Can the Ethiopian change his skin, or the leopard his spots? Neither are you able to do good--you who are accustomed to doing evil.
I. THE EXTENT TO WHICH IT MAY GO. The metaphors employed are intended to illustrate the difficulty of getting rid of that which has become a part of one's self, or which has become natural to one. It is evident that superficial means would never produce the effect supposed, because that which seems to be superficial has really its root in the nature, and would be reproduced similarly in place of that which was removed. The doctrine is that there are certain evils into which men fall which may appear to be external, matters of custom and observance, but which have really their origin in the depravity of the heart. Any merely external reform, like that of Josiah, would fail to effect a permanent change, because the source of the errors and transgressions which were corrected was deeper than the remedy could reach. And this is the case with the sins of men. To cease to do evil we have not only to stay the hand but to purify the heart. To cease to do evil we must cease to think it, to feel it, and to conceive it. So helpless is the sinner when he stands face to face with the problem of reformation. Effort after effort is made and fails. It is bound to fail because the source of the wrong-doing has net been rectified. To change himself - who is capable of this feat?
II. CAUSES OF IT, REAL AND UNREAL. Excuses readily suggest themselves to the sinner who would avoid the humiliation of repentance. He may ask the question, as if it were a mystery, "Wherefore come these things upon me?" Or, ignoring the witness of conscience, he may attribute his weakness to circumstances and external influences. This is the error which the prophet refutes. With great skill he shows the terrible power of habit: how men continue to do that which they have been doing simply because they have been doing it. The feet acquire a fatal facility in transgression, and the, hands a skill in working evil. They almost act automatically when things forbidden are suggested. But when the commandments of God are concerned they are unfamiliar with the duties enjoined, and the will is not resolute enough to persevere in them.
III. ITS GREAT REMEDY. Seeing that in himself the sinner is without strength, it would appear at first as if he could only despair. But this is not the teaching of the prophet. He has already counseled vigorous effort, and implied that a commencement and continuance in well-doing were possible. But the change could only begin at a spiritual point, viz. repentance. And this, as Scripture abundantly shows, though within the power of every one, is a supernatural grace. A true sorrow for sin may be induced in answer to prayer, by the study of Scripture, and the contemplation of Christ; but it is always the work of the Holy Spirit. When that grace, however, has once been attained, it is open to the sinner to reverse the process by which he has been enslaved. After conversion evil habit will assert itself, and can only be met by constant dependence upon Divine grace and constant effort after holiness. The good habit formed by repeated and regular actions according to the Law of God is the best antidote to the evil one. - M.
Can the Ethiopian change his skin, or the leopard his spots?I. THE QUESTION AND ITS ANSWER.
1. The difficulty in the sinner's case lies —(1) In the thoroughness of the operation. The Ethiopian can wash, or paint; but he cannot change that which is part and parcel of himself. A sinner cannot change his own nature.(2) In the fact that the will is itself diseased by sin. In man's will lies the essence of the difficulty: he can not, means that he does not will to have it done. He is morally unable.(3) In the strength of habit. Practice in transgression has forged chains, and bound the man to evil.(4) In the pleasure of sin, which fascinates and enslaves the mind.(5) In the appetite for sin, which gathers intensity from indulgence. Drunkenness, lechery, covetousness, etc., are a growing force.(6) In the blindness of the under. standing, which prevents men from seeing the evil of their ways, or noting their danger. Conscience is drugged into a deep sleep.(7) In the growing hardness of the heart, which becomes more stolid and unbelieving every day, till nothing affects it.(8) In the evident fact that outward means prove ineffectual
2. For all these reasons we answer the question in the negative: sinners can no more renew themselves than Ethiopians can change their skins.(1) Why then preach to them? It is Christ's command, and we are bound to obey. Their inability does not hinder our ministry, for power goes with the word.(2) Why tell them that it is their duty to repent? Because it is so: moral inability is no excuse: the law is not to be lowered because man has grown too evil to keep it.(3) Why tell them of this moral inability? To drive them to self-despair, and make them look to Christ.
II. ANOTHER QUESTION AND ANSWER.
1. All things are possible with God (Matthew 19:26).
2. The Holy Spirit has special power over the human heart.
3. The Lord Jesus has determined to work this wonder, and for this purpose He came into this world, and died, and rose again (Matthew 1:21).
4. Many such jet-black sinners have been totally changed: among ourselves there are such, and in all places such may be found.
5. The Gospel is prepared with that end.
6. God has made His Church long for such transformations, and prayer has been offered that they may now be wrought.
( C. H. Spurgeon.)
Homilist.Habit may be looked on —
1. As a necessary law.(1) A facility of performing an act in proportion to its repetition.(2) A tendency grows up in us to repeat what we have often done.
2. As a beneficent law. It is because acts grow easier and generally more attractive the oftener they are performed, that men advance in the arts, the sciences, the morality, and the religion of life.
3. As an abused law. The text is a strong expression of its abuse. The words of course are not to be taken in an absolutely unqualified sense. The idea is great difficulty. Our subject is the difficulty of converting old sinners, men "accustomed to do evil."
I. IT IS A SELF-CREATED DIFFICULTY.
1. Habit is but an accumulation of acts, and in each of the aggregate acts the actor was free.
2. The sinner himself feels that he has given his moral complexion the Ethiopian stain, and painted his character with the leopard spots. This fact shows —(1) The moral force of human nature. Man forging chains to manacle his spirit, creating a despot to control his energies and his destiny.(2) The egregious folly of wickedness. It makes man his own enemy, tyrant, destroyer.
II. IT IS A GRADUALLY AUGMENTING DIFFICULTY. Habit is a cord. It is strengthened with every action. At first it is as fine as silk, and can be broken with but little effort. As it proceeds it becomes a cable strong enough to hold a man of war, steady amidst boisterous billows and furious winds. Habit is a momentum. It increases with motion. At first a child's hand can arrest the progress. As the motion increases it gets a power difficult for an army of giants to overcome. Habit is a river, at its headspring you can arrest its progress with ease, and turn it in any direction you please, but as it approaches the ocean it defies opposition, and rolls with a thunderous majesty into the sea.
1. The awful condition of the sinner.
2. The urgency for an immediate decision Procrastination is folly.
3. The necessity of the special prayers of the Church on behalf of aged sinners.
III. IT IS A POSSIBLY CONQUERABLE DIFFICULTY.
1. The history of conversions shows the possibility of overcoming this difficulty.
2. The mightiness of Christ shows the possibility of overcoming this difficulty, He saves to the uttermost.Uttermost in relation to the enormity of the sin — uttermost in relation to the age of the sinner.
1. There is resistance. As every yielding to temptation strengthens a bad habit, so every act of resistance weakens it. It was the belief of the North American Indians that the strength of the slain foe passed into the body of the slayer; and in the moral world it is so, for not only does resistance take from the force of habit, it strengthens the will against it, so that in a double way acts of resistance undermine the force of habit.
2. Then there is education. Every man who is not wholly lost to a sense of right-doing feels every time he gives way to an evil habit a silent protest working in his breast, something that tells him he is wrong, that urges him to do differently, that interferes with the pleasure of the sin, mingling with it a sense of dissatisfaction. This protest will generally take the form of urging us towards the good which is opposite to the evil in which we are indulging. And by educating, by drawing out the desire after this good more and more, the evil is more and more put to flight. Thus the way to overcome inattentiveness of the mind is not so much to fix our attention on the fault, as to cultivate and educate its opposite, concentration of mind.
