CONFORMITY TO THE WORLD.
Be not conformed to this world. Romans 12:2.
It will be recollected by some who are present, that sometimesince I made use of this text in preaching in this place, butthe object of this evening's discourse is so far different thatit is not improper to employ the same text again. The followingis the order in which I design to discuss the subject of
CONFORMITY TO THE WORLD
I. To show what is not meant by the command of the text. II.Show what is meant by the command, "Be not conformed to thisworld." III. To mention some of the reasons why this requirementis made upon all who will live a godly life. IV. To answer someobjections that are made to the principles laid down.
I. I am to show what is not meant by the requirement, "Benot conformed to this world."
I suppose it is not meant, that Christians should refuse tobenefit by the useful arts, improvements, and discoveries of theworld.It is not only the privilege but the duty of the friendsof God to avail themselves of these, and to use for God all thereally useful arts and improvements that arise among mankind.
II. I am to show what is meant by the requirement.
It is meant that Christians are bound not to conform to theworld in the three following things. I mention only these three,not because there are not many other things in which conformityto the world is forbidden, but because these three classes areall that I have had time to examine tonight, and further, becausethese three are peculiarly necessary to be discussed at the presenttime. The three things are three departments of life, in whichit is required that you be not conformed to this world.
They are BUSINESS, FASHION, POLITICS.
In all these departments it is required that Christians shouldnot do as the world do, they should neither receive the maxims,nor adopt the principles, nor follow the practices of the world.
III. I am to mention some reasons for the command, "Benot conformed to this world."
You are by no means to act on the sme principles, nor fromthe same motives, nor pursue your object in the same manner thatthe world do, either in the pursuits of business, or of fashion,or of politics. I shall examine these several departments separate.
First Of Business. 1. The first reason why we are not to beconformedto this world in business, is, that the principle of the worldsthat of supreme selfishness. This is true universally, in thepursuit of business. The whole course of business in the worldis governed and regulated by the maxims of supreme and unmixedselfishness. It is regulated without the least regard to the commandsof God, or the glory of God, or the welfare of their fellow men.The maxims of business generally current among business men, andthe habits and usages of business men, are all based upon supremeselfishness.
Who does not know, that in making bargains, the business menof the world consult their own interest, and seek their own benefit,and not the benefit of those they deal with? Who has ever heardof a worldly man of business making bargains, and doing businessfor the benefit of those he dealt with? No, it is always for theirown benefit. And are Christians to do so? They are required toact on the very opposite principle to this: "Let no man seekhis own, but every man another's wealth." They are requiredto copy the example of Jesus Christ. Did he ever make bargainsfor his own advantage? And may his followers adopt the principleof the world a principle that contains in it the seeds of hell!If Christians are to do this, is it not the most visionary thingon earth to suppose the world is ever going to be converted tothe gospel.
2. They are required not to conform to the world, because conformityto the world is totally inconsistent with the love of God or man.
The whole system recognizes only the love of self. Go throughall the ranks of business men, from the man that sells candy onthe sidewalk at the corner of the street, to the greatest wholesalemerchant or importer in the United States, andyou will find thatone maxim runs through the whole, to "buy as cheap as youcan, and sell as dear as you can, to look out for number one,"and to do always, as far as the rules of honesty will allow, allthat will advance your own interests, let what will become ofthe interest of others. Ungodly men will not deny that these arethe maxims on which business is done in the world. The man whopursues this course is universally regarded as doing businesson business principles. Now, are these maxims consistent withholiness, with the love of God or the love of man, with the spiritof the gospel or the example of Jesus Christ? Can a man conformto the world in these principles, and yet love God? Impossible!No two things can be more unlike. Then Christians are by no meansto conform to the business maxims of the world.
3. These maxims, and the rules by which business is done inthe world, are directly opposite to the gospel of Jesus Christand the spirit he exhibited, and the maxima he inculcated, andthe rules which he enjoined that all his followers should obey,on pain of hell.
What was the spirit Jesus Christ exemplified on earth? It wasthe spirit of self-denial, of benevolence, of sacrificing himselfto do good to others. He exhibited the same spirit that God does,who enjoys hisinfinite happiness in going out of himself to gratifyhis benevolent heart in doing good to others. This is the religionof the gospel, to be like God, not only doing good, but enjoyingit, joyfully going out of self to do good. This is the gospelmaxim: "it is more blessed to give than to receive."And again, "Look not every man on his own things, but everyman also on the things of others." What says the businessman of the world? "Look out for number one." These verymaxims were made by men who knew and cared no more for the gospel,than the heathen do. Why should Christians conform to such maximsas these?
