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2 Corinthians 7:1
Having these promises … let us cleanse ourselves … perfecting holiness:
Having the promises of God
Under what notion have we the promises of God?
1. We have them as manifest tokens of God’s favour towards us.
2. We have them as fruits of Christ’s purchase.
3. They are plain and ample declarations of the good-will of God towards men, and therefore as God’s part of the covenant of grace.
4. They are a foundation of our faith, and we have them as such; and also of our hope, on these we are to build all our expectations from God; and in all temptations and trials we have them to rest our souls upon.
5. We have them as the directions and encouragements of our desires in prayer.
6. We have them as the means by which the grace of God works for our holiness and comfort, for by these we are made partakers of a Divine nature; and faith, applying these promises, is said to work by love.
7. We have the promises as the earnest and assurance of future blessedness. (Matthew Henry.)
I. The ground of the apostle’s request--“Having these promises” (2 Corinthians 6:16-18). Observe the gospel principle of action: it is not, Separate yourself from all uncleanness in order that you may get a right of sonship; but, Because ye are sons of God, therefore be pure. It is not, Work in order to be saved; but, Because you are saved, therefore work out your salvation. “Ye are the temple of God”: therefore cleanse yourself. The law says: “This do, and thou shalt live.” The gospel says: “This do, because thou art redeemed.” We all know the force of this kind of appeal. You know there are some things a soldier will not do, because he is a soldier: he is in uniform, and he cannot disgrace his corps. There are some things of which a man of high birth is incapable: he has a character to sustain. Precisely on this ground is the gospel appeal made to us.
II. The request itself. St. Paul demanded their holiness. In Jewish literalness this meant separation from external defilement, but the thing implied was inward holiness. We must keep ourselves apart, then, not only from sensual but also from spiritual defilement. The Jewish law required only the purification of the flesh; the gospel demands the purification of the spirit (Hebrews 9:13). There is a contamination which passes through the avenue of the senses, and sinks into the spirit. Who shall dislodge it thence? “Not that which goeth into the mouth defileth a man; but that which cometh out of the mouth, this defileth a man.” “For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts.” The heart--there is the evil! And now what is the remedy for this?
1. The fear of God. An awful thought! a living God, infinitely pure, is conscious of your contaminated thoughts! So the only true courage sometimes comes from fear. We cannot do without awe: there is no depth of character without it. Tender motives are not enough to restrain from sin; yet neither is awe enough.
2. The promises of God. Think of what you are--a child of God, an heir of heaven. Realise the grandeur of saintliness, and you will shrink from degrading your soul and debasing your spirit. To come down, however, from these sublime motives to simple rules--
(1) Cultivate all generous and high feelings. A base appetite may be expelled by a nobler passion; the invasion of a country has sometimes waked men from low sensuality, has roused them to deeds of self-sacrifice, and left no access for the baser passions. An honourable affection can quench low and indiscriminate vice.
(2) Seek exercise and occupation. If a man finds himself haunted by evil desires and unholy images, let him commit to memory passages of Scripture, or passages from the best writers in verse or prose. Let him store his mind with these, as safeguards. Let these be to him the sword, turning everywhere to keep the way of the Garden of Life from the intrusion of profaner footsteps.
III. The entireness of this severance from evil--“perfecting holiness.” Perfection means entireness, in opposition to one-sidedness. This expression seems to be suggested by the terms “flesh and spirit”; for the purification of the flesh alone would not be perfect, but superficial holiness. Christian sanctification, therefore, is an entire and whole thing; it is nothing less than presenting the whole man a sacrifice to Christ. “I pray God your whole spirit and soul and body be preserved blameless.” (F. W. Robertson, M. A.)
The Christian in various aspects
I. As possessed of most glorious privileges--“Having these promises.” Not promises in reversion merely, but in actual possession.
1. The promises referred to are--
(1) Divine indwelling.
(2) Divine manifestation:
(3) Divine covenanting.
(4) Divine acceptance.
(5) Divine adoption.
2. These promises are already fulfilled in our experience.
II. As labouring to be rid of obnoxious evils.
1. The matter has in it--
(1) Personality: “Let us cleanse ourselves.”
(2) Activity; we must continue vigorously to cleanse both body and mind.
(3) Universality: “From all filthiness.”
(4) Thoroughness: “Of the flesh and spirit.”
2. If God dwells in us, let us make the house clean for so pure a God.
3. Has the Lord entered into covenant with us that we should be His people? Does not this involve a call upon us to live as becometh godliness?
4. Are we His children? Let us not grieve our Father, but imitate Him as dear children.
III. As aiming at a most exalted position--“Perfecting holiness.”
1. We must set before us perfect holiness as a thing to be reached.
2. We must blame ourselves if we fall short of it.
3. We must continue in any degree of holiness which we have reached.
4. We must agonise after the perfecting of our character.
IV. As prompted by the most sacred of motives--“In the fear of God.” The fear of God--
1. Casts out the fear of man, and thus saves us from one prolific cause of sin.
2. Casts out the love of sin, and with the root the fruit is sure to go.
3. Works in and through love, and this is a great factor of holiness.
4. Is the root of faith, worship, obedience, and so it produces all manner of holy service.
Conclusion: See how--
1. Promises supply arguments for precepts.
2. Precepts naturally grow out of promises. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Holiness inculcated on gospel principles
1. The tender compellation by which these Corinthians are here addressed--“dearly beloved.” However deficient some of them were in affection for this apostle (1 Corinthians 4:14-15), and with all their faults, he retained a paternal affection for them. How careful should both ministers and people be to guard against everything that tends to impair their mutual affection.
2. The duty to which the Corinthians are here exhorted, and we together with them.
3. The manner in which the apostle urges the exhortation. He speaks not in the second person, but in the first, “let us cleanse.” The same exhortation that he gives to them he also takes to himself. We must recommend by our example the duties which we doctrinally inculcate.
4. The manner in which the exhortation is to be complied with, and the duty performed: “in the fear of God.” Not slavish fear.
5. The motive by which this exhortation is enforced: “Having these promises,” etc. It is the duty of public teachers in the Church to make known to their hearers both the precepts and threatenings of the law, as well as the promises of the gospel.
I. The first thing to be spoken of is the duty here enjoined. This, in general, is self-sanctification.
1. Because the law of God necessarily requires it. That law, even before sin entered into the world, prohibited every species of moral pollution, and required the utmost perfection of holiness in heart and life, in nature and practice. Through the entrance of sin God neither lost His authority to command, nor did the law of God lose its binding obligation.
2. Because, when the Holy Ghost comes to accomplish this work, He always does it in a way of stirring up the person to diligence in the duty which is incumbent upon him in this respect. Thus we are made a kind of instruments in promoting His gracious design in ourselves. In justification we are wholly passive; because, this being a judicial deed, none can be active in it but He whose prerogative it is to forgive sins. In regeneration also, which, indeed, is the beginning of sanctification, we must be passive; because we can perform none of the functions of spiritual life while we continue dead in trespasses and sins. But the moment that the principle of life is implanted the soul begins to be active; and it continues to be a co-worker with God in every part of its own sanctification. Now, sanctification consists of two parts, usually called mortification and vivication; and we must be active in both.
(1) To the duty of mortification, which is here expressed by our cleansing ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit. By all sin we contract filthiness as well as guilt. The guilt of sin exposes us to condemnation and punishment; and the filth of it renders us hateful in the sight of God. This filthiness has infected every part of human nature. Both body and soul are polluted. With regard to the body, being a piece of matter, it may be thought incapable of spiritual or moral pollution. And doubtless so it would if it subsisted by itself. But, being united to a rational soul, it is a part of a human person, who is a subject of moral government; and every part of the rational person is defiled. A great part of the filthiness of our corrupt nature consists in a disposition to gratify our appetites in a manner prohibited by the law of God, and ruinous to the dearest interests of the immortal soul. With regard to the soul or rational spirit, that also is become altogether filthy. Its whole constitution is depraved, its extensive desires are all perverted, being set upon sinful and vain objects. All its faculties are depraved. Though the cleansing of the whole man from this spiritual filthiness must be a work beyond the power of any mere creature, yet there are various things incumbent upon us by which we may actively contribute to the gaining of this desirable end. To this purpose let us betake ourselves, by renewed actings of faith, to the blood of Jesus Christ, in its sanctifying as well as in its justifying efficacy. Let us carefully abstain from all those outward acts of sin by which our corruptions might be gratified. Let us earnestly pray to God for His sanctifying Spirit. Let us confidently trust in God, that, according to His promise, He will cleanse us from all our filthiness. And if we are favoured with the motions of the Holy Ghost to this effect, let us cherish them with the utmost care.
(2) We are exhorted to the duty of vivication, or living unto righteousness, here expressed by “perfecting holiness.” Concerning this we may observe the following things. Holiness is that perfection which is opposed to moral impurity. In Scripture it is represented as the glory of the Divine nature (Exodus 15:11). Among creatures it is that which renders a rational being agreeable in the sight of God, and fit to be employed in His service. It consists not barely in freedom from spiritual filthiness, but is opposed to it, as light is opposed to darkness. Every corruption has an opposite grace. And grace does not barely consist in freedom from corruption, but includes something positive in opposition to it. Thus holiness is not only something required of us by the law of God, it is something highly ornamental to our nature. Hence we read of the beauty of holiness (Psalms 29:2). This holiness is not only a thing absolutely necessary to the happiness of a rational being, but is itself a principal branch of happiness. That it is necessary to happiness is clear from various considerations. There is no happiness adequate to the desires of a rational soul without the enjoyment of God; and this can never be attained without holiness. As happiness can never be perfect without the gratification of all the person’s desires, it is manifest that an unholy person never can be happy. While he continues possessed of a rational soul his desires must be infinite; nor can anything satisfy them but an infinite object. Impure desires can never find an infinite object to fix upon; for nothing unholy can be infinite. The original standard of all holiness is in the nature of God. What is conformable to that infinite nature is holy; and what is contrary to it must be impure and unholy. But as the nature of God is not perfectly understood by any creature, nor is capable of being so, it is impossible for us to judge of our holiness immediately by that standard. For this reason God has given us in His holy law a transcript of His nature adapted to our capacities; and this is the rule of all holiness to mankind. As broad as that law is, so extensive is holiness. It must reach to the inward as well as the outward man. To perfect holiness every genuine Christian will aspire. In the text we are expressly required to “perfect holiness.” “But why require of us an impossibility? For us to perfect holiness is not only impossible by any strength of our own, but it is impossible by the help of any grace that we can expect in this world?” Every argument that enforces holiness at all pleads equally for the perfection of it. The broad law of God requires it; and without it we never can be conformable to that unerring rule. It is absolutely necessary to perfect happiness; and as no man can satisfy himself with an imperfect happiness, no man can act as becomes a rational creature without aiming at perfect holiness. As much as our holiness is imperfect, so much pollution must remain about us, and it must be so far unfit for the full enjoyment of God. As our cleansing from filthiness, so, more especially, the perfecting of holiness in us must be the work of God. There are various things which you ought to do in order to your making progress in holiness. Make continual application by faith and prayer to that infinite fulness of grace and strength, that God has made to dwell in Christ, for all those supplies that are necessary to enable you to be holy. Strive to live in the constant exercise of all those graces which constitute that inward holiness of heart in which you wish to grow. The weapon that is seldom used gathers rust. Continue in the exercise of that love to God which is the principle of all practical holiness, and is therefore called the fulfilling of the holy law of God. Attend carefully and regularly upon all the ordinances of God’s worship in their appointed seasons. Frequent the society of holy persons, and maintain communion with them in holy duties. Think much of the obligations that you lie under to be holy. Of all the different species of spiritual filthiness none is more hateful to God than the filth of legality. Bear it always in mind that no holiness of yours can ever be a righteousness to answer the demands that the law of works has upon you.