3. Once again, there is prayer. It has been said that to labour is to pray, and that is true in a measure; and those who labour in resisting evil habits and in cultivating good ones are, in a sense, by such actions praying to God; but anyone who has ever prayed knows that that definition does not exhaust the meaning or force of prayer. Prayer is more than labour — it is having intercourse with God. It is one of the chief means by which we are made conscious that we are not alone in the battle of life; but that there is One with us who is our unchangeable Friend, who looks down upon us with an interest that never flags, and a love that never grows cold.
(Arthur Brooke, M. A.)I. TO EXPLAIN THE NATURE OF EVIL HABITS, PARTICULARLY THE TENDENCY OF THEM, TO RENDER MEN INDISPOSED TO MORAL GOODNESS. No habit leaveth a man in a state of indifference, it putteth a strong bias upon his mind to act according to its direction, as experience showeth in innumerable instances, and in the most ordinary affairs, and even amusements of life; how naturally and easily do we fall into the beaten track, and hold on the accustomed course, though our reason discerneth no importance in it at all! Nay, by the influence of habit, trifles are magnified into matters of great moment, at least they engage the desire, and determine the active powers as if they were, so that we find it very difficult to break them off. Again, the only rational way of reclaiming men from ill practices is, by convincing them that they are ill, and that they must be attended with unhappy consequences to themselves: but the effect of habits is to darken the understanding, to fill the mind with prejudices, and to render it unattentive to reason. How then shall they that are accustomed to do evil learn to do well, since they are biassed against it, being expert in the contrary practice, and since they have made themselves in a great measure incapable of instruction?
II. CONSIDER PARTICULARLY HOW WE ARE TO UNDERSTAND THAT DISABILITY TO DO GOOD WHICH IS CONTRACTED BY BEING ACCUSTOMED TO DO EVIL.
1. That the impotence is not total nor equal to that which is natural, will appear from the following considerations.(1) Where there is a total disability, and equal to that which is natural, there can be no guilt.(2) It is very well known in a multitude of instances, that men by strong resolutions, and a vigorous exertion of the natural force of their minds, have actually conquered very inveterate habits, and turned to a quite different way of living.
2. You see then where the difference lieth, that it is in ourselves, and what that impotence is which ariseth from habits, that it is no more than irresolution which is properly the fault of the mind, and to be charged wholly upon it.
3. God waiteth to be gracious to them, unwilling they should perish, if they are disposed on their part to submit to the remedy which His mercy hath provided.
(J. Abernethy, M. A.)1. Everyone remembers how much of his discipline as a child was connected with points of manner; how often he was reproved for little rudenesses, etc. And if by the neglect of others or by his own he formed any such habit, does he not remember too how much pain and effort it cost him to get rid of it, however little pleasure there might be in indulging it, or however easy it might appear, in prospect, to part with it at any moment when it might become troublesome? And I need not remind any of you of the force of habit as shown, in an opposite way, in matters which, though they occupy much of your time and thoughts elsewhere, must yet be regarded as trifling in comparison with the graver subjects which ought to fill our minds here; I mean, in those exercises of bodily strength and skill which form so large a part of our youthful training.
2. But now go one step farther, and observe the effect of habit, for good or evil, upon the mind. If language be your chief subject of study, the repeated sight of certain symbols, which were at first entirely strange and unintelligible to you, makes them familiar, and associates them forever in your mind with the ideas which they symbolise; and the repeated formation for yourselves of words and sentences in that foreign language, according to certain rules, gives you at last an almost intuitive and instantaneous perception of what is right and beautiful in it. This is the reward of the diligent; their reward in proportion to the original gift of mind for which they are not responsible, and to their diligence in the use of it for which they are. And if this be, in intellectual matters, the force of habit for good, need I speak of its influence for evil? Those repeated neglects which make up the school life of an idle or presumptuous boy; the little separate acts, or rather omissions of act, which seem to him now so trifling; the postponements, half-learnings, or total abandonments of lessons; the hours of inattention, vacancy, or wandering thoughts, which he spends in school; the shallowness and looseness and slovenliness — still worse, the too frequent unfairness — of his best preparations of work; these things too are all going to form habits.
3. The soul too is the creature of habit. Have you not all found it so? When you have for two or three days together forgotten your prayers, has it not become, even in that short time, more easy to neglect, more difficult to resume them? When you have left God out of sight in your daily life; when you have fallen into an unchristian and irreligious state of mind and life, how soon have you found this state become as it were natural to you; how much less, day by day, did the idea of living without God alarm you; how much more tranquil, if not peaceful, did conscience become as you departed farther and farther in heart from the living God! But there is another, an opposite, habit of the soul, that of living to God, with God, and in God. That too is a habit, not formed so soon or so easily as the other, yet like it formed by a succession of acts, each easier than the last, and each making the next easier still.
4. I have spoken separately of habits of the body, the mind, and the soul. It remains that we should combine these, and speak a few serious words of those habits which affect the three. Such habits there are, for good and for evil. There is a devotion of the whole man to God, which affects every part of his nature. Such is the habit of a truly religious life; such a life as some have sought in the seclusion of a cloister, but which God wills should be led in that station of life, whatsoever it be, to which it has pleased or shall please Him to call us. One day so spent indeed, is the earnest, and not the earnest only hut the instrument too, of the acquisition of the inheritance of the saints in light. How can we, after such thoughts, turn to their very opposite, and speak of habits affecting for evil conjointly the body, the mind, and the soul? Yet such habits there are, and the seed of them is often sown in boyhood.
5. It is the fashion with some to undervalue habits. The grace of God, they say, and say truly, can change the whole man into the opposite of what he is. It is most true: with God — we bless Him for the word, it is our one hope — all things are possible. But does God give any encouragement in His Word to that sort of recklessness as to early. conduct, which some practically justify by their faith in the atonement? Is it not the whole tenour of His Word that children should be brought up from the first in the nurture and admonition of the Lord?
6. I have spoken, as the subject led me, of good habits and evil: there is yet a third possibility, or one which seems such. There is such a thing, in common language at least, as having no habits. Yes, we have known such persons, all of us; persons who have no regularity and no stability within or without; persons who one day seem not far from the kingdom of God, and the next have drifted away so far from it that we wonder at their inconsistency. As you would beware of bad habits, so beware also of having no habits. Grasp tenaciously, and never let go, those few elements at least of virtuous habit which you acquired in earliest childhood in a Christian home. You will be very thankful for them one day.
(Dean Vaughan.)I. HOW FAR THE INFLUENCE OF HABIT EXTENDS. Habit extends its influence over the body, the mind, and the conscience The body, considered merely as an animal frame, is much under the influence of habit. Habit inures the body to cold or heat; renders it capable of labour, or patient of confinement. Through habit the sailor rides upon the rocking wave without experiencing that sickness which the unaccustomed voyager is almost sure to feel. I might now proceed from the body to the mind, only there are some cases which are of a mixed nature, partaking both of body and mind, in which we neither contemplate the body apart from the mind, nor the mind apart from the body; and habit has its influence upon both. Such is the pernicious use of strong liquors, habit increases the desire, diminishes the effect of them. So all undue indulgence of the body increases the desire of further indulgence. The appetite by constant gratifications becomes uncontrollable; and the mind also grows debauched, is rendered incapable of purer pleasures, and altogether unfit for the exercises of religion. Nor is it only through the body that habit has its effect upon the mind. There are habits purely mental, as well as habits purely bodily. Profaneness may become a habit; a man may contract a habit of swearing, a habit of speaking irreverently of sacred things. So the anger of a passionate man is often called constitutional. Further, the Apostle Paul speaks of those whose mind and conscience is defiled. Habit has its effect on the conscience also. One would think that the more frequently a man had committed a fault, the more severely would his conscience upbraid him for it. But the very contrary is the case: his conscience has become familiar with the sin, as well as his other faculties of mind or body.
