|Preacher||Rev. Maurice Roberts, Inverness|
|Text||2 Corinthians ch.7 vv.10-11 |
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"For godly sorrow worketh repentance to salvation not to be repented of: but the sorrow of the world worketh death. For behold this selfsame 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! In all things ye have approved yourselves to be clear in this matter" (2 Corinthians 7, 10-11).
In our series 'Growing in the Knowledge of God', you will remember that last week we were speaking on the subject of the great importance of 'faith' to the growth in grace of the Christian.
Our subject today is 'repentance', which clearly is the theme of this text.
"I rejoice," said the apostle Paul, "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" (verses 9-10). He is clearly using a play on words. The apostle is telling us that repentance is something so good that if we have it we are not to be sorry that we have it. If we have this godly repentance, it is something we need not repent of. He is using a clever pattern of words because he was a brilliant writer and thinker, and he puts it in this very memorable and interesting manner by which he means to tell us that it is of great value to us to have this godly sorrow - this repentance unto salvation. That is our theme today.
I must point out at once that repentance and faith cannot be separated from one another. It is impossible to have faith without also having repentance and equally impossible to have repentance without also having faith. Many have tried to discuss the order in which these graces come into the experience of the Christian at his conversion but I would respectfully suggest that it is a rather sterile and barren debate. What matters is that we should have them both. Which of the two comes first scarcely matters provided we have them.
Repentance then involves sorrow and, therefore, you can imagine that this is not a popular subject. There will not be tens of thousands of sermons in Scotland or England today on the subject of repentance because it is not a user-friendly theme. We are living in a day when it is customary for preachers even, along with the rest of society, to aim to please their audiences and to send them away with nothing but a smile. But this is not a subject which is calculated to send us home with a smile - rather with a tear, yet, there is a place in life for tears. Would God there were more tears in society. Not the tears of misery or of despair but tears which accompany this godly sorrow, this deep religious sadness, this inward grief of heart which arises in the experience of every true Christian. I would have to say to you, my dear and beloved friends, that if you are a stranger to godly sorrow then it is doubtful if you are a true Christian at all. This is where Christianity begins and this is how it continues when it is in its truest character, with an inward grief and sorrow towards God. That is why it is called 'godly' sorrow - because the sadness is towards God. It is not the sadness of the world or the sadness of despair but the sadness of having done what God has forbidden.
1. LEGAL REPENTANCE
2. GODLY REPENTANCE
Let us take up the theme, and you will see by glancing at verse ten that the apostle speaks of two different forms of repentance. We must first consider them both. "Godly sorrow worketh sorrow to salvation not to be repented of: but the sorrow of the world worketh death" (text). You see at once that he is talking about two forms of sorrow, or two forms of repentance if you please. We must distinguish them because they are utterly and totally different and in a sense they are the very opposite, the one of the other.
One of these forms of repentance and sorrow is greatly commended and approved of by Paul. He says so in these words - "not to be repented of" (text). We are not to be ashamed if we have these godly tears. On the other hand, he says there is another kind of sorrow, sadness and repentance which he calls the "sorrow of the world" (text). He says we are to shun and avoid such repentance because it does us no good - it simply leads to death.
These two forms of repentance - what are they? Let's deal with the bad one first - "the sorrow of the world" (text).
He calls it the sorrow of the world because this particular form of repentance is that sort which worldly, ungodly and unconverted people may sometimes show in their lives. It does no good. We have a name for this first kind of repentance, we call it 'legal repentance' as distinct from 'Gospel repentance' or 'evangelical repentance'; these are the distinctions that we need to have clearly in our thinking as we approach the subject in general.
We are dealing then first of all, briefly, with this 'legal repentance' - of which the apostle says, it is "the sorrow of the world" (text). That is to say, it is a sorrow which is found in worldly people sometimes - a sorrow which has no blessings, which leads to no spiritual progression, which leads to no conversion, which leads in fact to nothing but a kind of death.
