Chapter 76—Manners and Dress of Ministers
Ephesians 3:6, 7 : “That the Gentiles should be fellow heirs, and of the same body, and partakers of His promise in Christ by the gospel: whereof I was made a minister, according to the gift of the grace of God given unto me by the effectual working of His power.”
“Whereof I was made a minister,” not merely to present the truth to the people, but to carry it out in the life.
“And to make all men see what is the fellowship of the mystery, which from the beginning of the world hath been hid in God.” Verse 9. This does not refer merely to the words that roll off the tongue; it is not merely to be eloquent in speaking and praying; but it is to make known Christ, to have Christ in us, and make Him known to those that hear.
“Whom we preach, warning every man, and teaching every man in all wisdom,” not as novices, not in ignorance, “that we may present every man perfect in Christ Jesus: whereunto I also labor, striving according to His working, which worketh in me mightily.” Colossians 1:28, 29. It is the work of God, the grace from God, realized and felt, gracing the life and actions, which is to make a sensible impression upon those that hear.
But it is not this only. There are other things to be considered, in which some have been negligent, but which are of consequence, in the light in which they have been presented before me. Impressions are made upon the people by the deportment of the speaker in the desk, by his attitude, and by his manner of speaking. If these things are as God would have them, the impression they make will be in favor of the truth; especially will that class be favorably impressed who have been listening to fables. It is important that the minister’s manner be modest and dignified, in keeping with the holy, elevating truth he teaches, that a favorable impression may be made upon those who are not naturally inclined to religion.
Carefulness in dress is an important item. There has been a lack here with ministers who believe present truth. The dress of some has been even untidy. Not only has there been a lack of taste and order in arranging the dress in a becoming manner upon the person, and in having the color suitable and becoming for a minister of Christ, but the apparel of some has been even slovenly. Some ministers wear a vest of a light color, while their pants are dark, or a dark vest and light pants, with no taste or orderly arrangement of the dress upon the person when they come before the people. These things are preaching to the people. The minister gives them an example of order, and sets before them the propriety of neatness and taste in their apparel, or he gives them lessons in slackness and lack of taste which they will be in danger of following.
Black or dark material is more becoming to a minister in the desk and will make a better impression upon the people than would be made by a combination of two or three different colors in his apparel.
I was pointed back to the children of Israel anciently, and was shown that God had given specific directions in regard to the material and style of dress to be worn by those who ministered before Him. The God of heaven, whose arm moves the world, who sustains us and gives us life and health, has given us evidence that He may be honored or dishonored by the apparel of those who officiate before Him. He gave special directions to Moses in regard to everything connected with His service. He gave instruction even in regard to the arrangement of their houses and specified the dress which those should wear who were to minister in His service. They were to maintain order in everything and especially to preserve cleanliness.
Read the directions that were given to Moses to be made known to the children of Israel as God was about to come down upon the mount to speak in their hearing His holy law. What did He command Moses to have the people do? To be ready against the third day; for on the third day, said He, the Lord will come down upon the mount in the sight of all the people. They were to set bounds about the mount. “And the Lord said unto Moses, Go unto the people, and sanctify them today and tomorrow, and let them wash their clothes.” That great and mighty God who created the beautiful Eden and everything lovely in it is a God of order, and He wants order and cleanliness with His people. That mighty God directed Moses to tell the people to wash their clothes lest there should be impurity in their clothing and about their persons as they came up before the Lord. And Moses went down from the mount unto the people, and they washed their clothes, according to the command of God.
And to show how careful they were to be in regard to cleanliness, Moses was to put a laver between the tent of the congregation and the altar, “and put water there, to wash withal.” And Moses and Aaron, and Aaron’s sons that ministered before the Lord, were to wash their hands and their feet thereat when they went into the tent of the congregation, and when they went in before the Lord.
This was the commandment of the great and mighty God. There was to be nothing slack and untidy about those who appeared before Him when they came into His holy presence. And why was this? What was the object of all this carefulness? Was it merely to recommend the people to God? Was it merely to gain His approbation? The reason that was given me was this, that a right impression might be made upon the people. If those who ministered in sacred office should fail to manifest care, and reverence for God, in their apparel and their deportment, the people would lose their awe and their reverence for God and His sacred service. If the priests showed great reverence for God by being very careful and very particular as they came into His presence, it gave the people an exalted idea of God and His requirements. It showed them that God was holy, that His work was sacred, and that everything in connection with His work must be holy; that it must be free from everything like impurity and uncleanness; and that all defilement must be put away from those who approach nigh to God.
From the light that has been given me, there has been a carelessness in this respect. I might speak of it as Paul presents it. It is carried out in will-worship and neglecting of the body. But this voluntary humility, this will-worship and neglecting of the body, is not the humility that savors of heaven. That humility will be particular to have the person and actions and apparel of all who preach the holy truth of God, right and perfectly proper, so that every item connected with us will recommend our holy religion. The very dress will be a recommendation of the truth to unbelievers. It will be a sermon in itself.
