight was thereby intended to be put upon the female parent
is evident from other Scriptures. "Each of you must show respect for your mother
and father... for I, the LORD, am your God." Lev. 19:3. No child, however great
or good, ever repaid a mother's love, a mother's care, and a mother's sorrow,
manifested during all the trials of child-bearing, and child-rearing, and
child-caring. Hare: "For a mother's heart is not like the heart of an animal,
which, when its young have ceased to suck, drops them out of its memory. The
human heart is of more lasting stuff... The mother, the good mother at least,
will go on caring for her children, long, long after they have become men and
women. Let them be men and women to others: to her they will always be
children." Let us then consider,
1. The Duties of Parents to Children.
1. One duty of parents to children is suitably to provide for them when young
and helpless. Nature teaches this duty. God's word enjoins it. Matt.
7:9, 10; 2 Cor. 12:14; 1 Tim. 5:8.
2. Another duty is to protect them. They are feeble. They are
liable to wrong and injury. Reason suggests that the strong defend the weak.
3. Another duty generally confessed is to secure to them an education
suitable to their talents and circumstances; that they may not enter
upon the offices of life wholly unprepared for their stations, and thus find
themselves most awkwardly situated. The secular education of children is in many
ways important. This includes godly manners, 1 Pet. 3:8, industry, Proverbs
31:27, and humility of deportment, Proverbs 14:3.
4. But their pious and moral training is of so great value as that ruin,
temporal and eternal, is likely to follow the neglect of it. In
teaching, the matter and manner both claim attention. He, who takes heed what,
but not how he teaches; or how but not what he
teaches--does at the most but half his duty. Teach truth, and not its semblance,
fiction. Teach truth, and not its opposite, error. Teach the truths God has
taught you. Teach the whole word of God. The law is holy, just, and good.
The promises are many, sweet, and faithful. The doctrines are
true, sublime, and purifying. The threatenings are wise, righteous, and
solemn. The examples are striking, various, and instructive. The
encouragements are great, necessary, and seasonable. The invitations
are kind, sincere, and persuasive. Omit nothing, abate nothing, add nothing.
God's word is perfect.
He who made the Bible, made the mind of your child, and knew perfectly what
would be best for it. Teach things in the proportion in which God has
taught them. If God is just and holy, he is also good and merciful. If he
forgives iniquity, transgression, and sin, he will also by no means clear the
guilty. If his wrath is dreadful, his love is infinite. If he is a Savior, he is
also a Judge. If he is a Sovereign, he is also a Father. If he pardons, it is
not because sin is not infinitely hateful to him. Give clear ideas of the
covenant of works, and the covenant of grace. Show how they differ. Never
confound works and grace. Let Mount Sinai and Mount Calvary be set over against
each other. Sinai without Calvary will fill the mind with terrors. Calvary
without Sinai will breed contempt of mercy. The angels, who never sinned, are
accepted for their works. "Do and live," is a law that suits them well. But
eternal justice will smite to death the sinner who seeks acceptance by his own
merits. He is a thief and a robber. "By the deeds of the law shall no flesh
Give to the person, teaching, miracles, sufferings, death, resurrection,
offices, and glory of Christ the place assigned them in Scripture. He is our
wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, redemption, light, life, prophet, priest,
king, shepherd, surety, sacrifice, advocate. We are complete in him. He is all,
and in all. He is Alpha and Omega, the first and the last. Draw from the Bible
the duties you inculcate, and the motives you urge. If you would repress
self-will, stubbornness, immodesty, impatience, idleness, pride, deceit,
selfishness, bigotry, cruelty, profaneness, or any vice; show that God forbids
it. Always take sides with God against the sins and vices of even your own
child. Explain the nature and urge the necessity of submission, patience,
industry, humility, sobriety, moderation, truth, candor, honesty, justice,
kindness, charity, faith, hope, repentance, fidelity, benevolence, respect for
superiors, and reverence for God's name, word, worship, and ordinances. Take not
the duty from the Bible, and the motives from Chesterfield, Rochefaucault,
Seneca, or Plato. Present scriptural motives to an upright and virtuous life.
