Tweet (The article below is taken from a periodical first published in 1896, found at Google Books.)
Ninth Month 19, 1896, The Friend P. 69-70
The following extracts are taken from a lecture of Charles G. Finney, President of Oberlin College, Ohio, from 1852 to 1866. The lecture treats upon "Conformity to the World," in business, fashion and politics. A part of the same, in regard to fashion, I will copy for the columns of The Friend:
"Objection 1st. 'Is it best for Christians to be singular?'
"Certainly. Christians are bound to be singular. Christ says, 'I have chosen you out of the world' (John xv: 19). They are called to be a peculiar people—that is, a singular people, essentially different from the rest of mankind. To maintain that we are not to be singular, is the same as to maintain that we are to be conformed to the world.
"'Be not singular,' that is, be like the world. In other words, 'Be ye conformed to the world.' This is the direct opposite to the command in the text. But the question now regards fashion in dress, equipage and so on. And here I will confess that I was formerly, myself, in error. I believed and taught that the best way for Christians to pursue was to dress so as not to be noticed, to follow the fashions and changes so as not to appear singular, and that nobody would be led to think of their being different from others in these particulars. But I have seen my error, and now wonder greatly at my former blindness. It is your duty to dress so plain as to show to the world that you place no sort of reliance in the things of fashion and set no value at all on them, but despise and neglect them altogether. But unless you are singular, unless you separate yourselves from the fashions of the world, you show that you do value them. There is no way in which you can bear a proper testimony by your lives against the fashions of the world but by dressing plain. I do not mean that you should study singularity, but that you should consult God's word and your own convenience and economy, though it may be singular.
"Objection 2nd. 'But if we dress plain, the attention of people will be taken with it.'
"The reason of it is this: So few do it that it is a novelty, and everybody stares when they see a professing Christian so strict as to disregard the fashions. Let them all do it, and the only thing you show by it is that you are a Christian, and do not wish to be confounded with the ungodly. Would it not tell on the pride of the world if all the Christians in it were united in bearing a practical testimony against its vain show? But dress to please God yourself, whether others do or not.
"Objection 3rd. 'But in this way you carry religion too far away from the world.'
"The direct reverse of this is true. The nearer you bring the Church to the world, the more you annihilate the reason that ought to stand out in view of the world, for their changing sides and coming over to the Church. Unless you go right out from them, and show that you are not of them in any respect, and carry the Church so far as to have a broad interval between saints and sinners, how can you make the ungodly feel that so great a change is necessary? But this change which is necessary is a change of heart. True; but will not a change of heart produce a change of life?
"Objection 4th. 'You will throw obstacles in the way of persons becoming Christians. Many respectable people will become disgusted with religion, and if they cannot be allowed to dress well and be Christians, they will take to the world altogether.'
"This is just about as reasonable as it would be for a temperance man to think he must get drunk now and then, to avoid disgusting the intemperate and to retain his influence over them. The truth is, that persons ought to know, and ought to see in the lives of professing Christians, that if they embrace religion they must be weaned from the world, and must give up the love of the world and its pride and show aud folly, and live a holy life, in watchfulness and self-denial and active benevolence.
"Objection 5th. 'Is it not better for us to disregard this altogether, and not pay any attention to such little things and let them take their course; let the milliner and mantua-maker do as they please, and follow the usages of the society in which we live and the circle in which we move?'
"Is this the way to show contempt for the fashions of the world? Do people ordinarily take this course of showing contempt for a thing, to practice it! Why, the way to show your abhorrence of the world is to follow along in the customs and the fashions of the world? Precious reasoning this!
"Objection 6th. 'No matter how we dress, if our hearts are right.'
"Your heart right! Then your heart may be right when your conduct is all wrong. Just as well might the profane swearer say,'No matter what words I speak, if my heart is right.' No; your heart is not right, unless your conduct is right. What is outward conduct but the acting out of the heart? If your heart was right you would not wish to follow the fashions of the world.
