Incidents in Travel and Soul Winning – By Elmer & Julia Shelhamer

Chapter 29

How Should Gospel Workers Dress?

The attire of Gospel workers should be particularly exemplary in neatness and plainness.

The reasons for plainness on the part of God’s messengers are many. We give but a few:

1. A Christian worker’s example goes farther than his precept, and how much does it avail for us to denounce worldliness if we ourselves are not plainly dressed?

While abroad, we met many missionaries who, though generally plain, retained the wedding ring, giving as an excuse that it was a proof of marriage! It is worthy of note, however, that the converts of the missionaries retained their heathen bracelets and other jewels, while those converted under the labors of strictly plain workers laid aside the whole outfit of heathendom.

The great Adoniram Judson of India, a Baptist, wrote home to the mission board begging them not to send him any more missionaries who adorned themselves with worldly attire for, he said, the few who had been sent had undone his toil of years among the heathen, who had returned to their old customs.

2. The world expects us to be exemplary. In a wealthy capital city, the pastor of a magnificent stone church invited a lady evangelist to assist him in a revival. Her appeals made little effect upon the stylish audiences. We thought we knew at a glance what was wrong, but felt it would not be kind to hurt the woman’s influence by expressing ourselves too freely. Then since she was preaching to one of the most stylish congregations of the city, we never supposed that they would have spiritual insight enough to know what was wrong.

One day we inquired, of a worldly lady how the meetings were going. Her answer was about as follows:

“Well, Mrs. S., I don’t want to judge, but it does seem to me that a woman in her position should not dress as she does. I may be wrong but really people can’t feel that she is sincere while in that garb.”

And how was she dressed? She wore high heeled shoes, a plain, satin dress with a little jewelry. There was nothing immodest about her except a moderately low neck. Added to this her hair was marcelled.

We were surprised that the aristocratic ladies should consider her too worldly to succeed as an evangelist, but it seems that the Methodist discipline is correct in its statement: “All these things doth God write on truly awakened hearts.” More than this, unawakened hearts can detect in a gospel worker anything worldly or affected. They also know whether or not we have power with God.

3. Ministers are sometimes kept from good circuits because the family is not exemplary in dress. It is indeed sad to see a capable, Spirit-filled man sent to a “dry-bone circuit” when he might have had the very best, if his wife and daughters had dressed as a minister’s family should.

4. Last but not least — those who dress according to Scripture have good company. Phoebe Palmer, Hester Ann Rogers, Susanna Wesley, and many others have trod this way.

Rev. J. B. Chapman, General Superintendent of the Nazarene Church says, “Now and then someone arises to inform us that it is the heart state that counts and that words spent on the dress question are wasted. We are told that plainness of dress does not make one holy and that following the fashions of the world does not make one worldly.

“But even if we grant all that is said on these matters, it still remains that dress is a fine index to the mind and heart. Slothfulness of spirit, coarseness of manners, fastidiousness of taste, and many other inner qualities find their expression in the individual’s dress. In fact the dress may be said to be the advertisement of what is within the heart and mind. It is only fair to the public that we should remove the outside announcements of the old life, when the new life has taken its place within. When the poolroom becomes a grocery store it is proper that the sign without should be changed and made to indicate the new business.”

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Wesley on Dress

“The wearing of gay or costly apparel, naturally tends to breed and to increase vanity. By vanity I here mean the love and desire of being admired and, praised. . . You know in your heart it is with a view of being admired, that you thus adorn yourself and that you would not be at the pains were none to see you but God and His holy angels. You have vanity enough by nature; but by thus indulging it, you increase it a hundred-fold. Aim at pleasing God alone and all these ornaments will drop off.

“Gay and costly apparel directly tends to create and influence lust. I was in doubt whether to name this brutal appetite, but I think it is best to speak out: since the more the word shocks your ear, the more it may arm your heart. The fact is plain and undeniable, it has the effect both on the wearer and beholder. You kindle a flame, which, at the same time consumes both yourself and your admirers and it is well, if it does not plunge both you and them into the flames of hell.

“As you have increased in substance have you not increased in dress? Are you not as fashionably dressed as others of your rank? Do you ask, `But may we not as well buy fashionable things as unfashionable?’ I answer, `Not if they give you a bold, immodest look.'”

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Finney on Dress

“Are you going to walk in the street? Take care how you dress. What is that on your head? What does that gaudy ribbon and those ornaments upon your dress, say to every one that meets you? It makes the impression that. you wish to be thought pretty. Take care! You might just as well write on your clothes, “No truth in religion.” It says, “Give me dress, give me fashion, give me flattery, and I am happy.” The world understands this testimony as you walk the streets. You are “living epistles, known and read of all men.” Only “let the women adorn themselves in modest apparel, with shamefacedness and sobriety, not with broidered hair, or gold, or pearls, or costly array, but (which becometh women professing godliness) with good works;” only let them act consistently, and their conduct will tell on the world, heaven will rejoice, and hell groan at their influence.

“But, oh, let them display vanity, try to be pretty, bow down to the goddess of fashion, fill their ears with ornaments and their fingers with rings. Let them put feathers in their hats and clasps upon their arms and their influence is reversed. Heaven puts on the robes of mourning, and hell may hold a jubilee.

“Oh, how guilty! Perhaps hundreds of souls will meet you in the judgment, and curse you (if they are allowed to speak) for leading them to hell by practically denying the truth of the gospel.”

In conclusion we will give the experience of Frances E. Willard:

“At the age of twenty-seven, in a meeting held by Mrs. Phoebe Palmer, Miss Willard definitely sought and obtained the experience of entire sanctification. She thought her chief besetments had been a speculative mind, a hasty temper, and a purpose to be a celebrated person.” But in that hour of real self-examination, “I felt humiliated that the simple bits of jewelry I wore, gold buttons, rings and pins, all of them plain and quiet in their style, came up to me as the separating causes between my spirit and my Savior. The sense of it remained so strong that I unconditionally yielded my pretty little jewels, and a great peace came into my soul. A conscious emotional presence of Christ held me. I cannot describe the deep welling up of joy that gradually possessed me.”

If you feel led to dress a little plainer than do others do not chafe nor charge God foolishly for He has a reason. Perhaps others are not living so close to God as you and consequently cannot hear His voice, or possibly God wants to intrust you with more of His power than He does them. It is enough to know He speaks.

A little worldliness dulls the keen edge of victory with gospel workers and others, so let us keep on the safe track.