The Young Lady's Guide to the Harmonious
Development of Christian Character
by Harvey Newcomb, 1843
I am far from considering attention to dress as a matter of so great importance as many attach to it; and it is remarkable that so little is said about it in the Bible, while false systems of religion, as well as enthusiastic or fanatical sects, generally prescribe the form of dress, or vehemently proscribe certain fashions. This is false zeal. Nevertheless, the subject is one of sufficient consequence to be carefully considered, and regulated upon Christian principle.
In the third chapter of Genesis, we learn that the object of dress at first was, to provide a decent covering for the body. It was the shame brought upon man by transgression which made this covering necessary. And it is in consequence of sin that the elements have been turned against him, so as to make clothing a necessary defense 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 natural heart; which leads unrenewed men to seek, by some invention of their own, to save themselves from the consequences of sin. But all their self-righteousness will be no better defense 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, seem well adapted 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 has clothed me with the garments of salvation, he has 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."
The design of clothing, then, is—
1. to furnish a modest covering for the body;
2. to provide a defense against the hostile elements;
3. perhaps to remind us of our spiritual nakedness and exposure to the wrath of God, and our need to be clothed with the righteousness of Christ.
From these ends we ought not to pervert it to the gratification of pride and vanity. But, if you will observe the following things in regard to your apparel, you will probably not go far astray—
1. All that we have is the Lord's.We have nothing but what he has given us; and this we have solemnly promised to employ in his service. We have no right, therefore, needlessly to squander it upon extravagant clothing. The apostle Paul directs women to adorn themselves with modest apparel, and discountenances the wearing of costly ornaments and jewelry. Peter also says that, instead of these, their adorning should be the "hidden person of the heart." The love of finery, or a fondness for mirthful apparel, is contrary to the spirit of these passages; nor is it easy to see how Christians can reconcile so much needless expense as is often lavished upon their dress, 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 poverty and need.
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 clothing, what would have sent the gospel to the destitute, or supplied the needs 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 yourself 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 extravagant modes of dress is, that so much precious time is consumed at the mirror. 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 it is wrong to consume your time needlessly in the adjustment of your apparel.
3. It is duty to pay some regard to personal appearance.A Christian lady, by dressing slovenly, 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, 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—as 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 in the South Sea Islands. The same principles will also apply to 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 so much temptation to the indulgence of pride and vanity, and such a disposition to make dress the means of attracting the attention and seeking the admiration of others, that you have need of constant watchfulness. Pray that you may not be led into temptation in this matter; and especially at those times when you are most in danger.
4. Have a regard to health.Among the means of preserving health, attention to dress is not the least important. Great care should always be taken that it be suited to the season, and a defense 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 use of girdles for the purpose of improving the appearance. 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 distention and compression, from receiving and discharging both the blood and the breath, require the most perfect freedom. But, when the chest is compressed by tight clothing, the vitals are removed from their natural position, the free play of the lungs is prevented, and the whole system of respiration and circulation is deranged. The consequences are, shortness of breath and 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 consequence; 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, which can be regarded in no other light than as a palpable violation of the sixth commandment. Yet, such is the delusive influence of habit, that there is great difficulty, oftentimes, in convincing young ladies that they err in this matter, when the fact appears obvious to all their friends.
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 Christian principle. But, in things indifferent, we are allowed to conform to the customs of society. I do not think there is much danger of excessive plainness of apparel, but there is danger of making so much account of it as to cultivate a self-righteous spirit. As I have already remarked, 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 immodesty; and it does not appear that Christ and the apostles, or the early Christians, adopted any peculiarity of dress. From the description given of the garments distributed among the soldiers, it would appear that our Lord 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; but watch and pray—that you may be secure against all his wiles.
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