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Radical Depravity in Jeremiah

The depravity of man is not merely a state of mind, an attitude that can be changed. It is as fixed as any physical feature, and can only be changed by a miracle.


The unregenerate person cannot change his sin nature or act contrary to his wicked heart. His will is essentially imprisoned:

“Can the Ethiopian change his skin or the leopard his spots? Then also you can do good who are accustomed to do evil.” —Jeremiah 13:23

Jeremiah unequivocally affirmed that the unbeliever does not have the innate ability to repent of his sin or turn to God for true righteousness. Man’s will cannot act contrary to his corrupt nature. A fallen heart can give rise only to a rebellious will that will not submit to God. Concerning this text, imgJohn Calvin writes, “God declares that the people are so hardened in their wickedness that there is no hope of their repentance. If an Ethiopian washed a hundred times a day, he would still remain black. Jeremiah condemns the Jews for their habitual practice of doing evil. They were unable to repent, for their wickedness had become inherent or firmly fixed in their hearts, like the blackness that is inherent in the skin of the Ethiopians or the spots belonging to the leopard.” That is to say, no unregenerate heart can change its nature; it cannot choose contrary to itself toward God.

Regarding this startling verse, imgCharles H. Spurgeon proclaims, “You can make yourself filthy by sin, but you cannot make yourself spiritually clean, do what you will. . . . You can do evil all too readily; you can do it with both hands, greedily, and do it again and again, and not grow weary of it; but to return to the right path, this is the difficulty. . . . But remember, dear friends, that, even if an Ethiopian could change his skin, that would be a far smaller difficulty than the one with which a sinner has to deal, for it is not his skin, but his heart, which has to be changed.” The unconverted simply cannot change their ways.

—Steve Lawson, Foundations of Grace (Reformation Trust, 2006), 193.

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Posted  in: Charles Spurgeon · Foundations of Grace · Jeremiah · John Calvin · Old Testament Gospel · Steve Lawson
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