Robert E. (Robert Elliott) Speer.

A Christian's habits online

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Cf)E Westminster ^ress


Copyright, 191 i, by

The Trustees of the Presbyterian Board of
Publication and Sabbath-School Work

Publislied April, 191




R 1916 L


New York Chicago San Francisco

St. Louis Nashville




Preface ^

The Place of Habit 9

The Habit of Prayer ^5

The Habit of Duty. I ^3

The Habit of Duty. H 29

The Habit of Duty. HI 35

The Habit of Good Thinking 42

The Habit of Wise Spending 5o

The Habit of Hopefulness 61

The Habit of Doing Things Now 70

The Habit of High-Mindedness 11

The Habit of High-Minded Lowliness 85

The Habit of Not Dawdling 92

The Habit of Decision 98

The Habit of Finding the Will of God 107



"A ND he entered as his custom was,
l\ into the synagogue on the sabbath

"And as he was wont, he taught them."

''And went, as his custom was, unto the
mount of OHves."

''The Father . . . hath not left me alone;
for I do always the things that are pleasing
to him."

These were some of the habits of the
Lord. He had habits, as each man must
have, as God himself has; for do we not
read of "the ways of the Lord" ? Is this
not ever the earnest man's prayer, "Show
me thy ways, O Lord, teach me thy paths"?
Indeed, it was to be the blessing of the lat-
ter days that they would fulfill this prayer.
"And many nations shall go and say. Come
ye, and let us go up to the mountain of Jeho-
vah, and to the house of the God of Jacob;
and he will teach us of his ways, and we will
walk in his paths."

This little book is an effort to discover
and describe some of these paths of God
which are to be the habits of his children.



LIFE is a school of habit. There is a
real sense in which our business here
is simply the acquisition of habits.
We start with certain inherited tendencies
and capabilities and these certainly do affect
our choices, and the choices grow into our
habits; but wdiatever the bias for good or
evil with which we start, we are not bound
by it. How often we see a good ancestry
shamed in some bad son, and a bad ancestry
exalted by some good son! Whatever the
bias with w^hich we are born, and the pres-
sure of our surroundings upon us, and how-
ever much excuse is to be found in these for
the wreck of some lives, it is still true that
we order our own w^ays and that we order
them by the character of the habits we
choose to acquire.'

We begin our w^ork in this school when
we begin to live. At once upon beginning
to live we begin to act, and each act makes
its repetition easier, so that we are more
likely to duplicate that act than to perform
a new one. No one needs to teach us to
form habits. We do it by reason of our


nature, of which, as Carlyle said : "Habit
is the deepest law. It is our supreme
strength, if also in certain circumstances, our
most miserable weakness. Let me go once
scanning my way with any earnestness of
outlook, and successfully arriving, my foot-
steps are an invitation to me a second time
to go by the same way. It is easier than
any other way. Habit is our perennial law
— habit and imitation — there is nothing more
perennial in us than these two. They are
the source of all working and all apprentice-
ship, of all practice and all learning in the

The law of habit is not a dead mechani-
cal law. It is simply the government of
God applying to all life, giving stability and
order and firm principle to it. It is the as-
surance ^hat we can keep the results of our
efforts and experience, that there is an end
toward which we can move and that we are
not to be left alone to be molded by nothing,
or to be molded by events and circumstances
which are more powerful than we. ''The
truth is," as Edward Bowen, one of the great
English schoolmasters wrote in an essay on
'The Force of Habit," "the truth is not
that events mold us, but that we mold our-


selves : that is, if with reverence it may be
spoken, the Creator supplies the instruments,
and we have the work to do. Whether our
work be a cheerless, solitary task, a forlorn
and unaided toil, or whether in no single
action are we destitute of a guidance above
ourselves, Plato did not doubt, and we shall
not : but that it is in this way that we shape
our being, and in everything work toward an
end, Scripture and reason prove." Habit is
God's assent to the finality and responsi-
bility of our acts.

