GODLY SORROW –
A MARK OF SPIRITUAL LIFE
A Sermon preached by Mr D. G. Crowter, 23rd July 1989, at Gower Street Memorial Chapel.
‘Now I rejoice, not that ye were made sorry, but that ye sorrowed to repentance: for ye were made sorry after a godly manner, that ye might receive damage by us in nothing. For godly sorrow worketh repentance to salvation not to be repented of; but the sorrow of the world worketh death. For behold this self-same thing, that ye sorrowed after a godly sort, what carefulness it wrought in you, yea, what clearing of yourselves, yea, what indignation, yea, what fear, yea, what vehement desire, yea, what zeal, yea, what revenge!’ 2 Corinthians ch.7 v9-1 1,
We have in these verses another sure mark of spiritual life, which is godly sorrow about sin. In the Pilgrims’ Progress, Bunyan mentions how Faithful asked that particular question, ‘How doth the grace of God manifest itself when it is in the heart of man?’ And one, Talkative, gave the wrong answer. He said, ‘First, by a great outcry against sin.’ But Faithful would not accept that. He said, ‘Now, you should rather say, it leads the soul to abhor its sin.’
Also he said a little later, that a sight and sense of sin makes the soul to feel shame and sorrow on account of its sin. And this must be so. Where there is a new, holy life in the soul it is directly opposite to the principle of sin. So there must be this antithesis, this opposition to it. And there is bound to be a continual experience of this feeling, this godly sorrow on account of our sins, and also the sin of others. So it was with regard to this Church at Corinth. It could not have
been the first time that they had sorrowed over sin; but there was a fresh occasion for it. And so we may be sure that this is found wherever the life of God is given, wherever it is present in the soul. More or less, in various degrees and various times, there is certain to be this mark of godly sorrow. And is that mark found with you? Do you know what this is?
Now the apostle here makes a distinction between godly sorrow and the `sorrow of the world that worketh death’.
There are many that are sorry because of sin, in some respects. They are sorry because it makes them ill, and causes pain, and brings death to those they love. They are also sorry because others may rob them or wound them because of sin. And they are sorry when sin interrupts their pleasures and mars them. There are many reasons why those that are in this world are sorry because of sin. But the Psalmist says, `I will be sorry for my sin,’ which is quite a different thing altogether. And this is why the apostle here three times uses this word `godly’ to describe this sorrow. He says it is godly sorrow. Literally that is `according to God’. It means that it is sorrow as in the sight of God; it is sorrow toward God; and it is sorrow after the manner in which God Himself looks upon sin. It is sorrow because sin is what it is – because it is such a grievous offence against the God of grace and love, of holiness and majesty. It is so loathsome in His sight. And when we are taught of the Spirit, then it will be loathsome to us. As the word says in the epistle, `Abhor that which is evil; cleave to that which is good.’ And as we were singing in our hymn, it is like that when the soul is convicted of sin:
“‘I hate my sins, I loathe myself, O Lord!” the sinner cries;
“O quell my lust, nor let me fall!” He prays with lifted eyes.’
We know that the Lord Himself hates evil. And `the fear of the Lord is to hate evil’ as God hates it, in some measure. So the Psalmist says, `Thou hast brought our iniquities before thee; our secret sins in the light of thy countenance.’ And when your secret sins are brought into the light of God’s countenance, you will sorrow and mourn over them.
And so there is this distinction made, and it is a contrast between the spirit of those who do fear God, and those who have `no fear of God before their eyes’. We read in the Word of God, and it is still so true today, `Fools make a mock of sin.’ They treat it as a joke! And that which is such an abomination and an affront to the Majesty on high, they make light of, and make fun of. You know that in our day there are books and records made which point out this particular matter as though it was something to be amused at. It is the most daring affront to God to speak of sin in this way or to regard it so. And how different it will be if there is the fear of God in our hearts. It will make us tender in our
consciences. It will make us sorry indeed when we see and feel sin in ourselves and in others. So the subject is this godly sorrow springing from spiritual life.
