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Many years ago I was sitting with a gentleman in London, who feared God greatly; and generally gave away, year by year, nine tenths of his yearly income. A servant came in and threw some coals on the fire. A puff of smoke came out. The baronet threw himself back in his chair and cried out, "Oh Mr. Wesley, these are the crosses I meet with daily!" Would he not have been less impatient, if he had had fifty, instead of five thousand pounds a year?
17. But to return. Are not you, who have been successful in your endeavours to increase in substance, insensibly sunk into softness of mind, if not of body too? You no longer rejoice to" endure hardship, as good soldiers of Jesus Christ!" You no longer "rush into the kingdom of heaven, and take it as by storm." You do not cheerfully and gladly "deny yourselves, and take up your cross daily." You cannot deny yourself the poor pleasure of a little sleep, or of a soft bed, in order to hear the word that is able to save your souls! Indeed, you cannot go out so early in the morning: besides it is dark: nay, cold; perhaps rainy too. Cold, darkness, rain: all these together, I can never think of it." You did not say so when you were a poor man. You then regarded none of these things. It is the change of circumstances which has occasioned this melancholy change in your body and mind: you are but the shadow of what you were! What have riches done for you?
"But it cannot be expected I should do as I have done. For I am now grown old." Am not I grown old as well as you? Am not I in my seventy-eighth year? Yet, by the grace of God, I do not slack my pace Neither would you, if you were a poor man still.
18. You are so deeply hurt, that you have nigh lost your zeal for works of mercy, as well as of piety. You once pushed on, through cold or rain, or whatever cross lay in your way, to see the poor, the sick, the distressed. You went about doing good, and found out those who were not able to find you. You cheerfully crept down into their ce!lars, and climbed up into their garrets,
"To supply all their wants,
And spend and be spent in assisting his saints."
You found out every scene of human misery, and assisted, according to your power:
"Each form of wo your generous pity moved;
Do you now tread in the same steps? What hinders? Do you fear spoiling your silken coat? Or is there another lion in the way? Are you afraid of catching vermin? And are you not afraid, lest the roaring lion should catch you! Are you not afraid of him that hath said, "Inasmuch as ye have not done it unto the least of these, ye have not done it unto me?" What will follow? "" Depart, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels !"
19. In time past how mindful were you of that word, “Thou shalt not hate thy brother in thy heart: thou shalt in any wise reprove thy brother, and not suffer sin upon him!" You did reprove, directly or indirectly, all those that sinned in your sight. And happy consequences quickly followed. How good was a word spoken in season! It was often as an arrow from the hand of a giant. Many a heart was pierced Many of the stout hearted, who scorned to hear a sermon,
"Fell down before his cross subdued,
But which of you now has that compassion for the ignorant, and for them that are out of the way? They may wander on for you, and plunge into the lake of fire, without let or hinderance. Gold hath steeled your hearts. You have something else to do. "Unhelped, unpitied let the wretches fall."
20. Thus have I given you, oh ye gainers, lovers, possessors of riches, one more (it may be the last) warning. Oh that it may not be in vain! May God write it upon all your hearts! Though "it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of heaven," yet the things impossible with men, possible with God. Lord, speak! And even the rich men, that hear these words, shall enter thy kingdom; shall "take the kingdom of heaven by violence;" shall "sell all for the pearl of great price;" shall be "crucified to the world, and count all things dung, that they may win Christ!"
SERMON XCIII.-On Dress.
"Whose adorning let it not be that outward adorning of-wearing of gold, or of putting on of apparel.
"But let it be the hidden man of the heart, in that which is not corruptible, even the ornament of a meek and quiet spirit, which is in the sight of God of great price," 1 Pet. iii, 3, 4.
1. ST. PAUL exhorts a'i those who desire to "be transformed by the renewal of their minds," and to "prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect will of God," "not to be conformed to this world." Indeed this exhortation relates more directly to the wisdom of the world, which is totally opposite to his "good, and acceptable, and perfect will." But it likewise has a reference, even to the manners and customs of the world, which naturally flow from its wisdom and spirit, and are exactly suitable thereto. And it was not beneath the wisdom of God, to give us punctual directions in this respect also.
