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4 The Commandment with a Promise
Honor thy father and thy mother: that thy days may be long upon the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee.
"Children, obey your parents in the Lord; for this is right. 'Honor thy father and thy mother.' This is the first commandment which has a promise: 'that it may be well with thee and thou mayest live long on the earth.'" Such is the commentary upon the fourth precept, made by the writer of the Epistle to the Ephesians. It applies the commandment to children, who must be led to a love of what is just and right and good through the promise of rewards. It is right that children should obey and honor their parents; yea, and love them. It is morally right, because parenthood is imposed by the Lord, and is not always felt as a joy, but often as a burden involving continual sacrifices and adjustments; and at best, it is apt to demand pains and heartaches in payment for the bright memories which it bestows.
The blessing which is promised to children through honoring their parents (and also the teachers and masters to whom the parents entrust them) finds its first fulfillment in the happy results of a right education, which is the greatest heritage that any one can receive. Honor commences in the humble virtues of obedience and courtesy, and it matures into mutual confidence and understanding. Those who respect duly instituted authority and appreciate the wisdom of the older generation, learn to have open and receptive minds, are able to absorb more fully the gifts of skill and learning, and will thus build their lives upon a broad basis of human experience which cannot be upset by the confusions of the day or seduced by shallow fashions. The advance of mankind - the forward movement of knowledge and of the arts of civilization - is secure and wholesome only when it is accompanied by a reverence for those enduring spiritual things which time cannot change.
As the youth ripens, the Fourth Commandment becomes translated into an affirmative attitude towards the laws and principles and institutions which the past has established. If childhood obedience was insincere, adult life may become embittered and rebellious against the order of society; a rebellion which, whether open or suppressed, would tend to destroy the progress and security of his life. It depends largely upon parents and teachers, upon their fitness and wisdom and God-given illustration in their functions, whether there shall be bred among us a generation of rebels and scoffers, a generation of sly cowards and hypocrites, or a generation of real men and women who are inspired with justice and endowed with true judgment and are able to look upon their elders with sincere honor and with a love which understands and approves what they have striven to do. The foundations of all government, all true citizenship, all social order, is thus laid in the home; and there also begins the concept of love to the neighbor which is the theme of the second table of the Decalogue.
It is therefore spiritually right to honor our natural parents in so far as those parents bring to their offspring the gifts of heaven - the sphere of the conjugial life, the ideas of the spiritual faith, the sanctities of worship, and the first formulations of a concept of charity in a moral life. For whatever of good, of religion, or of human worth and wisdom, the child receives, albeit in fragmentary and distorted forms, comes first by the hands and lips of their elders.
These are ancient truths, which have always been more or less clearly perceived, and sometimes enforced with severity. And though the promise of earthly rewards is not guaranteed with us as it was with the Jews, as the fruit of obedience, yet the Lord grants natural benefits in proper abundance to the virtuous and the good, if they can be conducive to eternal happiness (AC 8717e). And even natural law aids to bring it about that in a land where parental authority is honored, a people will achieve a deeper patriotism, a greater industry, longer periods of peace, and thus a more stable prosperity and a disciplined progress. Only a generation which venerates and appreciates the good of the past, can be assured of enjoying a fruitful life upon the land of their forebears.
To the Jews and to the Christians, the rewards mentioned in the precept had no distinct application beyond this mortal life. But in the Lord's Second Advent, He reveals the commandments anew, as universal truths which apply in all ages and to all states and degrees, and thus also to the life-conditions of the angels in the heavens. The angels, however, cannot be required to honor their father and mother according to the flesh. It is seldom that men after death are able to dwell together with their earthly kindred. The parents may even dwell among the wicked, in utmost dishonor, and beyond the power of any angel to revere them. This the Lord suggests when He taught that "if any man ... hate not his father and his mother" he cannot be a true disciple (Luke 14:26). Indeed, after death as even here on earth when spiritual issues and grave matters of religious conscience separate, so that the son is "set at variance against his father and the daughter against her mother" (Matthew 10:35) the relationships of the flesh are as it were dissolved. With the angels, they are transformed into purely spiritual kinships. To all those who aspire to think spiritually, the Fourth Commandment must especially point out our obligations within the spiritual framework which is centered and oriented around the Lord as Author of all life, and not about any individual or family, clan, or nation, or race, or human institution. In this sense, the commandment teaches adoration and love of God and loyalty and devotion to the Church.