II. THE DIFFICULTY OF OVERCOMING HABITS. Even in the case of those who have been soberly and virtuously brought up, and whose life is unstained by a course of profane or licentious conduct, there is a principle of evil which keeps them far from God. They have no love to Him, no delight in Him, no communion with Him. How much more palpably impossible is it for the wretched sinner to break his chains, when sin by long indulgence has become habitual; when the body itself has been made subject to it, the mind polluted by it, and the conscience seared as with a red-hot iron! Does experience teach you to expect that these men will correct themselves! It may be that such men may change one sin for another, a new bad habit, as it acquires strength, may supplant an old one, the sins of youth may give way to the sins of age. But this is not ceasing to do evil, and learning to do well. It is only altering the manner of doing evil. With men it is impossible, but not with God; for with God all things are possible. Divine grace can not only take away the greatest guilt; it can also enlighten the darkest understanding, and sanctify the most corrupt heart.
III. ADDRESS TWO DESCRIPTIONS OF CHARACTERS.
1. Those who are still walking in their accustomed way of evil.
2. Those who have been delivered from it.
(J. Fawcett, M. A.)double entendre; where men report things whose very edge is uncomely and unwholesome; where men talk among themselves in such a way that before they begin they look around and say, "Are there any ladies present?" where men converse with an abominable indecorum and filthiness in repartee, jesting with things that are fine, and smearing things that are pure, the apostle says, "It is not convenient." The original is, It is not becoming. In other words, it is unmanly. That is the force of the passage. And we are for. bidden to indulge in these things. Yet very many men run through the whole of them, sink into the depths of pollution, and pass away. I scarcely need say that in connection with such tendencies as I have reprobated will come in the temptation to a low tone of conduct socially; to coarse and vulgar manners, and to carelessness of the rights of others. By good manners I mean the equity of benevolence. If you will take the 13th chapter of 1st Corinthians, and, though it be perverting the text a little, substitute for "charity" the word polite. ness, you will have a better version of what true politeness is than has ever been written anywhere else. No man has any right to call himself a gentleman who is oblivious of that equity of kindness which should exist under all circumstances between man and man. I have noticed a want of regard for the aged. Grey hairs are not honourable in the sight of multitudes of young men. They have not trained themselves to rise up and do obeisance to the patriarch. I have observed that there was a sort of politeness manifested on the part of young men if the recipient of it was young and fair; but I have noticed that when poor women come into a car, sometimes bearing their babes in their arms, young men, instead of getting up and giving them their places, are utterly indifferent to them. The habits of our times are not courteous, and you are not likely to learn from them the art of good manners, which means kindness and equity between man and man in the ordinary associations of life; and if you would endow yourself with this Christian excellence you must make it a matter of deliberate consideration and assiduous education. I will mention one more habit into which we are liable to fall, and toward which the whole nation seems to tend: I mean the habit of loving evil. I refer not to the love of doing evil, but to the love of discussing evil. True Christian charity, it is also said in the 13th of 1st Corinthians, "rejoiceth not in iniquity." A man ought to be restrained from any commerce with that which is evil — evil news, evil stories, evil surmises, evil insinuations, innuendoes, scandals, everything evil that relates to society. Set yourselves, then, as Christian men and women, to abhor evil and to rejoice not in iniquity, but in the truth. I will speak of one other habit — namely, the growing habit of profanity. Men accustom themselves to such irreverence in the use of words which are sacred, that at last they cease to be words of power to them. Men swear by God, by the Almighty, by the Lord Jesus Christ, in a manner which shocks the feelings and wounds the hearts of truly conscientious people. And they who thus addict them. selves to rudeness of speech violate the law of good society. Not only that, but; they do it uselessly. You do not give weight to what you are saying in conversation by the employment of expletives. There is no statement which is more forcible than that which is expressed in simple language. And in giving way to the habit you are doing violence to the Word of God, to your best moral instincts, and to your ideal of the sanctity of your Ruler and your Judge; and I beseech of you who are beginning life to take heed of this tendency, and avoid it. We are all building a character. What that character is to be it doth not yet appear. We are working in the dark, as it were; but by every thought and action we am laying the stones, tier upon tier, that are going into the structure; and what it to be the light of the eternal world will reveal. It is, therefore, wise for every man to pray, "Search me, O God; try me and see if there be any evil way at me." It is worth our while to go back to the Old Testament again, and say, "Wherewithal shall a young man cleanse his way? By taking heed thereto according to Thy Word." The cleanest Book, the most honourable Book, the most manly Book, the truest, the simplest, and the noblest Book that ever was written or thought of is this Book of God. In the Psalms of David, in the Proverbs of Solomon, in the whole New Testament, you cannot go amiss. Them is not one place where you will be led down morally, where the ideal is not noble, and where it does not ascend higher and higher, till you stand in Zion and before God.
(H. W. Beecher.)I. THE GREAT DIFFICULTY OF REFORMING VICIOUS HABITS, OR OF CHANGING A BAD COURSE, TO THOSE WHO HAVE BEEN DEEPLY ENGAGED IN IT AND LONG ACCUSTOMED TO IT. This will fully appear —
1. If we consider the nature of all habits, whether good, or bad, or indifferent. A rooted habit becomes a governing principle, and bears almost an equal sway in us with that which is natural. It is a kind of a new nature superinduced, and even as hard to be expelled, as some things which are primitively and originally natural.
2. This difficulty ariseth more especially from the particular nature of evil and vicious habits. These, because they are suitable to our corrupt nature, and conspire with the inclinations of it, are likely to be of a much quicker growth and improvement, and in a shorter space, and with less care and endeavour, to arrive at maturity and strength, than the habits of grace and goodness.
3. The difficulty of this change ariseth likewise from the natural and judicial consequences of a great progress and long continuance in an evil course.
II. THE CASE OF THESE PERSONS, THOUGH IT BE EXTREMELY DIFFICULT, IS NOT QUITE DESPERATE; BUT AFTER ALL, THERE IS SOME GROUND OF HOPE AND ENCOURAGEMENT LEFT, THAT THEY MAY YET BE RECLAIMED AND BROUGHT TO GOODNESS.
1. There is left, even in the worst of men, a natural sense of the evil and unreasonableness of sin; which can hardly be ever totally extinguished in human nature.
2. Very bad men, when they have any thoughts of becoming better, are apt to conceive some good hopes of God's grace and mercy.
3. Who knows what men thoroughly roused and startled may resolve, and do? And a mighty resolution will break through difficulties which seem insuperable.
