S. Austin Allibone, comp. Prose Quotations from Socrates to Macaulay. 1880.
The Pagan converts mention this great reformation of those who had been the greatest sinners, with that sudden and surprising change which the Christian religion made in the lives of the most profligate.
There have been known to be men, otherwise corrupt and vicious, who, when great trust was put in them, have called forth principles of honour latent in their minds; and men who were nursed, in a manner, in corruption have been not only great reformers by institution, but greater reformers by the example of their own conduct.
Reform, like charity, must begin at home. Once well at home, how will it radiate outwards, irrepressible, into all that we touch and handle, speak and work; kindling ever new light by incalculable contagion, spreading, in geometric ratio, far and wide, doing good only wherever it spreads, and not evil.
As all error is meanness, it is incumbent on every man who consults his own dignity, to retract it as soon as he discovers it, without fearing any censure so much as that of his own mind. As justice requires that all injuries should be repaired, it is the duty of him who has seduced others by bad practices, or false notions, to endeavour that such as have adopted his errors should know his retraction, and that those who have learned vice by his example should by his example be taught amendment.
The completion and sum of repentance is a change of life. That sorrow which dictates no caution, that fear which does not quicken our escape, that austerity which fails to rectify our affections, are vain and unavailing. But sorrow and tenor must naturally precede reformation: for what other cause can produce it? He, therefore, that feels himself alarmed by his conscience, anxious for the attainment of a better state, and afflicted by the memory of his past faults, may justly conclude that the great work of repentance is begun, and hope by retirement and prayer, the natural and religious means of strengthening his conviction, to impress upon his mind such a sense of the divine presence as may overpower the blandishments of secular delights, and enable him to advance from one degree of holiness to another, till death shall set him free from doubt and contest, misery and temptation.
I shall distinguish such as I esteem to be the hinderers of reformation into three sorts: 1. Antiquarians (for so I had rather call them than antiquaries, whose labours are useful and laudable); 2. Libertines; 3. Politicians.
Reformation is a work of time. A national taste, however wrong it may be, cannot be totally changed at once; we must yield a little to the prepossession which has taken hold on the mind, and we may then bring people to adopt what would offend them if endeavoured to be introduced by violence.
It is not so much the being exempt from faults, as the having overcome them, that is an advantage to us; it being with the follies of the mind as with the weeds of a field, which if destroyed and consumed upon the place where they grow, enrich and improve it more than if none had ever sprung there.
He that is deeply engaged in vice is like a man laid fast in a bog, who by a faint and lazy struggling to get out does but spend his strength to no purpose, and sinks himself the deeper into it: the only way is, by a resolute and vigorous effort to spring out, if possible, at once. When men are sorely urged and pressed, they find a power in themselves which they thought they had not.
Though few men are likely to be called on to take part in the reformation of any public institutions, yet there is no one of us but what ought to engage in the important work of self-reformation, and according to the well-known proverb, If each would sweep before his own door, we should have a clean street. Some may have more, and some less, of dust and other nuisances to sweep away; some of one kind, and some of another. But those who have the least to do have something to do; and they should feel it an encouragement to do it, that they can so easily remedy the beginnings of small evils before they have accumulated into a great one. Begin reforming, therefore, at once: proceed in reforming steadily and cautiously, and go on reforming forever.
Richard Whately: Annot. on Bacons Essay, Of Innovations.