4. To conform to the world in the pursuits of business is aflat contradiction of the engagements that Christians make whethey enter the church.
What is the engagement that you make when you enter the church?Is it not, to renounce the world and live for God, and to be actuatedby the Spirit of Jesus Christ, and to possess supreme love toGod, and to renounce self, and to give yourself to glorify God,and do good to men? You profess not to love the world, its honors,or its riches. Around the communion table, with your hand on thebroken body of your Savior, you avouch these to be your principles,and pledge yourself to live by these maxims. And then what doyou do? Go away, and follow maxims and rules gotten up by men,whose avowed principle is the love of the world, and whose avowedobject is to get the world? Is this your way? Then, unless yourepent, let me tell you, you will be damned.
It is no more certain, that any infidel, or any profligatewretch, will go to hell, than that all such professing Christianswill go there, which conform to the world. They have double guilt.They are sworn before God to a different course, and when theypursue the business principles of the world, they show that theyare perjured wretches.
5. Conformity to the world is such a manifest contradictionof the principles of the gospel, that sinners when they see it,do not and cannot understand from it the true nature and objectof the gospel itself.
How can they understand that the object of the gospel is toraise men above the love of the world, and above the influenceof the world, and place them on higher ground, to live on totallydifferent principles? When they see professing Christians actingon the same principles with other men, how can they understandthe true principles of the gospel, or know what it means by heavenly-mindedness,self-denial, benevolence, and so on?
6. It is this spirit of conformity to the world, that has alreadyeaten out the love of God from the church.
Show me a young convert, while his heart is warm, and the loveof God glows out from his lips. What does he care for the world?Call up his attention to it, poit him to its riches, its pleasures,or its honors, and try to engage him in their pursuit, and heloathes the thought. But let him now go into business, and dobusiness on the principles of theworld one year, and you no longerfind the love of God glowing in his heart, and his religion hasbecome the religion of conscience, dry, meager, uninfluentialanything but the glowing love of God, moving him to acts of benevolence.I appeal to every man in this house, and if my voice was loudenough I would appeal to every professor of religion in this city,if it is not. And if any one should say, "No, it is not so,"I should regard it as proof that he never knew what it was tofeel she glow of a convert's first love.
7. This conformity to the world in business is one of the greateststumbling-blocks in the way of the conversion of sinners.
What do wicked men think, when they see professing Christians,with such professions on their lips, and pretending to believewhat the Bible teaches, and yet driving after the world, as eageras anybody, making the best bargains, and dealing as hard as themost worldly? What do they think? I can tell you what they say.They say "I do not see but these Christians do just as therest of us do, they act on the same principles, look out as sharpfor number one, drive as hard bargains, and get as high interestas anybody." And it must be said that these are not thingsof which the world accuse Christians slanderously. It is a notoriousfact that most of the members of the church pursue the world,as far as appears, in the same spirit, by the same maxims, andto the same degree, that the ungodly do who maintain a characterfor uprightness and humanity. The world say, "Look at thechurch, I don't see as they are any better than I am; they goto the full length that I do after the world." If professingChristians act on the same principles with worldly men, as theLord liveth, they shall have the same reward. They are set downin God's book of remembrance as black hypocrites, pretending tobethe friends of God while they love the world. For whoso loveththe world is the enemy of God. They profess to be governed byprinciples directly opposite to the world, and if they do thesame things with the world, they are hypocrites.
8. Another reason for the requirement, "Be not conformedto this world," is the immense, salutary and instantaneousinfluence it would have if everybody would do business on theprinciples of the gospel. Just turn the tables over, and let Christiansdo business one year on gospel principles. It would shake theworld. It would ring louder than thunder. Let the ungodly seeprofessing Christians, in every bargain, consulting the good ofthe person they are trading with seeking not their own wealth,but every man another's wealth living above the world settingno value on the world any farther than it can be a means of glorifyingGod. What do you think would be the effect? What effect DID ithave in Jerusalem, when the whole body of Christians gave up theirbusiness, and turned out in a body to pursue the salvation ofthe world? They were only a few ignorant fishermen, and a fewhumble women, but they turned the world upside down. Let thechurchlive so now, and it would cover the world with confusion of face,and overwhelm them with convictions of sin. Only let them seethe church living above the world, and doing business on gospelprinciples, seeking not their own interests but the interestsof their fellow men, and infidelity would hide its head, heresywould be driven from church, and this charming, blessed spiritof love, would go over the world like the waves of the sea.
Secondly. Of Fashions.
Why are Christians required not to follow the fashions of theworld?
