Shame Leading to Salvation
“Fill their faces with shame; that they may seek thy name, O LORD. Psalm lxxxiii. 16.
THIS is a very terrible Psalm. It contains some prayers against the enemies of God and of his people that crash with the thunder of indignation. You know that we are bidden to love our enemies, but we are never commanded to love God’s enemies. We may not hate any men as men; but as they are opposed to God, to truth, to righteousness, to purity, we may, and we must, if we are ourselves right-minded, feel a burning indignation against them. Did you ever read the story of “the middle passage” in the days of the African slave trade, when the negroes died by hundreds, or were flung into the sea to lighten the ship? Did you ever read of those horrors without praying, “O God, let the thunderbolts of thy wrath fall on the men who can perpetrate such enormities”? When you heard the story of the Bulgarian atrocities, did you not feel that you must, as it were, pluck God’s sleeve, and say to him, “Why does thy justice linger? Let the monsters of iniquity be dealt with by thee, O Lord, as they deserve to be”?
Such is the spirit of this Psalm. But I like best this particular verse in it because, while it breathes righteous indignation against the wicked, it has mixed with it the tender spirit of love. “Fill their faces with shame;” prays the psalmist, “but overrule thy severity for their everlasting good, ‘that they may seek thy name, O Lord.’” The worst fate that I wish to any hearer of mine who is without God, and without hope in the world, is that this prayer may be prayed by honest and loving hearts for him and for others like him. “Fill their faces with shame; that they may seek thy name, O Lord.”
I. To begin with, let me remind you that UNGODLY MEN HAVE GOOD CAUSE TO BE ASHAMED.
Let us talk a little, first, of their wrong to their Maker. If I might take each one of you by the hand, I should say to you, “Friend, you believe in the existence of God, your Maker, do you not? Well, then, have you treated him rightly? If you have lived in the world twenty years, or perhaps even forty or fifty years, and yet you have never served him, do you think that is quite just to him? If he made you, and has fed you, and kept you in being all these years, has he not a right to expect some service from you? I might go further, and say, has he not a right to expect your love? Does he ask more than he should ask when he says, ‘Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might’? Yet you have lived these many years, and scarcely thought of him; certainly, you have not spoken to him, you have never confessed your faults to him, or sought his forgiveness. To all intents and purposes, you have lived as if there were no God at all. Yet, in your earthly affairs, you are a very honest man, and you pay everybody else his due; why do you, then, rob your God of what is justly his? There is not a man in the world who could say truly of you that you had dealt dishonourably with him. You pride yourself upon your uprightness and integrity; but must God alone, then, be made to suffer through your injustice? Out of all beings, must he alone who made all other beings be the only one to be neglected? He is first of all; do you put him last? He is best of all; do you treat him worst? If so, I think that such conduct as this is a thing to be ashamed of, and I pray that you may be heartily ashamed of it.”
Let me quit that line of thought, and remind you, next, that there are many ungodly men, and I suppose some here present, who ought to be ashamed because they are acting in opposition to light and knowledge, contrary to their conscience, and against their better judgments. There are many unconverted men who can never look back upon any day of their lives without having to accuse themselves of wrong; and although they are not Christians, they would scarcely attempt to justify their position; when they act wrongly, there is a voice within them which tells them that they are doing wrong, They are not blind; they could see if they chose to see. They are not deaf, except that there are none so deaf as those who will not hear. It is a horrible thing for a man to be always holding down his conscience, like a policeman holding down a mad dog. It is a terrible thing for a man to have to be at war with himself in order to destroy himself; his better self resisting, and struggling, as it were, after salvation, but his worse self thrusting back the higher part of his being, stifling his conscience, and drowning the cries of any approach to bettemess that may be within him. God forbid that men should act thus, and sin against light and knowledge! I venture very quietly, but very solemnly, to tell any who are doing so that they ought to be ashamed of such conduct, they ought to blush at the very thought of acting thus against such light as they have, and against the convictions of their own conscience.
