Alexander Seaton was totally and utterly mortified. Standing before the assembled congregation and church leaders and within minutes of being licensed as a Minister of the Church of Scotland a sudden interruption to the proceedings by a local aristocrat, and his allegation of an illicit love affair between Seaton and his daughter, put paid to his years of diligent work as well as all his hopes and future aspirations.
Alexander takes up his own story –
‘The Moderator, aghast, pleading in his eyes, asked me to defend myself. But I could not utter a word. I had no answer for my accuser, for there was none left to give. My dignity lost, I stumbled from the Kirk of Fordyce.’
The disgrace of that day set 27 year old Alexander Seaton on a downward and dark spiral of shame and depression and, in an attempt to numb it all, heavy drinking.
Months passed in misery and dejection. People who once courted his company now turned away when they saw him approaching. Even his friends and supporters vanished and all but a few would even speak to him unless they were forced to. And yet two friends in Banff, his home town and place of residence, remained friends – and for them he would be eternally grateful.
Some time later Alexander Seaton was forced, due to circumstances, to make a visit to Marischal College Aberdeen – the scene of his long training for the ministry. He hoped it would be a quick and trouble free visit and that he could avoid any confrontation or censure.
But, as he was leaving Marischal College, who did he see walking towards him but one man he most certainly did not wish to converse with – his old teacher Dr Forbes, Professor of Divinity at King’s College, Aberdeen.
But Forbes was a man of grace and mercy – and it was in grace that he engaged Alexander Seaton. As the men spoke some of Forbes’s first words to him were these – ‘You may have sinned Alexander, but remember the words of the prophet: ‘He waits to be gracious’.
Alexander Seaton again takes up his own story –
‘I have tried, believe me Doctor, I have tried. I have looked for God, called on God, but found myself only in the wilderness. He (Forbes) spoke gently, quoting Ezekiel – ‘For my gracious Lord was pleased to let me see, that, by leading me into this wilderness, and pleading with me there, would he bring me into the bond of the covenant’. I fear you have forgotten the most important lesson of all – the Son of God came into this world to save sinners such as you and me. That is the great Covenant. Do not ask me ever to believe, Alexander, that you have grown so arrogant as to think your sin greater than His sacrifice.’
These words were to be the beginning of the ‘Redemption of Alexander Seaton’ – which is also the title of the excellent and acclaimed novel set in Banff, Scotland in 1626, by Shona G MacLean from which this story is drawn.
As I read this book, which is in fact a murder mystery, I was struck again by the power of shame to destroy a life. And in 1626 the moral failure of a prospective Minister in Scotland, especially one who showed so much promise, was a fall indeed – one which would never be forgotten – and, by most, never forgiven.
Statistics today reveal that shame is one of the largest contributors to suicide in our nation. Tragically, I personally have known people who have taken their own lives because of it. It is truly a terrible thing.
And yet the fictional Professor of Divinity from King’s College, Aberdeen, in 1626, is right on the mark. The sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the Cross is greater than our shame and greater than whatever the root and cause of it may be. He himself is the great shame bearer. And it is at the Cross he takes our shame, our darkness, our suffering and becomes our redeemer. The redemption of Alexander Seaton and our redemption was accomplished in and by the Christ of the Cross.
Psalm 34 is attributed to King David who would go on to be guilty of adultery, and murder. Yet what he wrote earlier in life still stands –
‘The Lord is near to those who have a broken heart. And He saves those who are broken in spirit … They looked to Him and their faces shined with joy. Their faces will never be ashamed. This poor man cried, and the Lord heard him. And He saved him out of all his troubles.’
The face of shame is one which, we know, forces us to hide from others – to seek out the dark place and avoid company if possible. The redemptive work of Jesus longs to bring us in to the light – to release us from our shame and bring us in to a life of freedom and peace so that our faces, in the words of the Psalm, may once again ‘shine with joy’.
‘Do not fear, for your shame is no more.
Do not be embarrassed,
for you will not be disgraced.’
Isaiah 54 (PTP)