II. The manner in which this duty is to be performed--“In the fear of the Lord.”
1. There is a slavish fear of God, such as a slave entertains of the whip in the hand of a rigorous master. Though this is not the fear mentioned in the text, it is in danger of being mistaken for it; and therefore it is proper that Christians should know something of the nature of it. It may be distinguished by the following marks. It is always the fruit of a legal principle, i.e., a disposition to seek righteousness as it were by the works of the law. It is always accompanied with a servile hope. In proportion as his fear prevails when he is under the conviction of sin, his hope preponderates when he can persuade himself that his services are regular. In proportion as he fears the punishment of his sin, he vainly hopes for happiness as a reward for his obedience. Where it reigns the person is neither affected with God’s displeasure nor the dishonour done to him by sin. He fears for himself only. In a word, it is always accompanied with torment; and the degree of torment is always in proportion to the measure of fear.
2. There is a holy filial fear that God puts into the hearts of His people when He implants every other gracious habit in the day of regeneration. It includes a holy reverence of God and a profound awe of His omniscient eye. There may be reverence where there is no fear; but this fear cannot subsist without reverence. Neither can there be due reverence to God in any person who has sin about him without a mixture of fear. It includes a holy caution and circumspection in the person’s walk. Knowing how ready he is to turn aside, he examines every step of his way before he takes it, and reflects upon it after he has taken it, comparing it with the Word of God. If it is asked, What influence this fear of God may be expected to have in exciting us to sanctify and purge ourselves? we answer, much every way. Where no fear of God is all manner of wickedness is indulged in the heart, and all kinds of immorality abound in the person’s life. The fear of God impresses our minds with a sense of God’s presence, which is always with us, and of His omniscient eye upon us in all that we do.
III. The argument by which this exhortation is enforced--“Having therefore these promises.” And here two things are to be inquired:
1. What promises are they to which the Spirit of God here refers? All the promises of the gospel are left to all that hear it. And there is no promise belonging to the covenant of grace that may not have influence to excite us to the duty here enjoined. And particularly--
(1) We have a promise of God’s gracious presence in the Church and in the hearts of believers--I will dwell in them, and walk in them, or among them, as some read it. In the literal temple there was but one particular apartment where God was peculiarly said to dwell, viz., the most holy place within the veil. But He dwells in every part of this spiritual temple, and is as really present in the heart of every Christian as He was upon the mercy-seat between the cherubim. His presence in the Church is neither inactive on His part nor unprofitable to her or to her members. He not only dwells, but walks in her, and among them. If a man sits still in any place and does nothing, His presence can be of little use. But if he walks up and down he sees everything as he passes.
(2) We have a promise that He will be our God, and we shall be His people. This imports that God will graciously bring us within the bond of that covenant by which alone He can be so related to any of mankind, bringing us into a state of union to Christ, and of favour with God through Him. That He will do all that for us, which any people expects their God to do for them; subduing our enemies, delivering us from spiritual bondage, guiding us through the wilderness of this world, and bringing us at last to possess a city that hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God. By the same promise we have security that His propriety in us, as His people, shall be acknowledged both on His part and on ours; on our part by a solemn dedication of ourselves to Him, and on His part by a gracious acceptance of that dedication; for, as He will have none to be His people but such as are made willing in the day of His power, so neither could our consent make us His peculiar property without His acceptance.
(3) We have a promise that God will graciously receive us. By nature we are all unclean and hateful in the sight of God. This promise is conditionally expressed, though the others run in an absolute form. It is upon our coming out from among a wicked world, and abstaining from the practice of sin, here called touching the unclean thing, that we may hope to be graciously accepted of God. If any man, therefore, thinks that he is accepted of God, and yet indulges himself in the practice of sin, or in keeping society with sinners, or hopes to be accepted, while that continues to be the case he deceives himself, and the truth is not in him.
(4) We have a promise of being received into God’s family and made His sons and daughters. To be the people of God is much, but to be the children of God is more. Yet this honour have all His saints. Adam was the son of God, in his original estate as being created by Him, after His own image and likeness. But Christians, after having been the children of the devil in their natural estate, are created anew in Christ Jesus after the image of Him that made them.
2. What influence these promises, and others connected with them, should have in exciting us to comply with the exhortation in the text. Our having such promises left us is itself a benefit calling for such a return. The promises of men, especially of great men, are often made without any resolution to perform them. And often where there was such a resolution it is changed or forgotten. Hence the making of such promises, instead of being a benefit, proves a very great injury to those who trust in them. But none of these things can take place with God. Never did He make a promise without an unfeigned intention to perform it to all who trusted in it. Never did any change of circumstances produce a change of mind in Him. And surely our warmest gratitude is due to Him who has given us this security. We ought to be grateful for what we hope to enjoy, as well as for what we already possess. And there is no way in which we can express our gratitude to God acceptably, without endeavouring to cleanse ourselves and be holy; for there is nothing else in which He has so much pleasure. Besides, by the promises of God we are furnished with security that, if we are sincerely employed in what is here recommended, our endeavours shall be crowned with success. God has graciously promised to make you both willing and able to do what He requires of you in every other respect. He is ready to accomplish His promise. In a word, every particular promise contained in the gospel of Christ furnishes a corresponding argument for the study of holiness in both its branches. If we have a promise of God’s dwelling in us and walking among us, shall we not endeavour to prepare Him a habitation? Being infinitely holy Himself, He cannot dwell with pollution. The promise that He will be our God, and that we shall be His people includes an engagement that we shall serve Him, and live to Him as our God, and shall walk as becomes His people. This we cannot do without being holy. We are now to conclude with some application of the subject. The subject affords us much useful information. It sets before us the polluted state in which all mankind are by nature. We could have no need of cleansing if we were not defiled. From this subject it appears that the doctrine of salvation by Divine grace through faith is so far from being inimical to holiness, that it sets the necessity of it in the clearest light, and affords the most powerful motives to it. (J. Young.)
Perfecting holiness in the fear of God.--
The difference between fearing God and being afraid of Him
“I was afraid … and hid thy talent” (Matthew 25:25); “Perfecting holiness in the fear of God” (2 Corinthians 7:8). “I was afraid.” Why? “Because I knew thee that thou art a hard man.” Then our thought of God determines the character of our emotion, and shapes and regulates our lives. “Thou art a hard man … I am afraid.” The emotion follows upon the conception; the terror waits upon the severity; the life takes shape from the thought. What think ye of God? The thought you make of God is the thought which makes you. That is not a matter of chance and caprice; it is a fixed law. Your thinking colours your living. If you think God hard, you will live a life of terror and gloom. If you think God effeminate, your life will be characterised by moral laxity. Mark, then, how deeply vital is the occasion when we give ideas of God to little children. We are putting into their lives germs of tremendous power. I have met with old men who in their later years have not been able to shake themselves free from the bondage of a false idea received in the days of their youth. In the days of Isaiah social life was putrid and corrupt. Men and women were passionate and licentious. Drunken carousals and luxurious indolence were the daily delight of ruler and ruled. Yet, even when life was most debased, religious worship was most observed. Their idea of God permitted and encouraged immorality in life. Such is the blasting potency of a false idea. But now what is the idea of God which begets this paralysing terror recorded in our text? The Scriptures tell us the servant had thought of God as a “hard man.” Was the idea a true one? No; it was a false idea. Why? Because it was only partially true, and partial truth is falsehood. Is God severe? No. Is severity an element in His character? Yes. Is a ray of light of violet colour? No. Is violet colour an element in the composition of a ray of light? Yes. “God is light.” You must not pick out the violet element, the darker element, the severity, the justice, and say, “This is God.” He is these in combination with others, and only of the resultant combination can you say, “This is God.” And yet that is how many people profess to know their God. They know an isolated feature, but not their God; and features, when torn from their relationship, may become repellent. Take a most beautiful face, a face in which each feature contributes to the loveliness of the whole. All the features combine to form a countenance most winning, Now lay the face on the surgeon’s table. Dissect it; separate its various features, Immediately each feature loses its beauty and becomes almost repulsive. It is not otherwise with spiritual dissection. Yet how many men base their religion upon a feature, and not upon a face! One of the most religious men I have ever known is also one of the gloomiest. His mind is fixed upon God’s severity and justice, and all things are regarded from their sombre and terrible side. The Bible is to him a book of terrible judgments. When I turn away from separate features and gaze upon God’s countenance as portrayed in this book, I see it wears, not a threat, but a promise; not a scowl, but a smile; not a look of hardness, but the attractive look of love. But when a man has isolated a feature of God’s countenance, and by isolation made it dark and forbidding, and then regards it as his idea of God, see what happens. It makes him afraid of God. It fills his life with terror and gloom. It paralyses his spiritual growth. All the most luscious “fruits of the Spirit” find no place in his life. God’s severity is an element to be mixed with the soil, to help us in resisting the vermin of sin, but is never intended to constitute the bed in which we are to rear our flowers. If your leading, uppermost thought of God is His hardness, you will grow no flowers; they will every one be scorched; you will bring nothing to fruition. Your talents will never blossom into flower or ripen into fruit. To be afraid of God means a flowerless garden, an empty orchard, a barren heart. Now turn away from this hard conception of God, with its accompanying terror, to consider a life which is full of spiritual activity and growth. Here is a man, the aged Paul, at work “perfecting holiness”; that is to say, he is busy consecrating everything to his Lord. He wants every little patch in his life’s soil to be used and adorned by some flower growing for his Lord. He wants no waste corners. Let us read the whole clause: “Perfecting holiness in the fear of God.” Then is Paul afraid of God? The man of the parable was afraid of God, and so brought nothing to perfection. Paul is seeking to bring everything to perfection. Can these two attitudes be the same? Is it the same thing to be afraid of God and to fear Him? One was afraid of God because he thought Him “a hard man.” What was Paul’s idea of God? He uses an exquisitely tender word in telling us his conception of God, “the Father of Jesus”! Listen to his jubilant saying: “He loved me, and gave Himself for me.” Was he afraid of Him? “The fear of the Lord is to hate evil.” Why, then, to fear the Lord is not to be afraid of the Lord, but to be afraid of sin. The fear of God is the God-begotten fear of sin. Beware of any conception of God which does not create in you a fear and hatred of sin. That is the only fear which God wishes our hearts to keep. Any other fear is powerless to accomplish His will. Men may be afraid of God, and yet may love their sins; and that is not living in the fear of the Lord! Now, how can we obtain this sensitiveness which will recoil with acute fear from all sin? You remember when Peter’s eyes were opened to behold the foulness of sin, how he cried, “Depart from me; for I am a sinful man, O Lord.” He had seen the King in His beauty, and he felt the awfulness and the fearfulness of sin. (J. H. Jowett, M. A.)
