When is Sorrow a Good and Healthy Thing? #266 + The Old Man and the College Kids.
A blessed Friday to you, dear friends! Today’s Bible readings begin with a shock: 2nd Samuel 14 features no deaths or murders that I noticed on the first read through, though an innocent barley field is burnt and probably suffers terribly. We’ll also read Ezekiel 21, Psalms 68 and 2nd Corinthians 7.
When I was a senior in high school, I began to attend a church in Alabama called Hilldale Baptist. The youth group there welcomed me, even though I lived 40 minutes away from the church (my best friend and his girlfriend attended there, and we all went to school together, and it was the kind of school that drew people from all over a two county area.) The youth group was big and thriving and the church was pretty large too – 500 or so people attending on a Sunday morning. The college group, however, was quite small and drab, with maybe 5-6 people on a Sunday morning and no excitement really whatsoever. Interestingly, God sent several people to that church to work with the college group, and we saw a sort of revivalish type thing during my time there. First he sent a missionary couple with three young children – they weren’t young and hip, they are parents and were really quite straight-laced…but they loved the Lord wholeheartedly and loved us well, and I am in ministry in large part thanks to their ministry. God sent another person to that group – brother Hayne Sandifer. Now, brother Hayne, or ‘High-pockets’ Hayne, as some of his grandchildren called him, Hadn’t been cool in a few decades by the time we found him, but he absolutely exuded wisdom and godliness, and thus it was that our college group asked him to teach us the Word on a Thursday night…and he did. In fact, brother Hayne spent the last years of his life teaching us – we didn’t know it at the time, but he was dying of cancer, and he still faithfully taught us the Word of God, and I am forever grateful for him. I am also grateful that he made my girlfriend and I memorize Scripture.
Just saying that causes the memories to flood back. That was an amazing young woman…beautiful and fun to be with, with the most amazing eyes ever. We sure did have some great times back in college…I can almost feel her head leaning on my chest, and smell her hair and her perfume. I wonder where she is right now? I miss her so much, but I console myself with the knowledge that she’s probably in bed where I last saw her (as she fell asleep in the middle of us talking…) and I’ll see her in the morning when I drag myself into the kitchen for a cup of coffee. Since she is an early bird, i’m sure she’ll already be up and reading/teaching/or planning something important. But, this isn’t a story about my wife…this is a story about Brother Hayne. As I was saying. Brother Hayne made my former girlfriend and current wife and I memorize Bible verses. And we did it too, Janet did because she was dutiful and already valued Bible memorization. The real shocker is that I memorized Bible verses too…primarily because there was no way in the world to say, “no thank you,” to Brother Hayne. He was too Godly, and too old, and probably had some sort of powers. One of the verses we memorized that I’ve never forgotten is the basis of our focus question today: “Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death.” (2nd Corinthians 7:10) Let’s read the whole chapter together and then discuss it.
A powerful passage, and I believe one of the primary things Paul is communicating to us is that repentance from sins is not merely a process of sinning, then flippantly asking God to forgive us of our sins, and then going right back and sinning again…I take that process to be a sort of worldly sorrow, and I take from this passage that worldly sorrow, or empty sorrow is meaningless to God. In a genuine believer, sin should produce Godly grief, and we repent out of that grief. This seems to be what Paul is indicating in the next verses:
11 For see what earnestness this godly grief has produced in you, but also what eagerness to clear yourselves, what indignation, what fear, what longing, what zeal, what punishment! At every point you have proved yourselves innocent in the matter.
2nd Corinthians 7:11
We are in grave danger if we can sin without any real and felt grief, nor any desire to repent and show the fruit of repentance. Godly sorrow is tangible, obvious, genuine, unfeigned, and touches the depths of the soul – it also goes beyond just a mere moment of sadness, and into the realm of that kind of action that Paul describes in our passage today. Let’s listen to Dr. Martyn Lloyd Jones here:
Our Lord has put it perfectly in His parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector: ‘God have mercy upon me a sinner.’ That is the position of those who have repented. They do not, they cannot say more than that at that point. They are broken-hearted; they realise it all; they can but cast themselves upon the mercy of God. They cannot plead anything else, but they plead that. That, in a sense, is a definition of repentance.
Now just to complete this, let us consider briefly the differences between remorse and repentance, because they are not the same thing. In remorse, you can have a sorrow because of failure and you can be very annoyed with yourself because you have done something that you know to be wrong and that you should not do. Indeed, remorse can go further; it can even include a fear of the consequences. Let us never forget that remorse can go as far as that. But that is not what Paul calls ‘godly sorrow’. Let me remind you of what that is. Paul writes:
Now I rejoice, not that ye were made sorry, but that ye sorrowed to repentance. [You can be made sorry without sorrowing to repentance.] For ye were made sorry after a godly manner, that ye might receive damage by us in nothing. For godly sorrow [this is the thing] worketh repentance to salvation not to be repented of … 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!
2 Corinthians 7:9–11
You see the passion, the feeling, the emotion. They have seen it with their minds, they feel it and have done something about it.
So what are the differences between repentance and remorse? Well, true repentance, differing from remorse, includes these elements. It gives us a sense of having offended against God and having grieved Him and hurt Him. It gives us, I repeat, a sense of pollution and of utter unworthiness. It makes us say
I hate the sins that made Thee mourn
That drove Thee from my breast.
It gives us a longing and a determination to be rid of sin. This vehement desire, this activity, this zeal, this revenge that Paul is talking about, this is godly sorrow.
We can again sum it up in one of the Beatitudes. This is the ultimate test of true repentance and the thing that differentiates it most of all from remorse—repentance gives us a hunger and thirst after righteousness. It makes us desire to be like Christ and more and more like Him, to be righteous and holy and clean. We do not simply feel sorrow because we have fallen again and because we are suffering afterwards and have let ourselves down—not at all. Remorse is negative—repentance is positive.
Oh for a heart to praise my God,
A heart from sin set free;
A heart that always feels Thy blood
So freely shed for me.
That is repentance.
David Martyn Lloyd-Jones, God the Holy Spirit (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 1997), 137–138.
It is the Spirit who shows us our need, it is He who reminds us of our sin. There is nothing that is so likely to lead a man to prayer as his consciousness of his sin and of his need. And this is the peculiar work of the Holy Spirit. You see the difference between merely rushing into the presence of God with certain petitions, and truly having fellowship and communion. You say to yourself, I am going to have this audience with the King eternal, immortal, invisible. Who am I to go in? What kind of a creature am I? How am I clad, how am I shod, what is my appearance? In other words, the Holy Spirit is making you see your sin, He is convincing you and convicting you of your need, He is creating within you a godly sorrow, a true repentance. That is most conducive to prayer. He is preparing you.
David Martyn Lloyd-Jones, God’s Way of Reconciliation: An Exposition of Ephesians 2 (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1972), 273–274.