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SermonIndex.net : Christian Books : LETTER XIV. Dress.

A Practical Directory For Young Christian Females by Harvey Newcomb

LETTER XIV. Dress.

|In like manner also that women adorn themselves in modest apparel, with shame-facedness, and sobriety; not with broidered hair, or gold, or pearls, or costly array.| -- 1 TIM.2:9.

MY DEAR SISTER:

We are required to do everything to the glory of God. Your first inquiry, then, in relation to dress, must be, |How can I glorify God in my apparel?| I know of no other way than by making it answer just the end for which it was originally designed. In the third chapter of Genesis, we learn that the object of dress, when first instituted, was to provide a decent covering for our bodies. It was the shame brought upon man by transgression which made this covering necessary. And, it is undoubtedly in consequence of sin, that the elements have been turned against him, so as to make clothing a necessary defence against the hostile influence of heat and cold. The immediate discovery of their nakedness, by our first parents, after their disobedience, is probably intended to show the nakedness and shame which sin has brought upon our souls; and the consequent exposure to the hostile elements aptly represents the exposure of the naked soul to the wrath of God. The invention of fig-leaf aprons may perhaps represent the self-righteousness of the carnal heart. Impenitent sinners are always seeking out some invention of their own, by which they expect to be saved from the consequences of sin. But all their self-righteousness will be no better defence against the storms of God's wrath, than fig-leaf aprons against the withering influence of a vertical sun, or the perpetual frosts of the arctic regions. The coats of skin, which the Lord made for our first parents, were perhaps designed to represent the righteousness of Christ, with which he would clothe his people. This opinion appears the more probable, from the common use of this figure, when the righteousness of Christ is spoken of, as imputed to Christians: |He hath clothed me with the garments of salvation, he hath covered me with the robe of righteousness.| |And to her [the church] was granted, that she should be arrayed in fine linen, clean and white; for the linen is the righteousness of the saints.| |For in this we groan, earnestly desiring to be clothed upon with our house which is from heaven; if so be that being clothed, we shall not be found naked. For we that are in this tabernacle do groan, being burdened: not for that we would be unclothed, but clothed upon.| |And being found in him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith.| The real design of clothing, then, may be summed up in the following particulars: 1. A modest covering for our bodies.2. A defence against the hostile elements.3. An acknowledgment of our spiritual nakedness and exposure to the wrath of God; and our need to be clothed with the righteousness of Christ. Whenever we pervert it from these ends, to the gratification of our pride or vanity, we not only do not glorify God therein, but we commit actual sin.

A few things are necessary to be observed, in relation to your apparel: -- 1. All that you have is the Lord's. You have nothing but what he has given you; and this you have solemnly promised to employ in his service. You have no right, therefore, needlessly to squander it upon your person. The apostle Paul, in the text quoted at the commencement of this letter, directs women to adorn themselves with modest apparel; and forbids the wearing of costly ornaments and jewelry. The apostle Peter also repeats the same exhortation. The love of finery displayed by many of the females of our congregations, some of whom are professors of religion, is directly at variance with these passages of Scripture. But, if the Bible had been entirely silent on the subject, I cannot see how Christians could reconcile so much needless expense upon their persons with the spirit of benevolence which the gospel breathes, when so many millions of precious souls are perishing without any knowledge of the only way of salvation, or while so many around them are suffering from penury and want. This is certainly contrary to the spirit of Christ. He who, for our sakes, became poor; who led a life of self-denial, toil, and suffering, that he might relieve distress, and make known the way of salvation, -- could never have needlessly expended upon his person what would have sent the gospel to the destitute, or supplied the wants of poverty. Extravagance in dress is, therefore, obviously inconsistent with the Christian character. But, no precise rule can be laid down in relation to this matter. It must be left to the sober judgment of Christians, and a sanctified conscience will readily discern the bounds of propriety. By asking yourselves two or three questions, whenever you think of purchasing a new article of dress, you may very easily decide upon the path of duty. |Do I need this? Is it necessary for my comfort, or for my decent appearance in society? Can I glorify God in wearing it?|

2. Your time is the Lord's. You have no right to waste it in useless attention to dress. One of the greatest evils of the present extravagant modes of dress is, that so much precious time is consumed at the toilet. I have already shown the value and importance of time, and the obligations of Christians to spend it in the most profitable manner. I need not here advance any new arguments to show that, if you spend any more time than is necessary in the adjustment of your apparel, you sin against God.

