"Rules of a Godly Life" is a popular Pietist devotional source for the Amish. Comprised of 47 proverbs, this text was originally written in the early 18th century by a non-Amish author. The proverbs are intended to guide the Amish on how to center their daily life on God through their everyday thoughts, words, and deeds. This includes what one's mind should focus on when waking up and going to sleep, and how to conduct yourself when interacting with others during the day, all in order to maintain God's focus in all that you do and live in accordance to the Bible.
Despite its title, "Rules of a Godly Life" does not actually detail Amish rules, which are known as the Ordnung. The Ordnung vary from community to community, district to district, by each individual group of Amish, and they specify prohibitions and restrictions on modern technology, job options for Amish men and guidelines for everyday living such as dress codes and how to interact with non-Amish people. When an Amish person is baptized, they are promising to uphold these rules of their church and to never break from them. The "Rules of a Godly Life," on the other hand, are considered more of an annex to the Bible -- an inspirational book to help guide the way to a more fulfilling life.
(Translated by Joseph Stoll from the German "Regeln eines Gottseligen Lebens," as found in the First Part of "Geistliches Lust-Gartlein Frommer Seelen.")
Beloved friend, if you desire to live a holy and God-pleasing life, and to inherit a home in heaven after this life, then you must bring ALL of your life, all your thoughts, words, and actions into subjection to the teachings of the Bible, as God has commanded. Deut. 5: 32, 33. This is your only Rulebook of Faith. King David wrote, "I thought on my ways, and turned my feet unto thy testimonies" (Ps. 119:59), as much as to say -- "I regard and examine all my thoughts, words, and deeds, to see if they are according to thy commands; so that, perchance, if I have erred or wandered from some truth, I may return to the right."
First of all, let us consider our THOUGHTS. Take the following rules seriously to heart:
1. Awake in the morning with your thoughts turned to God. Think, this might be your last day of life. And when you go to bed at night, pause a moment to realize that it is unknown to you whether you will awake again on this earth, or whether your next awakening may be at the resurrection. For this reason, we can see that it is expedient to pray daily; in the morning and again at evening, come before God upon your knees, thanking Him for continued care, confessing your sins and shortcomings, and praying for forgiveness.
2. Keep free from wicked, idle, or unclean thoughts. Prov. 4.23. For as your thoughts are so is your speech, your conduct, and your entire way of life.
3. Think often on the four last things: on death -- there is nothing of which we are more sure; on the Judgment Day -- there is nothing more terrible; on hell -- there is nothing more unbearable; and on heaven -- there is nothing more joyful. He who thinks on these things will shun much sin and will be diligent in the way of salvation.
4. On the Sabbath especially take note of the wonderful works of God; of the creation and governing of the world, and of our Redemption. Make the Sabbath a day of prayer, of listening to and studying sermons; make it a day of holy thoughts and holy conversation. In this way you can keep the Sabbath holy, as is so often commanded in God's Word. If one does not keep the Sabbath holy it is certain that he will also take into contempt all the other commandments of God.
5. In everything you do, ponder well before you start what the outcome may be. Think, would you be willing to be found doing what you plan to do should you be called that hour by death, to appear before God? Never allow yourself to become involved in anything which destroys your hope and assurance of salvation. Live each day as if it were your last.
6. If anyone wrongs you, exercise a forgiving spirit and patiently dismiss the matter. For if you take the wrong to heart and become angry, you hurt no one but yourself and only do what your enemy wants you to do. If, however, you patiently forgive him, God will in His own good time judge the evildoer and bring your innocence to light.
7. Beware especially of an uncontented and rebellious spirit. Actually it is through the will and grace of God that you suffer and are troubled. God has blessed you with unnumbered gifts to supply your needs, and likewise for your own good has meted out of trouble and pain that you may remain humble. In the midst of trouble remember that you through your sinfulness deserve much greater punishment.