I. Our business on earth is to act with our Lord in heaven in attaining complete deliverance from sin. One great reason why many Christians come so far short of what God requires is, because they do not aim at, or care for, any eminent degree of sanctification. They are satisfied with a decent mediocrity in the service of God, and aspire to nothing more than abstinence from grosser inconsistencies. How unlike is their spirit to that of St. Paul, who, after years of earnest endeavour, is still found exclaiming, “I count not myself to have apprehended,” etc. If you ask an unfailing test of a true believer, it is that he is always aiming after higher attainments in the Divine life. Now what destruction is it to all such attainments to have in our minds the conclusion that it is not necessary to aspire after any very extraordinary sanctity. If one aims not high he cannot shoot high. Your attainments in holiness are proportionate to the standard you have adopted. The soul that pants not to be like God can be none of His.
II. The means of attaining it is--
1. Mutual exhortation. The Word of God speaks frequently of “exhorting one another.” When I am in the country, I find that my watch is apt to get very much out of the way; but when I am in the city, where there is a dial-plate on every church, all regulated by a good standard, I am reminded of the incorrectness of my time if it varies, and set it right by that of others. So Christians, where they are faithful in their intercourse, regulate themselves by the common standard of God’s Word, and help to regulate each other.
2. Faithfulness in private prayer. This is the thermometer of your souls, suspended in your closet of devotion, and as it stands so is it with you in the sight of God. Look at it by day, and see how it is between you and your God.
3. Gladness in service. We must not set about our religious duties as a sick man does about his worldly employments, without life, relish, or vigour. God loathes a lukewarm service. Do not let your devotions be like the turning of a chariot-wheel that needs oiling, betraying its every motion by a painful creaking and laboured progress; but as that which revolves on the moistened and well-polished axle, silent, swift, and with scarce an effort. Love makes all labours light.
4. Watchfulness against everything which is opposed to the smallest whisper of conscience. The finer and more perfect the instrument, the more carefully must it be kept for the work to be done with it. The heavy cleaver may be knocked about against wood and stone, but the surgeon’s implements must be nicely locked, where nothing shall dim their polish or blunt their edge. Conscience must not be blunted if we would have its office faithfully performed. Sensual appetites, engrossing worldliness, and especially evil tempers, indulged, will ever prevent any high attainments in holiness. All the prayer in the world would never make one eminent in holiness who habitually gives way afterwards to evil tempers. To kindle devotion in the closet, and expose it to the gusts of unhallowed tempers would be like lighting a candle in the house and carrying it out into the wind of the open air. We must shield the flame with watchfulness which we kindle by prayer. (W. H. Lewis, D. D.)
2 Corinthians 7:2-7
Receive us; we have wronged no man.
The apostle’s request
I. The ground on which he urged it--viz., that he deserved it.
1. It was a simple matter of justice. “We have wronged no man,” etc. The apostle meets the charges against him by an assertion of his innocence, which appealed to their own witness. No one who read those words could doubt whether he was guilty, for there is a certain tone in innocence not easily mistaken. There are some voices that ring true. This reminds us of Samuel’s purgation of himself when laying down his judgeship.
2. There is, however, a touch of graceful delicacy in the way he made this assertion of his innocence. A coarser man would have cared for nothing but the proof of his own integrity. Now St. Paul perceived that the broad assertion of this might give pain. It might seem to them as if this were spoken at them, and might wound those who had not suspected him. Therefore he adds, “I speak not this to condemn you”--i.e., “I am not defending myself against you, but to you, and only to assure you of my undiminished love.” There was one thing in the character of St. Paul which often escapes observation. Besides his integrity, there was a refined courtesy which was for ever taking off the edge of his sharpest rebukes. Remember the courtesy with which his request to Philemon is put; the delicate exception in his answer to Agrippa--“except these bonds”; and how he pours love over one of his strongest condemnations in Philippians 3:18. It is only love which can give this tender tact. It was not high breeding, but good breeding. High breeding gracefully insists on its own rights; good breeding gracefully remembers the right of others. It is not “gentility,” but gentleness. It is the wisdom from above, which is first pure, then gentle. There is a rough way and a gentle way of being true. Do not think that Christian polish weakens character, as polish thins the diamond. The polish of the world not only saps strength of character, but makes it even unnatural.
II. The grounds on which he hoped it. He rested it on his candour: “Great is my boldness”--i.e., freedom--“of speech toward you.” A scandalous crime had been committed. Now consider Paul’s difficulty. If he rebuked the Corinthians, he would probably destroy his own interest, and irreparably offend them. If he left the crime unnoticed, he might seem to gloss it over. Besides this, the subject was a delicate one. Might it not be wise to leave the wound unprobed? Moreover, we all know how hard it is to deal harshly with the sins of those we love. Any of these considerations might have made a less straightforward man silent. But St. Paul did not hesitate; he wrote, calling wrong, wrong, and laying upon those who permitted it their full share of blame. Scarcely, however, had the apostle written the Epistle than misgivings began to cross his mind, as we see in verse 8, where he says, “I did repent.” To some persons this would be perplexing. If he regretted an act done under God’s guidance, just as any common man might regret a foolish act, how could the apostle be inspired? But inspiration does not make a man a passive machine, as a musician might use a flute. When God inspires, His Spirit mixes with the spirit of man. These misgivings lasted a considerable time (2 Corinthians 2:12; 2 Corinthians 7:5). Here I make a remark by the way: It is by passages such as these alone that we can appreciate the real trials of apostles and missionaries. It is a low estimate of the depth of apostolic trial to say that physical suffering was its chief element; and how much more degrading is it so to treat of the sufferings of Christ, of whom the prophet said, “He shall see of the travail of His soul, and be satisfied.” It was not the nails that pierced His bands which wrung from Him the exceeding bitter cry, but the iron that had entered into His soul. To return. In Macedonia St. Paul met Titus, bearing a letter from the Corinthians, by which it appeared that his rebuke had done its work. Instead of alienating, it had roused them to earnestness; they had purged themselves of complicity in the guilt by the punishment and excommunication of the offender. This was the apostle’s comfort; and on this ground he built his sanguine hope that the Corinthians would receive him (verse 7). Conclusion: Learn--
1. The value of explanations. Had St. Paul left the matter unsettled, or only half settled, there never could have been a hearty understanding between him and Corinth. Whenever, then, there is a misunderstanding the true remedy is a direct and open request for explanation. In the world’s idea this means satisfaction in the sense of revenge; in the Christian sense it means examination in order to do mutual justice. The rule for this is laid down by Christ: “Moreover, if thy brother shall trespass against thee,” etc. It is the neglect of this rule of frankness that perpetuates misunderstandings. Words are misconstrued, and two upright men, between whom one frank, open conversation would set all right, are separated for ever.
2. The blessing of entire truthfulness. The affectionate relations between St. Paul and the Corinthians, though interrupted, were restored again, because he had been true. Learn, then, never to smooth away, through fear of results, the difficulties of love or friendship by concealment, or a subtle suppression of facts or feelings. The deadliest poison you can instil into the wine of life is a fearful reserve which creates suspicion, or a lie which will canker and kill your own love, and through that your friend’s. (F. W. Robertson, M. A.)
Without were fightings, within were fears.--
Fightings and fears
The apostle’s course was remarkably varied. Note--
I. The troubles which assail the Christian worker from without.
1. Opposition to his doctrine.
II. The troubles which assail him from within. We can only conjecture the apostle’s “fears.” Fear lest--
1. There had been a want of wisdom or devotion in Christian service.
2. The work of God should have suffered through any insufficiency on the part of the worker.
3. At last the labourer should fail of approval.
III. The support and consolation provided.
1. The testimony of a good conscience that, however imperfect the service, it had been rendered in sincerity.
2. The assurance that an over-ruling Providence has permitted all that has taken place, even to the temporary discouragement of the toiler for Christ.
3. The conviction that in each trouble the servant has had fellowship with his Lord.
4. The hope and expectation that light affliction will work out an exceeding and eternal weight of glory. (Prof. J. R. Thomson.)
2 Corinthians 7:6-7
Nevertheless, God that comforteth those that are cast down, comforted us by the coming of Titus; and not by his coming only.
