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Shame

Romans x. 11. For the Scripture saith, Whosoever believeth on Him shall not be ashamed.

My friends, what this text really means is one thing; what we may choose to think it means is another thing--perhaps a very different thing. I will try and show you what I believe it really means.

'Whosoever believeth on Him shall not be ashamed.' It seems as if St. Paul thought, that not being ashamed had to do with salvation, and being saved; ay, that they were almost the same thing: for he says just before, if thou doest so and so, thou shalt be saved; for with the heart man believeth unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation; for the Scripture saith, 'Whosoever believeth on Him shall not be ashamed;' as if being ashamed was the very thing from which we were to be saved. And certainly that wise and great man, whoever he was (some say he was St. Ambrose, Bishop of Milan, in Italy), who wrote the Te Deum, thought the same; for how does he end the Te Deum? 'O Lord, in Thee have I trusted: let me never be confounded,' that is, brought to shame. You see, after he has spoken of God, and the everlasting glory of God, of Cherubim and Seraphim, that is, all the powers of the earth and the powers of the heavens, of Apostles, Prophets, Martyrs, the Holy Church, all praising God, and crying 'Holy, holy, holy. Lord God of Hosts, Heaven and Earth are full of the majesty of Thy glory;' after he has spoken of the mystery of the Trinity, Father and Son and Holy Ghost, of Christ's redemption and incarnation, and ascension and glory; of His judging the world; of His government, and His lifting up His people for ever; after he has prayed God to keep them this day without sin, and to let His mercy lighten upon them; after all this, at the end of this glorious hymn, all that he has to say is, 'O Lord, in Thee have I trusted: let me never be confounded.'--All he has to say: but that is a great deal: he does not say that merely because he wants to say something more, and has nothing else to say. Not so. In all great hymns and writings like this, the end is almost sure to be the strongest part of all, to have the very pith and marrow of the whole matter in it, as I believe this end of the Te Deum has; and I believe that whoever wrote it thought that being confounded, and brought to shame, was just the most horrible and wretched thing which could happen to him, or any man, and the thing above all others from which he was most bound to pray God to save him and every human being.

Now, how is this? First, let us look at what coming to shame is; and next, how believing in Christ will save us from it.

Now, every man and woman of us here, who has one spark of good feeling in them, will surely agree, that coming to shame is dreadful; and that there is no pain or torment on earth like the pain of being ashamed of oneself: nothing so painful. And I will prove it to you. You call a man a brave man, if he is afraid of nothing: but there is one thing the very bravest man is afraid of, and that is of disgrace, of coming to shame. Ay, my friends, so terrible is the torment of shame, that you may see brave men,--men who would face death in battle, men who would have a limb cut off without a groan, you may see such, in spite of all their courage, gnash their teeth, and writhe in agony, and weep bitter tears, simply because they are ashamed of themselves, so terrible and unbearable is the torment of shame. It may drive a man to do good or evil: it may drive him to do good; as when, rather than come to shame, and be disgraced, soldiers will face death in battle willingly and cheerfully, and do deeds of daring beyond belief: or it may drive him to do evil; rather than come to shame, men have killed themselves, choosing, unhappy and mistaken men, rather to face the torment of hell than the torment of disgrace. They are mistaken enough, God knows. But shame, like all powerful things, will work for harm as well as for good; and just as a wholesome and godly shame may be the beginning of a man's repentance and righteousness, so may an unwholesome and ungodly shame be the cause of his despair and ruin. But judge for yourselves; think over your past lives. Were you ever once--were it but for five minutes-- utterly ashamed of yourself? If you were, did you ever feel any torment like that? In all other misery and torment one feels hope; one says, 'Still life is worth having, and when the sorrow wears away I shall be cheerful and enjoy myself again:' but when one has come to shame, when one is not only disgraced in the eyes of other people, but disgraced (which is a thousand times worse) in one's own eyes; when one feels that people have real reason to despise one, then one feels for the time as if life was not worth having; as if one did not care whether one died or not, or what became of one: and yet as if dying would do one no good, change of place would do one no good, time's running on would do one no good; as if what was done could not be undone, and the shame would be with one still, and torment one still, wherever one was, and if one was to live a million years: ay, that it would be everlasting: one feels, in a word, that real shame and deserved disgrace is verily and indeed an everlasting torment. And it is this, and the feeling of this, which explains why poor wretches will kill themselves, as Judas Iscariot did, and rush into hell itself, under the horror and pain of shame and disgrace. They feel a hell within them so hot, that they actually fancy that they can be no worse off beyond the grave than they are on this side of it. They are mistaken: but that is the reason; the misery of disgrace is so intolerable, that they are willing, like that wretched Judas, to try any mad and desperate chance to escape it.