Think not to be wise above what is written: but try to be wise, and to make
your children wise up to what is written. "All Scripture is given by inspiration
of God, and is profitable." Mix it not up with dreams and fancies, and loose
opinions. "What is the chaff to the wheat?"
In teaching, great diligence is essential. So says God: "These
commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. Impress them on
your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the
road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands
and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and
on your gates." Deuteronomy 6:6-9. "Be instant in season, out of season." The
holy Sabbath, sickness or death in your family or neighborhood, a narrow escape
from some great evil, a time of drought or of plenty, any event that excites
notice, even the common incidents of life, furnish fit occasions for dropping
the precious seeds of truth in the heart. Occasional remarks are no less
impressive than stated instructions. They are often more pithy, and more easily
Take not too much for granted. Children are feeble and heedless. A little at
a time, and often repeated, is the great secret of successful teaching. "Line
upon line, line upon line, precept upon precept, precept upon precept," is the
scriptural method. Though you may halve taught a lesson twenty times, it is not
certain that it has been perfectly learned. Avail yourself of the love of
narrative, so common in children. God has revealed much of his will in this way.
The stories and parables of Scripture are not only admirable for their plainness
and simplicity, but they enforce truth with unsurpassed power. Almost every
principle of religion and morals is thus illustrated and enforced in the word of
God. A good teacher must be gentle and patient. It is hardly worse not to speak
divine truth at all, than not to speak it in love. Teach the same lesson a
hundred times. Upbraid not a child for its dullness. Be like Jesus, who said:
"Learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart." Terror produces agitation,
and thus precludes the power of learning.
Nor can anything be more undesirable than to have biblical instruction
associated in the mind of a child with moroseness and harshness. The human heart
is sufficiently opposed to the truth of God without our strengthening it by
roughness or severity. Do not be easily discouraged. Persevere. He has seen but
little of mankind, who has not witnessed the sad failures of the precocious, and
the final success of the slow. "Long patience" is even more essential to the
teacher than to the farmer. Let both parents heartily unite in this work. King
Lemuel has given us the prophecy that his mother taught him. Proverbs 31. Enter
with spirit and zeal on the work of instruction. Put off all languor and sloth.
"Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with your might." A lifeless formalism is
as truly mischievous at the fireside--as in the pulpit.
To your own efforts add those of well-selected pious teachers, both during
the week and on the Sabbath. Every school, even every Sabbath-school, is not
well taught. Exercise your best judgment in the choice of teachers. Know what
books your children read. The world is deluged with books which abound in error.
Guard the minds of your children against a fondness for novel-reading. It has
ruined thousands. Hopkins: "The instruction of children must not be
technical and critical, but familiar and obvious; teaching them such fundamental
truths and principles of Christian doctrine, as are of absolute necessity to be
known, and in such a manner as may be most suitable to their capacity and
5. Another duty of parents to their children is that of governing them.
The elements of good family government are strength, justice, wisdom,
uniformity, and love. Act not the tyrant, yet be master or mistress of your own
house. In your superior years, place, experience, and vigor, God has given you
all that is necessary for making your government strong. Let it be a government,
and not mere counsel. But let its provisions and administration be just.
A child can feel injustice as soon and as keenly as a man. Impose no impossible
tasks. Take into account all the weaknesses of childhood. In governing your
children make a difference, not from partiality, but from a proper estimate of
their various capacities, years, dispositions, and temptations. The varieties of
character even in the same family are often surprising. Yet be uniform. Be not
lax today and rigid tomorrow. Have settled principles, and let your children
know them. Yet beware of making too many laws. They will not only ensnare your
children, but destroy your government. Children may be governed too much. Do not
expect perfection. In all you do, be guided by enlightened and pure affection.
Never chide, nor correct in anger. If you cannot rule your own spirit, you may
break the spirit of your child, but you cannot establish a wholesome government
That we are bound to use authority is manifest from many parts of Scripture.
Of Abraham, God says: "I know him that he will command his children and his
household after him, and they shall keep the way of the Lord, to do justice and
judgment." Behold the dreadful end of the sons of Eli, and be warned. He was a
godly man, hated sin even in his own children, and reproved it, saying: "It is
no good thing I hear of you, my sons." But he used not authority, as their
father and as the high-priest, to require reformation. Follow not so dangerous
With reproof God has united the rod. When it is necessary, use it. It
commonly is necessary in cases of willful and deliberate disobedience.