Comfort for the careworn
1. This barometrical subjection to the depressions and upliftings in life is the token of a noble nature and a big human heart. A cold, selfish man, of narrow views and no sympathies, goes on the calm and even tenor of his way. There is a miserable monotony about him. But wherever there is a generous and manly soul, there is a proportionate capacity for grief and for joy.
2. There is never a rose without a thorn, never a sky without a cloud, so there is never a gladness without a “but,” and never a record of enjoyment without a “nevertheless.” Oh, those “buts,” they are flies in our most fragrant pot of ointment, skeletons at our rarest banquets, cloud-spots in our brightest sky. But that is a matter we can turn round. Suppose we read it thus--There is no thorn without flower or fruit, nor sky without star or rift of blue; so there is never a sadness without an ameliorating “but,” and no sorrow without a compensating “nevertheless.” This latter is quite as true as the former, and whatever thing we have to carry that has two handles, let us take hold of the easiest and the handiest, for our neighbours’ sake as well as for our own.
I. There were many things that conspired to cast Paul down. He had temporal trials of no ordinary magnitude and strength. His own people hated him, the heathen persecuted him; and, worst of all, there were those in the Churches whose conduct caused him sharp and constant pain. Then, too, he had a grievous disappointment. Titus did not turn up until long after he was expected, and in those perilous times Paul was anxious about the young man’s safety and about the news he had to bring. He was a good man and true, yet he was “cast down.” You don’t think that his Lord loved him any less, or had withdrawn from him. The sun shines, whatever be the density of the November fog. Nature’s vital machinery is moving, though nature be bare; and so, despite appearances, all through your course, O Christian, be sure that God ruleth all things well. He has but poor confidence in the captain who thinks he isn’t on the ship because he can’t see him on the bridge.
II. Note the distinctive title the apostle gives to God: “God that comforteth,” etc.
1. I cannot find any god that mortals worship who is at all given that way. The worshippers of Baal were cast down low enough, but it was cold comfort they got from him. The gods of money, of honour, of show, of pleasure, may delude their worshippers with fancied joys while their devotees are up and about; but I have never heard that any of them are of much use when their worshippers are cast down. Oh no, it’s down you go, and down you stay.
2. Neither does the character which Paul gives his God belong to the world. Men as a rule do not trouble themselves with people who are cast down. “All men will speak well of thee when thou doest well by thyself”; that is when thou art lifted up. Nothing succeeds, they say, like success. But let a man be “cast down,” he’s likely to lie there. Besides, if the world had the best intentions it cannot minister to a mind diseased, cannot comfort the souls that are cast down.
3. There is but one hand that can lift up those that are cast down--God can, will, does. He will not break a bruised reed.
III. Those that are “cast down” is a very inclusive description. He does not ask who or what we are; nor how far we are down, nor what has cast us down, nor how often we have been down and lifted up before; nor how far we deserve to lie just where we have fallen, nor whether we are likely to be cast down again. No, our prostration is our certificate, and if we will but present that before Him He will lift us up and comfort us.
IV. While the comforts of God come to us direct, they also come through many a medium. At times the angels have been made the messengers of His mercy, the almoners of His bounty, the comforters of His saints. On errands of comfort ravens were sent to Elijah, a little flower to Mungo Park in an African desert, a little singing-bird to Martin Luther, and the sweet tones of David’s harp to the sad and moody Saul. But God specially comforts man by man. So Jethro cheered the heart of Moses; so old Eli gave comfort to sad-hearted Hannah; so the dejected David’s soul was strengthened by Jonathan; and here Paul was “comforted by the coming of Titus.” (J. J. Wray.)
God cheering the dejected
What dissimilar things God executes! He telleth the number of the stars and healeth the broken in heart; He has created and controls every living thing; He “comforteth those that are cast down.” We wonder not that a good man should be known as “the son of consolation,” but God Almighty desires to be known as the Consoler of men. Our notions of God are too stiff and earthly-grand. Note--
I. This ailment.
1. Not being cast down as when a building is rased or a tree is felled, or as when one is slain--“cast down, but not destroyed”; only cast down as withered grass, which may be revived by rain, or as a man who is sick, but has every prospect of recovery.
2. In this state of depression--
(1) The soul has lost all its elasticity. Time was when it was like spring, or like a palm-tree whose growth pressure is said to promote; but now it is like a broken spring, or like a palm whose power is sinking away.
(2) The soul has also lost its buoyancy. The day was when it was like the light sea-bird floating upon the stormy waters; but now upon those very waters it floats half submerged. All that makes the heart light has gone, and all that renders it heavy dominates. Where is hope? Fear has mastered it. Where is joy? Sorrow has quenched it.
3. This is a common state of soul. Many more suffer from it than appear. Those who are cast down will try to appear joyous, in order to quiet the suspicions or evade the inquiries of their Companions. Even great and strong men are liable to be cast down. The hero of a hundred battles, the statesman who presents himself to the criticism of Parliament with the appearance of a statue, and the monarch whose face in public appears full of satisfaction--even these are often cast down. The musician cannot drive depression hence by music; the wit cannot dispel it by the laughter he evokes. Even believers in Christ are subject to it.
4. Yet it is not a desirable state--it is not a state that you must cherish or even allow. You must deal with it as with a disease, as something to be got rid of. It is not the normal state of human nature nor of redeemed man, but a low estate to which our sinfulness has brought us, and in which our infirmities and unbelief often keep us.
II. Its causes. Men are cast down--
1. By grievous circumstances, sickness, bereavement, poverty, and approaching death.
2. By fears--useless, groundless, foolish, sinful fears.
3. The same causes do not, however, operate upon all persons alike. One man smiles at a storm of outward sorrow or of inward distress, which is more than enough to cast another down into the lowest depths.
III. The patient. Paul, a constitutionally strong, fearless, sanguine, enterprising man; a man full of life, not a languid man, whose blood circulates like molten lead, an educated man, not an ignorant man full of silly superstitions; a disciple of Christ at peace with God; a wondrously successful preacher of Christ’s gospel; an apostle, perhaps the greatest that God ever commissioned; a man who had been the comforter of men--and yet cast down. Can you wonder at your being sometimes cast down? you, with your feeble constitution and imperfect training, at the distance you stand from your Divine Master, with the little spiritual exercise that you take, who scarcely know what it is for the air of heaven to play upon your spirits? If depression attack the strong, are the weak likely to escape?
IV. The physician--God.
1. What a wonderful word is this of three letters! To some it is only a name to take in vain; to others it represents a foolish belief; to others it is the centre merely of a creed; to others it is a terror. God, saith Paul, is a comforter. The Eternal God, who never has been cast down--the all-knowing One, who is acquainted with all who are cast down--the Almighty, who is able, the merciful and gracious One, who is ever ready to lift them up. He is the Physician of the depressed. There are men, you know, who assume to be great and strong who would not stoop to this; but what man is too proud to do God delights to do.
2. Note the means by which God comforts.
(1) By things temporal as well as things eternal--by a gleam of sunshine, a shower of rain, a sunny morning, the advent of spring, the blooming of a flower, the singing of the birds, the success of an enterprise, the service of a benefactor, the visit of a friend, a smile of approbation, a tear of sympathy, good news in a letter, etc.
(2) By the Bible--the Psalms, with their complainings, their rejoicings and triumphings; the Gospels, with their exhibition of our loving Redeemer; and the Epistles with their doctrines and promises!
(3) By the Sabbath, with its holy calm, sweet rest, and sacred assemblings!
(4) By prayer, when desire is relieved by supplication, and oppressive care is cast upon God.
(5) By the Church, with her ordinances of instruction, devotion, and communion I
(6) By the Holy Ghost, the Comforter!
(7) By the medium of all comfort--the Son of God--Jesus--our Saviour.
V. The remedy. Comfort. Now if you would be comforted you must allow God to comfort you. David was cast down, and God set him inquiring about it. “Why art thou cast down?” And He comforted the man by bidding him look into the causes of his depression. When a man of God begins to look into the causes of his depression, he sees that there is far more to lift him up than to cast him down. Why art thou cast down?
1. Is it the burden of guilt? “If we confess our sins He is faithful,” etc.
2. Is it sorrow following sorrow? “Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the Lord delivereth him out of them all.”
3. You have said, “All things are against me.” Listen! “All things work together for good to them that love God.”
4. Is it fear of death? “Death! where is thy sting? Grave! where is thy victory?”
5. Is it some blighted hope--some disappointment?” Hope thou in God, for I shall yet praise Him.” Your hopes have fallen; and why? Because they were built on sand. Now build on rock, and you shall never be disappointed.
6. Are you weary? Weary of pleasure, of everybody and everything, weary of life? “There remaineth a rest for the people of God,” and every weary step leads you to it.
1. Yield to comfort and not to depression. Some, when they find themselves sinking in the slough of despond, allow themselves to sink. Do you rather lay hold of any of those good things which will hold you up. Lay hold of the Almighty arm. It is always within reach. Put off your sackcloth when He offers you beautiful garments.
2. Lift up each other. Wear a cheerful countenance--do not look gloomy. And you who are seldom dejected give special attention to those who are cast down. Depression will be contagious if you go to the dejected unaccompanied by Christ. It is no small thing to make a heart now shivering with fear glow with hope. (S. Martin.)
The depression of good men
I. Good men are often greatly cast down in soul. Paul had been disappointed at not meeting with Titus at Troas.
1. Why was he so anxious? Paul had met with perils by sea and by land, etc. These things tried him greatly, but it was suspense of mind concerning the state of the Corinthian Church that cast him down. It is not temporal trials, toils, or perils that break down the spirit of a man, so much as cankering cares and anxiety.
2. There are many things that “cast down” the spirits of good men.
(1) The prosperity of the wicked.
(2) The triumphs of wrong--fraud in trade, corruption in politics, errors in science, moral filth in popular literature.
(3) The non-success of Christly labour.
II. God sometimes comforts a good man by the visits of a friend. “Nevertheless God, that comforteth those that are cast down, comforted us by the coming of Titus.”
1. God does comfort His depressed servants.
2. God sometimes comforts by the instrumentality of good men. David, dejected in the wood, had his heart strengthened by Jonathan (1 Samuel 23:16).
1. Christliness does not remove the constitutional infirmities of human nature.
2. That the vicarious sufferings of love are amongst the most depressing.
3. A genuine Christian carries comfort into the house of his distressed friend--Titus to Paul. (D. Thomas, D. D.)
2 Corinthians 7:8-11
For though I made you sorry with a letter I do not repent, though I did repent.