If it were not for habit, we should never
have time or strength for any advanced liv-
ing. ''If an act became no easier after being
done several times," says Dr. Moudsley in
"The Physiology of Mind," "if the careful
direction of consciousness were necessary to
its accomplishment on each occasion, it is
evident that the whole activity of a lifetime
might be confined to one or two deeds — that
no progress could take place in development.
A man might be occupied all day "in dressing
and undressing himself; the attitude of his
body would absorb all his attention and
energy; the washing of his hands or the
fastening of a button would be as difficult
to him on each occasion as to the child on


its first trial, and he would furthermore be
completely exhausted by his exertions."
We can make headway upward in our life
struggle because each step is secure. We do
not need to go back to do it over again with
the same effort. We can go on from it easily
to another step in the same direction.

Of course, the law of habit, like every
other law, is like a two-edged blade. It
cuts both ways. The good that we have
done once, we can do more easily the sec-
ond time. The evil, also, that we have done
once we can more easily repeat. 'T know
from experience," says John Foster in his
"Journal," "that habit can, in direct opposi-
tion to every connection of the mind and but
little aided by the element of temptation
(such as present pleasures, and so forth) in-
duce a repetition of the most unworthy
action. The mind is weak where it has
once given way. It is long before a prin-
ciple restored can become as firm as one that
has never been moved. It is as the case of
a mound of a reservoir : if the mound has
in one place been broken, whatever care has
been taken to make the repaired part as strong
as possible, the probability is that if it gives
way again, it will be in that place." The


law of habit is meant to be a blessing to us
in making us masters, not a curse in making
us slaves.

In the religious life, habit is meant to
play a great and blessed part. ''In the great
majority of things," says Foster, "habit is a
greater plague than ever afflicted Egypt : in
reHgious character it is a grand felicity."
By it we are set free from many conflicts
which we had to wage earnestly at first but
in which the habit of victory became so fixed
that we are no longer aware of those conflicts.
The foes whom we meet are still with us,
but we give them no more thought than we
give to the earth we walk on, and without
which we could not stand up and walk for-
ward. By habit also, what was at first hard
and perplexing has become natural and
simple. Surrender to Christ and the sub-
ordination of our personal ambition to him,
once difficult, is now joyous. The lower
has been subjugated by the higher. "When
the missionary desire came in and took full
possession of my heart," says the veteran
missionary, Grifiith John, "the lower desire
was driven out and driven out never to re-
turn again. That was a great victory, one
of the 2:reatest victories ever won on the



arena of my soul, and one for which I have
never ceased to feel truly thankful to God."
And the virtues and activities of the after
life are sweet to us in their full sweetness,
and secure and trustworthy only when they
have become, as they may become, habitual.
We should begin to acquire these habits
at once, the earlier the better. If we do not
learn to love God in our earliest years, and
to trust him and to pray to him, if we do
not become familiar with the Bible now, and
now acquire a love for purity that will not
look upon evil, it may be too late when in
after years we turn to these things deciding
to make them then habitual. While no one
need ever despair, it is true, as Professor
James says, that habit ''dooms us all to fight
out the battle of life upon the lines of our
nurture or our early choice, and to make the
best of a pursuit that disagrees, because there
is no other for which we are fitted, and it is
too late to begin again." The kind of Chris-
tian we want some day to be, we must begin
to be to-day.



THE most vital of all the habits of a
Christian is the habit of prayer.
This is the test of spiritual reality
and strength. The man whose principles and
character can be exposed to God, who loves
to go to God, and who, though aware of his
weakness and sin, ever rejoices to be searched
through by the light of God in the fire of
his presence, cannot be false. The man who
does not seek and bear this testing of prayer,
has no such sense of his own sin, of the
reality of God's forgiveness and power and
of the nearness of his presence to man, as
will make his word to his fellow-men of
deepest effect. "Without much solitary com-
munion with Jesus," says good Dr. Mac-
laren of Manchester, "effort for him tends to
become mechanical and to lose the elevation
of motive and the suppression of self which
give it all its power. It is not lost time
which the busiest worker, confronted with
the most imperative calls for service, gives
to still fellowship in secret with God. There
can never be too much activity in Christian
work, but there is often disproportioned ac-


tivity, which is loo much for the amount of
time given to meditation and communion.
This is one reason why there is so much
sowing and so httle reaping in Christian
work to-day."

