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.
Keeping in one’s station
Does the Christian faith condemn all luxury as such? For an answer to this question, compare the ministry of Christ with that of John the Baptist; and see how Jesus Himself pointed to the fact that John refrained even from food and drink, and they said: He hath a devil; while the Son of man came eating and drinking, even in such a manner that they said (Matt. 11:19): “Behold a man gluttonous and a wine-bibber.”
At the marriage at Cana things are by no means provided on a contracted scale. And after the supply of wine is exhausted, Jesus by His wonder-power renews wine in the firkins.
Yea, even the spilling of a bottle of costly nard, to anoint His feet, Judas disapproved. But not Jesus. With someone else it would have been waste. But for Him, and at that moment, it was not.
You should not say, therefore, that they who prefer the method of the Baptist, oppose the Christ; since Scripture teaches that the Baptist did not oppose Jesus, but prepared the way for Him. Also great sobriety, even abstention, can in all sorts of ways be right. Only the idea that all luxury, for everyone and in all circumstances, is censurable and sinful will not do as life’s image of our Savior.
Jesus by no means antagonized all luxury as such; rather has He honored the relative right of luxury by His own example.
Only, by wrong use, the balance can lean toward evil, and then the rich young man goes away weeping, the rich cannot enter the Kingdom of Heaven, and after death poor Lazarus sees the rich man in hell.
Luxury is, oh, so relative.
What is abounding luxury to one is sobriety to another. It all depends upon station and means. Solomon bathed himself day by day in the glitter of an Eastern court-luxury, far more so even than his father David, and who would censure this in a king? Or should not a prince maintain a far different station, and for the sake of the crown he wears, does not splendor and pomp behoove him?
A laborer in the country from his savings may make a feast on his festal day, which to him is uncommonly rich and abundant; but a well-to-do nobleman need not on this account be pleased with it as his daily fare.
God Himself has divided unequally the wealth of His creation. He clothed the birds in their feathery garb, and how simple is that of the sparrow and of the nightingale as compared with the splendor of the golden pheasant. Compare the dun dress of the ass with the striped coat of the tiger.
And so it is among men. Among people there is no equality and there can be none. Everything differs. People from people, station from station, and even in the same social station family from family. Means differ. Positions in life differ. And since the house, dress, and style of living must be the expression of the position one holds and the calling that on the part of God he has to fulfill, there is bound to be a mighty difference in manners of life, so that to one is ordinary sobriety, what would be luxury to another, of which he never even thought.
What rich shepherd-princes the patriarchs Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob were, and how utterly lacking in worldly goods were a Peter, an Andrew, and a James, just fishermen on the shore of Nazareth.
So, you see, luxury has a twofold significance. The one good, the other bad. There is a good luxury, which belongs to one’s station and position. But there is also an evil luxury, which is the result of bad stewardship of one’s goods, fruit of the chase after sensual pleasure and desire after vanity.
This first-named luxury Scripture never condemns; the second always. And from this follows that God’s child shall not despise this first luxury, but will avoid the second as evil and sinful.
This detracts nothing, however, from the fact that in their better days our fathers too maintained a style of their own for a higher walk in life, floored their houses with marble, wore very costly garments, and even spent sometimes large sums on ornaments.
And this should and even must be so, for pearls lie in the stream to be fished up, diamonds are not meant to remain hidden in the sand, wine does not gather in the grape to dry up on the vine, and the silkworm does not spin her silk to have it spoil on the mulberry-tree.
All things created of God have their use. And not only this, but also this of-God-intended standard of luxury is the bread of the workingman and of the artist. In a world of only monks there would be no trades or sales.
To the standard of luxury in the higher walks of life you can even add the luxury of festal days and occasions. When with God’s ancient people it was the feast of tabernacles, every family lived far more luxuriously than at ordinary times. And the age-old custom of Christendom of going out on the Lord’s Day in finer clothes than on week-days continues also among us, Christians of the nineteenth century, to maintain its noble tradition.
