[103] So far we have learned the first three commandments, which are directed toward God. First, we are to trust, fear, and love God with our whole heart all our lives. Second, we should not misuse his holy name to support lies or any evil purpose whatsoever, but use it for the praise of God and the benefit and salvation of our neighbor and ourselves. Third, on holy days or days of rest we should diligently devote ourselves to God’s Word so that all our conduct and life may be regulated by it. Now follow the other seven, which relate to our neighbor. Among these the first and greatest is:
[104] “You are to honor your father and mother.”

[105] God has given this walk of life, fatherhood and motherhood, a special position of honor, higher than that of any other walk of life under it. Not only has he commanded us to love parents but to honor them. In regard to brothers, sisters, and neighbors in general he commands nothing higher than that we love them. But he distinguishes father and mother above all other persons on earth, and places them next to himself. [106] For it is a much higher thing to honor than to love. Honor includes not only love, but also deference, humility, and modesty directed (so to speak) toward a majesty concealed within them. [107] Honor requires us not only to address them affectionately and with high esteem, but above all to show by our actions, both of heart and body, that we respect them very highly, and that next to God we give them the very highest place. For anyone whom we are wholeheartedly to honor, we must truly regard as high and great.

[108] It must therefore be impressed on young people that they revere their parents as God’s representatives, and to remember that, however lowly, poor, feeble, and eccentric they may be, they are still their mother and father, given by God. They are not to be deprived of their honor because of their ways or failings. Therefore, we are not to think of their persons, whatever they may be, but of the will of God, who has created and ordained it so. We are indeed all equal in God’s sight, but among ourselves it is impossible for there not be this sort of inequality and proper distinction. Therefore God also commands that you are to obey me as your father and that I have authority over you.

[109] First, then, learn what this commandment requires concerning honor to parents. You are to esteem them above all things and to value them as the most precious treasure on earth. [110] Second, in your words you are also to behave respectfully toward them and are not to speak discourteously to them, to criticize them, or to take them to task, but rather to submit to them and hold your tongue, even if they go too far. [111] Third, you are also to honor them by your actions, that is, with your body and possessions, serving them, helping them, and caring for them when they are old, sick, feeble, or poor; all this you should do not only cheerfully, but also with humility and reverence, doing it as if for God. Those who know how they are to cherish their parents in their hearts will not let them endure want or hunger, but will place them above and beside themselves and share with them all they have to the best of their ability.

[112] In the second place, notice what a great, good, and holy work is here assigned to children. Unfortunately, it is entirely despised and brushed aside, and no one recognizes it as God’s command or as a holy, divine word and teaching. For if we had regarded it in this way, it would have been apparent to everyone that those who live according to these words must also be holy people. Then no one would have needed to institute monasticism or spiritual walks of life. Every child would have kept this commandment and all would have been able to set their consciences right before God and say: “If I am to do good and holy works, I know of none better than to give honor and obedience to my parents, for God himself has commanded it. [113] What God commands must be much nobler than anything we ourselves may devise. And because there is no greater or better teacher to be found than God, there will certainly be no better teaching than he himself gives. Now, he amply teaches what we should do if we want to do truly good works, and by commanding them he shows that they are well-pleasing to him. So, if it is God who commands this and knows nothing better to require, I will never be able to improve upon it.”

[114] In this way, you see, upright children would have been properly trained and reared in true blessedness. They would have remained at home in obedience and service to their parents, and everyone would have had an object lesson in goodness and happiness. However, no one felt obligated to emphasize God’s commandment. Instead, it was ignored and skipped over, so that children could not take it to heart; they simply gaped in astonishment at all the things we devised without ever asking God’s approval.
[115] For God’s sake, therefore, let us finally learn that the young people should banish all other things from their sight and give first place to this commandment. If they wish to serve God with truly good works, they must do what is pleasing to their fathers and mothers, or to those to whom they are subject in their stead. For every child who knows and does this has, in the first place, the great comfort of being able joyfully to boast in defiance of all who are occupied with works of their own choice: “See, this work is well-pleasing to my God in heaven; this I know for certain.” [116] Let all of them come forward with their many, great, laborious, and difficult works and boast. Let us see whether they can produce a single work that is greater and nobler than obeying father and mother, which God has ordained and commanded next to obedience to his own majesty. If God’s Word and will are placed first and are observed, nothing ought to be considered more important than the will and word of our parents, provided that these, too, are subordinated to God and are not set in opposition to the preceding commandments.