1. Because it is directly at war with the spirit of the gospel,and is minding earthly things.
What is minding earthly things, if it is not to follow thefashions of the world, that like a tide are continually settingto and fro, and fluctuating in their forms, and keeping the worldcontinually changing? There re many men of large business in theworld, and men of wealth, who think they care nothing for thefashions. They are occupied with something else, and they trustthe fashions altogether with their tailor, taking it for grantedthat he will make all right. But mind, if he should make a garmentunfashionable, you would see that they do care about the fashions,and they never would employ that tailor again. Still, at presenttheir thoughts are not much on the fashions. They have a higherobject in view. And they think it beneath the dignity of a ministerto preach about fashions. They overlook the fact, that with thegreater part of mankind fashion is everything. The greater partof the community are not rich, and never expect to be, but theylook to the world to enable them to make a "respectable"appearance, and to bring up their families in a "respectable"manner; that is, to "follow the fashions." Nine-tenthsof the population never look at any thing higher, than to do asthe world does, or to follow the fashions. For this they strainevery nerve. And this is what they set their hearts on, and whatthey live for.
The merchant and the rich man deceives himself, therefore,if he supposes that fashion is a little thing. The great bodyof the people mind this, their minds are set upon it, the thingwhich they look for in life is to have their dress, equipage,furniture, and so on, like other people, in the fashion, or "respectable"as they call it.
2. To conform to the world is contrary to their profession.
When people join the church, they profess to give up the spiritthat gives rise to the fashions. They profess to renounce thepomps and vanities of the world, to repent of their pride, tofollow the meek and lowly Savior, to live for God. And now, whatdo they do? You often see professors of religion go to the extremeof the fashion. Nothing will satisfy them that is not in the heightof fashion. And a Christian female dress-maker who is conscientiouslyopposed to the following of fashions, cannot get her brad. Shecannot get employment even among professing Christian ladies,unless she follows the fashions in all their countless changes.God knows it is so, and they must give uptheir business if theirconscience will not permit them to follow the changes of fashion.
3. This conformity is a broad and complete approval of thespirit of the world.
What is it that lies at the bottom of all this shifting scenery?What is the cause that produces all this gaudy show and dash,and display? It is the love of applause. And when Christians followthe changes of fashion, they pronounce all this innocent. Allthis waste of money and time and thought, all this feeding andcherishing of vanity and the love of applause, the church setsher seal to, when he conforms to the world.
4. Nay, further, another reason is, that following the fashionsof the world, professing Christians show that they do in factlove the world.
They show it by their conduct, just as the ungodly show itby the same conduct. As they act alike they give evidence thatthey are actuated by one principle, the love of fashion.
5. When Christian professors do this, they show most clearlythat they love the praise of men.
It is evident that they love admiration and Italy, just assinners do. Is not this inconsistent with Christian principle,to go right into the very things that are set up by the prideand fashion and lust of the ungodly?
6. Conforming to the world in fashion, you show that you donot hold yourself accountable to God for the manner in which youlay out money.
You practically disown your stewardship of the money that isin your possession. By laying out money to gratify your own vanityand lust, you take off the keen edge of that truth, which oughtto cut that sinner in two, who is living to himself. It is practicallydenying that the earth is the Lord's, with the cattle on a thousandhills, and all to be employed for his glory.
7. You show that reputation is your idol.
When the cry comes to your ears on every wind, from the ignorantand he lost of all nations, "Come over and help us, comeover and help us," and every week brings some call to sendthe gospel, to send tracts, and Bibles, and missionaries, to thosewho are perishing for lack of knowledge, if you choose to expendmoney in following the fashions, it is demonstration that reputationis your idol. Suppose now, for the sake of argument that it isnot prohibited in the word of God, to follow the fashions, andthat professing Christians, if they will, may innocently followthe fashions: (I deny that it is innocent, but suppose it were,)does not the fact that they do follow them when there are suchcalls for money, and time, and thought, and labor to save souls,prove conclusively that they do not love God nor the souls ofmen?
Take the case of a woman, whose husband is in slavery, andshe is trying to raise money enough for his redemption. Thereshe is, toiling and saving, rising up early and sitting up late,and eating the bread of carefulness, because her husband, thefather of her children, the friend of her youth, is in slavery.Now go to that woman and tell her that it is innocent for herto follow the fashions, and dress, and displaylike her neighborswill she do it? Why not? She does not desire to do it. She willscarcely buy a pair of shoes for her feet; she grudges almostthe bread she eats so intent is she on her great object.
