Can the Ethiopian change his skin, or the leopard his spots? then may you also do good, that are accustomed to do evil.
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.
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.