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SERMON CLXII.

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.

THERE are two passions which do always, in some degree or other, accompany a true repentance; viz. sorrow and shame for our sins; because these are necessary to engage men to a resolution of making that change wherein repentance does consist: for till we are heartily sorry for what we have done, and ashamed of the evil of it, it is not likely that we should ever come to a firm and steady purpose of forsaking our evil ways, and betaking ourselves to a better course.

And these two passions, of sorrow and shame for our sins, were wont anciently to be signified by those outward expressions of humiliation and repentance, which we find so frequently mentioned in Scripture, of being clothed in sackcloth, as a testimony of our sorrow and mourning for our sins, and of” being sprinkled upon the head, and covered over with filth and dirt, and dust and ashes,” in token of our shame and confusion of face for all our iniquities and transgressions. Hence are those expressions 321in Scripture of repenting in sackcloth and ashes, of lying down in our shame, and being covered with confusion, in token of their great sorrow and shame for the manifold and heinous sins which they have been guilty of.

Of the former of these, viz. trouble and sorrow for our sins, I have very lately treated;22   See Sermon CLX. p. 281. and of the latter, I intend now, by God’s assistance, to speak, viz. shame for our sins, and that from these words which I have recited to you: “What fruit had ye then in those things?” &c. In which 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 inconveniences of the one, and the manifold advantages of the other.

First, The manifest inconveniences of a vicious and sinful course; and the apostle mentions these three:

I. It is unprofitable, it brings no manner of present benefit and advantage to us, if all things be rightly calculated and considered. “What fruit had ye then in those things?” “Then,” (i. e.) at the time when you committed those sins, had you any present advantage by them? No, certainly; but quite contrary.

II. The reflection upon our sins afterwards is cause of shame and confusion to us; “What fruit had ye then in those things, whereof ye are now ashamed?”

III. The final issue and consequence of these things is very dismal and miserable; “The end of those things is death.” Let us put these things together, 322and see what they amount to.—No fruit then when ye did these things, and shame now when ye come afterwards to reflect upon them, and death and misery at the last.

Secondly, Here is likewise, on the other hand, represented to us the manifold benefits of a holy and virtuous life. And that upon these two accounts:

I. Of the present benefit of it, which the apostle calls here fruit: “Ye have your fruit unto holiness.”

II. In respect of the future reward of it: “And the end everlasting life.” Here is a considerable earnest in hand, and a mighty recompence after wards, infinitely beyond the proportion of our best actions and services, both in respect of the greatness and the duration of it, “everlasting life;” for a few transient and very imperfect actions of obedience, a perfect, and immutable, and endless state of happiness. I shall begin with the

First of the two general heads; viz. The manifest inconveniences of a sinful and vicious course; and the apostle, I told you in the text, takes notice of three:

I. It is unprofitable, and if all things be rightly calculated and considered, it brings no manner of present advantage and benefit to us. “What fruit had ye then in those things?” “Then,” (i. e.) when ye committed those sins, had you any present advantage by them? No, certainly, quite the contrary; as if the apostle had said, If you seriously reflect upon your former course of impiety and sin, wherein you have continued so long, you cannot but acknowledge that it brought no manner of advantage to you; and when all accounts are truly cast up, you must, if you will confess the truth, own, that you were in no sort gainers by it: for the words are a 323μείωσιςand the apostle plainly intends more than he expresseth, “What fruit had ye then in those things?” (i. e.) The wicked course which ye formerly lived in was so far from being any ways beneficial to you, that it was, on the contrary, upon all accounts extremely to your prejudice and disadvantage.

And this is not only true in respect of the final issue and consequence of a sinful and vicious course of life, that no man is a gainer by it at the long run; and if we take into our consideration another world, and the dreadful and endless misery which a wicked and impenitent life will then plunge men into (which, in the farther handling of this text, will at large be spoken to, being the last of the three particulars under this first general head); but it is true likewise, even in respect of this world, and with regard only to this present and temporal life, without looking so far as the future recompence and punishment of sin in another world.

And this would plainly appear, by an induction of these three particulars:

1, It is evident that some sins are plainly mischievous to the temporal interest of men, as tending, either to the disturbance of their minds, or the endangering of their health and lives, or to the prejudice of their estates, or the blasting of them in their reputation and good name.

2. That there are other sins, which, though they rare not so visibly burdened and attended with mischievous consequences, yet they are plainly unprofitable, and bring no manner of real advantage to men, either in respect of gain or pleasure; such are the sins of profaneness and customary swearing in common conversation.