It is just as important that praying should
become a habit with us, as breathing or eat-
ing or sleeping, or dressing in the morning.
If these things did not become habitual with
us, life would soon break down vuider the
burden of doing them.

But they are all made natural and almost
unconscious to us by practice, so that we do
them all instinctively. Prayer, of course, can
never become a habit which needs no at-
tention, for prayer is the fixing of the at-
tention upon God; but it can become per-
fectly natural for us to dO' this, so natural
that every instant our hearts will turn to
God, referring all things to him and seeking
his strength and peace.

Those who are not in the habit of prayer
at all times are not likely to make use of
prayer even in special times. In very great
crises, of course, they will probably do so.
Even men who pay no heed to God and re-
nounce prayer are likely, in the time of mor-
tal peril, to pray. When the steamship Spree


broke its shaft some years ago while cross-
ing the Atlantic, with Mr. Moody on board,
and the passengers realized their danger,
men who had shown no interest whatever in
religion joined the group around Mr. Moody
who prayed. But it is the men who habitu-
ally pray who know how to pray in such
emergencies. If we learn from our earliest
childhood to pray daily and hourly there will
never come a time when we cannot turn to
God with natural friendship and assurance,
and tell him our wants and desires.

For prayer is just converse with God, and
all conversation requires practice. If men
do not talk to one another, they lose the taste
and faculty of conversation, and so, also, if
men do not talk with God, they will not
acquire the love and power of prayer. We
can make constant converse with God the
habit of our lives. We are more likely to
do this if we think of God as Father, as
Jesus encouraged us to do. If we think of
him as some strange and distant monarch,
or as a vague, pervasive spirit, we shall feel
no disposition to speak to him as a man
would speak to his friend, but if we realize
that he is our personal Father, and our in-
separable Companion, we shall naturally turn



to him to share our pleasure in each new
joy of hfe, our dehght in all that is beautiful,
to thank him for every blessing, to seek his
guidance in every perplexity, and his com-
fort and help in every sorrow and need.

Such a habit, as Dr. Maclaren points out,
is not inconsistent with work and energy.
It is the best stimulus to work, and the great
fountain of energy. It is the men of prayer,
like Chinese Gordon and Stonewall Jack-
son who were the great soldiers. As Gordon
wrote to his sister :

''I believe very much in praying for others ;
it takes away all bitterness toward them.
. . . If a man makes an arrangement with
his fellow-man, the greatest honor to him
is to consider that arrangement as effectual
and final. So it is the great honor to our
Lord to believe his word. It is not presump-
tion to claim the fulfillment of his promises;
it is a comforting thought ; indeed, it is
peace, for we place our burden on him, who
is both willing and able to bear it. The
prayers of the patriarchs were most simple;
they took God at his word, that is all.

'T like much this style of prayer, and rec-
ommend it to you : to plead with Christ to
look after his own members. He knew all


about those members, when he undertook the
covenant. Surely, if he bore the punishment
of our sins, as he did, he is not Hkely to
neglect the fruit of his work. Why, the
fact of his not doing so would be the triumph
of his foes, and would be virtual failure;
and we know that he could not fail. I
am delighted with the prayer ; I only realized
it lately — indeed a few days ago ; before that
it was misty. I now ask him in some way
to regulate matters for my earthly members,
for they also are his. I really believe we
shall enter the resurrection life by such
prayers, and die to the world."

And Jackson's biographer says of him :
''He prayed without ceasing, under fire
as in the camp; but he never mistook his
own impulse for a revelation of the divine
will. He prayed for help to do his duty,
and he prayed for success. He knew that

More things are wrought by prayer
Than this world dreams of ;

but he knew, also, that prayer is not al-
ways answered in the way which man would
have it. . . . Jackson's religion entered into
every action of his life. No duty, however
trivial, was begun without asking a blessing,


or ended without returning thanks. He had
long cultivated, he said, the habit of con-
necting the most trivial and customary acts
of life with a silent prayer."

