Next to your duty to God comes your duty to your parents; and you can never form an excellent, amiable, and lovely character, unless the foundation of it is laid in filial piety, as well as in piety towards God. Solomon says to the young, "Hear the instruction of your father, and forsake not the law of your mother; for they shall be an ornament of grace unto your head, and chains around your neck." Nothing will make you appear so lovely in the eyes of others as a dutiful behavior towards your parents; and nothing will make you appear so unamiable and unlovely as a disrespectful, disobedient demeanor towards them. No ornament sits so gracefully upon youth as filial piety; no outward adorning can compare with it.
Filial piety calls into exercise feelings towards your parents, similar to those which piety towards God calls into exercise towards him; such as esteem and veneration of his character, love to his person, confidence in his word, submission to his authority, and penitence for offences against him. When the heart is habituated to the exercise of these feelings towards parents, it is prepared the more readily to exercise them towards God. The promises which God has made to those who honor their parents, and his threatenings against those who dishonor them, are similar to those which he has made respecting honor and obedience to himself. You owe it, therefore, to God, to exercise filial piety, because he has required it, and because it is one of the means he employs to cultivate piety towards himself.
Gratitude, also, should lead to filial piety, as well as to piety towards God; for what God is to man, only in a lower sense, the parent is to his child. Your parents are, under God, the authors of your being. The greater part of parents' lives is spent in rearing, supporting, and educating their children. For this they wear out their strength in anxious care and toil; they watch beside the bed of their children when they are sick, with tender solicitude and sleepless vigilance; they labor to provide for them. But good parents are, most of all, anxious that their children should grow up intelligent and virtuous, pious and happy. There is no being but God to whom children are so much indebted as to a faithful parent; and almost all the blessings that God bestows upon them come through their parents.
Filial piety has great influence on future character. One who has never been in the habit of submitting to others, will always be headstrong and self-willed; and such a character nobody loves. You cannot always do as you please; and, if such is your disposition, you will always be unhappy when your will is crossed. You will be unwilling to submit to necessary restraints, and this will irritate, and keep you in misery; for you will never see the time in your life when you will be so entirely independent of others that you can have your own way in everything. Even the king on his throne cannot do this. But, if you have always been in the habit of submitting to your parents, these necessary restraints will be no burden. If, then, you would be respected, beloved, and happy, when you grow up and take your place in society, you must honor your parents. Cultivate the habit of submission to their authority; of respectful attention to their instructions; and of affection and respect to them. These are the habits that will make you respected, beloved, and happy. But as God has joined a curse to parental impiety, so he makes it punish itself. And thus you will find that it is generally followed with the most dreadful consequences. Of this I might give many painful examples; but the narratives would swell my book to an immoderate size.
The whole duty of children to parents, is expressed by God himself in one word—HONOR. This word is chosen, with great felicity, to express all the various duties of children toward their parents. There is a great deal of meaning in this little word, honor.
Do you ask, "How shall I honor my parents?" In the first place, you must honor them in your heart, by loving and reverencing them, and by cultivating a submissive, obedient disposition. It is not honoring your parents, to indulge an unsubmissive, turbulent spirit. To be angry with your parents, and to feel that their lawful commands are hard or unreasonable—is dishonoring them. The authority which God has given your parents over you is for your good, that they may restrain you from evil and hurtful practices, and require you to do what will be, in the end, for your benefit. When they restrain you, or require you to do what is not pleasing to you, they have a regard to your best interests. To be impatient of restraint, and to indulge hard feelings toward them, is doing them great dishonor. If you could read the hearts of your parents, and see what a struggle it costs them to interfere with your inclinations, you would feel differently. But these rebellious feelings of yours are not only against your parents, but against God, who gave them this authority over you.
