We are living in dark days on this question too. It really seems as if the days the apostle Paul wrote about are upon us: "In the last days perilous times shall come; for men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, without natural affection, despisers of those that are good, . . . ." If Paul was alive to-day, could he have described the present state of affairs more truly? There are perhaps more men in this country that are breaking the hearts of their fathers and mothers, and trampling on the law of God, than in any other civilized country in the world. How many sons treat their parents with contempt, and make light of their entreaties? A young man will have the kindest care from parents; they will watch over him, and care for all his wants; and some bad companion will come in and sweep him away from them in a few weeks. How many young ladies have married against their parents' wishes, and have gone off and made their own life bitter! I never knew one case that did not turn out badly. They invariably bring ruin upon themselves, unless they repent.
BEGIN IN THE HOME.
The first four commandments deal with our relations to God. They tell us how to worship and when to worship; they forbid irreverence and impiety in word and act. Now God turns to our relations with each other, and isn't it significant that He deals first with family life? "God is going to show us our duty to our neighbor. How does He begin? Not by telling us how kings ought to reign, or how soldiers ought to fight, or how merchants ought to conduct their business, but how boys and girls ought to behave at home."
We can see that if their home life is all right, they are almost sure to fulfil the law both in regard to God and man. Parents stand in the place of God to their children in a great many ways until the children arrive at years of discretion. If the children are true to their parents, it will be easier for them to be true to God. He used the human relationship as a symbol of our relationship to Him both by creation and by grace. God is our Father in heaven. We are His offspring.
On the other hand, if they have not learned to be obedient and respectful at home, they are likely to have little respect for the law of the land. It is all in the heart; and the heart is prepared at home for good or bad conduct outside. The tree grows the way the twig is bent.
"Honor thy father and thy mother." That word "honor" means more than mere obedience -- a child may obey through fear. It means love and affection, gratitude, respect. We are told that in the east the words "father" and "mother" include those who are "superiors in age, wisdom and in civil or religious station," so that when the Jews were taught to honor their father and mother it included all who were placed over them in these relations, as well as their parents. Isn't there a crying need for that same feeling to-day? The lawlessness of the present time is a natural consequence of the growing absence of a feeling of respect for those in authority.
HONOR THY MOTHER.
It has been pointed out as worthy of notice that this commandment enjoins honor for the mother, and yet in eastern countries to the present day woman is held of little account. When I was in Palestine a few years ago, the prettiest girl in Jericho was sold by her father in exchange for a donkey. In many ancient nations, just as in certain parts of heathendom today, the parents are killed off as soon as they become old and feeble. Can't we see the hand of God here, raising the woman to her rightful position of honor out of the degradation into which she had been dragged by heathenism?
"Honor thy father and thy mother that thy days may be long upon the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee." I believe that we must get back to the old truths. You may make light of it, and laugh at it, young man, but remember that God has given this commandment, and you cannot set it aside. If we get back to this law, we shall have power and blessing.
TEMPORAL BLESSING OR CURSE.
I believe it to be literally true that our temporal condition depends on the way we act upon this commandment. "Honor thy father and mother, (which is the first commandment with promise), that it may be well with thee, and that thou mayest live long on the earth." "Honor thy father and thy mother, as the Lord thy God hath commanded thee; that thy days may be prolonged, and that it may go well with thee, in the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee." "Cursed is he that setteth light by his father or mother." "Whoso curseth his father or mother, his lamp shall be put out in obscure darkness." It would be easy to multiply texts from the Bible to prove this truth. Experience teaches the same thing. A good, loving son generally turns out better than a refractory son. Obedience and respect at home prepare the way for obedience to the employer, and are joined with other virtues that help toward a prosperous career, crowned with a ripe, honored old age. Disobedience and disrespect for parents are often the first steps in the downward track. Many a criminal has testified that this is the point where he first went astray. I have lived over sixty years, and I have learned one thing if I have learned nothing else -- that no man or woman who dishonors father or mother ever prospers.
Young man, young woman, how do you treat your parents? Tell me that, and I will tell you how you are going to get on in life. When I hear a young man speaking contemptuously of his grey-haired father or mother, I say he has sunk very low indeed. When I see a young man as polite as any gentleman can be when he is out in society, but who snaps up his mother and speaks unkindly to his father, I would not give the snap of my finger for his religion. If there is any man or woman on earth that ought to be treated kindly and tenderly, it is that loving mother or that loving father. If they cannot have your regard through life, what reward are they to have for all their care and anxiety? Think how they loved you and provided for you in your early days.
A MOTHER'S LOVE.
Let your mind go back to the time when you were ill. Did your mother neglect you? When a neighbor came in and said, "Now, mother, you go and lie down; you have been up for a week; I will take your place for a night" -- did she do it? No; and if the poor worn body forced her to it at last, she lay watching, and if she heard your voice, she was at your side directly, anticipating all your wants, wiping the perspiration away from your brow. If you wanted water, how soon you got it! She would gladly have taken the disease into her own body to save you. Her love for you would drive her to any lengths. No matter to what depths of vice and misery you have sunk, no matter how profligate you have grown, she has not turned you out of her heart. Perhaps she loves you all the more because you are wayward. She would draw you back by the bands of a love that never dies.
When I was in England, I read of a man who professed to be a Christian, who was brought before the magistrate for not supporting his aged father. He had let him go to the workhouse. My friends, I'd rather be content with a crust of bread and a drink of water than let my father or mother go to the workhouse. The idea of a professing Christian doing such a thing! God have mercy on such a godless Christianity as that! It is a withered up thing, and the breath of heaven will drive it away. Don't profess to love God and do a thing like that.
