Great Texts of the Bible
Can the Ethiopian change his skin, or the leopard his spots? then may ye also do good, that are accustomed to do evil.—Jeremiah 13:23.
The people of Jerusalem were occasionally accustomed to see the dark-skinned Ethiopian, whether we suppose that these were true from Southern Egypt or dark Arabs, and now and then leopards came up from the thickets on the Jordan, or from the hills of the southern wilderness about the Dead Sea. The black hue of the man and the dark spots that starred the skin of the fierce beast are fitting emblems of the evil that dyes and speckles the soul. Whether it wraps the whole character in black, or whether it only spots it here and there with tawny yellow, it is ineradicable; and a man can no more change his character once formed than a can cast his skin, or a leopard whiten out the spots on his hide.
When the words of the text were spoken, Coniah was still king over Jerusalem, and it was a kind of last appeal, sorrowful, plaintive, almost hopeless; for the people had so long turned away from God, had indeed sinned so deeply and for so many years, that sin appeared to be ingrained in them, and no more to be eradicated than the blackness of an African skin or the spots on a leopards hide. Jeremiah, indeed, well knew in his heart that Judah would not return to Jehovah, and so with pathetic bitterness he exclaimed: “Can the Ethiopian change his skin, or the leopard his spots?”
The spots of the leopard, though they have been acquired by imitation of its surroundings, have through long ages been so ingrained and fixed that they cannot be changed. The creature itself cannot alter or remove them by any effort; they are part of its very nature; and the pattern of its skin lasts throughout the whole life of the animal, and is communicated from parent to offspring. And so every sinner knows how very hard it is to change evil habits, to efface the stains of sin that have become dyed in the flesh. It is fatally easy to acquire what it is fatally hard to get rid of. You get so accustomed to your sin that you never feel how sinful it is. You are so like your surroundings that you have no sense of contrast or shame. You are content with yourselves, and make no effort to become better. And even when your conscience is aroused and you see the evil and the misery of your sin, the effort to root it out is painful in the extreme.1 [Note: H. Macmillan, The Gate Beautiful, 108.]
Here is a text on Habit. Let us consider—
The Acquisition of Habit.
The Power of Habit.
The Hallowing of Habit.
The Change of Habit.
The Acquisition of Habit
It appears to be an involuntary principle of our nature that we should acquire a tendency to repeat whatever we do often. This disposition or tendency we call habit. It is the effect of custom influencing all we do; according to the old adage, “Use is second nature.” And this tendency to repeat an action until it becomes habitual increases with each repetition, like the revolution of a wheel moving down an incline.
1. Habit may be conceived to arise in this way. When, in the process of time—of the day, or the week, or the month, or the year—the point comes round at which we have been thinking of anything, or have done anything, by the law of the association of ideas we think of it again, or do it again. For instance, when day dawns we awake. We get out of bed because we have done so at that time before. At a later hour we take breakfast, and go away to business, for the same reason; and so on through the day. When Sunday morning comes our thoughts turn to sacred things, and we make ready to go to the House of God, because we have always been accustomed to do that. As the New Year draws nigh our mind turns to friendliness, and we think of all the means by which we can let our friends know that we are thinking of them. Of course it may be by some other juncture of circumstances, and not by the revolution of time, that we are reminded of what has been done in the past; but the cycles of time, the narrower and the wider, have a very great deal to do with the formation of habit. If we have done a thing only once before, when the point of time comes round again at which we did it there will be a tendency to recall it and to do it again; but this tendency will of course be far stronger if we have done it often before. Frequency enters greatly into habit. The reason why, when Sunday morning comes, we think of church, is not because we have been there once, but because we have been there every Sunday of our lives. The more frequently anything has been done, the stronger is habit, and frequency acts on habit through something else. Frequency gives ease and swiftness to the doing of anything. We do easily and swiftly anything that we have done often. Even things which seemed impossible can not only be done, but be done with facility, if they have been done often.
