Robert E. (Robert Elliott) Speer.

A Christian's habits online

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as impossible, with the words : "Impossible !
What are Christians in the world for but
to achieve the impossible by the help of
God?" As he went about in behalf of
Hampton Institute he was constantly com-
pelled to do what could not be done. "Once,"
he said, "there was a woodchuck and a dog
got after him. Now woodchucks can't climb
trees, but this one had to, so up he w^ent."
And another time, when he simply had to
get money for the school, he told of an old
negro who was seen digging in a tree for
a 'possum. Some one told him there was
no 'possum there. "Ain't no 'possum in dat
hole?" said the old man. "Dey's just got
to be, 'cause dey's nuffin' in de house for

Men always can. "I can do all things in
him that strengtheneth me," declared Paul.
There were, of course, things which he did
not do. There are things wdiich we cannot
do. But the only way to find out is to try,
and if we try we shall find that we can do
everything that we ought to do. There is


no excuse for dawdling because we can't

The best cure is to begin at once. In the
matter of character-building, where daw-
dling is most deadly and most easy, we can
begin now by cutting off some indulgence,
or by taking on some new practice, such as
prayer at a fixed hour or a new attitude in
prayer which will break up dawdling habits.
Or we can deal with our speech, and by
making it clear and right and instant, help
to confirm the habit of straightforwardness.

But the difficulty with most dawdlers is
not the difficulty of beginning, but the diffi-
culty of keeping at it. They are like the son
in the parable who said promptly, 'T go,
sir," and went not. They are ready to make
a start, but they soon stop to rest or to think
of something else or to look out of the win-
dow or to wish that the task were done.
They are like the Bandar-log, the Monkey
People who are always dreaming and wish-
ing that things could be done just by wish-
ing that they were done, who never stick at
anything long enough to complete it, but
always are carried off by some new scheme.

There is a character in the "J^-^^g^^ Book"
who was no dawdler. That was Rikki-tikki-


tavi. When he saw something to be done
he did it, and when he took hold he did not
let go. Woe to Rikki-tikki if in his fight
with Nag he had released his hold on the
big cobra's head, and woe to the family in
the bungalow if he had dawdled in taking

In our struggle for character we must not
be frightened into letting go. We shall
certainly be lifted up higher before we get
through than we had ever dared to hope to
go, but we are not to fear. The Saviour
of whom we have taken hold has taken hold
of us with his divine grasp and he means to
raise us far above all that is low in life and
at last to lift us sheer into his home above.
We ought not to be fearful.

Jesus when he was here was looking for
men who would not dawdle. His own life
was full of eager, unhesitating action, and
he called men to come to him in the same
spirit, and straightway they rose up and left
all and followed him. That was the kind of
disciple he desired. And he taught these
men how to act as the workmen of God,
prompt, eager, ready for opportunity, quick
to do every duty.

In life and work we are not to be as those


who are asleep, who begin, perhaps wake-
fully, but soon dawdle off again. We are
to watch and work as the children of the
day. Our Captain's appeal to us is the old
hymn :

Awake, my soul, stretch every nerve,

And press with vigor on ;
A heavenly race demands thy zeal,

And an immortal crown.

A cloud of witnesses around

Hold thee in full survey:
Forget the steps already trod,

And onward urge thy way.

Tis God's all-animating voice

That calls thee from on high;
'Tis his own hand presents the prize

To thine aspiring eye:

That prize with peerless glories bright,

Which shall new luster boast.
When victors' wreaths and monarchs' gems

Shall blend in common dust.

Blest Saviour, introduced by thee.

Have I my race begun;
And, crowned with glory, at thy feet

I'll lay my honors down.



THE word decision occurs in only one
place in the Bible. That is in the third
chapter of Joel. "Multitudes, multi-
tudes in the valley of decision I for the day
of Jehovah is near in the valley of decision."
This vv'as the valley where issues were set-
tled and judgment was to be passed. To
that momentous time Jehovah was bringing
the nations. In that valley is where all men
ever are.

And so, though the word occurs only here,
in the prophecy of Joel, the idea of the sig-
nificance of our choices, and the importance
and supremacy of the act and character of
decision, is everywhere in the Bible. God
is shown to us as the great chooser, the One
who deals with men and nations with posi-
tive and firm decision. He is spoken of thus
twenty-eight times in Deuteronomy alone.
And the true man is set forth as the chooser.
'T have chosen the way of faithfulness," he
says. "Thine ordinances have I set before
me. I cleave unto thy testimonies : . . . Let
thy hand be ready to help me; for I have
chosen thv precepts." This was the glory