2. Some of these, particularly that in the text, descend even to the apparel of Christians. And both this text, and the parallel one of St. Paul, are as express as possible. St. Paul's words are, 1 Tim. ii, 9, 13, "I will that women adorn themselves in modest apparel: not with gold, or pearls, or costly array; but (which becometh women professing godliness) with good works."
3. But is it not strange, say some, that the all-wise Spirit of God should condescend to take notice of such trifles as these? To take notice of such insignificant trifles? Things of so little moment; or rather of none at all? For what does it signify, provided we take care of the soul, what the body is covered with? Whether with silk or sackcloth? What harm can there be in the wearing of gold, or silver, or precious stones; or any other of those beautiful things, with which God has so amply provided us? May we not apply to this what St. Paul has observed on another occasion, That "every creature of God is good, and nothing to be rejected ?"
4. It is certain, that many who sincerely fear God have cordially embraced this opinion. And their practice is suitable thereto : they make no scruple of conformity to the world; by putting on, as often as occasion offers, either gold, or pearls, or costly apparel. And indeed they are not well pleased with those that think it their duty to reject them; the using of which they apprehend to be one branch of Christian liberty. Yea, some have gone considerably farther; even so far, as to make it a point to bring those who had refrained from them for some time, to make use of them again; assuring them, that it was mere superstition to think there was any harm in them. Nay, farther still: a very respectable person has said, in express terms, "I do not desire that any who dress plain, should be in our society." It is, therefore, certainly worth our while to consider this matter thoroughly: seriously to inquire, whether there is any harm in the putting on of gold, or jewels, or costly apparel?
5. But before we enter on the subject, let it be observed, that slovenliness is no part of religion: that neither this, nor any text of Scripture, condemns neatness of apparel. Certainly this is a duty; not a sin. "Cleanliness is, indeed, next to godliness." Agreeably to this, good Mr. Herbert advises every one that fears God;
"Let thy mind's sweetness have its operation
And surely every one should attend to this, if he would not have the good that is in him evil spoken of.
6. Another mistake, with regard to apparel, has been common in the religious world. It has been supposed by some, that there ought to be no difference at all in the apparel of Christians. But neither these texts, nor any other in the book of God, teach any such thing, or direct that the dress of the master or the mistress should be nothing dif ferent from that of their servants. There may, undoubtedly, be a moderate difference of apparel between persons of different stations. And where the eye is single, this will easily be adjusted by the rules of Christian prudence.
7. Yea, it may be doubted, whether any part of scripture forbids (at least I know not any) those in any nation that are invested with supreme authority, to be arrayed in gold and costly apparel; or to adorn their immediate attendants, or magistrates, or officers, with the same. It is not improbable, that our blessed Lord intended to give countenance to this custom, when he said, without the least mark of censure, or disapprobation, "Behold, those that wear gorgeous [splendid] apparel, are in kings' courts," Luke vii, 25.
8. What is then the meaning of these scriptures? What is it which they forbid? They manifestly forbid ordinary Christians, those in the lower or middle ranks of life, to be adorned with gold, or pearls, or costly apparel. But why? What harm is there herein? This deserves our serious consideration. But it is highly expedient, or rather absolutely necessary, for all who would consider it to any purpose, as far as is possible to divest themselves of all prejudice, and to stand open to conviction is it not necessary likewise, in the highest degree, that they should earnestly beseech the Father of lights, that," by his holy inspiration they may think the things that are right, and, by his merciful guidance, perform the same?" Then they will not say, no, not in their
hearts, (as I fear too many have done,) what the famous Jew said to the Christian, "Thou shalt not persuade me though thou hast persuaded me."
9. The question is, What harm does it do, to adorn ourselves with gold, or pearls, or costly array; suppose you can afford it? That is, suppose it does not hurt or impoverish your family? The first harm it does is, it engenders pride; and where it is already, increases it. Whoever narrowly observes what passes in his own heart, will easily discern this. Nothing is more natural than to think ourselves better, because we are dressed in better clothes. And it is scarce possible for a man to wear costly apparel, without, in some measure, valuing himself upon it. One of the old heathens was so well apprized of this, that when he had a spite to a poor man, and had a mind to turn his head, he made him a present of a suit of fine clothes,
"Eutrapelus, cuicunque nocere volebat,
He could not then but imagine himself to be as much better, as he was finer than his neighbour. And how many thousands, not only lords and gentlemen, in England, but honest tradesmen, argue the same way? Inferring the superior value of their persons from the value of their clothes!