What then is meant by this kind of sorrow? We see it exemplified in the Old and New Testaments very dramatically. King Saul - who was no man of God as you remember but a very worldly man who had a terrible death - towards the end of his life in a fit of self-reproach, could say, "Behold, I have played the fool, and have erred exceedingly" (1 Samuel 26, 21) - meaning he had gone far wrong from God. "I have played the fool" (1 Samuel 26, 21) and he, I suppose, shed tears at that thought. He was very sorry that he had been a fool. After all, even worldly-minded people are sorry that they have wasted their lives. It is a sad thing for a man or a woman to live for many years in this world and to spend much money, labour and effort only to see at the end of their days that they have wasted their lives and their time, and that they have been a catalogue of disasters and ruin. You can understand that even an unconverted, graceless, godless person would have this kind of repentance and feel very sorry that they have played the fool in this way.
King Saul was an Old Testament example of this and in the New Testament we have the case of the disciple - Judas Iscariot - who was one of the twelve. He was a traitor and he betrayed our Lord, as you very well remember. What was it that Judas said? When he received his reward of thirty pieces of silver, his conscience smote him you recall. He went back to the priests and gave them the bag of money but they refused to receive it. He then threw the money across the floor of the temple and went out in utter despair and hanged himself - committed suicide. That is another example of this "sorrow of the world" (text). He had come to the time in life in which he committed a most extraordinarily wicked sin - he betrayed the Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, his own Master. You recall he did it with a kiss, deceitfully, and he received a reward of money for this from the priests of the Jewish religion - thirty pieces of silver - the sum of money prophesied of in the book of Zechariah 11. He fulfilled to the letter what God said he would do. When his conscience smote him for betraying an innocent Saviour and Master, he went out and committed suicide.
This is one reason why many people commit suicide. Worldly people kill themselves, sadly, wrongly, foolishly, because they are in despair. They feel they have committed a sin which is so terrible that there is no forgiveness for it. Without considering the gravity and enormity of their crime, they take an overdose, hang themselves or some such thing. It is a great sin and wickedness to do so. That is what the apostle said, "the sorrow of the world worketh death" (text). It drives men in despair to throw themselves off the top of buildings. They drown themselves in rivers because their conscience now is so terribly inflamed with a sense of guilt they can't live any longer with themselves. They imagine in their madness that they can at least get some peace by killing themselves. Of course, it doesn't work. They do kill themselves, alas, alas, but when they have done that, they find themselves in hell-fire forever, with no possibility of escape so there is no advantage whatsoever to them. They are far worse off dead, than alive with all that trouble of conscience.
Therefore, we refer to this as legal repentance and I point out that legal repentance is something which worldly men come to, sometimes, when they have greatly offended their own consciences and their own sense of what is right and wrong. Their own sinfulness comes as a surprise to themselves. They didn't realise that they were capable of it. In a fit of anger, he strikes at his wife and sees he has killed her, or strikes at his child and sees he has murdered him or her. It is happening so frequently. This is the "sorrow of the world." Men don't know how to live with themselves: where to go, where to hide, what to do. Very often, they burn the house down on themselves trying to conceal themselves, their crime and their children. They shoot everybody in sight as it were until, eventually, the police control them. It happens in Britain and America just as it does in other places.
I must point out that this kind of sorrow, sadness and repentance, does not flow from a sense of love for God. It does not rise up in their hearts because they are thoroughly sorry that they have offended so good and gracious a God. That is not their thinking at all - quite the contrary - their thinking is that they feel that God is altogether too strict and they wish they hadn't got a conscience. They are sorry that they have committed a sin, not because the sin has offended their God but because it has brought them into trouble. They know they are having to eat the fruit of their own ways and the fruit of sin is always bitter. It is an evil thing and bitter to forsake the Lord your God. So this repentance arises really from a kind of self-pity. In this state of mind even when people don't commit suicide, their attitude is that they heartily wish that there were no such things as God, the Moral Law and the conscience. Although they would never put it in these words, what they want to say in their heart of hearts is, "What a pity I have to suffer for my sins when sin is so sweet and pleasant in my mouth." That is what they mean. They feel they have a grudge against God because He is so strict and they know it; so holy and just and they don't like that. If they could they would remove God from His throne and abolish all trace of Him from their thinking. That is legal repentance and no wonder then the apostle doesn't praise it and doesn't commend it.