"Foolishness is bound up in the heart of a child, but the rod of correction
shall drive it far from him." Hopkins: "The rod is to be used early, before age
and spirit have hardened them against the fear or smart of correction. The wise
man has told us, "He who spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is
careful to discipline him." Proverbs 13:24; see also Proverbs 23:13, 14. Never
use the rod to gratify a feeling of anger, nor without being sure that it is
deserved. I have somewhere read the following story, which well illustrates the
Two coaches, belonging to opposite lines, left the same place at the same
hour every day for London. Both drivers had orders to make the distance in the
shortest time possible. One driver mounted the box, with whip in hand, was
excited, spoke angrily to his horses, and alternately relaxed and jerked the
reins, at the same time using his whip freely. In a few miles his horses gave
signs of distress, and before he reached London some of his team were broken
down. The other driver coolly took his seat, spoke gently to his horses, held a
steady rein all the time, and seldom even cracked his whip. He was often
hindmost for a few miles, but while the horses of the other team were in a foam,
hardly a hair of his horses was moist. The last few miles, his team not being
jaded, he took the lead, and seldom even distressed a horse. The reason of the
difference was, not that one driver had a better team than the other; but one
was a better driver than the other. One held a steady rein, and never used the
whip unless it was necessary. The other constantly used the whip, fretted his
team, and wasted both their spirit and strength. Who has not seen this precise
difference in the government of families? The first driver would have done as
well, perhaps better, without a whip. And many a family would not have been in a
worse state, if a rod had never been in it.
Family government is always a failure when it does not secure prompt
obedience and sincere affection from the child to the parent. Parents should
be agreed in the government of their children. If they do not support each
other's authority, it must fall. A divided house cannot stand. Nor should they
permit grand-parents, aunts, or any person whatever to weaken their authority.
Hare: "I am aware, this strict and ready obedience, which does everything it is
told, as soon as it is told, without asking why—this unquestioning obedience, I
am aware, is rather out of date. But God's words are still true, and God's
commandments are still good and reasonable, whatever the world, which is at
enmity with God, may think or say.... There is the same difference between a
father and son, a mother and daughter, as between a person who knows a road and
one who does not."
"Hear, O children, the instruction of a father; for I give you good
doctrine;" "Hear, O my son, and receive my sayings, for I have taught you in the
way of wisdom; I have led you in right paths. When you run, you shall not
stumble," Proverbs 4:1,10,11,12. How different would have been the history of
Rehoboam, had he duly obeyed this counsel of his father Solomon.
There is a race of people said still to be found on the earth in thrift and
honor, who are mentioned in history more than 2500 years ago, upon whom a
blessing was then pronounced by the Almighty in these words: "This is what the
LORD Almighty, the God of Israel, says: 'You have obeyed the command of your
forefather Jonadab and have followed all his instructions and have done
everything he ordered.' therefore, this is what the LORD Almighty, the God of
Israel, says: 'Jonadab son of Recab will never fail to have a man to serve me.'"
Jer. 35:18, 19.
"Train up a child in the way he should go," Hare: "Train him up in obedience
to his parents, while a child, in order that he may be less unwilling to obey
his heavenly Father when he becomes a man. 'It is good for a man that he bear
the yoke in his youth.' (Lam. 3:27.) But what yoke? First, The yoke of
obedience; Secondly, The yoke of self-denial; Thirdly, The yoke of the cross,
which is the sign and token of humility."
But beware of so conducting the government of children as to dishearten them.
"You fathers, provoke not your children to wrath, lest they be discouraged,"
Eph. 6:4; Col. 3:21. David set a noble example of encouragement to his son, 1
Chron. 28:20. Let the parent allure as well as command.
6. Parents should so walk before their children as that they may safely
follow in their footsteps. Set a good example in all things. "Tinder is not more
apt to take fire, nor wax the impression of the seal, than the young are to
follow example." If your child may in his heart say: "Physician, heal yourself,"
your influence for good in that matter is at an end, at least until you reform.
