Can the Ethiopian change his skin, or the leopard his spots? then may you also do good, that are accustomed to do evil.
The formation of habits goes on in part by conscious volition or purpose. Men set themselves at work in certain directions to acquire accomplishments and various elements of power. Thus are habits formed. And the same process goes on under a more general schooling. We are living in society at large. Not only are we influenced by that which goes on in our households, but there is the reflection of a thousand households in the companionship into which we are thrown day by day, which influences us. The world of most persons is a microcosm with a small population; and they reflect the influence of the spheres in which they have had their training and their culture. The influences which surround them, for good and evil, for industry or indolence, are well-nigh infinite in number and variety. Every man should have an end in view; and every day he should adopt means to that end, and follow it from day to day, from week to week, from month to month, and from year to year. Then he is the architect of, and he is building, his own fortune. Out of a careless and unarmoured way spring up mischievous habits which at first are not very striking, nor very disastrous. Prominent among them is the habit of carelessness respecting the truth — carelessness in respect to giving one's word in the form of a promise. Never make a promise without a distinct and deliberate thought as to whether you can fulfil it; or not; and having made a promise, keep it at all hazard, even though it be to your damage. Do not break your word. Then, aside from that mode of falsifying, men fall into the habit of uttering untruths. The love of truth is not in them. They do not esteem truth for itself's sake. They regard it as an instrument, as a coin, as it were; and when it is profitable they speak the truth, but when it is not profitable they are careless of it. Multitudes of persons by suppression falsify and they use so thin and gauzy a veil as this: "Well, what I said was strictly true." Yes; but what you did not say was false. For you to tell the truth so that no one shall suspect the truth, and so that it shall produce a false and illusory impression — that has an evil effect upon others, and a still more evil effect upon your own character. The desire to conform your speech to Yea, yea, and Nay, nay; the desire for simplicity of truth; the desire to state things as they are, so that going from your mind they shall produce pictures in another's mind precisely as they lie in your own — that is manly. Still more likely are men by extravagance to fall from strict habits of truth. We live in an age of adjectives, Nothing is natural. The whole force of adjectives is exhausted on the ordinary affairs of life, and nothing is left for the weightier matters of thought and speech. Men form a habit in this direction, Frequently it is formed because it is very amusing. When a man has a good reputation for speaking the truth, and he speaks in a back-handed way, at first it is comical; as, for instance, where a man speaks of himself as being a dishonourable fellow when he is known to be the very pink of honesty and scrupulousness; or, where a man speaks smilingly of trying with all his might to live within his income, when he is known to roll in riches. Such extravagances have a pleasing effect once or twice; and not only individuals, but families and circles fall into the habit of using extravagant words and expressions, because under certain conditions they are amusing; but they cease to be so when they are applied to the common elements of life, and are heard every day. They become altogether distasteful to persons of refinement, and are in every way bad. The same is true of bluntness. Now and then the coming in of a blunt expression from a good, strong, honest man is like a clap of thunder in a hot, sultry day in summer — and we like it; but when a man makes himself disagreeable under the pretence that bluntness of speech is more honest than the refined expressions of polite society, he violates good taste and the true proportions of things. Nor is it strange, under such circumstances, that a man feels himself easily led to the last and worst form of lying — deliberate falsification; so that he uses untruth as an instrument by which to accomplish his ends. Closely connected with this obliteration of moral delicacy there comes in a matter of which I will speak, reading from Ephesians, the 5th chapter — "All uncleanness, or covetousness, let it not be once named among you," etc. Where men tip their wit with salacious stories; where men indulge in 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.)
Parallel VersesKJV: Can the Ethiopian change his skin, or the leopard his spots? then may ye also do good, that are accustomed to do evil.