Now suppose a person loved God, and the souls of men, and thekingdom of Christ, does he need an express prohibition from Godto prevent him from spending his money and his life in followingthe fashion? No, indeed, he will rather need a positive injunctionto take what is needful for his own comfort and the support ofhis own life. Take the case of Timothy.
Did he need a prohibition to prevent him from indulging inthe use of wine? So far from it, he was so cautious that it requiredan express injunction from God to make him drink a little as amedicine. Although he was sick, he would not drink it till hehad the word of God for it, he saw the vils of it so clearly.Now, show me a man or woman, I care not what their professionsare, that follows the fashions of the world, and I will show youwhat spirit they are of.
When the cry comes to your ears on every wind, from the ignorantand the lost of all nations, "Come over and help us, comeover and help us," and every week brings some call to sendthe gospel, to send tracts, and Bibles, and missionaries, to thosewho are perishing for lack of knowledge, if you choose to expendmoney in following the fashions, it is demonstration that reputationis your idol. Suppose now, for the sake of argument that it isnot prohibited in the word of God, to follow the fashions, andthat professing Christians, if they will, may innocently followthe fashions: (I deny that it is innocent, but suppose it were,)does not the fact that they do follow them when there are suchcalls for money, and time, and thought, and labor to save souls,prove conclusively that they do not love God nor the souls ofmen?
Take the case of a woman, whose husband is in slavery, andshe is trying to raise money enough for his redemption. Thereshe is, toiling and saving, rising up early and sitting up late,and eating the bread of carefulness, because her husband, thefather of her children, the friend of her youth, is in slavery.Now go to that woman and tell her that it is innocent for herto follow the fashions, and dress, and display like her neighborswill she do it? Why not? She does not desire to do it. She willscarcely buy a pair of shoes for her feet; she grudges almostthe bread she eats so intent is she on her great object.
Now suppose a person loved God, and the souls of men, and thekingdom of Christ, does he need an express prohibition from Godto prevent him from spending his money and his life in followingthe fashion? No, indeed, he will rather need a positive injunctionto take what is needful for his own comfort and the support ofhis own life. Take the case of Timothy. Did he need a prohibitionto prevent him from induling in the use of wine? So far from it,he was so cautious that it required an express injunction fromGod to make him drink alittle as a medicine. Although he was sick,he would not drink it till he had the word of God for it, he sawthe evils of it so clearly. Now, show me a man or woman, I carenot what their professions are, that follows the fashions of theworld, and I will show you what spirit they are of.
You tempt yourself to pride and folly and a worldly spirit.
Suppose a man that had been intemperate and was reformed, shouldgo and surround himself with wine and brandy and every seductiveliquor, keeping the provocative of appetite always under his eye,and from time to time tasting a little; does he not tempt himself?Now see that woman that has been brought up in the spirit of prideand show, and that has been reformed, and has professed to abandonthem all; let her keep these trappings, and continue to followthe fashions, and pride will drag her backwards as sure as shelives. She tempts herself to sin and folly.
12. You are tempting the world.
You are setting the world into a more fierce and hot pursuitof these things. The very things that the world love, and thatthey are sure to have scruples about their being right, professingChristians fall in with and follow, and thus tempt the world tocontinue in the pursuit of what will destroy their souls in hell.
13. By following the fashions, you are tempting the devil totempt you.
When you follow the fashions, you open your heart to him. Youkeep it for him, empty, swept, and garnished. Every woman thatsuffers herself to follow the fashions may rely upon it, she ishelping Satan to tempt her to pride and sin.
14. You lay a great stumbling block before the greatest partof mankind.
There are a few persons who are pursuing greater objects thanfashion. They are engaged in the scramble for political power,or they are eager for literary distinction, or they are strivingfor wealth. And they do not know that their hearts are set onfashion at ll. They are following selfishness on a larger scale.But the great mass of the community are influenced mostly by thesefluctuating fashions. To this class of persons it is a great andsore stumbling block, when they see professing Christians justas prompt and as eager to follow the changing of fashion as themselves.They see, and say, "What does their profession amount to,when they follow the fashions as much as anybody?" or "Certainlyit is right to follow the fashions, for see the professing Christiansdo it as much as we."
15. Another reason why professing Christians are required notto be conformed to the world in fashion is, the great influencetheir disregarding fashion would have on the world.
If professing Christians would show their contempt for thesethings, and not pretend to follow them, or regard them, how itwould shame the world, and convince the world that they were livingfor another object, for God and for eternity! How irresistibleit would be! What an overwhelming testimony in favor of our religion!Even the apparent renunciation of the world, by many orders ofmonks, has doubtlessdone more than anything else to put down theopposition to their religion, and give it currency and influencein the world. Now suppose all this was hearty and sincere, andcoupled with all that is consistent and lovely in Christian character,and all that is zealous and bold in labors for the conversionof the world from sin to holiness. What an influence it wouldhave! What thunders it would pour into the ears of the world,to wake them up to follow after God!