He who delivers good precepts, sows good seed. He who adds good example, ploughs
in that seed. Children are the most imitative creatures in the world. The
different species of ape excite the laughter of fools by their powers of
mimicry, but children excite the admiration of wise men by their powers of
imitation. Quintilian rightly says that babysitters should not have a bad
accent. The reason is that children will soon acquire it. And Dr. Watts well
says, "It is far less difficult to learn than to unlearn."
In his Ode to the Romans, Horace says: "Brave men are made by brave men."
Nor, is there any other way of making men brave. Precept, eloquence, and poetry
cannot do it. Cowards breed cowards. The same is true of all the virtues and
The power of good examples above bare precepts is threefold; first, they most
clearly show what the duty is; then, they prove that it is practical; and
lastly, they awaken a more lively desire to perform it, by arousing the
imitative principle of our nature.
I have known two men, by precept and authority, without example, to try to
restrain their sons from intemperance and profanity. They both failed. I have
known many a parent, whose precepts were few, and whose use of the rod was
sparing, to raise a family to virtue and honor chiefly by a blameless example.
It is as true of parents as of preachers, that a bad example will destroy the
good which might be expected from sound instruction. "Do as I say and not as
I do," is a sentence which converts the best teaching into poison, and
dreadfully hardens the heart. Precepts give the theory, but example instils
principle. Words impart notions, but example carries conviction. One plain man,
of blameless life and good sense, will more enforce the obligations of true
piety than a hundred orators with godless lives. A heathen once gave as a reason
for his guarded behavior in the presence of the young, "I reverence a child." If
you deceive your child, break your promises to him, or practice any sin before
him, you cannot fail to teach him to do the same. "In everything he followed the
example of his father Joash." 2 Kings 14:3
7. But as he who sows is nothing, and he who waters is nothing,
even though he be a tender and judicious parent, we
should always look to God in humble prayer for his blessing. "Pray
always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, watching thereunto with
all perseverance." "Pray without ceasing." Pray in the house of God, in your
family, in your closet, in your daily walks. Ask others to pray for you and your
children. This should not be a mere formal, but an earnest request. You need
special wisdom and grace to preserve you from error, and sin, and folly. The
heart of your child is corrupt, and all your teaching and example will be lost
without God's blessing. You cannot change the heart, renew the will, or wash
away the sins of your child. God alone can impart to him a love of the truth, or
give him repentance. You may use your best endeavors, but all will be in vain
without God's Spirit. Sails are necessary, but a thousand yards of canvas will
not carry forward a vessel, unless the wind blows. Be fervent in your
Monica, the mother of Augustine, said she "had greater travail and pain that
her son might be born again, than that he might be born." God answered her
prayers, and that too, at a time when he seemed to be utterly lost. John Newton
tells of a mother of eleven pious children, who being asked how she came to
be so much blessed, said, "I never took one of them into my arms to give it
nourishment, that I did not pray that I might never nurse a child for the
devil." It is as true now as in any former age of the world, that "the
effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much." Never despair of the
salvation of a child. While there is life, there is hope. Wrestle with God like
Jacob, and you shall prevail like Israel. Never, by unbelief, deliver over a
child to sin, and to the wrath of God. Pray on. Hope on. For the encouragement
of all who are charged with the religious education of the young, let these,
promises of the covenant of peace be well considered: "I will be a God to you
and to your seed after you." "The promise is to you and to your children."
"Allow little children to come unto me, and forbid them not, for of such is the
kingdom of God." "Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old
he will not depart from it." More precious promises could not be made. Believe
them. Plead them before God.
Richard Baxter has said, that if pious education, family worship, parental
instruction, and a holy example were properly regarded by parents, even the
preaching of the gospel would not be the most common means of conversion. The
best encouragement to effort is found in the hope of success. In this case that
hope is well-founded. God's word and providence both prove it. The great mass of
the pious now on earth is made up of those who from childhood have been taught
the ways of God.
