Order of Contents
Martin Luther on Fatherhood
Martin Luther, The Estate of Marriage, 1522, HT: Andrew Myers
Now observe that when that clever harlot, our natural reason (which the pagans followed in trying to be most clever), takes a look at married life, she turns up her nose and says, “Alas, must I rock the baby, wash its diapers, make its bed, smell its stench, stay up nights with it, take care of it when it cries, heal its rashes and sores, and on top of that care for my wife, provide for her, labor at my trade, take care of this and take care of that, do this and do that, endure this and endure that, and whatever else of bitterness and drudgery married life involves? What, should I make such a prisoner of myself? O you poor, wretched fellow, have you taken a wife? Fie, fie upon such wretchedness and bitterness! It is better to remain free and lead a peaceful. carefree life; I will become a priest or a nun and compel my children to do likewise.”
What then does Christian faith say to this? It opens its eyes, looks upon all these insignificant, distasteful, and despised duties in the Spirit, and is aware that they are all adorned with divine approval as with the costliest gold and jewels. It says, “O God, because I am certain that thou hast created me as a man and hast from my body begotten this child, I also know for a certainty that it meets with thy perfect pleasure. I confess to thee that I am not worthy to rock the little babe or wash its diapers. or to be entrusted with the care of the child and its mother. How is it that I, without any merit, have come to this distinction of being certain that I am serving thy creature and thy most precious will? O how gladly will I do so, though the duties should be even more insignificant and despised. Neither frost nor heat, neither drudgery nor labour, will distress or dissuade me, for I am certain that it is thus pleasing in thy sight.”
A wife too should regard her duties in the same light, as she suckles the child, rocks and bathes it, and cares for it in other ways; and as she busies herself with other duties and renders help and obedience to her husband. These are truly golden and noble works. . . .
Now you tell me, when a father goes ahead and washes diapers or performs some other mean task for his child, and someone ridicules him as an effeminate fool, though that father is acting in the spirit just described and in Christian faith, my dear fellow you tell me, which of the two is most keenly ridiculing the other? God, with all his angels and creatures, is smiling, not because that father is washing diapers, but because he is doing so in Christian faith. Those who sneer at him and see only the task but not the faith are ridiculing God with all his creatures, as the biggest fool on earth. Indeed, they are only ridiculing themselves; with all their cleverness they are nothing but devil’s fools.
How Far Sons & Daughters are to Obey Their Parents
That Parents Should Neither Compel Nor Hinder the Marriage of Their Children, And That Children Should Not Become Engaged Without Their Parents’ Consent (1524) in Luther’s Works (Fortress Press, 1962), vol. 45, Christian in Society II
“It is quite certain therefore that parental authority is strictly limited; it does not extend to the point where [it may] wreak damage and destruction to the child, especially to its soul. If then a father forces his child into a marriage without love, he oversteps and exceeds his authority. He ceases to be a father and becomes a tyrant who uses his authority not for building up — which is why God gave it to him — but for destroying.
He is taking authority into his own hands without God, indeed, against God. The same principle holds good when a father hinders his child’s marriage, or lets the child go ahead on his own, without any intention of helping him in the matter (as so often happens in the case of step-parents and their children, or orphans and their guardians, where covetousness has its eye more on what the child has than on what the child needs).”
Commentary on Eph. 6:1-2, “Children obey your parents in the Lord”
“In the Lord. Besides the law of nature, which is acknowledged by all nations, the obedience of children is enforced by the authority of God.
Hence it follows, that parents are to be obeyed, so far only as is consistent with piety to God, which comes first in order. If the command of God is the rule by which the submission of children is to be regulated, it would be foolish to suppose that the performance of this duty could lead away from God himself.”