4. The grace and assistance of God when sincerely sought, is never to be despaired of.
(J. Tillotson, D. D.)I. FROM THE NATURE OF HABITS IN GENERAL OF VICIOUS HABITS IN PARTICULAR. Concerning habits, we may observe that there are many things which we practise at first with difficulty, and which at last, by daily and frequent repetition, we perform not only without labour, but without premeditation and design. Thus it is with the habits of memory. By frequent practice and slow degrees we acquire the use of speech: we retain a surprising variety of words of arbitrary sounds, which we make the signs of things. Thus it is in the habits of the imagination. When we accustom our minds to certain objects, when we call them often before us, these objects, which at first were perhaps as indifferent as any other, become familiar to us, they appear uncalled and force themselves upon us. Thus it is with the habits of sin. They are acquired like other habits by repeated acts; they fix themselves upon us in the same manner, and are corrected with the same difficulty. A sinner by long offending contracts an aversion from his duty, and weakens his power of deliberating and choosing upon wise motives. By giving way to his passions he has made them ungovernable; they rise of themselves, and stay not for his consent, and by every victory over him they gain new strength, and he grows less able to resist them. His understanding and reason become unserviceable to him. At first, when he did amiss, he was ashamed of it; but shame is lost by long offending. Add to this, that vicious habits make a deeper impression and gain faster upon us than good habits. Sin recommends itself to our senses by bringing present profit or pleasure, whilst religion consists frequently in renouncing present profit or pleasure for a greater interest at a distance, and so recommends itself, not to our senses, but to our reason; upon which account it is more difficult to be good than to be bad. One being asked, what could be the reason why weeds grew more plentifully than corn? answered, Because the earth was the mother of weeds, but the stepmother of corn; that is, the one she produced of her own accord, the other not till she was compelled to it by man's toil and industry. This may not unfitly be applied to the human mind, which on account of its intimate union with the body, and commerce with sensible objects, easily and willingly performs the things of the flesh, but will not bring forth the spiritual fruits of piety and virtue, unless cultivated with assiduity and application.
II. FROM EXPERIENCE. There are few who forsake any vice to which they are remarkably addicted. The truth of this may be easiest observed in those faults where the body seems not to be much concerned, such as pride, conceit, levity of mind, rashness in judging and determining, censoriousness, malice, cruelty, wrath, moroseness, envy, selfishness, avarice. These bad dispositions seldom forsake a person in whom they are fixed. Besides, many of them are of so deceitful a nature, that the mind entertains them and knows it not; the man thinks himself free from faults which to every other person are most visible.
III. SCRIPTURE CONCURS WITH REASON AND EXPERIENCE. When the Scriptures speak of evil habits, they make use of figures as strong and bold as language can utter and the imagination conceive, to set forth their pernicious nature. Persons in that condition are said to be enclosed in a snare, to be taken captives, to have sold themselves to work wickedness, to be in a state of slavery. Even those passages which contain great encouragement and favourable promises to repentance, inform us at the same time of the difficulty of amending. Our Saviour gives a plain and familiar representation of it. A shepherd, says He, rejoices more over one sheep which was lost and is found, than over ninety-and-nine which went not astray. Why so? For this, amongst other reasons, because he could not reasonably expect such good fortune, and had little hopes of finding a creature exposed to a thousand dangers, and unable to shift for itself.
IV. REFLECTIONS USEFUL TO PERSONS OF ALL AGES AND OF ALL DISPOSITIONS.
1. If the words of the text were to be taken rigorously and in the strictest sense, it would be a folly to exhort a habitual sinner to repentance, and an unreasonable thing to expect from him a natural impossibility; but it is certain that they mean no more than an extreme difficulty.
2. There are persons who sincerely profess the Christian religion, who fear God and desire to be in His favour, but whose lives are not so conformable to their belief as they ought to be, who are sorry for their faults, and fall into them again, who make not the progress in goodness which they acknowledge to be justly expected from them, and who have not that command over their passions which by a little more resolution and self-denial they might acquire. Such persons should seriously consider the difficulty of reforming bad habits, and the extreme danger of that state: for though it be not their present condition, yet if they use not timely caution, sad effects may ensue.
3. These sad examples should be a warning to those whose obedience is so incomplete and sullied with so many defects, whose love of virtue is not equal and uniform, and whose affections are placed sometimes on God and religion, and sometimes on the follies and vanities of the world.
4. There are Christians who abstain from known and deliberate transgressions, who strive to make a daffy progress in goodness, and to perform an acceptable service to God. The difficulty of reforming vicious habits may warn them to be upon their guard, that after they have set out well and proceeded well, they fail not at last, nor lose a reward near at hand.
5. They who have wisely and happily preserved themselves from evil habits ought to be very thankful to God, by whose blessing they are free from that heavy bondage, and strangers to the sad train of evils which attend it.
(J. Jortin, D. D.)I. IF MAN CANNOT TURN HIMSELF TO HAPPINESS AND GOD, WHY NOT?
1. Because of the force of sinful habit. The man who has his arm paralysed cannot use it for his own defence; and sin deprives the soul of power, it paralyses the soul. The man thinks he can pray, but when the time comes, he finds that sinful habits are so strong upon him that he cannot. I well recollect, one winter night, when the storm was raging and the wind was howling, being called up to attend one who was in the agonies of death, and who had long been living an avowed life of sin, but he became anxious at the last to know if it were possible for him to find a place of safety; and never shall I forget the answer which that poor man made to me, when I directed him to pray: "Pray, sir! I cannot. I have lived in sin too long to pray. I have tried to pray, but I cannot, I know not how; and if this be all, I must perish." A long continued life of sin had paralysed that man's soul; and it does so, consciously or unconsciously, in every case.
2. Because of the fault of his sinful nature. You know well, that if the glorious sun in the heavens were to shine upon the face of a man who is naturally dead he would neither see it nor feel its warmth. If you were to present to that man all the riches of the world he would have no eye to look at them, no heart to wish for them, no hand to put forth to grasp them. And so with the man who is unconverted. He may be all alive to sin, he may have all the powers of his mind in full exercise, but his heart is alienated from God; he has no wish for "the unsearchable riches of Christ"; he has no desire to become enriched with those treasures which shall endure forever.
3. Because of the enmity of Satan. Do you see that poor man who has been toiling in all the heat of a summer's day with a heavy burden upon him? His strength is now gone, and he has fallen into the ditch; and when he tries to raise himself, do you see that tyrant who has got his foot upon his back, and who plunges him again into the ditch and keeps him down? You have them a picture of the enmity and power of Satan.
II. IF MAN CANNOT TURN HIMSELF, IF HE BE LIKE THE ETHIOPIAN WHO CANNOT CHANGE HIS SKIN, WHY TELL HIM OF IT? Is it not to pour insult upon his miserable and abject condition? Oh no! It is necessary to tell him of his helplessness.
1. Because God commands it. His eye is upon the poor prodigal in all his wanderings: He knows the desperate wickedness and deceitfulness of his heart; He, the Lord, searches the heart; He knows what it is best for fallen man to know and to be made acquainted with; and He tells those whom He sends to be His ambassadors to preach the Word, to proclaim the whole counsel of God, to keep back nothing whatsoever that is contained in the revealed will of God.
2. Because there must be a sense of need before deliverance can be experienced. If a man were to have an idea, when he was in a building surrounded by danger, that whenever he pleased he could get up and take the key out of his pocket and unlock the door and walk out, then he might indeed sit still and laugh at those who would fain arouse him to a sense of his danger; but if you can tell the man that the key which he fancies he possesses he has lost — if you can get him to feel for it, if you can once bring him to the conviction that he has lost it, and that he cannot get out of the building in which he is, then you rouse him from his state of apathy, then you bring him to the point at which he is ready to welcome the hand of any deliverer.
3. God has promised to give us His Holy Spirit. Here the sinner's objections are met. If he has no power, yet if he has the wish to be delivered from his dreadful state, God promises to pour out His Spirit; and that Spirit leads to Jesus, convinces of sin, and then takes of the things of Jesus and applies them to the sinner's soul
1. Without Christ men must perish.
2. Is there not a danger of delay in this matter?
3. Think of the responsibility of this present moment.
(W. Cadman, M. A.)I. THE DEFILEMENT OF SIN.
1. Its inherence.(1) This should humble and abase us in consideration of our vileness; not lead us to excuse our sins.(2) We see here what cause we have to desire that God would change our nature, and bestow a new nature on us.