There are some also of my hearers — I speak very positively upon this point, — who ought to be ashamed because of their postponements of what they know to be right. They have again and again put off the observance of duties which they know and admit to be incumbent upon them. “I ought to repent of sin,” says one; and then he adds, “and I will one of these days.” “I ought to be a believer in Christ,” — he admits that, — “and I shall be, I hope, before I die.” Oh, how fairly you talk, Mr. Procrastinator! You know what ought to be done at once, but you leave it all for the future. Do you not know that, every time a man neglects a duty, he commits a sin? That which you admit is your duty, causes you, every moment it is delayed, to commit sin by the delay; and by delay obedience becomes more difficult, and you yourself become continually more likely to commit yet greater sin. I do think that a man who says, “I ought to believe in Christ, I ought to repent of sin, I ought to love God,” and yet says, “Well, I will do so at a more convenient season,” ought to be ashamed of himself for talking and acting in such a wicked fashion; I pray God that he may be.
I shall come more pointedly home to some when I say that they ought to be ashamed because of their violation of vows which they have made. You were very ill, a little while ago, and you said, “O God, if thou wilt but spare my life, and restore me to health and strength, I will rise from this bed to be a better man!” God did raise you up, but you are not a better man. You were seriously injured in an accident, and likely to die, and in your distress you prayed, “O God, if thou wilt prolong my unworthy life, I will turn over a new leaf; I will be a very different man in future!” Well, you are a different man, for you are worse than you used to be before the accident; that is all the change that has been wrought in you. God keeps a register of the vows that are so lightly broken here below, but so well remembered up in heaven, and the day will come when they shall be brought out to the condemnation of those who made them, and then failed to keep them. If thou art determined to be a liar, lie not unto God. If thou art resolved to make promises, only to break them, at least trifle not with him in whose hand thy life is, and whose are all thy ways. He who must play the fool, had better do it with some fellow-fool, and not parade his folly before “him that rideth upon the heavens by his name JAH.” Think then, dear friends, of vows violated, and blush because of them.
Moreover, it seems to me — and I shall leave it to your judgment to consider and approve what I say, — that every man ought to be ashamed of not loving the Lord Jesus Christ, and not trusting such a Saviour as the Lord Jesus Christ is. God in human flesh, bleeding, dying, bearing the penalty of human sin, and then presenting himself freely as our Sacrifice, and saying that whosoever believeth in him shall not perish, but shall have everlasting life; do you push him away from you? Will you trample on his blood, and count it an unholy thing? Will you despise his cross? It sometimes seems to me that blasphemy and adultery and murder — tremendous evils though these be, — scarcely reach the height of guilt that comes through refusing the great love of Christ, thrusting him aside whom God took from his bosom, and gave up to die that men might live through him. If you must spite anybody, spite anybody but the Christ of God. If you mean to refuse a friend, refuse any friend but the bleeding Saviour, who spared not his very life, but poured out the floods from his heart that he might save the guilty.
So, you see, dear friends, that he who loves not Christ, and trusts not Christ, has good cause to be ashamed.
I will not say any more upon this first point, except just one thing; that is, a man ought to be ashamed who will not even think of these things. There are great numbers of our fellow-citizens, in London, and our fellow-creatures all the world over, who have resolved not to think about religion at all. There stands the house of God, but in that same street there is hardly one person who ever enters it. There is a Bible in almost every house, but many, nowadays, will not read it, or try to understand it. I should have thought that common and idle curiosity alone might have made men anxious to understand the Christian religion, the way of salvation by a crucified Saviour. I should have fancied that they would have strayed in to see what our worship was like; if it had been the worship of Mumbo Jumbo, they would have wanted to see that, but when it is the worship of the Lord God Almighty, and of his Son Jesus Christ, the multitudes seem to be utterly indifferent to it. From the cross I hear my dying Master cry, “Is it nothing to you, all ye that pass by? behold, and see if there be any sorrow like unto my sorrow.” Even the voice of his gaping wounds, and the voice of his bloody sweat, and the voice of his broken heart seem to fall upon hearts that will not listen, and upon ears that are as deaf as stones. Many who come to hear the gospel go their way to their farms and to their merchandise, but they care nothing for him who is worth more than all beside. O sirs, in that day when this solid earth shall rock and reel, when the heavens being on fire shall be dissolved, when the stars shall fall like the leaves of autumn, and when there shall sail into the sky, conspicuous to the gaze of all, the great white throne, and on it shall sit the despised Redeemer, you Will repent then, and regret when it is too late that you gave him none of your thoughts, but put the affairs of religion wholly on one side! Investigate this matter, I charge you. By what your immortal souls are worth, by an eternal heaven and an endless hell, — and there are both of these, despite what some say, — I charge you, as I shall meet you at the judgment seat, and would be clear of your blood, do give earnest attention to the things that make for your peace, and consider the claims of God and of his Christ, and seek to find the way of salvation by faith in Jesus.