Commentary on Matt 8:21
“21. Lord, permit me to go first and bury my father. …He was prevented from immediately obeying the call of Christ by the weakness of thinking it a hardship to leave his father. It is probable that his father was in extreme old age: for the mode of expression, Permit me to bury, implies that he had but a short time to live. Luke says that Christ ordered him to follow, while Matthew says that he was one of his disciples. But he does not refuse the calling: he only asks leave for a time to discharge a duty which he owes to his father. The excuse bears that he looked upon himself as at liberty till his father’s death.
From Christ’s reply we learn, that children should discharge their duty to their parents in such a manner that, whenever God calls them to another employment, they should lay this aside, and assign the first place to the command of God. Whatever duties we owe to men must give way, when God enjoins upon us what is immediately due to Himself. All ought to consider what God requires from them as individuals, and what is demanded by their particular calling, that earthly parents may not prevent the claims of the highest and only Father of all from remaining entire.”
Commentary on Jer. 35, v. 19
“But it is a question of more moment: How God promises a reward to these sons of Jonadab [who are Rechabites] for obeying the command of their [fore-]father [to dwell in tents and not drink wine], and whether they had sinned if they had not obeyed this command of Jonadab; which brings in another question:
Whether parents have a power to oblige their children in matters which God has left at liberty? To which I answer:
1. God might reward these Rechabites for their reverence and obedience to Jonadab their father, though these were not strictly, by the Divine law, obliged thus far to have obeyed him; as He rewarded David for his thoughts in his heart to build him a house, though it was not God’s will that He should do it; so as God’s promise of the reward does not prove their obedience in this particular to have been their duty. Admit that it remained still a matter of liberty, yet the general honour and reverence they testified might be rewarded by God.
2. Unquestionably parents have not a power to determine children in all things as to which God has left them a liberty, for then they have a power to make their children slaves, and to take away all their natural liberty. To marry or not, and to this or that person, is [a] matter of liberty. Parents cannot in this case determine their children; Bethuel, Gen. 24:58, asks Rebekah if she would go with Abraham’s servant before he would send her.
3. In matters of civil concernment they have a far greater power than in matters of religion. All souls are God’s, and conscience can be under no other dominion than that of God.
4. In civil things parents have a great power, during the nonage of children, and after also in matters which concern their parents’ good, as to command them to assist them, to help to supply their necessities, etc.
5. Parents being set over children, and instead of God to them, as it is their duty to advise their children to the best of their ability for their good; so it is the duty of children to receive their advice, and not to depart from it, unless they see circumstances so mistaken by parents, or so altered by the providence of God, as they may reasonably judge their parents, had these known or foreseen it, would not have so advised. But that parents have an absolute power to determine children in all things as to which God has not forbidden them, and that children by the law of God are obliged to an obedience to all such commands, however they may see their parents mistaken, or God by his providence may have altered circumstances, I see no reason to conclude. Jonadab had prudently advised his sons as before mentioned; they were things they might do, and which by experience they found not hurtful to them, but of great profit and advantage, and that with reference to all the ends of man’s life: herein they yield obedience, and pay a reverence to their parent; this pleases God, He promises to reward them with the continuance of their family, according to what He had said, Ex. 20:12, in the Fifth Commandment, which the apostle calls the first commandment with promise.”
Commentary on Eph. 6:1-2, “Children obey your parents in the Lord”
“Either because the Lord commands it,or in all things agreeable to his will.”
The Law Unsealed, or a Practical Exposition of the Ten Commandments… 7th ed. (Glasgow: 1777), On the 5th Commandment, p. 302 (mid)
“…so this rule is always to be carried along in practice, and this honor and obedience must be still ‘in the Lord’; that is, there must be a reserving to the Lord his due. For God is the supreme Father, and all our respect to under-fathers of the flesh is to be subordinate to the Father of spirits (Heb. 12:9), so as He may have the first place for whose cause we give reverence to them; and so that word is still true (Acts 4:19), ‘It is better to obey God than man.’ Man is only to be obeyed in the Lord (Eph. 6:1). And thus refusing to comply with unjust commands, is not disobedience to parents, but high obedience to God, the refusal being conveyed respectfully and after the due manner.”