2 Corinthians 7:8
Even if I caused you sorrow by my letter, I do not regret it. Although I did regret it, I now see that my letter caused you sorrow, but only for a short time.
A Twofold Soul SorrowD. Thomas, D. D.2 Corinthians 7:8-11
Godly SorrowJ. Parsons.2 Corinthians 7:8-11
Godly SorrowDean Vaughan.2 Corinthians 7:8-11
Godly SorrowD. Rees.2 Corinthians 7:8-11
Godly Sorrow and its Precious FruitW. Arnot, D. D.2 Corinthians 7:8-11
RepentanceJames Saurin.2 Corinthians 7:8-11
Sorrow According to GodA. Maclaren, D. D.2 Corinthians 7:8-11
Sorrow and SorrowC. H. Spurgeon.2 Corinthians 7:8-11
The Apostolic Doctrine of RepentanceF. W. Robertson, M. A.2 Corinthians 7:8-11
The Power of SorrowF. W. Robertson, M. A.2 Corinthians 7:8-11
The Spirit of Apostolical RebukeF. W. Robertson, M. A.2 Corinthians 7:8-11
True Repentance is a Godly SorrowW. Mayors, A. M.2 Corinthians 7:8-11
Marks of True PenitenceE. Hurndall 2 Corinthians 7:8-15
True Repentance and its Effects; Ministry of TitusC. Lipscomb 2 Corinthians 7:8-16

