The Power of Evil Habits
Isaiah 1:5-6
Why should you be stricken any more? you will revolt more and more: the whole head is sick, and the whole heart faint.…

There are no passages in Holy Writ more affecting than those in which God seems to represent Himself as actually at a loss, not knowing what further steps to take in order to bring men to repentance and faith (Isaiah 5:4; Hosea 6:4). Of course, the chastisements may be continued, but the experience of the past attests but a strong likelihood that further afflictions would effect no reform. God, therefore, can only ask, and the question is full of the most pathetic remonstrance — "Why should ye be stricken any more?"

1. Now, observe that it was a long course of misdoing that had brought the people into such a morally hopeless condition. It was the habit of committing sin, the habit of resisting the admonitions and the chastisements of God that had at last exhausted the resources of Divine wisdom. The words in which Jeremiah states the tremendous power of habit are very striking — "Can the Ethiopian change his skin, or the leopard his spots? then may ye also do good, that are accustomed to do evil." Yet our text, probably, puts it in a yet more affecting point of view — the considering wherefore it is that men who have long been accustomed to do evil, thereby bring themselves morally into such condition, that God, as if in despair, is forced to exclaim "Why should ye be stricken any more? The whole head is sick, and the whole heart faint." Now, they can know very little of their moral constitution, and of the tendency of their nature, who are not thoroughly aware how, as a general rule, the doing a thing twice facilitates the doing it again. We have no right to complain of there being such a law, for it is of universal application, and will therefore be every jot as beneficial to us if we aim at doing good, as detrimental if we allow ourselves to do evil. The man who has yielded to a temptation will undoubtedly find himself less able to resist when that temptation assails him again. But if he have overcome, he will as undoubtedly find himself better able to withstand. The inveterate habit and the seared conscience are so far necessary companions, that when we wish to induce a man to abandon a long-cherished practice, we do not reckon on any such keenness of the moral sense, as will make it second our remonstrance, or give point to our advice; and this it is which renders almost; desperate the case of those who have been long living in any known sin. Such men must have won that most disastrous of victories — the victory over conscience. Therefore, we hardly know under what form to shape our attack. Our position takes for granted that there is an internal monitor, so that the voice from without, answered from the voice from within, may force for itself an audience, and cause a present conviction, if not a permanent resolution; but now the internal monitor is wanting; the voice from without calling forth no voice from within, would seem to have no organ to which to address itself, and therefore our words will be as much wasted as though spoken to the air. Hence it is we are so urgent with the young that they put not off to a later day the duties of religion. The young seem to imagine that the question between us and them is simply a question as to the probabilities of life; and that if they could ensure themselves a certain number of years, they should run no risk in delaying, for a time the giving heed to religion. Thus they take no account of the inevitable result of a continuance in sin, namely, that there will be generated a habit of sin, so that when the time shall be reached which they themselves may have fixed as suited to repentance, they will be widely different beings from what they are when resolved to delay — beings tied and bound with fetters forged and fastened by themselves, and wanting in the principle which might urge them to the breaking loose from the self-imposed bondage. It is this which makes the aged sinner so unpromising a subject for the ministrations of the Word — not his being old in years, but his being old in sin. This is the first evidence which we advance as to the truth of that fearful fact which we derive from our text — the fact that habitual sin brings even God Himself into a perplexity as to how to deal with the sinner; makes it difficult for Him to employ further means for recovering that sinner from wickedness.

2. There is a yet worse thing to be said. The man who persists in sinning, till to sin has become habit, alienates from him that Holy Spirit of God whose special office it is to lead us to repentance, and renew our fallen nature. It is not by an occasional act of sin that a man may "quench" the Spirit; though his every transgression may "grieve" that Spirit. You will observe what a correspondence there is between quenching the Spirit and quenching the conscience. So connected, if not identified, are conscience and the Holy Spirit, so actually is the one an engine through which the other works, that in proportion as man succeeds in deadening his conscience, he advances towards quenching the Spirit. Why wonder then at the expression of our text?

3. Our text implies a great difficulty rather than an impossibility, and it ought not therefore to be without some measure of hope that the minister addresses even those who are the slaves of bad habits. The Spirit, it may be, does not so depart as to determine that He will not return We may rather regard Him as hovering over the transgressor who has so pertinaciously grieved and withstood Him; and let there be only the least intimation of a wish for His presence, and He may descend, and take up His abode in the soul which He has been forced to forsake. And, if conscience were but roused, there may be a desire for the return of the Spirit. Whilst we do not shut the door even against habitual sinners, our great effort must be that of persuading men against the forming bad habits.

(H. Melvill, B. D.)

Parallel Verses
KJV: Why should ye be stricken any more? ye will revolt more and more: the whole head is sick, and the whole heart faint.

WEB: Why should you be beaten more, that you revolt more and more? The whole head is sick, and the whole heart faint.

The Power of Evil Habit
Top of Page
Top of Page