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Question 104. What doth God require in the fifth command?

Answer. That I show all honor, love and fidelity, to my father and mother, and all in authority over me, and submit myself to their good instruction and correction with due obedience; and also patiently bear with their weakness and infirmities, since it pleases God to govern us with their hand.



The Laws of the second table of the Decalogue now follow, the obedience of which has respect to; God as well as the commandments of the first table. The works, however, which are here enjoined are performed immediately towards men. The immediate object of the second table is our neighbor, whilst God is the mediate object.

Christ embodies the sum of the obedience required by the second table of the Decalogue in these words: Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself; and lays down this rule for the better understanding of the precepts of this table: “All things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them, for this is the law and the prophets.” (Matt. 7:12.) Christ also says, in reference to the whole second table: “And the second is like unto the first” (Matt. 22:39); which must be understood: 

1. Of the kind of worship which is enjoined in each table, which is spiritual, and more important than that which is ceremonial. 2. Of the same kind of punishment, which is threatened and inflicted upon all those who violate the commandments of either table; which punishment is eternal 3. Of the inseparable connection which exists between the love of Go* and our neighbor, which connection is like that of cause and effect; so that the one cannot be without the other.

Obedience to the second table is therefore necessary, and exacted from us by God just as much as obedience to the first table. The reasons of this are such as these:1. That God himself may be worshipped by this obedience, and that our love to him may be manifested by the love which we cherish towards our neighbor on God s account. 2. That our conformity with God may be made manifest by the love which we have towards our neighbor. 3. That human society may be preserved, which was formed and constituted by God for the praise and glory of his name.

This fifth commandment, moreover, respecting the honor due to parents, which Jerome expressly calls the fifth in order, is placed first in the second table:1. Because it is the foundation, cause, and bond of obedience to all the other commandments belonging to this table. For if the obedience can be maintained and enforced, which is due from those who are placed in subjection to their superiors, who should command and preserve, in the name of God, obedience, to the commandments which follow this precept of the Decalogue, then will obedience to all the other precepts necessarily follow. 2. Because God has connected with this commandment a special promise of long life, which is always regarded as a great blessing, to those who render obedience to this precept of the Decalogue.

This commandment consists of two parts: a command and a promise.  The command is, Honor thy father and thy mother. The design or end of this commandment is the preservation of civil order, which God has appointed in the mutual duties between inferiors and their superiors. Superiors are all those whom God has placed over others, for the purpose of governing and defending them. Inferiors are those whom God has placed under others, that they may be governed and defended by them. Superiors are included in this commandment under the terms father and mother, and are: 1. Parents themselves, from whom we have proceeded. 2.  Tutors and guardians of children. 3. schoolmasters, teachers, and ministers of the gospel. 4. Magistrates, whether high or low. 5. Elders. All these persons, now, together with all others who may be placed in positions of authority, are comprehended under the term parents, as used in this commandment; and are to be honored -by us, because God gives them all to us in the place of parents, whose duties they discharge, and are, so to speak, God s vicegerents in ruling and defending us, having been substituted by God in the room of parents, when the wickedness of men began to increase in the earth.

God, in this commandment, makes mention of parents in preference to other governors, and requires that they should be honored:1. Because the paternal power and government was the first that was established amongst men. 2. Because this is, as it were, the rule and pattern according to which all other forms of government should be formed and exercised. 3. Because this form of government is the most agreeable to men, so that they readily submit themselves to it 4 Because any and every contempt or disrespect shown to parents, is a sin of the most grievous and aggravated character, and therefore condemned by God and punished most severely, inasmuch as the obligation to honor and obey them is of peculiar force and strength.

This commandment, therefore, does not merely require that we honor and respect our parents, but all who are in authority over us; and requires, also, on the other hand, obedience not merely from children, hit from ail inferiors, of whatever rank or grade. So the duties which these two classes of persons owe respectively to each other, are in like manner enjoined in this precept of the Decalogue; for when God requires parents be honored, he at the same time demands that they so discharge the duties of parents as to be worthy of honor; and in thus enjoining the duties which are devolving upon parents, he also enjoins the duties of all others in authority, inasmuch as they are all comprehended in the term parents, as here used. So God in like manner enjoins the duties of children when he commands them to honor their parents; and not only of children, but of all others in subjection, since God will have all those who are in positions of authority honored by those who are under them.