But this never condones sinful luxury, i.e., luxury above one’s station, the luxury of sensual delight and unbridled self-indulgence, neither what the apostle calls the “daily luxury” of wantonness (II Pet. 2:13, Dutch version).
That sometimes ambition stirs a man to climb the social ladder a round higher is by itself no sin. Scripture cites again and again cases of men who, from lower walks of life, have been elevated to higher stations. But this ambition must be noble. Not to abuse the rise in station as means for more luxurious living: but the nobler life itself in this higher rank must be the attraction, and the freer life merely the result of it.
He, on the other hand, who lives above his station, shows that vanity and self-indulgence is to him the chief attraction, and that already in advance he reaches out toward this more luxurious life, before by diligence and effort he was able to work himself up to that higher place. He then undermines his own future and that of his family. A sin that sometimes goes so far that one stints his children in necessary food, so that in rich apparel he might attract the greater attention in the street.
Neither let anyone say: “As long as I have the means, I am free to buy what luxuries I please.” For God did not provide these means for you and your family alone. He made you steward over these means so that, among other things, you should remember His church as well, His institutions, His poor, and if possible lay something by against the day of evil.
But luxury becomes far more evil still, even when means increase, when that which makes you pursue it is the sinful motive to live a life of self-indulgence, in your pomp and vanity to please yourself, and to gratify the voluptuary desire that stimulates you.
For then flesh rules spirit, and you have subverted the order of the living God, who has called you and still calls you, by your spirit to govern your fleshly desires and the lust of your eyes.
Then you dishonor your divine childship that, like a child of the world, you might satisfy your cravings.
Then you go away from God, and turn to the paths where Satan awaits you, to entice you and to tempt you.
This our fathers have felt and realized, and for this reason they have insisted especially in daily life upon sobriety, upon soundness of sense and simplicity.
At times they had their feasts, and then they enjoyed the abundance of life with thanksgiving. But ordinarily they purposely applied themselves to quiet simplicity and a sober manner of life. And in that way God the Lord has doubly blessed them. With a blessing after the spirit, by withdrawing them from the enervation of luxury and by steeling their power of will. And no less with a blessing after the body, by as much as nothing is more healthful than a daily life in sobriety and common-sense order.
God’s child has pleasure in God’s law and uses the world. But the godless takes his delight in daily luxury and uses his God to save him from and after death.
And therefore among all God’s children this must serve as rule of life, that each, in accordance with the requirements of his station, in ordinary daily life shall love simplicity and sobriety, and on the other hand find daily luxury for their soul in the hidden walk with their God.
There is a power in the world, which, under the name of fashion or custom, endeavors to make the law for God’s children as to how they shall live. And especially in our days this evil power demands ever yet greater luxury.
So it was at the close of the eighteenth century, and it lasted until the terrible revolution broke out in Paris, and Napoleon was sent out as scourge of the nations. And then that recklessly inflated luxury was done for at once, and even by the higher classes sometimes there was suffered literal want.
But this should not be necessary for God’s child. He has another power by which to resist the tone-giving power of the world. And with the laws of his God he must keep himself free from the slavery of the world.
In us must be found courage, holy, spiritual courage, to ask, not the world, but God, how we are to direct our life, how we shall dress, what we shall eat and drink, and what shall be the proper forms of our recreation.
Even heathen nations have experienced all too bitterly how the spirit of sturdiness that maintained itself so long as luxury remained excluded, at once retreated and ended in ruin when extravagant luxury gained the upper hand.
Also the middle class of the Romans, once by sobriety strong and great, went under when luxury had weakened and unnerved the spirit.
And therefore it is the calling of Christendom in our times to be also in this sense a salt that saves from corruption, that it should not yield to luxury, but resist it by sobriety.
Possessing as not possessing, and in all things stewarding as before the face of the Lord God.