Correction of the Letter - Part 3 (series: Lessons on 2 Corinthians)
by John Lowe
(3) It is sorrow which leads to God. It leads to God to obtain forgiveness; to seek for solace. A heart truly contrite and penitent seeks God and begs pardon from Him. All other sorrow than that which is genuine repentance, leads the person away from God. He seeks consolation in the world; he attempts to drive away his grim impressions or to drown them in the pleasures and the cares of life. But genuine sorrow for sin leads the soul to God, and conducts the sinner to the Redeemer, to obtain the pardon and peace which He alone can give to a wounded spirit. In God alone can pardon and true peace be found, and godly sorrow for sin will seek them there. For godly sorrow worketh repentance unto salvation; these words contain a reason, proving that they had received no damage, but profit by the sorrow that had possessed them, from the nature of it, a "godly" sorrow; a sorrow which had God for its author; it did not arise from the power of free will, nor from the dictates of a natural conscience, nor from a work of the law on their hearts, or from a fear of hell and damnation, but it sprung from the free grace of God; it was a gift of His grace, by the work of His Spirit, and the product of His almighty power; no other means, mercies, or even the most powerful ministry of themselves could do it; it was due to divine instructions; it was heightened and increased with a discovery of the love of God, and the true perception of pardoning grace and mercy which accompanied faith in the Lord Jesus Christ: it was a sorrow for sin, because it was committed against a God of infinite holiness, justice, and truth, goodness, grace, and mercy; and it was a sorrow, according to the mind and will of God.
God's sorrow occurs when we are not terrified with the fear of punishment, but because we feel we have offended God our most merciful Father. Contrary to this there is another sorrow, that only fears punishment, or when a man is vexed for the loss of some worldly goods. The fruit of the first is repentance, and the fruit of the second is desperation unless the Lord quickly helps.
“For godly sorrow worketh repentance,” rather, “For the sorrow which is according to God worketh a change of mind.” Godly sorrow is that sorrow which is according to God, either commanded by Him, (as sorrow for our own or others’ sins, or for the judgments of God, since they are the indications of God’s wrath and displeasure for sin), or which he, as the God of grace, produces in the soul. Or that sorrow which has as its objective the glory of God by reforming the person sorrowing, by a hatred and loathing of sin, and a hearty turning from it.
“Worketh repentance,” or produces a change that is permanent; a reformation. It is not mere regret; its effects do not rapidly pass away, but it produces permanent changes. A man who mourns over sin because it is committed against God, and who goes to God for pardon, will reform his life and truly repent. He who has grief for sin only because it will lead to disgrace or shame, or because it will lead to poverty or pain, will not necessarily break off from it and reform. It is only when it is seen that sin is committed against God and is evil in His sight that it leads to a change of life.
Not to be regretted
Salvation is not to be regretted; it is not regretted by God, who has never regretted anything, neither is salvation itself, nor is the way and manner in which it is accomplished, nor the persons saved by it, and His choice of them to it; nor is it regretted by them, who believe in Christ to the saving of their souls: nor is true repentance, which is connected with it, to be regretted. God does not regret giving it, for “his gifts and calling are without repentance;” nor does the repenting sinner regret it; nor has he any reason to regret it, since it is salvation unto life, even "unto eternal life", and it is called “repentance that leads to life,” in Acts 11:18—“When they heard this, they had no further objections and praised God, saying, "So then, even to Gentiles God has granted repentance that leads to life.”
Has anyone ever regretted of having truly repented of sin? Who is there, who has ever truly repented, and became a true Christian, who regretted it? Not an individual has ever been known who regretted his having become a Christian. Not one who regretted that he had become one too soon in life, or that he had served the Lord Jesus too faithfully or too long.
But the sorrow of the world produces death
“But the sorrow of the world,” untouched and un-regenerated by the Spirit of God—the sorrow of the natural man, the opposite of the sorrow according to God: “The person without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God but considers them foolishness, and cannot understand them because they are discerned only through the Spirit” (1 Corinthians 2:14). Worldly sorrow is common to men of the world, men like Cain, Pharaoh, Judas, and others. It springs from worldly selfish principles, and proceeds on to holding worldly views; it is often nothing more than a concern for the loss of worldly things, such as riches, honors, etc.; or disappointment in the gratification of worldly lusts and pleasures; or shame, or ruin, or sickness caused by sin; such as the false repentance of Cain, Saul, Ahithophel, Judas, etc.
Paul probably refers here to the sorrow which arises from worldly causes and which does not lead to God for consolation—all sorrow which is not directed to God, and which does not arise from the point of view which says, “All sin is committed against God.” It may include the following things:
(1) Sorrow arising from the loss of property and friends, and from disappointment.
(2) Sorrow for sin or vice when it overwhelms the mind with the consciousness of guilt, and when it does not lead to God, and when there is no remorse of soul from viewing it as an offense against God. For example, a female who has committed adultery, and disgraced her family and herself; or a man who has been guilty of forgery, or perjury, or any other disgraceful crime, and who is discovered; a man who has violated the laws of the land, and who has disgraced himself and his family, will often feel regret, and sorrow, and remorse, but it arises solely from worldly considerations, and does not lead to God.
(3) When the sorrow arises merely from the point of view of worldly consequences when there is no looking to God for pardon and comfort, and when people lose their property or friends—they often pine away in grief without looking to God. Thus, when they have wandered from the path of virtue and have fallen into sin, they often take into consideration only the disgrace among people and see their names lambasted, and their happiness is gone, and they pine away in grief. There is no looking to God for pardon or for comfort. The sorrow arises from this world, and it terminates there. It is the loss of what they valued in this world, and it is all they had, and it produces death. Their grief is for the consequences rather than for the sin as sin.
“But the sorrow of the world produces death,” temporal and eternal death; it sometimes brings diseases and disorders on the body, which ends in death; and sometimes causes men to destroy themselves, as it did Ahithophel and Judas; it creates in the minds of men a fearful apprehension of death, and, if grace doesn’t prevent it the outcome is always death; moral and spiritual death, and sometimes physical death, and always, unless it is followed by true repentance—eternal death, which is the opposite of salvation—“So that, just as sin reigned in death, so also grace might reign through righteousness to bring eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 5:21).
“The sorrow of the world” (that is, the sorrow felt by the worldly) has a tendency to end in death—spiritual, mortal, and eternal. It does not cling to life, but rather:
(1) It produces distress only. It is not accompanied with consolation.
(2) It tends to break the spirit, to destroy the peace, and to mar the happiness.
(3) It often leads to death itself. The spirit is broken, and the heart pines away under the influence of the unremitting sorrow; or under its influence people often take their own lives. Life is often terminated under the influence of such sorrow.
(4) It ultimately leads to eternal death. There is no looking to God for help; no looking for a pardon. It produces bellyaching, grief, complaining, and criticism of God, and as a consequence leads to His displeasure and to the condemnation and ruin of the soul.
(5) It “Produces death;” but all sorrow except that which results in repentance is “the sorrow of the world,” the effect of which is often natural death. It also produces spiritual death, since it makes men unfit for doing their duty, (as it did in the case of Elijah), and is a temptation to them to be angry at God, (as in the case of Jonah), to fret, complain, and become discontent with God’s providence: and by this means it steadily moves towards eternal death, which is the wages belonging to sin.