We may now, in view of what has just been said, easily return an answer to this objection: God, in this commandment, merely requires that parents should be honored, which is the duty of inferiors. Therefore he here commands nothing respecting superiors. Ans. We deny the consequence; for we may retort the argument of our opponents, and say: Be cause God commands parents to be honored, he also enjoins the duties which are devolving upon all those who are in authority; for when God gives the name to those who occupy positions of authority, he also grants them that from which they have the name; and if he desires them to be honored, he also requires them to do such things as entitle them to honor and respect. And although it may sometimes be the case that wicked men are elevated to positions of authority, who are not worthy of honor; yet the office must be distinguished from the per sorts who are invested with it; so that whilst we detest the wickedness of the men, we should nevertheless honor their office, on account of its divine appointment. And as they are to be honored on account of their office, which is to rule their subjects according to the will of God, whose ministers they are, it is manifest that we must obey them only in as far as they do not go beyond the proper limits of their office.

The promise annexed to this commandment is, That thy days may be long in the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee. God added this promise:1. That he might invite and urge us the more strongly to obey this precept by placing before us so great a benefit, as a reward. 2. That he might in this way declare how highly he esteems those who honor their parents, and how severely he will punish all those who withhold this honor and respect. 3. That he might teach us how necessary obedience to this commandment is, inasmuch as it is a preparation and constraining motive of obedience to all the commandments which follow. Hence Paul, in referring to this promise, says that it is the first commandment with promise; by which he means that it is the first commandment which has the promise of any special or certain benefit, which God promises to bestow upon those who render the obedience which it requires. The blessing which (TOO tier* promises is a long life upon earth. 

Obj. 1. The first table has also a promise annexed to it. Therefore this commandment is not the first with promise. Ans. This commandment has v a special promise, whilst the promise of the first table is general.  Obj. 2. But a long life does not seem to be a blessing, in view of the miseries which are connected with this present state of being. Therefore it is a useless promise. Ans. That a long life seems not to be a blessing, comes to pass by an accident; for in itself it is a great blessing, although it is connected with much misery and suffering. To this the following objections are brought forward:1. A good connected with great evils is rather to be deprecated than desired. A long life now is connected with great evils. Therefore it seems, on account of this accident, rather to be deprecated than to be desired. We reply, that a good is to be deprecated, if the evils connected with it are greater than the good itself. But God promises to the godly, in connection with a long life, a mitigation of the calamities to which we are here subject; and a long enjoyment of his blessings, even in this life. Then, too, the constant worship and praise of God in this life is a blessing of such great value, that the various calamities to which we are here subject are not worthy to be compared with it. Obj. 2. But the wicked and disobedient are also often blessed with a long life. Therefore it “s not a blessing peculiar to the godly. Ans. A few exceptions do not overthrow a general rule; for the wicked and disobedient, for the most part, perish prematurely and suddenly. “The eye that mocketh at his father, and despiseth to obey his mother, the ravens of the valley shall pluck it out, and the young eagles shall eat it.” “Whoso curseth his father or his mother, his lamp shall be put out in obscure darkness.” (Prov. 30:17; 20:20.) Again: temporal blessings are bestowed upon the godly for their salvation, and are therefore evidences of God s favor towards them; whilst they are conferred upon the ungodly partly that they may be rendered inexcusable, inasmuch as they have been in this way called to repentance, and partly that the godly and the elect, who are mixed with them, may enjoy these things. Obj. 3. But many obedient and godly children die at an early age, and do not live to enjoy the blessing of a long life. Therefore the promise is not universal. Ans. We may here reply, as we did to the former objection, that a few exceptions do not destroy the force of a general rule. The godly, for the most part, have the truth of this promise verified in their case. Promises of temporal blessings, too, must be understood as making an exception respecting chastisements and the cross. And still further, an early translation to another and better life, even a heavenly life, is a most ample recompense for a long life.

The obedience required by this commandment comprehends three parts:

  1. The proper virtues of superiors, or those who are placed in authority.

  2. The proper virtues of inferiors, or those who are in subjection.

  3. The virtues common to both.


The proper virtues of Superiors, distinguished according to their respective offices.

The office and duties of parents require:

  1. That they should nourish and cherish their children. (Matt. 7:9.)

  2. That they should defend their children from injuries. (1 Tim. 5:8)

  3. That they should instruct or give them over to others, that they may be instructed and properly educated. (Eph. 6:4. Deut. 4:9.)

  4. That they should govern them by such discipline as belongs to the domestic constitution. (Prov. 13:1; 19:18.) The same duties are devolving upon guardians or tutors, who occupy the place of parents.