But things that are wrong often transpire in the sacred desk. One minister conversing with another in the desk before the congregation, laughing and appearing to have no burden of the work, or lacking a solemn sense of his sacred calling, dishonors the truth and brings the sacred down upon the low level of common things. The example tends to remove the fear of God from the people and to detract from the sacred dignity of the gospel which Christ died to magnify. According to the light that has been given me, it would be pleasing to God for ministers to bow down as soon as they step into the pulpit, and solemnly ask help from God. What impression would that make? There would be solemnity and awe upon the people. Their minister is communing with God; he is committing himself to God before he dares to stand before the people. Solemnity rests upon the people, and angels of God are brought very near. Ministers should look to God the first thing as they come into the desk, thus saying to all: God is the source of my strength.
A minister who is negligent in his apparel often wounds those of good taste and refined sensibilities. Those who are faulty in this respect should correct their errors and be more circumspect. The loss of some souls at last will be traced to the untidiness of the minister. The first appearance affected the people unfavorably because they could not in any way link his appearance with the truths he presented. His dress was against him; and the impression given was that the people whom he represented were a careless set who cared nothing about their dress, and his hearers did not want anything to do with such a class of people.
Here, according to the light that has been given me, there has been a manifest neglect among our people. Ministers sometimes stand in the desk with their hair in disorder, looking as if it had been untouched by comb and brush for a week. God is dishonored when those who engage in His sacred service are so neglectful of their appearance. Anciently the priests were required to have their garments in a particular style to do service in the holy place and minister in the priest’s office. They were to have garments in accordance with their work, and God distinctly specified what these should be. The laver was placed between the altar and the congregation, that before they came into the presence of God, in the sight of the congregation, they might wash their hands and their feet. What impression was this to make upon the people? It was to show them that every particle of dust must be put away before they could go into the presence of God; for He was so high and holy that unless they did comply with these conditions, death would follow.
But look at the style of dress worn by some of our ministers at the present day. Some who minister in sacred things so arrange their dress upon their persons that, to some extent at least, it destroys the influence of their labor. There is an apparent lack of taste in color and neatness of fit. What is the impression given by such a manner of dress? It is that the work in which they are engaged is considered no more sacred or elevated than common labor, as plowing in the field. The minister by his example brings down sacred things upon a level with common things.
The influence of such preachers is not pleasing to God. If any are brought out to receive the truth from their labors, they frequently imitate their preachers and come down to the same low level with them. It will be more difficult to remodel these and bring them into a right position, and teach them true order and love for discipline, than to labor to convert to the truth men and women who have never heard it. The Lord requires His ministers to be pure and holy, to rightly represent the principles of truth in their own lives, and by their example to bring others up upon a high level.
God requires all who profess to be His chosen people, though they are not teachers of the truth, to be careful to preserve personal cleanliness and purity, also cleanliness and order in their houses and upon their premises. We are examples to the world, living epistles known and read of all men. God requires all who profess godliness, and especially those who teach the truth to others, to abstain from all appearance of evil.
From the light I have had, the ministry is a sacred and exalted office, and those who accept this position should have Christ in their hearts and manifest an earnest desire to represent Him worthily before the people in all their acts, in their dress, in their speaking, and even in their manner of speaking. They should speak with reverence. Some destroy the solemn impression they may have made upon the people, by raising their voices to a very high pitch and hallooing and screaming out the truth. When presented in this manner, truth loses much of its sweetness, its force and solemnity. But if the voice is toned right, if it has solemnity, and is so modulated as to be even pathetic, it will produce a much better impression. This was the tone in which Christ taught His disciples. He impressed them with solemnity; He spoke in a pathetic manner. But this loud hallooing—what does it do? It does not give the people any more exalted views of the truth and does not impress them any more deeply. It only causes a disagreeable sensation to the hearers and wears out the vocal organs of the speaker. The tones of the voice have much to do in affecting the hearts of those that hear.
Many who might be useful men are using up their vital force and destroying their lungs and vocal organs by their manner of speaking. Some ministers have acquired a habit of hurriedly rattling off what they have to say as though they had a lesson to repeat and were hastening through it as fast as possible. This is not the best manner of speaking. By using proper care, every minister can educate himself to speak distinctly and impressively, not to hurriedly crowd the words together without taking time to breathe. He should speak in a moderate manner, that the people may get the ideas fixed in their minds as he passes along. But when the matter is rushed through so rapidly, the people cannot get the points in their minds, and they do not have time to receive the impression that it is important for them to have; nor is there time for the truth to affect them as it otherwise would.