1. First we must notice the CAUSE of godly sorrow
Because there must be a cause for sorrow like this. It is, so to speak, unusual; it is all too rare in its occurrence. There is so much sin in the world; but O how little godly sorrow there really seems to be on account of it! The first reason for this sorrow is the Law of God; because it is the Law that shows what sin is: `By the law is the knowledge of sin.’ And ,sin is the transgression of the law;’ or, it is lawlessness. It is the spirit of rejecting and despising the holy law of God, which is the perfect expression of God’s will for His creatures. It tells us what we should do, and what we should not do. That law – which was especially set out in the ten commandments, written by the very finger of God on tables of stone and given to Moses on two occasions – that law is the holy expression of God’s will. When it says, `Thou shalt not do this,’ it expresses His will with regard to us each. When it says, for instance, `Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy,’ that is one of His enduring commands. And the Saviour expressed the whole of the law in those two great positive commandments, `Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, with all thy soul and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind, (with all of them); and thy neighbour as thyself.’
But whoever comes up fully to that command, except the saints in glory? Oh it is certainly to me a great reason for longing for that state of everlasting glory, that then at last I shall be able to do what I do so long to do, and that is to love the Lord my God with all my heart.
Here we constantly come short in these things. We all do come short, as we read, `All have sinned, and come short of the glory of God.’ Sin is a coming short of the law of God. Some of us, through the grace of God, could say that we do love God, in measure; but we still come far short of that standard. Sin is a coming short, like an arrow which is fired at a target may not have enough power to reach it; and instead of getting to the target, it drops short. Sin is a coming short of the law of God.
It is also a transgression of His law. No doubt we have all seen places where they have a notice, `Trespassers will be prosecuted.’ And there is a-fence round that property to show how far you can go without going over into somebody else’s land. But if you go past the fence you are trespassing; and therefore you are liable to be punished because of that. Now sin is a trespass with regard to the law of God. For God’s holy law sets before us the right path; and if we stray from that and wander away from His command, then we are trespassing. We are committing a transgression of the law. So the Word says concerning all of us, `All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way.’ We are all by nature and practice, trespassers from the law of God. And
therefore there is so much sin in the world. Everything that comes short, or that is contrary to the law of God, is sin.
Why is it then that there is so little concern about it, so little sorrow about this sin? The holy law of God pinpoints it. It shows us exactly what it is. Why is it that there is so little concern about it? We not only need the law of God, but also the Spirit of God, to convey the truth and conviction of that law to our hearts. And this of course is what happened in this particular case. The apostle had written an inspired epistle to these Corinthians to show them where they had sinned; and evidently the Holy Spirit attended that inspired Word with great power, to produce this godly sorrow in the hearts of these Corinthians. And so the Word of God, and especially the law of God, when it is brought home by the Spirit to the heart, will bring all this conviction and this godly sorrow. The apostle Paul himself had felt it keenly. At one time he had been a rigid, self-righteous Pharisee. He had no real sense of sin; he thought he was a very good man. But then he said, `When the commandment came, sin revived (that is, it sprang to life) and I died.’ There was a sense, a sudden and deep sense of sin. He began to see and to feel sin as it really is before God. And he said that it was like dying. It was as though a sharp arrow pierced his heart, or as a sword going through him. It was very painful and distressing. O what need there is for this! We read that the Saviour promised that the Holy Spirit should come, the Spirit of truth. And He said, `When he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he shall reprove (or convince) the world of sin, of righteousness, and of judgment’ – of this sin especially – `because they believe not in me’; that great sin of unbelief, and also many other sins. When the law of God is brought to the conscience by the Spirit of God there will be this godly sorrow arising. Now do you know what that is? Your sin is indeed great before God. That is true of every single one of us, however young you are. Your sin in the sight of God is very great. But do you sorrow on account of it? Are you sorry about it’? Have you repented and turned to God on account of this great sin? What a mercy it is if we know what this means; `Godly sorrow worketh repentance not to be repented of.’ It brings the soul to the Saviour’s cross as a sinful, dying wretch; as one convinced of sin and seeking for that mercy which flows from Calvary’s cross. `There is forgiveness with him that he may be feared.’ And godly sorrow is the precursor of pardon and peace.
