Much of the character, usefulness and happiness of home depend upon home habits. No one is without habits, good or bad. They have much to do with our welfare here and hereafter. Hence the importance of establishing proper habits.
Habit is a state of any thing, implying some continuance or permanence. It may be formed by nature or induced by extraneous circumstances. It is a settled disposition of the mind or body, involving an aptitude for the performance of certain actions, acquired by custom or frequent repetition. There are habits of the body, of the mind, of action; physical, mental, moral and religious habits. All these are included in the term home-habits.
Habit has been considered an "ultimate fact," that is, one of those qualities of life which are found to exist, and beyond which no investigation can be made. Habit may be referred to the law of action which pervades all vital being. Nature demands the repetition of vital action, and habit arises from this demand and from the manner in which it is supplied. It is the fruit of the operation of the law of repetition of action in all life. Hence it is, that habit becomes a part of our very existence, and that the well-being and happiness of our existence depend so much upon it.
The facility of action depends upon habit. In proportion as the actions of life become a habit, they will be easily performed, and performed with pleasure. The capacity to establish habits is the consequence of the power given us to promote our own welfare. This capacity is designed to bind us to that course of action which will accomplish the purposes of our existence. If rightly used, it is the guardian of our happiness; but if misused it will be our certain ruin. It will delight and fascinate until it subjugate our will, and lead us on, as in the case of the drunkard and the gambler, to infamy and to hell.
Home-habits are easily formed and established. Some kind, either good or bad, are being established every day. They are often secretly and unconsciously formed. All the principles and rules of conduct there introduced become at once the nuclei of future habits. Those increase in power and supremacy as they are formed. We see this in the use of tobacco and intoxicating drink. These are, at first, disagreeable, and the victim has the power of repelling and overcoming them; but soon the habit is formed, when their use becomes pleasant, and he is made a willing slave to them.
The same may he said of the habits of industry, of study, of frugality, yea, of all the moral and religious acts of the Christian. It is easy to form such habits in children. Evil habits are more easily established, because we are naturally inclined to all evil; and when once formed, no parental interposition can break them up. Hence the importance of an early training up to good. If parents but leave their children to their own ways, they will run into evil habits; for sin is an epidemic. Profanity and falsehood and all other outrages against God will soon become the controlling habits of their lives. But when taken early, parents have complete power over their offspring. It is, therefore, a gross abuse of the Christian home when parents become indifferent to the formation of habits. It is their duty to crush every evil habit in its incipient state.
The forming of a good habit may not at first be congenial with our feelings. It may be irksome. But if we persevere in it, that which at first was painful and difficult will soon be a source of enjoyment. Thus the habit of family prayer may at first be repulsive even to the Christian parent; a feeling of delicacy and the sense of unworthiness may, at the family altar, repress the feelings of enjoyment experienced in the closet; but soon the habit of this devotion will be formed, when it will be enjoyed as an essential part of home. To abandon it would be like breaking up the tenderest ties which bind the members together. The same may be said of the omission of a duty. How easily can the Christian form the habit of omitting family prayer or any other duty! Every such omission but forms and increases the habit, until it gains an ascendancy over our sense of duty, and at last exhibits its sovereign power in our total abandonment of the duty. Each omission has the power of reproducing itself in other and more frequent omissions. In this way Christian homes insensibly become unfaithful to their high vocation, and degenerate finally into complete apathy and estrangement from God. That indulgence which the misguided sympathy of too many parents prompts to, and which does away with all parental restraint, is the cause of children coming under the curse of evil habits. In this way parents often contribute to the temporal and eternal ruin of their offspring. This indulgence is no evidence of tender love, but of parental infatuation. It shows a blind and unholy love, -- a love which owns no law, which is governed by no sense of duty, and which excludes all discipline; and hence unlike the love of God, who "chastiseth every one whom He loveth and receiveth."
The force and influence of home-habits will teach us the importance of establishing such only as receive the sanction of God. Habits, as we have seen, are much more easily formed than broken. When once established they enslave us to them, and subject our character to their iron despotism. They become the channel through which our life flows. The stream of our existence first forms the channel, and then the channel rules, guides and controls the current of the stream. The deeper the channel is wrought, the greater is its moulding and controlling influence over the stream. Thus our habits become our masters, and are the irrevocable rulers of our life. This is true of good, as well as of bad habits. We come into voluntary subjection to them, until we shrink from the first proposal to depart from them.
