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tous or incontinent can hardly ever turn his thoughts or senses to any object, which hath not been, by some means or other, interwoven with the pleasures of his habit, and therewith intimately mixed in his depraved imagination. Hence it is, that circumstances and occurrences, the most remote in the nature of things, give him occasion to reflect with pleasure on past gains, though ever so unlawful; or on past enjoyments, though ever so brutal; and to wish for a repetition; which, if obtained, fills his imagination with a new set of circumstances, that serve only to multiply the provocatives of his vice, and the handles by which temptations may seize him. As every thing puts a pedant on talking of his books, and a tradesman of his calling; so every thing furnishes the covetous, or the lewd, with an hint to think of the sordid or sensual pleasures his vice hath habituated him to; to wish for greater of the kind ; and with all his might to follow the bent of that wish, till it is crowned with success, and feeds his habit with an additional incentive.
No more, I think, need be said to prove the power of habit to hearers, who, if they reflect at all, cannot but be sensible of the truth I have been enforcing. It is now time attentively to consider, that, if habit can thus change the very nature of the mind, can give us new motives to action, can so greatly strengthen our former ones; and, by so doing, can, with incomparably more force than every thing else in the world, determine us to virtue and happiness, or vice and misery; we ought, undoubtedly, above all things, to guard ourselves with all possible watchfulness against the introduction of bad habits; to labour in the conquest of them, if already introduced ; and also to do our utmost to adorn our minds with such as are of a religious and virtuous tendency.
The methods to be used in preventing, or inducing, bad habits being pretty much the same, but requiring, in the latter case, a more skilful and resolute application, I shall begin with it, because there is no introducing good habits, till the bad ones are removed. We must first cease to do evil,' before we learn to do well.' No habit of virtue can possibly be acquired, while there is still an opposite habit of vice in full possession of the heart. The latter must not only be broken down, but the very ruins and rubbish of it must be removed, and the ground cleared, or the former can never be erected in its place; nor will the Spirit of God enter, till the evil spirit is driven out.'
But, before a man can think of subduing an evil habit, he must be sensible he is subject to it, and apprized of his danger, in case this necessary reformation should not be effected. Now, it is the unhappiness of those who are subject to these habitual distempers of the mind, to think too well of their own condition, to look on themselves as free from habits of vice, or to consider them as less inveterate than they are. We generally despise the first approaches of
odily disorders,' says Seneca ; 'for instance, when we are attacked by the gout, we say, we have wrenched our ankle, or hurt our foot; but, as soon as the distemper arises to a great height, we become but too sensible of our real ailment. But it happens otherwise in disorders of the mind; for in them, the worse we are, the less sense we have of our disease.' St. Chrysostom says to the same purpose, “ If our clothes are new and clean, we take all the care in the world to preserve them so; but, when they are once spotted in several places, we are in little pain, though they should become wholly foul.'
But if a man is so given to any particular vice, that neither reason nor religion, nor even its present ill effects on his fortune, his health, or his character, can hinder his falling into that vice, as often as he is tempted to it, he may assure himself he is not only the habitual slave of it, but so far gone, that it is well if he ever gets clear of it.
However, he can hardly be sensible of his condition, without a most earnest desire of reformation, because he knows, in case his wicked habit is not subdued, he is undone. To effect this necessary work, he ought to consider, that so far as any of his evil dispositions may be called a habit, so far it owes its strength to an accustomary repetition of such thoughts and actions, as that particular disposition prompts and tempts him into. As then it grew and gained upon him by repeated practice, so it is impossible it should ever be weakened or conquered, but by an obstinate abstinence from all such thoughts and actions. In bodily habits we find, that barely not doing, will in time disable us from doing that which we were ever so expert at. The tradesman, who hath for awhile laid aside his tools, and the musician, who hath not, for some time, exercised his fingers, do both lose much of their skill, and return with some stiffness and awkwardness to their respective arts; and, did they entirely disuse them, they would, at length, become as great bunglers at them, as those who never knew any thing of the matter. It is just so in habits of the mind. The good and the bad are alike learned, by practising and repeating, and unlearned again, by neglecting or abstaining.
But, this admitted, how shall he who knows it, and is desirous to have recourse to it, find sufficient resolution to stifle such thoughts, and abstain from such actions, as have, for a long time, afforded him the chief delight and pleasure of his life? What shall enable him to persevere in this resolution, not for a day or month, but for a course of years?
