The word which came to Jeremiah from the LORD in the days of Jehoiakim the son of Josiah king of Judah, saying,…
The first and principal commandment of the moral law, Honour thy father and thy mother, begins with obedience to parents; but must of course be interpreted in a wider sense so as to apply to all who have a right to obedience — the persons to be honoured in that famous and excellent summary of the Catechism are the King, and all in authority under him, my governors, teachers, spiritual pastors and masters, and last of all "my betters"; the falling into disuse of such an instructive word is a fact of very great significance and needs no comment. But duty to parents comes clearly first, which an old writer has called "the band and firmament of Commonwealths"; for society is near its dissolution when this obligation is loosened or weakened in any way. The stability of an empire like that of China is an illustration in point, and I was struck some time ago by hearing a missionary of long experience select this one virtue of reverence for parents as that which has for so many centuries preserved the cohesion of that people. Affection may indeed be missing, but obedience and respect for authority are, I believe, universal. So it has come to pass that a nation that we despise outdoes us in the discharge of one of the most elementary moral duties; not that Confucius is a better teacher than Moses, or made any advance upon him, but that we are somehow drifting from a commandment of God, and seem powerless to enforce it. To arrest the widespread mischief we must go back to first principles, and seek to re-establish authority in the family, in the elementary schools, in places of higher education, and perhaps in the university itself. Authority must be taught to be a trust delegated by God to some for the good of the whole body, and the applications of the Christian precept: "All of you be subject one to another," in its several relations, must be laid down fearlessly and with distinctness by teachers and preachers as the safeguard of society. To revert to filial reverence. It was once, I believe, a characteristic of Englishmen, for even as late as the last century sons would address their fathers by the reverential title of "sir." The virtue is not exotic, it can stand our rude climate, and it must not be thought for a moment to be a poor sickly plant, that has no root in strong and masculine natures. On the contrary, take a specimen of it from the most robust of our own countrymen. To most of us is known the compunction of Dr. Johnson which has formed the subject of an historical picture. He has related of himself, how when a young man he refused to stand at his father's stall to sell books; it was, he says, through pride he disobeyed, a trivial circumstance to a less sensitive man, but it was a burden to him for fifty years, until on the very day he went to the very spot where his father's stall used formerly to be, and on a day of business stood in Uttoxeter market, bareheaded, for an hour exposed to the gibes of the passers-by, and the inclemency of the weather. "This was a penance by which I trust I have propitiated heaven for the only instance I believe of contumacy to my father." Upon which Mr. Leslie Stephen, by no means a sentimental writer, remarks: "The anecdote cannot be read without emotion, and if it illustrates a touch of superstition in Johnson's mind, it reveals too that sacred depth of tenderness which ennobled his character." To both parents we are debtors. Mothers are to be esteemed as highly as fathers, and dutiful obedience rendered to them. Take care you despise them not in their old age or in lonely widowhood. Value them all the more if they are alone. Do not think that you have outgrown their wisdom, for in his mature years Solomon could stamp his own maxims with the authority of his mother's mint, and give them currency as the words which his mother had taught him. The wishes of parents are also to be attended to, for wise fathers dealing with grown-up children will not burden them with commands, but will leave them to act upon what their sons know they would wish done. In a book that furnished my vacation reading I lighted upon a passage in the undergraduate life of Dr. Corrie that will interest some of us. "When he first came up, his father, knowing his son's great love for horses, and fearing the scenes of temptation into which this taste might lead him, expressed a strong desire that he would not go to Newmarket. This injunction was faithfully respected. Though he was fully aware that his father would never ask him whether his wish had been observed, his loyalty would not permit him to trifle with the confidence thus placed in him." A characteristic anecdote of a man who was known as the soul of honour, who if he lacked sons of his own, was looked up to and reverenced by hundreds of pupils and others, who felt their own principles of duty strengthened by his unswerving fidelity to old traditions. Obedience to a father's law is the whole idea of the incarnation. Not to please Himself at all, but to surrender Himself wholly to the Divine will, runs through all Christ's life. When He cometh into the world He saith, "I am come to do Thy will, O God," and when He is about to leave the world in that great fight of conflicting emotions the thought of submission alone rules His prayer, "Not My will, but Thine be done." Not only as a son, but as a citizen, as a member of the Jewish synagogue and nation, He is obedient to the law, to every ordinance of man, for His Father's sake. Conscious of His Divinity, of His real relation to God at twelve years old, He goes meekly home to be subject to earthly parents and to learn His trade. When the time of His manifestation has come, He allows John to baptize Him, to fulfil an ordinance of God, and by His obedience He approves John's commission in the eyes of the people. Though, as Son of God, He is free from the temple tax, yet He works a miracle to pay the due, that He might give no offence to the rulers who sat in Moses' seat. He even acknowledges that the civil power of the Roman Governor is of God. Under the terms of the new covenant we are no mere slaves but sons, and can claim the spirit of adoption, the will to wish all things in conformity with God's will, and the power to perform the same. I have heard myself from the lips of those whose whole life has been most wilful and contrary such a confession as this, "I love now as much to do things for God as at one time I did everything against God," for the love of Christ converts and subdues a stubborn temper, which to its harm would kick against the pricks into a service where there is no heavy burden, no galling yoke, but all is perfect freedom.
(C. E. Searle, D. D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: The word which came unto Jeremiah from the LORD in the days of Jehoiakim the son of Josiah king of Judah, saying,