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.
Care for the House
Of the good housewife the Proverb-poet writes that she does not eat “the bread of idleness, for she ever looketh well to the ways of her household” (Prov. 31:27).
There was a time when, especially in our large cities, some housemothers thought that this looking to the ways of her house referred to her care of the marble hall-ways; and when she knew that the spotless flooring glistened with whiteness, as she had overseen the work of her maid, the reading of Proverbs 31:27 gave her quiet self-satisfaction at the thought: “Such a woman who looks to the ways of her house, I am too.”
This took place, even very frequently, in days of petrified piety, when many a housewife became very angry at seeing the least bit of dirt on the polished floor, but had no concern about the baptized maid-servant who had to clean it.
They were evil days, when the marginal readings of our Bible¹ ceased to be read, and the beautiful interpretation of our fathers was forgotten: “The ways of the house here means the whole course of the household life, so that the housewife keeps oversight over her children, over herservants, over the work that each has to do, and looks well to the furniture, and also to the means which her husband allows her.”
This explanation was beautiful and rich, and at the same time made it plain why there is added to it: “and the bread of idleness she does not eat.”
This the woman does who prides herself on the spotlessness of her floors, and for the rest lets her household affairs go as they will.
But this doeth not the woman who literally is busy from early morn till late at night looking after all the interests of life in her house, to watch over and to direct them, and knows the ways of that life to its minutest particulars.
A pious and scholarly expositor added to this:
A good housewife does not remain seated in her chair, as though from the domestic throne to give out orders and instructions, but with her own eye she looks to the ways of her house, i.e., she has her hand in everything, and rules her house not as an officer by orders, but much more as becomes a careful mother, in person.
This does not mean, of course, that she gives no rule and no definite instruction. For where these are wanting, life loses its course. There things go haphazardly and slipshod, and domestic life makes no progress. You see this plainly in those neglected households where one always drudges and is never done, and where endless confusion rather makes the impression as though one was ever on themove, instead of quietly dwelling in one’s house.
Both are necessary. There must be fixed order in the life of the house. And that order must continue because the housewife continually has her eye upon it and is with it. Only then can you say: “She looks to the ways of her house.”
And when you apply this to everything the marginal reading sums up, and to the order in which this is summed up, you need not fear that such a woman will eat the bread of laziness. Rather the question rises, how this delicate woman stands it.
Consider that the order in which the Annotator sums up her activities is not: First the chambers, the furniture, the money, and then the servants and the children. But reversely: first the children, then the servants, and only after that the furniture, money, and chambers.
The children come first. They are the live goods. The pledges entrusted to you of God, who have been baptized into His holy name. And a housewife who leaves her children to the care of a nurse, to a “bonne” or governess, that she herself might go out more freely, can take better care of her furniture, and more uninterruptedly keep at work on her embroidery, will bear her judgment of God because she has neglected her duty as mother.
And though in the days when the marginal readings were put in the Bible there was no social question as yet, even then, in the estimation of our fathers, the servants came before the furniture, chambers, and stairs.
Also servants are live goods, they are human beings, members of the church, baptized persons, and a housewife who does not look to her servants, to care for them and to provide for their body and soul, shows that she does not understand what it means that God has given her human beings in her service, that He has entrusted to her individuals who have a soul to lose.
Also, what is added about “the means which her husband entrusts her with” is not considered by every housewife a matter of sufficient importance. Also money is given of God. This also for His sake may not be carelessly handled. All money is entrusted, and therefore of all money we are accountable to God.
Two things only the Annotator forgot.
The housewife has also first to care for thefriends and guests of the house. Especially in a house with busy ways of life, her task is thereby very comprehensive.
And in addition to this is the husband. He too needs looking after. Not merely in clothing and food, but also in his way of life and formation of his character. And again, a housewife does not understand her calling when she exerts no beneficial influence upon the formation and development of her husband’s character.
Against this pious interpretation of the task of the housemother, the spirit of our age meanwhile more and more opposes itself.
A woman who thus almost loses herself in the ways of her house is scornfully looked down upon as a “housesparrow.” A woman should be vivacious, interesting, especially in social conversation. And, therefore, all this more ordinary life of the household, by way of a small barracks, must be finished by strict orders in the early morning-hour. For the rest it must be handed over to the servants, that the wife may have leisure to read, to play, or to go out, and to develop herself for a higher sphere of life.
According to God’s Word the woman thereby lowers instead of raises herself.
Not as though the “housedrudge” is the scriptural ideal. The sort of characterless women, who sink away in their household affairs and are nothing else than the copy of them, rather diametrically oppose the word of the Proverb-poet.
“To look well to the ways of her house” one must stand above it, occupy a higher viewpoint, and thus in spiritual contact live with that holier world from which direction must come down with respect to the life of the household.
For a woman who fears God, the leading of the ways of her house is a matter of prayer.
For the “housedrudge,” therefore, we make no plea.
But when you ask what is of greater benefit to our people, and what advances the kingdom of God more effectively, whether it is a woman’s life that goes up in much reading, in much visiting, in much going out and for the rest in public “Christian activity”; or the life of a woman who is bent upon being the warm and inspiring center of the domestic circle, upon devoting herself to bringing up the young and developing the older children, upon taking to heart the physical and spiritual well-being of the servants, and upon maintaining from house to house cordial friendly relationships between the families—who, then, hesitates to acknowledge that the last, by far the most interesting, creates the richest, the most noble, womanly existence?
Undoubtedly life out of the house has certain conformableness to duty, but never otherwise than by continually receiving leading and direction from the center of the domestic life.
Everything out of the house that does not touch your heart is abstract and barren. And according to God’s ordinance your heart finds no other fireside from which it can borrow its glow than in the household thought-out of God, worked-out of God, created of God.
Where the household life is sound and healthy, you find people, old and young, who are healthy of heart.
And a people, even as people, never has more real strength, and as a nation can never take a higher standpoint, than when from the warm and inspiring home-life power and glow of enthusiasm stream out also in the veins of national life.
That so many serious-minded folk labor to stem this hand-over-hand increase of life out of the house in society, in coffee- or beer-house, is not because by itself there is evil in such a beer-house. But because by it the elasticity of the home-life suffers loss. And that loss affects injuriously the moral fiber of the rising generation.
As long as the household flourishes, everything is to be hoped. Where the home-life begins to weaken, the worst is to be feared, not merely with respect to your national future, but even for your church-life. And therefore there depends so much more than one can say upon the housewife.
According as she takes her duty seriously or lightly, she actually has in hand the welfare of the family-life, and through the family-life the future of the church and fatherland. And of this she will give account to God.
Account to God for herself, but account also for her daughters, how she has trained them, as women, for the task that awaits them in life, and what mind and spirit she has developed in the female personnel of the house.
In those daughters of the family, provided the mother leads them aright, the good tradition of a former generation can be revived again, and so pass on upon those that come after, to the good of church and fatherland, to the benefit of all that are alive, and to the praise of the name of our God.
But there can also be fostered in those daughters an unhomelike, an anti-homelike, spirit, which as a hereditary cancer enters into our families. And then it will be God who will visit the sins of our duty-ignoring housewives by punishing them in the ways of their children.
¹ The Bible in common use among Reformed believers in the Netherlands in Kuyper’s day had notes (“Annotations”) of explanation and application appended to every verse, by the translators of the “authorized version.” These are the “marginal readings” to which Kuyper refers. —Ed.