of Daniel and his friends. When they joined
the young men in the king's court, they de-
cided that they would not defile themselves,
and when, later, they were put to the test
of fidelity to their God, they met the test
with unflinching decision. To the threat of
the fiery furnace they solemnly replied : "Our
God whom we serve is able to deliver us from
the burning fiery furnace; and he will de-
liver us out of thy hand, O king. But if
not, be it known unto thee, O king, that we
will not serve thy gods, nor worship the
golden image which thou hast set up." De^
cision was the redeeming quality in the un-
just steward. And it was the splendid thing
in Paul. He was always straightforward,
clear-cut, decisive. It was not his habit to
temporize and dawdle. It was his habit at
once to seek the will of God and to do it.
The habit of decision is still the great and
commanding virtue. The undecided man,
the wabbler, is to us the most pathetic and
helpless of men. In "David Harum" there
was a man who was always distressed when
he had to make up his mind. He could not
decide what shoes to put on in the morning,
and he would get a black shoe on one foot
and a tan shoe on the other foot, and then




sit in misery, unable to decide which one to
change. The New Testament is strong in
its condemnation of the irresokite man. "Be
no longer children," it says, ''tossed to and
fro and carried about with every wind of doc-
trine, by the sleight of men, in craftiness,
after the wiles of error." "He that doubt-
eth," adds James, "is like the surge of the
sea driven by the wind and tossed. For let
not that man think that he shall receive any-
thing of the Lord; a doubleminded man.
unstable in all his ways." How different and
how much nobler is the man who can act,
who is ever ready for instant and unhesi-
tating action. 'T hate this dreadful titter-
fritteration of time ; I can't stand it any
longer," said Samuel C. Armstrong during
tlie war. He was used to decision, to doing

Few books have exerted more influence
than John Foster's essay on "Decision of
Character." That is our great need — such
a habit of decision that we shall not waste
time and strength in thinking about future
decisions, or in devising reasons for not mak-
ing present decisions, but shall do at once,
without delay, what wx see to be duty.
When our fathers or employers say, "My


boy, will you please do this," we will say,
whatever we are doing at the time, not ''Ex-
cuse me for a moment, please," not ''I cannot
just now,'' but ''Yes, sir," and do it with-
out loitering. And we need the habit of
decision not only as to acts, but also as to
character, so that we shall be firm and posi-
tive and straight-acting. Some people are
this wa}\ They know how to make up their
minds and to do directly what they have
minded to do. And others are wabblers and

Perhaps we say : "Yes, we are among
the weak. How can we acquire the habit
of decision?"

A house needs a foundation. So does
a character. Or rather the house is the
foundation plus the structure built upon it.
The character runs down, too, to include
the foundation. If we want characters of
decision we should lay the physical basis
for them in clean, active, swift-answering
bodies. We can give ourselves a good,
wholesome discipline to this end by taking
our bodies in hand. With many great men
early poverty and necessity did this service
for them, and frugality and hard work gave
them tough, well-knit, well-purged bodies.


But deliberate choice can take the place of
necessity. Paul tells us he took his body in
hand and disciplined it. *'I buffet my body,"
he says, ''and bring it into bondage." A
governed will is not likely to live in an un-
governed body. An alert, determined,
quick-working will is more at home in a body
held in subjection and taught obedience.

We can help ourselves to become resolute
and decided by doing conclusive thinking on
our problems. We need to make up- our
minds on fundamental things and to keep
them made up. There are many questions
about which we do not need to bother our-
selves, and which should not bother us.
These we can postpone. But there are others
which lie at the very root of things. The
questions of the supremacy of truth, of our
duty to God and man, of the divinity of
Christ, are central questions. We should
think of them until we are clear about them,
and we should build solidly upon our con-
victions of truth and act fearlessly in accord
with them. If we have no convictions
we shall have little character. Decision in
conviction will produce decision in char-

If we fix our attention rigidly on virtue.


on truth, on things that are good, we shall
find that such thinking breeds decisiveness
of action and character. Our wills are given
to us for the purpose of directing our
thoughts. "The point to which the will is
applied is always an idea," says one of our
leading psychologists. ''The only resistance
which our will can possibly experience is the
resistance which such an idea offers to being
attended to at all." If, accordingly, we will
think of good things and of doing good
things, and will, as we can, refuse to
let our attention turn to bad things or to
not doing good things, the rest will take
care of itself, or, rather, God who is
working in us will take care of it. Paul
knew this when, in the counsel he gave the
Philippians, he bade them simply to take care
of their thoughts. ''Whatsoever things," he
said, "are true, whatsoever things are honor-
able, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever
things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely,
whatsoever things are of good report; if
there be any virtue, and if there be any praise,
think on these things." If they thought thus
first, then they would do what he bade, and
the God of peace and strength would be
with them — the God of decision.


