Practical Christian Theology
Guest Writer Thomas DeWitt Talmage
“And brought him to an inn, and took care of him. And on the morrow when he departed, he took out two pence, gave them to the host, and said to him, Take care of him; and whatever more you spend, when I come again, I will repay you” (Luke 10:34, 35).
Our text comes from the Parable of the Good Samaritan, who paid the hotel bill of a man who had been robbed and almost killed by bandits. The Good Samaritan had found the unfortunate victim on a lonely, rocky road, where, to this day, thieves still attack travelers. He lifted the injured man into his saddle, walked alongside the animal to the hotel, and had the wounded man carried to a room where he could be cared for.
It must have been a better hotel, for a penny was then a day’s wages; two pennies, two days’ wages—in our country, $4 or $5 a day. Moreover, the landlord must have been one of those kind-hearted souls wrapped up in the happiness of his guests, for the Good Samaritan left the poor wounded fellow to his exclusive care, promising that when he came that way again he would pay all the bills until the invalid recovered.
THE PURPOSE OF HOTELS
Hotels and boardinghouses are modern necessities. In ancient times they were unknown, because the world had comparatively few inhabitants, persons were not much given to travel, and private hospitality met all the wants of sojourners. For example, Abraham rushed out at Mamre to invite the three men to sit down to a dinner of veal (Genesis 18:1-8). God commanded the people to observe hospitality. In many places in the East these ancient customs are practiced even today.
Nowadays, in the West, we have hotels presided over by good landlords, and boardinghouses presided over by excellent hosts or hostesses; and we congratulate ourselves that hotels and boardinghouses of our land surpass those of other lands. These facilities sometimes become the permanent residences of those who are without families, those whose business keeps them on the move, or those who, for various reasons of health or peculiarity of circumstances, do not set up housekeeping.
Many a man falling sick in one of these boardinghouses or hotels has been kindly watched and nursed. The lady at the head of such a house has done all that a mother could do for a sick child, and the slumberless eye of God sees and appreciates her sacrifices in behalf of the stranger.
Among the most marvelous cases of patience and Christian fidelity are many of those who keep boardinghouses, enduring without resentment the unreasonable demands of their guests for expensive food and attentions for which they are unwilling to pay an equivalent—a lot of cranky men and women who are not worthy to tie the shoe of their queenly caterer! The outrageous way boarders sometimes act to their landlords and landladies show how ill-bred and unrefined they are, while, by contrast, those who keep hotels and boardinghouses are some of the most princely men and elegant women I know of today.
But one evil of this day is the fact that a large population of our towns and cities have given up their homes and taken apartments, that they may have more freedom from domestic duties, more time for social life, and because they like the busy whirl of activity more than the quiet and privacy of a residence. The lawful use of these hotels and boardinghouses is for transients: travelers. As a terminus they are, in many cases, demoralizing.
INVASION OF PRIVACY
In these public houses boarders run daily the gauntlet of general inspection—how they look when they come down in the morning and when they get in at night, what they do for a living, whom they receive as guests in their rooms, what they wear, what they do not wear, how they eat, what they eat, how much they eat, and how little they eat. If a man proposes in such a place to be isolated, reticent, and alone, others in the house will begin to guess about him: Who is he? Where did he come from? How long is he going to stay? Has he paid his board? How much does he pay? Perhaps he has committed some crime and does not want it to be known. There must be something wrong about him, or he would speak.
The whole house goes into the detective business. They must find out about him. They must find out about him right away. If he leaves his door unlocked by accident, he will find that his rooms have been inspected, his trunk explored, his letters folded differently from the way they were folded when he put them away. Who is he? The simple fact is that he is nobody in particular, he just minds his own business.
The best landlords and landladies cannot sometimes hinder their places from becoming a pandemonium of whispers. Reputations are torn to tatters. Evil suspicions are aroused, scandals started, and the parliament of the family is blown to atoms by some Guy Fawkes who was not caught in time, as was his English predecessor.
While in private homes families have much to keep them busy, in these promiscuous and densely-occupied residences many have nothing to do and, therefore, are continually creating mischief. They gather in one another’s rooms and spend hours discussing others. If they had to walk a half-mile before they got to a willing listening ear, they would get out of breath before reaching there, not feel in full glow of animosity or slander, or might, because of the distance, not go at all. But Rooms 20, 21, 22, 23, 24 and 25 are on the same corridor; and when one carrion crow goes “Caw! Caw!” all the other crows hear it and flock together over the same carcass.