So much for shame's being a dreadful and horrible thing. But again, it is a spiritual thing: it grows and works not in our fleshly bodies, but in our spirits, our consciences, our immortal souls. You may see this by thinking of people who are not afraid of shame. You do not respect them, or think them the better for that. Not at all. If a man is not afraid of shame; if a man, when he is found out, and exposed, and comes to shame, does not care for it, but 'brazens out his own shame,' as we say, we do not call him brave; we call him what he is, a base impudent person, lost to all good feeling. Why, what harder name can we call any man or woman, than to say that they are 'shameless,' dead to shame? We know that it is the very sign of their being dead in sin, the very sign of God's Spirit having left them; that till they are made to feel shame there is no hope of their mending or repenting, or of any good being put into them, or coming out of them. So that this feeling of shame is a spiritual feeling, which has to do with a man's immortal soul, with his conscience, and the voice of God in his heart.

Now, consider this: that there will surely come to you and me, and every living soul, a day of judgment; a day in which we shall be judged. Think honestly of those two words. First, a day, not a mere time, much less a night. Now, in a day there is light, by which men can see, and a sun in heaven which shows all things clearly. In that day, that brightest and clearest of all days, we shall see what we really have been, and what we really have done; and for aught we know, every one round us, every one with whom we have ever had to do, will see it also. The secrets of all our hearts will be disclosed; and we shall stand before heaven and earth simply for what we are, and neither more nor less. That is a fearful thought! Shall we come to shame in that day? And it will be a day of judgment: in it we shall be judged. I do not mean merely condemned, for we may be acquitted: or punished, for we may be rewarded; those things come after being judged. First, let us think of what being judged is. A judge's business is to decide on what we have done, or whether we have broken the law or not; to hear witnesses for us and against us, to sum up the evidence, and set forth the evidence for us and the evidence against us. And our judge will be the Son of Man, the Lord Jesus Christ, who is sharper than a two-edged sword, piercing through the very joints and marrow, and discerning the secret intents of the heart; neither is anything hid from Him, for all things are naked and open in the sight of Him with whom we have to do. With whom we have to do, mind: not merely with whom we shall have to do; for He sees all now, He knows all now. Ever since we were born, there has not been a thought in our heart but He has known it altogether. And He is utterly just--no respecter of persons; like His own wisdom, without partiality and without hypocrisy. O Lord! who shall stand in that day? O Lord! if thou be extreme to mark what is done amiss, who shall abide it? O Lord! in thee have I trusted: let me never be confounded!

For this is being confounded; this is shame itself. This is the intolerable, horrible, hellish shame and torment, wherein is weeping and gnashing of teeth; this is the everlasting shame and contempt to which, as Daniel prophesied, too many should awake in that day--to be found guilty in that day before God and Christ, before our neighbours and our relations, and worst of all, before ourselves. Worst of all, I say, before ourselves. It would be dreadful enough to have all the bad things we ever did or thought told openly against us to all our neighbours and friends, and to see them turn away from us;--dreadful to find out at last (what we forget all day long) that God knows them already; but more dreadful to know them all ourselves, and see our sins in all their shamefulness, in the light of God, as God Himself sees them;--more dreadful still to see the loving God and the loving Christ turn away from us;--but most dreadful of all to turn away from ourselves; to be utterly discontented with ourselves; ashamed of ourselves; to see that all our misery is our own fault, that we have been our own enemies; to despise ourselves, and hate ourselves for ever; to try for ever to get rid of ourselves, and escape from ourselves as from some ugly and foul place in which we were ashamed to be seen for a moment: and yet not to be able to get rid of ourselves. Yes, that will be the true misery of a lost soul, to be ashamed of itself, and hate itself. Who shall deliver a man from the body of that death?