Many foolish things have no doubt been said concerning the religious
impressions of children. Yet there have been many well-authenticated cases of
early piety. Our children cannot too soon begin to live to the glory of God. He
who is old enough to sin against God, is old enough to love God. Whether your
children shall be early or late converted, yet if they shall obtain salvation at
all, they will be kings and priests unto God forever and ever. Does a sweeter
hope ever visit the parental mind than that of standing before God in the last
day, and saying: "Behold, I and the children, whom the Lord has given me!" "A
whole family in heaven" will forever be matter of greater wonder and louder
praise, than can be found in all the works disclosed by microscopes and
telescopes in the boundless dominions of God. But if you neglect the pious
education of your children, dreadful will be the consequences. "A child left to
himself brings his mother to shame."
Parental love is often blind and foolish,
"A parent's heart may prove a snare;
The child she loves so well,
Her hand may lead with gentlest care,
Down the smooth road to hell."
Trust not your heart. Trust God's word. Give not place to evil tempers and
ways in yourself or your child. It is not many years since a young lady thus
addressed her parents: "You have been the unhappy instruments of my being. You
fostered me in pride, and led me in the paths of sin. You never once warned me
of my danger, and now it is too late. In a few hours you will have to cover me
with earth, but remember, while you are casting earth upon my body, my soul will
be in hell--and yourselves the miserable cause!" If you would escape the
scourges of a guilty conscience, the reproaches of a lost child, and the rebukes
of an angry God, do your duty to your children. Only when the heart of the
fathers is turned to their children, and the heart of the children to their
fathers, may we hope that God will not come and smite the earth with a curse. As
a town without walls, as a house without a roof, as a garden without a hedge,
and as sheep without a shepherd, so is a family, whose thoughts and affairs are
not molded by the fear and love of God.
2. The duties of CHILDREN to parents.
These are many, weighty and of great importance. They are summed up in the
word HONOR. This word is well chosen. It contains the sum of the duty
here required. The same word is found in Proverbs 3:9. "Honor the Lord with your
substance, etc." It is often rendered glorify. Isaiah 24:15. "Glorify the Lord,
etc." God himself uses the word in 1 Sam. 2:30. "Those who honor me, will I
honor." Dwight: "The word honor is chosen with supreme felicity; as being
suffciently comprehensive, and sufficiently definite, to express with as much
exactness as can easily be compassed, all the several branches of duty which
parents can equitably demand of their children." Poole: "The word honor does not
only note the respect, love, and obedience we owe them, but also support and
maintenance, as appears from Matt. 15:4-6, and from a like signification of that
word, 1 Tim. 5:3, 17.
1. One duty of children to parents is sincere,
strong, unwavering love. To be "without natural affection" makes
either parent or child a monster of depravity. Romans 1:31. What a beautiful
instance of filial love we have in Joseph, even when he was well-advanced in
years. His venerable parent was coming to him; indeed had arrived in Goshen.
"And Joseph madle ready his chariot and went up to meet Israel his father, to
Goshen, and presented himself unto him; and he fell on his neck, and wept on his
neck a good while." Gen. 46:29. Love is no less the fulfilling of the fifth
commandment than of any other.
2. Another duty of children to parents is to give them
filial fear. Heb. 12:9. This is not inconsistent with love.
Because the child is affectionate, he is devoted. Because he is filled with
respect, he is free from unbecoming familiarity. There is no substitute for this
kind of filial regard. Mal. 1:6; Proverbs 31:28. This kind of reverence Solomon
manifested to his mother. 1 Kings 2:19. It was a good resolution of Jonathan
Edwards of Northampton, "Never to allow the least measure of any fretting or
uneasiness at my father or mother. Resolved, To suffer no effects of it, so much
as in the least alteration of speech, or motion of my eye, and to be especially
careful of it with respect to any of our family." This is quite in accordance
with holy Scripture. "He that curses his father or his mother shall surely be
put to death;" "He that curses his father or his mother, his lamp shall be put
out in obscure darkness;" "The eye that mocks at his father, and despises to
obey his mother, the ravens of the valley shall pick it out, and the young
eagles shall eat it." Exodus 21:17, Proverbs 20:20, 30:17.