2. Habits are the elements of character. The deeds we do ripen into habits, and these form the warp and woof of character. The single act does not make character. There is sometimes a protest in the soul against the act just done, and a purpose never to repeat it. The first smoke may make the youth sick, but it does not characterize him as a smoker. The first drink may make the head dizzy, but it does not entitle the drinker to be called a drunkard. It is the repetition of acts that forms habits; and the habits of a man give him his character. It is a curious thing that the word “habit” means a garment that you can throw off when you please, and also a way of living that may be so bound up with you that you cannot change it. It seems as if it were meant in this twofold sense to convey the great truth that the sin which at first you can lay aside with ease like a loose coat may by frequent indulgence take such a firm hold of you as to become part of your very life—as much part of yourself as the spots on the leopards skin—and you may find it impossible to wrench yourself free from it. The wise man says in the Book of Proverbs. “Though thou shouldst bray a fool in a mortar among wheat with a pestle, yet will not his foolishness depart from him.”
When someone on one occasion repeated to Wellington the maxim that “Habit is second nature,” his reply was “Second nature! It is ten times nature”—a sentiment very likely to be in the mind of a disciplinarian who had spent all his life getting men to obey the word of command, and to face death in circumstances in which natural instinct would lead them to flee away.1 [Note: J. Stalker.]
The power of exercising the will promptly, in obedience to the dictates of conscience, and thereby resisting the impulses of the lower nature, is of essential importance in moral discipline, and absolutely necessary for the development of character in its best forms. To acquire the habit of well-doing, to resist evil propensities, to fight against sensual desires, to overcome inborn selfishness, may require a long and persevering discipline; but when once the practice of duty is learnt, it becomes consolidated in habit, and thenceforward is comparatively easy.
The valiant good man is he who, by the resolute exercise of his freewill, has so disciplined himself as to have acquired the habit of virtue; as the bad man is he who, by allowing his freewill to remain inactive, and giving the bridle to his desires and passions, has acquired the habit of vice, by which he becomes, at last, bound as by chains of iron.2 [Note: Samuel Smiles, Character (ed. 1874), 192.]
The Power of Habit
1. Habit gains power by every repetition of an act. Human gifts and faculties have a power of expansion. They increase and multiply. For example, money attracts money, learning increases learning, joy brings joy. It is so with goodness: good habits lead us to acquire still better habits, while the poor fellow who has once earned a bad name, and who is shut out from the helps and privileges that ordinary men enjoy, will generally cultivate his evil propensities and strengthen only such habits as are bad.
Our several acts in life seem to be of little consequence in themselves, but they have all a terrible significance, for habit is just made up of little acts, and each one helps, and each one tells, and each succeeding act tells more and more. We know that if a stone is dropped from a height it falls so many feet—sixteen feet during the first second. The next second it does not fall the same number of feet, but has acquired increased speed, and falls four times the distance it did during the previous second, and each succeeding second the speed is greater and swifter. The earth has a stronger gravitating power over it, draws it more quickly down, and it acquires momentum and gathers increasing rapidity as it falls. That is precisely the case with sin. It moves slowly at the start; but when it has begun, it increases in force and speed and dashes down the steep incline with resistless might.
In South Africa there is a curious plant known as a hook-thorn or grapple-plant, said to bear some resemblance to the cuttle-fish. The large flowers are of a lovely purple hue and spread themselves over the ground or hang in masses from the trees and shrubs. The long branches have sharp, barbed thorns, set in pairs throughout their length. When the petals fall off and the seed-vessels are developed and fully ripe, the two sides separate widely from each other and form an array of sharp-curved hooks. Woe to the traveller who ventures near at such a time! In one of the Kaffir wars with England, the English soldiers suffered terribly from this plant. While the Kaffir, unclothed and oily, escaped harm, the European was certain to be made and held a prisoner. If one hooked thorn caught a coat-sleeve the first movement at escape would bend the long slender branches and hook after hook would fix its point into the clothing. Struggling only multiplied the number of thorned enemies, and there was no way of escape except to stand still, cut off the clinging seed-vessels, and remove them one by one. Many a luckless soldier was run to death by a Kaffirs spear while thus trying to free himself. This is a vivid illustration of the dangerous power of evil habit, which through custom and long self-indulgence hooks into a mans very heart and holds him against his reason and against his will a prisoner even to his death.1 [Note: L. A. Banks, The Sinner and his Friends, 242.]
