THE FOURTH COMMANDMENT.
We have hitherto treated of the first three commandments, which have express reference to God. First, that we should trust in him with our whole heart, fear and love him in all our life. Second, that we should not misuse his holy name in lying, or in evil deeds, but use it to the praise of God, and to the benefit and salvation of our neighbors and ourselves. Third, that we should hear and make a diligent use of the Word of God, on festival or holidays, in order that all the deeds of our life may harmonize with it. And now the other seven follow, which relate to our conduct towards our fellow men, and among which the first and greatest is:
Thou shalt honor thy father and thy mother.
Upon this paternal and maternal state, God has particularly conferred praise above all other states which are subordinate to him, by commanding us not merely to love, but to honor our parents. For in reference to brothers, sisters, and neighbors in general, he commands nothing higher than to love them, so that he separates and distinguishes father and mother from all other persons on earth, and places them next to himself. For, to honor is much more exalted than to love, as it embraces not only love, but submission, humility, and reverence, which are due to the dignity of the person. Nor does he simply require us to address them in a friendly tone and with reverence, but above all to conduct and demean ourselves, both in our hearts and in our deportment, so as to hold them in high estimation, and regard them as next to God. For that which we should honor from our hearts, we should indeed esteem pre-eminently.
It is necessary, then, that young persons be impressed with the idea that they should regard their parents in God's stead, and consider that even if they be poor, weak, full of faults, and peevish, they are nevertheless a father and a mother given of God. They are not deprived of this honor on account of their deportment or defects; for this reason the personal appearance of the parents, however deformed, is not to be considered, but the will of God who thus created and ordered it. Otherwise we are, in truth, all alike in the sight of God, but amongst us things cannot exist without this inequality and distinction. For this reason, it is also commanded of God that you observe obedience to me as your father, and that I have the superiority.
Learn, then, in the first place, what that honor towards parents is which is required in this commandment; namely, that we should esteem them sincerely and worthily, as the highest treasure on earth: should demean ourselves towards them submissively in our expressions; and not treat them maliciously, or look upon them with contempt or disdain, but yield to them in their claims, and keep silence even if they act imprudently. Finally, we should manifest this honor in our conduct; that is, to serve, assist, and maintain them, by our labor and possessions, when they are old, sick, feeble, or in need; and all this not only willingly, but with humility and reverence, as if it were done in the presence of God. For whoever knows how he should esteem them in his heart, will not let them suffer from hunger and want, but will regard them as equal and superior to himself, and impart to them whatever his ability and possessions will permit.
In the second place, observe and mark how great, how good, and holy a work is here proposed for children, which alas! is entirely neglected, and no one perceives that God has commanded it, or that it is a holy, divine declaration and doctrine. For if it had been held in this light, each one could have perceived from it, that those must be holy people, who live according to these words; consequently no one would have dared to establish any course of monastic life, or any ecclesiastical orders, had each child adhered to this commandment, and if he could have directed his conscience towards God and said: "If I am to perform good and holy works, I know of none indeed that are better than to render all honor and obedience to my parents, since God has ordered it himself; for what God commands must be far more noble than all that we can devise of ourselves; and since there can be found no higher or better master than God, there can undoubtedly be no better doctrine than that which he gives. Now, he teaches abundantly what men should do, if they wish to perform really good works; and in asmuch as he commands these works to be done, he implies that they are well-pleasing to him. If then, it is God who commands this, and if he knows nothing better to propose, I shall be unable to amend it."
Thus, we would have had pious children, properly instructed, and well reared, who would have remained in the service of their parents, so that they might have seen great pleasure and enjoyment in them. But no one has obliged the command of God to be honored thus, but has suffered it to lie forgotten, or to be violated, so that a child is incapable of reflection, and while it gapes with silly astonishment after that which we have devised, not once does it consult God on the subject.
Let us, therefore, for God's sake, once teach young persons to banish from before their eyes all other things, and fix their attention first upon this commandment, and if they wish to serve God with really good works, to perform that which is desirable to their parents, or to those to whom they are subject instead of their parents. For the child, conscious of this and observing it, has the great consolation within his heart, which enables him to say with freedom and honor (in defiance of, and in opposition to all who are engaged in their own self-chosen works): "Behold! this work is well-pleasing to my God in heaven; of this I am certain." Let others come forward and boast of their great, their numerous, their tedious, and laborious works, and then let us see whether they can produce a single work, more noble and important than the obedience due to father and mother, which God has commanded and which he places next to the obedience due to himself; and although, where his word and will, maintain their proper ascendency and obedience, nothing can be superior to the will and word of parents, yet this will and word must remain in due subserviency to him, and must not conflict with the preceding commandments.