10. "But may not one man be as proud, though clad in sackcloth, as another is, though clad in cloth of gold?" As this argument meets us at every turn, and is supposed to be unanswerable, it will be worth while to answer it once for all, and to show the utter emptiness of it.
May not, then, one in sackcloth," you ask, "be as proud as he that is clad in cloth of gold?" I answer, certainly he may: I suppose no one doubts of it. And what inference can you draw from this? Take a parallel case. One man that drinks a cup of wholesome wine, may be as sick as another that drinks poison: but does this prove that the poison has no more tendency to hurt a man than the wine? Or does it excuse any man for taking what has a natural tendency to make him sick? Now to apply this: experience shows that fine clothes have a natural tendency to make a man sick of pride. Plain clothes have not. Although it is true, you may be sick of pride in these also, yet they have no natural tendency, either to cause or increase this sickness. Therefore, all that desire to be clothed with humility, abstain from that poison.
11. Secondly the wearing 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. Every one of you that is fond of dress, has a witness of this in your own bosom. Whether you will confess it before man or not, you are convinced of this before God. You know in your hearts, it is with a view to be admired, that you thus adorn yourselves; and that you would not be at the pains, were none to see you but God and his holy angels. Now the more you indulge this foolish desire, the more it grows upon you. You have vanity enough by nature; but by thus indulging it, you increase it a hundred fold. Oh stop! Aim at pleasing God alone, and all these ornaments will drop off.
12. Thirdly the wearing of gay and costly apparel, naturally tends to beget anger, and every turbulent and uneasy passion. And it is on this very account that the apostle places this "outward adorning" in
direct opposition to the "ornament of a meek and quiet spirit." How remarkably does he add, "which is in the sight of God of great price :" "Than gold or pearls more precious far, And brighter than the morning star."
None can easily conceive, unless himself were to make the sad experiment, the contrariety there is between the "outward adorning," and this inward "quietness of spirit." You never can thoroughly enjoy this, while you are fond of the other. It is only while you sit loose to that "outward adorning," that you can in "patience possess your soul." Then only when you have cast off your fondness for dress, will the peace of God reign in your hearts.
13. Fourthly gay and costly apparel directly tends to create and inflame lust. I was in doubt whether to name this brutal appetite. Or, in order to spare delicate ears, to express it by some gentle circumlocution. (Like the dean, who, some years ago, told his audience at Whitehall, "If you do not repent you will go to a place, which I have too much manners to name before this good company.") But I think it best to speak out: since the more the word shocks your ears, the more it may arm your heart. The fact is plain and undeniable: it has this effect both on the wearer and the beholder. To the former, our elegant poet, Cowley, addresses those fine lines:
"The adorning thee with so much art
Is but a barbarous skill;
Tis like the poisoning of a dart,
That is, (to express the matter in plain terms, without any colouring,) "you poison the beholder, with far more of this base appetite, than otherwise he would feel." Did you not know, this would be the natural consequence of your elegant adorning? To push the question home, did you not desire, did you not design it should? And yet all the time, how did you "Set to public view,
A specious face of innocence and virtue?”
Meanwhile you do not yourself escape the snare which you spread for others. The dart recoils, and you are infected with the same poison with which you infected them. 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.
14. Fifthly: the wearing costly array is directly opposite to the being adorned with good works. Nothing can be more evident than this: for the more you lay out on your own apparel, the less you have left to clothe the naked, to feed the hungry, to lodge the strangers, to relieve those that are sick and in prison, and to lessen the numberless afflictions to which we are exposed in this vale of tears. And here is no room for the evasion used before: "I may be as humble in cloth of gold, as in sackcloth." If you could be as humble, when you choose costly, as when you choose plain apparel; (which I flatly deny ;) yet you could not be as beneficent,- -as plenteous in good works. Every shilling which you save from your own apparel, you may expend in clothing the naked, and relieving the various necessities of the poor, whom ye "have always with you." Therefore every shilling which you needlessly spend on your apparel, is, in effect, stolen from God and the poor! And how many precious opportunities of doing good have you defrauded