Children also honor or dishonor their parents by their words. You honor them, by addressing them in respectful language, and in a tone of voice indicating reverence and submission, giving them those titles that belong to their superior station. An example of this we have in the answer of Samuel to what he supposed the call of Eli—"Here am I,"—a form of speech used by servants to their masters, and implying attention to what was said, and a readiness to execute what was commanded. But parents are dishonored, when their children answer them gruffly, or speak in a sharp, positive, angry, or self-important tone; or when they neglect to accompany their address with the usual titles of respect, but speak out bluntly, "Yes," or "No." This shows the state of the heart. And I think the reason why it is so difficult, in these days, to teach children to say, "Yes, sir," "No, ma'am," etc., is, that they do not feel in their hearts the respect which these terms imply. You will perceive, by this remark, that I have no respect for the notion which prevails, in some quarters, that these expressions are not genteel.
Children likewise dishonor their parents, when they answer back, and argue against their commands, or excuse themselves for not obeying. It is as much as to say, they are wiser than their parents—which is doing them a great dishonor. To speak to them in disrespectful, reproachful, or passionate language, or to speak of them or their authority in such language to others, is also a great offence against their honor. Under the law of Moses, God punished this offence in the same manner that he did blasphemy against himself—"He that curses his father or his mother shall surely be put to death." This shows what a great offence it is in his sight.
Another way in which you honor your parents is, by giving respectful attention to their instruction and counsels. God has committed your instruction and training to them; and when they teach or advise you according to the Scripture, their instructions are the voice of God to you. If you despise their instruction, you cast contempt upon God, who speaks through them, and who says, "My son, hear the instruction of your father, and forsake not the law of your mother." It is very natural for children to wish to follow their own inclinations. The impetuosity of youth would hurry them on, heedlessly, in the high-road to ruin. And, often, they despise the wholesome instruction and advice of their parents, as only designed to interfere with their pleasures, and abridge their enjoyments; while, in truth, their parents look beyond mere pleasure—to that which is of greater importance. They look upon these things in the light which age and experience has given them.
If you were going to a strange place, in a way with which you were not acquainted, and should meet one that had been that way before, you would put confidence in what he should tell you of the way, and, follow his directions. Your parents have passed through the period of life on which you are now entering, and they know the way. You will do well to confide in them, and abide by their instructions. If you neglect to do so, you will be sure to get into difficulty. The path of life is beset, on every side, with by-paths, leading astray; and these by-paths are full of snares and pitfalls, to catch the unwary, and plunge them into ruin. Your parents have become acquainted with these ways, and know their dangers. If they are godly people, and understand their duty to you, they will warn you against them; and it will be the height of folly for you to disregard their warnings. Multitudes, by doing so, have rushed heedlessly on to ruin.
You must honor your parents, also, by a prompt and cheerful obedience to their lawful commands. I say lawful, because no one ought to obey a command to do what is positively wrong. If a wicked parent should command his child to lie, or to steal, or to break any of God's commands, it would be the child's duty to refuse, and meekly submit to the punishment which the parent might inflict. It is not often that such things happen among us; but our missionaries in Constantinople have related two instances that are in point. Two little Armenian girls had learned to read, and obtained from the missionaries some ideas of Christian morality. A person knocked at the door of their house, and their father, not wishing to see him, told one of them to go and tell the person that he was not at home. "That would be telling a lie," said the daughter. "What then?" said the father; "it is a very little thing. You have only to say that I am not at home." "But, father," she replied, "the Bible says it is wicked to tell lies, and I cannot tell a lie." He was angry, and called his other daughter, and told her to go. She replied, "Father, I cannot, for it is wicked to lie." These children did right in refusing to obey such a command. But in no other case, except when told to do what is wrong, will a child be justified in refusing to obey.
Obedience must be prompt and cheerful. Your parents are not honored, when obedience is delayed to suit your convenience; nor when you answer back, or try to reason against your parents' commands, or plead for delay, that you may first finish your own work. A parent who is honored will never have to repeat the same command. Some children are bent on having their own way, and attempt to carry their point by showing their parents that their way is best; which is the same as saying to them that they are more ignorant than their children. Neither is sullen obedience honoring your parents. Some children, who dare not disobey their parents, will go about doing what is required of them with great reluctance, with perhaps a sullen expression of the countenance, an angry step, or a slam of the door, or some other show of passion. Such conduct is a grief to parents, and an offence against God, who will not count that as obedience, which is not done cheerfully. But if you truly honor your parents from the heart, you will not wait for their commands. You will be always ready to obey the slightest intimation of their wishes. It is a great grief to a parent, when, out of respect to his child's feelings, he has expressed his wish, to be obliged to add his command, before the thing will be done. But filial piety never appears so amiable and lovely as when it anticipates the wishes of parents, and supersedes the necessity of expressing those wishes in advice or commands.