8. If other people praise you, humble yourself. But do not praise yourself or boast, for that is the way of fools who seek vain praise. Be honest in all your dealings and this will be enough reward; then others will praise you.
9. Be not overly concerned in another man's business, and what is of no concern to you, avoid.
10. In tribulation be patient and humble yourself under the mighty hand of God, with these thoughts foremost in your mind: first, that it is God who chasteneth; second, it is for your good; third, God will ease the burden; fourth, He will give you strength to endure; fifth, He will deliver from affliction at an expedient time.
11. Never consider any sin as small or of no account, because every sin, though it seem ever so small, is a transgression against God. A small sin that is loved and nurtured can condemn a man as well as a gross sin. A small leak, if not repaired, can sink a ship in time; likewise a small sin if continued without repentance can sink a soul and send it to hell. Beware, then, not only of great sins but also of small. Make a habit of overcoming every small temptation, and you can be master over great ones, too. Especially shun willful sinning, that ye provoke not God to anger; for a truth it is hard to obtain forgiveness for sins that were willfully committed.
12. "Rejoice not when your enemy falleth" (Prov. 24:17). What happens to another today may happen to you tomorrow, and he who rejoices at the calamities of another shall not go unpunished. Prov. 17:5.
13. Permit not envy or hatred in your heart, nor carry a grudge against anyone. God loved us when we were His enemies and therefore He expects us to love our enemies for His sake. It is but a small thing for us to forgive our enemies, in comparison to what God has forgiven us. Even though you may think your enemy unworthy of your forgiveness, it is well worth doing it for Christ's sake.
14. Do not think any less of a godly and holy life because it is held in contempt by the unsaved. For the same reason, do not forget the gravity of sin just because it is so widespread and most people live a sinful life. Righteousness and the majority are not always on the same side. The way to hell is always full of wandering souls. Matt. 7:13. If God should ask you on the Judgment Day, "Why did you desecrate the Sabbath? Why did you indulge in drunkenness? Why were you dishonest? Why did you pass your time in hating and jealousies?" Would you then answer, "Lord, I did so because almost everyone else did so."? This will be of all answers the least worthy, and God will say, "Because you have sinned with the majority, you will go to hell with the majority."
15. If you have an important decision to make, or you find yourself in circumstances where you know not what is best to do or answer, spend at least one night in meditation. You will not be sorry.
16. Never go to sleep without considering how you have spent the day just past, what you accomplished for good or evil, and you will readily perceive whether you are using your time -- fleeting, unredeemabe [sic] time -- in a constructive manner or not.
Part Two: WORDS
1. Think! For every idle word you speak you must give account thereof in the day of judgment. Matt. 12:36. "In the multitude of words there wanteth not sin" (Prov. 10:19). Seek to avoid, therefore, all non-edifying talk; let your words be thoughtful, few, and true. Consider beforehand if what you are about to say is worth saying. Practice saying much with few words. Never present a tale as true unless you know for certain that it is so; it is better to say nothing at all than to say something that may turn out to be false or otherwise of no value.
For once it becomes known that you are not conscientious to always speak only the truth, no one will believe you even when you do speak the truth. If, however, you have great respect for the truth your every word will carry more weight than those spoken under oath by a liar.
2. If you desire in honorable company to be joyful take care that your merriment prove worthy of Christian love, purity, and respectability. Avoid, therefore, rude insults, mocking speech, indecent words, and filthy jokes of which respectable people would be ashamed. First, because lewd conversation of this sort is outward proof of an unregenerate heart; "For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh" (Matt. 12:34). Second, because smutty humor and immodest words smooth the road to dishonorable deeds.
Yet you may say, "One must have something to say when in company with his friends to pass the time and to delight each other." This is indeed a wretched excuse. Such mirth is clearly forbidden by God's Word, "Neither filthiness, nor foolish talking, nor jesting, which are not convenient," says the Apostle Paul, are to be permitted. "For because of these things cometh the wrath of God upon the children of disobedience" (Eph. 5:4, 6). Through such evil talk and vain mirth the Holy Spirit of God is grieved. Eph. 4:29-30.