For the Lord God is our heavenly Father. "Call no man your father upon the earth," is the teaching, "for one is your Father which is in heaven" (Matthew 23:9), "and all ye are brethren." "All ye" - angels and men, adults and offspring - "are brethren." The regenerated man is therefore called "a child of God"; an expression which, if rightly understood, involves the profound truth that man's whole being must be seen to be totally dependent on the Lord who is the eventual source of all his power and life, and this even in the least things of thinking and acting.
Nor is it difficult to understand that the Church is our spiritual mother (see Matt. 12:46-50.) Not only is the Church again and again described as the Wife or the Bride of the Lord - joined to Him in a holy union of spiritual love and service; but it is the Church which at Baptism receives us into her arms, and throughout childhood and youth feeds our spirits with proper food and clothes our minds with garments of knowledge, to give us spiritual strength for future battles and protection against the wintry climate of the world's life. In our adult age it is the Church which affords us a spiritual home, with comfort and refreshment; and after death, it is into this eternal home that we are to enter interiorly just so far as we have honored our Father and Mother.
By our father is thus to be understood the Lord Jesus Christ, our incarnate God and Savior, who has all power in heaven and in earth; that is, the Lord in His Divine Human. And by Mother is to be understood the Lord's Church, His Bride and Wife; also described as the "Communion of Saints" which is His Church spread over all the world (TCR 307).
Now let us well understand the fact that a Church might claim to be a spiritual mother even if it be an effete and corrupt religiosity even if her milk be a poison (TCR 23:2) - even if she fails to clothe her children, and has forsaken her Divine Husband for the glamour and flattery of the world and the gratifications of the flesh. "Contend with your mother," said the Lord to the Jews about their unfaithful church, "she is not My wife, neither am I her Husband" (Hosea 2:2, cf. vs. 5). It is important to know from the Heavenly doctrine, that it is the New Jerusalem, Bride and Wife of the Lamb - "the New Church which the Lord is now instituting, ... and not the former" (or old Christian Church) which is to be the Wife of the Lord and the Mother of our spirits (TCR 307). It is this New Church which is to be honored and loved as the neighbor in a higher degree even than the country. And if this New Church is honored and loved, if her God-given doctrines are treasured above life itself - above bodily comfort and personal vanity and ambition - and are seen to be good and true, seen to be the law of salvation, it follows of
itself that one "loves all in the whole world who acknowledge the Lord and have faith in Him and charity toward the neighbor" (TCR 416), and that one honors and loves all men according to the way in which they live up to the Divine commandments. And he who thus honors the Church does not love others merely for their person, nor because they are his associates in any particular group; but he loves the welfare and honors and supports the efforts of the Church-societies far and near, thrills to every work well done for the Church as a whole, knowing that all this is for the good of the Kingdom of the Lord upon earth. Such a man will see in the scattered efforts of the isolated, struggling societies and individuals of the Church the kernels of that great Communion of Saints which is internally one with the new heaven; and his love thus extends above to the angels of heaven and below to the uncorrupted remnants of simple and good men on this darkling earth of ours, who from gentile or Christian lands will some day pass into the spiritual world to be there instructed and received into the New Jerusalem and who, as his brethren and sisters, will honor this as their spiritual Mother.
It must be seen that the true love of the Lord as the Heavenly Father, the Provider and Giver of all good, is present in the love of the Kingdom of the Lord, and causes a true love of the neighbor. And the essential within our love of the Church is not a love of persons, but a love of the Truth of revelation. Our Father is thus the Divine Good, and our Mother is the Divine Truth. What could more universally claim our honor? Not only while we are children, but as adults, and if God pleases, as angels to eternity, the fourth precept will shine before us as a holy duty and an eternal condition for that Divine promise, "that thy days may be long upon the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee."
To Israel, this meant the Land of Canaan, ensured to them as a national home as long as they would remain faithful. To the individual Jew, it meant a long life on earth. To the New Church-man, it means eternal enjoyment of a place of use and delight in the Lord's Kingdom of Uses in heaven, a place of use already prepared for on earth, a place perhaps granted in some way here in the work of the organized church on earth, a humble place, in the active support of new uses, a small task perhaps, yet symbolic of the honor which we should render to our spiritual Mother, and of the faithfulness we have in the greater matters of "law, judgment, mercy and faith" (Matt. 23:23); a place prophetic of the land, the lot, the inheritance, which the Lord in His foresight will have selected for us.
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In the spiritual world, certain wives, in the course of a discussion reported by Sweden-borg, made a distinction between honor and love. You can never love where you do not honor, they said in effect, but you can honor where you do not love (CL 331:2).