And in the time of peace as well as in war,
the man of prayer is the man of action. His
prayer is work. It effects things. No one
felt this more than General Samuel Chap-
man Armstrong, the founder of Hampton.
"Prayer," said he, ''is the greatest thing in
the world. It keeps us near to God — my
own prayer has been most weak, wavering,
inconstant, yet has been the best thing I
have ever done. I think this is universal
truth — what comfort is there in any but
the broadest truth?"

The earlier we can acquire the best habits,
the better. As soon as children can talk,
and even before, it is time to begin with
them. But whether or not the habit was
begun with us then, we have something to
do ourselves, now, in strengthening it. We
must have our set time, morning and even-
ing, by grace at meals, by united prayer with
others for the settlement and confirmation
of our habit. And we need to associate the
thought of prayer and to cultivate its prac-
tice with all the various experiences of life.


The time that we so often cannot spend in
any other work can be profitably spent in
prayer — the hours while awake at night, and
the moments during the day when often we
can only sit still and pray. Maurice's wife
said that she never knew her husband to
wake up at night without praying.

The habit of prayer will be strengthened
with all of us who will remember to pray
after as well as before the events and ex-
periences of life. Often we need to pray even
more after some victory than before. We
shall probably remember to pray after our
defeat. Our humiliation and sense of need
will drive us to God in shame of weakness
and desire for strength. But when we suc-
ceed we often forget God, and are content
with what we think we have power in our-
selves to do. In truth, we have no power
in ourselves to do what we ought. All our
power is of God, and it is suicidal to cut
ourselves off from him — the one Source of
life and righteousness and power.

No habit of Jesus' life is more evident
than his habit of prayer. It must have been
begun in his earliest boyhood. It was the
great comfort and strength of his life. We
may not be able to make it mean to us what


it meant to him, but without it we shall never
find what he came to give — the life of strong,
steadfast duty-doing, of love and peace and
joy. Let us set about acquiring it now, and
practice it every day and every hour.



ONE of the most wonderful things in
the Hfe of our Lord was his habit
of duty. How large a part it played
with him is concealed from us because the
word is so seldom used in our English trans-
lation of the Gospels. The English word
''duty" occurs only five times in the King
James Version, and but once in the Gospels
in the words of Jesus. "Even so ye also,
when ye shall have done all the things that
are commanded you, say, We are unprofit-
able servants; we have done that which it
was our duty to do." But the absence of
the term does not indicate the absence of
the idea. Again and again the thought of
duty is expressed by Christ when he says,
'T must." That is not a verbal mood, but
a separate word which might as appropri-
ately be translated, ''It is my duty." "It
is my duty to be in my Father's house," was
the first expression of the noble conscious-
ness which was to dominate his career.
When his ministry began and the enthusi-
astic people of Capernaum would have kept
him for their local prophet, he replied, "It


is my duty to preach the good tidings of
the kingdom of God to the other cities also :
for therefore was I sent." As the work of
his pubHc ministry absorbed him, he said
solemnly, 'It is our duty to work the works
of him that sent me while it is day : the
night cometh, when no man can work."
The great missionary duty of the divine love
lay especially upon his heart and to this and
the sacrifice by which it was to be ac-
complished he often referred. "Other sheep
I have, which are not of this fold : them also
it is my duty to bring." 'Tt is the duty of
the Son of man to suffer many things, and
be rejected . . . and be killed." And the two
great ideas are combined with the impli-
cation of the Church's duty in the words of
the Lord after his resurrection. "It was
Christ's duty to suffer, and to rise again
from the dead the third day; and [it is your
duty to see] that repentance and remission
of sins should be preached in his name unto
all the nations." From the first to the last
a lofty sense of duty sustained the Son of