2. The power of habit steadily grows till it dominates the will. We cannot explain this phenomenon; the fact we know, and it is of vast importance that we should know it. A repetition of the same thoughts and actions is so apt to ensure their continuance that it is one of the most difficult things in the world to check this habitual operation of the mind, and give it a different direction from that in which it has been wont to flow. Even habits which relate to matters of indifference become inveterate, and are with great difficulty modified and overcome. Especially are they obstinate when they are under the control of some prevailing disposition, and fall in with the natural inclination of the mind.
Even in the most indifferent matter, the most ordinary postures, movements, and actions, when once people have got into a way of practising them, it seems next to impossible to leave them off. We come to do things without being aware that we do them: and when our attention is drawn to them, we feel as if we could not leave them off. Such is the power of habit or custom, put into our minds and bodies by Almighty God that we might be tried whether we will make a good or a bad use of it. How fearful to think what a turn it too often takes! how exceedingly horrible to be aware of shameful, corrupting, deadly sins, in a mans own self or his neighbour, having come to be so habitual as to be committed without the sinner being aware of it; or, if he is aware, with the feeling that he cannot help it.
The tyranny of evil habit is proverbial. The moralists compare it to a thread at the beginning, but as thread is twisted with thread, it becomes like a cable which can turn a ship. Or they compare it to a tree, which to begin with is only a twig that you can bend any way, but when the tree is fully grown, who can bend it? And apart altogether from such illustrations, it is appalling how little even the most strong and obvious motives can turn aside the course of habit.1 [Note: J. Stalker.]
I have seen a photograph of a group of undergraduates, among whom was the late Bishop Creighton, and next to whom stood a man of brilliant gifts, of great scholastic attainments, one who was thought to be about to take a great part in the world, and yet who died a billiard-marker in a low public-house near Wapping, a slave to drink and gambling. So it is, indeed, that sin grows and grows, the deadly cords of habit tighten and tighten, and the soul wanders further and further from God, until perhaps the man even boasts of the sin he has done, of the evil he has taught a boy, gloats over it, as Fagin gloating over the Artful Dodger. And ultimately, indeed, the habits become so formed that he does not even care to try to break them, and the stern decree sent forth in the vision of the Revelation comes true—“He that is unjust, let him be unjust still; and he which is filthy, let him be filthy still.”2 [Note: L. T. Dodd.]
3. One of the greatest dangers in the formation of evil habit is that the man who is drawn away into sin will not appreciate the deadly seriousness of his situation until the habit has become a most important factor in his whole scheme of life. Coleridge calls attention to the fact that centres or centrepieces of wood are put by builders under an arch of stone while it is in process of construction, till the keystone is put in. Just such is the use that we make of pleasure. The pleasure lasts, perhaps, till the habit is fully formed; but, that done, the structure may stand eternal. All the pleasure and fascination that appeared at first in the sin disappears, and only the vice-like grip of a wicked habit remains.
A naturalist who has been travelling in South America tells how he was once walking in the forests of the Amazon River collecting bird-skins for mounting. He was threading a forest path, carrying in hand a gun loaded with very fine bird-shot, while his Indian guide followed, carrying a heavier gun charged with buckshot to use in case they should come upon a jaguar. A bird of brilliant plumage flew into a tree which overhung the path, and as he peered into the foliage trying to discern the bird he became aware of something swaying before his eyes and a flashing of prismatic colours producing on him something of the impression of a kaleidoscope. So unobtrusively had this thing come into view that it dawned only slowly on his mind, preoccupied with the search for the bird, that the object so softly reaching toward him was the head and six feet of the neck and body of an enormous water-boa. From its mouth the forked tongue was shooting and vibrating, and changing lights were flashed from its eyes, bent upon the hunter. With his cocked gun in hand he did not think to use it or to run away, but stood gazing, literally spellbound, as the snake, slipping from the bough on which it lay, advanced its head toward him.
