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And this is the fifth Commandment. Honor thy father, and thy mother, that thy days may be long in the Land, which the Lord thy God giveth thee.
It is almost superfluous to observe upon the importance of this law to the welfare and tranquillity of society, as it places the young under the tuition, not only of the old, and the experienced, but of those whom affection urges to seize on all the resources which age, and experience, can suggest for their advantage.
The law orders, and the magistrate
executes; but the law would be vain, and the magistrate powerless, if the parent did not dispose the minds of his children. for the reception of that law, and prepare them, by obedience to him, for submission to those whom he himself obeys.
In proportion, therefore, as this great virtue of filial obedience is ingrafted upon the manners of any country; in the same proportion will decency and good order prevail there; and every precept of the gospel be more deeply engraven in the minds, and uniformly displayed in the actions of that people.
We may observe, that this command of Almighty God is conveyed in a very comprehensive expression,-honor thy father, and thy mother;-not simply support, or defend them; but honor them,-a term, which comprehends not only the grosser, and more obvious duties of preserving them from want, and protecting them from violence, but secures to them delicate attentions; studies them with eager and inquisitive affection; screens them with par
tial judgments; sooths them with profound veneration; repays to them all that fine care, which has averted the perils of infant life, and brought out an human being to the perfection of his reason, and the summit of his strength.
In handling this branch of christian doctrine, I shall endeavour, first, to shew what are the ordinary obstacles to a right performance of this duty; secondly, to point out in what the duty principally consists.
To the repayment of those obligations which we owe to our parents, there is one very considerable, and very singular obstacle; the immensity of those obligations themselves. We have lived in such a constant state of protection from our parents, in the uniform reception of so much kindness, that their benevolence wants the effect of contrast to produce its just impression upon our minds; the benefits we experience from our neighbours awaken our attention, because they are actions superior to the ordinary tenor of their benevolence; but we do not notice the kindness of a parent, because
he has been always kind; we are less sensible to his bounties, because we have never experienced any interruption of them for a single instant; they are like health, and strength, and youth; where custom blunts the edge of enjoyment, and the magnitude of the possession is only discovered by the misery of the loss. It is also a little in the genius of human nature, to think obligations burthensome, and to become careless of remuneration, when they are so great, that it is very difficult to discharge those obligations effectually, and to make that remuneration complete; thus, while smaller instances of friendship are repaid, with precision, and with pride, the greatest of all benefactors are sometimes treated with ingratitude from the very extent, and compass of their goodness.
Another circumstance, which blunts the sense of filial obligation is, that the kindness of parents, one of the most common of all virtues, appears so natural from every human being towards his offspring, that though it would be shocking to want it, it is considered as not meritorious to possess it. But observe, why this virtue
of parental kindness is common, because it is also common to receive a return for it in filial obedience ;-nature has laid the foundation; the expectation of reaping the sweets of parental kindness, justified by the feeling of all men, in all ages, has done much more. To deny the obligations which you owe to parents, because it is common in all parents to do good to their children, is to withhold the reward which principally makes that kindness so common; and to frustrate, as much as in you lies, this great commandment of Almighty God. For, consider to what the kindness of parents would soon be reduced, if it were generally claimed as a matter of right; and how soon, under the influence of compulsion, the most expanded benevolence would contract itself into the narrowest, and most inconsiderable limits.
But the affection of parents, it may be urged, is a feeling of nature; therefore they have no merit in obeying it; but is not every act of Christian righteousness founded on some feeling of our nature? Is compassion no virtue? Is courage, rightly