The faults or sins of parents, in opposition to the duties just enumerated, are:

  1. Not to seek or provide the support and nourishment necessary for their children, or to bring them up in luxury and extravagance.

  2. Not to protect them from injuries, or not to accustom them to patience and gentleness; or to sin, by manifesting an imprudent zeal and passion, when small, or even no injuries are inflicted upon our children.

  3. Not to educate their children, or to have no care to have them educated according to their own, or their children s ability; or to corrupt them by their own evil example, or bad instructions.

  4. To raise their children in idleness and licentiousness; or not to correct them when necessity requires it; or to chastise them with greater se verity than duty or the nature of the offence demands, and so to alienate their affections by too great severity and cruelty.

The office of schoolmasters or teachers requires them,

  1. Faithfully to teach and instruct the pupils committed to their care, seeing that they occupy the place of parents in this respect.

  2. To rule and govern them with proper and suitable discipline. The same faults and sins which we have just enumerated as often attaching themselves to parents, in the education and government of their children, are the ones which are found in connection with schoolmasters and teachers.

The duties of magistrates may be reduced to these heads,

  1. To require from their subjects obedience, and external propriety according to both tables of the Decalogue.

  2. To enforce the precepts of the Decalogue, by defending those who yield obedience to it, and punishing such as are disobedient.

  3. To enact certain positive laws for the maintenance of civil order. By positive laws, we mean such as determine and prescribe those circum stances which are necessary for the preservation of the order and honor of the state, and which contribute to the obedience which the law of God requires.

  4. The execution of the laws which they prescribe from time to time.

There are two extremes in opposition to the duties of magistrates. The first is remissness, or a want of proper attention to their duties, which shows itself, either in not requiring from their subjects obedience to the whole Decalogue; or in not enacting such things as are necessary for the preservation and order of civil society; or in not defending the innocent from the wrongs which may be inflicted upon them; or in not enforcing, or punishing too lightly those who violate the law of God, or such positive laws as have been enacted from time to time. The other extreme is tyranny, which consists either in demanding from their subjects what is unjust; or in not punishing those who sin; or in punishing them more severely than the offence which they have committed calls for.

The duties of Masters are,

  1. To enjoin upon their servants such things as are just and possible; or to command such works as are becoming and lawful; and not such a* are unlawful, impossible, oppressive and unnecessary.

  2. To afford them proper food and reward them for their labor.

  3. To rule and govern them with such discipline as is suited to their case. The whip, fodder and burdens belong to the ass; bread and correction to the servant.

The faults of masters are,

  1. To indulge their slaves in idleness, slothfulness and licentiousness.

  2. To command things which are unjust, and to oppress them by ex acting too much from them.

  3. To withhold from them proper food and wages.

  4. To exasperate their household by the exercise of too much rigor and severity.

The duty of elders, and others who excel in wisdom and authority, is to govern and assist others by their examples, counsels and admonitions.  These persons sin and act contrary to the duties of their calling, 1. When they are guilty of folly, or of giving improper counsels. 2. When they show levity and a want of gravity in their manners, and present a bad ex ample to others. 3. When they neglect by their counsels and authority to reprove and correct others who are under them when they see them sin and do that which is wrong.


The virtues proper to inferiors, or such as are in subjection.

The commandment which we are now considering comprehends the duties which are proper to inferiors under the term honor, which includes, first, reverence to those who are over them, which is, 1. An acknowledgement of the will of God, who has been pleased to institute such an office, and to endow those who are invested with it, with necessary gifts. 2. An approbation of this divine order, and of the gifts which God confers upon those whom he calls to serve him in this capacity: for if we are not convinced of the excellency of this order we will not honor it. 3. Subjection to this order on account of the will of God. 4. An outward declaration, both in word and deed, of this judgment and approbation. Secondly, love to those who are over us in view of the office which they fill. This love is closely connected with reverence, inasmuch as we cannot reverence those whom we do not love. Thirdly, obedience to what those in authority command of reason of their office and calling, which obedience should be voluntary, as children delight to do those things which are pleasing to their parents. Fourthly, gratitude to superiors, which requires that every one in his appropriate sphere aid and promote the interest of those over him according to his ability, and as occasion presents itself. Fifthly, moderation and forbearance, which shows itself in bearing with the faults and infirmities of parents and superiors, which may be done without any reproach to the name of God, or which are not in direct opposition to the divine law. From these things we may easily infer what duties are en joined upon inferiors, and what things in accordance with their own callings, they owe to the different grades, or ranks of those who are in authority.

