Can the Ethiopian change his skin, or the leopard his spots? then may ye also do good, that are accustomed to do evil. (Jer. 13:23)
“Can the Ethiopian change his skin?” Proverbial speeches arguing a very great difficulty, if not an utter impossibility.
Aethiopem abluo ut candidum reddam, said Diogenes, when he reproved an ill man to no purpose; I do but wash a blackamore.
And the like said Nazianzen concerning Julian the apostate. It is said that the negroes paint the devil white, as being a colour contrary to their own, and which they less well affect. Will the Ethiopian change his skin? so the Hebrew hath it.
“Or the leopard his spots.” Sin is in us as the spots of a leopard, not by accident, but by nature, which no art can cure, no water wash off; because they are not in the skin, but in the flesh and bones, in the sinews and in the most inner parts. Where then is man’s freewill to good?
“Then may ye also do good that are accustomed to do evil.”
Custom in sin takes away the sense of it, and becomes a second nature; which, though expelled with a fork, as it were, will yet return again. It looks for continual entertainment where it hath once gotten a haunt, as humours fall toward their old issue.
Canis qui semel didicerit edere corium, nunquam desistet, A dog who at times learns to eat flesh, will never stop, saith Lucian; an evil custom is not easy left.
Nothing so weak as water; yet let much water (so sin, Satan, and custom) be joined together, and nothing stronger. It was not for nothing, therefore, that the Cretans, when they would curse their enemies with most bitter execrations, they wished that they might take delight in some or other evil custom.
Modestoque voti genere efficacissimum ultionis genus reperiunt, saith the historian; by a modest kind of wish they sufficiently avenged themselves.
The picture: Powers Bible Quilt, 1898