Thus, surely, I have said enough upon this first point; ungodly men have good cause to be ashamed.
II. Now, secondly, concerning these ungodly people, let me show you that SHAME IS A VERY DESIRABLE THING IF IT DRIVES THEM TO GOD. Hence the prayer, “Fill their faces with shame, that they may seek thy name, O Lord.”
I have known shame to drive men to God in various ways. Sometimes, shame attends the breaking up of self-righteousness. I knew a young fellow, who had been a very upright moral man all his days. He seemed to think that he should go to heaven by his own good works; but he had no notion of a Saviour, and no regard for the things of Christ. One day, being in the workshop, he upset an oil can; and as the master was rather a bad-tempered man, he enquired sharply who had wasted the oil; and this man, who h ad always till then been truthful, on this occasion told a lie, and said that he did not upset the can. Nobody found him out, mark you; he was so highly respected that his employer fully believed that he had not done it; but he went down greatly in his own esteem. He said to me, “Sir, my righteousness went all to pieces in a moment. I knew that I had told a lie; I felt disgusted with myself, and when I got out of the shop, for the first time in my life I cried to God for mercy, for I saw myself to be a sinner.” Now I do not wish any of you to commit further sin, in order that you may realize your true condition in God’s sight. You have done enough evil already, without doing any more; but I should like some one of these sins to come so sharply home to you, that it would make you feel ashamed, and give up all pretence of self-righteousness, and just come by faith to Christ, and take his righteousness to be your perfect covering before God.
I have known this shame to operate in some, when they have done wrong, and have lost the repute they enjoyed among their fellow-creatures. They have been found out in doing wrong, and, sad as it was to them, yet when they felt that they could no longer come to the front, and lead as they used to do, when they knew that they must get somewhere in the rear rank, and that, if their true character became known, people would shun them, then it was that, like the prodigal son, they said, “I will arise, and go to my Father.” There is many a man who stands high in popular esteem, but who is never likely to be saved, for he is too proud and self-conceited ever to seek the Saviour. But there have been some others who, for a grave fault, have had all their glory trailed in the mire, and then they have sought the face of Christ. I scarcely care how or why they do seek that blessed face, so long as they find it, and are saved.
There are two instances, then, in which shame drives men to God: first, when a man has lost his own good opinion of himself, and next, when he has lost the good opinion of others. Filled with shame, he has often fled to Christ.
So have I seen it in the case of failure driving a mm to the Strong for strength. There is a young man who has come lately from the country; he knew the temptations of London, but he said to his father and mother, “You will never hear of your son John doing such things.” Ah, John! they have not heard of it yet, but you have done a great many evil things by now, and you ought to be ashamed. If your father finds it out, as likely enough he will, you will be ashamed; but, seeing that you have found yourself out, I wish that you would be ashamed before the Lord now. O that virtuous John, that excellent youth, that dear young man! You were just going to join the church, were you not? Where were you last night? Ah, not drinking of the communion cup, I will warrant you! Where are you now? O John, if you could have seen yourself, six months ago, to be what you now are, you would not have held your head so high when you came away from your native town! But your failure, that wretched broken back of yours, with which you meant to stand so bolt upright, should all help to drive you to God, your father’s God and your mother’s God. My dear friend, I pray you seek the face of the Most High, and begin again; for, John, though you cannot stand by yourself, God can make you to stand. With a new heart and a right spirit, you can do a deal better than you have done in the past in your own strength, which is utter weakness. I have known a teetotaller, who has felt himself quite safe because he wore a blue ribbon, to become a drunkard, notwithstanding that very desirable badge. If that is your case, my brother, when you are ashamed of yourself on that account, as well you may be, go to the Lord for a new heart and a right spirit, and then begin again, that you may truly be what you aspire to be, an example to others. So, you see, that shame in such a case of failure as I have described, may bring a man to Christ.
