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wants it; they all exclaim,'Come, Lord Jesus ;' and he replies, Behold, I come quickly. All hearts have their burdens; all spirits sometimes faint; and sweet to all is the voice which says, 'Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest !” Amen,
THE POWER OF HABIT.
BY REV. EDMUND KELL.
PROVERBS iv. 26 :
“Let all thy ways be established.”
My text points to the necessity of watchfulness in the formation of habit. The power of habit is so well understood as a metaphysical fact, that it would scarcely seem to need elucidation. What more common than to hear it said of one man, that he is of virtuous-of another, that he is of disreputable, habits! The influence of habit in life's daily routine is indeed indisputably admitted ; yet its enormous power and bearing to raise the spirit to the highest point of elevation by means of that lofty morality which springs from the dominion of religion over the soul, or its malign sway to sink the immortal mind to the lowest depths of degradation by subserviency to worldly thought, has perhaps seldom received the consideration to which it is entitled. I have said that the
of habit is indisputably acknowledged. And yet, even in that which is external-conscious to the senses, it often eludes observation from the gentleness of the gradations by which its approaches are made and its strength established. The easy readiness with which a thousand hourly avocations are discharged — the facility with which the practised citizen threads the streets amidst a countless throng—the fearlessness with which the sailor climbs the tallest mast—the dexterity with which the artizan brings to perfection the complicated piece of workmanship, and bestows on it its last delicate finish —the pliability of the musician's practised hand amidst the strings of his instrument—the extraordinary skill with which the painter or the sculptor makes the canvas speak or the marble breathe—are all in great measure the result of habit, though not always immediately felt to be so, because the determinations of the will by which these feats are accomplished are too fleeting to be recognized, too minute and indefinable to leave footprints on the sands of memory. Even the rich, flowing speech of the accomplished orator, apparently arranged instantaneously according to the nicest rules of composition, and accompanied by appropriate modulation and gesture, are greatly to be resolved into the power of habit, excited by, and acting in unison with, the faculties of the mind or body.
And with a weightier, more important emphasis it may be asserted, that the highest graces of spirituality can only be reached by that moral strength which habit gives. Those noble beings on whom we gaze with almost reverence, standing on a Christian eminence which, however pure our desires, we think we shall in vain aspire to reach, attained that spiritual elevation by a succession of virtuous thoughts and acts, each thought or act little differing from the preceding one in the degree of its virtue or holiness, but still being one step onward -that step enabling him who made it to ascend to higher and yet higher excellence. It is thus that a single-minded purity is reached by a series of previous righteous thoughts and holy purposes, as entirely as practice, habit, leads to artistic perfection—as the skill, for instance, of a Titian was the achievement of an infinity of touches of that master's pencil. And purity of morality is even a more sure dependance as the result of habit than skill in art. I have always admired the confidence in the steadfastness of virtue expressed by the heathen king, Pyrrhus, in his encomium on his military opponent, who had indignantly rejected the base suggestion to take him off by poison,-—"Admirable Fabricius !" he exclaimed ; "it would be as easy to turn the sun from its course as thee from the path of honour !" The habit of virtue was in the Roman hero so fixed, that the eternal laws of nature might as easily have been reversed, as that earthly temptation should have obtained the mastery over him. And thus would a soul-reaching morality prevail with us as Christians, if we would allow the power of habit to weave its kindly web around us. That benignant power-so often, alas ! perverted, but which the Almighty Bestower of all good gave us to make the path of duty easy-would come to our aid in our struggles for righteousness, if we would permit it to steep us in its sweet and holy influences, and to bend our pliant natures in a nearer approximation to His perfection who is the infinitely pure, the Father of our spirits. It is this too lightly-esteemed but invaluable principle of our constitution, the power of habit over us in our spiritual being, to which I invite your attention in connection with the text, “Let all thy ways be established,” that you may be thereby induced to exercise a watchful vigilance over every passing thought and minutest action, and may duly appreciate the pathway, the only pathway, by which you can arrive at that perfection after which we are bound to aspire as followers of the Saviour. O that I may be enabled to reach the hearts of thuse who hear me, even as I pray that the solemn truth may ever be inwrought into my own soul !
And first let me trace more fully the power of habit in the formation of the personal virtues.
I may assume that you desire your own thoughts should be pure, pure as the crystal stream whose cloudless, transparent waters mirror the pebbly bed below. But how is this purity to be attained ? I answer, By resolutely determining never to indulge a single thought which Christian purity would disown. I am not, believe me, speaking of an unattainable excellence, as far at least as touches purity of aspiration. There are those often—very often, I believe, in the first bloom of life—whose youthful brow would mantle, whose sensitive conscience would startle, at the thought of aught that was beneath the purity of gospel precept. It is a heavenly-mindedness to which many of the wise and good have been ever reaching. And an habitual internal purity is that to which all must aspire who would render themselves meet for the inheritance of the “saints in light.” And you, my brethren, why should not you be of that blissful throng? You have only—as I am desirous to press upon you-studiously, prayerfully, to banish each unrighteous and unworthy thought,--to avoid every scene, every occasion, which would check and pen down your heavenward aspirations,-you have only to exercise a healthful curb over life's grave or gayer hours,—and habit will come, like a second nature, to give you the glorious sovereignty of your own spirits, and to clothe you, as far as the weakness of mortality can be so clothed, in the robe of celestial purity.
And bear in mind that veracity, temperance, chastity, patience, fortitude, every personal virtue, follows the same general law of subserviency to habit. Let me then urge, in the words of our text, “Let all thy ways be established.” Be resolved on no single occasion to succumb to temptation's lure, and you will ultimately find it as repugnant to your nature to deviate from the dictates of conscience, as it is to him who has accustomed himself to the degradation of a devious course, to force himself to tread the path of righteousness.
Let me now approach the social virtues, and consider the power of habit in their culture and progress. And here, again, I cannot but regard it as omnipotent in the production of all that we most admire and love. How were those characters formed, peering above their fellows and laying the highest claim to the reverent homage of their kind—the glorious company of apostles and the martyrs of Christian truth, those who “counted not life dear” to them so that they might obey His voice who has bequeathed the command to his followers to gladden the abodes of humanity by the sanctifying influences of our holy faith ;-how, I say, were those characters formed, but by heaping pile on pile of benevolent and self-denying acts ? In later times how were moulded the hearts of a Howard