With what great delight does a rightly ordered mind review the account of the
reverence with which Joseph treated Jacob, when he went to see that venerable
man. Joseph was then actually the wisest and most powerful man on earth; and yet
when he approached his father, "he bowed himself with his face to the earth."
Gen. 47:12. Where parents are wrong and show vile tempers, the speech of their
children towards them should be mild and gentle, even in using the language of
remonstrance. Thus said Jonathan to Saul; "Let not the king sin against his
servant, against David; for he did put his life in his hand, and slew the
Philistine." 1 Sam. 19:4, 5. This reverence to parents should be sincere,
uniform, profound. It should not indeed be servile, nor tormenting; but it
should be full of sweet submission and of humble disposition. However worthless
or wicked a parent may be, this duty still binds. One natural effect of
reverence is submission. If parents are bound to give instruction, children are
bound to receive it. "My son, hear the instruction of your father and forsake
not the law of your mother."
3. Out of love and fear naturally grows obedience,
which should be prompt, cheerful and universal, unless the parent requires the
child to do something wicked. "My son, keep your father's commandment, and
forsake not the law of your mother: bind them continually upon your heart, and
tie them about your neck." Proverbs 6:20, 22. See also, Proverbs 13:1, and
23:22. "Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right." Eph. 6:1.
"Children, obey your parents, in all things: for this is well-pleasing unto the
Lord." Col. 3:20. No expectation of future eminence, no consciousness of present
superiority in attainments can exempt us from this obligation. Two examples of
Scripture delightfully settle this question. One is that of David, who after
displaying amazing prowess, was yet entirely submissive to the authority of
Jesse. I Sam. 16:11. The other is that of the Blessed Master himself, of whom we
have this short but comprehensive record; that "he went down with his father and
mother, and came to Nazareth, and was subject into them." Luke 2:51.
Let all children who are tempted to disobedience, or even to the slightest
disrespect to either parent, remember the case of Canaan. Gen. 9:25. It is true
that the kind of obedience due to parents differs according to the age of the
child. At first, it is implicit, and rests entirely upon the authority of the
parent. Young children must obey without reserve or examination. As children
advance in years, it is reasonable that they should understand the grounds of
many things required of them. In due time, by the law of their nature and of
Scripture, ordinarily God sets them also in families, when it is agreeable to
the divine will that a man should leave his father and mother and cleave to his
wife. Gen. 2:24; Matt. 19:5; Mark 10:7. Yet there can never come a time when the
child may cease to honor the parent, in every way expressing love and esteem,
and especially by yielding to all his reasonable commands. There have been cases
and may be again, where parents require of their children to lie, to steal, to
commit trespass and even to murder. In all such cases, children may not obey,
because it is directly counter to the supreme will of God.
4. Another duty of children is to contribute as circumstances demand, and as
their parents require, to their temporal support and
comfort. The law on this subject is explicit. "If a widow has
children or grandchildren, these should learn first of all to put their religion
into practice by caring for their own family and so repaying their parents and
grandparents, for this is pleasing to God." 1 Tim. 5:4. See also Ruth 4:15.
Indeed that alarming statement in 1 Tim. 5:8, (If anyone does not provide for
his relatives, and especially for his immediate family, he has denied the faith
and is worse than an unbeliever,) is brought out to enforce the duty of lineal
and collateral descendants to provide for their helpless or dependent relatives.
In nothing did those corrupt creatures, the Scribes and Pharisees, more grossly
misinterpret God's will than in regard to the fifth commandment.
Our Savior said to them, "And why do you break the command of God for the
sake of your tradition? For God said, 'Honor your father and mother' and 'Anyone
who curses his father or mother must be put to death.' But you say that if a man
says to his father or mother, 'Whatever help you might otherwise have received
from me is a gift devoted to God,' he is not to 'honor his father' with it. Thus
you nullify the word of God for the sake of your tradition. You hypocrites!"
Matthew 15:3-7. The tradition of these false teachers seems to have been in
almost all respects wrong. They appear to have held that a sacrifice offered in
the temple was of such great value as to relieve children from the duty of
showing piety at home; and that if we would say of anything, it was devoted to
religious uses, that cut off all claim of parents to assistance. But all this
was mere hypocrisy. Joseph set a good example in this respect. Gen. 47:12. Our
Lord himself in the agony of crucifixion did not fail to show filial piety to
his aged mother, now probably a widow. John 19:27.