2. Its monstrousness.(1) It alters a man's country; turns an Israelite into an Ethiopian, and thus causes a degeneration there.(2) It also alters a man's nature; gives him the quality and disposition even of the beasts, makes him a leopard, and thus makes a degeneration there.
3. Its multiplication. A beast of divers colours, marks, and spots (Galatians 5:19).
II. THE ENTANGLEMENTS OF SIN.
1. The qualification or condition of the persons accustomed to do evil. More correctly, "taught to do evil." Taught —(1) By doctrine and instruction. There is a great deal of such teaching in the world (Matthew 5:19; Titus 1:11; Mark 7:7; 2 Timothy 4:3, 4).(2) By pattern and example. That which men see to be practised they soon and easily fall into.(3) By practice and use "accustomed to do evil." Use makes perfect.
1. Take heed of having anything to do with sin at first.
2. If any should fall into sin, do not stay in it, but hasten out of it with speed (Romans 6:1).
3. Take heed of relapses, and falling back to sin again (2 Peter 2:20).
(T. Herren, D. D.)I. THE HABITS OF MEN ARE STRENGTHENED AND CONFIRMED BY INDULGENCE. Even habits which relate to matters of indifference become inveterate, and are with great difficulty modified and overcome. The longer a man continues in sinful courses, the more fully his mind becomes trained in these habits of resistance to all that is good. He is insensibly led on from one course of wickedness to another, till he is under a sort of necessity of sinning. He has taken so many steps in this downward road, and his progress has become so accelerated and impetuous that he cannot resist it.
II. THE INFLUENCE OF THIS WORLD, AS MEN ADVANCE IN LIFE, USUALLY BECOMES MORE PERPLEXING, AND A GREATER HINDRANCE TO THEIR CONVERSION. While the eye is pleased, the ear regaled, and all the senses delighted, there is everything to corrupt and destroy. A man in middle life may, now and then, feel powerful inducements to become pious; the grasp of the world may, for a short season, be partially relaxed; and he may withdraw himself for a little from his old companions, to think of the scenes of that invisible world to which he is hastening; but soon his courage and self-denial fail him, and he is soothed or frightened away from his purpose. Some golden bait, some earnest entreaty, some subtle stratagem, some unhallowed influence disheartens him, and he goes back again to the world. The world is still his idol. The concerns of time absorb the attention and exhaust the vigour of his mind. Having thrown himself into the current, he becomes weaker and weaker, and though the precipice is near, he cannot now stem the tide and reach the shore.
III. AS YEARS INCREASE, MEN BECOME LESS INTERESTED IN THE SUBJECT OF RELIGION, AND MORE OBDURATE AND AVERSE TO ANY ALTERATION IN THEIR MORAL CHARACTER. The season of sensitiveness and ardent affection is gone by. The only effect which the most powerful instructions or the best adapted means of grace are apt to have upon such a mind, is increasing insensibility and hardness, and greater boldness in iniquity. They cannot endure to be disturbed in their sins. When you urge the claims of piety upon them, they treat the whole matter with neglect and contempt. They have made up their minds to run the hazard of perdition, rather than be roused to the severe and dreadful effort of forsaking their sins. Here, too, is the danger of men accustomed to impenitence. The scenes of eternity to such men have a melancholy and direful aspect. Everything is conspiring to harden, deceive, and destroy them; and there is little probability that these augmented obstacles to their conversion will ever be removed.
IV. THE THOUGHT OF MULTIPLIED AND LONG-CONTINUED TRANSGRESSION IS VERY APT TO DISCOURAGE ALL ATTEMPTS AT REPENTANCE. Not unfrequently they will tell you, "Once the work might have been performed, but it is now too late; the favourable opportunity is past; human life is but a dream, and the day of hope is gone by!" It is a dark — very dark problem, whether persons of this description will ever repent and believe the Gospel. It is true that God's mercies are infinite; that those who seek Him shall find Him; that the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanseth from all sin; and that while there is life there may be hope; and yet a more hopeless condition this side eternity cannot easily be conceived, than the condition of such a man.
V. THERE IS AWFUL REASON TO APPREHEND THAT GOD WILL LEAVE MEN OF THIS DESCRIPTION TO PERISH IN THEIR SINS. If we look into the Bible, we shall find that most of the prophets and apostles, as well as those who were converted through their instrumentality, were called into the kingdom of God in childhood, or youth, or in the dawn and vigour of manhood. One of the distinctive features of all revivals of religion is, that they have prevailed principally among the young. It has also been remarked, that in ordinary seasons, the individuals who have occasionally been brought into the kingdom of Christ, with few exceptions, have been from those not habituated to impenitence. Almost the only exception to this remark is found in places where men have never sat under faithful preaching, and never enjoyed a special outpouring of the Holy Spirit, until late in life. In such places I have known persons brought into the vineyard at the eleventh hour. And this is also true of heathen lands. But even here, there are comparatively few instances of conversion from among those who have grown old in sin. Conclusion —
1. Admonition to the aged. What the means of grace could do for you, they have probably clone; and that your day of merciful visitation has well nigh reached its last limits. God still waits that He may be gracious. And He may wait till the last sand of life has fallen. But, oh, how ineffably important to you is the present hour! Your hoary hairs may be even now "a crown of glory, if found in the way of righteousness." Let not another hour be lost! This very call rejected may seal our destiny.
2. Our subject addresses those who are in middle life. The period most auspicious to the interests of your immortality is gone. You are now in the midst of your most important designs and pursuits, and probably at the zenith of your earthly glory. Everything now conspires to turn away your thoughts from God and eternity. Better leave every other object unattained than your eternal salvation. Better give up every other hope, than the hope of heaven. Oh, what a flood of sorrows will roll in upon you by and by, when you see that "the harvest is past, the summer is ended, and you are not saved!"
3. Our subject addresses the young. Yours is the season of hope. If you become early devoted to God, you may live to accomplish much for His cause and kingdom in the world; your influence and example may allure multitudes around you to the love and practice of godliness; and you may be delivered from the guilt of that destructive influence, which will plant thorns in your dying pillow.
(G. Spring, D. D.)
I. THE ORIGIN OF HABIT. Habit may be conceived to arise in this way. When, in the revolution of time — of the day, or the week, or the month, or the year, — the point comes round at which we have been thinking of anything, or have done anything, by the law of the association of ideas we think of it again, or do it again. For instance, when day dawns we awake. We get out of bed because we have done it at that time before. At a later hour we take breakfast, and go away to business, for the same reason; and so on through the day. When Sunday morning comes our thoughts turn to sacred things, and we make ready to go to the house of God, because we have always been accustomed to do that. The more frequently anything has been done, the stronger is habit, and frequency acts on habit through something else. Frequency gives ease and swiftness to the doing of anything. We do anything easily and swiftly which we have done often. Even things which seemed impossible can not only be done, but done with facility, if they have been done often. A celebrated character tells that in a month he learned to keep four balls up in the air and at the same time to read a book and understand it. Even tasks that caused pain may come to be done with pleasure, and things that were done at first only with groans and tears may at last become a source of triumph. It is not only the mind that is involved in habit. Even the body is subdued to its service. Do we not recognise the soldier by his gait, the student by his stoop, and the merchant by his bustle? And in the parts of the body that are invisible — the muscles and nerves — there is a still greater change due to habit. Hence the counsel of the philosopher, and I think it is a very profound counsel: "Make your nervous system your ally instead of your enemy in the battle of life."