You should, therefore, rejoice in your heart, and thank God, because he has chosen you, and rendered you worthy to perform a work so precious and acceptable in his sight. And you should esteem it great and valuable, even if it is looked upon by others as the most insignificant and despicable, not on account of our worthiness, but because it is comprehended and embraced in the treasure and sanctuary, namely, God's word and command. O how dear a treasure it would be to all Carthusians, monks, and nuns, if they could produce in all their religious austerities one single work before God, which was done according to his command! and could say with joyful hearts in his presence, "We are now certain that this work is well-pleasing to thee!" How shall they, these poor, wretched persons, appear, when they shall stand before God and all the world, blushing with shame in the presence of a child that has lived in obedience to this commandment, and when they must acknowledge that with the purposes and performances of their whole life, they have not been worthy to serve it with a drink of water? This justly happens to them on account of their diabolical perversion, since they trample God's command under foot, in torturing themselves to no purpose, with their own self-devised works, reaping derision and shame as their reward.
Should not the heart leap and melt with joy, when it goes to work and performs that which is commanded, so that it can say, "Behold, this is more noble than all Carthusian sanctity, even if they torture themselves to death by fasting and praying on their knees without intermission?" For in reference to the former, we have an indubitable declaration and testimony that he has commanded it; but in reference to the latter, he has not enjoined a single word. But this is the misfortune and lamentable blindness of the world, that no one believes it. Thus the devil has fascinated us with false holiness and a pretence of our own works.
It is therefore my ardent desire, (I repeat it again,) that we might open our eyes and our ears, and take these things to heart, in order that we may not at some time be led away again from the pure Word of God, by the delusive arts of the devil. Thus we might look for a happy period in which parents could enjoy the more peace, love, friendship, and harmony in their families, and children could gain the whole affection of their parents. Again, if they are pertinacious, and will not do that which they should, unless they are chastised, they provoke both their God and their parents, and by this means deprive themselves of this treasure and peace of conscience, and bring upon themselves nothing but misfortunes. And it is on this account, that we find the unfortunate state of affairs now existing in the world, of which every one complains, that both young and old are extremely dissolute and ungovernable, destitute of fear and honor, carrying nothing into effect unless forced by chastisement, and in a clandestine manner taking from each other, and perpetrating whatever they can. On account of which God also punishes them, so that they fall into all manner of calamity and distress. And we also see, that parents themselves are generally uninformed; one simpleton instructs another; and as the parents have lived, so the children live after them.
And this should, I say, be the first and the greatest consideration urging us to an observance of this commandment, on account of which, if we were destitute of parents, we should desire God to propose for us wood and stone which we might call father and mother. How much more, since he has given us living parents, should we delight in being able to render honor and obedience to them, since we know that it is so well-pleasing to the Supreme Ruler of the universe and to all angels, and that it is so unpleasant to all devils, –the noblest work which can be performed after the high service of God comprised in the foregoing commandments! the giving of alms and all other acts of benevolence, are still unequal to it. For God has placed this state in the first order, yes, he has instituted it in his own stead on earth. This will and pleasure of God should be a sufficient cause and inducement for us to do with willingness and delight whatever we are able.
We are indeed, under still further obligation in the sight of the world, to be thankful for the favors and all the benefits which we have received from our parents. But here the devil again so exerts his influence in the world, that children forget their parents, as all of us forget God, and no one considers how God nourishes, defends, and protects us, and how many blessings he confers upon our bodies and souls; especially if an unhappy period approaches, we become angry, and murmur with impatience, and all the blessings which we have received during our whole lives, sink into oblivion. Even so do we also act towards parents; and there is no child that can perceive and consider these things, unless it receives grace from the Holy Spirit. This wicked disposition and ingratitude of the world, God plainly perceives; for this reason he impels and admonishes us with commandments, in order that each one may reflect what his parents have done for him, learning from this that he derived his body and life from them, that he is nourished and reared up by their care, without which there have been hundreds of times in which he might have perished in his destitution. Therefore, it is rightfully and properly said by aged and wise persons: Deo, parentibus et magistris non potest satis gratiæ rependi; that is, it is impossible for us ever to compensate sufficiently God, parents, and teachers. Whoever observes and considers this, will indeed render all honor to his parents without compulsion, and act towards them in the most affectionate manner, as those through whom God has given him all blessings.