Suddenly he heard his guide shout from behind him. The snakes head drew back with an angry hiss as the Indian crowded past him, raising his gun to his shoulder as he did so, and with the loud crack! crack! of the two barrels he seized the hunter with both arms and rushed him away from the place. Then he saw the snake, which had dropped from the tree, writhing and twisting in the path—a monster twenty-eight feet long and of girth in proportion. Its head was shattered by the two charges of buckshot, but the convulsions of the body were enough to show the reptiles enormous strength and give an idea of how the naturalist would have fared if once it had thrown its coils around him. The boa would have done this in a few moments more if he had been left to himself. If the guide had not rushed to his aid, he would have stood still fascinated, and never would have stirred to avoid his fate. The snake had hypnotized him beyond the power of resistance or retreat.1 [Note: L. A. Banks, The Sinner and his Friends, 168.]
The Hallowing of Habit
1. The soul has its habits, which it acquires, even as the body and the mind acquire theirs, by use and practice. The habit of living without God is one which may be learned by any of us if we will. It is one of the easiest of all habits to acquire. Unlike some other habits, it demands of us no exertion and no self-denial; rather it consists in the refusal and repudiation of both of these. We have only to live at our ease, without care and without effort, and the habit is formed, too often for ever. When it is fully formed, then comes the peace of death, of spiritual death; and the soul that let God alone is at last let alone by God.
When you have for two or three days together forgotten your prayers, has it not become, even in that short time, more easy to neglect, more difficult to resume them? When you have left God out of sight in your daily life, when you have allowed yourself to think scorn of His commands, when you have become careless about your language, trifling if not profane in conversation, cold and contemptuous and resentful in your thoughts of others; when you have thus fallen into an unchristian and irreligious state of mind and life, how soon have you found this state become as it were natural to you; how much less, day by day, did the idea of living without God alarm you; how much more tranquil, if not peaceful, did conscience become as you departed further and further in heart from the living God!2 [Note: C. J. Vaughan, Memorials of Harrow Sundays, 220.]
As you pass along the spacious nave of some ancient cathedral, and your eye rests upon the exquisite carving which adorns each arch and mullion and corbel, you might be disposed to think that so much art was no part of the original design, that what you saw and admired was the effect of skilful ornamentation, laid on, superimposed upon the original structure after the building was completed. But this is not so. In the best specimens of ecclesiastical architecture, every single piece of carving is wrought out of the solid stone; nothing is added or laid on. The building has grown in beauty as it grew in size and dignity, step by step, until it approached completion in fulfilment of the architects design. Those highly decorated corbels, that lovely tracery in the windows, those richly ornamented capitals, festooned, perhaps, with vine or oak leaves and hanging in natural clusters of grapes or acorns, so perfect that you feel you could go and pluck them from the stony stems out of which they spring, and from which they are suspended—all this delicate carving is inwrought in the actual material of the building itself. It is so with character. It must not be a something laid on, but inwrought, worked up out of the material of circumstance and wrought into the texture of our lives. The thin veneer of culture, the artificial polish of good breeding and good manners, is no substitute for character.1 [Note: V. R. Lennard, Our Ideals, 90.]
2. But there is another, an opposite, habit of soul—that of living to God, with God, and in God. That too is a habit, not formed so soon or so easily as the other, yet, like it, formed by a succession of acts, each easier than the last, and each making the next easier still. We must admit God into our life, and allow Him to shape and hallow our habits. There are two aspects of character, the Divine and the human; two determining influences at work, God and circumstance. In the lower aspect, character is the harvest of the years: a result of the amalgamated labours and trials, the conflicts and decisions, of this life, in which all the accumulated joys and sorrows, the hopes and regrets, of the past have registered their mark and left their impress upon the man. In the higher aspect, character proceeds from the touch of Divinity. It is the shaping of the human soul by the hand of God Himself.
There are thousands of people in the world with abilities that remain undeveloped, and talents that are wasted and thrown away. Poets, philosophers, architects, mathematicians, statesmen who are lost to the world through their genius never having been discovered; men whom circumstance has shunted from the path of fame and left to die in ignorance of powers which might otherwise have enriched mankind. The talent was there, latent in the mind, but it remained hidden and suppressed, waiting for education to draw it out. It is so with religion. The instincts of prayer and praise, of faith, hope, and love, are not dead, even where they remain passive and inoperative; they are hidden and suppressed in the case of every man who leads a godless life, buried deep down within the soul under the accumulated load of worldly cares and alien associations, but they are still alive, like seeds lying through the long winter, forgotten in the earth, waiting for the return of spring to woo them from their hiding-place.
