« VorigeDoorgaan »
as necessary to wean men from their habitual vices a 'those used with children in respect to the breast. St. Bernard prevailed on a nobleman of his acquaintance, who bad led a very bad life, to try the experiment on himself. He began with advising him to make peace with God. The other answered, he could not do it, he was so accustomed to sin. Make a truce with him then, said the saint. How shall I do that?' said the nobleman. ‘Abstain,' said the good man, ‘for three days, from all manner of sin, for God's sake. This done, he made him do the same for the apostle, then for the martyrs, then for the confessors, &c. After the sinner had gone through his course, he said to St. Bernard, I now am determined, not on a truce, but a peace with God. I now no longer perceive any great difficulty in being good.' Had he been to make a report some years afterward, when habits of piety and virtue were contracted, he would, I question not, have represented the good life he then led, as full of consolation and joy.
He, who hath subdued an evil habit, will find it no very difficult task to acquire a good one. As abstaining from sinful thoughts and actions, proved successful in the former work, so continually repeating and practising the contrary, which will soon become delightful, must ensure success in the latter. All the same considerations and helps, made use of in conquering a sinful habit of any kind, are equally applicable to the acquisition of the opposite good one. The mind therefore, on its quitting a bad custom, ought to continue in the same motion and direction, till it finds itself fixed in the contrary habit, first, because perhaps such a motion may not be easily recovered, should it be suffered to cease; secondly, because that is the very motion requisite to the attainment of the contrary good habit; which, in the third place, is necessary to prevent a relapse, and to prepare the mind for thinking rightly, and doing good, wherein consists the perfection of this work; God requiring it of us, not only that we should cease to love vice, and to do evil, but that we should also love virtue, and learn to do well.
Perhaps I shall make myself better understood by instances. What is it that enables the covetous man to get the better of his habit? It is certainly the consideration, that his vice is mean and foolish in itself; and that it alien
ates the heart from God, who hates it, because it is idolatry. He who quits it on these accounts, ought for the same reasons, never to be satisfied with himself, till he abhors it, and finds a pleasure in generously distributing so much of his substance as he can spare, to the necessities of others.
The incontinent, in like manner, if by abstaining from wanton thoughts and practices, because they bring remorse on his conscience, infamy on his character, sickness on his body, and ruin on his soul, he hath broken the force of his sinful habit, ought not to stop here, but should pursue the same salutary way of thinking, till he arrives at a settled detestation of the vice, in which habitual chastity consists.
If he, who hath been accustomed to think lightly of religion, and to make a jest of its truths or ordinances, hath, by a serious conviction, been converted from so impious a habit, ought he not on the strength of the same conviction, to go farther, and labour to habituate his soul to an ardent love of God, and an awful respect for his religion? Whatsoever it is, that curés him of his contempt for religion, ought it not to warm his heart in its favour, with unfeigned zeal and affection? There is here no room for coolness or indifference.
There is a greater difference, than is generally imagined, between not being covetous, and being generous ; between not being lewd, and being chaste; between not being profane, and being pious or religious; and, in all other in. stances, between not being vicious, and being virtuous. A mere negative virtue, consisting only in the absence of vice, is neither a sufficient principle for the service of God, nor foundation for the happiness of man; nor can it possibly have any security of its own continuance. The mind cannot be long indifferent or neuter between vice, which seems to bid so high for the heart, and virtue, that really does it. But, if it could, is indifference a foundation for happiness? Or will such a neutrality satisfy that Master, that Creator, that Saviour, that Comforter, to whom we are so infinitely indebted?
There is no comparison between the difficulty of breaking an old inveterate habit, which arms itself against us with the long-tried pleasures it offers on compliance, and con tracting a new one, in order to which we have, at worst,
nothing more to overcome, than a mere distaste; which, as it proceeds from disuse, may soon be converted into satisfaction and pleasure by practice. But till the mind can reward itself with this pleasure, in the growth of a good babit, it ought to give alacrity and perseverance to its resolution by strongly connecting in the imagination the delightful hope of pleasing God, of fortifying the soul against temptations, and of qualifying it for the performance of great and worthy actions, and the enjoyment of endless happiness and glory, with the habit proposed. Relying on the strength of a resolution raised by so noble a prospect, and confident of divine assistance, let it trust God with a trial, that it may see whether its attempt will not be soon blessed with some degree both of success and satisfaction. If it argues a base and slavish turn of mind, to submit and rest contented under the tyranny of a sinful babit, it shews an equal degree of cowardice and laziness, not to aim at the attainment of a good one. Both demonstrate a distrust in God, and a desperate state of the soul.