Besides all these things, this should also be considered a great motive urging us the more to an observance of this commandment, namely, that God has annexed to it a temporal promise, saying: "So that thou mayest live long in the land where thou dwellest." Observe then the earnestness of God in reference to this commandment, since he indicates not only that it is acceptable with him, and that he has pleasure and delight in it, but also that it shall be well with us, and we shall prosper abundantly, reaping the enjoyments of life with all blessings. Therefore, St. Paul, Eph. 6, 2, 3, also has reference to it, and highly commends it, where he says: "This is the first commandment with promise, that it may be well with thee, and thou mayest live long on the earth." For, although the other commandments have their promise also included, yet it is not so expressly and explicitly laid down in any of them as it is in this one.
Here then you have the fruits and the reward of this commandment, that he who observes it, shall have quiet days, prosperity, and success: on the other hand, you have also the penalty, that he who is disobedient, shall perish the sooner, and shall not enjoy his life. For the enjoyment of long life signifies in the Scriptures, not only a far advancement in years, but the possession of all that pertains to long life,– good health, wife and children, subsistence, peace, good government, &c., without which this life cannot be enjoyed happily, nor prolonged to an advanced age. Now, if you will not obey your father and mother, and receive instruction, then obey the executioner; if you will not obey him, then obey the all-subduer, which is death. For in a word, it is the design of God, either, if you obey him, and render love and service to him, to compensate you abundantly with all blessings, or, if you provoke him, to send upon you both the executioner and death. Whence arise so many criminals, whom we must daily subject to the gallows, to decapitation, and the crushing wheel, unless it is from disobedience? Because they would not suffer themselves to be reared up in piety, and in this way, through the judgment of God, they cause us to behold their misfortunes and distresses. For very often does it happen that such reprobate persons die an unnatural and untimely death.
But the pious and the obedient have the blessing of living a long life in peace and tranquility, and of seeing their children's children (as already said) in the third and fourth generation. And experience teaches us that wherever there are prosperous and ancient families, of excellent character and blessed with many children, the cause of it truly is, that some of them have been well reared, and have held their parents in due estimation. Again, it is written, Psalm 109, verse 13, in reference to the ungodly: "Let his posterity be cut off; and in the generation following let their name be blotted out." Let it therefore be told to you, how great a thing obedience is in the sight of God, since he esteems it so highly, permits it to be so well-pleasing unto himself, so abundantly rewards it, and moreover, so strictly regards it as to punish those who violate it.
I mention all these things in order that they may be deeply impressed on the minds of the young. For no one easily believes how necessary this commandment is, yet hitherto it has not been esteemed or taught under the Papacy: each one considers the words simple and easy, and thinks he is already well acquainted with them; for this reason he passes them by, and gapes after other things, without seeing and believing that he so greatly provokes God, when he neglects this commandment, or that he performs a work so precious and acceptable when he observes it.
In consideration of this commandment, it is also necessary further to treat of various forms of obedience to superiors, who have to command and to govern. For from paternal authority all other powers emanate and are extendeed. For if a father is not able in himself to educate his children, he chooses a teacher for the purpose of instructing them; if he is unable to do this, he applies to his friends or neighbors for assistance; but if he departs this life, he commits and delivers them to the government and guardianship of others appointed for this purpose. Again, he must have under him also domestics, men-servants and maid-servants, for the administration of his domestic affairs, so that all who are called masters and mistresses, serve instead of parents, and must receive power and authority from them to rule. Hence they are all called fathers according to the Scripture, as they exercise in their government the office of father, and they should bear fatherly hearts towards their subjects. From ancient times, the Romans and many other people, have called masters and mistresses by terms equivalent to Patres et Matres familias; that is, fathers and mothers of families. Thus they also called their princes and sovereigns, Patres patriæ, that is, fathers of the whole country, to our great shame who wish to be Christians, because we do not confer this title upon them, or at least this regard and honor.
In whatever respect then a child is indebted to father and mother, all are likewise indebted, who are included in the family government. For this reason, men-servants and maid-servants should endeavor not only to render obedience to their masters and mistresses, but also to hold them in honor as their own fathers and mothers, and to perform all that they know is required of them, not through compulsion and severity, but with pleasure and delight, even for the reason already assigned, – because it is the commandment of God, and more acceptable with him than all other works. On this account they should even be willing to remit some of their wages, and should rejoice that they are able to procure a master and mistress, that they have a conscience so quiet, and know how to perform true golden works; which have heretofore been neglected and despised, and for which so many, in the name of the devil, entered into monasteries, resorted to pilgrimages and indulgences, with shame and a troubled conscience.
