The Fourth Commandment.
"Honour thy father and thy mother, that thy days may be prolonged, and that it may be well with thee upon the earth." To honour thy father and thy mother in the natural sense, which is the sense of the letter, means, to honour parents, to obey them, to be attentive to them, and to show gratitude to them for the benefits they confer; which are, that they feed and clothe their children, and introduce them into the world, that they may act in it the part of civil and moral beings, and also into heaven by the precepts of religion, and thus consult their temporal prosperity, and also their eternal felicity; and all these things they do from the love in which they are from the Lord, in whose stead they act. In an adapted sense, if the parents are dead, the honour of guardians by their wards is meant. In a wider sense, to honour the king and the magistracy is meant by this commandment; since they exercise the care over things necessary to all in common which parents do in particular. In the widest sense this commandment means that men should love their country, because it sustains them and protects them; it is therefore called father-land (patria), from father (pater). But to their country and to the king and magistracy the honours must be paid by parents, and be implanted by them in their children.
In the spiritual sense, to honour father and mother means to adore and love God and the church. In this sense by father God is meant, who is the Father of all; and by mother, the church. Infants in the heavens and angels know no other father and no other mother, since they are there born anew of the Lord by the church. The Lord therefore says, "Call no man your father on the earth; for one is your Father, who is in the heavens" (Matt, xxiii. 9). These words were spoken for children and angels in heaven, but not for children and men on earth. The Lord teaches the same in the common prayer of the Christian churches: "Our Father, who art in the heavens, hallowed be Thy name." That the church is meant by mother, in the spiritual sense, is because just as a mother on earth feeds her children with natural food the church feeds them with spiritual food; and for this reason the church is frequently called mother in the Word; as in Hosea: "Plead with your mother . . . .; she is not my wife, neither am I her husband" (ii. 2, 5); in Isaiah: "Where is the hill of your mother's divorcement, whom I have put away?" (I. 1; and Ezek. xvi. 45; xix. 10). And in the Evangelists: "Jesus, stretching out His hand to the disciples, said, My mother and My brethren are those who hear the Word of God and do it" (Matt. xii. 48, 49; Luke viii. 21; Mark iii. 33-35; John xix. 25-27.