Fourteenth Day – The Children’s Commandment

‘Honor thy father and thy mother; that thy days may be long in the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee.’ Ex. 20: 12. `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 in the Lord.’ Col. 3: 20.

The first four commandments have reference to God, the last five to our neighbor. In between stands the fifth. It is linked to the first four, because to the young child the parent takes the place of God; from him the child must learn to trust and obey his God. And it is the transition to the last five, because the family is the foundation of society, and there the first experience comes of all the greater duties and difficulties of intercourse with men at large. As the training-school for all our intercourse with God and man, this commandment lies at the foundation of all Divine and human law, of all our worship of God, and all our intercourse with man.

Of the ten, this one is especially the children’s commandment. But just on that account, very specially too, the parents’ commandment. A wise ruler makes good subjects; a firm commander, faithful soldiers; it is on the parents’ character that the children’s fulfilment of this precept will depend. And so it leads us to consider what parents must be if they are to succeed in training their children to honor them.

The sentiment of honor, reverence, is one of the noblest and purest our nature is capable of. The power of perceiving what is worthy of honor, the willingness to acknowledge it, the unselfishness that feels it no degradation, but a pleasure, to render it — all this is itself honorable and ennobling; nothing brings more true honor than giving honor to others. This disposition ought to be cultivated most carefully in the child, as an important part of his education. It is one of the chief elements of a noble character, and a preparation for rendering to God the honor due to Him. If the teaching of Scripture to honor God, to honor all men, to honor the widows, to give honor to whom honor is due, is to be obeyed by our children, they must be prepared for it by learning first to honor their parents. If they are to honor God, it must begin by honoring

their parents. If they are, in after life, to do what is so difficult, to honor all men, by recognizing even in the degraded and the lost the worth that belongs to them as created in the image of God, they must be carefully prepared for it in the home-school of family life. It is not only to secure a happy home, and place the intercourse of parent and child on a right footing, but to fit the child for all his future relations to God and his fellow-men, and to lay in him one of the foundation-stones of a noble character and a holy life, that God has placed this commandment the first of those on the second table. Parents may well study how they can train their children to fulfil it.

The child must honor the parent in obedience. Obey your parents is the New Testament version of `Honor thy father and thy mother.’ The importance of this word, obedience, is more than the mind can grasp. God created man, with his wonderful liberty of will, that he might obey Him. Obedience to God was to lead to the enjoyment of God. By disobedience sin entered; in obedience, the twofold obedience, of Christ and to Christ (Heb. 5: 8, 9), salvation comes. And on the parent the sacred charge is laid of training the child to obey, teaching it to link all the memories of happiness and love in home-life with obedience, working the principle into the very life of mind and heart, not so much by instruction or reasoning, as by training and securing the habit of obedience. The child is to be taught to honor the parent. The will of the child, no less than his mind and affections, is given into the parent’s hands to mold and guide. It is in yielding his will to the will of the parent that the child acquires that mastery over it and over himself which will afterwards be its strength and safety, and make it a fit instrument for doing God’s will. Man was created free that he might obey; obedience is the path to liberty.

On this point parents often err; they often say that to develop the will of the child the will must be left free, and the child left to decide for himself. They forget that the will of the child is not free — passion and prejudice, selfishness and ignorance, seek to influence the child in the wrong direction. The superior judgment, the calmer deliberation, the fuller experience of the parent, are to decide for the child whose will has been entrusted to his care.

But are we not in danger of repressing the healthy development of a child’s moral powers by thus demanding implicit submission to our will? By no means. The true liberty of the will consists in our being master of it, and so our own masters. Train a child to master his will in giving it up to his parents’ command, and he acquires the mastery to use when he is free. Yielding to a parent’s control is the path to self-control; and self-control alone is liberty. The child who is taught by a wise parent to honor him and his superior wisdom will acquire, as he gives up his own way, the power over his will, as he never can who is taught to imagine that he need do nothing unless the parent has first convinced him of the propriety of the act, and obtained his consent. The New Testament says very distinctly, ‘Children, obey your parents in the Lord: for this is right.’ Not because the child approves or agrees, but because the command is given by a parent: this is the true reason for its being obeyed. In obedience, the parent is to be honored.

In all his disposition and conduct, too, the child is to be trained to honor the parent. Familiarity breeds contempt; in language and carriage and conduct, parents often tolerate an easygoing familiarity, which, however it may be miscalled by the name of love or kindness, destroys those sentiments of respect and reverence in which true love has its strength and its real happiness. Manners are of more importance than many think; the neglect of good manners not only reveals a want in the disposition of those sentiments of respect and courtesy to which life and intercourse owe so much, but it reacts on the heart, and fosters the selfishness and indifference that cares little for others’feelings. Locke has said that next to religion and virtue, manners are the most important thing in education, more so, he thinks, than learning. Let parents remember that in taking trouble to train their children to show them due honor and respect, even in apparently insignificant things, they are forming habits and breathing principles into them which will afterwards repay all their labor. `Him that honoreth Me, I will honor,’ is God’s law, which has its reflection in the life of earth too. None have received higher honor on earth than those who have learnt to honor all men, to honor the poor and needy.

And now, it is the parent who is to cultivate and develop this sentiment in the child. The young child is guided, not by reflection or argument, but by feeling and affection. He cannot yet realize and honor the unseen God. He cannot yet honor all men, the wretched and unworthy, for the ideal, the unseen worth of their creation in God’s image. The child can only honor what he sees to be `worthy of honor.’ And this is the parent’s high calling; always so to speak and act, so to live in the child’s presence, that honor may be spontaneously and unconsciously rendered. This can only be where, in quiet self-recollection and self-control, the parent lives as in God’s fear and presence, and walks worthy of this calling, as one who has been placed in the home, at the head of a family, to be not only its prophet, priest, but king too. Yes, a king receives honor; let the parent as a king reign and rule in love and the fear of God, his honor will be given him.

Above all, let parents remember that honor really comes from God. Let them honor Him in the eyes of their children, and He will honor them there too. Let them beware of this sin, honoring their child more than God; it is the sure way to grief for parents and children together. But from parents, who in everything seek to honor God, children will learn to honor God and them together; the parent who teaches his child to obey the fifth commandment has guided his feet into the way of all God’s commandments. A child’s first virtue is the honoring and obeying his parents.

O my God! I come again to You with the prayer to open my eyes and give me fully to realize the place of the family in the purposes of Your grace, and the parent’s holy calling to train his child for all that You would have him be. I ask of You especially to reveal to me in Your own light the full import of the fifth commandment, that I may teach my child to fulfil it according to Your will. Fill my own soul, I pray You, with such honor and reverence of Your holy majesty, that both I and my child may learn what honor is. Teach me to claim honor of my child with the holy aim of leading him to honor You above all. May honoring his parents and honoring his God work in him the spirit of humility, which will gladly render to all their due. And may, above all, I be kept from the terrible sin of ever honoring my child more than God.

O Lord! I look to You, for grace to secure the keeping of this, the children’s, commandment in my home. Oh! grant that I may always live in it worthy of all honor. And may the holy power of training young souls to keep Your commandments, to honor and serve You, be the fruit of Your own Spirit’s work in me. I ask it, my God, in Jesus’ name. Amen.