Also we can help ourselves by practice.
We can set ourselves by practice to make
decision a habit of our life. Professor James
has told us how to acquire the good habits
we desire. These are some of his sugges-
tions : ( I ) Make automatic and habitual, as
early as possible, as many helpful actions as
we can. Get into the way of settling things
decisively. (2) We must launch ourselves
with as strong and decided an initiative as
possible. The new Christian must openly
and bravely confess Christ. This will make
him surer in his discipleship, and it will make
him a firmer and more dauntless character.
(3) Never suffer an exception to occur until
the new habit is securely rooted in your
life. Following this rule with any good habit
we wish to acquire will breed decision. (4)
Seize the first possible opportunity to act on
every resolution you make and every prompt-
ing you may experience in the direction of
•the habits you aspire to gain. (5) Keep the
faculty of effort alive in you by a little gratu-
itous exercise every day. "The man who
has daily inured himself to habits of con-
secrated attention, energetic volition and self-
denial in unnecessary things, will stand like
a tower when everything rocks around him


and when his softer fellow-mortals are win-
nowed like chaff in the blast."

Unselfishness is a great help to decisive-
ness of character. It is easier to think
quickly for others than it is for ourselves, and
if we will set out to do things for other peo-
ple w^e will find that we can be decided for
them where w^e were irresolute for ourselves.
And unselfishness is itself an essential part
of decision. Decision of character involves
readiness to do for the right and to die for
the right. It is that that marks us as men
and that shows that we have achieved the
manly character. General Armstrong's negro
troops sang this in "The Enlisted Soldier" :

We want no cowards in our band

That will their colors fly,
We call for valiant-hearted men

Who're not afraid to die.
They look like men. They look like men.

They look like men of war.
All armed and dressed in uniform

They look like men of war.

Are we such men or do we only look like
them ?

And lastly, the unflinching Christ, who
never hesitated, but met all, can take us and
make us his. His living Spirit, which


wrought in Simon Peter, who denied him at
the taunt of a girl, but a few days later faced
the multitude in his name, and died at last
in his service, can work also in us the same
mighty change from weakness to decision.
Shall he not be given freedom to do it ?



THE most important thing in life to look
for is the will of God. Nothing can
be of more significance to each of
us than his own right life work, which that
will assigns. *'For what doth it profit a
man," asked Jesus, "to gain the whole world,
and forfeit his life?" Which we may in-
terpret to mean, in the language of our own
condition, what shall it profit a man to gain
the whole world but to miss his life work?
God has such a work for each one of us. It
is made up of all the works he has for us
to do day by day. We need, above all things,
the habit of always finding this work.

The strength of life consists in the power
of the grip of God's purpose upon us. Has
it control of us? The hold of a man upon
truth, it has been remarked, is of less con-
sequence than the hold of the truth upon the
man. How fast does it hold him? How
completely does it dominate him ? These are
the questions which arise also regarding our
lives and the will of God. Does it have a grip
upon us ? How masterfully does it hold us ?


It is all right for us to talk of our purpose
for God, but the great reality is God's pur-
pose for us. When we have been absorbed
in that, then at last we know what strength
and rest are. \Ye lean then not upon the
firmness of our resolves, but upon the mighty
grasp of God and his will upon our lives.

We have no right to fall into the habit of
drifting with regard to the will of God.
Alany people move along, accepting all that
comes without scrutiny, assuming that the
path of least effort, least resolution, least re-
sistance, is the will of God. Sometimes it
is, and sometimes, oftener, it is not. W^e arc
bound to think, to open life to all the di-
vine possibilities, to consider anything that
may be able to show that it is the will of
God for us. ''The family money was in that
business," said a young man studying for
the ministry, of a great business firm, ''and
I might have gone in there too. It would
have meant a good deal more in the way of
return to the family, but I didn't see that
that was where I wanted to put my life."
So he chose what God chose for him, entirely
apart from the natural and obvious thing for
him. If \\^ are going to find the will of God
we must be willing to look for it where it


is, which will often be where we don't ex-
pect to find it.

Many men have been diverted from what
they at first wanted and thought was God's
will, but found out in time was not. Every
man who is following a selfish or evil course
will find himself wrenched away from that
the moment he seeks the will of God. But
even among good men the will of God is
constantly a surprise. David Livingstone
desired ardently to go to China. He had
been interested in China through Gutzlaff.
But God's will took him to Africa. Robert
Morrison wanted to go to Africa. God's
will took him to China. Griffith John wanted
to go to Madagascar. But God's will led him
to central China. Whoever would habitu-
ally follow the will of God must be pre-
pared for surprises — all of them ultimately
far better than our original designs.

And now, assuming that we are willing
to follow the will of God, how may we get
into the habit of knowing what it is ?

( I ) First, then, however great our prob-
lems ahead may be, there is always some
small duty near. The first thing is to do
that, to get into the habit of always doing
that. That will lead on to the next thing.