2. The CHARACTER of godly sorrow
In this passage the apostle mentions no less than seven different accompaniments of this godly sorrow. There are seven features with regard to it which he noticed had been produced in the Corinthians to a remarkable degree. We may surely test ourselves by this evidence from the Word of God. It does really tell us what this godly sorrow is, what this principle really produces, what it is associated with when it is truly godly sorrow.
First there is carefulness. This is the same word which is translated in the next chapter `earnest care’. It means to be concerned about sin. Not to be careless and indifferent, as we used to be; but to realise that it is a matter of vast importance, something which needs to be dealt with. The word literally is the same word as our word `speed’, which expresses urgency, and the diligence required. This was clearly so on the day of Pentecost, when the Spirit of God convicted many of them of their sin, and they were pierced in their hearts. Then they said, `Men and brethren, what shall we do?’ This was an urgent matter with them. Their sin had been brought before their eyes. They had crucified the Saviour, and now it was suddenly a matter of urgent concern with them as to what should be done with regard to their sin. Have you ever felt like that? Do you care about your sin? Is it a matter of grief and sorrow and distress to you? Well, this is the evidence of spiritual life. It will make us really concerned about our sinful state. And we shall feel that it is an urgent matter with us:
`How shall I get my sins forgiven, And find the only way to heaven?’
Secondly, it is a clearing of yourselves; that is the same word as our word `apology’ comes from. Now if you have done something wrong to someone else, if you have hurt them; then as soon as you know, you should go and say, `I am sorry; I was wrong.’ It is a pity that those words are not more often heard. But when it is sin, which is a matter before God, something else needs to be done. You know, with the trespass offering in the Levitical dispensation, it was not enough that restitution should be made to the one who had been offended; there also had to be a sacrifice rendered to God. For sin is an offence in His sight. And this means, to make confession before Him, as the Psalmist says; `I said, I will confess my transgressions unto the LORD; and thou forgavest the iniquity of my sin’ (32.5). It means to deplore what you have done, and to make confession unto God with regard to it, as He so graciously calls His people to do. To those that are aware of their sin, He says, `Only acknowledge thine transgression.’ `Come, let us return unto the LORD.’ There is such great mercy with Him. But this confession is very necessary. The Word of God says, `If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.’
The third word is indignation. A conviction of sin will make you angry with yourself. You will feel, `How ever could I have done that?’ It will make you vexed and troubled with yourself. You see it so plainly in the case of the publican. He would not draw near, but stood afar off. And he smote upon his breast saying, `God, be merciful to me a sinner.’ And that word `smote’ means he kept on beating on his chest with his hand. It was because he felt so indignant with himself, because he had
done those things which he had to confess. It caused him this spirit of holy indignation, of real righteous anger against sin, because it is such an affront to the holy Majesty of God. Did you ever feel like that’? Were you ever there with the publican, not literally necessarily smiting upon your breast, but feeling like that:
`Here on my heart the burden lies, And past offences pain my eyes.’
A scholar has said with regard to this word, that it concerns the pain that a person has because of what is in himself. He is so sorry for the sin which he has committed that he is really vexed, annoyed, troubled with himself, on account of it.
And the next word is fear. It occurs four times in this chapter, in different aspects of it. Now it is no wonder that sin should make us tremble before God because of this fear. The Psalmist says, `My flesh trembleth for fear of thee; and I am afraid of thy judgments’ (119.120). Now although there is a way in which sin may ever be pardoned through the Saviour’s most precious blood, it is still a most fearful thing to be a sinner. It should make us tremble still, because it deserves the righteous judgment of God. And although the believer knows that there is `a fountain open for sin and uncleaness’ that fountain was opened at such a tremendous cost. A sense of sin also produces this fear. In the first occasion it may well be a dread of hell and of the righteous judgment of God falling upon us. And even on other occasions it is still a matter to make us full of fear and concern before a holy God, because it is such a grave offence. The Lord says, `To this man will I look, even to him that is poor and of a contrite spirit, and trembleth at my Word’ (Isaiah 66.2). The previous epistle of the apostle to this Church at Corinth had this effect.
