Run in with Shame

Christian: Met you with nothing else in that valley?

Faithful: Yes, I met with Shame; but of all the men that I met with in my pilgrimage, he, I think, bears the wrong name. The others would be said nay, after a little argumentation, and somewhat else; but this bold-faced Shame would never have done.

Christian: Why, what did he say to you?

Faithful: What! Why, he objected against religion itself; he said it was a pitiful, low, sneaking business for a man to mind religion; he said that a tender conscience was an unmanly thing; and that for a man to watch over his words and ways, so as to tie up himself from that hectoring liberty that the brave spirits of the times accustom themselves unto, would make him the ridicule of the times. He objected also, that but few of the mighty, rich, or wise, were ever of my opinion; nor any of them neither, before they were persuaded to be fools, and to be of a voluntary fondness, to venture the loss of all, for nobody knows what. He, moreover, objected the base and low estate and condition of those that were chiefly the pilgrims of the times in which they lived: also their ignorance and want of understanding in all natural science. Yea, he did hold me to it at that rate also, about a great many more things than here I relate; as, that it was a shame to sit whining and mourning under a sermon, and a shame to come sighing and groaning home: that it was a shame to ask my neighbor forgiveness for petty faults, or to make restitution where I have taken from any. He said, also, that religion made a man grow strange to the great, because of a few vices, which he called by finer names; and made him own and respect the base, because of the same religious fraternity. And is not this, said he, a shame?

Christian: And what did you say to him?

Faithful: Say! I could not tell what to say at the first. Yea, he put me so to it, that my blood came up in my face; even this Shame fetched it up, and had almost beat me quite off. But at last I began to consider, that “that which is highly esteemed among men, is had in abomination with God.” And I thought again, this Shame tells me what men are; but it tells me nothing what God or the Word of God is. And I thought, moreover, that at the day of doom, we shall not be doomed to death or life according to the hectoring spirits of the world, but according to the wisdom and law of the Highest. Therefore, thought I, what God says is best, indeed is best, though all the men in the world are against it. Seeing, then, that God prefers his religion; seeing God prefers a tender conscience; seeing they that make themselves fools for the kingdom of heaven are wisest; and that the poor man that loves Christ is richer than the greatest man in the world that hates him; Shame, depart, you are an enemy to my salvation! Shall I entertain you against my sovereign Lord? How then shall I look Him in the face at His coming? Should I now be ashamed of His ways and servants, how can I expect the blessing? But, indeed, this Shame was a bold villain; I could scarce shake him out of my company; yea, he would be haunting of me, and continually whispering me in the ear, with some one or other of the infirmities that attend religion; but at last I told him it was but in vain to attempt further in this business; for those things that he disdained, in those did I see most glory; and so at last I got past this importunate one. And when I had shaken him off, then I began to sing—

The trials that those men do meet withal,
That are obedient to the heavenly call,
Are manifold, and suited to the flesh,
And come, and come, and come again afresh;
That now, or sometime else, we by them may
Be taken, overcome, and cast away.
Oh, let the pilgrims, let the pilgrims, then
Be vigilant, and quit themselves like men.

Christian: I am glad, my brother, that you withstood this villain so bravely. For of all, as you say, I think he has the wrong name. For he is so bold as to follow us in the streets, and to attempt to put us to shame before all men, that is, to make us ashamed of that which is good. But if he was not himself audacious, he would never attempt to do as he does. But let us still resist him, for notwithstanding all his bravadoes, he promotes the fool and none else. “The wise shall inherit glory,” said Solomon, “but shame shall be the promotion of fools.”

Faithful: I think we must cry to Him for help against Shame, who would have us to be valiant for the truth upon the earth.

Christian: You say true.

Faithful and ShameAlong with Discontent, Faithful encounters one other foe in the Valley of Humiliation. He meets one whose name is Shame. Based on their conversation, Faithful’s impression is that Shame is misnamed. His name suggests one who feels a measure of guilt or inadequacy, one who is convicted of sin or embarrassed by his actions. But Shame has no shame for himself. He is intent on disgracing others, especially those who would put their hope in God.

Shame is a champion of the world and a reviler of ways of God. He values worldly vice not heavenly virtue. He mocks those who would give serious thought and attention to God’s Word.

Shame is convinced that religion is foolish and belief in God is a weakness. Religion may be fine for the poor and those who are less fortunate, but it is unbecoming to the educated and enlightened, those who should know better. It is not seemly for those who would be mighty, rich or wise in this world to so abase themselves. He scorns those who would ask forgiveness, feel conviction, make restitution, sorrow over sin, give benevolence to the poor, or label vices as sin. He thinks it a shame that people would be so taken in.

But Shame’s belief and boast should not surprise us. God’s ways are not man’s ways. Paul tells us:

For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God (1 Corinthians 1:18).

The very things that Shame would denigrate, God uses to display His power. The things that Shame would despise, God uses for His own glory. God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise.

For you see your calling, brethren, that not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called. But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to put to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to put to shame the things which are mighty; and the base things of the world and the things which are despised God has chosen, and the things which are not, to bring to nothing the things that are, that no flesh should glory in His presence (1 Corinthians 1:26-29).

What the world believes is wise “is foolishness with God” (1 Corinthians 3:19a). What the world highly esteems “is an abomination in the sight of God” (Luke 16:15).

Though Faithful is taken aback at first, he sees the emptiness of Shame’s objections. It is God and His Word that matter most, not man and his opinions. It is God who will one day judge the world. It is God who will receive all the glory. It is God who has highly exalted His Son “and given Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:9–11). Christ is preeminent (Colossians 1:18). Having Christ is more valuable than having all the riches and accolades of this world. Paul goes on to say in Philippians:

But what things were gain to me, these I have counted loss for Christ. Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ (Philippians 3:7-8).

Faithful is firm in his faith, but Shame is a persistent companion. Though Faithful attempts to ward him off, he keeps coming back, trying to make the world look more reasonable, trying to make religion look more futile.

Shame is a foe that we must be on guard against as well. He is one we are likely to meet on our own pilgrimage. He is the college professor who ridicules belief in God. She is the coworker who sees no need for God. He is the skeptic who has found reason to dismiss the claims of the Bible. We see Shame in the media as the Christian faith is portrayed as backward, irrational, and discriminatory. We hear his voice getting louder in our culture as Christianity is seen more and more to be out of step with shifting social standards.
We must meet Shame with courage and steadfastness. Like Paul, we must “not be ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation” (Romans 1:16). Jesus said:

For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him the Son of Man also will be ashamed when He comes in the glory of His Father with the holy angels (Mark 8:38).

We must take God at His Word, count all things loss, and pray for divine help to stand firm in our faith.

Christian commends Faithful for bravely resisting Shame. And he reminds Faithful of the proverb:

The wise shall inherit glory,
But shame shall be the legacy of fools.
(Proverbs 3:35)

By scorning the gospel, the only way of salvation and life, Shame lost an inheritance of glory. His foolish choice will surely in the end lead him to shame.

A Guide to John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress
See TOC for more posts from this commentary

The text for The Pilgrim’s Progress and images used are public domain
Notes and Commentary ©2015 Ken Puls
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the New King James Version (NKJV) ©1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc.

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