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JOY IN TRIBULATION
‘I am filled with comfort, I am exceeding joyful in all our tribulation.’
2 Corinthians 7:4
The circumstances which gave the Apostle comfort and filled him with exceeding joy in the midst of his tribulation may well be considered.
I. The character of his consolations.—These words imply—
( a) More than mere resignation.
( b) More than mere acquiescence in the will of God, Who had seen fit that His servant should suffer.
( c) More than that chastened thankfulness which a man feels when he confesses that God’s will is good will, and that ‘all things shall work together for’ his ‘good.’
( d) It was composure rising into the highest rapture that he was counted worthy to suffer for Christ’s sake. ‘I am filled as full as I can hold, body, spirit, soul, with consolation. I abound much more exceedingly than I can conceive or describe in joyfulness.’ A comfort to which nothing can be added, a joy which it is impossible to exaggerate. How seldom do men in their highest spiritual moods, with all the bounties of God’s providence surrounding and crowning them, feel like that! Yet that was St. Paul’s experience in the midst of trials and difficulties which seldom fall to the lot of any man.
II. The grounds of the Apostle’s joyfulness and comfort were twofold: human and Divine. Let us glance at the Divine and consider this as applicable to ourselves. What are they?
( a) The Divine indwelling. ‘Ye are the temple of the living God.’ Mark the contrast: ‘Without were fightings, within were fears.’ God dwelleth in me. Not God comes occasionally and soothes a sorrow and dries a tear; not God comes so near that I may touch the hem of His garment; but, He ‘dwells in me.’ Realise that and ‘labour will be rest and pain sweet.’
( b) The Divine possession: ‘And I will be their God and they shall be my people,’ which makes the indwelling perpetual. God is not merely the tenant, but the owner of the soul. The idea is twofold. St. Paul could say, I am His and He is mine. ‘I am His.’ Why? God had purchased him, he was not his own, he was bought with a price. And he felt he was valuable in God’s eyes in proportion to the price that was paid for him. Hence St. Paul felt safe. ‘Well, what if I am in tribulation, what if there are fightings and fears, I don’t belong to them, I belong to God, therefore they cannot harm me.’ It was this thought that supported the Apostle in all his trials and nerved him for that noble and heroic life of his.
THE NATURE OF TRUE REPENTANCE
‘Now I rejoice, not that ye were made sorry, but that ye sorrowed to repentance: … for godly sorrow worketh repentance to salvation not to be repented of: but the sorrow of the world worketh death.’
2 Corinthians 7:9-2 Samuel :
The Apostle here distinguishes two kinds of sorrow—one good and praiseworthy, and a blessing to the soul; the other useless and even hurtful, ‘ working death.’
I. The need of sorrow, because of your own sin. It would be quite useless to talk of kinds of sorrow to persons who do not see the necessity of any sorrow for sin at all, who are perfectly well satisfied with themselves, and who bear lightly and thoughtlessly the sins of their past years. No repentance—no amendment of life can ever come out of a mind in that state—any more than you could expect a crop of corn out of ground that had not been ploughed or sown.
II. Godly sorrow.—If you do feel your need of Christian sorrow; if your conscience accuses you of sin, and you cannot help pleading guilty; if you really desire to do better in the future than you have in the past, to live better, to pray with more sincerity, to be a better Christian altogether; if this be your desire, and you are willing and even anxious to take trouble in carrying that desire out, then your sorrow is what St. Paul calls godly sorrow. And you see what he says of such: ‘Godly sorrow worketh repentance and leads to salvation.’ In what way does it do so? It is not merely the regretting that we have done wrong; it involves our trying to do right. It shows us the path of duty more clearly; it makes us more anxious to follow it. It leads us to salvation, because it leads back our souls to God.
III. The sorrow of the world.—There is another kind of sorrow and a very much commoner kind. Because it is so common, St. Paul calls it ‘the sorrow of the world,’ and says that it leads to death. It consists in being sorry merely for the consequences of a sin, and not troubling about the sin itself. This kind of sorrow does the soul no good, but harm. The sinner troubles himself very little about the sin itself. What he is afraid of is the punishment for it that is coming upon him by-and-by. He does not hate the sin—he is very fond of it; he would like to keep on practising it, only, he knows in his heart, that after sin must come, some time or other, death; and after death must come judgment for sin; and after judgment will come the everlasting punishment of the impenitent sinner. And he is afraid of hell. That is the extent of his sorrow. But as to being sorry for the sin, he clings to it and loves it, and is only sorry that unhappily he can’t indulge in it without paying (so to speak) for his indulgence in the shape of punishment. And how is it possible that such a sorrow for sin (if we can call it sorrow) as this can do the soul anything but harm? It will only sink the soul deeper and deeper into the mire of sin as time goes on; more and more hopelessly lost will the man be with each time that this base and slavish fear of punishment takes possession of his soul and overcomes him with a feeling which he calls repentance, but which is only ‘the sorrow of the world which worketh death.’
III. There is nothing so important as getting rid of your sins.—If you could once realise the awful issues that hang upon your caring for, or neglecting, the work of penitence and purification of soul that alone can make you fit for heaven; if you could look forward a little, beyond the grave, and see how bitterly, if you neglect it now, you will lament that you so neglected it—lament, yes, with tears of sorrow—with groans and gnashing of teeth to think of your blindness and folly, and stupidity and ingratitude, in neglecting the offer of mercy and salvation; if you could once realise this, there would be no slackness in you or holding back any more. There would be no slurring over prayers any more; there would be no staying away from church any more; there would be no more bad words in the streets; no more want of religion in the houses; whatever might be the fault found with us, it would not be said that we were not in earnest.
‘There was a nation in ancient times which attached no shame or disgrace to the crime of stealing. But if anyone was caught in the act of stealing, he was punished; not for the theft itself, but for being found out. Such a detected thief would no doubt be sorry. But his sorrow would refer not to the stealing itself, but to the being found out in it. This is an exact type of “the sorrow of the world.” ’
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Nisbet, James. "Commentary on 2 Corinthians 7". Church Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 20 / Ordinary 25