[117] For this reason you should rejoice from the bottom of your heart and give thanks to God that he has chosen and made you worthy to perform works so precious and pleasing to him. You should regard it as great and precious—even though it may be looked at as the most trivial and contemptible thing—not because of our worthiness but because it has its place and setting within that jewel and holy shrine, the Word and commandment of God. [118] Oh, what a price would all the Carthusians, both monks and nuns,74 pay if in all their spiritual exercises they could present to God a single work done in accordance with his commandment and could say with a joyful heart in his presence: “Now I know that this work is well-pleasing to you.” What will become of these poor wretched people when, standing in the presence of God and the whole world, they will blush with shame before a little child who has lived according to this commandment and will confess that with their entire lives they are not worthy to offer that child a drink of water? [119] That they must torture themselves in vain with their self-devised works serves them right for their devilish perversity in trampling God’s commandment under foot—for this they have only scorn and trouble for their reward.
[120] Should not the heart leap and overflow with joy when it can go to work and do what is commanded of it, saying, “See, this is better than the holiness of all the Carthusians, even if they fast to death and never stop praying on their knees”? For here you have a sure text and a divine testimony that God has enjoined this but has not commanded a single word concerning those other works. But it is the plight and miserable blindness of the world that no one believes this—so thoroughly has the devil bewitched us with the false holiness and glamour of our own works.

[121] Therefore, I repeat, I would be glad if people opened their eyes and ears and took this to heart so that we may not again be led astray from the pure Word of God into the lying vanities of the devil. Then all would be well; parents would have more happiness, love, kindness, and harmony in their houses, and children would win their parents’ hearts completely. [122] On the other hand, where they are obstinate and never do what they are supposed to unless a rod is laid on their backs, they anger both God and their parents. Thus they deprive themselves of this treasure and joy of conscience and lay up for themselves nothing but misfortune. [123] This is also the way things are now going in the world, as everyone complains. Both young and old are altogether wild and unruly; they have no sense of modesty or honor; they do nothing unless driven by blows; and they defame and disparage one another behind their backs in any way they can. Therefore God also punishes them so that they sink into all kinds of trouble and misery. [124] Neither can parents, as a rule, do very much; one fool raises another, and as they have lived, so live their children after them.

[125] This, I say, should be the first and greatest reason for us to keep this commandment. If we had no father or mother, we should wish, on account of this commandment, that God would set up a block of wood or stone that we might call father or mother. How much more, since he has given us living parents, should we be happy to show them honor and obedience. For we know that it is highly pleasing to the divine Majesty and to all the angels, that it vexes all the devils, and, besides, that it is the greatest work that we can do, except for the sublime worship of God summarized in the previous commandments. [126] Even almsgiving and all other works for our neighbor are not equal to this. For God has exalted this walk of life above all others; indeed, he has set it up in his place on earth. This will and pleasure of God ought to provide us sufficient reason and incentive to do cheerfully and gladly whatever we can.
[127] Besides this, it is our duty before the world to show gratitude for the kindness and for all the good things we have received from our parents. [128] But here again the devil rules in the world; children forget their parents, as we all forget God. No one thinks about how God feeds, guards, and protects us and how many blessings of body and soul he gives us. Especially when an evil hour comes, we rage and grumble impatiently and forget all the blessings that we have received throughout our life. We do the very same thing with our parents, and there is no child who recognizes and considers this, unless led to it by the Holy Spirit.

[129] God knows well this perversity of the world, and therefore, by means of the commandments, he reminds and impels all people to think of what their parents have done for them. Then they realize that they have received their bodies and lives from their parents and have been nourished and nurtured by their parents when otherwise they would have perished a hundred times in their own filth. [130] Therefore the wise people of old rightly said, Deo, parentibus et magistris non potest satis gratiae rependi, that is, “God, parents, and teachers can never be sufficiently thanked or repaid.” Those who look at the matter in this way and think about it will, without compulsion, give all honor to their parents and esteem them as the ones through whom God has given them everything good.
[131] Over and above all this, another strong incentive to attract us into keeping this commandment is that God has attached to it a lovely promise, “that you may have long life in the land where you dwell.” Here you can see for yourself how important God considers this commandment. [132] He declares not only that it is an object of pleasure and delight to himself, but also that it is an instrument intended for our greatest welfare, to lead us to a quiet and pleasant life, filled with every blessing. [133] Therefore St. Paul also highly exalts and praises this commandment, saying in Ephesians 6[:2–3*]: “This is the first commandment with a promise: ‘so that it may be well with you and you may live long on the earth.’ ” Although the other commandments also have their own promise implied, yet in none of them is it so plainly and explicitly stated.