Thirdly. In Politics.
I will show why professing Christians are required not to beconformed to the world in politics.
1. Because the politics of the world are perfectly dishonest.
Who does not know this? Who does not know that it is the proposedpolicy of every party to cover up the defects of their own candidate,and the good qualities of the opposing candidate? And is not thisdishonest? Every party holds up its candidate as a piece of perfecion,and then aims to ride himself into office by any means, fair orfoul. No man can be an honest man, that is committed to a party,to go with them, let them do what they may. And can a Christiando it, and keep a conscience void of offense?
2. To conform to the world in politics is to tempt God.
By falling in with the world in politics, Christians are guiltyof setting up rulers over them by their own vote, who do not fearnor love God, and who set the law of God at defiance, break theSabbath, and gamble, and commit adultery, and fight duels, andswear profanely, and leave the laws unexecuted at their pleasure,and that care not for the weal or woe of their country, so longas they can keep their office. I say Christians do this. "Forit is plain that where parties are divided, as they are in thiscountry, there are Christians enough to turn the scale in anyelection.
" Now let Christians take the ground that they will notvote for a dishonest man, or a Sabbath breaker, or gambler, orwhoremonger, or duelist, for any office, and no party could evernominate such a character with any hope of success. But on thepresent system, where men will let the laws go unexecuted, andgive full swing to mobs, or lynch murders, or robbing the mails,or anything else, so they can run in their own candidate who willgive them the offices, any man is a dishonest man that will doit, be he professor or non-professor. And can a Christian do thisand be blameless?
3. By engaging with the world in politics, Christians grievethe Spirit of God.
Ask any Christian politician if he ever carried the Spiritof God with him into a political campaign? Never. I would by nomeans be understood to say that Christians should refuse to vote,and to exercise their lawful influence in public affairs. Butthey ought not to follow a party.
4. By following the present course of politics, you are contributingyour aid to undermine all government and order in the land.
Who does not know that this great nation now rocks and reels,because thelaws are broken and trampled under foot, and the executivepower refuses or dare not act? Either the magistrate does notwish to put down disorder, or he temporizes and lets the devilrule.And so it is in all parts of the country, and all parties.And can a Christian be consistent with his profession, and votefor such men to office?
5. You lay a stumbling-block in the way of sinners.
What do sinners think, when they see professing Christiansacting with them in their political measures, which they themselvesknow to be dishonest and corrupt? They say, "We understandwhat we are about, we are after office, we are determined to carryour party into power, we are pursuing our own interest; but theseChristians profess to live for another and a higher end, and yethere they come, and join with us, as eager for the loaves andfishes as the rest of us." What greater stumbling-block canthey have?
6. You prove to the ungodly that professing Christians areactuated by the same spirit as themselves.
Who can wonder that the world is incredulous as to the realityof religion? If they do not look for themselves into the scriptures,and there learn what religion is, if they are governed by therules of evidence from what they see in the lives of professingChristians, they ought to be incredulous. They ought to infer,so far as this evidence goes, that professors of religion do notthemselves believe in it. It is the fact. I doubt, myself, whetherthe great mass of professors believe the Bible.
7. They show, so far as their evidence can go, that there isno change of heart.
What is it? Is it going to the communion table once in a monthor two, and sometimes to prayer meeting? In that a change of heart,when they are just as eager in the scramble for office as anyothers? The world must be fools to believe in a change of hearton such evidence.
8. Christians ought to cease from conformity to the world inpolitics, from the influence which such a course would have onthe world. Suppose Christians were to act perfectlyconscientiousand consistent in this matter, and to say, "We will not votefor any man to office, unless he fears God, and will rule thepeople in righteousness." Ungodly men would not set men ascandidates, who themselves set the laws at defiance. No.123
Every candidate would be obliged to show that he was preparedto act from higher motives, and that he would lay himself outto make the country prosperous, and to promote virtue, and toput down vice and oppression and disorder, and to do all he canto make the people happy and holy! It would shame the dishonestpoliticians, to show that the love of God and man is the motivethat Christians have in view. And a blessed influence would goover the land like a wave.
IV. I am to answer some objections that are made against theprinciples here advanced.
1. In regard to business.
Objection. "If we do not transact business on the sameprinciples on which ungodly men do it, we cannot compete withthem, and all the business of the world will fall into the handsof the ungodly. If we pursue our business for the good of others,if we buy and sell on theprinciple of not seeking our own wealth,but the wealth of those we do business with, we cannot sustaina competition with worldly men, and they will get all the business."