Inferiors, or those who are in subjection, violate the honor which is due those who are over them, either when they do not regard them as occupying the place to which they have been called of God, or when they ascribe to them more honor than is becoming to men, or when they hate them for executing that which their office requires them to do, or when they esteem them more highly than they do God, or when they refuse to yield obedience to their just and lawful commands, or when they obey them only in appearance, and also when they command things which are unjust and wicked, or when they heap upon them injuries and reproaches, and do not aid them in such ways and by such means as are in their power, or when they entertain them with flattery and in other ways which are unbecoming, or when they magnify their infirmities and faults, or when they flatteringly praise their faults and misdeeds, and do not admonish them with becoming reverence according to the position which they occupy, of their pernicious and aggravated sins.


The virtues which are common to superiors and inferiors, or to those who are in authority and in subjection.

The duties which are devolving upon all men, or the virtues which are here required of all the different grades and ranks of men, whether they be in authority or not, with the vices which are opposed to these virtues, are,

I. UNIVERSAL JUSTICE, which shows itself in obedience to all the laws pertaining to us in our respective callings. That this virtue is here enjoined is evident, inasmuch as those who are in authority should demand it from their subjects, and provoke them to such obedience by their own example; whilst those who are in subjection are commanded to yield obedience to all those commands which are just and proper.

The opposite of this universal justice includes, 1. Every neglect of such duties as just and wholesome laws require from every one, whether he be a ruler or subject. 2. All obstinacy, disobedience and sedition. 3 . Hypocrisy and eye-service.

II. PARTICULAR DISTRIBUTIVE JUSTICE, which is a virtue contributing to and preserving a just proportion in the distribution of offices, rewards and punishment; or it is a virtue giving to every one that which rightfully belongs to him. That now which belongs to every one is the office, the honor or reward which is suited to him, and for which he is adapted. “Render to all their dues; tribute to whom tribute is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honor to whom honor.” (Rom. 13:7.) The opposite of this virtue includes error, want of judgment and partiality in distributing offices, or conferring honors, and in bestowing re wards.

III. LABORIOUSNESS, diligence and fidelity, which consists in correctly understanding those parts which properly and perpetually belong to every man s calling in life, and in performing them according to the command of God cheerfully, constantly, diligently and with the attempt to discharge properly every known duty, omitting whatever is foreign to any one s appropriate calling, and whatever is unnecessary, with this chief design, that whatever is done may be pleasing to God, and contribute to the salvation of our fellow men. “And that ye study to be quiet, and to do your own business, arid to work with your own hands as we commanded you.” “He that ruleth let him do it with cheerfulness.” “Be obedient as the servants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart.” “Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with all thy might.” (1. Thes. 4:11. Rom. 12:8.  Eph. 6:6. Eccl. 9:10.) It is also proper that we should here remark, that this virtue does not merely consist in knowing what are the different parts of our calling and duty, but also in enquiring continually whether there be not something still required of us of which we are ignorant; for he who is ignorant of his duty and yet does not seek to know it, is guilty of neglecting his duty, inasmuch as his ignorance does not excuse him, being voluntary and coveted.

There is opposed to this virtue, 1. Negligence or slothfulness, which shows itself either in not endeavoring to find out what is duty, or in willingly omitting what is plainly required by our calling in life, or in discharging the duties of our respective callings unwillingly, only in part, and without becoming diligence. 2. A mere show of diligence, or dissembled assiduity, which consists in doing that which belongs to any one s calling in life, from selfish motives, or for the sake of our own praise and benefit. 3. Curiosity, which shows itself in meddling with, and attempting things which do not properly belong to any one’s calling.

IV. LOVE to those who are joined to us by consanguinity, as parents, children and relatives: for when God command that parents should be honored, he also desires that they should be loved, and that as parents; and so, on the other hand, when he blesses persons with children, he de signs that they should love them, and that not as strangers, but as children.

The opposite of this virtue includes:1. Unnaturalness, which either hates, or does not cherish those who are allied to us by the ties of nature, or is not concerned for their safety. 2. Excessive indulgence, which shows itself either in winking at the sins and follies of our children and friends, injurious alike to themselves and others, on account of the love which we have towards them, or in gratifying them in things prohibited by God.

V. GRATITUDE, which is a virtue consisting of truth and justice, acknowledging from whom, what, and how great benefits we have received, and at the same time having a desire or will to perform in return such things and duties as are becoming and possible. “Whoso rewardeth evil for good, evil shall not depart from his house.” (Prov. 17:13.)