Now, if we could impress these things on the deluded multitude, a little girl might leap with joy, praising and thanking God, and by her moderate labor, for which she in other respects receives her subsistence and reward, obtain such a treasure as all, who are regarded as most holy, do not possess. Is it not an excellent glory, to know and to say, when you have performed your daily duties in your domestic employment, that it is better than all the holiness, all the austerities, of monastic life? And besides, you have the promise that you shall increase and prosper, with every blessing. How would you be more happy, or live more holy, so far as regards your operations? For in the sight of God faith alone truly justifies, and serves him alone, but works serve the people. Here you have every blessing, defence, and protection, a cheerful conscience and a gracious God besides, who will abundantly reward you; and you are truly a nobleman if you are pious and obedient. But if you are not, then you have, in the first place, nothing but the wrath and vengeance of God, no peace at heart, and finally, every misfortune and distress.
Now, those whom this will not move and induce to piety, we commit to the executioner and the conqueror of all. Let each one, therefore, who will suffer himself to be admonished, consider that with God it is no jest, and know that God speaks to him, and requires obedience. If you obey him, then you are a beloved child; but if you despise this admonition, you have reproach, distress, and grief for your reward.
In a similar manner we should also speak concerning obedience to civil magistrates, who, as remarked, derive their authority from paternal jurisdiction, which authority is very extensive. For here are fathers not of a single family only, but of as many persons as there are citizens, freemen, or subjects under their jurisdiction; for through them, as through our parents, God gives us our subsistence, houses, and homes, and sustains us in them. Therefore, since they bear with honor this name and title, as their highest glory, we are also under obligation to honor and esteem them greatly, as the most valuable and precious treasure on earth.
Now, whoever is submissive, obedient, and subservient to them, and performs with cheerfulness whatever belongs to the honor due them, knows that he acts acceptably before God, and receives as a reward peace and prosperity. If he will not perform this duty through love, but rejects and opposes their authority, and will not comply with it, he should also know that he is entitled neither to favors nor blessings; and if he expects to gain one guilder by it, he looses ten times more in some other respect, or falls into the hands of the executioner, or perishes through wards, pestilence, and famine, or realizes no pleasure in his children, or suffers injuries, injustice, and violence from domestics, neighbors, or strangers and tyrants; and thus receives such compensation and reward as he seeks and deserves by this disobedience.
Could we once be persuaded that these works are so acceptable in the sight of God, and so abundantly rewarded, we would possess all the superabundant blessings which our hearts desire. But since we observe the word and command of God so contemptuously, as if they had been declared by a worthless man, let us also consider whether we are the men who are able to enter into contest with him. How difficult will it be for Him to reward us again? Therefore, we would better live under the favor, peace, and blessing of God, than under his wrath and displeasure. Wherefore do you suppose that at present the world so abounds with perfidy, infamy, distress, and murder, except because every man, being his own lord and ruler, regards no one, and does whatever he pleases? For this reason, by one knave God punishes another; so that if you deceive or disrespect your lord, another comes, who treats you in the same manner again, yes, so that in your family you must suffer ten times more from your wife, children, or domestics.
We feel our misfortune indeed; we murmur and complain about perfidy, violence, and injustice; but we will not perceive that we are knaves ourselves, who have justly deserved punishment, and still do not reform. We do not desire to be in possession of grace and righteousness; for this reason we justly have nothing but adversity without any mercy. There must yet, however, be some pious persons on earth, since God still grants us so many blessings. For our sake we shouls not retain a farthing in the house or a straw in the field. With so many words I had to urge all these things, in order that they might for once be taken into due consideration, and that we might be liberated from the blindness and distress in which we have been so deeply involved, and might have a proper conception of the word and will of God, and embrace them with sincerity. From this word and will we would learn how we may have peace and prosperity abundantly, and happiness, temporal and eternal.
Thus we have fathers of two descriptions intimated to us by this commandment; the one a natural father, presiding over the family; the other an official father, presiding over the country. Besides these, there are also spiritual fathers, not as those in the Papacy, who have falsely arrogated this title to themselves, without, however, exercising any fatherly office; for those alone are worthy to be styled spiritual fathers, who govern and direct us through the Word of God, as St. Paul, 1 Cor. 4, 15, glories in calling himself by this name, where he says: "For, in Christ Jesus, I have begotten you through the Gospel." Inasmuch, then, as they are fathers, this honor is due to them also, even above all others; but here it is least rendered; for, indeed, all the honor which the world confers upon them, is to banish them from the country, and begrudge them a morsel of bread; and in a word, they must (as Paul says, 1 Cor. 4, 13) be the filth of the world, and the offscouring of all things.