This is indeed true. But it is not loveless honor that is meant in the commandment. In heaven such honor is refused and rejected. In heaven all love one another with a tender love. And when an angel loves, he also honors (AC 8897). Here on earth a man may see good qualities in others, may recognize genuine virtues and truths in the acts and sayings of others, and yet be moved only with envy, or with that cold admiration which begrudges them a full recognition, but pays the tribute of honor outwardly while inwardly it cultivates suspicion and dislike.
To honor while withholding love may of course be a beginning of something more genuine. Indeed, admiration of what is noble and good and true in another is often the first conscious realization of a true affection; and that is a truer love which begins thus, than the love which arises from a blind personal fondness because of some natural relationship or with a view to selfish advantage and gratification, and which often ignores the real character or the spiritual and thus governing principles of the one who is loved. Real love is founded in honor, in what is honest; and in real honor there is love. What is refused in heaven is an empty honor - from such, for instance, as acclaim the truth of the Church yet inwardly dislike it and the duties it enjoins upon them. Such a state is called a state of cold faith, a faith without charity, or a state of "faith alone," and eventually - if not checked - it will lead away from the truth until there is no longer any honor for the true Father and Mother.
We cannot learn to honor what is good and true, and at the same time embrace and respect the evil and the false. Each of the Divine commandments has an opposite sense; or an application to evil conditions. And so we meet with a group of teachings in the Word like those already quoted. For the Lord said: "I am come to set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her mother, and the daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law, and a man's foes shall be they of his own household. He that loveth father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me; and he that loveth son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me" (Matt. 10:35-37). "If any man come to Me and hate not his father and mother and wife and children and brethren and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be My disciple" (Luke 14:26). When a certain man wanted to follow Jesus but asked first to go and bury his father, the Lord said to him, "Let the dead bury their dead; but go thou and preach the kingdom of God" (Luke 9:60).
By such words the Lord rebuked those natural affections which set themselves against the true service to Father and Mother - against the allegiance to true principles. No compromise can be shown where the issue is a direct conflict between natural affections and spiritual truth. The household of the natural man is what delays man's spiritual regeneration and thus delays the beginning of man's interior uses to his fellow men. The old states of the proprium must be shaken off - put aside. The call of old and selfish and worldly affections and delights must not be hearkened to. What is of unregenerate life - what is of old habit endeared to us - is apt to ensnare us permanently if we allow ourselves even so much as an affectionate last farewell, or if we, like Lot's wife, in the crises of our life's decisions look bask upon states we must shun! We must flee - shun the evil, not linger in the sphere of its temptation, not bury it with a clamor of regrets and excuses and raise monuments to its memory, for all that makes its resurrection the easier - a resurrection and survival, not of the broken habit perhaps, but of the lingering inward lust thereof.
Old states must die in the cleansing of man's spirit, in the freeing of his mind from the bondage of self-centered childhood affections and the inclinations of hereditary evils which hide human misery under a restless search for social well being. And as it is with the individual, so it is with the Church. The old church must not ensnare the New in its web of natural affections; for the message of the Lord is, "Let the dead bury their dead"; "Come out of her, O My people, lest ye be partakers of her sins!" Seemingly cruel words, but having a meaning as merciful as Charity itself! Uncompromising words, but spoken for the salvation of souls, for the prevention of profanation, and for the preservation on earth of spiritual uses and spiritual truth! Hard sayings to the ears of the hesitant, yet needful as is the surgeon's knife and the flail of the thresher, and given lest men should give honor where none is due, while throwing dishonor upon the Father and the Mother of their souls - the Divine good and the Divine unchangeable truth.
In spirit with the interior sense of this commandment, "Honor thy father and thy mother," we may learn to shun the evils of our mortal inheritance and turn to our heavenly Father and Mother for the power to become truer representatives of their functions. For the New Churchman must never forget that he is but the guardian, the appointed trustee, in the work of rearing and caring for the young. The Lord has given this work to parents to do, according to the laws of Providence. The honor due to parents is not theirs to refuse. But the Church is alone the real mother; and it follows from our belief in the New Church as the Wife of the Lamb, that our children have been given to us in order that this Spiritual Mother may feed them, and that we should assist rather than make difficult the transfer of our children's affections to their Heavenly Parents. Only if we do that work wisely can we hope to retain a due measure of our children's affections not only on earth but to eternity, and thus be less unworthy of their honor and their love.