The apostle mentions, concerning Titus going to them, that it was with fear and trembling that they received him.
They were fearful as regards the consequences of their sin – and well they might be. Think of the sin of David, that great open sin which was a similar kind to this one. It was forgiven; the godly king confessed his sin, and the prophet said, `The LORD hath put away thy sin,’ but… Because of that great open sin he was to suffer all his days; `the sword shall never depart from thy house’ (2 Samuel 12.9-14). He found his own sons being killed by the sword, and others too that were dear to him. It caused him great grief because of the evil of it. He had made the enemies of God to blaspheme, and although his sin was pardoned, it cost him very dear.
When the apostle mentions a vehement desire; in the seventh verse the same word is rendered `earnest desire’. If we are convinced of our sin there will be an earnest desire, a burning desire. And what for? That the sin might be redressed, that it might be pardoned and cleansed away, that we might know that peace that flows from Calvary. If you are convinced of your sin there will be this longing, this earnest desire for
the mercy of God as we see so plainly brought before us in the 130th Psalm. The Psalmist says, `If thou, LORD, shouldest mark iniquities, O Lord, who shall stand? But there is forgiveness with thee that thou mayest be feared.’
What will he do then? He says, `I wait for the LORD, my soul doth wait, and in his word do I hope. My soul waiteth for the Lord more than they that watch for the morning… For with the LORD there is mercy, and with him is plenteous redemption.’ And there will be that desire for what is so greatly needed – a cleansing away of our sin by the Saviour’s most precious blood, and the experience of `peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.’
Next there is zeal, which really means a boiling up, a fervency. It is the same word as in verse seven where it is translated `fervent mind’. It means strong spiritual feeling with regard to these matters. Now there are many different kinds of zeal. Some of them of course are of no value at all. But we may be sure that this was a zeal for God and for His honour. You see, this offence of sin is so dishonouring to Him; it is so grievous in His sight. And when you really see it as it is, as before God, you will have something of this zeal. Moses had it when he took down those two tables of stone, and saw how the Israelites at the bottom of the mountain had made a golden calf and were worshipping it! And so he was so angry with them. It rose up in his heart, this holy zeal for God. It was seen much more evidently in the Saviour. He went into the temple, which was the House of God. And there He saw that the moneychangers had installed their tables, and were robbing the people by their extortionate practices. Then He took a whip of small cords and drove them out, overturned their tables and said to them, `It is written, My Father’s house shall be called a house of prayer, but ye have made it a den of thieves. And his disciples remembered that it was written, `The zeal of thine house hath eaten me up.’ O what a holy indignation against sin must have arisen in the Saviour’s heart! And what drastic steps He took to get rid of all that evil from the house of God! It was because of His burning zeal for the honour of His Father. And dear friends, how we do need this same spirit of zeal for the honour of God, which will make us view sin in a very different way from what we used to do.
`Ah, give me, Lord, the tender heart,
That trembles at the approach of sin;
A godly fear of sin impart;
Implant and root it deep within;
That I may love Thy gracious power,
And never dare to offend Thee more.’
And the last word here is revenge, or vengeance – that is, God’s judgment against sin. When the Corinthians realised what they had done in condoning and allowing this appalling sin of immorality, then they said at once, `This sin must be punished’; yes, punished! It is a word that
has almost disappeared from our language. The generality of men have almost thrown it out of the window, as being no longer of any validity. Of course criminals must be shut up in prisons for the safety of society, and it may serve as a deterrent to help prevent others doing it; but that the criminal should be punished is a thought that almost seems to have been lost by the rulers and judges of our land. But it is here plain enough in the Word of God. You read of it in so many of the Old Testament passages; we see how God so punished the nations (His own nation and the other nations) because of their sin. And it is there as plain as can be. Sin is such an offence against the infinite holiness and justice of God that it has to be punished. It deserves punishment, and that desert must be rendered. The Corinthian believers saw this so clearly that they almost overdid it. Earlier in this epistle the apostle says that they should confirm their love to this person who had so offended, `lest he should be swallowed in overmuch sorrow.’
