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.
In His faithful Father-care, that extends to the whole of our human life, God the Lord has not deemed it beneath His divine majesty, in His holy Word, to express Himself even with respect to hospitality.
To God’s child nothing happens outside of holy ordinances, and he who fears God will, even in this matter of hospitality, allow himself to be led not by impulse and whim, but by the ordinances of God.
At once be it observed that now the holy duty of hospitality demands less from us than in the days of patriarchs and apostles.
In patriarchical times, when they who had been called of the Lord still dwelt in tents, the holy duty of hospitality required that, at the close of day, one call in, refresh, and lodge every traveler that passed by his tent.
This had to be so and could not be otherwise, because a human being created after God’s image must not be left like an animal to spend the night in the open.
Without this sacred duty of hospitality a traveler in those days would have perished from thirst or by night have become a prey to wild animals.
Such hospitality, which was incumbent upon every one to offer, was then indispensable to intercourse among people and to the maintenance of human society.
In the appearance at Mamre, Jehovah Himself has sanctified this bounden duty in the tent of Abraham. And when Eliphaz tried to accuse Job of one of the most dreadful sins, on account of which God’s wrath had come upon him, it was not least in this, that perchance he had dismissed some poor, weary traveler from his door, and had received in his tent the man of position and power (Job 22).
And when the Lord’s people were settled in Canaan, tents of canvas and skins gave place to houses of stone and wood, but the duty of hospitality remained the same.
Even in the days when Jesus was on earth, His twelve disciples went through all the land, and took up their abode with people who were unknown to them.
Yea, our Savior goes so far, that in His striking sermon regarding the last judgment, He puts inhospitality in the foreground as reason of condemnation, saying: “I was hungry and thirsty and a stranger, and ye took me not in, neither gave me to eat nor to drink.”
And thus it was altogether natural that the apostles of the Lord repeatedly bound the duty of hospitality upon the heart of the redeemed of the Lord.
And likewise Peter (I Peter 4:9), when he saw how hospitality began to be a burden to some, emphatically commanded them: “Use hospitality one to another,without grudging.”
Of this sacred duty God’s Word demands that you quit yourself according to the Lord’s will.
“Inasmuch as ye have done this unto one of the least of my brethren” spake your Savior, “ye have done it unto me” (Matt. 25:40).
The world dares to say: “Uninvited guests one puts outside the door,” but in God’s Word it is counted you as sin, when, though you help the stranger along, with anger in your heart you do it grudgingly.
Not only your friends and acquaintances, who can requite you again, but the humble and needy Jesus wants you to invite to your table.
Hospitality must be shown, not because the company of the stranger gives you pleasure, not because presently in turn he will receive you, but because man, created after God’s image, is not to be left to himself, and the brother in Christ must not be neglected.
This is still the case in out-of-the-way places, in villages where there is no inn. This duty still holds good in newly settled places in America, where one travels from homestead to homestead. In our East Indies the single European who lives in a dessah is obliged to open his house to every white man that comes along. Even in some of our villages it repeatedly happens that one does not dare to refuse a peddler a place of rest, at least in the hay-mound.
Yet in all this there is but a faint reflection of what the sacred duty of hospitality once was.
Life and social life of men is so greatly changed, and with it the obligation which hospitality imposes on us.
In two respects, especially, this change is very great.
First, in that now there are on every hand good opportunities to spend the night for money, and then of course you should not burden strangers. Or, where there is opportunity, but one lacks the money, provision can be made, at the cost of the community, or privately by Christian charity.
But what above all brought about so great a change is the rise of the generation of vagabonds and landlopers, in many cases tramps bent upon thievery, who abuse hospitality to perpetrate mischief.
These are they who have desecrated hospitality, and have made its ancient practice almost impossible.
Hence the new form which hospitality gradually assumed, by provision of shelter for wanderers, and by opening of all sorts of institutions and homes where strangers are entertained.
Hospitality in the ancient sense now merely exists among relatives, friends, and acquaintances, and, provided they have letters of introduction, among brethren in Christ.
Yet the apostolic admonition to be given to hospitality has even in our days in nowise lost its force.
Does not every one in his own circle know these two kinds of households, one of which lock their doors upon themselves, and the others that are known for generous hospitality?
On one hand, a father or mother who never concern themselves about the homeless and the helpless, and on the other hand men and women who are constantly alert to help the desolate and the wandering.
Here is a household where a Christian brother who has lost the way never knocks in vain, and next door to it a household in which they know no further care than for themselves and their own.
Again on one hand, households where the note of hospitality ever sounds a welcome, and others that retire within themselves, and care not for what moves outside of their narrow circle.
Generous and friendly one; reserved and almost repellent the other.
On one side a self-sufficiency that affects you coldly and uncomfortably, sometimes exhaling the odor of selfishness; and on the other a captivating, cordial, and enticing approach that warms your heart by the warmth of the heart, that goes out toward you.
Between these two lies all the broad difference, whether the spirit of hospitality is upon us, or whether we do not count with this holy ordinance of our God.
Truly, the rights of individual home-life come first.
There is first marriage, the household, husband, wife, children, servants. This is the starting point. There must first be a household, before it can offer generous and hospitable shelter to those who stand without.
There is order in the ordinances of God, and after this order the household comes first, and after that in the household the stranger.
And bitter have been the results when one had always strangers about, and always spent oneself on strangers, until at length one could no longer get along without them, and had no social life without them, even at the price of neglecting one’s own wife and children.
A family-life that seeks to develop a rich social life within its own bosom is indispensable for the formation of heart and character. Only in such families flourishes tenderly Christian faith and Christian love. Yea, in such a family only does the stranger feel himself truly happy.
Only, this flourishing of happiness in one’s own home must not degenerate into incapacity for general fellowship, into cold indifference to what goes on outside, into withdrawal of oneself from society, and into making little islands of life without a bridge that links them.
Where such becomes the case the spirit of narrow-heartedness creeps in, which overestimates everything that belongs to one’s own home and hearth, which with disgust and envy spies what others do and not do, and surliness that repels rather than generosity that invites and attracts is made the rule of life.
Especially among Christians with holy seriousness such an evil spirit must be excluded.
This exclusive, repulsive, and self-sufficient spirit is the direct opposite of the spirit of hospitality, and curses God’s holy ordinance.
Sin separates and closes up the heart, but the Spirit of the Lord opens the heart wide, and makes the warm glow of uniting, of brotherly love, go out toward you.