I thank God, through Jesus Christ our Lord. I thank God, that at least now, here, in this life, we can be delivered. There is but one hope for us all; one way for us all, not to come to utter shame. And this is in the Lord Jesus Christ, who has said, 'Though your sins be red as scarlet they shall be white as wool; and their sins and their iniquities will I remember no more.' One hope, to cast ourselves utterly on His boundless love and mercy, and cry to Him, 'Blot these sins of mine out of Thy book, by Thy most precious blood, which is a full atonement for the sins of the whole world; and blot them out of my heart by Thy Holy Spirit, that I may hate them and renounce them, and flee from them, and give them up, and be Thy servant, and do Thy work, and have Thy righteousness, and do righteous things like Thee.' And then, my friends, how or why we cannot understand; but it is God's own promise, who cannot lie, that He will really and actually forgive these sins of ours, and blot them out as if we had never done them, and give us clean hearts and right spirits, to live new lives, right lives, lives like His own life; so that our past sinful lives shall be behind us like a dream, and we shall find them forgotten and forgiven in the day of judgment;--wonderful mercy! but listen to it--it is God's own promise--'If the wicked man turneth away from all his sins that he hath committed, and keep all my statutes, and do that which is lawful and right, he shall surely live, he shall not die. All his transgressions that he hath committed, they shall not be mentioned to him: in his righteousness that he hath done he shall live.'

They shall not be mentioned to him. My friends, if, as I have been showing, the great misery, the great horror of all, is having our sins mentioned to us in That Day, and being made utterly ashamed by them, what greater mercy can we want than this--not to have them mentioned to us, and not to come to shame; not to be plagued for ever with the hideous ghosts of our past bad thoughts, bad words, bad deeds, coming all day long to stare us in the face, and cry to us while the accusing Devil holds them up to us, as if in a looking- glass--'Look at your own picture. This is what you are. This fool, this idler, this mean, covetous, hard-hearted man, who cared only for himself;--this stupid man, who never cared to know his duty or do his duty;--this proud, passionate, revengeful man, who returned evil for evil, took his brothers by the throat, and exacted from them the uttermost farthing;--this ridiculous, foolish, useless, disagreeable, unlovely, unlovable person, who went through the world neither knowing what he ought to do, nor whither he was going, but was utterly blind and in a dream; this person is you yourself. Look at your own likeness, and be confounded, and utterly ashamed for ever!' What greater misery than that? What greater blessing than to escape that? What greater blessing than to be able to answer the accusing Devil, 'Not so, liar! This is not my likeness. This ugly, ridiculous, hateful person is not I. I was such a one once, but I am not now. I am another man now; and God knows that I am, though you may try to shame me by telling me that I am the same man. I was wrong, but I am right now; I was as a sheep going astray, but now I am returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of my soul, to whom I belonged all the while; and now I am right, in the right road; for with the heart I have believed God unto righteousness, and He has given me a clean heart, and a right spirit, and has purged me, and will purge me, till I am clean, and washed me till I am whiter than snow; I do not deny one of my old sins; I did them, I know that; I confess them to thee now, oh accusing Devil; but I confessed them to God, ay, and to man too, long ago, and by confessing them to Him I was saved from them; for with the mouth confession is made unto salvation. And what is more; I have not only confessed my own sins, but I have confessed Christ's righteousness; and I confess it now. I confess, I say, that Christ is perfectly righteous and good, the Perfect Pattern of what I ought to be; and because He is perfectly good, He does not wish to see me remain bad and sinful, that He may taunt me and torment me with my sins, as thou the accusing Devil dost: but He wishes to make me and every man good like Himself, blest like Himself; and He can do it, and will do it, if we will but give up our hearts to Him; and I have given up my heart to Him. All I ask of Him is to be made good and kept good, set right and kept right; and I can trust in Him utterly to do that; for He is faithful and just to forgive me my sins, and cleanse me from all unrighteousness. Therefore, accuse me not, Devil! for thou hast no share in me: I belong to Christ, and not to thee. And set not my old sins before my face; for God has set them behind His back, because I have renounced them, and sworn an oath against them, and Christ has nailed them to His cross, and now they are none of mine and none of thine, but are cast long ago into the everlasting fire of God, and burnt up and done with for ever; and I am a new man, and God's man; and He has justified me, and will justify me, and make me just and right; and neither thou, nor any man, has a right to impute to me my past sins, for God does not impute them to me; and neither thou, nor any man, has a right to condemn me, for God has justified me. And if it please God to humble me more (for I know I want humbling every day), and to show me more how much I owe to Him--if it please Him, I say, to bring to light any of my past sins, I shall take it patiently as a wholesome chastening of my Heavenly Father's; and I trust to all God's people, and to angels, and the spirits of just men made perfect, that they will look on my past sins as God looks on them, mercifully and lovingly, as things past and dead, forgiven and blotted out of God's book, by the precious blood of Christ, and look on me as I am in Christ, not having any righteousness of my own, but Christ's righteousness, which comes by the inspiration of His own Holy Spirit.'

