C. H. Spurgeon
On the Preacher’s Appearance
A GOOD horse cannot be a bad color, and a really good preacher can wear what he likes, and none will care much about it; but though you cannot know wine by the barrel, a good appearance is a letter of recommendation even to a plowman. Wise men neither fall into love nor take a dislike at first sight, but still the first impression is always a great thing even with them; and as to those weaker brethren who are not wise, a good appearance is half the battle.
What is a good appearance? Well, it’s not being pompous and starchy, and making one’s self high and mighty among the people, for proud looks lose hearts, and gentle words win them. It’s not wearing fine clothes either, for foppish dress usually means a foul house within and the doorstep without fresh white wash. Such dressing tells the world that the outside is the best part of the puppet. When a man is proud as a peacock, all strut and show, he needs converting himself before he sets up to preach to others. The preacher who measures himself by his mirror may please a few silly girls, but neither God nor man will long put up with him. The man who owes his greatness to his tailor will find that needle and thread cannot long hold a fool in a pulpit. A gentleman should have more in his pocket than on his back, and a minister should have more in his inner man than on his outer man.
I would say, if I might, to young ministers, do not preach in gloves, for cats in mittens catch no mice; don’t curl and oil your hair like dandies, for nobody cares to hear a peacock’s voice; don’t have your own pretty self in your mind at all, or nobody else will mind you. Away with gold rings, and chains, and jewelry; why should the pulpit become a goldsmith’s shop? Forever away with surplices and gowns and all those nursery doll dresses men should put away childish things. A cross on the back is the sign of a devil in the heart; those who do as Rome does should go to Rome and show heir colors. If priests suppose that they get the respect of honest men by their fine ornamental dresses, they are much mistaken, for it is commonly said, “Fine feathers make fine birds,” and “An ape is never so like an ape as when he wears a Popish cape.” Among us dissenters the preacher claims no priestly powers and therefore should never wear a peculiar dress. Let fools wear fools’ caps and fools’ dresses, but men who make no claim to be fools should not put on fools’ clothes.
None but a very silly sheep would wear wolfs clothing. It is a singular taste which makes honest men covet the rags of thieves. Besides, where’s the good of such finery? Except a duck in pattens, no creature looks more stupid than a dissenting preacher in a gown which is of no manner of use to him. I could laugh till I held my sides when I see our doctors in gowns and bands, puffed out with their silks, and touched up with their little bibs, for they put me so much in mind of our old turkey when his temper is up, and he swells to his biggest. They must be weak folks indeed who want a man to dress like a woman before they can enjoy his sermon, and he who cannot preach without such milliner’s tawdry finery may be a man among geese, but he is a goose among men.
At the same time, the preacher should endeavor, according to his means, to dress himself respectably; and, as to neatness, he should be without spot, for kings should not have dirty footmen to wait at their table, and they who teach godliness should practice cleanliness. I should like white neckties better if they were always white, but dirty brown is neither here nor there. From a slovenly, smoking, snuff-taking, beer-drinking parson may the? be delivered. Some that I meet with may, perhaps, have very good manners, but they did not happen to have them about them at the time. Like the Dutch captain with his anchors, they had left them at home; this should never be the case, for, if there be a well-behaved man in the parish, it should he the minister.
A worn coat is no discredit, but the poorest may be neat, and men should be scholars rather than teachers till they are so. you cannot judge a horse by its harness; but a modest, gentle-manly appearance, in which the dress is just such as nobody could make a remark upon, seems to me to be the right sort of thing. This little bit of my mind is meant to warn you young striplings who have just started in the ministry; and if any of you get cross over it, I shall tell you that sore horses cannot bear to be combed, and again “those whom the shoe flits must wear its John Ploughman, you will say, had better mend his own smock and let the parsons alone; but I take leave to look about me and speak my mind, for a cat may look at a king, and a fool may give wise men good advice. If I speak too plainly, please remember that an old dog cannot alter his way of barking, and he who has long been used to plow a straight furrow is very apt to speak in the same straightforward manner.