[134] Here you have the fruit and the reward, that whoever keeps this commandment will enjoy good days, happiness, and prosperity. On the other hand, the penalty for those who disobey it is that they will die earlier and will not be happy in life. For, in the Scriptures, to have a long life means not merely to grow old, but to have everything that belongs to long life—for example, health, spouse and child, sustenance, peace, good government, etc.—without which this life cannot be enjoyed nor will it long endure. [135] Now, if you are unwilling to answer to your father and mother or to take direction from them, then answer to the executioner; and if you will not answer to him, then answer to the grim reaper, death! [136] This, in short, is the way God will have it: render obedience, love, and service to him, and he will reward you abundantly with every blessing; on the other hand, if you anger him, he will send upon you both death and the executioner.
[137] Why do we have so many scoundrels who must daily be hanged, beheaded, or broken on the wheel if not because of disobedience? They will not allow themselves to be brought up in kindness; consequently, because of God’s punishment, they bring upon themselves the misfortune and grief that is seen in their lives. For it seldom happens that such wicked people die a natural and timely death.

The godly and obedient, however, receive this blessing in that they live long in peace and quietness. They see their children’s children, as stated above, “to the third and fourth generation.” [138] Again, as we know from experience, where there are fine, old families who prosper and have many children, it is certainly because some of them were brought up well and honored their parents. On the other hand, it is written of the wicked in Psalm 109[:13*]: “May his posterity be cut off; may their name be blotted out in a single generation.”79 [139] Therefore, let it be a warning to you how important obedience is to God, because he treasures it so highly, delights so greatly in it, rewards it so richly, and besides is so strict about punishing those who transgress it.
[140] I say all this so that it may be thoroughly impressed upon the young people, for no one believes how necessary this commandment is, especially since up until now under the papacy it was neither heeded nor taught. These are plain and simple words, and everyone thinks that he or she already knows them well. So they pass over them lightly, fasten their attention on other things, and fail to perceive and believe how angry they make God when they neglect this commandment, and how precious and acceptable a work they perform when they observe it.

[141] Furthermore, in connection with this commandment, we must mention the sort of obedience due to superiors, persons whose duty it is to command and to govern. For all other authority is derived and developed out of the authority of parents. Where a father is unable by himself to bring up his child, he calls upon a schoolmaster to teach him; if he is too weak, he seeks the help of his friends and neighbors; if he dies, he confers and delegates his responsibility and authority to others appointed for the purpose. [142] In addition, he has to have servants—menservants and maidservants—under him in order to manage the household. Thus all who are called masters stand in the place of parents and must derive from them their power and authority to govern. They are all called fathers in the Scriptures because in their sphere of authority they have been commissioned as fathers and ought to have fatherly hearts toward their people. Thus from ancient times the Romans and peoples speaking other languages called the masters and mistresses of the household patres et matres familias, that is, housefathers and housemothers. Again, their princes and overlords were called patres patriae, that is, fathers of the whole country, to the great shame of us would-be Christians who do not speak of our rulers in the same way, or at least do not treat and honor them as such.

