Can the Ethiopian change his skin, or the leopard his spots? then may you also do good, that are accustomed to do evil.
I. THERE IS IN HUMAN NATURE SO UNHAPPY AN INCLINATION AND PROPENSITY TO SIN, THAT ATTENTION AND VIGILANCE ARE ALWAYS REQUISITE TO OPPOSE THIS INCLINATION, AND MAINTAIN OUR INTEGRITY. The power and influence of habit is the subject of daily observation. Even in matters merely mechanical, where no attention of mind is required, custom and practice give, we know, an expertness and facility not otherwise to be acquired. The case is the same, however unaccountable, in the operations of the mind. Actions frequently repeated form habits; and habits approach near to natural propensions. But if such be the influence of habits in general, vicious ones are still more peculiarly powerful. If the power of custom be on all occasions apt to prevail, we shall have still less inclination to oppose it where the object to which we accustom ourselves is naturally agreeable and suited to our corruption. Here all the resolution we can summon to our assistance will be requisite, and perhaps ineffectual. We may form an idea of the unhappy situation of an habitual offender from the difficulty we find in conquering even an indifferent custom. What was at first optional and voluntary, becomes by degrees in a manner necessary and almost unavoidable. And yet, besides the natural force of custom and habit, other considerations there are, which add to the difficulty of reforming vicious manners. By vicious habits we impair the understanding, and our perception of the moral distinction of actions becomes less clear and distinct. Smaller offences, under the plausible pretext of being such, gain the first admittance to the heart: and he who has been induced to comply with one sin, because it is a small one, will be tempted to a second, from the consideration that it is not much worse. And the same plea will lead him on gradually to another, and another, of still greater magnitude. Every new sin is committed with less reluctance than the former; and he endeavours to find out reasons, such as they are, to justify and vindicate what he is determined to persist in, and to practise: and thus, by habits of sinning, we cloud the understanding, and render it in a manner incapable of distinguishing moral good and evil. But further: As, by long practice and perseverance in sin, we lose or impair the moral discernment and feeling of the mind; so, by the same means, we provoke the Almighty to withdraw His assisting grace, long bestowed in vain.
II. YET, NOTWITHSTANDING THIS DIFFICULTY AND DANGER, THE SINNER MAY HAVE IT IN HIS POWER TO RETURN TO DUTY, AND RECONCILE HIMSELF TO GOD. When once the sinner feels his guilt, — feels just impressions of his own disobedience, and of the consequent displeasure and resentment of heaven; if he is serious in his resolutions to restore himself by repentance to the favour of his offended God; God, who is ever ready to meet and receive the returning penitent, will assist his resolution with such a portion of His grace, as may be sufficient, if not totally, at once to extirpate vicious habits, yet gradually to produce a disposition to virtue; so that, if not wanting to himself, he shall not fail to become superior to the power of inveterate habits. In this case, indeed, no endeavours on his part ought to be neglected, — no attempts left unessayed, to recommend himself to the throne of mercy. Never, therefore, think of postponing the care of your salvation to the day of old age; never think of treasuring up to yourselves difficulties, sorrows, repentance, and remorse, against an age, the disorders and infirmities of which are themselves so hard to be sustained. Let not these be the comforts reserved for that period of life which stands most in need of consolation. What confusion must cover the self-convicted sinner, grown old in iniquity! How reluctant to attempt a task to which he has always been unequal; and to travel a difficult road, which opens to him, indeed, happier prospects, but has hitherto been found impracticable! But if any of us have unhappily lost this first, best season of devoting ourselves to God, — and have reserved nothing but shame, sorrow, and remorse, for the entertainment of riper years; — let the review of former transgressions be an incitement to immediate repentance.
Parallel VersesKJV: Can the Ethiopian change his skin, or the leopard his spots? then may ye also do good, that are accustomed to do evil.