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3. That even those sins and vices which make the fairest pretence to be of advantage to us, when all accounts are cast up, and all circumstances duly weighed and considered, will be found to be but pretenders, and in no degree able to perform and make good what they so largely promise before hand, when they tempt us to the commission of them. There are some vices which pretend to bring in great profit, and tempt worldly-minded men, whose minds are disposed to catch at that bait; such are the sins of covetousness and oppression, of fraud, and falsehood, and perfidiousness. And there are others which pretend to bring pleasure along with them, which is almost an irresistible temptation to voluptuous and sensual men; such are the sins of revenge, and intemperance, and lust. But, upon a particular examination of each of these, it will evidently appear, that there is no such profit or pleasure in any of these vices as can be a reason able temptation to any man to fall in love with them, and to engage in the commission and practice of them. But I shall not now enlarge upon any of these, having lately discoursed upon them from another text. I shall therefore proceed to the

II. Second inconvenience which I mentioned of a sinful and vicious course; viz. that the reflection upon our sins afterwards, is cause of great shame and confusion to us. “What fruit had you then in those things, whereof ye are now ashamed?” And this is a very proper argument for this season;33   Preached in Lent. because the passion of shame, as it is a natural and useful consequent of sin, so it is a disposition necessarily required to a true repentance.

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Most men when they commit a known fault are apt to be ashamed, and ready to blush whenever they are put in mind of it, and charged with it. Some persons, indeed, have gone so far in sin, and have waded so deep in a vicious course, as to be confirmed and hardened in their wickedness to that degree, as to be past all shame, and almost all sense of their faults; especially in regard of the more common and ordinary vices, which are in vogue and fashion; and in the commission whereof they are countenanced and encouraged by company and example. Such were those of whom the prophet speaks, (Jer. vi. 15.) “Were they ashamed, when they had committed abomination? nay, they were not ashamed, neither could they blush.”

But yet even these persons, when they come to be sensible of their guilt, so as to be brought to repentance, they cannot then but be ashamed of what they have done. For what face soever men may set upon their vices, sin is shameful in itself, and so apt to fill men with confusion of face, when they seriously reflect upon it, that they cannot harden their foreheads against all sense of shame. And whatever men may declare to the contrary, this is tacitly acknowledged by the generality of men, in that they are so solicitous and careful to conceal their faults from the eyes of others, and to keep them as secret as they can; and whenever they are discovered and laid open, it is matter of great trouble and confusion to them, and if any one happen to upbraid and twit them with their miscarriages of any kind, they cannot bear with patience to hear of them.

There are, indeed, some few such prodigies and monsters of men, as are able, after great strugglings 326with their consciences, to force themselves to boast impudently of their wickedness, and “to glory in their shame;” not because they do really and inwardly believe their vices to be a honour and glory to them; but because, conscious to themselves that they have done shameful things, and believing that others know it, they put on a whore’s forehead, and think to prevent the upbraiding of others, by owning what they have done, and seeming to glory in it: but yet for all that, these persons, if they would confess the truth, do feel some confusion in themselves, and they are inwardly sensible of the infamy and reproach of such actions, for all they would seem to the world to bear it out so well: for when all is done, there is a wide difference between the impudence of a criminal, and the confidence and assurance of a clear conscience, that is fully satisfied of its own innocence and integrity. The conscientious man is not ashamed of any thing that he hath done: but the impudent sinner only seems not to be so, but all the while feels a great deal of confusion in his own mind. The one is sensible and satisfied that there is no cause for shame; the other is conscious to himself that there is cause, but he offers violence to himself, and suppresses all he can the sense and show of it, and will needs face down the world, that he hath no guilt and regret in his own mind for any thing that he hath done.

Now that sin is truly matter of shame, will be very evident, if we consider these two things:

First, If we consider the nature of this passion of shame.

Secondly, If we consider what there is in sin which gives real ground and occasion for it.

First, For the nature of this passion. Shame is 327 the trouble or confusion of mind, occasioned by something that tends to our disgrace and dishonour, to our infamy and reproach. Now there is nothing truly and really matter of shame and reproach to us, but what we ourselves have done, or have been some way or other accessary to the doing of, by our own fault or neglect, and by consequence what it was in our power and choice not to have done: for no man is ashamed of what he is sure he could not help. Necessity, unless it be wilful and contracted, and happens through some precedent occasion and fault of our own, does take away all just cause of shame.