If sinful habits are not prevented, or early corrected, there is too much reason to apprehend we shall never get rid of them, either in this life, or in that which is to come, A wicked action, once committed, is more easy to be committed again. What conscience scruples at first, it swallows afterward, without misgiving. One sin, though ever so. abominable in itself, becomes a sort of precedent for another of the same kind ; so that time and practice insensibly give authority, as it were, and sanction, to sin. Vice grown hoary with age, sets up for a sort of respect, and claims somewhat like a right from long possession. Hence it is, that, “in process of time, an ungodly custom, grown strong, is kept as a law,' but we should ask ourselves, whose law? Is it not the law of him, who is an enemy to all the goodness, and all the happiness, of men? And have we so little sense or spirit, as to submit tamely to the law of such a tyrant, and such a deceiver, who is to punish us even for our obedience ? Our strength in resisting temptations, before we are lulled asleep in the lap of sin, is like that of Samson, before his locks were shorn, and forsakes us unaccountably afterward; on which we are blinded and bound without resistance, and carried captives by custom to do the drudgery
of sin in fetters, which if we shake off with our bodies, it is the utmost to be hoped for. Could we see through the momentary pleasures that tempt us into habits of sin; could we foresee the extreme difficulty of breaking a habit of sin, once it is confirmed, together with the infinite miseries it must infallibly bring upon us, if not totally subdued, (and who so blind as not to see these things?) we should be ashamed to call ourselves rational creatures, did we not, with all possible expedition and resolution, labour to prevent or conquer every habit of sin.
As, on the other hand, without habits of virtue and goodness, it is impossible to be happy, ought we not, from the first hour of serious reflection, to resolve on entertaining our minds with a continual round of religious meditations, and constantly exercising all our powers in acts of virtue, that religion and virtue may root themselves in our hearts, may grow up to maturity in our affections, and plentifully shed abroad their lovely fruits in all our actions? The entrance into all arts and habits is attended with some awkwardness and distaste, especially when we begin to practice, in order to a habit directly opposite to a wicked one lately laid aside. But a little time and resolution will enable us to get the better of this rawness; and still, as we become more expert and ready in the practice of what is right, we shall begin to find the more satisfaction in it, not only be cause it is agreeable in itself, but because pleasure always waits on habit. We easily learn arts that please, and contract habits in which we find, or hope to find, delight. And why should not those of virtue be the most delightful of all ? If peace and satisfaction within, if credit and honour from without, if self-approbation in all we think, if courage and cheerfulness in all we do, if the sweet intercourse of blessings received from God, and of gratitude repaid by an innocent and affectionate heart, be delightful, then must those habits, that procure us these immense advantages, be inexpressibly delightful.
Come then, let us waste no more time in words; but, with hearts deeply detesting our evil habits, and earnestly desirous of such as are pleasing in the sight of God, let us hasten to his table; let us devoutly beseech him, with his almighty hand, to root up, and pluck out of our nature, all habits of sin; and, in their place, to plant those of true religion and virtue, to his eternal honour, and our everlasting salvation; through Christ Jesus our Redeemer, to whom, with the Father, and the Holy Ghost, be all might, majesty, dignity, and dominion, now, and for evermore. Amen.
THE NECESSITY OF A SPEEDY REPENTANCE.
ISAIAH Lv. 6, 7. . Seek ye the Lord, while he may be found; call ye upon him while he is
near. Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; and let
him return unto the Lord, and he shall have mercy on him; and to our God,
for he will abundantly pardon. It is the first principle of every living thing, of the most stupid brute, and even of the most insensible insect, to fly from that which threatens it with misery or destruction, and to seek its own safety and preservation. Yet the most sensible and thinking man must foresee the evils that approach him, and know his danger, before he can make a single step out of their way.
It is not the greatness of the danger we are in, but the keenness of our own apprehensions, that alarms us. Accordingly, our caution is always proportioned to our apprehension. Of two persons, equally in danger, the one shall be struck with a greater degree of fear, and consequently shall take more care to escape, than the other. Of two evils, the one infinitely exceeding the other, the least is often the most cautiously avoided ; because it happens through mis-, take, to be the most sensibly apprehended..
Since then we never proportion our caution immediately to the danger itself, but to our own apprehensions, it must be a matter of the highest moment to us to form right apprebensions of the things, and still the greater any evil really is, and the more likely it may be to befall us, to be propor