A Natural Impossibility
Jeremiah 13:23
Can the Ethiopian change his skin, or the leopard his spots? then may you also do good, that are accustomed to do evil.

I. THE NATURAL IMPOSSIBILITY HERE PRESENTED. It is a profound and momentous truth, God himself being the witness - the heart-searching God - that man who is accustomed to do evil cannot turn to good. This truth is not baldly stated here, but is illustrated in such a way that there can be no possible doubt as to God's meaning. Observe that the impossibility referred to is a natural one. It is not said that under no circumstances whatever can a man accustomed to do evil be enabled to do good. The thing affirmed is that the power of habit and custom is so strong that he cannot turn himself. If we are inclined to doubt this, and indulge in that glorification of human nature which is at once so easy and so perilous, we have only to think of the illustrations here employed. It is vain to discuss with a man who is determined to magnify the power of the natural man towards that which is right and good. The better plan is to assure one's own heart of the truth which God would make plain by these illustrations of his own giving. If any one asserted that an Ethiopian could change his skin or a leopard his spots, he would be reckoned a fool past arguing with. But there are multitudes who think it is very good advice to tell the poor slave of worldliness and passion to be a man and exert the strength of his will and turn away from evil. Now, what God says here by his prophet is that every such attempt must end in disappointment. No doubt there are certain times and stages in life when it is hard to accept such a view. It is a humbling and limiting view, one which exhibits in such an uncompromising way our weakness. But the sooner we come to take such a view - to take it practically and not in a mere speculative manner - to feel that the way of self-recovery and self-perfecting is closed against us, the better it will be for us.

II. THE CONSEQUENT NEED OF A GRACIOUS INTERVENTION. This is not stated here, but we know that it is meant to be remembered. In all such emphatic assertions of human inability there lies the suggestion that we may look confidently and ought to look promptly for abundance of Divine help. God puts his hand on our mouths to step all proud words, but at the same time he would lead us to lay hold of his promises and be filled with his strength. A clear vision of our own inability means a clear vision of the need of Divine intervention, and a clear vision of the need of Divine intervention may be expected to prepare for an equally clear vision of the reality of that intervention. That which measures the impossibilities in the corrupted natural man helps to measure the reasonable purposes and expectations of the man who is renewed by the Spirit of God. When we have got the life that is hid with Christ in God, we have something within us which defies the corruptions so powerful before. The Christian, fall of the Divine Spirit, is found able to utter all sorts of paradoxes. Though he cannot, of himself, make one hair white or black, he can be "suffering, yet always rejoicing; poor, yet making many rich." There is a way, then, by which those accustomed to do evil can be brought to do good. There are resources which more than make up for the greatest lack of natural strength. If we only seek for those resources in the right place, we cannot fail to find them.

III. THE TEACHING TO BE DERIVED FROM THE EMPLOYMENT OF THESE PECULIAR ILLUSTRATIONS. Thousands of images were available to show natural impossibilities, but these two are employed. It will be observed that they relate to the alteration of external appearance. God could change the skin of the Ethiopian, could change the spots of the leopard; but he leaves them as they are, because no good purpose could be served by the alteration. Where an alteration is really wanted, he can make it, with results that are profitable now and promise a far greater profit in eternity. So far as the merely agreeable is concerned, it would certainly have been pleasanter if those features which make him an object of ridicule to the ignorant, the proud, and the fastidious, were taken away. But it is God's principle to interfere with nature only where sin has made the interference necessary. Many - God be thanked - have found the better part, the one thing needful; and, compared with this, what is the most disturbing of surface discomforts? Continual comfort at the heart, a comfort which cannot be taken from him, makes him forget all these. There would be no object in changing the spots of the leopard; let us rather rejoice that God takes away from men the leopard-ferocity which makes them as dangerous as any beast of prey. How often we seek vain and useless things, making ourselves miserable over physical defects and peculiarities, and continuing quite indifferent to the washing of the heart from wickedness. Instead of being anxious after things we cannot change and need not change, let us pray and strive after that possible, fundamental, radical change which will bring in due time perfection of the whole man. God, working from the heart, will cause that in due time we shall be perfect and entire, lacking nothing. - Y.

Parallel Verses
KJV: Can the Ethiopian change his skin, or the leopard his spots? then may ye also do good, that are accustomed to do evil.

WEB: Can the Ethiopian change his skin, or the leopard his spots? then may you also do good, who are accustomed to do evil.

A Moral Impossibility
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