Reprinted from When Thou Sittest In Thine House, by Abraham Kuyper, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., Grand Rapids, Michigan. 1929. Used by permission of Eerdmans Publishing Co.
From of old it was a point of interest that, in Holy Scripture, city-life is first mentioned among the descendants of Cain.
With the report that Cain builded a city, we need not think of a city in the sense which this world has now. In our eye it would scarcely have deserved the name of a village. But this much may be inferred from this remarkable report, agreeable to the ancient significance of the word, that he had fixed dwellings built for his rapidly increasing family, and that he surrounded these simple structures by some sort of moat to defend himself against wild beasts or against enemies. The Dutch marginal reading is that Cain “sought defenses for himself.”
From fear, from anxiety, from unrest, from a feeling of unsafety the first city was born, and not without reason it is ascribed to Cain’s evil conscience, that he was the first to take refuge behind moats and walls.
Yet, the second mention of a city in Holy Writ shows that the idea of a city implies something else. With the building of Babel’s tower the idea appears far more in the foreground, of dwelling together in one place, rather than scattering across the length and the breadth of the land.
But also that second time this building of a city is mentioned in a less favorable sense, even such that the plan of settling down in Babel was foiled.
Also later on there cleaves to Babylon the continuous idea of a power that makes itself great against God, while on the other hand Paradise provided country-life, the patriarchs wandered about in tents, Israel dwelt in Goshen, David was called from behind the flock, and in the days of our Lord’s sojourn on earth the country people hail Him with Hosannas, while the city people of Jerusalem, at the instigation of the priests, call for Jesus’ blood.
The country-people, as we would say, have adhered to Jesus; in Jerusalem they have killed Him.
This somber shadow has rested upon city-life till our own times, and it can even be said that only in our days has that shadow become really dark.
Cities like Paris and London contained most of human misery and extremest human wickedness. The scenes described not so long ago by General Booth in his “Darkest England” are truly repulsive. And though it must gratefully be acknowledged that in our smaller cities it has not gone such lengths, still one would have to be a stranger to our own conditions if he had no eye for the profound difference which, both from the religious and the moral standpoint, exists among us between city- and country-life.
We are not blind, therefore, to the many sorts of sin which disgrace country-life; though we grant that frequently it is mere absence of temptation which renders country-life more uneventful, more restful; but in almost all lands the rule still holds that the faith once delivered held its ground most firmly among country people, and that peaceful home-life there still develops all its power.
The constant touch of nature, as well as the more regular habits of life which every stay in the country brings with it, operates refreshingly and thereby purifies.
You see this in the ardent longing of city people to get away to the country.
There overstrained nerves become calm, health becomes stronger; and after the rule that health of body works beneficially upon the health of the life of the soul, presently invigorated after soul and body they come back within their city walls.
Winter bleakness repels; only in spring and summer we enjoy life to the full, and in connection herewith the cities are sought in winter, but in summer, everyone who is able goes to the country.
City-life, however, by itself should not on this account be considered sinful.
Though the idea to build a city was first original with Cain, do not forget that in the vision of Patmos the glory that is to come appears with the descent of the New Jerusalem out of heaven, and that what was shown John to give him the highest idea of that glory was not a paradise but the city with its foundations and precious stones and gates of pearl.
Already under the figurative dispensation of the old covenant, the Tabernacle, the habitation of God, first goes through the wilderness, and to the days of Solomon the holiness of the Lord dwells in a tent; but the course of Revelation ever points forward to the time when the Lord shall find His rest in Jerusalem, and that the place which He had chosen for Himself was upon Zion’s mount.
Not in the country, but in the city of David, the majesty of Jehovah revealed itself in the holy of holies. There were the thrones of judgment set. There God appeared shining in His beauty.
So one can say that, in Scripture, the idea of a city is not lower, but rather of higher standing.
As the glory of Eden pales before the glory of the New Jerusalem, so far stands country-life beneath life in the city. But on account of sin, we are not able to enjoy this richer life without falling into all sorts of temptations, and therefore life amidst nature holds us nearer unto God than life within city walls.
It is noteworthy that the first Christian churches were not organized in the country but, as in Palestine so elsewhere, in cities. All the apostolic epistles are addressed to Christians dwelling in those cities. To those in Rome, in Corinth, etc., and only afterward was the blessing of the gospel carried out to outlying villages and hamlets.
The strong tendency of our times to move into the cities and to make the population of great cities number millions is readily understood, but from the side of Christians should not be encouraged.
For that which feeds this tendency is not the desire to enjoy the higher standard of life, but rather the urge to lose oneself in the masses, and so to be freer in one’s movements and have the chance to indulge in pleasures of every description.
Not to live after the higher standard, but to enjoy oneself more broadly, they who have the means move into the great cities, and so the smaller towns are more and more emptied of the old-time families that ennobled the town life, and the country is more and more robbed of those old-time lairds who, by the act of their living in the midst of their people, were in so many ways a blessing to them.
And this tendency from our side should not be encouraged. He who free and independent has to choose his own place of residence, escapes oh so much temptation and distraction and fosters so much more easily the sense of piety among his own when he shuns the sinful commotion of the city and holds himself united with the more substantial folk, which you find in the country.
If on the other hand you are not free in your choice, and He who disposes the place of our habitation has appointed you a work in a city, then let that city-life quicken God’s children, in their own and in their children’s behalf, to double watchfulness and greater frequency of prayer.
The suction of the stream of city-life is so strong, and woe be unto us when for ourselves or for our family we deem that temptation can have no hold on us.
In every city the confessor of Christ must be in all his manner of life a protest against the unholy spirit which for the most part poisons our city-life. Christian life also in our cities can be at higher levels than in our villages. It is richer, it is more intense, it develops greater power. But this finer result is only obtained when the children of God are clearly conscious of their position, of the danger that threatens, and of their higher calling.
They must not allow themselves to be poisoned by city-life, but by their example and that of their family must be as a leaven in the midst of the masses, salt that prevents corruption.
A fixed rule, that holds good for every one, is not here given either.
In the midst of city commotion God’s child can come to higher spiritual life than in our quiet villages, and in the country God’s child can be spared many a temptation.
Here, too, it can be said: All things are yours, life in our cities and life in our villages.
Provided it is not forgotten that upon this “All things are yours” there ever follows: “And ye are Christ’s.”
His property and in His service.