And nothing likewise is matter of shame, but something which we ought not to do, which misbecomes us, and is below the dignity and perfection of our nature, and is against some duty and obligation that is upon us to the contrary; and, consequently, is a reproach to our reason and under standing, a reflection upon our prudence and discretion, and at first sight hath an appearance of ruggedness and deformity.

And all actions of this nature do receive several aggravations with respect to the persons against whom, and in whose presence, and under whose eye and knowledge, these shameful things are done. Now I shall shew, in the

Second place, that sin contains in it whatsoever is justly accounted infamous, together with all the aggravations of shame and reproach that can be imagined. And this will appear by considering sin and vice in these two respects:

I. In relation to ourselves.

II. In respect to God, against whom, and in whose sight, it is committed.

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I. In relation to ourselves, there are these four things which make sin and vice to be very shameful:

1. The natural ruggedness and deformity of it.

2. That it is so great a dishonour to our nature, and to the dignity and excellency of our being.

3. That it is so great a reproach to our reason and understanding, and so foul a reflection upon our prudence and discretion.

4. That it is our own voluntary act and choice.

Every one of these considerations render it very shameful, and all of them together ought to fill the sinner with confusion of face. I shall speak to them severally.

1. The natural ruggedness and deformity of sin and vice render it very shameful. Men are apt to be ashamed of any thing in them, or belonging to them, that looks ugly and monstrous, and therefore they endeavour with great care and art to conceal and dissemble their deformity in any kind. How strangely do we see men concerned, with all their diligence and skill, to cover and palliate any defect or deformity in their bodies; an ill face, if they could; however, a foul and bad complexion, or a blind squinting eye, a crooked body, or limb, or whatever is ill-favoured or monstrous. Now, in regard of our souls and better part, sin hath all the monstrousness and deformity in it which we can imagine in the body, and much more: and it is as hard to be covered from the eye of discerning men, as the deformity of the body is; but impossible to be concealed from the eye of God, to whom darkness and light, secret and open, are all one. But then the moral defects and deformities of the mind have this advantage above the natural defects and 329deformities of the body, that the former are possible to be cured by the grace of God, in conjunction with our own care and endeavour; where as no diligence or skill can ever help or remove many of the natural defects and deformities of the body.

Sin is the blindness of our minds, the perverseness and crookedness of our wills, and the monstrous irregularity and disorder of our affections and appetites; it is the misplacing of our powers and faculties, the setting of our wills and passions above our reason; all which is ugly and unnatural; and if we were truly sensible of it, matter of great shame and reproach to us.

There is hardly any vice but at first sight hath an odious and ugly appearance to a well-disciplined and innocent mind, that hath never had any acquaintance with it. And however familiarity and custom may abate the sense of its deformity, yet it is as it was before, and the change that is made in us does not alter the nature of the thing. Drunkenness and furious passion, pride and falsehood, covetousness and cruelty, are odious, and matter of shame, in the sincere and uncorrupted opinion of all mankind. And though a man, by the frequent practice of any of these vices, and a long familiarity with them, may not be so sensible of the deformity of them in himself, yet he quickly discerns the ugliness of them in others, whenever they come in his way, and could with salt and sharpness enough upbraid those whom he sees guilty of them, but that he is inwardly conscious, that the reproach may be so easily returned and thrown back upon himself. However, this is a natural acknowledgment of the deformity and shamefulness of sin and vice.

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2. They are likewise shameful, because they are so great a dishonour to our nature, and to the dignity and excellency of our being. We go below ourselves, and act beneath the dignity of our nature, when we do any thing contrary to the rules and laws of it, or to the revealed will of God; because these are the bounds and limits which God and nature hath set to human actions; and are the measures of our duty; i. e. what is fit and becoming for us to do, and what not. So that all sin and vice is base and unworthy, and beneath the dignity of our nature; it argues a corrupt and diseased constitution and habit of mind, a crooked and perverse disposition of will, and a sordid and mean temper of spirit.

And therefore the Scripture doth frequently represent a state of sin and wickedness, by that which is accounted the basest and meanest condition among men, by a state of servitude and slavery, especially if it had been our choice, or the evident and necessary consequence of our wilful fault: for we do as bad as choose it, when we wilfully bring it upon ourselves. So that to be a sinner, is to be a slave to some vile lust, appetite, or passion, to some unnatural or irregular desire; it is to sell ourselves into bondage, and to part with one of the most valuable things in the world, our liberty, upon low and unworthy terms. Such a state and condition does unavoidably debase and debauch our minds, and break the force and firmness of our spirits, and robs us, as Delilah did Sampson, of our strength and courage, of our resolution and constancy; so that men have not the heart left to design and endeavour in good earnest their own rescue out of this mean and miserable estate, into which, by their own folly and fault, they have brought themselves.