I have also known men brought to Christ with shame of another sort, shame of mental error leading to a humble faith. A young gentleman felt that he had heard the old-fashioned gospel long enough, and he should like to go and hear the new gospel. More light is said to have broken out of late; I can only tell you that it comes from some very dark places, and I do not think there is much light in it. But this gentleman thought that he must know about this new light, and he has kept going further and further, and the new light has led him, like the will-o’-the-wisp does, into all sorts of boggy places; and now he begins to feel that he can do a great many things which once he dared not do, until suddenly the thought occurs to him, “Where have I got to now?” He has become an unbeliever altogether; he who was once almost persuaded to be a Christian has run into very wild ways, and nothing is sure with him; it is all rocking to and fro before him, like the waves of the sea, and there is nothing solid left. Ah! now you begin to be ashamed, do you? You are not, after all, so full of wisdom as you thought you were. Come back, then; come back, and believe the old Book, and trust the Saviour who has brought so many to the eternal kingdom. Believe his words, follow in his track, and this very shame on account of your fancied intellectual prowess, which has turned out to be sheer folly, will bind you in future to the simple cross of Christ, and you will never go away from it again.
I want to suggest one thing more before I leave this part of my subject. In this congregation there must be a good many men and women who might do well to look back upon the utter uselessness of their past lives. As I looked along these galleries, at the immense preponderance of men in the congregation, which is so usual with us, I thought, “What a number there must be here who, if they threw the weight of their influence in with us, and sought to do good to others, would be immensely valuable to the Church of God!” But are there not many, perhaps even professing Christianity, who, in looking back upon their past lives, will be obliged to say that they have done nothing? What did you ever accomplish, dear friends? There was a lady, who had a large sum of money in her possession, much more than sufficient for her needs; she was a Christian woman, living a quiet, comfortable life by the seaside. One night, as she walked up and down the beach, she said to herself, “What have I ever done for him who died for me? If I were to die now, would anybody miss me? When my life is finished, shall I have accomplished anything?” She felt that she had done nothing; so she went home, and ruminated upon what she could do. She began to live very hard that she might save all she could, and she accumulated quite a large amount, for she had an object to live for. The Orphanage at Stockwell is the outcome of that good woman’s thought at the seaside; she consecrated her substance to the starting of a home where boys and girls, whose fathers were dead, might be housed. I cannot but think of her, and then say to myself, “Are there not many ladies, many gentlemen, many men, many women, who might walk up and down, and say, ‘Well, now, when I die, who will miss me?’” I believe that there are numbers of people who call themselves Christians, who might be tied hand and foot, and flung into the Atlantic, and nobody would miss them beyond the two or three members of their own families. They do nothing; they are living for nothing. “Oh, but!” they say, “we are accumulating money.” Yes, yes; that is like a jackdaw hiding rubbish behind the door, putting away everything he can get. Poor jackdaw! That is what you are doing, nothing more. To get money is well enough, if you get it that you may use it well; and to learn is right enough, if you learn with the view of teaching others. If our life is not to be wasted, there must be a living unto God with a noble purpose; and they who have lived in vain with multitudes of opportunities of doing good, ought to be ashamed; and such shame should bring them to the Saviour’s feet in humble penitence. God give such shame as that to any here who ought to have it, that they may at once seek the name of the Lord!
III. I must close by speaking only briefly upon the last head of my discourse, which is, THE LORD IS WILLING NOW TO RECEIVE THOSE WHO ARE ASHAMED OF THEMSELVES. Let me say that again. The Lord is waiting and willing now to receive to the love of his heart those who are thus ashamed of themselves.