II. EXCESSIVE HABIT. Habit, even good habit, may be excessive. It tends to become hide-bound and tyrannical. There is a pharisaical sticking to opinions once formed, and to customs once adopted, which is the principal obstacle to human progress. Yet, on the whole, there is no possession so valuable as a few good habits, for this means that not only is the mind pledged and covenanted to good, but the muscles are supple, and even the very bones are bent to what is good.
III. DESIRABLE HABITS. I should be inclined to say that the most desirable habit which any young person can seek to have is self-control; that is the power of getting yourself to do what you know you ought to do, and to avoid what you know you ought to avoid. At first this habit would be exceedingly difficult to acquire, but there is an enormous exhilaration when a man can do the thing he knows he ought to do. It is moral strength that gives self-respect, and it will very soon win the respect of others. The second habit I would like to name is the habit of concentration of mind. I mean the power of withdrawing your thoughts from other subjects, and fixing them for long at a time on the subject in hand. I am sure many of you know how difficult that habit is to acquire. If you attempt to think on any particular subject, immediately you will think of other things; but by perseverance your mind will become your servant, and then you are on the way to being a thinker, for it is only to people who begin to think in this way that the secret and joy of truth unfold themselves. I mention, as the third desirable habit, that of working when you are at work. I do not care what your work is, whether work of brain or hand, whether well-paid or ill-paid; but what I say is, do it as well as it can be done for its own sake, and for your own sake. Do it so that you can be proud of it. There is one other habit that I should like to mention that is very desirable, and that is prayer. Happy is that man who at some hour or hours every day — the time which he finds to be most suitable for himself — goes down on his knees before his Maker. I say happy is that man, for his heavenly Father who seeth in secret will reward him openly.
IV. THE TYRANNY OF EVIL HABIT. Evil habits may be acquired through simply neglecting to acquire good ones. Like weeds, they grow up wherever the field is uncultivated and the good seed is not sown. For example, the man who does not work becomes a dissipated loafer. The young man who does not keep up the habit of going to church loses spiritual instinct — the instinct for worship, for fellowship, for religious work, and becomes a prey to sloth on the Sabbath. The tyranny of evil habit is proverbial. The moralists compare it to a thread at the beginning, but as thread is twisted with thread, it becomes like a cable which can turn a ship. Or they compare it to a tree, which to begin with is only a twig which you can bend any way, but when the tree is fully grown, who can bend it? And apart altogether from such illustrations, it is appalling how little even the most strong and obvious motives can turn aside the course of habit. This truth is terribly expressed in our text: "Can the Ethiopian," etc. I suppose we all have contracted evil habits of some kind, and therefore for all of us it is an important question, Can these be unlearned and undone?
V. HOW TO BREAK BAD HABITS. Moralists give rules for undoing evil habits. Here are some of them.
1. "Launch yourself on the new course with as strong an initiative as possible." I suppose he means, do not try to taper your evil habit off, but break it off at once. Give it no quarter; and pledge yourself in some way; make some public profession.
2. "Never suffer an exception to occur till the new habit is rooted in your life."
3. "Seize the very first possible opportunity to act on every resolution you make, and on every emotional prompting you may experience in the direction of habits you aspire to gain."
4. "Keep the faculty of effort alive in you by a little gratuitous exercise every day." This writer strongly recommends that every one who seeks moral strength should every day do something he does not want to do, just to prove to himself he has the power of doing it. He would not mind very much whether it was an important thing or not, but he would say, "Every day do something deliberately that you do not want to do, just that you may get power over yourself — the power of getting yourself to do anything you want."
5. I do not disparage rules like these. We have to work out our own salvation with fear and trembling, but the other half of that maxim is equally true, "It is God that worketh in you both to win and to do His good pleasure."
(James Stalker, D. D.)1. To form a vicious habit is one of the easiest processes in nature. Man comes into a world where sin is, in many of its various forms, originally pleasant, and where evil propensities may be gratified at small expense. Nothing is required but to leave man to what is called the state of nature, to make him the slave of habitual sensuality. But even after the mind is, in some degree, fortified by education, and reason has acquired a degree of force, the ease with which a bad habit can be acquired is not less to be lamented. Vice gains its power by insinuation. It winds gently round the soul, without being felt, till its twines become so numerous, that the sinner, like the wretched Laocoon, writhes in vain to extricate himself, and his faculties are crushed at length in the folds of the serpent. Vice is prolific. It is no solitary invader. Admit one of its train, and it immediately introduces, with an irresistible air of insinuation, the multitude of its fellows, who promise you liberty, but whose service is corruption, and whose wages is death.
2. The effects of sinful indulgence, which make its relinquishment so difficult, are, that it perverts the moral discernment, benumbs the sensibility of conscience, destroys the sentiment of shame, and separates the sinner from the means and opportunities of conversion. The moral discernment is perverted. As the taste can be reconciled to the most nauseous and unpleasant impressions, the eye familiarised to a deformed object, the ear, to the most grating and discordant noises, and the feeling, to the most rough and irritating garment, so the moral taste becomes insensible to the loathsomeness of vice. Another effect of habitual transgression is, to banish the sentiment of shame. It is the tendency of habit to make a man regardless of observation, and at length of censure. He soon imagines that others see nothing offensive in what no longer offends himself. Besides, a vicious man easily gathers round him a circle of his own. It is the society of numbers which gives hardihood to iniquity, when the sophistry of the united ingenuity of others comes in aid of our own, and when, in the presence of the shameless and unblushing, the young offender is ashamed to blush. The last effect of vicious habits, by which the reformation of the sinner is rendered almost desperate, is, to separate him from the means of grace. He, who indulges himself in any passion, lust, or custom which openly or secretly offends against the laws of God or man, will find an insuperable reluctance to those places, persons, or principles by which he is necessarily condemned. One means of recovery yet remains, the reproof and example of the good. But who will long bear the presence of another, whose very looks reprove him, whose words harrow up his conscience, and whose whole life is a severe, though silent, admonition?
3. Do you ask when education should commence? Believe me, it has begun. It began with the first idea they received — the insensible education of circumstances and example. While you are waiting for their understandings to gain strength, vice, folly, and pleasure have not waited your dilatory motions. While you are looking out for masters and mistresses, the young immortals are under the tuition of innumerable instructors. Passion has been exciting, and idleness relaxing them, appetite tempting, and pleasure rewarding them, and example, example has long since entered them into her motley school. Already have they learned much, which will never be forgotten: the alphabet of vice is easily remembered. Is it not time to examine, whether there be not in you some vicious habit, which, notwithstanding your caution, frequently presents itself to their greedy observation, thus recommended by all the weight of parental authority? But, though the doctrine of the early operation of habit be full of admonitions, it presents consequences, also, full of consolation and pleasure. God hath set the evil and the good, one over against the other; and all His general laws are adapted to produce effects ultimately beneficial. If the love of sensual pleasure become inveterate by indulgence, the pure love of truth and goodness, also, may, by early instillation and careful example, become so natural and constant, that a violation of integrity, and offence against gratitude, a breach of purity or of reverence toward God, may prove as painful as a wound.