The spirit of apostolical rebuke
It was marked by--
I. Unflinching severity. St. Paul rejoiced in the pain he had inflicted, because the pain was transitory, while the good was permanent; because the suffering was in this world, but the salvation for eternity: for the sinner had been delivered to “Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that the spirit might be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus.” Learn the misfortune of non-detection. They who have done wrong congratulate themselves upon not being found out. Boys are disobedient; men commit crimes against society, and their natural impulse is to hush all up; and if they can do so they consider it a happy escape. It is not so. If this scandal at Corinth had been hushed up, then the offender would have thought it a fortunate escape, and sinned again. Somehow, like a bullet-wound, the internal evil must come out in the face of day, be found out, or else be acknowledged by confession. Let me ask then, who here is congratulating himself, My sin is not known, I shall not be disgraced nor punished? Think you that you will escape? Your sin is rankling in your heart: your wound is not probed, but only healed over falsely; and it wilt break out in the future, more corrupted and more painful than before.
II. By the desire of doing good. It is no rare thing for men to be severe in rebuke. They tell you of your faults, not for your reformation, but their own vainglory. Now St. Paul was not thinking of himself, but of the Corinthians (2 Corinthians 7:9; 2 Corinthians 7:11; 2 Corinthians 7:16). He was trying to save their souls. It is often a duty to express disapprobation strongly and severely, but then we do it not in St. Paul’s spirit, unless it is done for the sake of amelioration.
III. By justice (2 Corinthians 7:12). His inference was no taking of a side, no espousing the cause of the injured, nor mere bitterness against the criminal, but a godly zeal, full of indignation, but not of vindictiveness. Now this is exactly what some of us find most difficult--those especially who possess quick, sensitive, right, and generous feelings. We can be charitable, we can be indignant, we can forgive; but we are not just. Again, this justice is most difficult when religious interests are involved: as, for example, in the quarrel between the Roman Catholic and the Protestant, who judges fairly?
IV. By joyful sympathy in the restoration of the erring, Very beautiful is the union of the hearts of Paul and Titus in joy over the recovered--joy as of the angels in heaven over “one sinner that repenteth.” (F. W. Robertson, M. A.)
Now I rejoice, not that ye were made sorry, but that ye sorrowed to repentance.--
I. The mental state here exhibited. This sorrow was not of an ordinary kind. He afterwards defines it as sorrow “after a godly manner,” or “according to God.” The emotion was connected with certain local circumstances and events; but it must be regarded as forming an integral part in those arrangements of Divine mercy which are associated with the transformation and the final well-being of the human soul.
1. It arises from the truth brought home to the mind with regard to the extent and spirituality of the Divine law. When we compare the character of the Divine law with our own characters and habits, we must perceive how infinitely we fall short of our obligations, and what a vast amount of transgression we have committed. Well will it be if such a contrast humbles you in the dust, and leads you in brokenness of heart to confess, “Against Thee, Thee only have I sinned”; and to supplicate, “God be merciful to me a sinner.”
2. It is also produced by the truth displayed and admitted to the mind respecting the awfulness of future punishment. What language will you find sufficient to depict the abomination which deprives man of his immortality of bliss?
3. It is also produced through the display and admission to the mind of the truth regarding the sufferings of Christ as all endured for sin, “He was wounded for our transgression,” etc. Some among you may recollect the history of the first mission of the United Brethren. They taught the duties of morality, and spoke of the sanction of a future world, without producing aught like conviction or repentance; but no sooner did they begin to lift up the Cross than the stony hearts were melted, and men began to inquire, “What shall we do to be saved?”
II. the connection existing between this mental state and the permanent constitution of the Christian character. In the original there are two different words translated by repentance, the former signifying mere regret. This is sometimes applied to God: “The gifts and calling of God are without repentance,” or regret. “The Lord hath sworn, and will not repent.” It is sometimes applied to man, in order to denote those imperfect notions in religion which have no connection with the salvation of the soul, and is the term used in regard to the repentance of Judas (Matthew 27:3). The latter term, which signifies an enduring change which is always for the better, is that which we usually denote by the term evangelical repentance. “Repent, and believe the gospel.” “Repent, and be converted.” It is the one which is employed in the text. “Though I made you sorry with a letter, I do not regret, though I did regret; I rejoice, not that you were made sorry, but that you sorrowed to repentance”--your sorrow produced an enduring change for the better.
1. This verse is a graphic record of the practical nature of repentance, which is a change of mind from unbelief and alienation against God and His law, to faith and love towards both; and a change of habit and of life from the pursuit and practice of sin, to the pursuit and practice of holiness.
2. Its blessings. “Godly sorrow worketh repentance to salvation.” Elsewhere it is mentioned as being “repentance unto life,” because connected with everlasting happiness (2 Peter 3:1-18).
III. The ministerial emotions with which this mental state is viewed. The reasons why a minister may rejoice in the repentance of his hearers are--
1. Because of its bearing upon the holiness of men.
2. Upon the glory of God. The glory of God must rightly constitute an object of ministerial desire; and the glory of God, through our instrumentality, can alone be secured by the conversion of souls.
3. Upon the happiness of ministers themselves (2 Corinthians 1:12-14; 1 Thessalonians 2:19-20).
1. How much of encouragement there is for those who have been brought into this state.
2. How much of solemnity gathers round the state of those who have not been susceptible of this state at all. (J. Parsons.)
The power of sorrow
Distinguish between sorrow and repentance. To grieve over sin is one thing, to repent of it is another. Sorrow is in itself a thing neither good nor bad; its value depends on the spirit of the person on whom it falls. Fire will inflame straw, soften iron, or harden clay.
I. The fatal power of the sorrow of the world. It works death--
1. In the effect of mere regret for worldly loss. We come into the world with health, friends, and sometimes property. So long as these are continued we are happy, and therefore fancy ourselves very grateful to God; but this is not religion; it has as little moral character in it, in the happy human being, as in the happy bird. Nay more, it is a suspicious thing; having been warmed by joy, it will become cold when joy is over; and then when these blessings are removed we count ourselves hardly treated, as if we had been defrauded of a right; rebellious hard feelings come; people become bitter, spiteful, discontented. This is the death of heart; the sorrow of the world has worked death.
2. When sin is grieved for in a worldly spirit. There are two views of sin: as wrong, or as producing loss, e.g., of character. In such cases, if character could be preserved before the world, grief would not come. In the midst of Saul’s apparent grief the thing uppermost was that he had forfeited his kingly character; almost the only longing was that Samuel should honour him before his people. And hence it comes to pass that often remorse and anguish only begin with exposure. A corpse has been preserved for centuries in the iceberg, or in antiseptic peat, and when air was introduced it crumbled into dust. Exposure worked dissolution, but it only manifested the death which was already there; so with sorrow.
3. When the hot tears come from pride. No two tones of feeling, apparently similar, are more unlike than that in which Saul exclaimed, “I have played the fool exceedingly,” and the publican, “God be merciful to me a sinner.” Now this sorrow of Saul’s, too, works death; when once a man has found himself out, he cannot be deceived again. What on this earth remains, but endless sorrow, for him who has ceased to respect himself, and has no God to turn to?
II. The Divine power of sorrow.
1. It works repentance, change of life, alteration of habits, renewal of heart. The consequences of sin are meant to wean from sin. The penalty annexed to it is, in the first instance, corrective, not penal. Fire burns the child, to teach it one of the truths of this universe--the property of fire to burn. The first time it cuts its hand with a sharp knife it has gained a lesson which it never will forget. Sorrow avails only when the past is converted into experience, and from failure lessons are learned which never are to be forgotten.
2. Permanence of alteration. A steady reformation is a more decisive test of the value of mourning than depth of grief. The characteristic of the Divine sorrow is that it is a repentance “not repented of.” And in proportion as the repentance increases the grief diminishes. “I rejoice that I made you sorry, though it were but for a time.” Grief for a time, repentance for ever. And few things more signally prove the wisdom of this apostle than his way of dealing with this grief. He tried no artificial means of intensifying it. So soon as grief had done its work the apostle was anxious to dry useless tears--he even feared lest happily such an one should be swallowed up with overmuch sorrow.
3. It is sorrow according to God. God sees sin in itself: a thing infinitely evil, even if the consequence were happiness instead of misery. So sorrow, according to God, is to see sin as God sees it. The grief of Peter was as bitter as that of Judas. But in Peter’s grief there was an element of hope, because he saw God in it all. Despair of self did not lead to despair of God. This is the peculiar feature of this sorrow; God is there, accordingly self is less prominent. It is not a microscopic self-examination, nor a mourning in which self is ever uppermost; my character gone; the greatness of my Sin; the forfeiture of my salvation. The thought of God absorbs all that. (F. W. Robertson, M. A.)
Sorrow and sorrow
Time was when inner experience was considered to be everything, and experimental preaching was the order of the day. Now it is apt to be too much slighted. Introspection was formerly pushed to the extreme of morbid self-searching; yet it ought not now to be utterly abandoned. A correct diagnosis of disease is not everything, but yet it is valuable. A sense of poverty cannot by itself enrich, but it may stimulate. Now it is “only believe.” And rightly so: but we must discriminate. There must be sorrow for sin working repentance. Upon this point we must--
I. Remove certain erroneous ideas with regard to repentance and sorrow for sin. Among popular delusions we must mention the suppositions--
1. That mere sorrow of mind in reference to sin is repentance.
2. That there can be repentance without sorrow for sin.
3. That we must reach a certain point of wretchedness and horror, or else we are not truly penitent.
4. That repentance happens to us once, and is then over.
5. That repentance is a most unhappy feeling.
6. That repentance must be mixed with unbelief, and embittered by the fear that mercy will be unable to meet our wretched case.
II. Distinguish between the two sorrows mentioned in the text.
1. The godly sorrow which worketh repentance to salvation is sorrow for sin--
(1) As committed against God.
(2) Arising out of an entire change of mind.
(3) Which joyfully accepts salvation by grace.
(4) Leading to future obedience.
(5) Which leads to perpetual perseverance in the ways of God. The ways of sin are forsaken because abhorred. This kind of repentance is never repented of.
2. The sorrow of the world is--
(1) Caused by shame at being found out.