“Oh, I have heard something rich! Sit down and let me tell you all about it.”
The first guffaw increases the gathering, and it has to be told all over again; and as they separate, each carries a spark from the altar of Gab to another circle, until from the coal-heaver in the cellar to the maid in the top room of the garret, all are aware of the defamation. That evening all who leave the house will bear it to other houses, until autumnal fires sweeping across Illinois prairies are less raging and swift than that flame of consuming reputation blazing across the village or city.
Those of us who were brought up in the country know that the old-fashioned hatching of eggs in the hay-mow required four or five weeks of brooding, but there are new modes of hatching by machinery that take less time and do the work in wholesale. So, while the private home may brood into life an occasional falsity, and take a long time to do it, many of the boardinghouses and family hotels afford a swifter and vaster style of moral incubation. One old gossip will get off the nest after one hour’s brooding, clucking a flock of thirty lies after her, each one picking up its little worm of juicy amusement.
It is no advantage to hear too much about your neighbors, for your time will be so much occupied in taking care of their faults that you will have no time to look after your own! And while you are pulling the chickweed out of their garden, yours will get all overgrown with horse-sorrel and mullen stalks!
CHRISTIAN NURTURE OF CHILDREN
One of the worst damages that comes from the herding of so many people into boardinghouses and family hotels is inflicted on children. It is only another way of bringing them up on the commons. While you have your own private house you can, for the most part, control their companionship and their whereabouts; but by twelve years of age in these public resorts they will have picked up all the bad things that can be furnished by the prurient minds of dozens of persons. The children will overhear blasphemies, and quarrels, and become precocious in sin, and what the bartender does not tell them, the porter, the hostler, or the bellboy will.
Beside that, the children will go out into this world without the restraining, anchoring, steadying, and all-controlling memory of a home. From that none of us who have been blessed of such memory have escaped. It grips a man for eighty years, if he lives so long. It pulls him back from doors into which he otherwise would enter. It smites him with contrition in the middle of his dissipations.
As the fish surrounded by the long, wide net swim out to sea, thinking they can go as far as they please, and with toss of silvery scale defy the sportsman on the beach, still yet they are circumscribed. After a while the fishermen begins to draw in the net, hand over hand, and hand over hand, and it is a long while before the captured fins begin to feel the net. Then they dart this way and that, hoping to get out, but find themselves approaching the shore, and are brought up to the very feet of the captors.
So the memory of an early home sometimes seems to relax and let men out farther and farther from God and farther and farther from shore—five years, ten years, twenty years, thirty years. But someday they find an irresistible mesh drawing them back, and they are compelled to retreat from their wandering. Though they make desperate effort to escape the impression, and try to dive deeper down in sin, after a while they are brought clear back and held on the Rock of Ages.
If it be possible, O Father and Mother, let your sons and daughters go out into the world under the semi-omnipotent memory of a good, pure home! About your two or three rooms in a boardinghouse or a family hotel you can cast no such glorious sanctity. They will think of these public houses as an early stopping place, malodorous with old victuals, coffees perpetually steaming, and meats in everlasting stew or broil, the air surcharged with carbonic acid, and corridors along which drunken boarders come staggering at one o’clock in the morning, rapping at the door till the affrighted wife lets them in. Do not be guilty of the sacrilege or blasphemy of calling such a place a home.
A REAL HOME
A home is four walls enclosing one family with identity of interest, and a privacy from outside inspection so complete that it is a world in itself, no one entering except by permission—bolted, barred, and chained against all outside inquisitiveness. The phrase so often used in law books and legal circles is mightily suggestive—”a man’s home is his castle” (English Proverb). As much so as though it had drawbridge, portcullis [gate], redoubt [trench], bastion [bay], and armed turret [tower].
Even an officer of the law may not enter to serve a writ except the door is voluntarily opened to him. Burglary, or the invasion of it, is a crime so offensive that the law clashes its iron jaws on anyone who attempts it. Therefore, unless it is necessary to stay for longer or shorter time in family hotel or boardinghouse—and there are thousands of instances in which it is necessary, as I showed you at the beginning—let neither wife nor husband consent to such permanent residence.