[143] What a child owes to father and mother, all members of the household owe them as well. Therefore menservants and maidservants should take care not just to obey their masters and mistresses, but also to honor them as their own fathers and mothers and to do everything that they know is expected of them, not reluctantly, because they are compelled to do so, but gladly and cheerfully. They should do it for the reason mentioned above, that it is God’s commandment and is more pleasing to him than all other works. [144] They should even be willing to pay for the privilege of serving and be glad to acquire masters and mistresses in order to have such joyful consciences and to know how to do truly golden works. In the past these works were neglected and despised; therefore everyone ran in the devil’s name into monasteries, on pilgrimages, and after indulgences,82 to their own harm and with a bad conscience.
[145] If this could be impressed on the poor people, a servant girl would dance for joy and praise and thank God; and with her careful work, for which she receives sustenance and wages, she would obtain a treasure such as those who are regarded as the greatest saints do not have. Is it not a tremendous honor to know this and to say, “If you do your daily household chores, that is better than the holiness and austere life of all the monks”? [146] Moreover, you have the promise that whatever you do will prosper and fare well. How could you be more blessed or lead a holier life, as far as works are concerned? [147] In God’s sight it is actually faith that makes a person holy; it alone serves God, while our works serve people. [148] Here you have every blessing, protection, and shelter under the Lord, and, what is more, a joyful conscience and a gracious God who will reward you a hundredfold. You are a true nobleman if you are simply upright and obedient. If you are not, you will have nothing but God’s wrath and displeasure; there will be no peace in your heart, and eventually you will have all sorts of trouble and misfortune.

[149] If this will not convince you and make you upright, we commend you to the executioner and the grim reaper. Therefore, all those willing to take advice should learn that God is not joking. God speaks to you and demands obedience. If you obey him, you will be his dear child; but if you despise this commandment, you will also have shame, misery, and grief as your reward.
[150] The same may be said of obedience to the civil authority, which, as we have said, belongs in the category of “fatherhood” as a walk of life, and is the most comprehensive of all. For here one is the father not of an individual family, but of as many people as he has inhabitants, citizens, or subjects. Through civil rulers, as through our own parents, God gives us food, house and home, protection and security, and he preserves us through them. Therefore, because they bear this name and title with all honor as their chief distinction, it is also our duty to honor and respect them as the most precious treasure and most priceless jewel on earth.
[151] Those who are obedient, willing and eager to be of service, and cheerfully do everything that honor demands, know that they please God and receive joy and happiness as their reward. On the other hand, if they will not do so in love, but despise authority, rebel, or cause unrest, let them know that they will have no favor or blessing. Where they count on gaining a gulden, they will lose ten times more elsewhere, or they will fall prey to the hangman, or perish through war, pestilence, or famine, or their children will turn out badly; servants, neighbors, or strangers and tyrants will inflict injury, injustice, and violence upon them until what we seek and earn will finally come home to roost and mete out payment.

[152] If we were ever to let ourselves be persuaded that such works of obedience are so pleasing to God and have such a rich reward, we would be absolutely inundated with blessings and have whatever our hearts desire. But because people completely despise God’s Word and commandment, as if these things had come from some loudmouthed street vendor, we shall see if you are the person who can defy him: how difficult will it be for him to pay you back in kind? [153] For this reason you will live much better with God’s favor, peace, and blessing than you will with disfavor and misfortune. [154] Why do you think the world is now so full of unfaithfulness, shame, misery, and murder? It is because all want to be their own lords, to be free of all authority, to care nothing for anyone, and to do whatever they please. So God punishes one scoundrel by means of another, so that when you defraud or despise your lord, another person comes along and treats you likewise. Indeed, in your own household you must suffer ten times as much wrong from your own wife, children, or servants.
[155] We certainly feel our misfortune, and we grumble and complain about unfaithfulness, violence, and injustice. But we are unwilling to see that we ourselves are scoundrels who have rightly deserved punishment and are in no way better because of it. We spurn grace and blessing; therefore, it is only fair that we have nothing but misfortune without any mercy. [156] Somewhere on earth there must still be some godly people, or else God would not grant us so many blessings! If it were up to us, we would not have a penny in the house or a straw in the field. [157] I have been obliged to use so many words to teach this in the hope that someone may take it to heart, so that we may be delivered from the blindness and misery in which we have sunk so deeply and may rightly understand the Word and will of God and sincerely accept it. From God’s Word we could learn how to obtain an abundance of joy, happiness, and salvation, both here and in eternity.