A friend of mine told me of a poor man who had sent his son to school in the city. One day the father was hauling some wood into the city, perhaps to pay his boy's bills. The young man was walking down the street with two of his school friends, all dressed in the very height of fashion. His father saw him, and was so glad that he left his wood, and went to the sidewalk to speak to him. But the boy was ashamed of his father, who had on his old working clothes, and spurned him, and said:
"I don't know you."
Will such a young man ever amount to anything? Never!
I remember a very promising young man whom I had in the Sunday school in Chicago. His father was a confirmed drunkard, and his mother took in washing to educate her four children. This was her eldest son, and I thought that he was going to redeem the whole family. But one day a thing happened that made him go down in my estimation.
The boy was in the high school, and was a very bright scholar. One day he stood with his mother at the cottage door -- it was a poor house, but she could not pay for their schooling, and feed and clothe her children, and hire a very good house too, out of her earnings. When they were talking a young man from the high school came up the street, and this boy walked away from his mother. Next day the young man said:
"Who was that I saw you talking to yesterday?"
"Oh, that was my washerwoman."
I said: "Poor fellow! He will never amount to anything."
That was a good many years ago. I have kept my eye on him. He has gone down, down, down, and now he is just a miserable wreck. Of course he would go down. Ashamed of his mother that loved him and toiled for him, and bore so much hardship for him! I cannot tell you the contempt I had for that one act.
Let us look at
A BRIGHTER PICTURE.
Some years ago I heard of a poor woman who sent her boy to school and college. When he was to graduate, he wrote his mother to come, but she sent back word that she could not because her only skirt had already been turned once. She was so shabby that she was afraid he would be ashamed of her. He wrote back that he didn't care how she was dressed, and urged so strongly that she went. He met her at the station, and took her to a nice place to stay. The day came for his graduation, and he walked down the broad aisle with that poor mother dressed very shabbily, and put her into one of the best seats in the house. To her great surprise he was the valedictorian of the class, and he carried everything before him. He won a prize, and when it was given to him, he stepped down before the whole audience, and kissed his mother, and said:
"Here, mother, here is the prize. It is yours. I would not have had it if it had not been for you."
Thank God for such a man!
The one glimpse the Bible gives us of thirty out of the thirty-three years of Christ's life on earth shows that He did not come to destroy this fifth commandment. The secret of all those silent years is embodied in that verse in Luke's Gospel -- "And He went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was subject to them." Did He not set an example of true filial love and care when in the midst of the agonies of the cross He mode provision for His mother? Did He not condemn the miserable evasions of this law by the Pharisees of His own day:
"Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written, This people honoreth me with their lips, but their heart is far from me. But in vain do they worship me, teaching as their doctrines the precepts of men. . . . Full well do ye reject the commandment of God, that ye may keep your tradition. For Moses said, Honor thy father and thy mother; and, He that speaketh evil of father or mother, let him die the death; but ye say, If a man shall say to his father or his mother, That wherewith thou mightest have been profited by me, is Corban, (that is to say, Given to God), ye no longer suffer him to do aught for his father or his mother: making void the word of God by your tradition, which ye have delivered."
I have read of one heathen custom in China, which would do us credit in this so-called Christian country. On every New Year's morning each man and boy, from the emperor to the lowest peasant, is said to pay a visit to his mother, carrying her a present varying in value according to his station in life. He thanks her for all she has done for him, and asks a continuance of her favor another year. Abraham Lincoln used to say: "All I have I owe to my mother."
I would rather die a hundred deaths than have my children grow up to treat me with scorn and contempt. I would rather have them honor me a thousand times over than have the world honor me. I would rather have their esteem and favor than the esteem of the whole world. And any man who seeks the honor and esteem of the world, and doesn't treat his parents right, is sure to be disappointed:
Young man, if your parents are still living treat them kindly. Do all you can to make their declining years sweet and happy. Bear in mind that this is the only commandment that you may not always be able to obey. As long as you live, you will be able to serve God, to keep the sabbath, to obey all the other commandments, but the day comes to most men when father and mother die. What bitter feelings you will have when the opportunity has gone by, if you fail to show them the respect and love that is their due! How long is it since you wrote to your mother? Perhaps you have not written home for months, or it may be for years. How often I get letters from mothers urging me to try and influence their sons!
Which would you rather be -- a Joseph or an Absalom? Joseph wasn't satisfied until he had brought his old father down into Egypt. He was the greatest man in Egypt, next to Pharaoh; he was arrayed in the finest garments; he had Pharaoh's ring on his hand, and a gold chain about his neck, and they cried before him, "Bow the knee." Yet when he heard Jacob was coming, he hurried out to meet him. He wasn't ashamed of the old man, with his shepherds clothes. What a contrast we see in Absalom. That young man broke his father's heart by his rebellion, and the Jews are said to throw a stone at Absalom's pillar to the present day, whenever they pass it, as a token of their horror of Absalom's unnatural conduct.
Come, now, are you ready to be weighed? If you have been dishonoring your father and mother, step into the scales and see how quickly you will be found wanting. See how quickly you will strike the beam. I don't know any man who is much lighter than one who treats his parents with contempt. Do you disobey them just as much as you dare? Do you try to deceive them? Do you call them old-fashioned, and sneer at their advice? How do you treat that venerable father and praying mother?
You may be a professing Christian, but I wouldn't give much for your religion unless it gets into your life and teaches you how to live. I wouldn't give a snap of my finger for a religion that doesn't begin at home and regulate your conduct toward your parents.