I do not think that I need say much to enforce this great truth. Is there one person here who is ashamed of himself because of his past sin? Then, you are the man I invite to come to that Saviour who bore your shame in his own body on the tree. You are the sort of man for whom he died. Remember how he himself said, “The Son of man is come to seek and to save that which, was lost;” and one mark of the lost is their deep sense of shame, when they get to be so ashamed of themselves that they try to hide away from the gaze of their fellow-creatures. If you are ashamed of yourself, Christ is willing to receive you; behold, he stands before you with open arms, and bids you come and trust him, that he may give you rest.
You are the sort of man to come to Christ, because, first, you have the greatest need of him. In the time of famine, we give the meal away first to the most hungry family. He who has alms to distribute to the poor, if he be wise, will give the most speedy relief to those who are the most destitute; and you, my dear hearer, are like that; if you are ashamed of yourself, you are the bankrupt, you are the beggar, you are the sort of sinner whom Jesus came to save. God’s elect are known by this mark, — in their own natural estate they are as poor as poverty itself. If thou art empty, there is a full Christ for thee. If thy last mite is gone, heaven’s treasures are all open for thee. Come and take them, take them freely, as freely as thou dost breathe the air, as freely as thou wouldst drink of the flowing river. Come and take Christ without question and without delay, take him now and happy be; and the way to take him is to trust him, to trust thyself with him absolutely. He is a Saviour; let him save thee. Have no finger in the work thyself, but leave it all to him. Commit thou thyself entirely and absolutely to that mighty hand that moulded the heavens and the earth, to that dear hand that was nailed to the tree. Jesus can save you, he will save you, he must save you, he is pledged to save you; if you have believed in him, he has saved you, and you may go your way, and rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory.
Next, if you are ashamed of yourself, you are the man to come to Christ, because you will make no bargains with him. You will say, “Save me, Lord, at any price, and in any way!” And you are the man who will give him all the glory if you are saved. That is the kind of sinner Jesus loves to save; not one who will run away with the credit of his salvation, and say, “I was always good, and I had many traces of an excellent character about me before Christ saved me,” Such a man might try to divide with the Lord the glory of his salvation, so he is not likely to be saved; but God delights to save those in whom there is no trace of goodness, no hope of goodness, no shadow of goodness, the men who not only feel that God may well be ashamed of them, but who are absolutely ashamed of themselves.
In preaching on this important theme, I have not used any grace of diction, nor have I made any display of oratory; but I have plainly told you the gospel message, and I have expostulated with those of you who have not considered it. I wish that, by the grace of God, even ere this night passes away, you would come and rest yourselves on Christ. The Holy Spirit is here, blessedly working upon some hearts. If he is not yet working upon others of you, I pray that he may now begin to do so. Remember, my dear hearers, that you are all mortal, and some of you may soon be gone from earth. During the past week, I personally have lost some very choice friends who died quite suddenly. There was a young friend, who was here a Sabbath or so ago; he was taken ill last Sunday afternoon, and he was gone in a few hours. His sorrowing friends are absent to-day, for he was laid in Norwood Cemetery yesterday afternoon, almost to the breaking of the hearts of his parents and other relatives, I had a dear old friend with whom I have often stayed at Mentone. On Monday last she seemed as well as ever, and on Wednesday she too was dead. Last Friday week, I had a letter from a friend at Plymouth, saying that he was coming up to see me, and asking at what hour I could meet him? I said, “Five in the afternoon.” It was our honoured friend, Mr. Serpell He did not come, but I received a note to say that he was not quite well On Monday he addressed the Chamber of Commence, and while he was speaking he fell back, apparently in a fainting fit, and so died. I have, therefore, lost some who have always been good helpers and kind friends to me, and I seem to feel more than ever I did that I am living in a dying world. It might have been any one of you, it might have been myself. Come, then, and let us all seek the Lord at once; let us each one seek him now. “If thou seek him, he will be found of thee.” God grant it, for Jesus Christ’s sake! Amen.