They were so speedy and so concerned to deal with this sin that they were, if anything, even too severe about it; but they had this vengeance about it. We read of this matter in that children’s hymn concerning Jesus:
`He knew how wicked men had been,
And knew that God must punish sin;
So out of pity Jesus said,
He’d bear the punishment instead.’
But it is the punishment which is due to sin. Sin must be punished; either in the sin or in a Surety, either in us, or in Jesus Christ, the sinner’s Substitute. But it must be punished. God has pronounced it. He says, `Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord.’ There can be no doubt that every single sin must be punished, because it is a sin against the infinite justice of God.
Well there are then, dear friends, these seven particular features of this godly sorrow. Do you recognise them? Have you experienced them in your own heart? This is by the influence and teaching of the Holy Spirit.
3. The EXPERIENCE of godly sorrow
Now this is a necessary experience. It is the way to peace and pardon and heaven. You cannot go to heaven without having your sin pardoned and cleansed away. And `The path of sorrow, and that path alone, Leads to the place where sorrow is unknown.’ Sin is a reality; it is a plague; it is a curse; it is the cause of `all the woe, the world has felt or seen.’ And, my dear friends, we do so need to be convicted of the reality of this evil. As the apostle says in his own experience; `sin that it might appear sin; that sin by the commandment might become exceeding sinful.’ It is so exceeding sinful in itself; and the law of God, as brought into the heart by the Holy Spirit, shows that it is really exceeding sinful in the sight of
God; and it must be dealt with. So this is a most necessary experience in our hearts. If you never know anything of godly sorrow, then you will experience everlasting sorrow on account of your sin.
Indeed it is a continuing experience. It is a daily, you might say an hourly, experience with the people of God.
There is that continual sorrow with regard to sin. The apostle said he had `continual sorrow in my heart’ for his brethren according to the flesh, his fellow-Jews – for all their self-righteousness, for all their pride, which was so sinful, as he saw it to be so. Well we may be certain that this is one of the features of spiritual life, and it is something that can be recognised again and again. I read the other day that sometimes the people of God do get so low in their experience that the only mark that they can see is this – they still have this aversion to sin, which God has put in their hearts by the Holy Spirit’s working.
But then this is a preparatory experience. The apostle could say here that he was rejoicing, rejoicing the more. He did not rejoice because of their sorrow itself, but that it was of a godly sort and it led to repentance. It was the way to pardon and restoration and peace; and therefore he could rejoice because these people were in the right way.
But it is preparatory. There is a remedy for sin. The Saviour has suffered so exceedingly so that sin might be put away in all the evil of it. And those who do truly sorrow over sin are welcome to His cross so that they may find the pardon and peace they so greatly need. He said, `Blessed are they that mourn; for they shall be comforted.’ He said also with regard to His preaching, `The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me; because the LORD hath anointed me to preach good tidings to the meek… to comfort all that mourn; to appoint unto them that mourn in Zion, to give unto them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness’ (Isaiah 61.1-3). And the Psalmist says, `Weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning.’ The Lord has promised that they that do mourn over their sin shall be comforted. It is preparatory to that comfort.
And it is also a temporary experience. Our life in this world may seem to be comparatively long. But it is only a moment compared with eternity. This time of mourning for the people of God will soon be over. And then will that word come to pass, `God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes.’ He will bring them into everlasting joy. As we read in the prophet, ‘Thy sun shall no more go down; neither shall thy moon withdraw herself. For the LORD shall be thy everlasting light; and the days of thy mourning shall be ended.’ There is an end to these days of mourning. The people of God who mourn here below will soon be so greatly comforted. Indeed they do enter into that here below. This may seem to be a very sad subject, but it has a very bright and blessed side. The apostle could rejoice as well. He said,
`I am filled with comfort; I am exceeding joyful in all our tribulation.’ And these Corinthian
believers were brought into comfort and joy, we may be certain, through their repentance. And so this godly sorrow leads to an holy joy. May the Lord grant us in our hearts the knowledge of these things, for His name’s sake. Amen.