It is still necessary, however, to impress upon the minds of the multitude, that those who wish to be called Christians, are under obligation in the sight of God to hold as worthy of double honor, such as attend to the welfare of their souls, so as to manifest kindness and favors towards them, and to provide for them; for this purpose God will grant sufficient means. But here every one resists and opposes, filled with fear that his body might perish. And now we cannot support one learned, virtuous, and faithful preacher, where we heretofore satisfied the appetites of ten epicures. For this reason we richly deserve that God should deprive us of his Word and blessing, and permit false preachers to rise up again, who lead us to the devil, and consume our labor and subsistence.
Those, however, who regard the will and commandment of God, have the promise of being abundantly compensated for whatever they bestow both on natural and spiritual fathers, and for the honor they render unto them: not that they shall have bread, raiment, and money for a year or two only, but long life, sustenance, and peace, and shall be rich and blessed forever. Therefore, only perform your duty, and let God take care to support you and procure a sufficiency for you; for, since he has promised it, and has never yet broken his word, he will also not deceive you. This should indeed create such a heart as might melt for joy and love towards those to whom our honor is due, and induce us to lift up our hands and thank God with joyfulness, who has given us such a promise as we should seek to the extremity of the world. For even if all the world were to combine, it would still be unable to add a single moment to life, or to produce from the earth a single grain; but God is able and willing to give you every thing abundantly, according to the desire of your heart. Now, whoever neglects this promise, or rejects it, is unworthy to hear a single word of God. We have now sufficiently discussed every duty relating to those who are subject to this commandment.
It were, moreover, well also to instruct parents in reference to the requiements of their duty, and the manner in which they should conduct themselves towards those who are committed to their government; which, although it is not expressed in the Ten Commandments, is, however, strictly enjoined in many other portions of the Scripture. God desires it also to be understood, even in this commandment, when he mentions father and mother; for it is not his will that there should be knaves or tyrants in the management of this office; nor does he attribute this honor to them, that is, power and authority to rule, so that they might permit themselves to be worshipped; but they should consider that they are under the control of God, and they should above all things discharge the duties of their office with sincerity and good faith, not only in nourishing their children, domestics, subjects, &c., and in providing for their physical wants, but mostly in rearing them up to the praise and honor of God. Think not, therefore, that it is left to your own choice and pleasure, but that God has strictly commanded and enjoined it, unto whom you will have to render an account for it.
But here we again have the wretched misfortune, that the duties of this office are neither regarded nor observed by any one. We act as if God had given us children for the purpose of gratifying our vanity and folly; as if he had given us domestics as beasts of burden, to be used only for the accomplishment of labor, or subjects to act according to our caprice, permitting them to act as if we were unconcerned about what they learn, or how they live; and no one perceives that it is the command of the Supreme Being, who earnestly requires and expects this; or that so much importance is attached to a proper attention to the young. For if we wish to have ingenious and pious persons, both for civil and ecclesiastical government, we must in truth spare no pains, care, or expense, in educating and rearing our children, so that they may serve God and their fellow men; and we should not consider only how to accumulate money and possessions for them; for God indeed can nourish and enrich them without our aid, even as he does every day; but for this reason he has given us children, and committed them to our care, that we should educate and rule them according to his will; otherwise he has no use for father and mother. Therefore, let each one know that he is under obligation, at the forfeiture of divine grace, to bring up his children above all things, in the fear and knowledge of God, and if they are endowed with talens, to let them learn and study useful arts and literature, so that they may be beneficial to society.
Now, if these things were attended to, God would abundantly bless us and grant us his grace, so that persons of this character might be trained up, and the condition of the country and the people ameliorated; and moreover, that there might be useful citizens, chaste and economical females, who might in future rear pious children and families. Think, then, for yourself how fatal an injury you occasion, if you are negligent and suffer any want of effort on your part, in having your children brought up to useful and virtuous habits; and moreover, you bring upon yourself condemnation and wrath, and thus deserve hell through your own children, even if you were otherwise pious and holy. Wherefore, because these things are despised, God so terribly punishes the world, that we have no discipline, peace, or government, of which we all complain, but we do not perceive that it is our fault; for as we train them, so we have ill-bred, disobedient, children and subjects. Let this suffice as an admonition; for, to discuss this at length belongs to another occasion.