3. We must resolutely draw out the good which is the opposite of the evil we are indulging. And by educating, by drawing out more and more, the desire after this good, the evil is more and more put to flight. Thus the way to overcome inattentiveness of the mind is not so much to fix our attention on the fault as to cultivate and educate its opposite, concentration of mind. So the unhappy custom of always seeing the failings in our neighbours is best met by cultivating the spirit of charity, by going with those people who are opposite to ourselves in this respect; by endeavouring to look at the world in a larger, kindlier, and more gracious spirit; so those who are slaves to fleshly lusts may gradually diminish the power of these things by occupying their minds with chaste thoughts and images, and reading books which foster the growth of a pure imagination; and those who have the miserable habit of grumbling at life, which you will generally find where there is most to be thankful for, can by educating the spirit of gratitude put this tendency to flight, which more than any other takes all the savour out of life, and turns its sweetest blessings into bitterest gall.
Why should we think so dolorously of habit—this law of life? Like all Gods swords of truth, it is two-edged, and turns both ways, working for good as much as for ill. It is a friendly ally that we find in this solemn law of habit, as it may also be an enemy.
Commonly, when men speak of habits, they have bad habits in their mind. As Professor James of Harvard says, in his Talks on Psychology: “They talk of the smoking-habit, and of the swearing-habit, and of the drinking-habit, but not of the abstention-habit, or the moderation-habit, or the courage-habit.” After a certain output of deliberate effort and a period of practice, the vital virtues become second-nature; we acquire the instinct for self-denial, the prayer-habit, the Bible-reading-habit, the purity-habit, the truth-habit, the habits of faith, and hope, and love. Our receptive and expansive nature waits ready to incorporate all such pieties and virtues in its fibre and spontaneous movement. It is specially at the early stage that we have to bend our wills and drill our natural proclivities and watch ourselves with sentinel alertness. Time after time it is much “against the grain” to keep up the good custom; but “the grain” will soon “grow to” the repeated demand, like the muscles of a child-acrobat, or the branches of a Japanese dwarf-tree. Every time we repeat the exercise in self-mastery or honour or devotion, by the law of vis inertiae in nature the power to keep on in the good way increases.1 [Note: R. E. Welsh, Man to Man, 129.]
Change of Habit
Has Jeremiah uttered the whole truth? Can nothing be done if years of habit have bent our natures into one shape, and that shape is deformed? Are we helpless if character has already been made crooked and perverse by the continual warping of evil habit? Is there no hope that the Ethiopian can change his skin or the leopard his spots?
1. It is next to impossible for a man who has arrived at mature age, with evil habits formed in early years, to turn his course; no consideration that you can put before him has sufficient power to break down the practice. He is as convinced as you can be of the mischief of the course he is pursuing; no one laments it more bitterly, and at times feels it more keenly, and no one is more ready to form resolutions to amend. But the language of the prophet is expressive of the case, “Can the Ethiopian change his skin, or the leopard his spots?” There is an irresistible force in the cravings of that long-indulged temper or appetite, which the man, with all his good intentions, has not the energy to resist. There has been no inward change, no power at work beyond the mere human resolution; and the consequence is that the latter state often becomes worse than the first. Those who witness the process become more and more convinced that there never will be any material change in that man; and they are ready to adopt language fully as expressive as that of the text—that it is as easy for the leopard to change his spots as it is for that man, with all his convictions and all his efforts, to continue in well-doing.
2. But that which is impossible with men is possible with God. We cannot change the Ethiopians skin or the leopards spots; but God can. He who made the machinery of the mind can, when it is broken, fashion it anew, and restore it to its functions. It is possible to convert the soul which has long been accustomed to do evil; but such conversion is as much the work of God as the creation of the soul was at the beginning.