The opposite of this virtue includes:1. Ingratitude, which either does not acknowledge, or does not profess the author and the greatness of the benefits received, or which has no desire to make suitable returns for the same. 2. Such returns or acknowledgments of benefits as are unlawful.

VI. GRAVITY, which is a virtue arising from a knowledge of our calling and rank in society, observes what is becoming and proper to the person, and maintains a constancy and evenness in the words, carriage, and actions f the life, that so we may preserve the authority and good report which we have, and not bring a disgrace upon our calling; for seeing that God desires that those placed in authority should be honored, he at the same time desires that they themselves should guard and maintain their own honor. Now, glory, being that of which our own conscience and that of others approves, judging correctly, since it is a virtue necessary for the glory of God and the salvation of men, is greatly to be desired, when these ends are regarded. “A good name is rather to be chosen than great riches.”

“A good name is better than precious ointment.” “But let every man prove his own work, and then shall he have rejoicing in himself alone, and not in another.” “In all things showing thyself a pattern of good works; in doctrine showing uncorruptness, gravity and sincerity.” (Prov. 21:1.  Ecc. 1:1. Gal. 6:4. Tit. 2:7.)

We may mention as opposed to this virtue, 1. Levity, which shows itself in a want of regard to what is becoming and of good report in the words, carriage and actions of the life, and which has no desire to retain a good name and opinion amongst men. 2. Haughtiness or ambition, which consists in being elated and filled with pride on account of the office and gifts which any one possesses and holds, so as to despise and overlook others, and to aspire after still higher offices, and greater honor and applause from men, being actuated thereto merely by a desire to excel and be above others, and not to advance the glory of God and the welfare of our fellowmen.

VII. MODESTY is a virtue closely allied to gravity, which, from a knowledge of our own weakness, and from a consideration of the office and position which we occupy by divine appointment, maintains a consistency and propriety in the actions and deportment of the life, regardless of the opinions and remarks which men may make and entertain respecting us, with this design, that we do not arrogate to ourselves more than is becoming, or defraud others of the respect and honor due them; that we do not make a greater display in our apparel, walk, conversation and life, than is proper and needful; that we do not esteem ourselves more highly than others, or oppress them; but maintain a deportment according to our ability and strength, with an acknowledgment of God s gifts in others, and of our, faults and imperfections. This and the former virtue are, as has just been remarked, closely allied; for gravity without being joined with modesty, soon degenerates into ambition and haughtiness. “For if a man think himself to be something when he is nothing, he deceiveth himself.” (Gal.  6:3.) Humility and modesty differ from each other in this, that modesty is directed towards men, and consists in acknowledging our own faults and the gifts of which others are possessed; whilst humility has respect to God.  The following vices are opposed to this virtue:1. Immodesty, which transcends the bounds of propriety in the words, actions and deportment of the life, both as it respects ourselves, and those with whom we hole?  daily intercourse. 2. Arrogance, which in conceit and outward declaration takes to itself more than it really possesses, or admires its own gifts and attainments more than there is any necessity of doing, and so extols and boasts of them beyond measure. 8. A counterfeiting or mere show of modesty, which evinces itself in the admiration which any one has of himself, whilst he, nevertheless, feigns to be backward in accepting of honors and offices, which he all the while desires, in order that he may advance his own praise and conceit of modesty.

VIII. EQUITY, which is a virtue that mitigates, in view of some just and probable cause, the rigor of strict justice in punishing and correcting the errors of others; and which endures with patience such defects as do not seriously injure and endanger the safety of our fellow-men, whether publicly or privately, and which studiously covers and corrects such vices whenever they are found in others. “Servants be subject to your masters with all fear; not only to the good and gentle, but also to the froward.” (1 Pet. 2:18.) We may here also appropriately cite the example of the sons of Noah, as recorded in the ninth chapter of Genesis, and likewise the commandment of the apostle Paul, respecting the moderation and gentleness which parents should exercise towards their children in correcting them: “Fathers provoke not your children to wrath, but bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.” “Fathers provoke not jour children to anger, lest they be discouraged.” “Masters give unto your servants that which is just and equal, knowing that ye also have a Master in heaven.” (Eph. 6:4. Col. 3:21; 4:1.)

The opposite of this virtue embraces, 1. Immoderate rigor in censuring and reproving those faults which proceed for the most part from infirmity, without any serious injury, either to their own, or others safety. 2. Too great lenity, which shows itself in not punishing or reproving great and aggravated sins. 3. Flattery, which, for the sake of gaining popularity or advancing personal interests, praises that which ought not to be praised, or attributes more to a certain one than is becoming.


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