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When men are engaged into a custom of sinning, and have habituated themselves to any vicious course, how do they betray their weakness, and want of resolution, by being at the beck of every foolish lust, and by suffering themselves to be commanded and hurried away by every unruly appetite and passion, to do things which they know to be greatly to their harm and prejudice, and which they are convinced are mean and sordid things, and such as they are ashamed that any wise man should see them doing! And there is no greater argument of a pitiful and degenerate spirit, than to commit such things as a man would blush to be surprised in, and would be mightily troubled to hear of afterwards. And, which is more, after he hath been convinced by manifold experience, that they are a shame and disgrace to him, and make him hang down his head, and let fall his countenance, whenever he is in better company than himself; yet after this to go and do the same things again, which he is sensible are so shameful, and to be so impotent, and to have so little command of himself, as not to be able to free himself from this bondage, nor the heart to pray to God that by his grace he would enable him hereto.

And that sin is of this shameful nature is evident, in that the greatest part of sinners take so much care and pains to hide their vices from the sight and notice of men, and to this purpose choose darkness and secret places of retirement to commit their sins in. The apostle takes notice, that thus much modesty was left, even in a very wicked and degenerate age: (1 Thess. v. 7.) “They that be drunk (says he) are drunk in the night.” Now all this is a plain acknowledgment, that sin is a spurious and degenerate thing, that it misbecomes human nature, and is below 332the dignity of a reasonable creature: other wise, why should men be so solicitous and concerned to cover their faults from the sight of others? if they are not ashamed of them, why do they not bring them into the broad light, and shew them openly, if they think they will endure it?

So true is that observation which Plato makes—That though a man were sure that God would forgive his sins, and that men should never know them, yet there is that baseness in sin, that a wise man, that considers what it is, would blush to himself alone to be guilty of it; and though he were not afraid of the punishment, would be ashamed of the turpitude and deformity of it.

Did but a man consider seriously with himself, how mean and unmanly it is for a man to be drunk; and what an apish and ridiculous thing he renders himself to all sober men that behold him, and with what contempt and scorn they entertain such a sight; and how brutish it is to wallow in any unlawful lust, and how much a man descends and stoops beneath himself: what shameful fear and cowardice he betrays when he is frighted to tell a lie out of fear, or tempted thereto for some little advantage; and yet is so inconsistent with himself, as to have, or to pretend to have, the courage to fight any man that shall tell him so saucy a truth, as that he told a lie.

Would but a man think beforehand, how unworthy and how unequal a thing it is to defraud or cheat his brother, or to do any thing to another man which he would be loath, in the like case, that he should do to him; how base a thing it is for a man to be perfidious and false to his promise or trust; how monstrous to be unthankful to one that hath 333highly obliged him, and every way and upon all occasions deserved well at his hands; and so I might instance in all other sorts of sins: I say, he that considers this well and wisely, though there were no law against sin, and (if it were a possible case, and fit to be supposed) though there were no such being as God in the world, to call him to account and punish him for it, yet, out of mere generosity and greatness of mind, out of pure respect to himself, and the dignity and rank of his being, and of his order in the world, out of very reverence to human nature, and the inward persuasion of his own mind (however he came by that persuasion) concerning the indecency, and deformity, and shamefulness of the thing; I say, for these reasons, if there were no other, a man would strive with himself, with all his might, to refrain from sin and vice, and not only blush, but abhor to think of doing a wicked action.

3. Sin will yet farther appear shameful, in that it is so great a reproach to our understandings and reasons, and so foul a blot upon our prudence and discretion. Omnis peccans aut ignorans est, aut incogitans, is a saying, I think, of one of the schoolmen (as one would guess by the Latin of it); “Every sinner is either an ignorant or an inconsiderate person.” Either men do not understand what they do, when they commit sin; or if they do know, they do not actually attend to and consider what they know. Either they are habitually or actually ignorant of what they do; for sin and consideration cannot dwell together; it is so very unreasonable and absurd a thing, that it requires either gross ignorance, or stupid inadvertency, to make a man capable of committing it. Whenever a man sins, he must 334either be destitute of reason, or must lay it aside or asleep for the time, and so suffer himself to be hurried away, and to act brutishly, as if he had no understanding.