There are reactions from our highest moods. There are reactions from our wisest deeds. Nor can it be otherwise under the present constitution of our nature. That St. Paul should have had these reactions was perfectly natural, the more so as his temperament made him liable, in an unusual degree, to their occurrence. If they did not appear in his writings we should be surprised, nor could their absence be explained but on the supposition that he was an exception in this respect to the ordinary laws of mind, and particularly to those laws as seen in men of his class. Some persons think it very strange that he should say, "Though I made you sorry with a letter, I do not repent, though I did repent." What was his inspiration, they ask, if he could "repent" of writing his former Epistle to the Corinthians? Whatever he meant by "repent," he did not mean moral self-reproach, nor indeed any permanent state of mind, but simply a transient emotional condition, due probably to excess of nervous sensibility. His inspiration from the Holy Ghost was the inspiration of a man. It did not set aside his temperament. It was in perfect harmony with the characteristics of his intellect, and quite likely intensified those characteristics as related to his physical peculiarities. Who has not had these seasons of experience in which things that were very clear a few days before have been suddenly darkened? Judgments were then formed, committals made, promises given, that now seem unwise or even rash; and bow gladly would we undo what was done! - and that too in matters which were entered on after long and earnest deliberation, and which proved in the sequel to be eminently fortunate. Are the arguments that led us to certain conclusions less valid now than then? No; the arguments are the same, but nerves and brain are not in the same state, not in the same vigorous tension, and, consequently, we do not see the truth and the grounds of the truth as we did when we were in fuller possession of ourselves. The logic of nerves and brain is a very wayward and fitful thing, and a very different thing from the logic of the intellect. Pascal says, in the 'Pensees,' "To have a series of proofs incessantly before the mind is beyond our power." Now, in the instance under review, St. Paul would have been more or less than man not to have undergone precisely this temporary reaction. Ill health, an unusual combination of exciting circumstances, dangers of an extraordinary sort threatening the Church, a new and most promising sphere of labour and by far the greatest that had opened in his ministry overcast with sudden gloom, Titus still absent, suspense wearing upon a fortitude taxed already to the uttermost; what a lack of the human and of the genuine manliness of the human, if he had felt no uneasiness, no misgivings, no rebound! It was not weakness, but weakness struggling into strength, that led him to say, "I did repent." Let us take comfort from the apostle's human nature and the grace manifested in its infirmities. Companionship in weakness aspiring to get the victory is very precious to honest souls. Men are never wanting to teach us the ideals of life. What is needed far more is to have traced in a distinct manner the progress of the soul towards perfection. Who in this respect can compare with the Apostle Paul? Who has delineated the Christian consciousness in all its various moods, in all its alternations, in its baffled endeavours, in its victorious strength, and done it in such a natural way that the lowliest heart feels at home in his fellowship and finds no language of its own so much its own as the words in which he tells how he sorrowed and how he rejoiced? Lest they should misunderstand his joy by supposing that he had any pleasure in their pain, he explains (ver. 9) why he was happy. They had "sorrowed to repentance." Instructed by the doctrinal truths he had unfolded in the First Epistle, moved by his entreaties, made conscious of their delinquencies, made ashamed of their gross inattention to discipline, they had repented of their backslidings and reformed their evil doings. A "godly sorrow" had they shown, and could anything "godly" be deplored? Least of all, could a "godly sorrow" over envy and jealousy, over strife and schismatic partisanships, over vices tolerated in the bosom of the Church - could such a sorrow be regretted? It was "godly," indeed, for it had wrought out its true nature and was known by its fruits. Of course he gave it a doctrinal form, and, for all time, thus reads one of the most vital and solemn of all Christian verities: "Godly sorrow worketh repentance to salvation not to be repented of." Well might he claim that they had received "damage in nothing." It was all gain, infinite gain. Notice the development of the thought. A true repentance is from God. Christ said that the Holy Spirit should come to rebuke "the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment." It is not our idea of sin, but God's idea, that enables us to realize what sin is, and this proceeds from the Spirit. Think of it as we may, study its consequences, feel its enormity as far as we can, look at the paradise it blighted, read its records on the earth, picture the hell it has created; this is not that sense of the guilt of sin which leads to repentance. Not what sin is in our sight, but what it is in God's sight, determines the estimate of the penitent. And just in the degree that this initial process is from the illumination and under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, in that same degree is the work genuine and profound. Large allowance must be made for individuality of character. Modes of thinking, habits of feeling, education and circumstances, must be taken into consideration, since men are very thoroughly personal when God comes to dear with their souls. Nevertheless, the truth cannot be stated too strongly, that repentance is a "godly sorrow" only so far as the Holy Ghost is concerned in the work. And, further, it is salutary. It works no "damage." Now, at this point, the apostle confesses that he had been anxious, and certainly there was ground for anxiety. To rebuke men for their sins is the most difficult and the most hazardous of all the functions devolved on a minister of the gospel. Happy the minister who can say that he has not done "damage," some time in his career, in this particular. But in the present case all had turned out well. The censure, the exhortation, the personal lovingness, he had put into his letter, had blended in one gracious influence, so that conscience had witnessed to conscience, heart to heart, energy on their part to decision and resoluteness on his part, and a result most blessed to him, to Titus, to the Church, had been effected. It was not the sorrow of the world that "worketh death." Instead of that, it had wrought life, a renewed and most hopeful life, a change so glorious that it would never be repented of. But he would particularize. If the repentance had been "godly," and therefore without "damage," he would show them the full meaning of these worsts. "Behold this selfsame thing." He would arouse their attention and concentrate thought on this manifestation of God's mercy. To see it they must look within. What a transformation! Lately so careless, so insensible, so puffed up, even the Holy Communion shockingly abused; what save a "godly sorrow" could bring about a radical change? It was a sorrow to humble them, not to "damage" them. It was not the sorrow of the world, mortifying to pride and vanity, intensifying to selfishness, driving to desperation, and arming the soul in deadlier hostility to goodness. The proof of all this was at hand. Carefulness; activity and diligence in ferreting out evils and extirpating them. Clearing of themselves; anxiety to get rid of the stain on their Church character, and stand fair with the apostle. Indignation; not only against the incestuous man, but that feeling of self-vexation which arises when we see the folly and evil of our conduct. Fear; lest a heavier punishment should come from God than that already experienced. Longing; fervent desire to do better. Zeal; industrious effort in discharging their duties, and especially such duties as concerned Church discipline. Avenging the wrong done by punishment so as to evince their sincerity of amendment. Yea; repeated in every item, specified that each element of the sentence might maintain its proper degree of force. Finally, his hearty commendation; in every respect, approving themselves to be right minded in this matter. A word of justification for himself follows. Not for the sake of him who had done the wrong, nor for his sake who had suffered the wrong, had he written, but that their earnest care in his behalf might be manifested And his apostleship honoured. In the name of God he had called them to repentance, and they had promptly hearkened to the Divine message. Once more the power of the gospel had been vindicated, and "therefore we have been comforted." Throughout the affair he had been intensely personal, but had he been actuated by selfishness, or had any element of selfishness mixed with his motives, this personal intensity could not have assumed the form presented in his conduct. Yet in that hour of gladness there was an uppermost joy. A beautiful touch of nature it is when he says that he "joyed the more exceedingly" on account of his young associate Titus, "because his spirit was refreshed by you all." The long-continued trouble seems over now. The unrest, the fightings without and the fears within, Ephesus and Troas and Macedonia, pass out of presence, and the only spectacle left in the horizon of vision is Paul the apostle standing firmly on the historic soil he has won for Christ, with Titus at his side, in whose blooming spring time his eye reads the harvest not far off. "O ye Corinthians, our heart is enlarged." Can he express his gratification too often, too freely? Once again, "I rejoice therefore that I have confidence in you in all things." - L.

For though I made you sorry with a letter I do not repent, though I did repent.
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 (vers. 9, 11, 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 (ver. 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).

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).Conclusion: Observe —

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.)

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.


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?


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.)

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.


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.)

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.


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 —


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.


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.)

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 (Psalm 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.)

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 —


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?"


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.


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.)

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 (ver. 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.)


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."


1. Its marks.(1) Moral earnestness — "carefulness" (ver. 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.)

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