Furthermore we have had fathers of our flesh which corrected us, and we gave them reverence…
There is a very interesting argument involved in this saying of the apostle — the argument from what we are as men to what we ought to be as Christians. A dutiful child submits meekly to a father's correction; why, then, do we not submit meekly to the correction of God? The mere fact of submission to the human goes far towards showing that it is not through any actual inability that we refuse submission to the Divine Parent. The reasoning, in short, is a reasoning from what men are as members of society to what they ought to be as creatures of God; and they may be brought under condemnation if they fail to act towards God, displaying Himself under certain characters, as they act towards their fellow-men, who bear those same characters, though only subordinately. And this reasoning is of very wide application — so that what we may term our social conduct will furnish overwhelming evidence against us at the last, if we are not found among those who have loved and served God. If God demand faith in His Word, are we not capable of believing? Are we not accustomed to believe, yea, and to allow our belief to influence our practice, whenever there is a sufficiency of testimony? And will not this, our capacity of believing, demonstrated as it is by facts of daily occurrence, justify our condemnation, if we fail to put faith in the declarations of Scripture? In like manner, if God demand from us gratitude and love, does He demand what we are unable to give? On the contrary, we are so constituted that we naturally feel thankful to a benefactor; and any one of us who could receive kindness, and yet show himself void of all affection towards the giver, would make himself an object of scorn and abhorrence, as wanting the common sensibilities which characterise our nature. If, then, God manifestly bring Himself into the position of a benefactor, it is very evident that He has right to ask from us in return gratitude and love; that in asking them He only asks what we continually prove ourselves able to give, and that, consequently, if we refuse what is asked of us, there will be needed nothing beyond our conduct in the several intercourses of life to prove us without excuse, if finally condemned for not giving God our hearts. And once more — if God asks obedience to His laws and submission to His authority, He asks only what we are in the daily habit of rendering to earthly superiors. He may surely appeal to our conduct in reference to earthly magistrates, as proving us without excuse if we wilfully violate His laws. Thus our text involves a principle of very general application; and we perhaps little think what material of condemnation we heap up against ourselves by the conscientious discharge of every relative duty, whilst we remain virtually strangers to the power of religion. Now, I have thus engaged you with the general argument, rather than with the particular case presented by the text. Now, however, we will confine ourselves to that case, the case being that of parents and children, and the implied argument, that the reverence which we show to our earthly father will be a swift witness against us, if we fail in the reverence which is due to our heavenly Father. There is no more beautiful and graceful affection of our nature than that which subsists between parents and children. We must admire this affection, even as exhibited amongst inferior animals. There is no page in natural history more attractive than that which tells how tenderly the wild beasts of the forest will watch their young, or with what assiduousness the fowls of the air will tend their helpless brood. And in the human race the affection goes far beyond this; for if not more intense at the first, it is abiding and reciprocal. And this affection of a parent for a child is not merely a graceful and beautiful sentiment, shedding a charm over the privacies of domestic life; it is one of the chief mainsprings of human activity, and contributes perhaps more than anything else to the keeping together the elements of society. It is quite extraordinary, if you come to think, how this single affection or instinct will tie down a man to unwearied occupation, so that he will toil night and day to gain subsistence for his family. He might betake himself to another scene, where, having only himself to provide for, he might live in comparative ease; but his young ones have nestled round his heart; he cannot be tempted by any prospect of relief to desert those who lean on him as a father, and therefore, with a heroism which would draw on itself intense admiration if it were not so common, will he employ all his energies, and wear down all his strength, in obtaining a sufficiency for those beneath his roof. Thus is society virtually knit together by and through the parental affection; and you have only to suppose this affection extinguished, so that fathers and mothers cared nothing, or only for a short time, for those to whom they gave life, and you destroy the fine play of a healthful activity, and slacken the bonds which make fast communities. And whilst parents are thus abidingly and profitably actuated by affection for their children, children maintain an affection towards their parents scarcely less graceful and scarcely less advantageous. This is not so much an instinct as a principle; and, accordingly, while the Bible contains no precept as to loving children, it contains a most express precept as to honouring parents, so that there is given to the latter the character of a high duty, to whose performance we are urged by a distinct and full promise. And the point to which I have to bring you is, that this duty is very generally and very faithfully performed. It is comparatively but seldom that children show want of affection towards a father and a mother, when that father and that mother have done their part as parents; whether it be in the highest or the lowest families of the land, there is generally a frank yielding to its heads of that respect and that gratitude which they have a right to look for from their offspring. There is no disputing the first statement of the text; for it is the general rule — "We have had fathers of our flesh which corrected us, and we gave them reverence." But how now as to the inference which St. Paul draws from this statement? How as to our subjection to another and a higher Father, "the Father of spirits"? If it be the common rule, the exceptions not being such as to bring the rule into question, that children give reverence to their fathers, surely, if God be a Father, He too will be reverenced. Once establish the relationship, and the reverence and submission will follow almost of course. Children! listen ye to this; parents! listen ye to this — children, who are never wanting in dutiful affection towards your parents; parents, who are never unmindful of what you have a right to look for from your children — children, who will do all in your power to soothe the declining years of a father or a mother, who feel it a privilege to pay back by labours of love the tenderness lavished on you from infancy upwards, who attach a sacredness to the every word and the every wish of persons so beloved and revered; parents, who feel cat to the heart by the ingratitude of a child, who are conscious of being robbed of your incontrovertible rights, whenever a son or a daughter is deficient in attachment and respect — yes, children and parents, listen ye alike to this; ye are self-condemned, ye are swift witnesses against yourselves, if as members of the universal family ye fail to be what ye are as members of particular households; and oh! ye must be speechless at the judgment, if the simple "argument of our text should be worked out against you — if the Judge should say to you, "Ye had fathers of your flesh, and ye gave them reverence," and should follow this up by the thrilling and unanswerable question, "Why, then, were ye not in subjection to the Father of spirits, that ye might live?" I do not know whether you have been accustomed to follow for yourselves such trains of thought as the words of our text have thus led us to open; but we own that we regard the subject which has been under discussion as one of no common importance and interest, presenting, as it does, all that is amiable and admirable in domestic life as fraught with testimony to be delivered at the great day of assize. Is there the merchant amongst you of unimpeachable rectitude, who would sooner die than be guilty of a fraud? Why, that man's ledger is one of the books that shall be opened at the judgment; the hatred of everything base which it displays will be a witness against him if he have robbed God of His due. Is there the tradesman who would abhor the overreaching a customer, whom nothing could persuade to use the false weight and balance? Why, that man's shop will be referred to hereafter; it will prove him rigidly conscientious towards his fellow-men, and therefore self-condemned if he have defrauded his God. Or is there a patriot, who, with a fine love of liberty, would do and dare nobly to uphold the free institutions of his country? That man's generous ardour will be quoted hereafter; could he be indignant against all lesser tyranny, and yet be excusable in making no struggle against the tyranny of sin? Is there the son or the daughter amongst you who has shown reverence to parents? That man or that woman will have nothing to plead when God shall affirm Himself to be a Father, but a Father neglected by His children. Or are there servants amongst you who answer the apostle's description — "Obedient to their own masters, not answering again, not purloining, but showing all good fidelity"? Their unblemished characters will rise against them at the judgment; so true to their employers, what shall be said for them if false to their Maker? Ah, it may sound strangely, but, nevertheless, we may confidently assert that virtues, the want of which must exclude us from heaven, may themselves doom us to a lower place in hell.
(H. Melvill, B. D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: Furthermore we have had fathers of our flesh which corrected us, and we gave them reverence: shall we not much rather be in subjection unto the Father of spirits, and live?