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Bunyan Characters First Series: 16. SHAME

By Alexander Whyte


      'Whosoever shall be ashamed of Me, and of My words, of him shall the Son of Man be ashamed, when He shall come in His own glory, and in His Father's, and of the holy angels.'--Our Lord.

      Shame has not got the attention that it deserves either from our moral philosophers or from our practical and experimental divines. And yet it would well repay both classes of students to attend far more to shame. For, what really is shame? Shame is an original instinct planted in our souls by our Maker, and intended by Him to act as a powerful and pungent check to our doing of any act that is mean or dishonourable in the eyes of our fellow-men. Shame is a kind of social conscience. Shame is a secondary sense of sin. In shame, our imagination becomes a kind of moral sense. Shame sets up in our bosom a not undivine tribunal, which judges us and sentences us in the absence or the silence of nobler and more awful sanctions and sentences. But then, as things now are with us, like all the rest of the machinery of the soul, shame has gone sadly astray both in its objects and in its operations, till it demands a long, a severe, and a very noble discipline over himself before any man can keep shame in its proper place and directed in upon its proper objects. In the present disorder of our souls, we are all acutely ashamed of many things that are not the proper objects of shame at all; while, on the other hand, we feel no shame at all at multitudes of things that are really most blameworthy, dishonourable, and contemptible. We are ashamed of things in our lot and in our circumstances that, if we only knew it, are our opportunity and our honour; we are ashamed of things that are the clear will and the immediate dispensation of Almighty God. And, then, we feel no shame at all at the most dishonourable things, and that simply because the men around us are too coarse in their morals and too dull in their sensibilities to see any shame in such things. And thus it comes about that, in the very best of men, their still perverted sense of shame remains in them a constant snare and a source of temptation. A man of a fine nature feels keenly the temptation to shrink from those paths of truth and duty that expose him to the cruel judgments and the coarse and scandalising attacks of public and private enemies. It was in the Valley of Humiliation that Shame set upon Faithful, and it is a real humiliation to any man of anything of this pilgrim's fine character and feeling to be attacked, scoffed at, and held up to blame and opprobrium. And the finer and the more affectionate any man's heart and character are, the more he feels and shrinks from the coarse treatment this world gives to those whom it has its own reasons to hate and assail. They had the stocks and the pillory and the shears in Bunyan's rude and uncivilised day, by means of which many of the best men of that day were exposed to the insults and brutalities of the mob. The newspapers would be the pillory of our day, were it not that, on the whole, the newspaper press is conducted with such scrupulous fairness and with a love of truth and justice such that no man need shrink from the path of duty through fear of insult and injury.

      But it is time to come to the encounter between Shame and Faithful in the Valley of Humiliation. Shame, properly speaking, is not one of our Bunyan gallery of portraits at all. Shame, at best, is but a kind of secondary character in this dramatic book. We do not meet with Shame directly; we only hear about him through the report of Faithful. That first-class pilgrim was almost overcome of Shame, so hot was their encounter; and it is the extraordinarily feeling, graphic, and realistic account of their encounter that Faithful gives us that has led me to take up Shame for our reproof and correction to-night.

