Chapter 8 – Two Kinds of Sorrow

“Godly sorrow worketh repentance unto salvation not to be repented of, but the sorrow of the world worketh death.” 2 Cor. 7: 10.

The world is full of sorrow. It comes both to the sinner and to the saint, but oh, how different it comes to each.

I. The Sorrow of the World

There is no comfort for the sinner’s sorrow. There is no profit in his pain. Like the fire which consumes the dross, so the flames of suffering burn his heart to ashes and leave nothing but the bitter dregs and the burning lye.

1. Comfortless Trials. What can we say to comfort the heart that has no God, no Christ, no hope beyond and no faith in an overruling Providence here? Is there any task so trying as to stand by the bier of one who has died without the Savior and speak to a sorrowing household, who are equally destitute of His love and to whom that parting is forever? One can understand the terrible force and meaning of the apostle’s words, “That you sorrow not as others who have no hope.”

2. Wasted Sorrow. The Christian’s trials are a wholesome discipline intended to teach him precious lessons in the school of holy character. Our trials are but “child training,” as the apostle beautifully calls it in Hebrews, but the sufferings of the ungodly have no such issue. True, they are intended to arouse the conscience and transform the life, but they are unheeded and unblessed, and God at last gets tired of inflicting pain that does no good, and we hear Him crying in the pathetic language of the prophet, “Why should you be stricken any more; you will revolt more and more, the whole head is sick and the whole heart is faint.” How sad that so many have to suffer bereavement, disappointment, loss and failure and after all be like the one of whom Jehovah says in Isaiah, “For the iniquity of his covetousness was I wroth and smote him, but he went on frowardly in the way of his heart.”

If our trials only taught us any good, they would not seem so hard, but to suffer in vain and find it has only embittered and hardened the heart, this indeed is the very sharpness of grief.

3. Vain Regrets. One of the sources of the worldling’s sorrow is the painful reflection upon his past and the stinging memory of opportunities lost, of loved ones wronged, of sin and suffering that never can be repaired again. There is no more bitter drop in the cup of retribution than to have God say to a soul, “Son, remember.” To go alone with our own heart and retrace our wretched steps through all the chambers of memory, and see in the full light of experience the consequences of our sin and folly and know that it is irremediable, this indeed is the “sorrow of the world that works death.”

4. Futile Fears and Griefs. One of the sweetest comforts of the Christian is the thought that he is saved both from his past and future. The promise of the Lord is, “The Lord will go before you and the God of Jacob shall be your rearguard.” That is, God will take care of your future and your past. But the ungodly have no such overshadowing Presence. The past remains in all its grim reality and fraught with all its future fruition, and, before, there is foreboding, fear and the thousand anxieties that all the world’s philosophy is unable to still.

5. Self Judging. Conscience is the dread accuser of the wrongdoer, and conscience, without the restraint of divine mercy, is a terrible tyrant. There is no punishment more severe than that which we have power to inflict upon ourselves. To see your worthlessness, to know that you are wholly bad and helpless to make yourself better, to condemn yourself in utter disgust and self-despair has no healing virtue in it, no help for you and no balm to alleviate the pain. It is but the beginning of the eternal fire. People sometimes think because they call themselves hard names and inflict severe penances they have somehow made atonement for their evils. There is nothing in this. It is but the scorpion which spends its life in stinging others and then ends its life in stinging itself to death.

6. Chagrin and humiliation because of the deserved punishment of sin is another form of the vain suffering of the world. Many people are quite comfortable about their wrongdoing until it is found out. Then it looms up in lurid colors and the keenest suffering comes from wounded pride and the sense of humiliation before others. But there is no uplifting power in this. It does not reform the criminal to degrade him and expose him. It only destroys the last lingering spark of manhood and drives him into deeper despair. God does not thus try to reform and save, but rather blots out the very remembrance of the evil and lifts us up again into confidence and hope.

7. The Climax of the World’s Sorrow is Despair. One of the illustrious statesmen of this land a century ago is said to have ended his life by repeating in tones of deepest anguish over and over again the one word, “remorse,” “remorse,” “remorse.” But that remorse did not bring true repentance or take away one particle of the deep depravity of his soul. It is but the beginning of the worm that never dies and the fire that never shall be quenched.