The probability is that in such a place the wife will have to divide her husband’s time with public smoking or reading room, or with some coquettish spider in search of unwary flies. If you do not entirely lose your husband, it will be because he is divinely protected from the disasters that have overwhelmed thousands of husbands as well-intentioned as yours.
Neither should the husband, without imperative reason, consent to such a life unless he is sure his wife can withstand the temptation of social dissipation that sweeps across such places with the force of the Atlantic Ocean driven by a September equinox. Many wives give up their homes for these public residences so that they may devout their time to operas, theaters, balls, receptions, and levees [teas]; and they are in a perpetual whirl, like a top, spinning round, round, round prettily until it loses its equipoise [balance] and shoots off into a tangent. But the difference is: in one case it is a top; in the other, a soul.
Beside this there is an assiduous [careful] accumulation of little things around the private home that in the aggregate make a great attraction, while the denizen [inhabitant] of one of these public residences is apt to say, “What is the use? I have no place to keep them if I should take them.” Mementoes, bric-a-brac, curiosities, quaint chair or cozy lounge, upholsteries, pictures, and a thousand things that accrete [accumulate] in a home are discarded or neglected because there is no homestead in which to arrange them. And yet they are the case in which the pearl of domestic happiness is set. You can never become as attached to the appointments of a boardinghouse or family hotel as to those things that you can call your own, are associated with the different members of your household, or with scenes of nostalgia in your domestic history.
Blessed is that home in which for a whole lifetime they have been gathering until every figure in the carpet, every panel of the door, and every casement of the window has a chirography [handwriting] of its own, speaking out something about father or mother, or son or daughter, or friend that was with us awhile. What a sacred place it becomes when one can say, “In that room such a one was born; in that bed such a one died; in that chair I sat on the night I heard such a one had received a great public honor; by that stool my child knelt for her last evening prayer; here I sat to greet my son as he came back from a sea voyage; that was Father’s cane; that was Mother’s rocking chair.” What a joyful and pathetic congress of reminiscences!
The public residence of hotel and boardinghouse prohibits the grace of hospitality. Your guest does not want to come to such a table. No one wants to run such a gauntlet of acute and merciless hypercriticism. Unless you have a home of your own, you will be unable to exercise the best rewarded of all the graces: hospitality (cf Romans 12:13; 1 Peter 4:9).
For exercise of this grace what blessing came to Abraham (Genesis 18:1-33) and to Lot (19:1-29), who entertained angels; to Laban, who took in his nephew Jacob (29:1-20); to Rahab, who welcomed the spies (Joshua 2:1-22; 6:17, 25; Ruth 4:18-22; Matthew 1:5); to the widow of Zarephath, who fed Elijah and received a miraculous cruse of oil (1 Kings 17:9-24); to the Shunammite, who entertained Elisha (2 Kings 4:8-37; 8:1-6); to Mary and Martha (Luke 10:38-42; John 11:1-46; 12:1-11) and Zaccheus (Luke 19:1-10), who welcomed Christ into their homes; to Publius, on the island of Melita, who sheltered Paul (Acts 28:7-10); and of innumerable houses throughout Christendom on which have come blessings from generation to generation because their doors swung easily open in the enlarging, ennobling, irradiating, and divine grace of hospitality.
I do not know what your experience has been, but I have had men and women visiting at my house who left a benediction on every room—in the blessing they asked at the table, in the prayer they offered at the family altar, in the good advice they gave the children, in the gospel that looked out from every lineament [feature] of their countenances; and their departure was the sword of bereavement.
The Queen of Norway, Sweden, and Denmark had a royal cup of ten curves, or lips, each one having on it the name of the distinguished person who had drank from it. And that cup we offer to others in Christian hospitality. Though it be of the plainest earthenware, it is a royal cup, and God can read on all its sides the names of those who have taken from it refreshment. But all this is impossible unless you have a home of your own.
It is the delusion as to what is necessary for a home that hinders so many from establishing one. Thirty rooms are not necessary, nor twenty, nor fifteen, nor ten, nor five, nor three. In the right way plant a table, a couch, a knife and fork, a cup, and a chair, and you can raise a young paradise. Just start a home, on however small a scale, and it will grow. When King Cyrus was invited to dine with an humble friend, the king made the one condition of his coming that the only dish be one loaf of bread, and the most imperial satisfactions have sometimes banqueted on the plainest fare.