The heart which no assaults could storm yields to the voice of love and mercy; the will which offered an obstinate resistance to the exhortation to turn and repent is at length subdued: the offer of a free pardon for all that is past overcomes the resistance. Religion, then, in a changed heart becomes the main business of life. It begins to pervade the every-day occupations. The heart is filled with the knowledge and love of God; and the new affections expel the old from the long-usurped throne. A change comes over the perceptive faculties. Beauty and consistency are now discerned in Gods plan of redemption. New fields of interest and occupation open out: a new world has been discovered, in which are seen things of greater moment than the politics or controversies of the day. And the wonder to a soul so enlightened is, how it could have been so exclusively set upon the things of earth, when the things that are spiritual were so close at hand, and, now that they are seen, afford such scope for the exercise of the highest faculties of the soul. It is thus, if we may so speak, that the Ethiopian does change his skin, and the leopard his spots; for God Himself undertakes to do that which with man is declared to be impossible.
When I lay in darkness and blind night, when I was tossed hither and thither by the billows of the world, and wandered about with an uncertain and fluctuating course, according to my habits at that time I considered it as something difficult and hard that anyone could be born again, lay aside what he was before, and although his corporeal nature remained the same, could become in soul and disposition another man. “How,” said I, “can there be so great a transformation—that a man should all at once lay aside what is either innate from his very organization, or through habit has become a second nature? How should a man learn frugality who has been accustomed to luxuries? How should he who has been clothed in gold and purple condescend to simple attire? Intemperance must always, as heretofore, invite him with tenacious allurements, pride puff him up, anger influence him, ambition allure him, pleasure captivate him—thus I have often said to myself, For as I was entangled in many errors of my former life, and did not believe that I could be freed from them; so I complied with the vices that cleaved to me, and despairing of amendment, submitted to my evil inclinations, as if they belonged to my nature. But after the stain of my former life had been taken away by the aid of regenerating water, a pure and serene light was poured into the reconciled heart; when, through the Spirit received from heaven, the second birth transformed me into a new man—things formerly doubtful were confirmed in a wonderful manner—what before was closed, became open, and dark things were illuminated; power was given to perform what before seemed difficult, and what was thought impossible became possible.”1 [Note: Cyprian, Epistola ad Donatum, 3.]
(1) When once we are linked to Christ, that union breaks the terrible chain that binds us to the past. “All died.” The past is broken as much as if we were dead. It is broken by the great act of forgiveness. Sin holds men by making them feel as if what has been must be—an awful entail of evil. In Christ we die to former self. As by changing the centre of a circle you change the position of all its radii, so, by changing the affections and the desires of the heart, Christ roots out every wrong action and implants the germ of every virtuous deed. His solution is not reformation, but regeneration—not new resolves, but a new birth.
Augustine in his Confessions wrote it as with his blood: “For this very thing I was sighing—bound as I was, not with anothers irons, but by my own will. For of a froward will was a lust made; and a lust served became a custom; and a custom not resisted became necessity. By which links, as it were, joined together, a hard bondage held me enthralled.”
Augustines Confessions tell us of his penal chains, but they tell us also how these chains were broken; and the power that broke their links of iron was, in one word, Christ. This transformation of a habit-bound slave of sin into a virtuous man of God is a moral miracle far more wonderful than any physical miracle recorded in the New Testament. When John Newton, the brutal swearing sailor, was changed into the saintly singer of such hymns as “How sweet the name of Jesus sounds,” the Ethiopian changed his skin, the leopard his spots, and one “accustomed to do evil” learnt to do good. And there are multitudes alive among men and beatified before God who have been emancipated from the grip of evil habit and made “new creatures in Christ.” There is no cant about it, nor any fond fancy; it is as sure as natures law itself.
That agnostic Positivist, the late Cotter Morison, gave away the most of his case against Christianity when he made the frank avowal: “Ardent love, gratitude and veneration for Christ, when kindled, are able to snap the chains of habit, and sometimes prevent their being welded together again.” Explain it how you will—and better than staying to explain it is proving it by trial—the fact is certified that when Christ is sought and trusted with whole-hearted surrender, His Spirit works a moral revolution.1 [Note: R. E. Welsh, Man to Man, 134.]
