Advice to Readers on Managing the World

For many years Isabella wrote a popular advice column for a Christian magazine. She used the column to answer readers’ concerns—from a Christian perspective—on a variety of topics.

In 1912 she received a letter from a shy young woman who didn’t want her name or letter printed for fear she might be identified; so, Isabella summarized the young lady’s question.

The situation in brief is this: She is away from home earning her living as a bookkeeper, and is a member of a young people’s religious organization, which she enjoys on Sundays, but with their week-day social life she is not in sympathy. They, it seems, “dance a good deal.” They go frequently to the theater, not being “over particular” as to the plays they choose, “although multitudes of good Christian people older than they go to the same plays.” They are very frequent attendants at the moving-picture shows, where pictures that she, at least, does not approve, are being constantly shown.

Black and white illustration of young men and women greeting each other on the street.

They take evening walks, long ones, with young men, and frequent candy stores and ice-cream saloons, and accept “treats” from the men, and talk loud on the streets and laugh a great deal; and, in short, do not appear to be of her world at all.

The question is, how shall she manage this world in which she finds herself? Shall she mingle occasionally with the others in the least objectionable of their doings, even though they are not to her taste? Or shall she hold herself aloof from them altogether and bear the stigma of “prig” and ‘‘prude” and names of that sort? She has reason to think that she has already gained the ill-will of some by her “offishness,” and “almost thinks” that in order to win an influence over them she must sacrifice her own views and cater to theirs.

Illustration of a young woman and man approaching a second woman, who appears unsure if she wants to speak with them.

Here is Isabella’s advice:

This dear girl, who is not yet twenty, imagines that these conditions are peculiar to herself, whereas the fact is that she has presented a fair picture of the church and the world in one of the great problems that confront us today. It takes varying forms. In some places it is outspoken and aggressive. In others it is mild and insinuating. It is sometimes very cultured and sometimes it is bald and coarse, but whatever its guise, it is the same old spirit of worldliness that in some form is all but sure to meet and attack the young and growing Christian.

The most insidious of its attacks, the most specious of its arguments, is to try to convince the young person that in order to win others to His side she must yield certain of her—not principles; oh, no, indeed!—but “notions,” not allowing herself to become conspicuous in any way so as to be marked as “peculiar” or “narrow.” There is a class of people in the world today who seem to have discovered that the unpardonable sin is “narrowness.”

It is not so important to get the opinion of any individual with regard to this whole matter, as it is to find what the Guide Book says. It is very explicit. From its first hint, given by the Master himself—to the effect that he was not of this world and that the world hated him before it hated his disciples— to his distinct statement that in the world they should have tribulation, there is a steadily cumulative testimony that “the friendship of the world is enmity with God.”

Illustration of a young woman entering a room where a second woman is seated, reading a book.

This being conceded as the state of things foretold, of what use is it to talk about compromising in order to win the world?

When it is distinctly understood and frankly acknowledged that there is and has always been, and always will be, antagonism between the world and a follower of Jesus Christ, until that time comes when “he whose right it is shall reign,” it clears the whole question up wonderfully.

There are four rules that, being set down as a guide post for our daily living, may clear the atmosphere. They might be formulated somewhat in this way:

  1. I will carefully and prayerfully distinguish between principles and “notions,” studying at the same time the trade-marks of worldliness as set down in the Guide Book.
  2. I will give up in Christ’s name and for Christ’s sake all mere “notions” that, being examined, fail to bear the superscription of the Master, but seem to have been born of prejudice and self-will.
  3. I will yield not one hair’s breadth of principle, even though I lose, or seem to be losing, my influence over every human being. “To his own Master he standeth or faileth.”
  4. I will uphold principles which I believe honor Christ, in the spirit that he has directed, cultivating daily love, joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness, faith, meekness.

May I, in closing, remind you of the secret of Christian influence? It is never in compromise of principle but adherence in gentleness, in meekness, in long-suffering; “against such there is no law.”

There is a kind of sledge-hammer adherence that wounds, and stings, and repels; the law of Christ is against it, and it fails. The other war, in the long run, sometimes through tribulation, wins.

Remember who it was who said: “Be of courage, I have overcome the world.”

What did you think of the advice Isabella gave?

Have you ever had to make choices similar to the ones the young bookkeeper described?

Did you know …

Isabella often referred to the Bible as “the Guide Book” because (as she said in Four Girls at Chautauqua) it held “the light” and instruction to guide believers on their Christian journeys.

2 thoughts on “Advice to Readers on Managing the World

  1. Isabella’s principles are very good, but the reality is that the young woman would be better off seeking a fellowship more in line with her principles. She is unlikely to meet congenial friends or a devout spouse in that atmosphere. Back then, there were more churches that took separation from the world seriously. Today, unfortunately, it’s very difficult to find believers who take separation from the world seriously without being cultists, except for conservative Mennonites, German Baptist Brethren and some Eastern European immigrant churches.

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