Volume. XXXV, No. 47
Sunday, 23 May 2021

From the Pastor’s Heart: Dress? Code? (3)

Let us learn more about William Perkins.  Here is his brief conversion story from the website ‘apuritanmind.com:’


“He was born in Marton, Warwickshire, in 1558 and educated in Christ’s College, Cambridge.  In his early years he demonstrated scholarly ability, but his personal life was wild and sinful.  He was much devoted to drunkenness. While he was walking through town, he heard a young woman say to her child ‘Hold your tongue, or I will give you to drunken Perkins, yonder.’  Finding himself as a byword among the people his conscience gripped him and became so deeply impressed by it that it was a first step to his conversion. After his conversion, he became a strong exponent of Calvinism and always dealt sympathetically with those in spiritual need.  He became a fellow at the college in 1578 at the age of 24.” 


We stopped in the middle of section 2: “The second thing to be considered in the right use of apparel, is the wearing, and putting of it on. Touching which, two special rules are to be observed.”  Let us continue:


Now, touching the covering of the body with apparel, these things are to be remembered.


First, that it must be covered in decent and seemly sort. Thus, Joseph wrapped Christ’s body that was dead, in clean linen cloth, together with the spices, Matt 27:59.


Secondly, the whole body must be covered, some parts excepted, which (for necessity sake) are left open and bare, as the hands and face; because there is an ignominious shame, not only on some parts, but over the whole body.  And here comes to be reproved the affected nakedness used of sundry persons, who are wont to have their garments made of such a fashion, as that their necks and breasts may be left for a great part uncovered: a practice full of vanity, and clean contrary to this Rule, grounded in corrupted nature.  For if the whole body be overspread with shame, by sin, why should any man by such practice (as much as in him lies) uncover his shame to the view of the world?  The end of attire is, to hide the shameful nakedness of the body from the sight of men: But such persons as these are, do hereby express the vanity and lightness of their minds, by leaving some parts of their bodies open and uncovered.  Wherein what do they else, but even display and manifest unto men and Angels their own shame and ignominy?  Nay, what do they else, but glory in that, which is (by the just judgement of God) reproachful unto them?  Let all those that fear God, and are humbled in the consideration of their sins, which are the matter of the shame of mankind, be otherwise affected.


A third End of apparel is, the honoring of the body. To this purpose, S. Paul saith, I Cor 12:23. Upon those members of the body which we think most unhonest, put we on the greater honor etc. verse. 24.  God hath tempered the body together, and given the more honor to that part which lacked.  And in I Thess 4:4. It is the will of God etc. that every one of you should know how to possess his vessel in holiness and honor.  These words are spoken of chastity: but they are generally to be understood of any other virtue belonging to the body. Now the reason of this end is plain: For the body of every believer is the Temple of the Holy Ghost, and a member of Christ, in the kind and place, as well as the soul.  Therefore, it ought to be both holy and honourably used.


For the honouring of the body with outward ornaments, we must remember this distinction; some ornaments are inward, and some are borrowed: Inward, are the graces and gifts of God; these are our own: Borrowed, are gold, silver, pearls, and precious stones; and these are outward: And of the two, more special care ought to be had of the inward, than of the outward and borrowed; for these are indeed fair and honorable in the opinion and estimation of men, but the other are far more honorable in the sight of God. And therefore Saint Peter exhorteth women, that their apparel be not outward, as with broidered hair, and gold set about, or in sumptuous garments; but that the hidden man of the heart be uncorrupt, with a meek and quiet spirit, which is before God a thing precious. I Pet 3:3,4.


Now, that we may be able to use our apparel to the Ends before rehearsed, we are yet further to observe some special Rules, which may serve for our direction in the right adorning of the body.


First, everyone must be content with their own natural favor and complexion that God hath given them, and account of it as a precious thing, be it better or be it worse: For the outward form and favor that man hath, is the work of God himself, fitted and proportioned unto him, in his conception, by his special providence.  Being then the Lord’s own work, and his will thus to frame it, rather than otherwise; great reason there is, that man should rest contented with the same.  Here comes to be justly reproved, the strange practice and behavior of some in these days, who being not contented with that form and fashion which God hath sorted unto them, do desire artificial forms and favors, to set upon their bodies and faces, by painting and colouring; thereby making themselves seem that which indeed they are not.  This practice is most abominable by the very light of Nature, and much more by the light of God’s Word; wherein we have but one only example thereof, and that is of wicked Jezabel, II Ki 9:30 who is noted by this mark of a notorious Harlot, that she painted her face.  For what is this, but to find fault with God’s own workmanship?  And to seek to correct the same, by a counterfeit work of our own deceiving; which cannot but be highly displeasing unto him.


A cunning Painter, when he hath once finished his work, if any man shall go about to correct the same, he is greatly offended.  Much more then may God, the most wise and absolute Former and Creator of his Works, be highly offended with all those, that cannot content themselves with the favour and feature they have received from him; but will needs be calling his Work into question, and refining it according to their own humours and fancies.  Tertullian in his Book De Habitu Mulierum, calls such persons, and that deservedly, The Devil’s handmaids.


But, may some say, if there be any deformity in the body, may we not labour to cover it? Answer. Yes: but we may not set any new form on the face, or habit on the body.  Dissembling is condemned as well in deeds as in word: and such is this.


Secondly, we must place the principal ornament of our souls and bodies in virtue and good works, and not in any outward things.  So, would Paul have women to array themselves in comely apparel, with shamefastness and modesty, I Tim 2:9.


Thirdly, in using of ornaments before-named, we must be very sparing, and keep ourselves within the mean, Gen 24:22.  Abraham’s servant gave Rebecca a habiliment of half a shekel weight, and two bracelets of ten shekels of gold, which she put upon her forehead and hands, verse 47.  All of which were of no great value, and therefore not excessive, but comely and moderate.  And in the Old Testament, Kings’ daughters were clad but in party-coloured garments, II Sam 13:18.  There was therefore, even amongst them, great plainness.


It will here be demanded, what is then the measure that must be used? 


Answer: The Scripture gives no rule for our direction in this point, but the example and judgement of the sagest and soberest persons in every order, age and condition: and as they do and judge, so must we.  As for example: Whether a man should wear a Ruffle single, or double, or tripled, &c. the Scripture in particular, gives no direction; only we must look upon the example of the soberest and discreetest persons of our order, and age, and that ought to be our precedent for imitation.  To be continued…


William Perkins

Disclaimer: note some of the dress codes expressed by William Perkins would not be applicable today e.g. the issue of ‘face painting’/ cosmetics. This was written over 400 years ago.


More Lively Hope



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  • God’s daily guidance, protection & providence for the past week.
  • Working Bee
  • Improving COVID-19 situation in Australia.
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