Before I pass on to evangelical or Gospel repentance my friends, let me in a word say, if ever you meet someone who is in that frame of mind of despair because of some great sin they have committed, then your duty and mine is to try to stop them from laying hands on themselves by killing themselves. Tell them at once there is forgiveness if they will turn to God. They must not think of committing suicide. Never let them think there is no hope. If ever you are in a situation where you meet somebody who is about to do some harm to themselves, tell them at once their sin can readily be forgiven. All they have to do is to turn to Jesus Christ and to seek His mercy. Even the greatest sin possible will at once be forgiven; this brings me secondly to speak of this Gospel or evangelical repentance.
"For godly sorrow worketh repentance to salvation not to be repented of" (text). This godly repentance is a gracious principle implanted in the soul by the Holy Spirit of God: sorrow that flows from love for God. It is a sorrow that arises in the soul because now God is seen to be lovely and His law seems to be right and His judgements perceived to be just, fair and good. The soul is now taking God's side against himself or herself for what they have done wrong. In this state of mind people smite on their breast and they pull on their hair and they say, "What a fool I was to have done what I have done when I have offended so gracious a God and ought not to have offended Him because there is no excuse for it." They justify God. They are not complaining against Him for being strict; they are not murmuring against the severities of the Moral Law or the punishment which follows the breaking of the Moral law. No, no, what they are saying is, "I am wrong. I have played the fool and God is right." The soul is inflamed with love for God and jealousy for His honour and glory.
That kind of sorrow as you see is very different and only arises in a soul that has been converted already to faith in Christ. It is not that this sorrow leads to conversion. This sorrow is evidence that conversion has already occurred; the new birth has begun and done its work; the Spirit of God has entered the soul and brought this spiritual life and understanding to the soul. We see it, for instance, in the thief on the cross: a man who lived a very vicious, criminal life. Notice the way he behaves - he takes Christ's part over against his companion's part. He wasn't doing it at first evidently. Initially, it seems from the record in the Gospels that he, like his fellow thief, was cursing Jesus Christ. Then God changed his heart and he begins now to take Christ's part against his fellow. He said, "This man (Jesus) has done nothing amiss. We deserve to be here, we receive the due reward of our deeds. We are only getting what we expect and deserve to get. He has done nothing wrong and look at what He is suffering." Then the prayer, "Lord, remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom" (Luke 23, 42). That is the evidence that the new birth had occurred. He was a gracious man now; in a moment, God had changed his soul, his heart and his understanding and this godly sorrow springs to life.
Why does a man or a woman talk or think like this? Why do tears always, or at least usually, flow when a person is converted to faith in Christ. The reason is that God is seen to be good, lovely and desirable; and what wicked sinners we have been to offend Him; and how could I have done these wicked things; and how can I forgive myself for being the fool I have been? You see the way the soul is now in reverse gear: God is honoured, God is praised, God is loved. It is we, as it were, who are at war with ourselves.
That is evidence of grace. That is this 'evangelical repentance'. I remind you of a perfect case in the Highlands of Scotland: Muckle Kate of Lochcarron. She broke all the Commandments apart from the one that says, "Thou shalt not kill" (Exodus 20, 13). She broke all the other Commandments and led a vicious life right up until her old age in Lochcarron. Then, through the influence of Lachlan MacKenzie the minister, she came to weep for her sins. She wept and wept for her sins until she wept herself blind. People think to themselves, "What a sad idea; what a sad story that a woman should weep herself blind." My friends, that is not a sad story at all. Would to God the people of Scotland would weep themselves blind - far better to go to heaven blind than to go to hell with both eyes perfectly healthy. Don't you agree? If you don't then you are blind yourself. Far better to weep yourself blind and love God than have both your eyes healthy and not realise the sin of your own heart.
