Since, therefore, the name of Father is a sacred one, and is transferred to men by the peculiar goodness of God, the dishonoring of parents redounds to the dishonor of God Himself, nor can any one despise his father without being guilty of an offense against God, (sacrilegium.) If any should object that there are many ungodly and wicked fathers whom their children cannot regard with honor without destroying the distinction between good and evil, the reply is easy, that the perpetual law of nature is not subverted by the sins of men; and therefore, however unworthy of honor a father may be, that he still retains, inasmuch as he is a father, his right over his children, provided it does not in anywise derogate from the judgment of God; for it is too absurd to think of absolving under any pretext the sins which are condemned by His Law; nay, it would be a base profanation to misuse the name of father for the covering of sins. In condemning, therefore, the vices of a father, a truly pious son will subscribe to God’s Law; and still, whatsoever he may be, will acknowledge that he is to be honored, as being the father given him by God.
Paul is a faithful interpreter of this Commandment, where he bids “children obey their parents.” (<490601> Ephesians 6:1; <510320> Colossians 3:20.) Honor, therefore, comprises subjection; so that he who shakes off the yoke of his father, and does not allow himself to be governed by his authority, is justly said to despise his father; and it will more clearly appear from other passages, that those who are not obedient to their parents are deemed to despise them. Still, the power of a father is so limited as that God, on whom all relationships depend, should have the rule over fathers as well as children; for parents govern their children only under the supreme authority of God. Paul, therefore, does not simply exhort children to obey their parents, but adds the restriction, “in the Lord;” whereby he indicates that, if a father enjoins anything unrighteous, obedience is freely to be denied him. Immoderate strictness, moroseness, and even cruelty must be born, so long as a mortal man, by wickedly demanding what is not lawful, does not endeavor to rob God of His right. In a word, the Law so subjects children to their parents, as that God’s right may remain uninfringed.
…The natural sense itself dictates to us that we should obey rulers. If servants obey not their masters, the society of the human race is subverted altogether. It is not, therefore, the least essential part of righteousness that the people should willingly submit themselves to the command of magistrates, and that servants should obey their masters; and, consequently, it would be very absurd if it were omitted in the Law of God. In this commandment, then, as in the others, God by synecdoche embraces, under a specific rule, a general principle, viz., that lawful commands should obtain due reverence from us. But that all things should not be distinctly expressed, first of all brevity itself readily accounts for; and, besides, another reason is to be noticed, i.e. that God designedly used a homely style in addressing a rude people, because He saw its expediency. If He had said generally, that all superiors were to be obeyed, since, pride is natural to all, it would not have been easy to incline the greater part of men to pay submission to a few. Nay, since subjection is naturally disagreeable, many would have kicked against it. God, therefore, propounds a specific kind of subjection, which it would have been gross barbarism to refuse, that thus, their ferocity being gradually subdued, He might accustom men to bear the yoke. Hence the exhortations are derived, that people should “honor the king;” that “every soul should be subject unto the higher powers;” that “servants should obey their masters, even the froward and morose.” (Proverbs 24:21; 1 Peter 2:13; Romans 13:1; Ephesians 6:5; 1 Peter 2:14, 18.)
…It is a signal exaltation of magistrates, that God should not only count them in the place of parents, but present them to us dignified by His own name; whence also it clearly appears that they are not to be obeyed only from fear of punishment, “but also for conscience sake,” (Romans 13:5) and to be reverently honored, lest God should be despised in them. If any should object, that it would be wrong to praise the vices of those whom we perceive to abuse their power; the answer is easy, that although judges are to be borne with even if they be not the best, f13 still that the honor with which they are invested, is not a covering for vice. Nor does God command us to applaud their faults, but that the people should rather deplore them in silent sorrow, than raise disturbances in a licentious and seditious spirit, and so subvert political government.
—John Calvin, Harmony of the Law, On the Fifth Commandment.