When did you Last See your Father?

This has to be one of my favourite paintings. It is the work of William Frederick Yeames (1835-1918) and is oil paint on canvas entitled And when did you Last see your Father? from 1878. An innocent boy, the son of a well-to-do royalist, is being interrogated by parliamentary soldiers and local puritans as to the whereabouts of his father. His female relatives look on, hoping and praying he will not disclose the man’s location or movements. The slouching soldier to the child’s left has a rather improbable Victorian moustache, while his prim-looking interrogators probe the child’s memory. He is lit up by an implied ray of sunshine, and the little box upon which he stands shows both his weakness and his strength.  

In those days of the civil war, I would, naturally, have been on the side of the puritan Parliament and would have supported the Congregationalist Lord Protector. Yet the painting’s theme seems to be one of family loyalty, of defending an absent father’s interests even when miliary power occupies your very house. The child’s sweetness and light belie his implied ability and willingness to protect his papa’s safety, come what may.

We too are commanded to honour our fathers and mothers, and even to obey them, though honouring and obedience are not always interchangeable. Once converted to Christ, we have a whole new, global family into which we are adopted, and through whose many circles and branches we pass. We should seek to honour God’s people, our Christian brothers and sisters, for His sake. Few of us will be asked to disclose hiding places and whereabouts, but all are asked to give hospitality, support, encouragement and love.