3. It is the duty to pay some regard to personal appearance. A Christian lady, by making herself a slattern, brings reproach upon the cause of Christ, instead of glorifying God. The apostle enjoins upon women to adorn themselves with modest apparel. Modesty signifies purity of sentiment and manners. When this idea is applied to dress, it immediately suggests to the mind a neatness, taste, and simplicity of dress, alike opposed both to extravagance and finery, and to negligence and vulgar coarseness. The exercise of a refined taste, in the adaptation and adjustment of apparel, may also be justified by the analogy of nature. Look abroad over the landscape, and see with what exquisite taste God has clothed the flowers of the field. There is a symmetry of proportion, a skilfulness of arrangement, and a fitness and adaptation of colors, which strike the eye with unmingled pleasure. And if God has shown a scrupulous regard to the pleasure of the eye, we may do the same. This opinion is also confirmed by the practical influence of the gospel. This is particularly observable among the poor in our own land. Just in proportion as the religion of Jesus prevails among this class of people, you will see a scrupulous attention to personal appearance. By this, I do not mean the pride of appearance; but a decency, modesty, and propriety, opposed to negligence, coarseness, and vulgarity. But this is more strikingly manifest among those people who have been but recently raised, by the influence of the gospel, from the lowest depths of heathenism. Of this, you will be convinced by examining the history of the missions among the North American Indians, and the South Sea Islands. The same principles will also apply to equipage and household arrangements. Such regard to comfort and decency of appearance as will strike the eye with pleasure, and shed around an air of cheerfulness, doubtless contributes to moral improvement, and is not only authorized, but required, by the spirit of the gospel.

But this is a dangerous point. There is such a tendency in the human mind to mistake gayety and extravagance for neatness and propriety; and so much temptation to the indulgence of pride and vanity, that you have need of constant watchfulness, that in no respect your heart may lead you astray in this matter. You ought to make it a subject of daily prayer.

4. Have a regard to health. The duty of using all proper means for the preservation of health, I have already considered. Among these means, attention to dress is not the least important. Great care should always be taken that it be suited to the season, and a defence against the inclemency of the weather. This is a Christian duty; and any pride of appearance, or carelessness of habit, which leads you to neglect it, is sin. But, above all things, avoid the compression of any part of the body, for the purpose of improving the appearance. This is a most pernicious practice. It is astonishing that intelligent ladies can so blindly follow the mandates of fashion, as to indulge a habit so destructive of comfort and life. There is no part of the system, not even the extremity of a limb, which can suffer violent compression, without interrupting the regular circulation of the blood. But, when this pressure is about the chest, the effect is most destructive. The lungs, subject as they are to alternate distension and compression, from receiving and discharging both the blood and the breath, require the most perfect freedom. But when the chest is so compressed as to prevent the free play of the lungs, the whole system of respiration and circulation is deranged. The consequences are, shortness of breath, faintness, impeded circulation, producing listlessness and languor; and inclination of the blood to the head, producing headache and distressing dizziness. And, if this course is long persisted in, destruction of health is the inevitable conscience; and often the poor deluded victim of a barbarous fashion pays the forfeit of her life. I have heard of many cases of death from this cause; three of which occurred in one family, within the circle of my acquaintance. I need use no argument, then, to convince a Christian lady, that it is her duty to avoid this species of conformity to the world. I can regard it in no other light than a palpable violation of the sixth commandment.

5. Do not make too much of the matter of dress. It is our duty to avoid every species of conformity to the world which requires the sacrifice of religious principle. But, in things indifferent, we are allowed to conform to the customs of society. I do not think there is much danger of observing excessive plainness of apparel; but there is danger of making so much account of it as to cultivate a self-righteous spirit. It is remarkable that in almost every system of false religion, precise forms of dress are prescribed; especially for those who are devoted to what is termed a religious life; whereas, in the Bible, it is left to be regulated by the general principles and spirit of Christianity, with an occasional caution against extravagance; and it does not appear that Christ and the apostles and the early Christians adopted any peculiarity of dress. From the description given of the wardrobe of our Saviour, it is probable that he wore the common dress of a religious teacher. There is such a thing as a pride of singularity; and this is often manifested in the preparation and adjustment of the wardrobe. Satan is ever on the alert, to observe the bent of the mind, and carry it to extremes. Be not ignorant of his devices. Watch and pray, that you enter not into temptation.

Your affectionate Brother.

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