Here, it must be owned, lies the difficulty; so far as the preparation for this encounter depends on himself, he is to set out with a deep sense of the present miseries his wicked habit involves him in, and of the far greater evils it will certainly bring upon him, if it is not thoroughly subdued. In order to this, infamy, sickness, death, or damnation, according to the quality of his habit, are to be so feelingly and closely connected with it in his apprehension, that it will be impossible for it, at any time, to tempt him with the pleasures of a repetition, without shocking him, in the same instant, with those alarming consequences. As this connexion between a habit of sin, and its miserable effects, is founded on the nature of things, and necessary, it will be the easier for him to fix it in his imagination; and every woful experiment he ventures to make against his good resolution, will quicken and force the sense of it home upon his heart, provided he is not wholly lost to reflection.
Armed with this awakening apprehension, he is to draw his next argument, both for expedition and perseverance, from the very nature of habit itself. He knows that every habit, whether good or evil, grows still stronger, the more it is indulged. Now, as he is not so lost to God and himself as to have no thought of breaking his evil habit, and reforming some time or other, so he ought to consider, that this great and necessary work will be the easier, the sooner he sets about it. He should consider also, that, as long as he continues to act in conformity to his habit, his own natural resolution is decaying, the violence of his temptations increasing, time slipping by, death and eternity hastening forward, and the grace of God insensibly forsaking him; and all together conspiring to render the work of reformation impracticable. Lastly, he should consider, that he is all this time acquiring a still keener taste for vice, and losing all relish of virtue ; losing sight of all the arguments and motives to a good life, and plunging yet deeper and deeper into temptations and motives to wickedness. Religion, and heaven, and God, are withdrawing and disappearing very fast; while infidelity, and sin, and damnation, and the devil, are advancing upon him with the same haste. This is a dangerous, this is a frightful situation. A mind just entered into a habit of sin, is in a state much resembling that of him, who is falling from a precipice. Could it, in the first moment of its fall, catch hold of any thing to stop it, it might still be preserved; but, if it misses this opportunity, it quickly gathers such force from its very fall, as must, without a miracle, dash all its hopes of salvation to pieces. If the man, thus circumstanced, is a lover of liberty, and who is not ?) how can he think, without a deep and settled indignation at himself, on the despicable state of slavery to the very worst of tyrants, into which, like a fool, and a coward, be is plunging headlong? How can he submit his neck to a yoke so shameful and so galling, without considering, that, if it is suffered to rest there any time, he will begin to look on it as a bracelet, and an ornament; and then farewell to all attempts to shake it off! Can he possibly think with patience of still going on to insult his Maker, and infinite Benefactor, by abusing and perverting the nature God hath given him ? and, instead of acting like a reasonable creature, can he be content to live and perish like a beast; and, after death, to sink into disgrace and misery, into chains and darkness, with the devil and his angels? Can he rest in such a thought as this? Can he, for a moment, balance on it between his duty and his habit? No; surely he is not so abandoned, so lost to common sense. If he is not, let him instantly have recourse to the advice of St. Chrysostom, who recommends solitude and retirement as necessary in such cases as his. The subduing an evil habit,' says he,‘is very difficult, because it is supported by pleasure; whereas virtue, to one accustomed to vice, is attended with much labour and irksomeness. God, in order to break the Hebrews of the wicked customs they had contracted in Egypt, led them into the wilderness; and, in that situation, formed their minds, by trying on them all the forch both of harsh and gentle methods. And even with all this, a perfect reformation could not be immediately brought about. While they were fed with celestial food (such is the force of habit), they still longed for the onions, the garlick, and the flesh-pots, of Egypt, to which they had been accustomed. However, though solitude alone may not all at once be able to work a cure, the habitual impressions of sin remaining with us, when the tempting objects are removed; yet these impressions will grow every day weaker, when those objects are no longer present to renew them. And here the powerful aids of religion may be called in by ardent and uninterrupted devotions. Here, instead of the allurements that perpetually solicit us in the thoroughfare of the world, proper mortifications may be applied to subdue the passions, and empty the mind of its long-contracted filth. Here heaven in all its glories, and hell in all its horrors, may be calmly contemplated at leisure by the mind, now vacant of other objects, less fit to be desired or feared. Here we may awfully meditate on the wisdom of God, from which we cannot hide ; on his presence, which we cannot fly from; on his justice, which we cannot biass; on his power, which we cannot resist. Here the motions of his Holy Spirit may be attended without distraction or dissipation.
For our encouragement to attempt the reduction of our evil habits, the Saint just now quoted, places almost the whole difficulty of reformation in the beginning; and experience teaches the same thing. As soon as a disorder, says he, 'is past the height, health begins to return. Abstain from vice for two days, and you will find it easier to do it on the third. If afterward you add ten, you will find encouragement to lengthen out the time to twenty, then to a hundred, and so to your whole life.' This expedient, though perhaps to a man of wit it may seem ridiculous, loudly speaks the wisdom of its contriver. Such arts are