(J. S. Buckminster.)I. THE NATURE OF OUR HABITS GENERALLY. As we become accustomed to the performance of any action, we have a proneness to repeat it on like occasions, the ideas connected with it being always at hand to lead us on and direct us; so that it requires a particular effort to forbear it, but to do it demands often no conscious act of the will at all. Habits of body are produced by repeated external acts, as agility, gracefulness, dexterity in the mechanical arts. Habits of mind are formed by the repeated exertion of the intellectual faculties, or the inward practical principles. To the class of mental habits belong the moral virtues, as obedience, charity, patience, industry, submission to law, self-government, the love of truth. The inward practical principles of these qualities, being repeatedly called into exertion, and acted upon, become habits of virtue: just as, on the other hand, envy, malice, pride, revenge, the love of money, the love of the world, when carried into act, gradually form habits of vice. Habit is in its own nature therefore indifferent to vice or virtue. If man had continued in his original righteousness, it would have been, what the merciful Creator designed it to be, a source of unspeakable moral strength and improvement. Every step in virtue would have secured further advances. To what point man might at length have reached by the effect of use and experience thus acting on faculties made for enlargement, it is impossible to say, and it is vain to inquire. For we are lost creatures. We are prone to commit sin, and every act of it only disposes us to renewed transgressions. The force of these evil habits lies much in the gradual and almost imperceptible manner in which they are acquired. No man becomes reprobate at once. The sinner at first has difficulties. Shame, conscience, education, motives of religion, example, the unreasonableness of vice, the immediate evil consequences of it in various ways, God's judgments on sinners, alarming events in His providence, the admonitions of friends and the warnings of ministers, are all barriers to the inundation. But habits, insensibly formed, sap the embankment. The powerful current works its way, and all opposing hindrances are carried before it. It is, indeed, true, that habit, in many cases, diminishes the enjoyment derived from sin. The sense of vicious pleasure is palled by indulgence. But, unhappily, the same indulgence which lessens the pleasure increases the vicious propensity. A course of debauchery, for example, deadens the sense of pleasure, but increases the desire of gratification. The passive principle is in some degree worn away, but the active principle is invigorated. Drunkenness, again, destroys the sensibility of the palate, but strengthens the habit of intemperance. A continued course of impiety and profaneness lessens the lamentable pleasure which the scoffer originally felt in insulting religion, but confirms him in the practical rebellion against its laws. A continued course of worldliness and irreligion takes off from the zest and relish of worldly pursuits, but augments the difficulty of renouncing them. They are become joyless; but are still followed from a sort of sad necessity.
II. THE CONSEQUENCES ARISING FROM CORRUPT HABITS, IN OUR FALLEN STATE. Any one transgression, if habitual, excludes from the kingdom of heaven, and every transgression is in the way of speedily becoming so: here lies the danger. Look at yonder criminal, whose hands have violated the property, and perhaps been imbrued in the life, of his fellow creature. His conscience is seared as with a hot iron. Is he ashamed when he commits abomination? Nay, he is not at all ashamed, neither can he blush. What has brought him hither? What has transformed the meek and decent and reputable youth into the fierce and vindictive ruffian? Evil habits. He began with breaking the Sabbath; this led to wicked company; drunkenness followed, and brought every other sin in its train — lust, passion, malice, desperation, cruelty, bloodshed. The road, dreadful as it seems to us, was easy to him. One bad habit prepared for the following. But my design is, not to dwell on a picture too shocking for a calm consideration; but to point out the danger of the same principle in cases by far more common and less suspected; and where the fatal effects of sinful customs in hardening the heart against the calls of grace and duty are less conspicuous perhaps at first sight, but not less fatal to the conversion and salvation of the soul. For what can account for that sober and measured system of sensual indulgence in which the great mass of mankind live, but habit working on the fallen state of mind? How is it that an immortal creature, gifted with reason and destined for heaven, can go on. secure, in gratifying, all those earthly passions, which he once well knew to be inconsistent with a state of grace; but which he now pursues, forgetful of God and religion? What has made him morally insensible to the obligations of holiness, purity, and the love of God? The habit to which he has resigned himself. The effect has not been brought about at once. The desire for indolent and sensual gratification has increased with indulgence. Every day his resolutions for serving God have become weaker, and his practical subjugation to an earthly life has been confirmed. He has lost almost all notions of spiritual religion and self-government. He moves mechanically. He has little actual relish even for his most favourite pleasures; but they are necessary to him. He is the slave of the animal part of his frame. He vegetates rather than lives. Habit has become a second nature. If we turn from this description of persons, and view the force of habit in multitudes of those who are engaged in the affairs of trade and commerce, or in the prosecution of respectable professions, we need only ask what can account for the practical object of their lives? Why are nefarious or doubtful practices so frequently countenanced? Why are precarious speculations so eagerly embraced? Why are the aggrandisement of a family, the amassing of riches, the gratification of ambition, so openly pursued? And how does it arrive that this sort of spirit pervades so many thousands around us? It is their habit. It is the force of custom and the influence of the circle in which they move. They came by degrees within the magic charm, and are now fixed and bound to earth and its concerns. Again, notice for a moment the intellectual habits of many of the scholars and philosophers of our age. The world by wisdom knows not God. The pride of our corrupted hearts readily forms the properly intellectual or reasoning part of our nature to habits, as ensnaring and as fatal, as any which have their seat more directly in the bodily appetites. If once the inquisitive student resigns himself to a daring curiosity, applies to the simple and majestic truth of revelation the sort of argumentation which may safely be employed in natural inquiries, he is in imminent peril of scepticism and unbelief. The mind comes within a dangerous influence. A young and superficial reader once fixed in a habit of this sort, comes at last either tacitly to explain away the fundamental doctrines of the Holy Trinity, of the Fall, of human corruption, of redemption, and the work of the Holy Ghost, or openly to sacrifice them to the madness of infidelity, or to the scarcely less pernicious errors of the Socinian heresy. And whence is all this? Habit, working on a corrupt nature, has produced it, confirmed it, riveted it. Habit is as fruitful and as fatal a cause of intellectual disorder as of merely animal or sensual depravation. What, again, seduces the mere external worshipper of God to withhold from his Maker him heart, whilst he insults Him with a lifeless service of the lips? What, but the surprising and unsuspected influence of evil habit? He knows that the Almighty sees everything. He cannot but acknowledge that outward ceremonies, if destitute of fervent and humble devotion, are nothing less than a mockery of God, and abominable in His sight. And yet he proceeds in a heartless round of religious duties, — a mere lifeless shadow of piety. This he has so long allowed himself to offer to the Almighty, that at last his mind is unconscious of the impiety of which he is guilty. A habit of formality and ceremonial observance, with a practical, and perhaps at length an avowed, opposition to the grace of true religion as converting and sanctifying the whole soul, has darkened even his judgment. Nor can I forbear to add that the general indifference to practical religion, which prevails in our age, may be traced back in a great measure to the same cause. Men are so accustomed to put off the concerns of their salvation, and to disregard really spiritual religion, that they at length learn to draw a regular and well-defined line between merely decent and reputable persons, and those who lead a seriously religious life; and to proscribe the latter as extravagant and hypocritical.
III. THE EXTENT AND MAGNITUDE OF THAT CONVERSION TO GOD WHICH IS THEREFORE NECESSARY. A state of sin and a state of holiness are not like two ways running parallel by each other, and just parted by a line, so that a man may step out of the one into the other; but like two diverging roads to totally opposite places, which recede from each other as they go on, and lead the respective travellers farther and farther apart every step. What, then, is to bring man back to God? What to break the force of custom? What is to stop him in his rushing down the precipice? What to awaken him in his profound lethargy? What to be the starting post of a new race? What the principle of a new life? What the motive, the master motive, of a thorough and radical moral alteration? There never was, there never can be, any other effectual method proposed for these high purposes but that which the Scriptures reveal, an entire conversion of the whole soul to God by the mighty operation of the Holy Spirit. God alone that created the heart can renew it after His image. When the soul receives this new and holy bias, then the evil habits in which men formerly lived will resolutely be relinquished, and other and better habits will succeed. They will then repent of sin and separate from it. They will watch and pray against temptation. They will believe in the inestimable promises of life in Jesus Christ, trusting alone in His merits, and renouncing their imagined righteousness which was of the law. They will depend exclusively on the graces and influences of the Holy Spirit for every good thought and every holy action. Thus they will stop at once in the course of their former habits, and begin to form new ones. They will now enter on a life of humility and fear, of conscientiousness and circumspection, of mortification and purity, of meekness and temperance, of justice and charity; all springing from faith in the atonement of Christ, and from a genuine love to His name.
