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.

The Mother

With a beauty that never pales, the prince of poets celebrated in song the tie that binds the mother to her child, which she bore in sorrow, fed with milk at her breast, and had carried for so long under her heart, as that which “unites the blood.”

The estimate was correct. The love of mother for the child she bore does not spring from a tendency of soul, but from the blood, and therefore love in wedlock stands higher, because “stronger is the tie of the couple that, hand in hand, joined not to separate,” for they love each other from inclination.

You need but to compare the world of our human life with the world of animals, to see at once the truth of this antithesis.

If the love of mother for her child were indeed the outflow of a higher inclination of soul and of self-denial, you would have to find this beautiful trait among people, but not among animals.

Yet the opposite is the case.

You find this love of her who was permitted to give life for what came to life frequently more strong with animals than with human beings.

Birds and domestic animals vie with one another to make exhibition of this, and already in early youth we read all sorts of interesting stories of little animal mothers that sacrificed themselves for their young.

Yea, more still, even Holy Scripture has so high an estimate of this animal love that in terms of it our Savior expresses His own love for His people, as when He compares this His love with that of a mother-hen that covers her chickens with her wings, while on the other hand in Isaiah 49:15, our God assumes at least the possibility of the human mother that can forget her sucking child.

For it reads: “Can a woman forget her sucking child, that she would not have compassion on the son of her womb?” And then there follows: “Yea, they may forget, yet I will not forget thee.”

Somber prophecy of what did happen, when it came to the destruction of Jerusalem. For then, according to the dreadful historic narrative, in the insanity of hunger, mothers in Jerusalem killed their own sucklings, to feed themselves with their flesh.

Would you therefore count mother-love for her child a small matter, and as something of minor importance?

You know that in more than one land, such as in France and elsewhere, especially among upper classes, this love is ever more lightly counted. She who became mother soon abandons her child to the care of nurse and wet-nurse, and with many a mother all the concern with such a young child consists in this, that mornings and evenings she makes a short call at the nursery, or at times receives the beautifully dressed infant and makes a show of it in her luxurious drawing-room.

Even this some mothers deem too much. In France already two or three months after the birth there are many who send the little one far from home with a nurse to the country, that nothing may interfere with their pursuit of pleasure and enjoyment.

So in Paris, little mothers among animals do not act, but so frequently do they who become mothers among women.

Yea, there are those who purposely allow the milk in their breast which God gave them for their child, to dry up and disappear.

Thus in every sense there is reason, not to undervalue the love of mother for her child, but rather to hold it high among us, lest with us also the practice gains foothold that elsewhere is established to the shame of the name of mankind.

For the love of mother for her child is very like the love of an animal for her young, but it is also different.

With an animal, love operates exclusively by instinct, is nothing but an impulse of nature, and shows itself therefore always in the same form and in the same way.

But so it is not with human mothers.

With our mothers this love for the child is a mixed phenomenon. It certainly springs from the blood. For no small part is instinct also common to her. But yet with the mother it is bound and subjected to the control of her moral life.

Not the animal, but she, can abandon her child to others or neglect it. And also, not the animal, but she, can carry that love up higher, ennoble and sanctify it.

Here applies therefore the gift of distinction.

As regards the love of such a mother for her child, you have to distinguish between two component parts, on one side what God instilled into her mother-nature, and on the other side what she did with this.

For what is instilled in her by God, the honor is not hers, but His. This is the nature of all mothers, and common to all including domestic animals and birds.

By itself there is nothing noble in this, bears no moral character, and is absolutely no evidence of self-denial.

A young woman who thus far lived exclusively for herself and vanity, and now having become mother at once forgets her vanity, is interested in and by her child, and for months together nurses her child, lives for her child, plays with the child and enjoys herself, may thereby become accustomed to self-denial and weaned from vanity; but by all this strong mother-love she offers no proof yet in the least of moral devotion.

What she does, the mother-hen in her way does too.

In this therefore God is great, not she, and He alone is glorified, who increated this beautiful trait in the mother as in the animal—a trait that commonly is even more strongly evident among primitive peoples than among civilized nations, in the country more mightily than in our refined cities.

But what the animal lacks, the human mother possesses, namely: by reason of her moral nature, she can either direct this love and sanctify it, or go contrary to it and sin it away.

The latter she can do in either one of two ways: She can silence the voice of nature and commit her child to the care of nurse or governess; or she can let her love for her child degenerate into infatuation for her child, misuse her child as a doll, and by her passionate attachment to the fruit of her womb already from the first beginning spoil her child.

It can also be otherwise, and, God be praised, among those who confess the Lord it frequently is otherwise.

A mother can also elevate and ennoble what in her nature is common with the animal. With moral insight and tact she can take this trait of nature as starting point to love her child in the faith. For God’s sake and from an inner sense of duty she can devote herself to her children. And, putting aside all maternal vanity and passion, she can so direct and train her child already in those first beginnings of life, as bears evidence of the rule of higher aim.

Then the mother sees in her infant not merely the fruit of her womb, but far more a little creature who by His wondrous power has been called into being, and by Him, the Father of spirits, has wondrously been embroidered in her womb.

Then in that young infant she sees not merely a bundle of soft and tender flesh, but a little human being in which hides a soul, perchance one of God’s elect, and therefore loved of God as the apple of His eye.

Then there is prayer for that infant before she sees it with her eye. Already during her carriage she avoids everything that can be of injury to her child. She struggles through her birth throes holding herself fast to the God of her life, that if possible she might bring forth her little one. After the birth there is thanksgiving and making great God’s glorious name. As soon as circumstances permit, she seeks baptism for her darling. The urge of her soul and the desire of her hearts is that her child may bear the seal of the covenant. And she prays, not merely that God will spare her darling, but rather, that He may impart wisdom unto her to show her child that real, that substantial, that glorious love whereby from the very beginning she may convey not merely impressions, butgood impressions to her little one.

And so real mother-love far excels the love of the mother-hen for her chickens.

There is indeed a common point of departure, but what the mother-hen lacks, the human mother shows that she possesses, even a higher, a nobler, a holier love, which what nature merely began, in and through grace makes perfect.

And when finally it is asked whether in Christian circles this higher, this nobler, this sanctified love bears rule, then there is truly cause for thanksgiving, but no less for complaint, and the reason of this backwardness for no small part is found with the mother of years, who gives her daughters in marriage without having prepared them sufficiently for their task of life to come.

This is mostly left to take care of itself. It is thought that after marriage, with the child, true mother-love will come of itself. Training, direction, warning is here at least thought superfluous.

And then this very thing avenges itself.

The young mother is then presently so altogether infatuated and charmed by her first mother-wealth, that she can think of nothing else, and almost will-less abandons herself to the impulse and passion of mother-love, and excludes from this her faith and her high calling.

This, too, will become different and better.

When presently holy baptism will resume its place of honor in our midst, from this holy sacrament the spiritual call will go forth that will impart to mother-love in our midst another, a higher, a holier character.

Not to say: “My child that I have borne,” but the testimony: “A little creature of God, which I have received from Him, and which must be consecrated to Him,” shall obtain the higher keynote.

And God, whose is the blessing of children, shall become great again in the mother-heart.