If you honor your parents in your heart, you will pay an equal regard to their counsels and commands, whether they are present or absent. If you cast off their authority as soon as you are out of their sight, you greatly dishonor them. Such conduct shows that you do not honor them at all in your heart, but obey them only when you cannot disobey without suffering for it. But if you keep their authority always present with you, then you will do them great honor; for you show that they have succeeded in fixing in your heart a deep-seated principle of respect and affection for them. If you truly honor your parents in your heart, you will obey them as well when they are absent as present. The parents' authority and honor are always present with the good child.
Children, likewise, honor or dishonor their parents in their general behavior. If they are rude and uncivil, they reflect dishonor upon their parents; for people say, they have not been trained and instructed at home. But when their behavior is respectful, correct, pure, and amiable—it reflects honor upon the parents. People will judge of the character of your parents by your behavior. Are you willing to hear your parents reproachfully spoken of? No, your cheek would glow with indignation at the person who should speak ill of your father or your mother. But you speak evil of them, in your conduct, every time you do anything that reflects dishonor upon them in the eyes of others. The blame of your conduct will be thrown back upon your parents.
But the true way to honor your parents, at all times and in all circumstances, is, to have your heart right with God. If you have true piety of heart toward God, you will show piety toward your parents; for you will regard the authority of his commandment, and delight in doing what will please him. The fear of God, dwelling in your heart, will lead you to reverence all his commands, and none more continually and conscientiously than the one which requires you to honor your parents. Everything that you do for them will be done, "not with eye-service, as men-pleasers, but with good will, doing service as to God, and not to man."
Boys of a certain age are frequently disposed to show their importance, by assuming to be wiser than their parents. They call in question the wisdom of their parents' directions, and seek, in every possible way, to set up their own will. This is particularly the case with respect to the authority of the mother; they feel too big to be governed by a woman; and if obliged to obey, they will be sullen about it. Instead of requiting her care, by studying to be helpful—anticipating her wishes—they seem to lose all sense of obligation, and regard what she requires of them as an unreasonable interference with their pleasures; and so, they will meet her requests in a snarling, snappish manner, like an impertinent young mastiff, slighting, in every possible way, the thing to be done. And if, in the Providence of God, such boys are left without a father, they take advantage of the widowhood of their mother, to resist her authority. I can scarcely think of anything more unmanly than this. It is base and despicable. The mother, by all the ties of gratitude, in these desolate circumstances, is entitled to the kindness, assistance, and protection, of her sons; and to rebel against her authority, because she may not have strength to enforce it, manifests a very black heart. A young man, who, in any circumstances, will treat his mother ill, is to be despised; but one who will take advantage of the helplessness of her widowhood, to cast off her just authority, is to be detested and abhorred.
Nothing has, perhaps, a greater influence upon the future character of the man than the trait of which we are speaking. The boy that is obedient and submissive to parental authority will make a good citizen. He has learned to obey, from his childhood; and he will be obedient to the laws of his country; he will be respected in society, and may rise to posts of honor. But the disobedient boy, who is turbulent and ungovernable at home, will make a bad member of society. Never having learned how to obey, he will be disobedient to the laws, and incur their penalty; he will be found in evil company; engaged in mobs and riots; make disturbance, etc., until, perhaps, he will land at last in prison, or be launched into eternity from the gallows. I might easily fill the rest of this volume with the detail of cases, in which a career of crime, ending in prison or on the gallows, has been commenced in disobedience to patents, and in very many cases, disobedience to widowed mothers.