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ON OBEDIENCE TO PARENTS.
COLOSSIANS III. 20.
“ Children, obey your Parents in all Things."
1. IT has been a subject of controversy for many years, Whether there be any innate principles in the mind of man? But it is allowed on all hands, if there be any practical principles naturally implanted in the soul, That we ought to honour our Parents, will claim this character almost before any other. It is enumerated amongst those universal principles by the most ancient Authors, and is, undoubtedly, found even among most savages, in the most barbarous nations. We may trace it through all the extent of Europe and Asia, through the wilds of Afric, and the forests of America. And it is not less, but more observable in the most civilized nations. So it was, first in the Eastern parts of the world, which were for so many ages, the seat of empire, of learning, and politeness, as well as of religion. So it was afterwards, in all the Grecian States, and throughout the whole Roman Empire. In this respect it is plain, they that have not the written law, are a law unto themselves ; showing the work (the substance) of the law, to he written in their hearts.
2. And wherever God has revealed his Will to man, this law has been a part of that Revelation. It has been herein opened afresh, considerably enlarged, and enforced in the strongest manner. In the Jewish Revelation, the notorious breakers thereof were punishable with death. And this was one of the laws which our blessed Lord did not come to destroy, but to fulfil. Accordingly he severely reproved the Scribes and Pharisees, for making it void through their traditions : clearly shewing that the obligation thereof extended to all ages. It is the substance of this which St. Paul delivers to the Ephesians, (chap. vi. 1,) “ Children, obey your Parents in the Lord :” and again in these words to the Colossians,“ Children, obey your Parents in all things.”
3. It is observable, that the Apostle enforces this duty by a threefold encouragement : First, to the Ephesians he adds, “ For this is right :" it is an instance of justice as well as mercy. It is no more than their due: it is what we owe to them, for the very being which we have received from them. Secondly, “ This is acceptable to the Lord;” it is peculiarly pleasing to the great Father of men and angels, that we should pay honour and obedience to the fathers of our flesh. Thirdly, It is “ the First Commandment with Promise;" the first to the performance whereof a peculiar promise is annexed, “ that it may be well with thee, and that thy days may be long in the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee.” This promise has been generally understood, to include health and temporal blessings, as well as long life. And we have seen innumerable proofs that it. belongs to the Christian as well as the Jewish Dispensation : many remarkable instances of its accomplishment occur even at this day.
But what is the meaning of these words, “ Children, obey your Parents in all things.” I will endeavour by the assistance of God, first, to explain, and then to apply them.
I. 1. First, I will endeavour to explain these Words; and the rather, because so few people seem to understand them. Look round into the world, not the heathen, but the Christian world, nay, the reformed part of it. Look
those that have the Scriptures in their own tongue: and who is there that appears even to have heard of this? Here and there a child obeys the parent out of fear, or perhaps out of natural affection. But how many children can you find that obey their fathers and mothers, out of a sense of duty to God? And how many parents can you find, that duly inculcate this duty upon their children? I doubt, a vast majority both of parents and children are totally ignorant of the whole affair. For the sake of these I will make it as plain as I can: but still I am thoroughly sensible, those that are not willing to be convinced, will no more understand what I say, than if I were talking Greek or Hebrew.
2. You will easily observe, that by Parents, the Apostle means both Fathers and Mothers, as he refers us to the Fifth Commandment, which names both the one and the other. And however human laws may vary herein, the law of God makes no difference; but lays us under the same obligation of obeying both the one and the other.
3. But before we consider, How we are to obey our parents, it may be inquired, How long we are to obey them? Are children to obey, only till they run alone ? Till they go to school? Till they can read and write? Or till they are as tall as their parents ? Or attain to
of discretion ? Nay, if they obey only because they fear to be beaten, or because otherwise they cannot procure food and raiment, what avails such obedience? Those only who obey their parents, when they can live without them, and when they neither hope nor fear any thing from them, shall have praise from God.
4. “ But is a man that is at age, or a woman that is married, under any farther obligation to obey their pa- > rents ?” With regard to marriage, although it is true, that: a man is to leave father and mother, and to cleave unto his wife: and, by parity of reason, she is to leave father and mother, and cleave unto her husband; (in consequence of which there may be some particular cases wherein .conjugal duty must take place of filial ;) yet I cannot learn,
either from Scripture or Reason, that marriage either cancels or lessens the general obligation of filial duty. Much less does it appear, that it is either cancelled or lessened by our having lived one and twenty years. I never understood it so, in my own case.
When I had lived upwards of thirty years, I looked upon myself to stand just in the same relation to my father as I did when I was ten years old: And when I was between forty and fifty, I judged myself fully as much obliged to obey my mother in every thing lawful, as I did when I was in my leading-strings.
5. But what is implied in, “Children, obey your parents in all things?” Certainly the first point of obedience is to do nothing which your father or mother forbids, whether it be great or small. Nothing is more plain, than that the prohibition of a parent binds every conscientious child: that is, except the thing prohibited be clearly enjoined of God. Nor indeed is this all: the matter may be carried a little farther still. A tender parent may totally disapprove what he does not care flatly to forbid. What is the duty of a child in this case? How far is that disapprobation to be regarded? Whether it would be equivalent to a prohibition or not, a person who would have a conscience void of offence, should, undoubtedly, keep on the safe side, and avoid what may perhaps be evil. It is surely the more excellent way, to do nothing which you know your parents disapprove. To act otherwise seems to imply a degree of disobedience, which one of a tender conscience would wish to avoid
6. The second thing implied in this direction is, Do every thing which your father or mother bids, be it great or small, provided it be not contrary to the command of God. Herein God has given a power to parents, which even sovereign princes have not. The King of England, for instance, is a sovereign Prince: yet he has not power to bid me do the least thing, unless the law of the land requires me so to do: for he has no power but to execute the law. The will of the King is no law to the subject. But the will of the parent is a law to the child: who is bound in conscience to
to submit thereto, unless it be contrary to the Law of God.
7. It is with admirable wisdom, that the Father of spirits has given this direction, that as the strength of the parents supplies the want of strength, and the understanding of their parents the want of understanding in their children, till they have strength and understanding of their own, so the will of the parents may guide that of their children, till they have wisdom and experience to guide themselves. This, therefore, is the very first thing, which children have to learn. That they are to obey their parents, to submit to their will in all things: and this they may be inured to, long before they understand the reason of it. And, indeed, long before they are capable of understanding any of the principles of religion. Accordingly, St. Paul directs all parents to bring up their children in the discipline and doctrine of the Lord. For their will
be broken by proper discipline, even in their early infancy; whereas it must be a considerable time after, before they are capable of instruction. This, therefore, is the first point of all; bow down their wills from the very first dawn of reason : and by habituating them to your will, prepare them for submitting to the will of their Father which is in heaven.
8. But how few children do we find, even of six or eight years old, that understand any thing of this ! Indeed, how should they understand it, seeing they have none to teach them? Are not their parents, father as well as mother, fully as ignorant of the matter as themselves? Whom do you find, even among religious people, that have the least conception of it? Have not you seen the proof of it with your own eyes? Have not you been present, when a father or mother has said, “ My child, do so or so?” The child, without any ceremony, answered peremptorily, “I won't.” And the parent quietly passes it by, without any further notice. And does he or she not see, that by this cruel indulgence, they are training up their child by flat rebellion against their parents, to rebellion against God? Consequently they are training him up for the everlasting fire pre