      Religion altogether, but especially all personal religion, said Shame to Faithful, is an unmanly business. There is a certain touch of smallness and pitifulness, he said, in all religion, but especially in experimental religion. It brings a man into junctures and into companionships, and it puts offices and endurances upon one such as try a man if he has any greatness of spirit about him at all. This life on which you are entering, said Shame, will cost you many a blush before you are done with it. You will lay yourself open to many a scoff. The Puritan religion, and all the ways of that religious fraternity, are peculiarly open to the shafts of ridicule. Now, all that was quite true. There was no denying the truth of what Shame said. And Faithful felt the truth of it all, and felt it most keenly, as he confessed to Christian. The blood came into my face as the fellow spake, and what he said for a time almost beat me out of the upward way altogether. But in this dilemma also all true Christians can fall back, as Faithful fell back, upon the example of their Master. In this as in every other experience of temptation and endurance, our Lord is the forerunner and the example of His people. Our Lord was in all points tempted like as we are, and among all His other temptations He was tempted to be ashamed of His work on earth and of the life and the death His work led Him into. He must have often felt ashamed at the treatment He received during His life of humiliation, as it is well called; and He must often have felt ashamed of His disciples: but all that is blotted out by the crowning shame of the cross. We hang our worst criminals rather than behead or shoot them, in order to heap up the utmost possible shame and disgrace upon them, as well as to execute justice upon them. And what the hangman's rope is in our day, all that the cross was in our Lord's day. And, then, as if the cross itself was not shame enough, all the circumstances connected with His cross were planned and carried out so as to heap the utmost possible shame and humiliation upon His head. Our prison warders have to watch the murderers in their cells night and day, lest they should take their own life in order to escape the hangman's rope; but our Lord, keenly as He felt His coming shame, said to His horrified disciples, Behold, we go up to Jerusalem, when the Son of Man shall be mocked, and spitefully entreated, and spitted on; and they shall scourge Him and put Him to death. Do you ever think of your Lord in His shame? How they made a fool of Him, as we say. How they took off His own clothes and put on Him now a red cloak and now a white; how they put a sword of lath in His hand, and a crown of thorns on His head; how they bowed the knee before Him, and asked royal favours from Him; and then how they spat in His face, and struck Him on the cheek, while the whole house rang with shouts of laughter. And, then, the last indignity of man, how they stripped Him naked and lashed His naked and bleeding body to a whipping-post. And how they wagged their heads and put out their tongues at Him when He was on the tree, and invited Him to come down and preach to them now, and they would all become His disciples. Did not Shame say the simple truth when he warned Faithful that religion had always and from the beginning made its followers the ridicule of their times?

      If you are really going to be a religious man, Shame went on, you will have to carry about with you a very tender conscience, and a more unmanly and miserable thing than a tender conscience I cannot conceive. A tender conscience will cost you something, let me tell you, to keep it. If nothing else, a tender conscience will all your life long expose you to the mockery and the contempt of all the brave spirits of the time. That also is true. At any rate, a tender conscience will undoubtedly compel its possessor to face the brave spirits of the time. There is a good story told to this present point about Sir Robert Peel, a Prime Minister of our Queen. When a young man, Peel was one of the guests at a select dinner-party in the West-end of London. And after the ladies had left the table the conversation of the gentlemen took a turn such that it could not have taken as long as the ladies were present. Peel took no share in the stories or the merriment that went on, and, at last, he rose up and ordered his carriage, and, with a burning face, left the room. When he was challenged as to why he had broken up the pleasant party so soon, he could only reply that his conscience would not let him stay any longer. No doubt Peel felt the mocking laughter that he left behind him, but, as Shame said to Faithful, the tenderness of the young statesman's conscience compelled him to do as he did. But we are not all Peels. And there are plenty of workshops and offices and dinner-tables in our own city, where young men who would walk up to the cannon's mouth without flinching have not had Peel's courage to protest against indecency or to confess that they belonged to an evangelical church. If a church is only sufficiently unevangelical there is no trial of conscience or of courage in confessing that you belong to it. But as Shame so ably and honestly said, that type of religion that creates a tender conscience in its followers, and sets them to watch their words and their ways, and makes them tie themselves up from all hectoring liberty--to choose that religion, and to cleave to it to the end, will make a young man the ridicule still of all the brave spirits round about him. Ambitious young men get promotion and reward every day among us for desertions and apostasies in religion, for which, if they had been guilty of the like in war, they would have been shot. 'And so you are a Free Churchman, I am told.' That was all that was said. But the sharp youth understood without any more words, and he made his choice accordingly; till it is becoming a positive surprise to find the rising members of certain professions in certain churches. The Quakers have a proverb in England that a family carriage never drives for two generations past the parish church door. Of which state of matters Shame showed himself a shrewd prophet two hundred years ago when he said that but few of the rich and the mighty and the wise remained long of Faithful's Puritan opinion unless they were first persuaded to be fools, and to be of a voluntary fondness to venture the loss of all.

