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Westminster Shorter Catechism Project

The Shorter Catechism

John Whitecross

Q. 63. Which is the fifth commandment?

A. The fifth commandment is, Honour thy father and thy mother, that thy days may be long upon the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee.

Q. 64. What is required in the fifth commandment?

A. The fifth commandment requireth the preserving the honour and performing the duties, belonging to every one in their several places and relations, as superiors, inferiors, or equals.

1. The judicious Richard Hooker used to say, 'If I had no other reason and motive for being religious, I would earnestly strive to be so for the sake of my aged mother, that I might requite her care of me, and cause the widow's heart to sing for joy.'

2. The danger occasioned by one of the awful eruptions of Mount Etna obliged the inhabitants of the adjacent country to flee in every direction for safety. Amidst the hurry and confusion of this scene, every one carrying away whatever he deemed most precious, two sons, the one named Anaphias, the other Amphonimus, in the height of their solicitude for the preservation of their wealth and goods, recollected their father and mother, who, being very old, were unable to save themselves by flight. Filial tenderness overcame every consideration:—'Where,' exclaimed the generous youths, 'shall we find a more precious treasure than our parents?' This said, the one took up his father on his shoulders, the other his mother, and so made their way through the surrounding smoke and flames.

3. A boy was once tempted by his companions to pluck some ripe cherries from a tree which his father had forbidden him to touch. 'You need not be afraid,' said they, 'for your father will not know anything about it, and even if he finds out, he is so kind that he will not hurt you.' 'For that very reason,' replied the boy, 'I ought not to touch them, for though my father may not punish me, my disobedience would hurt my father.'

4. When Richard Cecil, the noted minister, was but a small boy, his father had occasion to go to India House, and took his son with him. While he was transacting his business, the little fellow was dismissed but told to wait for his father at one of the doors. His father, on finishing his business, went out at another door and, lost in thought, entirely forgot his son. In the evening, his mother, missing the boy, inquired where he was; on which, his father suddenly remembered that he had instructed him to wait at a certain door. 'You may depend upon it.' he added, 'he is still waiting where I appointed him.' Such indeed proved to be the case, for the father returned with all speed to India House and found the lad on the very spot where he had ordered him to remain. He knew that his father expected him to wait, and therefore he would not disappoint him.

5. A young man, whose air at once indicated a well-cultivated mind, and commanded respect, came to a recruiting officer, desiring to be enlisted into his company. As he appeared to be greatly embarrassed, the officer asked the cause of it. He replied, 'I tremble lest you should deny my request.' 'No,' said the officer, 'I accept your offer most heartily; but why should you imagine a refusal?' 'Because the bounty which I expect may perhaps be too high.' 'How much, then, do you demand?' said the officer. 'It is no unworthy motive, but an urgent claim, that compels me to ask ten guineas; and I shall be the most miserable of mankind if you refuse me.' 'Ten guineas!' said the officer, 'that indeed is very high; but I am pleased with you: I trust to your honour for the discharge of your duty, and will strike the bargain at once. Here are ten guineas: tomorrow we depart.' The young man, overwhelmed with joy, asked leave to return home, and promised to be back within an hour. The officer gave permission, and, induced by curiosity, followed him at some distance. He went to the town prison, where he knocked and was admitted. The officer, while standing at the door of the prison, overheard the young man say to the jailer, 'Here is the money for which my father is imprisoned, I put it into your hands, and I request you to conduct me to him immediately, that I may release him from misery.' The jailer did as he was requested. After a delay of a few minutes, the officer followed him. What a scene! He saw the son in the arms of a venerable and aged father, who, without uttering a word, pressed him to his heart, and bedewed him with tears. The officer approached them, and said to the old man, 'Compose yourself, I will not deprive you of so worthy a son. Permit me to restore him to you, that I may not regret the money which he has employed in so virtuous a manner.' The father and son fell upon their knees at his feet. The young man refused at first to accept of this proffered freedom; but the worthy officer insisted that he should remain with his father. He accompanied them both from the prison, and took his leave, with the pleasing reflection of having contributed to the happiness of a worthy son, and an unfortunate father.

6. I well remember, says a writer on Christian education, being much impressed by a sermon when I was a young father, in which the preacher said, were he to select one word as the most important in education, it should be the word obey. My experience since has fully convinced me of the justice of the remark. Without filial obedience everything must go wrong. Is not a disobedient child guilty of a manifest breach of the Fifth Commandment? And is not a parent who suffers this disobedience to continue, an habitual partaker in his child's offence against that commandment? By the disobedience of our first parents sin came into the world, and through the obedience of the second Adam are the gates of heaven opened to true believers. The wicked are emphatically styled the children of disobedience; and it is clearly the object of the divine plan of salvation to conquer the rebellious spirit of man, and to bring him into a state of humility and submission. Parental authority is one powerful instrument for effecting the change. It is intended to bend the stubborn will, and by habituating a child to subjection to earthly parents, to prepare him for Christian obedience to his heavenly Father. In proportion as filial obedience is calculated to smooth the way for true religion, filial disobedience must produce the opposite effect. The parent who habitually gives way to it, has appalling reason to apprehend that he is educating his child, not for heaven but for hell.

7. Unnatural and disobedient children are often, in the righteous retributions of Providence, punished for their wickedness. Adolf, son of Arnold, Duke of Guelders, being displeased that his father should live so long, thus preventing him from entering fully into his inheritance, came upon him one night as he was going to bed, took him prisoner, obliged him to go on foot in a cold season of the year, barelegged as he was, and then shut him up in close confinement in a dark dungeon for half a year. Such disobedience and cruelty did not, however, go unpunished; for shortly after, the son himself was arrested, kept for a long time in prison, and after his release, was killed in a battle with the French.

8. A child who had been trained in the ways of religion by a parent, kind but judiciously firm, when dying, affectionately thanked her mother for all her tender care and kindness, and added, 'I thank you most of all for having subdued my self-will.'

9. A boy of seven years of age, in the town of Weser, in Germany, playing one day with his sister of four years old, was alarmed by the cry of some men, who were in pursuit of a mad dog. The child suddenly looking round him, saw the dog running towards him, but, instead of making his escape, he took off his coat and wrapping it round his arm, he boldly faced the dog, and holding out the arm covered with the coat, the animal attacked it, and worried the coat till the men came up, who, being armed with clubs, killed the dog. The men reproachfully asked the boy, why he did not run and avoid the dog, which he could so easily have done. 'Yes,' said the little hero, 'I could have run from the dog; but if I had, he would have attacked my sister. To protect her, therefore, I thought of offering him my coat, which he might tear at, till you should come up and kill him.'

10. Frederic the Great of Prussia made it a point to return every mark of respect or civility shown to him in the street by those who met him. He one day commented that whenever he rode through the streets of Berlin, his hat was always in his hand. Baron Polintz, who was present, said that his Majesty had no occasion to notice the civility of every one who pulled his hat off to him in the streets. 'And why not?' said the king in a lively tone, 'are they not all human beings as well as myself?'

This material is taken from THE SHORTER CATECHISM ILLUSTRATED by John Whitecross revised and republished by the Banner of Truth Trust edition 1968 and reproduced with their permission.

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