Sorrow for Sin

2 Corinthians 7:10.---'For godly sorrow worketh repentance unto salvation, a repentance which bringeth no regret: but the sorrow of the world worketh death.'

The statement of the text presents us with one of those antitheses so dear to St. Paul. A sharp contrast is an incisive weapon for truth, and the Apostle wields it with exceptional power. The opposed terms, however, so clearly defined for the Apostle and his immediate hearers, are often found to have lost some of their distinctiveness for us. We do not at once perceived how a difference can be made in the quality of grief; why, in one person, it should be stigmatized as a sorrow of the world, and in another commended as a godly. But when we're told that one produces repentance and a better life, and the other ends in moral death, in an extinction, that is, of the finer feelings, an atrophy of the spiritual affections, then we begin to see the reality of the contrast. Make the Apostolic statement as general as we will, it is true to fact. There must be a nobility in the mind that will find uses in adversity. Over some natures the shadows of life pass with no suggestion but that of the gloom they bring. They're either sunk into apathy, or stung to irritability by affliction. Without something like Christian hope and trust, their sympathies will dry up and whither before the scorching wind of calamity, and St. Paul would have called that a sorrow of the world which leaves its victims dead, alike to the claim of affection and the voice of duty.

But the circumstances which produced the text direct us to limit its application to the sorrow that has some relation to sin. The world has its sorrow on account of sin, after its own way, and from its own standpoint; and it must be some sorrow of this kind that is here alluded to, else the point of the contrast between it and godly sorrow would be lost. For instance, there is this sorrow occasion by the shame, exposure, infamy, lost, a man may have brought upon himself by some transgression. Of this kind was the sorrow of Saul when he said to Samuel, who had just predicted the loss of his kingdom for his disobedience, 'I have the sinned, yet honor me now before the elders of the people.' This sorrow becomes sometimes a fierce exasperation under the pressure of the consequences of sin. Such was the sorrow of Cain when, in the passion of his resentment at God sentence upon him, he cried, 'my sin is greater than I can bear.' Or it passes into a gloomy, desponding, hopeless remorse, into the very abandonment of despair. Such was the sorrow of Judas.

The sorrow of the world is not a sorrow for sin as such but rather for its consequences. Among the consequences of sin loss of reputation is one of the most painful. If it be a pang felt in the moral being for failure of character, it will prove wholesome and salutary. But it may not be the moral nerve that suffers, but one less worthy. Mere dread of the consequences, however acute or a strong, while it may repress the outbreak of evil to some extent, touches not in the smallest degree the root of the thing, because it neither eradicates nor counteracts the love of sin. That remains in all its potency. Hence he who awoke in the morning to all the miserable suffering of the previous night's excess and avowed the amendment, repeats that excess as soon as the reaction has passed away. Why? Because his sorrow was no real contrition for sin.

The Corinthians, we are told, were made sorry 'according to God.' Their sorrow had reference to Him. When the Apostle's letter pricked their hearts they became conscious of that which they had forgotten---God's relation to them and His judgment on their conduct. It is this element that makes any sorrow 'godly,' and, without this, sorrow does not look towards repentance at all. God sees sin not in its consequences but in itself---a thing infinitely evil, even if the consequences were happiness to the guilty instead of misery. So sorrow according to God is to sin as God sees it. The grief appear of Peter was bitter as that of Judas. He went out and wept bitterly; how bitterly none can tell but they who have learned to look on sin as God does. But in Peter's grief there was an element of hope; that sprang precisely from this----that he saw God in it all. Despair of self did not lead to despair of God.

We are all of us quite ready to say, "I have done wrong many a time"; but there are some who hesitate to take the other step, and say, "I have done sin." Sin has for its correlative God. If there is no God there is no sin. There may be faults, there may be failures, there may be transgressions, breaches of the moral law, things done inconsistent with man's nature and constitution, and so on; but if there be a God, then we have personal relations to that Person and His law; and when we break His law it is more than crime; it is more than fault; it is more than a transgression; it is more than wrong; it is sin. It is when we lifted the shutter off conscience, and let the light of God rush in upon our hearts and consciences, that we have the sorrow that worketh repentance and salvation in life.

This sorrow is awakened by considerations of the goodness and love of God. Its burden is not, "I have incurred the wrath of an angry God," but, "I have grieved my Father, my Savior." Hence it is a sorrow for sin as such. It is not the thought of the penalty that oppresses, but the fault itself, as a thing against God. The sinner is conscious of his sin in relation to the Holy One, and feels that its inmost soul of pain and guilt is best, that he has fallen away from the grace and friendship of God. He has wounded a love to which he is dearer than he is to himself: to know this is really to grieve, with a sorrow which leads to true repentance.

A feeling so deep once stirred cannot and in mere feeling. 'Godly sorrow worketh repentance unto salvation.' By this humility of soul, his sorrow for a neglected duty, a forsaken trust, a broken ideal, the penitent sinner puts himself into line with God's purpose for his life. So he may claim with assurance the Divine help. 'The Lord saveth such as be of a contrite spirit.' Under a thousand images the Scriptures repeat that God is instantly and always on the side of the bare wish for better things. No faintest cry is unnotice or disregarded. All the resources of heaven will be dispatched to the help of the truly penitent. God and heaven become his fast allies.

We must not think, however, of godly sorrow as of one isolated event in the history of a human soul. The Apostle, who here says of contrition that it worketh repentance to salvation, elsewhere tells the Christian and he must work out his own salvation with fear and trembling. Repentance has a purifying power, and every tear is of cleansing virtue; but these potential clouds must still be kept drooping; one shower will not suffice, for repentance is not one single action, but a course. Struggle, often baffled, very baffled, down as into an entire wreck; yet a struggle never ended; ever, with tears, repentance, true unconquerable purpose begun anew. Poor human nature! Is not a man's walking, in truth, always that? A succession of falls? Man can do no other: in this wild element of life he has to struggle onwards; now fallen, deep abased: and ever with tears, repentance, with bleeding heart, he has to rise again, struggle again, still onwards. That his struggle be a faithful, unconquerable one---that is the question of questions. Yes, but let us say, with this addition, that he wage it in the trust that he has behind him the everlasting strength of God, and by his side of the great Captain of his Salvation, Jesus Christ.

In Christ, timothy. maranatha