"Objection 7th. 'What is the standard of dress? I do not see the use of all your preaching and laying down rules about the plain dress, unless you give us a standard?'
"This is a mighty stumbling-block with many, but to my mind the matter is extremely simple. The whole can be comprised in two simple rules. One is: Be sure, in all your equipage and dress and furniture, to show that you have no fellowship with the designs and principles of those who are aiming to set off themselves and to gain the applause of men. The other is: Let economy be first consulted, and then convenience. Follow Christian economy—that is, save all you can for Christ's service—and then let things be as convenient as Christian economy will admit.
"Objection 8th. 'Would you have us all turn Quakers or Methodists?'
"Who does not know that the plain dress of the Quakers has won for them the respect of all the thinking part of the ungodly in the community? And if all Christians would imitate them in their plain dress (I do not mean the precise cut and fashion of tbeir dress, but in a plain dress, throwing contempt upon the fashions of the world), who can doubt that they would have a far greater influence over the world for their good? Who does not know that the Methodists, when they were noted for their plain dress and for renouncing the fashions and show of the world, used to have power with God in prayer, and that they had the universal respect of the world as sincere Christians? And who does not know that since they have laid aside this peculiarity and conformed to the world in dress and other things, and seemed to be trying to lift themselves up as a denomination and gain influence with the world, they are losing the power of prayer? Would to God they had never thrown down this wall! It was one of the leading excellencies of Wesley's system to have his followers distinguished from others by a plain dress.
"Objection 9th. 'But if we dress so we shall be called fanatics.'
"Whatever the ungodly may call you, fanatics, Methodists or anything, you will be known as Christians, and in the secret consciences of men will be acknowledged as such. It is not in the power of unbelievers to pour contempt on a holy Church, that is separated from the world. How was it with the early Christians? They lived separate from the world, and it made such an impression that even infidel writers say of them, ' These men win the hearts of the mass of the people, because they give themselves up to deeds of charity and pour contempt on the world.'
"Objection 10th. 'We may be proud of a plain dress, as well as of a fashionable one?'
"Possibly some may be, but it is neither natural nor common for man to be proud of that which brings contempt from the mass around him. If there is danger here, it is a danger that has not once been pointed out in the Scriptures. But it is always the policy of the devil to make men believe 'there is a lion in the way' that leads to life everlasting, so as to frighten men from it, if possible, and have them take the broad way. Men are not very likely to become proud in sincerely trying to escape pride. Is it not time for something to be done? Is it not time that the Church struck out a path that should not be conformed to the world, but should be according to the example and Spirit of Christ? You profess that you want to have sinners converted. But what avails it if they sink right back again into conformity with the world by joining you? Brethren, I confess I am filled with pain, in view of the conduct of the Church! . . . . Where shall I look, where shall the Lord look, for a Church like the first Church, that will come out from the world and be separate, and give themselves up to serve God? Oh, if this Church would do so! But it is of little use to make Christians, if they are not better. Do not understand me as saying that the converts made in our revivals are spurious. But they live so as to be a disgrace to religion. They are so stumbled by old professors that many of them do more hurt than good. The more there are of them, the more occasion infidelity seems to find for her jeers and scoffs.
"Now, do you believe that God commands you not to be conformed to the world? Do you believe it? And dare you obey it, let people say what they will about you? Dare you now separate yourself from the world, and never again be controlled by its maxims, and never again copy its practices, and never again be whiffled here and there by its fashions? I know a man that lives so. I could mention his name. He pays no attention to the customs of the world in this respect, and what is the result? Wherever that man goes he leaves the impression behind him that he is a Christian. Oh, if one church would do so, and would engage in it with all the energy that men of the world engage in their business, they would turn the world upside down.
"Will you do so? Will you break off from the world now, and enter into covenant with God, and declare that you will dare to be singular enough to be separate from the world, and from this time set your faces as a flint to obey God, let the world say what they will? Dare you do it? Will you do it?"Pasadena, Eighth Month 10th, 1896.