It is also especially obligatory upon children well to consider and closely
to follow the right counsel and worthy example of their parents. It is mentioned
to the everlasting honor of Jehoshaphat that "The LORD was with Jehoshaphat
because in his early years he walked in the ways his father David had followed.
He did not consult the Baals but sought the God of his father and followed his
commands rather than the practices of Israel." 2 Chronicles 17:3-4. Let us now
3. The PROMISE Annexed.
Although the promise annexed to this commandment has reference more or less
to the right performance of all relative duties, yet it has special application
to dutiful children. It is in these words: "that your days may be long upon the
land which the Lord your God gives you." In Deut. 5:16, it is, "that your days
may be prolonged, and that it may go well with you in the land which the Lord
your God gives you." It is either to this latter form of the promise, or to the
Septuagint translation of Exodus 20:12, or to both of them, that Paul alludes in
citing this promise in Eph. 6:3. The literal rendering of the Hebrew is, that
they may prolong your days, or cause your days to be prolonged. If we follow
this rendering, then the meaning is either that the commandments when rightly
observed will prolong the days of dutiful children; or that their father and
mother whom they honor will by their prayers, and protection, and example, be
the means of lengthening their lives. So Diodati: "That they (the parents) may
be instruments, and a means of it, by their blessing, and that this good may
befall you from God for their sakes." Poole: "That your days may be long--that
your parents may prolong your days, or the days of your life, instrumentally, by
their prayers made to God for you, and by their blessing in my name conferred
upon you." What then is the meaning of this promise?
Ridgley says, "there are three things which tend to make a long life happy.
1. Experience of growth in grace, in proportion to our advance in age,
according to that promise, 'They shall bring forth fruit in old age; they shall
be fat and flourishing.' Psalm 92:14.
2. When we retain our natural abilities, and that strength and vigor of mind,
which we have formerly had. This some are deprived of, through the infirmities
of age; whereby they may be said to outlive themselves. It was a peculiar
blessing, which God granted to Moses; concerning whom it is said, that he was a
hundred and twenty years old when he died; and yet his eye was not dim, nor his
natural force abated. Deut. 34:7.
3. Old age is a blessing, when our usefulness to others, in our day and
generation, is continued. Thus Joshua died an old man; but it was a peculiar
blessing that he was useful to the end. Josh. 24:25, 29."
Matthew Henry: "Those who, in conscience towards God, keep this and the rest
of God's commandments, may be sure that it shall be well with them, and that
they shall live as long on earth as Infinite Wisdom sees good for them, and that
what they may seem to be cut short of on earth shall be abundantly made up in
eternal life, the heavenly Canaan which God will give them."
Doddridge: "These words express the peculiar care of the divine providence
for the continuance and comfort of the lives of those who should observe this
precept, the benefit of which those children might generally expect, who were
dutiful to their parents."
Scott: "The annexed promise of long life to obedient children, might have a
peculiar reference to the covenant of Israel; yet careful observers of mankind
have noted its remarkable fulfillment in other nations. Subordination in the
family and community tends to personal and public felicity; and the dislike,
which the human heart bears to submission, renders it proper to enforce it by
motives of every kind."
Calvin: "The meaning is, Honor your father and your mother, that through the
space of a long life, you may enjoy the possession of the land, which will be to
you a testimony of my favor." "The hoary-head is a crown of glory if it be found
in the way of righteousness." Proverbs 16:31. Compare Lev. 19:32; 1 John 2:13.
It is evident from the interpretation of this promise given in providence
that it is of a general, and not of a universal nature. The land
of Canaan was a type of the heavenly blessing. "God has linked our duty and
our interest together, so as there is no separating of them." The author
wishes here to record his testimony. During a life neither short nor uneventful,
he has mingled much with mankind. In that time he has seen many children forego
their own gratification and apparent interest for the sake of parents, not
always amiable, sometimes intemperate. Yet he has in no case seen such children
losers in the end. A blessing has followed them.