The life of Paul was dominated by the
same principle of duty. It was so in his anti-
Christian earnestness: "I verily thought


with myself that it was my duty to do many
things contrary to the name of Jesus of
Nazareth." Nothing turned him aside from
what he beHeved to be the path of duty.
His conscience was serene on this point. He
was ready to admit afterwards that his moral
judgment had been terribly wrong in those
days, and when he afterwards discovered
how wrong it had been, he made every re-
paration in his power, but he never regret-
ted having made duty supreme. And as a
persecutor, so as a missionary he bent his
life with absolute devotion under his con-
viction of duty. ''What do ye, weeping and
breaking my heart?" he remonstrated with
his friends in the house of Philip the
Evangelist, in Csesarea, as they sought to
dissuade him from the path of duty. ''I
am ready not to be bound only, but also
to die." With him it was anything for duty.
It must be so with us. A rigid sense of
duty is the noblest thing in life. It is nobler
than love. For in its lower ranges love
is tinged with selfishness, and when it rises
above these ranges and is pure, untainted by
any requirements of return, it melts into
duty and becomes and remains the loftier
love by virtue of the preservative purity of


duty. Only duty can put eternity into love
and lift it above all the vicissitudes and dis-
appointments and betrayals of time. And.
in fact, the Bible always grounds love upon
duty. In it as in God, right is the supreme
thing. God is love because he is right. And
we are bidden to love because we ought.
Duty and not affinity is the lofty motive of
the soul. This was our Lord's teaching.
"If ye love me, ye will keep my command-
ments." But what is it to love him? "Ye
are my friends, if ye do the things which
I command you." And the supreme duty
he laid upon his disciples, the commandment
he called "new" was the duty of love. "And
this is his commandment," says John, "that
we should . . . love one another. ... If
God so loved us, it is our duty to love one
another." Love is not a mood or a caprice.
It is a duty. It gets its greatness and its
sovereignty from the soul of duty which is
in it. There are sensitive souls which have
tortured themselves because they could not
serve from a sense of buo3^ant and joyous
love. Christ does not ask it. He asks us
to do our duty in the strength of God. We
do not need to want to tell the truth, or to
be unselfish, or to go as foreign missionaries.


It is good if we do feel a spontaneous joy
in duty. But that is secondary. The duty is
the supreme thing and the doing of it will
produce the right feelings in time. If it
does not, it is of little consequence, if only
we have done steadily and honestly what it
was our duty to do. For this, as it is the
noblest element and the highest motive, is
also the one adequate rule of life, "What
is right?" "What ought I?" This and
not temperament or taste, which may or
may not be what they should, is the complete
law of life and action and being.

Obedience to the law of duty is the only
way to clear up all our intellectual confusion
and perplexities. "Most true is it," says
Carlyle in a famifiar quotation, "as a wise
man teaches us 'that doubt of any sort can-
not be removed except by action.' On which
ground, too, let him who gropes painfully
in darkness or uncertain light, and prays
vehemently that the dawn may ripen into
day, lay this other precept well to heart,
which to us was of invaluable service. 'Do
the duty that lies nearest thee,' which thou
knowest to be a duty. Thy second duty will
already have become clearer." This is cer-
tainly a law throughout life. If I have doubt


as to my ability to learn to swim, I can never
resolve the doubt by standing on the bank
and arguing about it. It can only be cleared
away by my going into the w^ater and mak-
ing the effort. And so in higher things.
I can never settle the question of the ex-
istence of God or the truth of Christianity,
by speculation. Even if I am satisfied that
the results of my speculation prove the ex-
istence of God and the truth of Christianity,
both God and Christianity will still be un-
realities to me without action. I must ven-
ture out upon God. I must put Christianity
to the test of life. I must do my duty. And
if I do my duty, even if my speculations may
have baffled me, I shall issue forth at last.
Whoever will do right for right's sake and
follow this as a consuming principle will
come through to God who is the Right.



DONE steadily, as the law of life, duty
prepares men for whatever tests life

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Online LibraryRobert E. (Robert Elliott) SpeerA Christian's habits → online text (page 1 of 5)