Let them have it, then. You can support yourself by your industryin some humbler calling, and let worldly men do all the business.
"Objection." But then, how should we get money tospread the gospel?"
A holy church that would act on the principles of the gospel,would spread the gospel faster than all the money that ever wasin New York, or that ever will be. Give me a holy church, thatwould live above the world, and the work of salvation would rollon faster than with all the money in Christendom.
Objection. "But we must spend a great deal of money tobring forward an educated ministry."
Ah! if we had a HOLY ministry, it would be far more importantthan an educated ministry. If the ministry were holy enough, theywould do without so much eduation. God forbid that I should undervaluean educated ministry. Let ministers be educated as well as theycan, the more the better, if they are only holy enough. But itis all a farce to suppose that a literary ministry can convertthe world. Let the ministry have the spirit of prayer, let thebaptism of the Holy Ghost be upon them, and they will spread thegospel. Only let Christians live as they ought, and the churchwould shake the world!. If Christians in New York would do it,the report would soon fill every ship that leaves the port, andwaft the news on every wind, till the earth was full of excitementand inquiry, and conversions would multiply like the drops ofmorning dew.
Suppose you were to give up your business, and devote yourselvesentirely to the work of extending the gospel. The church oncedid so, and you know what followed. When that little band in Jerusalemgave up their business and spent their time in the work of God,salvation spread like a wave. And I believe, if the whole Christianchurch were to turn right out, and convert the world, it wouldbe done in a very short time.
And further, the fact is, that you would not be required togive up your business. If Christians would do business in thespirit of the gospel, they would soon engross the business ofthe world.
Only let the world see, that if they go to a Christian to dobusiness, he will not only deal honestly, but benevolently, thathe will actually consult the interest of the person he deals with,as if it were his own interest, and who would deal with anybodyelse? What merchant would go to an ungodly man to trade, who heknew would try to get the advantage of him, and cheat him, whilehe knew that there were Christian merchants to deal with, thatwould consult his interests as much as they do their own? Indeed,it is a known fact, that there are now Christian merchants inthis city, who regulate the prices of the articles they deal in.Merchants come in from the country, and inquire around to seehow they can buy goods, and hey go to these men toknow exactlywhat articles are worth at a fair price, and govern themselvesaccordingly.
The advantage, then, is all on one side. The church can makeit for the interest of the ungodly to do business on right principles.Thechurch can regulate the business of the world, and woe to themif they do not.
2. In regard to fashion.
Objection. "Is it best for Christians to be singular?"
Certainly; Christians are bound to be singular. Then are calledto be a peculiar people, that is, a singular people, essentiallydifferent from the rest of mankind. To maintain that we are notto be singular, is the same as to maintain that we are to be conformedto the world. "Be not singular," that is, be like theworld. 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, andso on. And here I will confess that I was formerly myself in error.I believed, and I taught, that the best way for Christians topursue, was to dress so as not to be noticed, to follow the fashionsand changes so as not to appear singular, and that nobody wouldbe led to think of their being different from others in theseparticulars. But I have seen my error, and now wonder greatlyat my former blindness. It is your duty to dress so plain as toshow to the world, that you place no sort of reliance in the thingsof fashion, and set no value at all on them, but despise and neglectthem altogether. But unless you are singular, unless you separateyourselves from the fashions of the world, you show that you dovalue them. There is no way in which you can hear a proper testimonyby your lives against the fashions of the work, but by dressingplain. I do not mean that you should study singularity, but thatyou should consult convenience and economy, although it may besingular.
Objection. "But if we dress plain, the attention of peoplewill be taken with it."
The reason of it is this, so few do it that it is a novelty,and everyody stares when they see a professing Christian so strictas to disregard the fashions. Let them all do it, and the onlything you show by it is that you are a Christian, and do not wishto be confounded with the ungodly. Would it not tell on the prideof the world, if all the Christians in it were united in bearinga practical testimony against its vain show.
Objection. "But in this way you carry religion too faraway from the multitude. It is better not to set up an artificialdistinction between the church and the world."
The direct reverse of this is true. The nearer you bring thechurch to the world, the more you annihilate the reasons thatought to stand out in view of the world, for their changing sidesand coming over to the church.
Unless you go right out from them, and show that you are notof them in any respect, and carry the church so far as to havea broad interval between saints and sinners, how can you makethe ungodly feel that so great a change is necessary.