(2) Attended by hard thoughts of God.
(3) Leads to vexation and sullenness.
(4) Incites to hardening of heart.
(5) Lands the soul in despair.
(6) Works death of the worst kind. This needs to be repented of, for it is in itself sinful and terribly prolific of more sin.
III. Indulge ourselves in godly sorrow for sin. Come, let us be filled with a wholesome grief that we have--
1. Broken a law, pure and perfect.
2. Disobeyed a gospel, Divine and gracious.
3. Grieved a God, good and glorious.
4. Slighted Jesus, whose love is tender and boundless.
5. Been ungrateful, though loved, elected, redeemed, forgiven, justified, and soon to be glorified.
6. Been so foolish as to lose the joyous fellowship of the Spirit, the raptures of communion with Jesus.
Let us confess all this, lie low at Jesus’ feet, wash His feet with tears, and love, yea, love ourselves away. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
A twofold soul sorrow
1. The honest administration of gospel truth often inflicts sorrow on its subjects. The apostle made the Corinthians “sorry with a letter.” The gospel is a sword to cut, an arrow to pierce, a fire to burn.
2. The sorrow is of twofold distinct types. Let us contrast these sorrows.
I. The one is concerned with the principle of wrong; the other with the results.
1. Some groan under a sense of their sins because of the injuries which they have already inflicted and their ultimate doom. It is a selfish regret, an unvirtuous emotion.
2. But others mourn over the moral wrongness of the act; not because of the curse that has or wilt come upon them. The sorrow of Judas represents the one, the sorrow of Peter the other.
II. The one is concerned for others, the other for self. “Godly sorrow” seems to engulf all personal considerations. The claims of God, the interests of society, the good of the universe, these are the subjects that unseal its fountains.
III. The one improves the character, the other deteriorates it. “Godly sorrow worketh repentance to salvation,” from all that is corrupt in thought and feeling, from all evil tendencies and habits. Moral sorrows, like waters, at once cleanse, refresh, and fertilise. But selfish sorrow contracts and hardens the soul. The man who selfishly broods over his own ill doings sinks into a miserable misanthrope.
IV. The one issues in blessedness, the other in misery. “Godly sorrow” need not be “repented of,” for it brings a consciousness of forgiveness, a sense of the Divine favour, and a direction of the whole soul to all that is useful and Divine. “But the sorrow of the world worketh death.” It leads only to remorse, despair, and utter ruin. (D. Thomas, D. D.)
1. The text carries us into the heart of a story eighteen hundred years old. The actors in it have long fallen on sleep; but forasmuch as the story has a place in the Bible, it can never die. It is “written for our admonition.” St. Paul has heard of a terrible scandal at Corinth. He hears that the Church is scarcely shocked by it. All the feeling is left to him. A man who has been caught up into the third heaven knows what a sin looks like in the vestibule of the Great King; and he has to communicate that aspect of it to the Church. The result we have in this chapter.
2. Luther tells how, while he was still ignorant of the gospel of grace, the word “repentance” was repulsive to him; but when once he had apprehended the revelation of a free forgiveness, all the texts about repentance began to charm and attract him. May it be thus with us. Note--
I. The world’s sorrow.
1. When St. Paul wrote “the world” stood out plainly enough to the Christian. The idea of the word in the Greek is order. As God sent it forth from His creative hand it was a system of exquisite adaptation and workmanship. But when sin entered and death by sin, there sprang up side by side a new organisation, from which God was left out. When Christ came He found this alien world almost co-extensive with the human universe. Out of it He called such as would listen. But still in the first days of the Church the other was the predominant one; and therefore it spoke for itself as to what was meant when St. John said, “Love not the world,” or our Lord, “If ye were of the world, the world would love its own.” The difficulty began when “the world” itself adopted Christianity for its religion, submitted itself to Christian baptism. But still there is a world, and a very real one, and its characteristic is just what it was--namely, an order and an organism, which leaves God out. It goes in and out amongst the Church, with which it claims to be synonymous. Wherever there is a life lived without God; wherever there is a society organised on the principle of being by itself untrammelled by thought of Him, there is “the world” in this evil sense.
2. The world’s sorrow fills a large page of life.
(1) For, of course, “the world” is not exempt from misfortune, from wounds in the house of its friends--from death, and death’s thousand perils and satellites. But there is something characteristic in the world’s way of taking each trouble; there is an astonishment, a resentment, a selfishness, a despair quite peculiar to the sorrow of the “kosmos” which has shut out God. How often has it been seen quite literally that “the world’s sorrow” has wrought “death”! How often has suicide itself been the world’s way of meeting misfortune!
(2) But, considering the context, we may suppose St. Paul to have had specially in his view the world’s sorrow for sin. Sin does touch with sorrow even “the world.” Sometimes the sin of others touches it; the loose life of a son may deeply wound a father’s love as well as a father’s pride and a father’s confidence. “The world” has to sorrow oftentimes for its own sin; it is often found out by it. There is a sorrow for the loss of character, for the blighting of a career, for the object of a guilty passion, deprived of all that makes life valuable. These are specimens of “the world’s” sorrow, which, however, only at last “works death.” The “world” being organised on the principle of shutting out God, and death, in its full and final sense, is the final signing and sealing of that exclusion of God.
II. “The sorrow which is according to God.”
1. This may mean--
(1) God-like--sorrowing for sin as God sorrows for it. Witness the Cross.
(2) As God would have it to be--a sorrow which is agreeable to the mind and will of the Holy One.
(3) As God works it by the powerful efficiency of His grace.
2. But none of these senses is entirely satisfactory. We would rather read it, “the sorrow which has regard to God,” in direct opposition to the world’s sorrow, that leaves out of it the thought of God. It would be unreal language to require that sorrow for sin should have no reference whatever to its bearing upon the sinner. God has arranged in mercy and wisdom that motives of fear and self-preservation shall powerfully influence us; but not until God has place in the sinner’s sorrow can that sorrow be more than ambiguous as to the sinner’s state and the sinner’s hope.
3. This Godward sorrow will have in it three ingredients.
(1) “Against Thee, Thee, only have I sinned.” As the godly-refraining from sin in it the thought, “How can I do this great wickedness and sin against God?” so the godly-sorrowing for sin has in it the thought, “Against Thee, O God, yea, in comparison against Thee alone have I sinned.”
(2) It does not isolate the particular sin; it sees it in its root, and in its connection. “Behold, I was shapen in wickedness, and in sin did my mother conceive me.”
(3) And thus it recognises a need far graver and more serious than that of forgiveness. “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.” Repentance is not merely sorrow; it is the new mind which views altogether differently from before the two lives of sin and of holiness, and the two objects, self and God. (Dean Vaughan.)
I. Its nature--Sorrow according to God.
1. It is sorrow for sin as an offence against God. Not that the penitent is unaffected with the evil of sin as respects his fellow-creatures and his own soul. It is, however, as an offence against God that he chiefly laments it; he views it as rebellion against God, as transgression of His law, a disbelief of His truth, a rejection of His grace, ingratitude for His goodness, and insensibility to His love. “Against Thee, Thee only, have I sinned, and done evil in Thy sight.” A consideration of his sins, as what occasioned the sufferings and death of Christ, is what especially affects his heart. He looks upon Him whom he has pierced, and mourns for Him.
2. It is according to the will of God as revealed in Scripture. Not that God delights to see any of His creatures unhappy. He knows that godly sorrow is essential to our-happiness.
3. It is produced in the heart by the Spirit of God. Man, in his natural state, knows nothing of this sorrow.
4. It accords with the design of God respecting man. This is evidently none other than to bring us back to Himself.
II. Its effect. It “worketh repentance to salvation not to be repented of.” Repentance signifies a change of mind; a change of the understanding from darkness to light, and of the will and affections from sin to holiness. Such a change is attended with the most happy results. We do not wonder, therefore, to hear the apostle declare that it is “not to be repented of.” Whether we consult Scripture or experience, whether we search the Church below or above, not a saint can we meet with that regrets his repentance or his salvation. Conclusion: But is this the case with the impenitent?
1. Is not the want of “repentance to salvation” often accompanied with such bitterness of reflection, even in the present world, and especially at the approach of death, as makes those who feel it unutterably wretched?
2. “The sorrow of the world worketh death.” Having no connection with the love and fear of God and faith in His mercy it never ends happily, whatever may be the causes which produce it, it terminates at no time in a change of heart and conduct. (D. Rees.)
True repentance is a godly sorrow
I. In speaking of the nature of godly sorrow we are led to remark that it is not only sorrow on account of sin, but sorrow of a peculiar kind. The sorrow of which the apostle speaks is godly sorrow which leads men to mourn with a right spirit, and has an eye towards God, against whom sin has been committed (Psalms 51:4; Luke 15:18). Godly sorrow not only mourns before God for outward sins, but also for those evil thoughts which can be known only to Him who sees the heart. It will be also an increasing sorrow in proportion as the subject of this gracious repentance is led into all truth, as he is brought to know more of the depths of iniquity, and the evil of sin; as he is enabled to discern more of the workings of his heart, and more of the spirituality of the Divine law. But it will be a feeling accompanied with peace, because it will be recognised as an evidence of grace.
II. Some of the means by which this godly sorrow is excited, which will farther illustrate this truth. It is difficult sometimes to trace the immediate cause of godly sorrow, because the first workings of this principle are often silent and gentle in their operations.
1. Affliction. When men are at ease in their possessions, and are intoxicated with the bustle of worldly care, they can indulge in sin with little restraint, and neglect the salvation of their souls as a matter of little concern. The mercies of God seem only to supply fresh encouragement to sin. Hence He is sometimes pleased to awaken the sons of prosperity by means of afflictive dispensations.
2. Not unfrequently His goodness leadeth to repentance.
3. Another means which God is pleased to employ in producing godly sorrow is the reading or the preaching of His own Word. In some, as in the case of Josiah, the terrors of the law have prepared the way for spiritual peace. In others the effects have more nearly resembled those which were produced by the sermon of St. Peter on the day of Pentecost.
III. The effect of this godly sorrow. It worketh, saith the apostle, a repentance “unto salvation” not to be repented of either in this world or the next. Let it then be distinctly remembered that the blessing is not of a temporal character; but the salvation mentioned in the text has reference to higher blessings, and calls for increasing thankfulness because it respects the deliverance of the soul. (W. Mayors, A. M.)