Thus, my friends, we may answer the Devil, when he stands up to accuse us, and confound us in the Day of Judgment. Thus we may answer him now, when, in melancholy moments, he sets our sins before our face, and begins taunting us, and crying, 'See what a wretch you are, what a hypocrite, too. What would all the world think of you, if they knew as much against you as I do? What would the world think of you, if they saw into that dirty heart of yours?' For we can answer him--'Whatever the world would think, I know what God Himself thinks: He thinks of me as of a son who, after wasting his substance, and feeding on husks with the swine, has come home to his Father's house, and cried, Father, I have sinned against heaven, and before Thee, and am no more worthy to be called Thy son; and I know that that same good Heavenly Father, instead of shaming me, reproaching me, shutting His doors against me, has seen me afar off, and taken me home again without one harsh word, and called to all the angels in heaven, saying, "It is meet that we rejoice and be glad, for this My son was dead and is alive again, he was lost and is found." And while Almighty God, who made heaven and earth, is saying that of me, it matters little what the lying Devil may say.'

Only, only, if you be wandering from your Father's house, come home; if you be wrong, entreat to be made right. If you are in your Father's house, stay there; if you are right, pray and struggle to keep right; if the old account is blotted out, then, for your soul's sake, run up no fresh account to stand against you after all in the Day of Judgment; if you have the hope in you of not coming to shame, you must purify yourselves, even as God is pure; if you believe really with your heart, you must believe unto righteousness; that is, you must trust God to make you righteous and good: there is no use trusting Him to make you anything else, for He will make you nothing else; being good Himself, He will only make you good: but as for trusting in Him to leave you bad, to leave you quiet in your sins, and then to save you after all, that is trusting that God will do a most unjust, and what is more, a most cruel thing to you; that is trusting God to do the Devil's work; that is a blasphemous false trust, which will be utterly confounded in the Day of Judgment, and will cover you with double shame. The whole question for each of us is, 'Do we believe unto righteousness?' Is righteousness what we want? Is to be made good men what we want? If not, no confessing with the mouth will be unto salvation, for how can a man be saved in his sins? If an animal is diseased can it be saved from dying without curing the disease? If a tree be decayed, can it be saved from dying without curing the decay? If a man be bad and sinful, can he be saved from eternal death without curing his badness and sinfulness? How can a man be saved from his sins but by becoming sinless? As well ask, Can a man be saved from his sins without being saved from his sins? But if you wish really to be saved from your sins, and taken out of them, and cured of them, that you may be made good men, righteous men, useful men, just men, loving men, Godlike men;--then trust in God for that, and you will find that your trust will be unto righteousness, for you will become righteous men; and confess God with your mouth for that, saying, 'I believe in God my Father; I believe in Jesus Christ His Son, who died, and rose, and ascended on high for me; I believe in God's Holy Spirit, which is with me, to make me right;' and your confession will be unto salvation, for you will be saved from your sins.

Always say to yourself this one thing, 'Good I will become, whatever it cost me; and in God's goodness I trust to make me good, for I am sure He wishes to see me good, more than I do myself; and you will find that because you have confessed, in that best and most honest of ways, that God is good, and have so given Him real glory, and real honour, and real praise, He will save you from the sins which torment you: and that because you have really trusted in Him, you shall never come, either in this world, or the world to come, to that worst misery, the being ashamed of yourself.


Charles Kingsley

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