Speaking from the throat, letting the words come out from the upper extremity of the vocal organs, all the time fretting and irritating them, is not the best way to preserve health or to increase the efficiency of those organs. You should take a full inspiration and let the action come from the abdominal muscles. Let the lungs be only the channel, but do not depend upon them to do the work. If you let your words come from deep down, exercising the abdominal muscles, you can speak to thousands with just as much ease as you can speak to ten.
Some of our preachers are killing themselves by long, tedious praying and loud speaking, when a lower tone would make a better impression and save their own strength. Now, while you go on regardless of the laws of life and health, and follow the impulse of the moment, do not charge it upon God if you break down. Many of you waste time and strength in long preliminaries and excuses as you commence to speak. Instead of apologizing because you are about to address the people, you should commence your labor as though God had something for you to say to them. Some use up nearly half an hour in making apologies; thus the time is frittered away, and when they get to their subject, where they are desirous to fasten the points of truth, the people are wearied out and cannot see their force or be impressed with them. You should make the essential points of present truth as distinct as mileposts so that the people will understand them. They will then see the arguments you want to present and the positions you want to sustain.
There is another class that address the people in a whining tone. Their hearts are not softened by the Spirit of God, and they think they must make an impression by the appearance of humility. Such a course does not exalt the gospel ministry, but brings it down and degrades it. Ministers should present the truth warm from glory. They should speak in such a manner as rightly to represent Christ and preserve the dignity becoming His ministers.
The long prayers made by some ministers have been a great failure. Praying to great length, as some do, is all out of place. They injure the throat and vocal organs, and then they talk of breaking down by their hard labor. They injure themselves when it is not called for. Many feel that praying injures their vocal organs more than talking. This is in consequence of the unnatural position of the body, and the manner of holding the head. They can stand and talk, and not feel injured. The position in prayer should be perfectly natural. Long praying wearies, and is not in accordance with the gospel of Christ. Half or even quarter of an hour is altogether too long. A few minutes’ time is long enough to bring your case before God and tell Him what you want; and you can take the people with you and not weary them out and lessen their interest in devotion and prayer. They may be refreshed and strengthened, instead of exhausted.
A mistake has been made by many in their religious exercises in long praying and long preaching, upon a high key, with a forced voice, in an unnatural strain and an unnatural tone. The minister has needlessly wearied himself and really distressed the people by hard, labored exercise, which is all unnecessary. Ministers should speak in a manner to reach and impress the people. The teachings of Christ were impressive and solemn; His voice was melodious. And should not we, as well as Christ, study to have melody in our voices? He had a mighty influence, for He was the Son of God. We are so far beneath Him and so far deficient, that, do the very best we can, our efforts will be poor. We cannot gain and possess the influence that He had; but why should we not educate ourselves to come just as near to the Pattern as it is possible for us to do, that we may have the greatest possible influence upon the people? Our words, our actions, our deportment, our dress, everything, should preach. Not only with our words should we speak to the people, but everything pertaining to our person should be a sermon to them, that right impressions may be made upon them, and that the truth spoken may be taken by them to their homes. Thus our faith will stand in a better light before the community.
I never realized more than I do today the exalted character of the work, its sacredness and holiness, and the importance of our being fitted for it. I see the need in myself. I must have a new fitting up, a holy unction, or I cannot go any further to instruct others. I must know that I am walking with God. I must know that I understand the mystery of godliness. I must know that the grace of God is in my own heart, that my own life is in accordance with His will, that I am walking in His footsteps. Then my words will be true and my actions right.
But there is another point that I had almost forgotten. It is the influence which the preacher should exert in his ministry. His work is not merely to stand in the desk. It is but just begun there. He should enter the different families, and carry Christ there, carry his sermons there, carry them out in his actions and his words. As he visits a family he should inquire into their condition. Is he the shepherd of the flock? The work of a shepherd is not all done in the desk. He should talk with all the members of the flock, with the parents to learn their standing, and with the children to learn theirs. A minister should feed the flock over which God has made him overseer. It would be agreeable to go into the house and study; but if you do this to the neglect of the work which God has commissioned you to perform, you do wrong. Never enter a family without inviting them together, and bowing down and praying with them before you leave. Inquire into the health of their souls. What does a skillful physician do? He inquires into the particulars of the case, then seeks to administer remedies. Just so the physician of the soul should inquire into the spiritual maladies with which the members of his flock are afflicted, then go to work to administer the proper remedies, and ask the Great Physician to come to his aid. Give them the help that they need. Such ministers will receive all that respect and honor which is due them as ministers of Christ. And in doing for others their own souls will be kept alive. They must be drawing strength from God in order to impart strength to those to whom they shall minister.
May the Lord help us to seek Him with all the heart; I want to know that I daily gather the divine rays from glory, that emanate from the throne of God and shine from the face of Jesus Christ, and scatter them in the pathway around me. I want to be all light in the Lord.
[Reported as spoken before the General Conference of 1871.]
Testimonies for the Church, Vol. 2 pp. 609-618