(2) We are animated by a new motive. “The love of Christ constraineth.” As is a mans love, so is his life. The mightiest revolution is to excite a new love, by which old loves and tastes are expelled. “A new affection” has “expulsive power,” as the new sap rising in the springtime pushes off the lingering withered leaves. So union with Him meets the difficulty arising from inclination still hankering after evil. It lifts life into a higher level where the noxious creatures that were proper to the swamps cannot live. The new love gives a new and mighty motive for obedience.
Obedience is the essential spirit of the Christian life. Christs command to us, as to His first followers, is “Follow me.” We do not know whither He will lead us. The future is veiled before our eyes. It is no part of our business to inquire into the consequences of our discipleship. That is in His hands. Having heard the imperative of the Highest in His call, our task is to follow His leading in the practical conduct of daily life, and for all the needs of the future to surrender our lives to Him in the great obedience of trust. Like the disciples of old, we follow behind Him on the road of life in the spirit of wonder. Sometimes He comes graciously near to us as a Friend; but at all times He is enthroned in our hearts as Lord and Master. “Ye call me Master and Lord; and ye say well, for so I am.” That is His word. And the response for which He asks is a love that expresses itself in a life of obedience to His commands.1 [Note: S. M. Berry, Graces of the Christian Character, 54.]
(3) We are set in a new world which yet is old. All things are changed if we are changed. They are the same old things, but seen in a new light, used for new purposes, disclosing new relations and powers. Earth becomes a school and discipline for heaven. The world is different to a blind man when cured, or to a deaf one—there are new sights for the one, new sounds for the other.
There is only one way in which the leopard can change his spots. It is by removing it to another locality where there are no trees, and no surroundings like those of its native place; and there it would gradually lose, in the course of a few generations, its protective spots, and become like the new circumstances. Fixed as the spots of the leopard may seem, there is no creature in reality more variable. The panther is a variety of the leopard, whose spots are different, because it inhabits different places; and the ounce is a kind of leopard which is found in cold and mountainous places, and therefore has a rougher fur, and its spots are not so sharply defined, and have a tendency to form stripes, while the general colour is paler. The American leopard or jaguar has got bold black streaks on its breast, and larger spots on its body, with a small mark in the middle of them; while the puma or American lion, which is only a kind of leopard, has a uniform light tawny tint. And the remarkable thing is that the young puma displays a gradual change of fur like the lion cub; its coat being at first marked by dark streaks and spots, which fade away into the uniform tawny hue when the animal increases in size. Thus you see that the spots of the leopard change with its changing circumstances.
And this was the way in which God endeavoured to cure the evil habits of His own people. All reforms had been on the surface only; the evil was too deep-seated to be removed by temporary repentance. So long as they remained in the place where they were accustomed to do evil they could not learn to do well. But away from the idolatrous associations with which their native land had become tainted, a new life of truth and holiness was possible to them. God therefore allowed them to be carried captive to Babylon; and there in new circumstances they were to re-learn the forgotten lessons of faith and righteousness.2 [Note: H. Macmillan, The Gate Beautiful, 110.]
Armstrong (W.), Five-Minute Sermons, 50.
Banks (L. A.), The Sinner and his Friends, 240.
Cooper (A. A.), Gods Forget-me-not, 47.
Keble (J.), Sermons for the Christian Year: Miscellaneous, 374.
Lennard (V. R.), Our Ideals, 100.
Maclaren (A.), Expositions: Isaiah and Jeremiah, 274.
Macmillan (H.), The Gate Beautiful, 103.
Spurgeon (C. H.), Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit, xliii. (1897), No. 2536.
Stephen (R.), Divine and Human Influence, i. 219.
Vaughan (C. J.), Memorials of Harrow Sundays, 215.
Christian World Pulpit, xlix. 198 (J. Stalker); lii. 205 (A. Brooke); lxix 88 (L. T. Dodd).
Church of England Magazine, l. 273 (R. Burgess).
National Preacher, xi. 147 (G. Spring).
Preachers Magazine, xiv. 134 (C. J. Vaughan).
Treasury (New York), xxi. 616 (R. C. Hall).
Twentieth Century Pastor, xxxiv. 172 (W. Downey).