I. The remembrance of sin is the cause of godly sorrow in the heart of a true penitent. The sinner is to be considered in two different periods of time. In the first he is under the infatuation of sin; in the last, after-reflections on his sinful conduct fill his mind.
1. The sinner is affected with the number of his sins. When we reflect on our past lives sins arise from all parts and absorb our minds in their multitude.
2. The true penitent adds to a just notion of the number of his sins that of their enormity. Here we must remove the prejudices that we have imbibed concerning the morality of Jesus Christ; for here also we have altered His doctrine, and taken the world for our casuist, the maxims of loose worldlings for our supreme law. We have reduced great crimes to a few principal enormous vices which few people commit.
3. A third idea that afflicts a penitent is that of the fatal influence which his sins have had on the soul of his neighbour. One sin strikes a thousand blows, while it seems to aim at striking only one. It is a contagious poison which diffuseth itself far and wide, and infects not only him who commits it, but the greatest part of those who see it committed.
4. The weakness of motives to sin is the fourth cause of the sorrow of a penitent. Motives to sin are innumerable and various; but what are they all? Sometimes an imaginary interest, an inch of ground, and sometimes a crown, the conquest of the universe, the kingdoms of the world and the glory of them (Matthew 4:10).
5. I make a fifth article of the penitent’s uncertainty of his state. For although the mercy of God is infinite yet it is certain the sinner in the first moments of his penitence hath reason to doubt of his state, and till the evidences of his conversion become clear there is almost as much probability of his destruction as of his salvation.
6. Perhaps hell.
7. In fine, the last arrow that woundeth the heart of a penitent is an arrow of Divine love. The more we love God the more misery we endure when we have been so unhappy as to offend Him. The union of all these causes which produce sorrow in a true penitent forms the grand difference between that which St. Paul calls godly sorrow and that which he calls the sorrow of the world, that is to say, between true repentance and that uneasiness which worldly systems sometimes give another kind of penitents.
II. St. Paul speaks of the effects of godly sorrow only in general terms in our text; he says it worketh repentance to salvation; but in the following verses he speaks more particularly.
1. The first effect of godly sorrow is what our apostle calls carefulness, or, as I would rather read it, vigilance--yea, what vigilance! I understand by this term the disposition of a man who, feeling a sincere sorrow for his sins, and being actually under the afflicting hand of God, is not content with a little vague knowledge of his own irregularities, but uses all his efforts to examine every circumstance of his life, and to dive into the least obvious parts of his own conscience in order to discover whatever is offensive to that God whose favour and clemency he most earnestly implores. The penitence of worldlings, or, as St. Paul expresseth it, “the sorrow of the world,” may indeed produce a vague knowledge of sin. Afflicted people very commonly say, We deserve these punishments, we are very great sinners; but those penitents are very rare indeed who possess what our apostle calls carefulness or vigilance.
2. “What clearing of yourselves!” adds St. Paul. The Greek word signifies apology, and it will be best understood by joining the following expression with it, “yea, what indignation!” In the sorrow of the world apology and indignation are usually companions; indignation against him who represents the atrocity of a sin, and apology for him who commits it. The reproved sinner is always fruitful in excuses, always ingenious in finding reasons to exculpate himself, even while he gives himself up to those excesses which admit of the least excuse. Now, change the objects of indignation and apology, and you will have a just notion of the dispositions of the Corinthians, and of the effects which godly sorrow produces in the soul of a true penitent. Let your apology have for its object that ministry which you have treated so unworthily, let your indignation turn against yourselves, and then you will have a right to pretend to the prerogatives of true repentance.
3. The apostle adds, “yea, what fear!” By fear in this place we understand that self-diffidence which an idea of the sins we have committed ought naturally to inspire. In this sense, St. Paul says to the Romans, “Be not high-minded; but fear” (Romans 11:20). Fear--that is to say, distrust thyself. Here you suffered through your inattention and dissipation; fear lest you should fall by the same means again, guard against this weakness, strengthen this feeble part, accustom yourself to attention, examine what relation every circumstance of your life has to your duty. There you fell through your vanity; fear lest you should fall again by the same means. Another time you erred through your excessive complaisance; fear lest you should err again by the same means.
4. “What vehement desire!” This is another vague term. Godly sorrow produceth divers kinds of desire. Here I confine it to one meaning: it signifies, I think, a desire of participating the favour of God, of becoming an object of the merciful promises which He hath made to truly contrite souls, and of resting under the shade of that Cross where an expiatory sacrifice was offered to Divine justice for the sins of mankind.
5. Finally, zeal is the sixth effect of godly sorrow, and it may have three sorts of objects--God, our neighbours, and ourselves.
III. St. Paul expresses himself in a very concise manner on this article; but his language is full of meaning; repentance produced by godly sorrow (says he) is not to re repented of--that is to say, it is always a full source of consolation and joy. Godly sorrow reconciles us to three enemies who, while we live in sin, attack us with implacable rage.
1. The first enemy who attacks us while we live in sin with implacable rage is the justice of God.
2. As godly sorrow reconciles us to Divine justice, so it reconciles us to our own consciences. It is repentance only, it is only godly sorrow that can disarm conscience.
3. In fine, godly sorrow reconciles us to death. (James Saurin.)
Sorrow according to God
The apostle’s summary of his preaching is “Repentance towards God, and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ.” These two ought never to be separated. Yet the two are separated, and the reproach that the Christian doctrine of salvation through faith is immoral derives most of its force from forgetting that repentance is as real a condition of salvation as faith. Consider--
I. The true and the false sorrow for sin.
1. Now we have no more right to ask for an impossible uniformity of religious experience than we have to expect that all voices shall be pitched in one key, or all plants flower in the same month, or after the same fashion. Life produces resemblance with differences; it is machinery that makes facsimiles. Yet, whilst not asking that a man all diseased with the leprosy of sin, and a little child “innocent of the great transgression,” shall have the same experience; Scripture and the nature of the case assert that there are certain elements which, in varying proportions, will be found in all true Christian experience, and of these an indispensable one is “godly sorrow.”
2. Notice the broad distinction between the right and the wrong kind of sorrow for sin. “Sorrow according to God” is sorrow which has reference to God; the “sorrow of the world” is devoid of that reference. One puts sin by His side, sees its blackness relieved against the “fierce light” of the Great White Throne, and the other does not. There are plenty who, when reaping the bitter fruits of sin, are sorry enough. A man that is lying in the hospital, a wreck, is often enough sorry that he did not live differently. The fraudulent bankrupt that has lost his reputation, as he hangs about the streets, slouching in his rags, is sorry enough that he did not keep the straight road. Again, men are often sorry for their conduct without thinking of it as sin against God. Crime means the transgression of man’s law, wrong the transgression of conscience’s law, sin the transgression of God’s law. Some of us would perhaps have to say--“I have done crime.” We are all of us quite ready to say,--“I have done wrong”; but there are some of us that hesitate to say, “I have done sin.” But if there be a God, then we have personal relations to Him and His law; and when we break His law it is more than crime, more than wrong--it is sin. It is when you lift the shutter off conscience, and let the light of God rush in that you have the wholesome sorrow that worketh repentance unto salvation. I believe that a very large amount of the superficiality and easy-goingness of the Christianity of to-day comes just from this, that so many who call themselves Christians have never once got a glimpse of themselves as they really are. I remember once peering over the edge of the crater of Vesuvius, and looking down into the pit all swirling with sulphurous fumes. Have you ever looked into your hearts in that fashion and seen the wreathing smoke and the flashing fire there? If you have, you will cleave to that Christ who is your sole deliverance from sin.
3. But there is no prescription about depth or amount or length of time during which this sorrow shall be felt. If you have as much sorrow as leads you to penitence and trust you have enough. It is not your sorrow that is going to wash away your sin, it is Christ’s blood. The one question is, “Has my sorrow led me to cast myself on Christ?”
II. “Godly sorrow worketh repentance.”
1. What is repentance? Many of you would answer “sorrow for sin,” but clearly this text draws a distinction between the two. The “repentance” of the Bible is, as the word distinctly expresses, a change of purpose in regard to the sin for which a man mourns. Let me remind you of one or two passages which may show that the right notion of the word, “the gifts and calling of God are without repentance,” i.e., without change of purpose on His part. Again, “The Lord repented of the evil which He had said He would do unto them, and He did it not,” i.e. clearly He changed His purpose. So repentance is not idle tears nor the twitchings of a vain regret, but the resolute turning away of the sinful heart from its sins. It is “repentance toward God,” the turning from sin to the Father.
2. This change of purpose and breaking off from sin is produced by sorrow for sin; and that the production of this repentance is the main characteristic difference between the godly sorrow and the sorrow of the world. A man may have his paroxysms of regret, but the question is: Does it make any difference in his attitude? Is he standing, after the tempest of sorrow has swept over him, with his face in the same direction as before; or has it whirled him clean round? My brother! when your conscience pricks, is the word of command “Right about face!” or is it, “As you were”?
3. The means of evoking true repentance is the contemplation of the Cross. Dread of punishment may pulverise the heart, but not change it; and each fragment will have the same characteristics as the whole mass. But “the goodness of God leads to repentance,” as the prodigal is conquered and sees the true hideousness of the swine’s trough when he bethinks himself of the father’s love.
III. Salvation is the issue of repentance.
1. What is the connection between repentance and salvation?
(1) You cannot get the salvation of God unless you shake off your sin. “Let the wicked forsake his way,” etc. It is a clear contradiction in terms, and an absolute impossibility in fact, that God should deliver a man from sin whilst he is holding to it.
(2) But you do not get salvation for your repentance. It is no case of barter, it is no case of salvation by works, that work being repentance. “Could my tears for ever flow,” etc.
2. What is the connection between repentance and faith?
(1) There can be no true repentance without trust in Christ. Repentance without faith would be but like the pains of those poor Hindoo devotees that will go all the way from Cape Comorin to the shrine of Juggernaut, and measure every foot of the road with the length of their own bodies in the dust. Men will do anything, and willingly make any sacrifice rather than open their eyes to see this--that repentance, clasped hand in hand with faith, leads the guiltiest soul into the forgiving presence of the crucified Christ, from whom peace flows into the darkest heart.