Objection. "But this change which is necessary is a changeof heart."
True; but will not a change of heart produce a change of life?
Objection. "You will throw obstacles in the way of personsbecoming Christians. Many respectable people will become disgustedwith religion, and if they cannot be allowed to dress and be Christians,they will take to the world altogether."
This is just about as reasonable as it would be for a temperanceman to think he must get drunk now and then, to avoid disgustingthe intemperate, and to retain his influence over them. The truthis, that persons ought to know, and ought to see in the livesof professing Christians, that if they embrace religion, theymust be weaned from the world, and must give up the love of theworld, and its pride, and show, and folly, and live a holy life,in watchfulness, and self-denial, and active benevolence.
Objection. "Is it not better for us to disregard thisaltogether, and not pay any attention to such little things, andlet them take their course; let the milliner andmanta-maker doas they please, and follow the usages of 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 fora thing, to practice it? Why, the way to show your abhorrenceof the world is to follow along in the customs and the fashionsof the world! Precious reasoning this.
Objection. "No matter how we dress, if our hearts areright?"
Your heart right! Then your heart may be right when your conductis all wrong. Just as well might the profane swearer say, "Nomatterwhat words I speak, if my, heart is right." No, your heartis not right, unless your conduct is right. What is outward conduct,but the acting out of the heart? If your heart was right, youwould not wish to follow the fashions of the world.
Objection. "What is the standard of dress? I do not seethe use of all your preaching, and laying down rules about plaindress, unless you give us a standard."
This is a mighty stumbling block with many. But to any mindthe matter is extremely simple. The whole can be comprised intwo simple rules. One is Be sure, in all your equipage, and dress,and furniture, to show that you have no fellowship with the designsand principles of those who are aiming to set off themselves,and to gain the applause of men. The other is let economy be firstconsulted, and then convenience. Follow Christian economy; thatis, save all you can for Christ's service; and then, let thingsbe as convenient as Christian economy will admit.
Objection. "Would you have us all to turn Quakers, andput on their plain dress?"
Who does not know, that the plain dress of the Quakers haswon for them the respect of all the thinking part of the ungodlyin the community? Now, if they had coupled with this, the zealfor God, and the weanedness from the world, and the contempt forriches, and the self-denying labor for the conversion of sinnersto Christ, which the gospel enjoins, and the clear views of theplan o salvation, which the gospel inculcates, they would longsince have converted the world.
And if all Christians would imitate them in their plain dress,(I do not mean the precise cut and fashion of their dress, butin a plain dress, throwing contempt upon the fashions of the world,)who can doubt that the conversion of the world would hasten onapace?
Objection. "Would you make us all into Methodists?"
Who does not know that the Methodists, when they were notedfor their plain dress, and for renouncing the; fashions and showof the world, used to have power with God in prayer and that theyhad 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 seemedto be trying to lift themselves up as a denomination, and gaininfluence with the world, they are losing the power of prayer?Would to God they had never thrown down this wall. It was oneof the leading excellences of Wesley's system, to have his followersdistinguished from others by a plain dress.
Objection. "We may be proud of a plain dress as well asof a fashionable dress. The Quakers are as proud as we are."
So may any good thing be abused. But that is no reason whyit should not be used, if it can be shown to be good I put itback to the objector
Is that any reason why a Christian female, who fears God andloves the souls of men, should neglect the means which may makean impression that she is separated from the world, and pour contempton the fashions of the ungodly, in which they are dancing theirway to hell?
Objection. "This is a small thing, and ought not to takeup so much of a minister's time in the pulpit."
This is an objection often heard from worldly professors. Butthe minister that fears God will not be deterred by it. He willpursue the subject, until such professing Christians are cut offfrom their conformity to the world, or cut off from the church.It is not merely the dress, as dress but it is he conformity tothe world in dress and fashion, that is the great stumbling-blockin the way of sinners. How can the world be converted, while professingChristians are conformed to the world? What good will it do togive money to send the gospel to the heathen, when Christianslive so at home? Well might the heathen ask, "What profitwill it be to become Christians, when those who are Christiansare pursuing the world with all the hot haste of the ungodly?"The great thing necessary for the church is to break off fromconformity to the world, and then they will have power with Godin prayer, and the Holy Ghost will descend and bless their efforts,and the world will be converted.
Objection. "But if we dress so, we shall be called fanatics."
