During a recent visit to a Civil War Museum, in South Carolina, some of my family and I saw many interesting items on display from that tragic era in American history. The museum guide shared so many intriguing bits of information with us that related to the customs and culture that prevailed during that time.
One fascinating story involved a dress. A black dress.
It was the custom, at that time, for a widowed lady to wear the black garb of mourning for a year, as a symbol of respect and proper decorum, and remain unmarried. The “black dress” was to be worn on a continual basis until the year had passed. Along with the dress, a long, black veil was to be worn. As each month of mourning passed, a portion of the veil would be cut off. By the time the end of the year was completed, the veil had now been shortened to a length that indicated the widow was now approaching the end of her period of mourning and was eligible to remarry.
As the Civil War dragged on, there were many ladies who became widows. It came to be observed that a great many of these women were dying, after just a few months into their mourning period. It was said that they were dying of broken hearts, over the loss of their husbands.
However, it was later determined that these women were dying from arsenic poisoning! You see, the process for making these black, mourning dresses involved the use of arsenic as part of the dyes to render the deep, black color to these dresses. The arsenic was being gradually absorbed through their skin, while they wore these dresses. They were being slowly poisoned to death!
The remedy, of course, was to stop wearing these toxic, life destroying garments.
In Ephesians 4:22-24 and Colossians 3:8-10 we are instructed to put off the Old Man with its former vain, corrupt conduct. The toxicity of the present evil world is an issue that every believer is faced with, on a daily basis. In addition, the sinful tendencies of our flesh work against a walk that would be pleasing to God. Like those black, arsenic impregnated dresses which gradually poisoned those widows, we may also be slowly “poisoned” in our walk with the Lord, if we don’t put off the old man.
In Romans 8:12-13, we are reminded that we owe no debt to our flesh to choose to keep on living as we did before we were saved. We are told that to live after the flesh is to die! In what respect is it possible to die, as stated here?
If we understand the context of Romans chapters six through eight, we know that God has prescribed the way of Life! Romans 6:3-11 informs us of our Identity in Jesus Christ, as being dead, buried, and risen IN Him! The Old Man has been crucified with Him, henceforth we are to reckon (agree with God) concerning our death to sin and that we are alive unto God!
Romans 8:1-11 declares the glorious reality that the “Law of the Spirit of Life” IN Christ Jesus has made us free from the “Law of Sin and Death”. It also makes clear that to be carnally (fleshly) minded is “death”. The death spoken of here is what is manifested in our bodies when we are yielding to the flesh and not the Spirit. “For if ye live after the flesh, ye shall die.” It is the promotion of self rather than the in-living Christ. We are functionally dead, having no impact for the cause of Christ.
When someone finally realized that those dresses, with the arsenic was what was killing those widows, it was obvious that they needed to stop wearing those garments. They needed to put them off if they were to live!
Spiritually speaking, we must put off the old man which is “corrupt according to its deceitful lust”. Putting off the old man and putting on the new requires us to believe who we are in Christ Jesus. It calls us to remember that the Gospel that justifies us also sanctifies us, positionally and practically. It means being spiritually minded which is life and peace! It means being dead with Christ from the rudiments of the world (the traditions associated with human wisdom). It calls us to walk in the Spirit, so we don’t fulfill the lust of the Flesh.
The cultural norms of the genteel society of the Civil War era, passed down over many years of tradition, seemed to be the way to conduct oneself. However, the way that seemed to be right were the ways of death. They had to put away those traditions so that life might prevail.
Cultural norms, moral and ethical compromise, and even much erroneous religious traditions can gradually be absorbed into our soul, if we are not careful to keep putting off the old man and putting on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness!