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THE SHAMEFULNESS OF SIN, AN ARGUMENT FOR REPENTANCE.
What fruit had ye then in those things, whereof ye are now ashamed? For the end of those things is death. But now being made free from sin, and become servants to God, ye have your fruit unto holiness, and the end everlasting life.—Rom. vi. 21, 22.
IN these words the apostle makes a comparison between a holy and virtuous, and a sinful and vicious course of life, and sets before us a perfect enumeration of the manifest inconveniencies of the one, and the manifold advantages of the other.
I began with the first of these; viz. to shew the manifest inconveniencies of a sinful and vicious course. I am upon the second inconvenience of a sinful course; viz. That the reflection upon it after wards is cause of great shame and confusion of face to us; and that
First, In relation to ourselves. Which I have dispatched, and proceed now, in the
Second place, to consider sin in respect of God, against whom, and in whose sight and presence, it is committed; and upon examination it will appear to be no less shameful in this respect than the other.
There are some persons before whom we are more apt to be ashamed and blush, than before others; as those, whom we reverence, those to whom we are greatly obliged, and those who are clear of those 339faults which we are guilty of; and, those who hale or greatly dislike what we do. especially if they be present with us, and in our company, if they stand by us, and observe, and take notice of what we do, and are likely to publish our folly and make it known, and have authority and power to punish us for our faults; we are ashamed to have done any thing that is vile and unworthy before such persons. Now to render sin the more shameful, God may be considered by us under all these notions, and in all these respects. I. Whenever we commit any sin, we do it before him, in his presence, and under his eye and knowledge, to whom of all persons in the world we ought to pay the most profound reverence. I remember Seneca somewhere says, that “There are some persons, quorum interventu perditi quoque homines vitia supprimerent, that are so awful and so gene rally reverenced for the eminency of their virtues, that even the most profligate and impudent sinners will endeavour to suppress their vices, and refrain from any thing that is notoriously bad and uncomely, whilst such persons stand by them, and are in presence.” Such an one was Cato among the Romans. The people of Rome had such a regard and reverence for him, that if he appeared, they would not begin or continue their usual sports, until he was withdrawn from the theatre, thinking them too light to be acted before a person of his gravity and virtue: and if they were so much awed by the presence of a wise and a virtuous man, that they were ashamed to do any thing that was unseemly before him; how much more should the presence of the holy God, who is “of purer eyes than to behold iniquity,” make us blush to do any thing that is lewd and vile in his sight, and fill us with shame and confusion of face 340at the thoughts of it? Now whenever we commit any sin, God looks upon us; and he alone is an ample theatre indeed. That he observes what we do, ought to be more to us, than if the eyes of all the world besides were gazing upon us.
2. He likewise is incomparably our greatest benefactor; and there is no person in the world to whom, in any degree, we stand so much obliged, as to him; and from whom we can expect and hope for so much good, as from him; the consideration whereof must make us ashamed, so often as we consider, and are conscious to ourselves, that we have done any thing that is grievous and displeasing to him.
We are wont to have a more peculiar reverence for those to whom we are exceedingly beholden, and to be much ashamed to do any thing before them which may signify disrespect, and much more enmity against them; because this would be horrible ingratitude, one of the most odious and shameful of all vices. And is there any one to whom we can stand more obliged, than to him that made us, than to the author and founder of our beings, and the great patron and preserver of our lives? and can there then be any before whom, and against whom, we should be more ashamed to offend? When the prodigal in the parable would set forth the shamefulness of his miscarriage, he aggravates it from hence, that he had offended against and before one to whom he had been so infinitely obliged: “Father (says he), I have sinned against Heaven, and in thy sight.”
3. We are ashamed likewise to be guilty of any fault or crime before those persons who are clear of it, or of any thing of the like nature, themselves. Men are not apt to be ashamed before those who are their 341fellow-criminals, and involved with them in the same guilt, because they do not stand in awe of them, nor can have any reverence for them. Those who are equally guilty, must bear with one another. We are not apt to fear the censures and reproofs of those who are as bad as ourselves; but we are ashamed to do a foul and unworthy action before those who are innocent and free from the same, or the like sins and vices which we are guilty of.
Now, whenever we commit any sin it is in the presence of the Holy Ghost, who hath no part with us in our crimes, whose nature is removed at the farthest distance from sin, and is as contrary to it as can be. “There is no iniquity with the Lord our God.” And therefore, of all persons in the world, we should blush to be guilty of it before him.
4. We are apt also to be ashamed to do any thing before those who dislike and detest what we do. To do a wicked action before those who are not offended at it, or perhaps take pleasure in it, is no such matter of shame to us. Now, of all others, God is the greatest hater of sin, and the most perfect enemy to it in the whole world. (Hab. i. 3.) “Thou art of purer eyes than to behold evil, and canst not look on iniquity;” i. e. with patience, and without an in finite hatred and abhorrence of it. Such is the unspotted purity and perfection of the Divine nature, that it is not possible that God should give the least countenance to any thing that is evil. (Psal. v. 4, 5.) “Thou art not a God (says David there to him.) that hast pleasure in iniquity, neither shall evil dwell with thee: the wicked shall not stand in thy sight; thou hatest all workers of iniquity.”
5. We are ashamed likewise to do any thing that is evil and unseemly before those who we are afraid 342will publish our faults to others, and will make known and expose the folly of them. Now when ever we sin, it is before him who will most certainly one day bring all our works of darkness into the open light, and expose all our secret deeds of dishonesty upon the public stage of the world, and make all the vilest of our actions known, and lay them open, with all the shameful circumstances of them, before men and angels, to our everlasting shame and confusion. This is the meaning of that proverbial speech, so often used by our Saviour, “There is nothing covered that shall not be revealed, neither hid that shall not be made manifest.” All the sins which we now commit with so much caution, in secret and dark retirements, shall in that great clay of revelation when the secrets of all hearts shall be disclosed, be set in open view, and in so full and strong a light, that all the world shall see them, and that which was plotted and contrived in so much secrecy, and hardly whispered in this world, shall then be proclaimed aloud, and as it were upon the house-tops.
6. And lastly, We are ashamed and afraid to commit a fault before those who we believe will call us to an account for it, and punish us severely. A man may suffer innocently, and for a good cause; but all suffering, in that case, is by wise and good men esteemed honourable and glorious, and though we are condemned by men, we are acquitted in our own consciences: but that which is properly called punishment is always attended with infamy and reproach; because it always supposeth some fault and crime, as the ground and reason of it. Hence it is that in this world men are not only afraid, but ashamed, to commit any fault before those who they think have authority and power to punish it. He is 343an impudent villain, indeed, that will venture to cut a purse in the presence of the judge.
Now whenever we commit any wickedness, we do it under the eye of the great Judge of the world, who steadfastly beholds us, and whose omnipotent justice stands by us ready armed and charged for our destruction, and can in a moment cut us off. Every sin that we are guilty of, in thought, word, or deed, is all in the presence of the holy, and just, and powerful God; whose power enables him, and whose holiness and justice will effectually engage him, one time or other, if a timely repentance doth not prevent it, to inflict a terrible punishment upon all the workers of iniquity.
You see then by all that hath been said upon this argument, how shameful a thing sin is, and what confusion of face the reflection upon our wicked lives ought to cause in all of us. “What fruit had ye then in those things, whereof ye are now ashamed?” If ever we are brought to a true repentance for our sins, it cannot but be matter of great shame to us.
We find, in Scripture, that shame doth continually accompany repentance, and is inseparable from it. This is one mark and character of a true penitent, that he is ashamed of what he hath done. Thus Ezra, when he makes confession of the sins of the people, he testifies and declares his shame for what they had done; “I said, O my God! I am ashamed, and brush to lift up mine eyes to thee, my God; for our iniquities are increased over our heads, and oar trespasses are grown up to the heavens.” (Ezra ix. 6.) And may not we of this nation at this day take these words unto ourselves, considering to what a strange height our sins are grown, and how iniquity abounds among us? So likewise the prophet Jeremiah, when 344he would express the repentance of the people of Israel. (Jer. iii. 25.) “We lie down (says he) in our shame, and our confusion covereth us, because we have sinned against the Lord our God.” In like manner the prophet Daniel, after he had in the name of the people made a humble acknowledgment of their manifold and great sins, he takes shame to himself and them for them: (Dan. ix. 5, &c.) “We have sinned (says he), and have committed iniquity, and have done wickedly, and have rebelled in departing from thy precepts, and from thy judgments. O Lord, righteousness belongeth to thee; but unto us confusion of face, as at this day; to the men of Judah, and to the inhabitants of Jerusalem, and unto all Israel, that are near, and that are far off, through all the countries whither thou hast driven them, because of their trespass which they have trespassed against thee: O Lord! to us belongeth confusion of face, to our kings, to our princes, and to our fathers, because we have sinned against thee.” By which we may judge, how considerable and essential a part of repentance this holy man esteemed shame, for the sins they had been guilty of, to be. And, indeed, upon all occasions of solemn repentance and humiliation for sin, this taking shame for their sins is hardly ever omitted, as if there could be no sincere confession of sin and repentance for it, without testifying their shame and confusion of face upon the remembrance of their sins.
Now to stir up this affection of shame in us, let me offer to you these three considerations:
I. Consider what great reason we have to be heartily ashamed of all the sins and offences which we have been guilty of against God. It was a good old precept of philosophy, “that we should reverence 345ourselves;” i. e. that we should never do any thing that should be matter of shame and reproach to us afterwards, nothing that misbecomes us, and is unworthy of us.
I have shewn, at large, that all sin and vice is a dishonour to our nature, and beneath the dignity of it; that it is a great reproach to our reason, and directly contrary to our true and best interest; that it hath all the aggravating circumstances of infamy and shame; that every sin that was at any time committed by us, was done in the presence of one, whom of all persons in the world we have most reason to reverence, and against him, to whom of all others we stand most obliged for the greatest favours, for innumerable benefits, for infinite mercy, and patience, and forbearance towards us, in the presence of the holy and just God, who is at the farthest distance from sin, and the greatest and most implacable enemy to it in the whole world; and who will one day punish all our faults, and expose us to open shame for them; who will “bring every work into judgment, and every secret sin” that ever we committed, and take vengeance upon us for all our iniquities. So that whenever we sin we shamefully entreat ourselves, and give the deepest wounds to our reputation in the esteem of him, who is the most competent judge of what is truly honourable and praiseworthy, and clothe ourselves with shame and dishonour.
We are ashamed of poverty, because the poor man is despised, and almost ridiculous in the eye of the proud and covetous rich man, “whose riches are his high tower,” and make him apt to look down upon the poor man that is below him with contempt and scorn; we are ashamed of a dangerous and contagious 346disease, because all men fly infectious company; but a man may be poor or sick by misfortune; but no man is wicked, but by his own fault and wilful choice. Ill-natured and inconsiderate men will be apt to contemn us for our poverty and affliction in any kind, but by our vices we render ourselves odious to God, and to all good and considerate men.
II. Consider that shame for sin now, is the way to prevent eternal shame and confusion hereafter. For this is one great part of the misery of another world, that the sinner shall then be filled with everlasting shame and confusion at the remembrance of his faults and folly. The eternal misery of wicked men is sometimes in Scripture represented, as if it consisted only, or chiefly, in the infamy and reproach which will then overwhelm them, when all their crimes and faults shall be exposed and laid open to the view of the whole world: (Dan. xii. 2.) where the general resurrection of the just and unjust is thus described: “Many of them that sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to everlasting shame and contempt;” where “everlasting life” and “everlasting shame” are opposed, as if eternal shame were a kind of perpetual death.
In this world sinners make a hard shift, by concealing or extenuating their faults, as well as they can, to suppress or lessen their shame; they have not now so clear and full a conviction of the evil and folly of their sin: God is pleased to bear with them, and to spare them at present, and they do not yet feel the dismal effects and consequences of a wicked life: but in the next world, when “the righteous judgment of God is revealed,” and the full vials 347of his wrath shall be poured forth upon sinners, they shall then “be clothed with shame as with a garment, and be covered with confusion;” then they will feel the folly of their sins, and have a sensible demonstration within themselves of the in finite evil of them; their own consciences will then furiously fly in their faces, and with the greatest bitterness and rage upbraid and reproach them with the folly of their own doings; and so long as we are sensible that we suffer for our own folly, so long we must unavoidably be ashamed of what we have done. So that if sinners shall be everlastingly tormented in another world, it necessarily follows, that they shall be eternally confounded.
Is it not then better to remember our ways now, and to be ashamed and repent of them, than to bring everlasting shame and confusion upon ourselves, before God, and angels, and men? This is the argument which St. John useth, to take men off from sin, and to engage them to holiness and righteousness of life; (1 John ii. 28.) “That when he shall appear,” that is, when he shall come to judge the world, “we may have confidence, and not be ashamed before him at his coming.”
III. And lastly, Consider that nothing sets men at a farther distance from repentance, and all hopes of their becoming better, and brings them nearer to ruin, than impudence in a sinful course. There are too many in the world who are so far from being ashamed of their wickedness, and blushing at the mention of their faults, that they boast of them, and glory in them. God often complains of this in the people of Israel, as a sad presage of their ruin, and an ill sign of their desperate and irrecoverable condition: (Jer. iii. 3.) “Thou hadst a whore’s forehead, 348and refusedst to be ashamed;” and (Jer. vi. 15.) “Were they ashamed when they committed abominations? Nay, they were not ashamed, neither could they blush: therefore they shall fall among them that fall, and in the time that I visit them they shall be cast down.” Hear, likewise, how the apostle doth lament the case of such persons, as incurable, and past all remedy: (Philip. iii. 18, 19.) “There are many of whom I have told you often, and now tell you, even weeping, that they are enemies to the cross of Christ: whose end is destruction, whose God is their belly, whose glory is in their shame.” Such persons who glory in that which ought to be their shame, what can their end be but destruction?
There is certainly no greater argument of a degenerate person, and of one that is utterly lost to all sense of goodness, than to be void of shame: and as, on the one hand, they must be very towardly, and well-disposed to virtue, who are drawn by ingenuity, and mere sense of obligation and kindness: so, on the other hand, they must be very stupid and insensible, who are not wrought upon by arguments of fear and sense of shame. There is hardly any hopes of that man who is not to be reclaimed from an evil course, neither by the apprehension of danger, nor of disgrace, and who can at once securely neglect both his safety and reputation.
Hear how the prophet represents the deplorable case of such persons: (Isa. iii. 9.) “The show of their countenance bears witness against them;” in the Hebrew it is, “The hardness of their countenance doth testify against them, and they declare their sin as Sodom, they hide it not. Woe unto their souls, for they have rewarded evil to themselves.” 349When men are once arrived to that pitch of impiety, as to harden their foreheads against all sense and show of shame, and so as to be able to set a good face upon the foulest matter in the world, “Woe unto them,” because their case seems then to be desperate, and past all hopes of recovery. For who can hope that a man will forsake his sins, when he is not so much as ashamed of them? But yet one would think, that those who are not ashamed of their impiety, should be ashamed of their impudence, and should at least blush at this, that they can do the vilest and the most shameful things in the world without blushing.
To conclude this whole discourse, let the consideration of the evil and shamefulness of sin have this double effect upon us, to make us heartily ashamed of the past errors and miscarriages of our lives, and firmly resolved to do better for the future.
I. To be heartily ashamed of the past errors of our lives. So often as we reflect upon the manifold and heinous provocations of the Divine Majesty, which many of us have been guilty of in the long course of a wicked life, together with the heavy aggravations of our sins, by all the circumstances that can render them abominable and shameful, not only in the eye of God and men, but of our own consciences likewise; we have great reason to humble ourselves before God, in a penitent acknowledgment of them, and every one of us to say with Job, “Behold, I am vile, what shall I answer thee? I will lay mine hand upon my mouth, I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes;” and with Ezra, “O my God! I am ashamed, and blush to lift up my face to thee, my God; for our iniquities are increased over our heads, and our trespass is grown up unto 350the heavens: and now, O my God, what shall we say after this? for we have forsaken thy commandments;” and with holy Daniel, “We have sinned, and have committed iniquity, and have done wickedly; O Lord! righteousness belongeth unto thee, but unto us confusion of face.” Thus we should reproach and upbraid ourselves in the presence of that holy God, whom we have so often and so highly offended, and against whom we have done as evil things as we could, and say with the prodigal son in the parable: “Father, I have sinned against Heaven and before thee, and am no more worthy to be called thy son.”
If we would thus take shame to ourselves, and humble ourselves before God, he would “be merciful to us miserable sinners;” he would “take away all iniquity, and receive us graciously;” and so soon as ever he saw us coming towards him, would meet us with joy, and embrace us in the arms of his mercy. And then,
II. As we should be heartily ashamed of the past errors and miscarriages of our lives, so we should firmly resolve, by God’s grace, to do better for the future; never to consent to iniquity, or to do any thing which we are convinced is contrary to our duty, and which will be matter of shame to us, when we come to look back upon it, and make our blood to rise in our faces at the mention or intimation of it; which will make us to sneak, and hang down our heads, when we are twitted and upbraided with it, and which, if it be not prevented by a timely humiliation and repentance, will fill us with horror and amazement, with shame and confusion of face, both at the hour of death, and in the day of judgment.351
So that when we look into our lives, and examine the actions of them, when we consider what we have done, and what our doings have deserved, we should, in a due sense of the great and manifold miscarriages of our lives, and from a deep sorrow, and shame, and detestation of ourselves for them; I say, we should, with that true penitent described in Job, take words to ourselves, and say, “Surely it is meet to be said unto God, I will not offend any more; that which I know not, teach thou me; and if I have done iniquity, I will do no more.” And thus I have done with the second inconvenience of a sinful and vicious course of life; viz. that the reflection upon it afterwards causeth shame; “What fruit had you then in those things, whereof ye are now ashamed?”352
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