Do not be caught in the delusion of many thousands in postponing a home until they can have an expensive one. That idea is the devil’s trap that catches men and women innumerable who will never have any home at all. Capitalists of America, build plain homes for the people. Let this tenement-house system, in which hundreds of thousands of the people of our cities are wallowing in the mire, be broken up by small homes, where people can have their own firesides and their own altar. In this great continent there is room enough for every man and woman to have a home. Morals, civilization, and Faith demand it.
We want done all over this land the kind of philanthropy George Peabody, Lady Angela Burdett-Coutts, and some of the large manufacturers of this country have done for the villages and cities, in building small houses at cheap rents, so that the middle classes can have separate homes. They are the only class not provided for. The rich have their palaces, the poor have their poorhouses, the criminals have their jails and prisons; but what about the honest middle classes, who are able and willing to work, and yet have small income?
Let the capitalists, inspired of God and pure patriotism, rise and build whole streets of small residences. The laborer may have, at the close of the day, to walk or ride farther than is desirable to reach it; but when he gets to his destination in the eventide, he will find something worthy of being called by that glorious, impassioned, and heaven-sent word, home.
Young married man, as soon as you can, buy such a place, even if you have to put on it a mortgage§ reaching from base to capstone. The much-abused mortgage, which is ruin to a reckless man, to one prudent and provident is the beginning of a competency and a fortune, for the reason he will not be satisfied until he has paid it off, and all the household are put on short rations until then. Deny yourself all superfluities and all luxuries until you can say, “Everything in this house is mine, thank God!—every timber, every brick, every foot of plumbing, every doorsill.”
Do not have your children born in a boardinghouse, and do not yourself be buried from one. Have a place where your children can shout, sing, and romp without being overhauled for the racket. Have a kitchen where you can do something toward the reformation of evil cooking and the lessening of this nation of dyspeptics. As Napoleon lost one of his great battles by an attack of indigestion, so many men have such a daily wrestle with the food swallowed that they have no strength left for the battle of life. Though your wife may know how to play on all musical instruments, and rival a prima donna, she is not well educated unless she can boil an Irish potato and broil a mutton chop, since the diet sometimes decides the fate of families and nations.
Have a sitting room with at least one easy chair, though you have to take turns sitting in it, books out of the public library or of your own purchase, checkerboards and mind games, with an occasional blind man’s buff, which is, of all games, my favorite. Rouse up your home with all styles of innocent mirth, and gather up in your children’s nature a reservoir of exuberance that will pour down refreshing streams when life gets parched, when the dark days come, when the lights go out, and when the laughter is smothered into a sob.
First, last, and always, have Christ in your home. Julius Cæsar calmed the fears of an affrighted boatman who was rowing him in a stream by stating, “So long as Cæsar is with you in the same boat, no harm can happen.” Whatever storm of adversity, bereavement, or poverty may strike your home, all is well as long as you have Christ the King on board.
Make your home so far-reaching in its influence that down to the last moment of your children’s life you may hold them with a heavenly charm.
At seventy-six years of age the Demosthenes of the American Senate lay dying at Washington—I mean Henry Clay, of Kentucky. His pastor sat at his bedside and the “old man eloquent,” after a long and exciting public life, transatlantic [Europe] and cisatlantic [America], was back again in the scenes of his boyhood, and he kept saying in his dream over and over again, “Mother! Mother! Mother!”
May the parental influence we exert be not only potential but holy, and so the home on earth be the vestibule of our home in heaven, in which place may we all meet—father, mother, son, daughter, brother, sister, grandfather, grandmother, grandchild, and the entire group of precious ones, of whom we must say in the words of transporting Charles Wesley:
One family we dwell in Him,
One church above, beneath;
Though now divided by the stream—
The narrow stream of death;
One army of the living God,
To His command we bow;
Part of the host have crossed the flood,
And part are crossing now. ~Charles Wesley (1759)
“There’s no place like home.” ~John Howard Payne (1822)
Copyright © 2014 Alexandra Lee
Photo Credit: Wedding Rings
* Adapted from “Hotels Versus Home,” Thomas DeWitt Talmage [1832-1902], The Wedding Ring: A Series of Discourses for Husbands and Wives and Those Contemplating Matrimony (New York: Louis Klopsch, 1896). Quotes, scriptural locations, photos, links, emendations added.
§ Talmage bought his house at 1 South Oxford Place, Brooklyn, on time. The contracted price was $35,000. He paid $5,000 down and took out a $30,000 mortgage for the rest.