The tongue is the glory of man and the honor of the body. Shall it then be misused in unwholesome speech? When the tongue becomes corrupt it defileth the whole body, filling it with unrighteousness. See James 3:6. Loath all filthiness; let your speech be always full of love and to the edification of those who hear you, that they may be strengthened thereby. Use the gift of speech as a means of rebuking the idle, of instructing the ignorant, and of comforting the troubled. God will reward you with a fuller measure of His gifts. See Mark 4:25.
3. Be especially diligent to keep free from the vulgar thoughtless habit of swearing and the profane use of the holy name of God. It is indisputable evidence of a frivolous, impious, and ungodly character. It is also true that he who seeks with oaths to add strength and truth to his words is seldom a man of integrity; for if he has no scruples against misusing God's name, why should one suppose that he has any conscience against lying? "But let your communication be, Yea, yea; Nay, nay: for whatsoever is more than these cometh of evil" (Matt. 5:37). And that you might the better avoid profaneness, seek not the companionship of the profane, where you, too, may through familiarity fall into the habit. Rebuke a friend for profaneness, if he accepts it; if not, there is no gain in rebuking. See Proverbs 9:8.
4. Be not too ready to believe everything you hear, and do not repeat everything you hear, lest in this way you lose a friend and gain an enemy. When you hear complaint or gossip about another, thoroughly investigate the actual circumstances before offering your criticism or passing your opinion.
5. Confide to no one your personal secrets unless you have beforehand found him to be worthy of your trust. Here is one way to prove him and learn to know him well: confide to him some secret of small importance; if he keeps it to himself it is an indication of his trustworthiness. However, it is not wise to inform any friend carelessly of all your secrets. There is a possibility that at some later time you may have sharp differences and then he may use his knowledge to your harm.
6. Do not speak evil of friends; rather, speak well of them wherein they deserve praise. What is not praiseworthy keep to yourself. Slanderings and scornful gossip are poison to any friendship. If you are present when others speak disrespectfully of one who is absent, search first your own heart before joining in; without doubt you will find there the same (or greater) shortcomings. This should move you to better yourself, and yet keep you from speaking evil of others and belittling them.
7. When you need advice do not seek a counselor on the basis of his prestige or esteem among the people. Go to those who have experience in that concerning which you seek counsel. For if a man accustomed to recognition above his fellows gives you advice, and you do not comply with his recommendations because you feel they are impractical for you, he may be insulted and become your enemy.
8. If someone with good intentions gives you advice which turns out to be not good, do not hold it against him. For even a good counsel sometimes fails, and there is no one on earth who can tell what the future holds. No one is wise enough or has foresight enough to do so. Do not scoff at the advice of unaccomplished brethren who have your welfare at heart.
9. Do not make fun of another's weaknesses. Instead, think of your own shortcomings. Gal. 6. We all have our weak points, and there is none of whom others say not, "O that this or that were different." Either we are, or have been, or may become subject to most anything, even as others. Therefore show patience and sympathy toward your brother's weaknesses and mistakes. At the same time, do not strengthen him in sin by your nonchalance or by neglecting brotherly admonitions and reproof. If you wish to admonish a brother be careful to bring your reproof at a suitable time; for a reproof at the wrong time may easily do more harm than good, especially if the rebuke is too sharp or not tempered with gentleness. A reproof is like a salad, it needs more oil than vinegar.
10. Make a habit of not discussing or judging another's words unless you know you have heard and understood aright what they meant to say.
11. You cannot have disputes and divisions with fellow humans and still have peace with God. If you love God, you must also love your fellow men, because God has commanded it.
12. Patiently bear your cross without complaining; for your adversary may rejoice at your discomfiture, and others will think less of you.
