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.
If ever there was what might be called a “winged word,” to Cain belongs the drab honor of having brought such an age-defying word across his lips.
Almost all the history of the world lies between him and us, and still it seems as though his evil exclamation: “Am I my brother’s keeper?” translated in many hundreds of languages, ever yet grows in significance, and still more cutting than ever forces an entrance for itself into the inner chamber of our heart.
In that heartless, shocking exclamation, Cain was so offensively honest.
Sin was yet too short a time on earth; it had just come up; it had not yet had time to make itself unrecognizable in its deceptive garb.
As it sprang up in the poisoned heart, so poisonously did it come to the outside in the word.
Applied to one’s neighbor, sin was the disturbance of love, the breaking of the tie, the tearing up of all spiritual coherence.
Abel was there, and Cain was there, and these were two individuals loosely placed alongside of one another. As the mountains of Ebal and Gerizim lay each by itself over against the other, so stood these two men, in the mind of Cain, as two powers over against each other.
Abel did not need to be concerned about him. Why then should he in turn be concerned aboutAbel? Were he to do away with Abel, the chances would stand better for him, Cain. And so he slew the man who stood over against him. And after that murder, being asked where Abel was, Cain carries the evil heart upon his tongue, and recklessly and brutally he puts the counter-inquiry: “Am I my brother’s keeper?”
This question implies radically and plainly the denial that we belong together; the denial of the love that must bind us together; the stopping of the mouth to the voice of the one blood that calls in all that is called man; the unraveling of our whole race upon earth; the triumph of egoism.
And since this struggle of egoism provoked by Satan against the love that God pours out in our hearts returns every day, in every age, and goes on between man and wife, between parents and children, among friends and relatives, between rich and poor, between him who offers wages and draws them, in brief in all the broad field of social life, therefore Cain’s exclamation has lasted through the ages. Therefore either as defense or as accusation, this exclamation has been repeated among people at all times. And even now, as egoism ever lifts its head more boldly, that “Am I my brother’s keeper?” becomes more and more the motto that divides the main streams of our time.
On one hand there is egoism, with its cool calculation, not regarding the brother and aiming only at oneself, and seeing nothing else in man, as slave of wages, except a machine that grew of itself, which is used, and after use is thrown aside.
But on the other hand there is the social power of love, which unites and weaves together; which deems no human suffering foreign to itself; which seeks the brother to devote oneself to him; and which in man, never forgetting God’s creature, is ever mindful of the holy ordinance of God that we should be a guardian angel to our brother, a responsible protector, a brother in all the rich meaning of the word.
With this struggle, however, this strange feature is encountered, that in this brother-protection there is continually, and in all sorts of ways, mention of the more far away brother, while the brother near by is scarcely noticed.
Originally, and in the strict sense, your brother is only he who with you is born from the selfsame father and mother.
From the beginning the brother-bond is adomestic bond.
Your real, your nearby, your full brothers do not live apart from you in the world, but with you under the same roof-tree, sitting down with you at the same table, sharing the same life with you.
And see, while everyone is full of zeal about searching out his brothers among the heathen by missions, and honoring his brothers among his compatriots, and assisting his brothers among the working classes, and comforting his brothers among unfortunates and sufferers, it is as rare as a white raven when, even in preaching, you hear the children of the same family admonished and urged to the practice of brother- and sister-love among themselves.
This is deemed superfluous. This needs no more to be said. This sort of brother-love the family cherishes of itself: It plants itself along by self-sowing. To press this matter were a preachment of what everyone already knows.
And while as bitter fruit of this silence this love among brothers and sisters frequently leaves oh so much to be desired, there is abundant talk of a general, far-reaching, all-embracing brother-love, with never a thought, that though it reaches very far, at the same time it becomes more and more estranged from itself, till what in origin and essence brother-love is, almost no one any longer understands.
Is not this the wrong way?
Between brothers after the blood occurs in Cain and Abel the quarrel of fatal egoism. The saying: “Am I my brother’s keeper?” is meant of a brother after the flesh. Only taken in the relation of blood is the expression “brother” real. In every other realm it is merely metaphoric.
God Himself established the home, and in that home the life that is lived together, there to give rise to the brother-bond, there to have brothers live together, there to cherish brother-love.
In such a household sin first attacked brother-love in its main artery, and the blood of Abel, whom Cain, his brother, murdered, still calls from the ground unto God.
And while thus, not in sound and word but really and truly, brother-love has been instituted of God Himself as a power in the home, in order, when it turns into strife of brothers, from the home to bring curse and judgment upon the world. In our imagined wisdom we are full of talk about all sorts and all degrees of brother love, and meanwhile at the home hearth, where it ought to be fostered and cherished, not to forget, but scarcely ever to reckon with it.
Yet here also God’s ordinances suffer no resistance.
In a land with a people where family-life flourishes, and in that flourishing domestic life the tie also between brothers and sisters strongly draws, from this friendly home-life a binding power of love will go forth upon all society.
While on the contrary, in a land and with a people where home-life languishes, and brothers and sisters suffer life together as a burden, in order as soon as possible to part and to estrange from one another, there also in society at large the bond of love will lose all blessing-dispensing operation, and the whole social system will be dominated by cold egoism.
At least all such parents as have brought their children to Holy Baptism ought to understand the seriousness of their calling to cherish among their children, from the very beginning, in the early stages of self-consciousness, that love of blood, that brotherly attachment and affection.
Not after the evil rule “every one for himself and God for all,” but according to the voice of blood, in which speaks God’s holy ordinance, that even the young child may perceive that he exists and lives with others, for others, and also for the sake of others.
For though it is true that even when training is deficient, blood still draws, and that with serious sickness or in case of loss by death, even in most neglected families this natural brother-love is still wonderfully evident.
Yet over against this stands the fact that actual life continuously menaces that brother-love; that all sorts of interests continuously put brothers and sisters against one another; and that from these seemingly insignificant domestic quarrels between brothers and sisters an impression goes out upon character, which presently bears fruit in envy of heart, in bitter, evil words, sometimes in actual ill-treatment.
Also among brothers and sisters the proverb holds true, that it is not all gold that glitters. And though followers of Christ may pride themselves on a richer home life, yet he deceives himself by accepting semblance, and blindfolds himself to reality, who imagines that in our Christian households the spirit of Cain never entered and brother-anger was never known.
And therefore put aside the idea that brother-love is a planting that cherishes itself and can spare your tender interest.
On the contrary, this tender plant is menaced by many evil insects and poisonous mold; it frequently lacks life-quickening light and cherishing summer-warmth; it threatens so often to wither in summer-drought or to grow numb from cold—that it cannot blossom except it is watched, directed, purified, and protected by a solicitude that never denies itself.
That solicitude is parental duty toward children, but also duty of children among themselves, especially of the older to the younger, of sisters toward their brothers.
Not least this last.
For does not experience teach that in the same family the tie among sisters is far stronger than the tie which ought to unite the brothers?
Comparatively speaking, one hears so much more frequently of brother-anger than the whisper of sister-anger.
This is because sisters are shielded by the home-life, walk less ways of their own, and thereby are less rivals of each other, while their brothers soon go out into the world, and are by nature more disposed to choose paths of their own.
For that reason mutual sister love, and their love toward their brothers, exerts an influence of such inestimable advantage to brother-love in the family.
That in this respect also our young daughters might understand their calling.
Of God’s church we sing: “Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity” (Ps. 133).
But that it might be spiritually true, and God grant that spiritually it might ever become more true, before all things else, the claim remains inviolate, that family-life, from which the spiritual image is taken, should exhibit such dwelling together of the sons of the selfsame family.