"Habit," says the Rev. C.C. Colton, "will reconcile us to everything but change, and even to change, if it recur not too quickly. Milton, therefore, makes his hell an ice-house, as well as an oven, and freezes his devils at one period, but bakes them at another. The late Sir George Staunton informed, me, that he had visited a man in India, who had committed a murder, and in order not only to save his life, but what was of much more consequence, his caste, he submitted to the penalty imposed; this was, that he should sleep for seven years on a bedstead, without any mattress, the whole surface of which was studded with points of iron resembling nails, but not so sharp as to penetrate the flesh. Sir George saw him in the fifth year of his probation, and his skin then was like the hide of a rhinoceros, but more callous. At that time, however, he could sleep comfortably on his bed of thorns, and remarked that at the expiration of the term of his sentence, he should most probably continue that system from choice, which he had been obliged to adopt from necessity."
This illustrates the force of established habit, and the pliability of our nature in yielding a voluntary subjection to it. What is at first involuntary, painful, and a self-denial to us, wall when it passes into a habit, become agreeable, because the habit bends our nature to it, chains us down to it, infatuates the will, and thus becomes, as it were, a second nature. If so, it is very plain that our habits are either a blessing or a curse. When good they are a safeguard against evil, give stability to our character, and are the law of perseverance in well-doing. Such habits in the Christian home form, an irresistible bulwark against the intrusions of temptation and iniquity. But when they are bad, they chain us to evil, and impel us onward and downward to ruin. Hence from his habits we can easily estimate the merit or demerit of a person, know all his weak points and idiosyncrasies, and what will be the probable termination of his existence.
The same may be said of the habits of a family. They enter into its very constitution, rule and direct all its activities and interests. They cling to each member with more than magic power, and become interwoven with his very being; and by them we may easily ascertain the moral and spiritual strength of that family; we can tell whether the parents are faithful to their mission, and whether its members will be likely to pass over from the home of their childhood to the church of Christ. Who has not felt this power of habit? Who has not wept over some habits which haunt him like an evil spirit; and rejoiced over others as a safeguard from sin and a propellor to good? Is it not, therefore, a matter of momentous interest to the Christian home, that it establish habits of the right kind and quality?
It should never be forgotten by Christian parents, and they cannot be too careful to impress it upon their children, that habit engenders habit, -- has the power of reproducing itself, and begetting habits of its own kind, increasing according to the laws of growth, as it is thus reproduced. A habit in one member of a family may produce a like habit in all the other members. The habits of the husband may be engendered in the wife, and those of the parents, in their children. If so, then are we not responsible for our habits? And shall any other kind save Christian habits, be found in the Christian home? These we cannot give in detail. It is plain that those habits only are Christian, which receive the sanction of God's Word and Spirit, and find a response in the Christian faith and conscience. Here, for instance, is a habit being formed, -- habit of thought: is it pure? Here is a habit of conversation: is it holy? Here is a habit of action: is it godly? And if not, it does not belong to the Christian home.
See, then, ye members of the Christian home, to the habits you are forming. Form the habit of "doing all thing's decently and in order." Let the work and duties of each day be done according to method. This is essential to success in your pursuits and aims. Without this, your Christian life may be blustering and stormy, but you will accomplish little, and will be as unstable as water. One duty will interfere with another. You may have family prayer and instruction to-day, but something will prevent it to-morrow. Establish the habit of Christian industry. Be diligent; not slothful in business. Industry must be the price of all you obtain. You must be instant in season. The Christian home cannot be an indolent, idle home. Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with all thy might. Press forward.
It is said of Rutherford that "such was his unwearied assiduity and diligence, that he seemed to pray constantly, to preach constantly, to catechise constantly, and to visit the sick, exhorting from house to house, to teach as much in the schools, and spend as much time with the students in fitting them for the ministry, as if he had been sequestered from all the world, and yet withal, to write as much as if he had been constantly shut up in his study." Such should be the industry of each Christian home. Without it, temptation will beset the members. "A busy man is troubled with but one devil, but the idle man with a thousand."
Establish the habit also of perseverance in well-doing. "Be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord." "Be not weary in well-doing." Let the strata of your home be made up of the immovable Rock. He only that continueth unto the end shall be saved. Having done all, stand! Let your motto be, Perseverando vinces. Form the habit of contentment with your home and condition in life. "Godliness with contentment is great gain." If your home is humble, and not adorned with the embellishments and luxuries of life, yet it may be holy, and hence, happy. Avoid all castle-building. Do not fancy a better home, and fall out with the one you enjoy. Never permit the flimsy creations of a distorted imagination to gain an ascendancy over your reason and faith. Live above all sentimentalism and day-dreaming; and in all the feelings and conduct of your household, submit to the guidance of a superintending Providence, walking by faith and not by sight, assured that your present home is but probationary and preparatory to a better home in heaven.