(2) On the other hand, faith without repentance in so far as it is possible produces a superficial Christianity which vaguely trusts to Christ without knowing exactly why it needs Him; which practises a religion which is neither a joy nor a security. “These are they which heard the word, and anon with joy received it.” Having no deep consciousness of sin, “they have no root in themselves, and in tinge of temptation they fall away.” If there is to be a life-transforming sin and devil-conquering faith, it must be a faith rooted deep in sorrow for sin. Conclusion: If, by God’s grace, my poor words have touched your consciences, do not trifle with the budding conviction! Do not let it all pass in idle sorrow. If you do, you will be the worse for it, and come nearer to that condition which the sorrow of the world worketh, the awful death of the soul. Do not wince from the knife before the roots of the cancer are cut out. The pain is merciful. Better the wound than the malignant growth. Yield yourselves to the Spirit that would convince you of sin, and listen to the voice that calls to you to forsake your unrighteous ways and thoughts. But do not trust to any tears, any resolves, any reformation. Trust only to the Lord that died for you, whose death for you, whose life in you, will be deliverance from your sin. Then you will have a salvation which “is not to be repented of.” (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
Godly sorrow and its precious fruit
I. Godly sorrow. Its nature.
1. Sorrow, the generic, is known to all; the specific, godly sorrow, needs definition and description. All understand what is meant by a flower: so we never define it. But there are some species which few have ever seen, and which accordingly have to be described. This is usually done by comparing and contrasting it with some common plant. It is thus that we must deal with godly sorrow, which is here contrasted with a commoner kind, “the sorrow of the world.” Now this is made up of many different kinds--the pain of a diseased body; the eating canker of a discontented mind; the loss of property or of friends. These and all other kinds of grief which have respect only to the present life are slumped together as “the sorrow of the world.” Alone, on the other side, stands that one peculiar species, “sorrow towards God.”
2. The expression intimates a changed and peculiar attitude of the soul. Away from the world, with its hopes and fears, the man must turn, and open his inmost being towards God. Now just as vapours rising from the ground and hanging in the atmosphere, change the white brightness of the sun into a jaundiced yellow or a fiery red, so passions, issuing like mists from the soul itself, darken the face of God, hiding His tenderness, and permitting only anger to glance through. And it depends on the work of the Spirit in the man whether the result of that shall be dislike of God’s holiness, or sorrow for his own sin. This is the very hinge of the difference between the carnal and the spiritual mind. The one is enmity against God for His righteousness; the other, sorrow for its own sin. The true wish of the one man’s heart is that there were less of holiness in God; of the other, that there were more in himself. The two griefs and the two desires tie as far apart from each other as light and darkness--as life and death.
3. How it is produced. The series of cause and effect runs thus: goodness of God (Romans 2:4); godly sorrow; repentance. Sorrow for sin is not felt until God’s goodness aroused it; and that sorrow once aroused, instantly manifests true repentance in an eager effort to put sin away (verse 1). A fear of hell is not sorrow for sin: it may be nothing more than a regret that God is holy. As an instrument wherewith the peace of spiritual death may be disturbed, the Lord employs it, but it lies very low, and is worthless unless it quickly merge in the higher affection--sorrow for sin. When a man, touched by God’s goodness, takes God’s side with his whole heart as against himself in the matter of his own guilt--this is the turning-point. When Jesus looked on Peter, Peter went out and wept. God’s goodness, embodied in Christ crucified, becomes, under the ministry of the Spirit, the cause of godly sorrow in believing men.
II. The repentance which godly sorrow produces. It is a change of mind which imparts a new direction to the whole life, as the turning of the helm changes the course of the ship. This turning is--
1. Unto salvation. The man’s former course led to perdition; it has been reversed, and therefore now leads to life.
2. Not to be repented of. The change is decisive and final. Your portion is chosen for life--for ever. When in godly sorrow you have turned your face to Christ, and consequently your back on all that grieves Him, you will never need to make another change; you will never repent of that repentance. (W. Arnot, D. D.)
The apostolic doctrine of repentance
I. The sorrow of the world.
1. It is of the world. There is an anxiety about loss, about the consequences of misdoing, about a ruined reputation, etc. Now sin brings all these things; but to sorrow for them is not to sorrow before God, because it is only about worldly things. Observe therefore--
(1) Pain, simply as pain, does no good; sorrow, merely as sorrow, has in it no magical efficacy; shame may harden into effrontery, punishment may rouse into defiance.
(2) Pain self-inflicted does no good. The hand burnt in ascetic severity does not give the crown of martyrdom, nor even inspire the martyr’s feeling. The loss of those dear to us, when it is borne as coming from God, has the effect of strengthening and purifying the character. But to bring sorrow wilfully upon ourselves can be of no avail towards improvement. When God inflicts the blow, He gives the strength; but when you give it to yourself, God does not promise aid. Be sure this world has enough of the Cross in it; you need not go out of your way to seek it.
2. It “works death.”
(1) Literally. There is nothing like wearing sorrow to shorten life. When the terror of sorrow came on Nabal, his heart became a stone, and died within him, and in ten days all was over. When the evil tidings came from the host of Israel, the heart of the wife of Phinehas broke beneath her grief, and in a few hours death followed her bereavement.
(2) Figuratively. Grief unalloyed kills the soul. Man becomes powerless in a protracted sorrow where hope in God is not. The mind will not work; there is no desire to succeed. “The wine of life is drawn.”
(3) Spiritually. It is a fearful thing to see how some men are made worse by trial. It is terrible to watch sorrow as it sours the temper, and works out into malevolence and misanthropy. Opposition makes them proud and defiant. Blow after blow falls on them, and they bear all in the hardness of a sullen silence. Such a man was Saul, whose earlier career was so bright with promise. But defeat and misfortune gradually soured his temper, and made him bitter and cruel. Jealousy passed into disobedience, and insanity into suicide. The sorrow of the world had “worked death.”
II. Godly sorrow.
1. Its marks.
(1) Moral earnestness--“carefulness” (verse 11).
(2) “Fear”--not an unworthy terror, but the opposite of that light recklessness which lives only from day to day.
(3) “Vehement desire,” that is affection; for true sorrow--sorrow to God--softens, not hardens the soul. It opens sympathies, for it teaches what others suffer. It expands affection, for your sorrow makes you accordant with the “still sad music” of humanity. A true sorrow is that “deep grief which humanises the soul”; often out of it comes that late remorse of love which leads us to arise and go to our Father, and say, “I have sinned against Heaven and in Thy sight.”
(4) “Clearing of themselves,” i.e., anxiety about character.
(5) “Revenge”--indignation against wrong in others and in ourselves.
2. The results--“Not to be repented of.” No man ever regretted things given up or pleasures sacrificed for God’s sake. No man on his dying bed ever felt a pang for the suffering sin had brought on him, if it had led him in all humbleness to Christ. But how many a man on his death-bed has felt the recollection of guilty pleasures as the serpent’s fang and venom in his soul! (F. W. Robertson, M. A.)
2 Corinthians 7:11
For … ye sorrowed after a godly sort.
The internal workings of genuine repentance
The Bible says a deal about repentance.
1. Its nature (Job 42:5; Psalms 51:1-19.; Ezekiel 36:35; Matthew 26:24; Luk 15:35; Luke 18:13; 2 Corinthians 7:9).
2. Its necessity (Ezekiel 14:6; Matthew 3:1; Matthew 4:17; Luke 13:13; Acts 3:19; Revelation 2:5, &c.).
3. Its internal working as here.
I. Solicitude. “What carefulness!” Men who have repented are no longer unconcerned about spiritual matters, but are cautious, careful, diligent. The necessity of carefulness may be argued from--
1. The corrupting influences of social life.
2. The agency of tempting spirits.
3. The remaining depravity of our own nature. This is tinder for the devil’s fire, a fulcrum for the devil’s lever. Hence be careful.
II. Deprecation. “What clearing of yourselves”--how anxious to show your disapproval of the evil of which you have been guilty. Thus genuine repentance ever works.
III. Anger. “What indignation!” Repentance generates a deadly hatred to evil. We have little faith in the moral excellency of those who cannot go into flames of indignation whenever the wrong appears before them: Strong love for the thing loved necessitates strong hatred for the thing hated. “Dante, who loved well because he hated, hated wickedness because he loved.” When a repentant soul muses not only on the sins of others, but on his own, the fires of indignation kindle into a blaze.
IV. Dread. “What fear!” Fear, not of suffering but of sin. This fear is the highest courage, and also love dreading to displease the object of its affection.
V. Earnestness. “What vehement desire!”--what longing for a higher life! “What zeal!”--what intense desire to eschew the wrong and to pursue the right! “What revenge!” What a craving to crush the wrong! All these expressions mean intense earnestness about spiritual matters which is rare and praiseworthy. Genuine repentance is antagonistic to indifferentism. (D. Thomas, D. D.)
2 Corinthians 7:12-16
Wherefore, though I wrote unto you, I did it not for his cause that had done the wrong.
I. Church discipline should be exercised for the good of the whole Church (2 Corinthians 7:12). The particular individual referred to here was the incestuous person (1 Corinthians 5:1). The apostle here states that this discipline was not merely for the offender’s sake, nor indeed for the sake of the offended. His object in writing was not merely to chastise the one, and to obtain justice for the other. He had a larger aim; it was to prove to them how much he cared for their spiritual purity and reputation. Punishment should not only be for the reformation of the wrongdoer, but as an example to others. The unhealthy branch should be cut off for the sake of the tree’s health and growth. All true chastisement for wrong aims not only at the good of the offender, but at the good of the community at large.
II. When the good of the Church is manifested it is a just matter for rejoicing (2 Corinthians 7:13). The Church was improved by Paul’s disciplinary letter. Of this Titus had assured him, for they had “refreshed” his “spirit” during his visit among them. Their improvement, too, justified the high testimony which he had given Titus concerning them (verse 14). The love of Titus for them was increased by the discovery of it (verse 15). Thus the godly sorrow which they manifested on account of that which was wrong amongst them was in every way satisfactory to him; it gave him comfort, it greatly refreshed the spirit of Titus, increased his affection for them, and inspired the apostle himself with confidence and with joy. (D. Thomas D. D.)
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "2 Corinthians 7". The Biblical Illustrator. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 20 / Ordinary 25