Did but men attentively consider what it is to offend God, and to break the laws of that great Law giver, who “is able to save or to destroy,” they would discern so many invincible objections against the thing, and would be filled with such strong fears and jealousies of the fatal issue and event of it, that they would not dare to venture upon it. And therefore we find the Scripture so frequently resolving the wickedness of men into their ignorance and inconsiderateness. (Psal. xiv. 4.) “Have all the workers of iniquity no knowledge?” Intimating that by their actions one would judge so. And the same account God himself also gives elsewhere of the frequent disobedience and rebellion of the people of Israel: (Pent, xxxii. 28, 29.) “They are a nation void of counsel, neither is there any understanding in them. O! that they were wise, that they understood this, that they would consider their latter end!” Knowledge and consideration would cure a great part of the wickedness that is in the world; men would not commit sin with so much greediness would they but take time to consider and bethink themselves what they do.

Have we not reason then to be ashamed of sin, which casts such a reproach of ignorance and rashness upon us? and of imprudence, likewise, and in discretion? since nothing can be more directly and plainly against our greatest and best interest, both of body and soul, both here and hereafter, both now and to all eternity. And there is nothing that men are more ashamed of, than to be guilty of so great 335a imprudence, as to act clearly against their own interest, to which sin is the most plainly cross and contrary that it is possible for any thing to be. No man can engage and continue in a sinful course, without being so far abused and infatuated, as to be contented to part with everlasting happiness, and to be undone and miserable for ever; none but he that can persuade himself against all the reason and sense of mankind, that there is pleasure enough in the transient acts of sin to make amends for eternal sorrow, and shame, and suffering. And can such a thought as this enter into the heart of a considerate man? Epicurus was so wise, as to conclude against all pleasures that would give a man more trouble and disturbance afterwards; against all pleasures that had pain and grief consequent upon them; and he forbids his wise man to taste of them, or to meddle with them; and had he believed any thing of a future state, he must, according to his principle, have pronounced it the greatest folly that could be, for any man to purchase the pleasures and happiness of a few years, at the dear rate of eternal misery and torment. So that, if it be a disgrace to a man to act imprudently, and to do things plainly against his interest, then vice is the greatest reproach that is possible.

The 4th and last consideration, which renders sin so shameful to us, is, that it is our own voluntary act and choice. We choose this disgrace, and willingly bring this reproach upon ourselves. We pity an idiot, and one that is naturally destitute of under standing, or one that loseth the use of his reason by a disease or other inevitable accident: but every one despiseth him who besots himself, and plays the fool out of carelessness and a gross neglect of himself. 336And this is the case of a sinner; there is no man that sinneth, but because he is wanting to himself; he might be wiser and do better, and will not; but he chooses his own devices, and voluntarily runs himself upon those inconveniencies, which it was in his power to have avoided.

Not but that I do heartily own and lament the great corruption and degeneracy of our nature, an j the strong propensions which appear so early in us to that which is evil; but God hath provided a remedy and cure for all this: for since “the grace of God which brings salvation unto all men hath appeared,” under the influence and through the assistance of that grace which is offered to them by the gospel, men may “deny ungodliness and worldly lusts, and live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world.” For I make no doubt, but since God has entered into a new covenant of grace with mankind, and offered new terms of life and salvation to us; I say, I doubt not but his grace is ready at hand, to enable us to perform all those conditions which he requires of us, if we be not wanting to ourselves.

There was a way of salvation established, before the gospel was clearly revealed to the world; and they who, under that dispensation, whether Jews or gentiles, sincerely endeavoured to do the will of God, so far as they knew it, were not utterly destitute of Divine grace and assistance: but now there is a more plentiful effusion of God’s grace and Holy Spirit; so that whoever under the gospel sins deliberately, sins wilfully, and is wicked, not for want of power but of will to do otherwise. And this is that which makes sin so shameful a thing, and so very reproachful to us, that we destroy ourselves 337by our own folly and neglect of ourselves, and become miserable by our own choice, and when the grace of God hath put it in our power to be wise and to be happy.

I should now have proceeded to the second thing I proposed, which was to consider sin in relation to God, and to shew that it is no less shameful in that respect, than I have shewn it to be with regard to ourselves; but this I shall refer to another opportunity.

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