Whatever the ungodly may call you, fanatics, Methodists, oranything, you will be known as Christians, and in the secret consciencesof men will be acknowledged as such. It is not in the power ofunbelievers to pour contempt on a holy church, that are separatedfrom the world. How was it with the early Christians? They livedseparate from theworld, and it made such an impression, that eveninfidel writers say of them, "These men win the hearts ofthe mass of the people, because they give themselves up to deedsof charity, and pour contempt on the world." Depend uponit, if Christians would live so now, the last effort of hell wouldsoon be expended in vain to defeat the spread of the gospel. Waveafter wave would flow abroad, till the highest mountain tops werecovered with the waters of life.
3. In regard to politics.
Objection. "In this way, by acting on these principlesand refusing to unite with the world in politics, we could haveno influencein government and national affairs."
I answer, first, It is so now. Christians, as such, have noinfluence. There is not a Christian principle adopted becauseit is Christian, or because it is according to the law of God.
I answer, secondly, If there is no other way for Christiansto have an influence in the government, bu by becoming conformedto the world in their habitual principles and parties, then letthe ungodly take the government and manage it in their own way,and do you go and serve God.
I answer, thirdly, No such result will follow. Directly thereverse of this would be the fact. Only let it be known that Christiancitizens will on no account assist bad men into office; only letit be known that the church will go only for men that will aimat the public good, and both parties will be sure to set up suchmen. And in this way, the church could legitimately exert an influence,by compelling all parties to bring forward only men who are worthyof an honest man's support.
Objection. "In this way the church and the world willbe arrayed against each other." The world is too selfishfor this. You cannot make parties so. Such a line can never bea permanent division. For one year the ungodly might unite againstthe church, and leave Christians in a small minority. But in theend, the others would form two parties, each courting the suffragesof Christians, by offering candidates such as Christians can conscientiouslyvote for.
1. By non-conformity to the world, you may save much moneyfor doing good.
In one year a greater fund might be saved by the church thanhas ever been raised for the spread of the gospel.
2. By non-conformity to the world, a great deal of time maybe saved for doing good, that is now consumed and wasted in followingthe fashions, and obeying the maxims, and joining in the pursuitsof the world.
3. At the same time, Christians in this way would preservetheir peace of conscience, would enjoy communion with God, wouldhave the spirit of prayer, and would possess far greater usefulness.
Is it not time something was done? Is it not time that somechurch struck out a path, that should not be conformed to theworld,but should be according to the example and Spirit of Christ?
You profess that you want to have sinners converted. But whatavailsit, if they sink right back again into conformit with theworld? Brethren, I confess, I am filled with pain in view of theconduct of the church. Where are the proper results of the gloriousrevivals we have had? I believe they were genuine revivals ofreligion and outpourings of the Holy Ghost, that the church hasenjoyed the last ten years. I believe the converts of the lastten years are among the best Christians in the land. Yet afterall, the great body of them are a disgrace to religion.
Of what use would it be to have a thousand members added tothe church, to be just such as are now in it? Would religion beany more honored by it, in the estimation of ungodly men? Oneholy church, that are really crucified to the world, and the worldto them, would do more to recommend Christianity, than all thechurches in the country, living as they now do. O, if I had strengthof body to go through the churches again, instead of preachingto convert sinners, I would preach to bring up the churches tothe gospel standard of holy living. Of what use is it to convertsinners, and make them such Christians as these? Of what use isit to try to convert sinners, and make them feel there is somethingin religion, and when they go to trade with you, or meet you inthe street, have you contradict it all, and tell them, by yourconformity to the world, that there is nothing in it?
Where shall I look, where shall the Lord look, for a churchlike the first church, that will come out from the world, andbe separate, and give themselves up to serve God? O, if this churchwould do so. But it is of little use to make Christians if theyare not better. Do not understand me as saying that the convertsmade in our revivals, are spurious. But they live so as to bea disgrace to religion. They are so stumbled by old professorsthat many of them do more hurt than good. The more there are ofthem, the more occasion infidelity seems to find for her jeersand scoffs.
Now, do you believe that God commands you not to be conformedto the world? Do you believe it? And dare you obey it, letpeoplesay what they will about you? Dare you now separate yourselvesfrom the world, and never again be controlled by its maxims, andnever again copy its practices, and never again will be whiffledhere and there by its fashions? I know a man that lives so, Icould mention his name, he pays no attention to the customs ofthe world in this respect, and what is the result? Wherever thatman goes, he leaves the impression behind that he is a Christian.O, if one church would do so, and would engage in it with allthe energy that men of the world engage in their business, theywould turn the world upside down.
Will you do so? Will you break off from the world now, andenter into covenant with God, and declare that you will dare tobesingular enough to be separate from the world, and from thistime set your faces as a flint to obey God, let the world saywhat they will? Dare you do it? Will you do it?
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