      And I will tell you two other things, said sharp-sighted and plain-spoken Shame, that your present religion will compel you to do if you adhere to it. It will compel you from time to time to ask your neighbour's forgiveness even for petty faults, and it will insist with you that you make restitution when you have done the weak and the friendless any hurt or any wrong. And every manly mind will tell you that life is not worth having on such humbling terms as those are. Whatever may be thought about Shame in other respects, it cannot be denied that he had a sharp eye for the facts of life, and a shrewd tongue in setting those facts forth. He has hit the blot exactly in the matter of our first duty to our neighbour; he has put his finger on one of the matters where so many of us, through a false shame, come short. It costs us a tremendous struggle with our pride to go to our neighbour and to ask his forgiveness for a fault, petty fault or other. Did you ever do it? When did you do it last, to whom, and for what? One Sabbath morning, now many years ago, I had occasion to urge this elementary evangelical duty on my people here, and I did it as plainly as I could. Next day one of my young men, who is now a devoted and honoured elder, came to me and told me that he had done that morning what his conscience yesterday told him in the church to do. He had gone to a neighbour's place of business, had asked for an interview, and had begged his neighbour's pardon. I am sure neither of those two men have forgotten that moment, and the thought of it has often since nerved me to speak plainly about some of their most unwelcome duties to my people. Shame, no doubt, pulled back my noble friend's hand when it was on the office bell, but, like Faithful in the text, he shook him out of his company and went in. I spoke of the remarkable justice of the newspaper press in the opening of these remarks. And it so happens that, as I lay down my pen to rest my hand after writing this sentence and lift a London evening paper, I read this editorial note, set within the well-known brackets at the end of an indignant and expostulatory letter: ['Our correspondent's complaint is just. The paragraph imputing bad motives should not have been admitted.'] I have no doubt that editor felt some shame as he handed that apologetic note to the printer. But not to speak of any other recognition and recompense, he has the recompense of the recognition of all honourable-minded men who have read that honourable admission and apology.

      Shame was quite right in his scoff about restitution also. For restitution rings like a trumpet tone through the whole of the law of Moses, and then the New Testament republishes that law if only in the exquisite story of Zaccheus. And, indeed, take it altogether, I do not know where to find in the same space a finer vindication of Puritan pulpit ethics than just in this taunting and terrifying attack on Faithful. There is no better test of true religion both as it is preached and practised than just to ask for and to grant forgiveness, and to offer and accept restitution. Now, does your public and private life defend and adorn your minister's pulpit in these two so practical matters? Could your minister point to you as a proof of the ethics of evangelical teaching? Can any one in this city speak up in defence of your church and thus protest: 'Say what you like about that church and its ministers, all I can say is, that its members know how to make an apology; as, also, how to pay back with interest what they at one time damaged or defrauded'? Can any old creditor's widow or orphan stand up for our doctrine and defend our discipline pointing to you? If you go on to be a Puritan, said Shame to Faithful, you will have to ask your neighbour's forgiveness even for petty faults, and you will have to make restitution with usury where you have taken anything from any one, and how will you like that?

      And what did you say to all this, my brother? Say? I could not tell what to say at the first. I felt my blood coming up into my face at some of the things that Shame said and threatened. But, at last, I began to consider that that which is highly esteemed among men is often had in abomination with God. And I said to myself again, Shame tells me what men do and what men think, but he has told me nothing about what He thinks with Whom I shall soon have alone to do. Therefore, thought I, what God thinks and says is wisest and best, let all the men of the world say what they will. Let all false shame, then, depart from my heart, for how else shall I look upon my Lord, and how shall He look upon me at His coming?

      * LECTURE DELIVERED IN ST. GEORGE'S FREE CHURCH EDINBURGH

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See Also:
   INTRODUCTORY
   1. EVANGELIST
   2. OBSTINATE
   3. PLIABLE
   4. HELP
   5. MR. WORLDLY-WISEMAN
   6. GOODWILL, THE GATEKEEPER
   7. THE INTERPRETER
   8. PASSION
   9. PATIENCE
   10. SIMPLE, SLOTH, AND PRESUMPTION
   11. THE THREE SHINING ONES AT THE CROSS
   12. FORMALIST AND HYPOCRISY
   13. TIMOROUS AND MISTRUST
   14. PRUDENCE
   15. CHARITY
   16. SHAME
   17. TALKATIVE
   18. JUDGE HATE-GOOD
   19. FAITHFUL IN VANITY FAIR
   20. BY-ENDS
   21. GIANT DESPAIR
   22. KNOWLEDGE
   23. EXPERIENCE
   24. WATCHFUL
   25. SINCERE

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