(D. Wilson, M. A.)I. THERE IS IN HUMAN NATURE SO UNHAPPY AN INCLINATION AND PROPENSITY TO SIN, THAT ATTENTION AND VIGILANCE ARE ALWAYS REQUISITE TO OPPOSE THIS INCLINATION, AND MAINTAIN OUR INTEGRITY. The power and influence of habit is the subject of daily observation. Even in matters merely mechanical, where no attention of mind is required, custom and practice give, we know, an expertness and facility not otherwise to be acquired. The case is the same, however unaccountable, in the operations of the mind. Actions frequently repeated form habits; and habits approach near to natural propensions. But if such be the influence of habits in general, vicious ones are still more peculiarly powerful. If the power of custom be on all occasions apt to prevail, we shall have still less inclination to oppose it where the object to which we accustom ourselves is naturally agreeable and suited to our corruption. Here all the resolution we can summon to our assistance will be requisite, and perhaps ineffectual. We may form an idea of the unhappy situation of an habitual offender from the difficulty we find in conquering even an indifferent custom. What was at first optional and voluntary, becomes by degrees in a manner necessary and almost unavoidable. And yet, besides the natural force of custom and habit, other considerations there are, which add to the difficulty of reforming vicious manners. By vicious habits we impair the understanding, and our perception of the moral distinction of actions becomes less clear and distinct. Smaller offences, under the plausible pretext of being such, gain the first admittance to the heart: and he who has been induced to comply with one sin, because it is a small one, will be tempted to a second, from the consideration that it is not much worse. And the same plea will lead him on gradually to another, and another, of still greater magnitude. Every new sin is committed with less reluctance than the former; and he endeavours to find out reasons, such as they are, to justify and vindicate what he is determined to persist in, and to practise: and thus, by habits of sinning, we cloud the understanding, and render it in a manner incapable of distinguishing moral good and evil. But further: As, by long practice and perseverance in sin, we lose or impair the moral discernment and feeling of the mind; so, by the same means, we provoke the Almighty to withdraw His assisting grace, long bestowed in vain.
II. YET, NOTWITHSTANDING THIS DIFFICULTY AND DANGER, THE SINNER MAY HAVE IT IN HIS POWER TO RETURN TO DUTY, AND RECONCILE HIMSELF TO GOD. When once the sinner feels his guilt, — feels just impressions of his own disobedience, and of the consequent displeasure and resentment of heaven; if he is serious in his resolutions to restore himself by repentance to the favour of his offended God; God, who is ever ready to meet and receive the returning penitent, will assist his resolution with such a portion of His grace, as may be sufficient, if not totally, at once to extirpate vicious habits, yet gradually to produce a disposition to virtue; so that, if not wanting to himself, he shall not fail to become superior to the power of inveterate habits. In this case, indeed, no endeavours on his part ought to be neglected, — no attempts left unessayed, to recommend himself to the throne of mercy. Never, therefore, think of postponing the care of your salvation to the day of old age; never think of treasuring up to yourselves difficulties, sorrows, repentance, and remorse, against an age, the disorders and infirmities of which are themselves so hard to be sustained. Let not these be the comforts reserved for that period of life which stands most in need of consolation. What confusion must cover the self-convicted sinner, grown old in iniquity! How reluctant to attempt a task to which he has always been unequal; and to travel a difficult road, which opens to him, indeed, happier prospects, but has hitherto been found impracticable! But if any of us have unhappily lost this first, best season of devoting ourselves to God, — and have reserved nothing but shame, sorrow, and remorse, for the entertainment of riper years; — let the review of former transgressions be an incitement to immediate repentance.
(G. Carr.)I. THE POWER OF SIN, AS INHERENT IN OUR NATURE.
1. It pervades all our faculties, whether of mind or body.
2. It finds in us nothing to counteract its influence.
3. It receives aid from everything around us.
4. It conceals its influence under specious names. Amusement, conviviality, good breeding, etc.
II. ITS POWER, AS CONFIRMED AND AUGMENTED BY EVIL HABIT.
1. Its odiousness is diminished.
2. Its power is strengthened.
3. Its opportunities for exercise are multiplied.
4. The powers whereby it should be resisted are destroyed.
5. Everything good is by it put at an unapproachable distance.
(C. Simeon, M. A.)
Scientific Illustrations and Symbols.It is, as Mr. Darwin says, notorious how powerful is the force of habit. The most complex and difficult movements can in time be performed without the least effort or consciousness. It is not positively known how it comes that habit is so efficient in facilitating complex movements; but physiologists admit that the conducting power of the nervous fibres increases with the frequency of their excitement. This applies to the nerves of motion and sensation as well as to those connected with the act of thinking. That some physical change is produced in the nerve cells or nerves which are habitually used can hardly be doubted, for otherwise it is impossible to understand how the tendency to certain acquired movements is inherited. That they are inherited we see with horses in certain transmitted paces, such as cantering and ambling, which are not natural to them; in the pointing of young pointers and the setting of young setters; in the peculiar manner of flight of certain breeds of the pigeon, etc. We have analogous cases with mankind in the inheritance of tricks or unusual gestures. As to the domination which evil habit acquires over men, that needs not even a passing allusion. It is remarkable that the force of habit may affect even caterpillars. Caterpillars which have been fed on the leaves of one kind of tree have been known to perish from hunger rather than to eat the leaves of another tree, although this afforded them their proper food under a state of nature. Their conduct might suggest reflection to men who are tempted by habit to risk death by adherence to debauched courses rather than return to a natural mode of living.
(Scientific Illustrations and Symbols.)
( J. Bunyan.)
( R. Baxter.)
PlacesEuphrates River, Jerusalem, Negeb
TopicsAble, Accustomed, Change, Changed, Cushite, Ethiopian, Evil, Leopard, Markings, Possible, Skin, Spots, Trained
Outline1. By the type of a linen belt, hidden at Euphrates,
9. God prefigures the destruction of his people.
12. By the parable of bottles filled with wine he foretells their drunkenness in misery.
15. He exhorts to prevent their future judgments.
22. He shows their abominations are the cause thereof.
Dictionary of Bible ThemesJeremiah 13:23
LibraryAn Impossibility Made Possible
'Can the Ethiopian change his skin?'--JER. xiii. 23. 'If any man be in Christ, he is a new creature.'--2 COR. v. 17. 'Behold, I make all things new.'--REV. xxi. 5. Put these three texts together. The first is a despairing question to which experience gives only too sad and decisive a negative answer. It is the answer of many people who tell us that character must be eternal, and of many a baffled man who says, 'It is of no use--I have tried and can do nothing.' The second text is the grand Christian …
Alexander Maclaren—Expositions of Holy Scripture
The Notion of Inability.
On Earthly Things
The Cavils of the Pharisees Concerning Purification, and the Teaching of the Lord Concerning Purity - the Traditions Concerning Hand-Washing' and Vows. '
On the Animals
Covenanting Confers Obligation.
Meditations on the Hindrances which Keep Back a Sinner from the Practice of Piety.
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