Life is a unity. It may look like a chaos
and tangle, but it is one, not a heap of de-
tached items. It is rather like a long twine.
What we need to do is to take hold where
we can and work straight along. So in find-
ing duty we need to accept the present task.
To shirk our present assignment blinds us
for seeing future assignment. The accept-
ance of present duty teaches us the habit of
doing all duty, of ever knowing God's will.

(2) Think carefully of the reasons for and
against the various possible courses of action,
and balance them as well as you can. In
his reminiscences, John D. Rockefeller tells
how, in the early years of the Standard
Oil Company, he and his associates were
always ready to consider and to discuss any
proposal whatever. They were looking for
the best methods, and never took it for
granted that there were no better ones than
those they were following. If men act in
this way in business, much more in the su-
preme thing of all ought we to be open-
minded and thoughtful.

(3) Seek unselfish, disinterested and high-
minded counsel. Many people ask advice of
those who will not counsel them impartially,
but whose judgment is biased by desire.


And even when they ask disinterested coun-
sel, it is not always high-minded. People
who do not themselves live in the will of
God, and who have no habit of regarding it,
are poor people to consult.

(4) Above all others whom we consult,
we should advise with God through prayer.
His counsel is worth more than that of
anyone else, and he is ready to give it. Be-
cause of our own ignorance, our helpless-
ness and impatience, because of the spiritual
hindrances without and within with which
only prayer can cope, because God knows
what we cannot know and makes his knowl-
edge available for our guidance, we ought
to seek the habit of discernment of duty
through prayer.

(5) We should put off all unnecessary de-
cisions as to details. Such details usually
take care of themselves in any case. But we
should settle, as soon as possible, the great
questions of principle. God's custom is to
show not the end of the way, but the way.
What will come later on in the way we
must not ask. We must settle now the di-
rection of the way. The earlier we decide
the better, for the sake of our character, for
the sake of our preparation for the future,


for the sake of our influence now. We have
no such assurance of the future as will war-
rant us in putting off the acceptance of God's
true will for our lives.

(6) Let us keep ever before us the Scrip-
ture principles of duty-knowing and duty-
doing: "Seek ye first his kingdom, and his
righteousness"; "Lay not up for yourselves
treasures upon the earth, where moth and
rust consume, and where thieves break
through and steal" ; "We look not at the
things which are seen, but at the things
which are not seen : for the things which are
seen are temporal ; but the things which are
not seen are eternal" ; "Seek the things that
are above, where Christ is." In all things let
Jesus Christ "have the preeminence." The
higher our hearts are lifted above the ma-
terial and transient, the more fully and joy-

i fully and naturally will they move among

1 men, ruling the present world and not being

: ruled by it.

(7) Let us habitually ask what is morally
right and face this question unflinchingly
and under the scriitiny of Christ. What so-
ciety approves is of no great consequence.
The important question is. "What is in ac-
cord with the character of God?" Right-





eousness is not the consensus of opinion. It
is what Christ is. We shall always recognize
God's will if we always see God in Christ
and test all things in that presence.

(8) We must not be timid about taking-
chances. Faith is a venture. It is a rea-
sonable venture — far more reasonable than
unwillingness to take the venture — but still
it is a venture. If we never leap into the
dark we shall never find eternal life or eternal
service here, or the Eternal City hereafter.
The will of God is not a visible and ma-
terial object. It is a way of the soul. Only
the soul's eyes can discern it. The habit
of seeing it is the habit of seeing with the
inward vision.

(9) We can fortify the habit of doing
God's will by ever choosing the personal
duties. Jesus always did this. He was al-
ways accessible to souls. No enterprise was
more important to him than the service of
souls, of living persons. Personal duty
should always be given the preference by us.
As over against any general, indefinite, in-
stitutional calls, there are always the calls
of particular men, women and children.
These are the important things. If we get
into the habit of finding people who need



help and of helping them, we shall be fol-
lowing the religion of God, as James de-
fines it.

(10) There are tw^o selves in each of us
— a superior and an inferior. We are never
in any doubt as to which is which. We may
be in doubt as to some outer problem, but
we know the better nature in us. What does
it require? The better within us can never
be satisfied save by the will of God.

( 11 ) Lastly, almost everything will depend
on how commanding the conception of duty
is with us. Tf our habit is to do duty, and in
our minds and hearts we exalt duty as the
loftiest thing in life, we shall be able to find
what each particular duty is much more easily
than if the whole notion of duty is slovenly
and careless. If we regard the will of God
as the one commanding thing, and habitually
order our lives by the desire to do it, we
shall have no trouble in acquiring the habit
of recognizing always what it is.

There could be no greater or finer habit
than this. We have a fine old hymn which
exalts it in the one noble line :

To do Thy will the hahit of my heart.

Is it the habit of our hearts?



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