Why did she weep herself blind? - because her eyes now were opened to see the foulness and depravity of her life. You say, "I have not lived a foul life. I have lived a very decent life. I have done no harm to anybody." If you think like that, you don't know yourself, you don't realise how corrupt you are. We are all defiled, we are all fallen, we are all wicked in the sight of God. When God opens our eyes to see the sin in our own hearts and lives, then what do we do? - we weep in sorrow.
I heard a very beautiful story just a few days ago. A father was reading a letter to me which his teenage daughter had just written to him a few days previously. The father said, "Listen to this." She couldn't tell me herself because she said to me, 'It was so emotional I had to write it down, father.' She left the letter on the table. It read like this: 'Dear father and mother, I want you both to know the last few days I have come to see Jesus Christ as my Saviour. I have given my heart and life to Him. Thank you both for being such wonderful parents and bringing me up to know the Gospel and for taking me to church and Sabbath School. I feel so wonderful with the change in my life. I love Jesus Christ. I can't tell you this in words because I would break down in weeping. I am so happy. I want you to read this in a letter.' The father was weeping on the telephone as he told me and it wasn't easy for me not to weep as I heard him reading the letter.
What had happened? Well, the Holy Spirit had come into this young girl's heart evidently and He had shown her herself. She saw herself guilty in the sight of God and yet, she saw something else - the loveliness of Christ: the glory of Jesus the Saviour, the wonderful love He had shown on the cross by His blood shedding and death. She had seen that He is the answer to all her needs and her heart was broken with love for Him.
My friends, this is how true conversion begins. I am not saying that every convert, necessarily, always weeps - but there is always repentance at our conversion. Whether there are tears, in a sense, is a very secondary matter. Some people weep much more easily than others for all sorts of reasons, not all of which are important to mention now. Nevertheless, there is no coming to Christ without repentance. In other words when a person repents they turn their back upon their past life - all of it. Sometimes they do very drastic and dramatic things.
When converted, many people who have been lovers of bagpipes, for instance, say to themselves, "The love of bagpipes has been too strong in my life." They take them out, put their foot on them and crush them. "That is silly," you say. "There is nothing wrong with bagpipes." I agree there is nothing wrong with bagpipes, of course there isn't! It is just a noise of a musical instrument. However, where people feel that anything - be it bagpipes, violins, pianos, gramophone records or cassettes - becomes an idol in their lives, take too large a part in their hearts and are objects of their excessive worship, they want to put out of their life that which has stood between them and God. If people have not done that, they are not yet Christians.
That is what a Christian is - somebody who jealously desires to give his all to God. "Lord, here I am, take me" - that is what the Christian says. They are almost the very words of Isaiah when he saw the vision - "Here am I; send me" (Isaiah 6, 8). That is the Christian - he wants to give his everything to God. Even things which are lawful in themselves - sports, music etc - if they have been in the past too important, too much like an idol, then - at our conversion we are very jealous about having such things in our lives; we sorrow and put them out of our lives.
Dear, maturer Christians, we never stop this repentance. Repentance doesn't begin and end at our conversion; repentance goes on all the way through life. This is the difference between the good old-fashioned religion of Lewis, Harris, Skye, the Highlands, Easter Ross and the good old religion of Kennedy, Spurgeon and McCheyne. What is the difference between that and some of the modern varieties? Namely, that in the old religion, repentance was regarded as an ongoing duty all the way through life. It wasn't just a decision taken at a camp or at an evangelistic meeting with a tear shed and a pat on the back and "off you go - you're a Christian now" and back to the worldly pursuits. No, no, repentance was an ongoing thing.
Listen to John Calvin: "If we wish our sins to be buried before God, we must remember them ourselves." Look at that! You see if we want God to forget our sins, we must remember them. Is that seemingly contradictory? You say, "How do you argue the logic of that?" Well, if God sees that we remember our sins with sorrow - our past lives and wickedness, what we used to be before He saved us - we can be sure God will forgive us. However, if we forget our old sins but begin to go back to them and behave as though God had never saved us, then that is an indication that God has remembered them and He will deal with them.