[158] So we have introduced three kinds of fathers in this commandment: fathers by blood, fathers of a household, and fathers of the nation. In addition, there are also spiritual fathers—not like those in the papacy who have had themselves called “father” but have not performed a fatherly function. For the name of spiritual father belongs only to those who govern and guide us by the Word of God. [159] St. Paul boasts that he is such a father in 1 Corinthians 4[:15*], where he says, “In Christ Jesus I became your father through the gospel.” [160] Because they are fathers, they are entitled to honor, even above all others. But they very seldom receive it, for the world’s way of honoring them is to chase them out of the country and to begrudge them even a piece of bread. In short, as St. Paul says [1 Cor. 4:13*], they must be “the rubbish of the world, the dregs of all things.”
[161] Yet it is necessary to impress upon the common people that they who would bear the name of Christian owe it to God to show “double honor” to those who watch over their souls and to treat them well and make provision for them. If you do, God will also give you what you need and not let you suffer want. [162] But here everyone resists and rebels; all are afraid that their bellies will suffer, and therefore they cannot now support one good preacher, although in the past they filled ten fat paunches. [163] For this we deserve to have God deprive us of his Word and blessing and once again allow preachers of lies to arise who lead us to the devil—and wring sweat and blood out of us besides.

[164] Those who keep God’s will and commandment before their eyes, however, have the promise that they will be richly rewarded for all they contribute both to their natural and spiritual fathers, and for the honor they render them. Not that they shall have bread, clothing, and money for a year or two, but long life, sustenance, and peace, and they will be rich and blessed eternally. [165] Therefore, just do what you are supposed to do, and leave it to God how he will support you and provide for all your wants. As long as he has promised it and has never yet lied, then he will not lie to you either.
[166] This ought to encourage us and so melt our hearts for joy and love toward those to whom we owe honor that we lift up our hands in joyful thanks to God for giving us such promises. We ought to be willing to run to the ends of the earth to obtain them. For the combined efforts of the whole world cannot add a single hour to our life or raise up from the earth a solitary grain of wheat for us. But God can and will give you everything abundantly, according to your heart’s desire. Anyone who despises this and tosses it to the wind is unworthy to hear a single word of God.

More than enough has now been said to all those to whom this commandment applies. [167] In addition, it would also be well to preach to parents on the nature of their responsibility, how they should treat those whom they have been appointed to rule. Although their responsibility is not explicitly presented in the Ten Commandments, it is certainly treated in detail in many other passages of Scripture. God even intends it to be included precisely in this commandment in which he speaks of father and mother. [168] For he does not want scoundrels or tyrants in this office or authority; nor does he assign them this honor (that is, power and right to govern) so that they may receive homage. Instead, they should keep in mind that they owe obedience to God, and that, above all, they should earnestly and faithfully discharge the duties of their office, not only to provide for the material support of their children, servants, subjects, etc., but especially to bring them up to the praise and honor of God. [169] Therefore do not imagine that the parental office is a matter of your pleasure and whim. It is a strict commandment and injunction of God, who holds you accountable for it.

[170] But once again, the real trouble is that no one perceives or pays attention to this. Everyone acts as if God gave us children for our pleasure and amusement, gave us servants merely to put them to work like cows or donkeys, and gave us subjects to treat as we please, as if it were no concern of ours what they learn or how they live. [171] No one is willing to see that this is the command of the divine Majesty, who will solemnly call us to account and punish us for its neglect. Nor is it recognized how very necessary it is to devote serious attention to the young. [172] For if we want capable and qualified people for both the civil and the spiritual realms, we really must spare no effort, time, and expense in teaching and educating our children to serve God and the world. We must not think only of amassing money and property for them. [173] God can provide for them and make them rich without our help, as indeed he does daily. But he has given us children and entrusted them to us precisely so that we may raise and govern them according to his will; otherwise, God would have no need of fathers and mothers. [174] Therefore let all people know that it is their chief duty—at the risk of losing divine grace—first to bring up their children in the fear and knowledge of God, and, then, if they are so gifted, also to have them engage in formal study and learn so that they may be of service wherever they are needed.

[175] If this were done, God would also bless us richly and give us grace so that people might be trained who would be a credit to the nation and its people. We would also have good, capable citizens, virtuous women who, as good managers of the household [Titus 2:5*], would faithfully raise upright children and servants. [176] Think what deadly harm you do when you are negligent and fail to bring up your children to be useful and godly. You bring upon yourself sin and wrath, thus earning hell by the way you have reared your own children, no matter how holy and upright you may be otherwise. [177] Because this commandment is neglected, God also terribly punishes the world; hence there is no longer any discipline, government, or peace. We all complain about this situation, but we fail to see that it is our own fault. We have unruly and disobedient subjects because of how we train them. [178] This is enough to serve as a warning; a more extensive explanation will have to await another time.