13. Consider him a friend who rebukes you privately. It is a pitiful state-of-affairs indeed, for a man to have no one who dares to correct him when he has need of it. For such a man is likely to think he makes no mistakes if he receives no reproof, and will live on in error to his own destruction. Whereas, this might be prevented by an earnest appeal from a friend.
Everyone most certainly needs instruction at times. The eye sees all and seeks the improvement of all, but it cannot see itself to aid its own improvement. Thus it is with us -- we are so prejudiced in our own favor that we cannot see our own mistakes and shortcomings as easily as those of others. Therefore, it is very necessary that we have their help, since they can see our needs much more clearly than we ourselves can. Regardless whether reproof is given justly or unjustly, whether it comes from a friend or an enemy, it can do a wise and understanding person no harm; for if it be well-grounded it is a reminder to better himself, and if it be false it can serve as a warning of what to shun. If you are a person who can not bear reproof, your only choice is to never to anything wrong.
Part Three: WORKS
1. Do no evil, even if it is in they power to do so. Do nothing in secret of which you would need to be ashamed before men. Remember with Joseph that, though no man sees, God sees all; and that your conscience will testify against you. Abhor all sins, not alone those that are apparent to others, but also secret sins. For even as God is a righteous God, so will He, if you do not repent, bring all your hidden sins to light. I Cor. 4:5; Ps. 50:21.
2. Stand firm, with all your strength, against your bosom sins, those which your personal nature, more than any other sin, has a tendency to commit. One man loves the honor of men; another has a love for money; a third may tend to drunkenness; a fourth to the sins of the flesh; a fifth to pride, etc. Against your strongest evil inclinations you must above all others defend yourself, for if you overcome them you can easily master other temptations. AS a fowler retains control of bird by one leg, so has Satan that man in his power who succumbs to one temptation, and this as fully as if he fell to all.
3. If you desire to avoid sin you will need to shun every occasion and opportunity that tends to evil-doing. He who does not avoid the conditions that lead to evil can not expect to overcome sin. Evil companions lead to sin, such as those from whom one hears indecent speech, by which he may easily be mislead and corrupted. Bad company ruins good morals. I Cor. 15:33. Evil associations are the Devil's drag-net, with which he draws many to perdition. Avoid companionship with ungodly, lewd persons. "If sinners entice you, do not consent" (Prov. 1:10, RSV). Those who spend much time with sinful companions are easily corrupted by them, adopting their habits of speech and becoming similar in character ere they realize it. Evil companions demand conformity. In their company one must either sin or suffer scorn. With this in mind a devout man avoids the company of the wicked. If you do not wish to be enticed to fornication and impurity, flee diligently from occasions and persons where the door to these sins would be open. To escape drunkenness (which is the broad way to hell), seek not the comradeship of a drunkard, and look not to him as a friend. For of what help is such a friend who may ruin your life, yea destroy your salvation? For experience teaches that more people are killed by friends by way of drunkenness than are slain by the swords of enemies. More people have perished by wine than have been drowned in water. Beware of all allurements to sin! You know not how soon you may be ensnared by Satan and sin.
4. When you are tempted by others or by your own impulse, to do harm to a fellowman, pause to consider how you would feel if others did so to you. Do nothing to others that you would not wish them to do to you. "All things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them." Matt. 7:12. What you yourself dislike do not to others ...
5. When you in your calling face a great undertaking, do not lose faith in the power of God to provide. Begin nothing without first praying for God's blessing, for without His sanction all our cares and labors are in vain. Ps. 127:1-2. On the blessings of God depend all things. Pray the Lord to bless your labors, and then proceed to the task at hand with joyful spirit, committing all to the wise providence of God, who cares for us and supplies the needs of those who fear Him.
6. Do not attempt supporting yourself in any occupation forbidden by God. For to what advantage is wealth won at the expense of your soul? Matt. 16:26. Even though you may make great temporal gains through dishonesty, you will thereby forfeit the blessing of a clear conscience. Who can bear the burden of a disturbed, nagging conscience? Be diligent, therefore, as was the Apostle Paul, always taking pains to have a clear conscience towards God and towards men. Acts 24:16.