Listen to John Calvin, that great Reformer, again: "God buries our sins and we recall them to memory." Isn't that clever? I have given you two quotations from the greatest theologian who ever lived since the days of the apostles - the wonderful John Calvin of Geneva, a great, great man of God, a towering genius in the Christian faith. That is his assessment of repentance: we remember our sins, not in the sense that they condemn us, no they don't condemn us; if we are in Christ there is no condemnation (Romans 8, 1), but we remember our sins to humble ourselves, to cultivate the contrite spirit and broken heart. That is the good old Bible religion.
Remember - "But he that lacketh these things is blind, and cannot see afar off, and hath forgotten that he was purged (or cleansed) from his old sins" (2 Peter 1: 9). That is a great sin; we must never forget that we were purged from our old sins. We must never forget as Christians that we were hell-deserving sinners and God saved us from our sins. If we forget that we will soon be dancing on a dance floor and behaving like the world again. It is a sure thing; if we forget our sins, we will soon be indulging them and God will be punishing us for them. We must remember on our knees every day, what we are and what we deserve. It is a spiritually healthy exercise to say to God, "Lord, here I am again, this wicked sinner who pretends to be a minister of the Gospel; here I am again - worthy of being cast into the very lowest places of damnation. What a mercy Lord thou hast spared so great a sinner." Isn't that the Gospel way of thinking? Every Christian thinks like that, whether they be a minister, or deacon, or elder; that is the way a Christian thinks in his true mood.
This godly sorrow is full of rich spiritual fruit and benefit. Briefly note the text - "For behold this selfsame thing, that ye sorrowed after a godly sort," says Paul. Then he goes on to tell the seven effects or fruits of it - "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! In all things ye have approved yourselves to be clear in this matter" (text). The background to this, briefly, is that there had been a problem in the church and the elders and deacons had not dealt with it. There had been a serious sin in the church at Corinth; something very, very serious had happened and the elders and deacons were not bothering with it. They were turning a blind eye to it. The apostle heard about it and he wrote to them saying, "This is scandalous. This is worse than the heathen. Do something about it. Put out this man from the membership of that church," he said. "It is absolutely disgraceful."
They had now done so and repented of this idle, careless, lethargic attitude. They had done their duty and the apostle was writing after the duty was done and after they had repented of their neglect, carelessness and indiscipline. "Oh," says the apostle, "this is good news to me. I see you have now repented in a godly way. Look at the effect upon you - "Yea, what zeal, yea, what indignation, yea, what clearing of yourselves" (text)." This is the fruit of their repentance - carefulness, he means, to do their duty. Revenge, he means, to bring honour to God in a situation which was squalid and deserving of God's chastisement. "Yea, what zeal" - before you were lying back laughing, now look at the tears of repentance. "Thank God," says Paul, "you have come to your senses at last. You were forgetting what serious sins are like in the eyes of God." Now, what vehement desire to please God, what revenge - that is to say, desire that God should be glorified as you do your duty, whereas before you were half asleep, forgetting the seriousness of sin and the call of duty.
Each one of those fruits deserves a sermon to itself - what carefulness, what zeal etc. There is, however, no time for that today. These are the fruits of repentance, my friends, in a nutshell: a desire to live consistently as Christians - not simply to have the word 'Christian' on a label which we can wear. We must do more than that. We have to do the dirty task of the Christian faith. We have to do the things which involve us in pain, misunderstanding and loss of reputation in the eyes of men, but we have to do it because God's glory and honour are at stake. "Yea, what clearing of yourselves, yea, what indignation, yea, what fear, yea, what vehement desire, yea, what zeal, yea, what revenge! This is the secret of putting the Christian life where it ought to be - of making everything right in our lives.
I would say to myself, dear ones, and to you, it is a good thing to sit down from day-to-day and to think, "Where am I going wrong? What am I not doing that I ought to be doing? What have I omitted to do? Where am I sinning against God? What am I failing in?" That is a good exercise and is called repentance. It is a daily duty for every believer until he comes to the end of life. When he comes to heaven and to glory - Oh what happiness! He will have no more repenting to do; won't that be a blessed thing - no more repentance needed in heaven. There we shall have done everything we can do, and God will crowd His blessings with immortal joy and happiness upon us. We would have lived in this life to His glory.
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