7. Do not be proud and overbearing because you have been blessed with this world's goods, or with outstanding personality features; for God who has given can also take away, and may do so if you through pride or contempt of others make misuse of His gifts to you. Even though you possess certain qualities of which you may feel proud, they are more than offset by your many bad habits and shortcomings which prove you unworthy in your own eyes. He who knows himself well is certain to find enough of human frailty to make it extremely difficult for him to consider himself better than others.
8. Be a true servant to Christ, not only by attending church services or by taking part in religious ceremonies, but throughout every area of your life, shunning all sin, and with a true obedient spirit obeying all the commandments of God. Be not satisfied with a reputation for godliness: let your character be equally good. Woe unto the man who is not pious yet wants to be considered as such.
9. Do not think that it will suffice to only serve God yourself, and not see to it that all in your care do likewise. The duty of every father lies not alone in personal service to God, but also in influencing his family and servants to do likewise. God has commanded, "And these words, which I command thee this day, shall be in thine heart: and thou shalt teach them diligently unto they children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up." Deut. 6:6, 7. So did Joshua, the gallant God-fearing hero, informing the people of Israel that whether or not they served the Lord, he and his house would do so. Josh. 24:15. A father is as accountable for the welfare of those in his house as a government for her charge or a pastor for his flock. He must therefore be deeply concerned that his entire household truly worship and serve God, which is the only way for them to obtain salvation.
10. Detest idleness as a pillow of Satan and a cause of all sorts of wickedness, and be diligent in your appointed tasks that you be not found idle. Satan has great power over the idle, to lead them into many sins. King David was idle on the rooftop of his house when he fell into adultery. II Sam. 11:2-5.
11. Practice modesty in the wearing of clothes, and have nothing to do with pomp and luxury in raiment. It is great vanity to spend as much on one suit as would ordinarily be required to clothe two or three persons. When you become old and think back to the time when you sought to adorn yourself, you will feel only regret that you once loved such vain display. Read much in God's Word and you will find many warnings against pride. No other sin was punished more severely. Pride changed angels to devils. A once powerful king, Nebuchadnezzar, was transformed into a brute beast [to eat grass like an ox]. And Jezebel (a dominant queen) was eaten of dogs as the result of her pride. II Kings 9:30-37.
12. Do nothing in anger but consider well before you act, lest you be sorry later and will acquire a name of evil repute. In time your anger will cool and you will be able to decide wisely what has to be done. Make a difference between one who has wronged you against his will through lack of forethought, and one who has deliberately and maliciously done so. Be gracious to the former and let your reactions toward the latter be tempered with righteousness.
13. Be not too intimate with any man, except he fear God; for it is certain that any and all friendships, however established, built on any other foundation than the fear of God, may not last long.
14. For the sake of their friendship it is best for friends not to become too confidential; for this life is so filled with change and circumstances that it is hard for any man to retain the good will of all his friends unto the end of his days.
15. If you chance to fall into any kind of dispute with a friend, do not despise him for this reason, nor betray his confidences. Prov. 11:13. In this way you may win him again as a friend.
16. No one is his own master, only a steward of that which is in his care. Therefore give of your goods to the poor and needy, wisely, willingly, and heartily. 12:13; II Cor. 9:7.
17. Preside over those in your charge with kindness and meekness, rather than to subject them to fear and terror... The righteousness of God can not long endure tyranny; an oppressor does not rule long. An overly severe administration of justice is gross unrighteousness. God requires meekness and humility of those in authority as well as justice. Therefore govern your subjects with love and mercy, so that they will love you more than fear you.
18. Finally, be friendly to all and a burden to no one. Live holy before God; before yourself, moderately; before your neighbors, honestly. Let your life be modest and reserved, your manner courteous, your admonitions friendly, your forgiveness willing, your promises true, your speech wise, and share gladly the bounties you receive.
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