He proceedeth in exhorting them to purity of life, and to bear him like affection as he doth to them. Whereof lest they might seem to doubt, he declareth what comfort he took in his afflictions, by the report which Titus gave of their godly sorrow which his former epistle had wrought in them, and of their loving kindness and obedience towards Titus, answerable to his former boastings of them.
Anno Domini 58.
LEST the Corinthians might fancy St. Paul had injured them by forbidding them to contract either marriages or friendships with infidels, and lest on that account they might lose their affection for him, he intreated them to acknowledge and love him as a faithful Apostle of Christ; since neither by his doctrine, nor by his actions, had he injured, or corrupted, or deceived any of them, 2 Corinthians 7:2.—And because, in thus speaking, he obliquely insinuated that their new teacher had done these injuries to them, he assured them, that he did not deride their simplicity, in suffering themselves to be so used: for, as he said before, he had the most cordial affection for them, 2 Corinthians 7:3.—But he spake freely to them, because he had boasted of their good dispositions, and because their obedience in excommunicating the incestuous person, had filled him with consolation, 2 Corinthians 7:4.
Farther, to make them sensible of the greatness of his joy on account of their obedience, he pathetically described his anxiety of mind, occasioned by his not meeting with Titus at the time he expected him, 2 Corinthians 7:5 and the pleasure which his arrival, with the good news of their submission and love, had given him, 2 Corinthians 7:6-7.—And as they had taken his admonitions in good part, he told them, he did not repent of having made them sorry for alittle while, by his former letter, 2 Corinthians 7:8.—since their sorrow was of a godly sort, and had wrought in them, through the grace of God, true repentance, 2 Corinthians 7:9-10.—He told them likewise, that he wrote to them to excommunicate the incestuous person, to shew the care which he took of them in the sight of God, 2 Corinthians 7:12.—For which reason, their kind reception of Titus, and their obedience, whereby he was made joyful and his spirit was refreshed, had comforted the Apostle, and filled himwith exceeding joy, 2 Corinthians 7:13.-And seeing before Titus went to Corinth, the Apostle had boasted to him of the good disposition of the Corinthians, he told them he was glad that his boasting was found true, 2 Corinthians 7:14.—In the last place, he informed them, that Titus entertained a most tender affection for them, which was increased by his remembering their obedience to the Apostle, and their kindness to himself, 2 Corinthians 7:15.—The Apostle, therefore, rejoiced that he now had confidence in them, in every thing, 2 Corinthians 7:16.
Having therefore these promises,— This verse should certainly have been connected with what goes before, and not have begun a new chapter. Some would read the latter part of it thus: From all filthiness of the flesh, and perfecting the holiness of the Spirit in the fear of God. If we understand it according to our version, the meaning is, "Let us endeavour, through divine grace, to purify ourselves from every actual and outward defilement, and from every inward sensual affection which can pollute our hearts, and render them displeasing to God."
We have defrauded no man.— The original word signifies, "to indulge a covetous temper, and make a prey of others by it;" and perhaps intimates, that the false teachers, of whom he had so much reason to complain, had done so.
Boldness of speech— Freedom of speech. Doddridge. The word rendered exceeding joyful, υπερπερισσευομαι, is very expressive, and seems to be a word of the Apostle's own making.
Nevertheless,— Or, but.
Though I did repent:— However anxious I might before have been. The original word Μεταμελεια strictly expresses an after-care and anxiety for any thing that has been done; whereas the word repent always signifies a wish that it had not been done. Now, as what St. Paul did in writing the former epistle was proper, and done under the direction of the divine Spirit, it does not seem reasonable to suppose that he really repented of it; and therefore the above translation, which is agreeable to the original word, seems proper. The word may also signify a kind of misgiving of heart of the success; which is natural when the reproof, however necessary, is given to a person whom one tenderly loves, and where the event is dubious, as it might be in this instance. Dr. Heylin renders the last clause, though but for a short time.
For godly sorrow, &c.— See the Inferences.
Yea, what revenge?— What punishment!—namely, of the incestuous person. Heylin. The word clear in this verse answers very well to the word αγνος in the Greek: but then, "to be clear," in English is generally understood to signify, "not to have been guilty;" which could not be the sense of the Apostle, he having charged the Corinthians so strongly in his first epistle. His meaning must therefore be, that they had now resolved on a contrary course, and were so far clear; that is, were set right, and in a good disposition again, as he describes it in the former part of this verse; and therefore the expression εν τω πραγματι, which we render in this matter, might perhaps better be rendered in fact; that is, "by your sorrow, your fear, &c." It cannot well be translated in this matter, understanding thereby the punishment of the fornicator,—for that was not the matter of which St. Paul had been speaking; but the Corinthians siding with the false apostle against him, had been the subject of the preceding part of this, and of the three or four foregoing Chapter s, wherein he justifies himself against their slanders, and invalidates the pretences of the adverse party. This is what lay chiefly upon his heart, and what he labours both in this and the former epistle to rectify, as thefoundation of all the disorders among them; and consequently is that wherein he rejoices to find them all set right. Indeed, in the immediately following verse he mentions his having written to them concerningthe fornicator, but it is only as an argument of his kindness and concern for them; but that which was the great cause of his rejoicing, was the breaking the faction, and the reuniting them all to himself in Christ; which he expresses in the word all, emphatically used, 2 Corinthians 7:13; 2 Corinthians 7:15 and thence he concludes thus; I rejoice, therefore, that I have confidence in you in all things, 2 Corinthians 7:16. His mind was now at rest: the partisans of his opposer having forsaken that leader in whom they had so much gloried, and being all through the blessing of God now come over to him, he doubted not but all would go well, and therefore here drops the subject.
I rejoice therefore, &c.— The address of all this part of the epistle is striking and excellent: this verse in particular finely introduces what he had to say in the following chapter, and is strongly illustrated by ch. 2 Corinthians 9:2-4.
Inferences drawn from 2Ci 2 Corinthians 7:6-11.—From the consideration of the different effects of worldly and of religious sorrow here recorded, the Apostle with no less truth than holy art insinuates to the Corinthians, how really he had acted the part of a friend towards them, in bringing them through divine grace to a due sense of sorrow for the sins they had committed.—But it is the part of a friend to ease our minds of grief, to step in between us and sorrow, and to make us, as far as it is possible, forget our misfortunes. Why then, it may be asked by many, do the ministers of Christ perpetually suggest new fears to us, and still labour to awaken our souls to a sense of their misery, and to fill us with sorrow, by continually representing to us the greatness of our loss?—To this let the Apostle answer for himself, and for all, (as in 2 Corinthians 7:9.) I rejoiced, not that ye were made sorry, but that ye sorrowed to repentance.
If from worldly sorrow there can arise nothing but certain woe and misery; if the anguish of mind springing therefrom produces feebleness of body, and the lamenting our past misfortunes renders us incapable of the enjoyments which are present; happy is the man who can bear up against afflictions, and with an undisturbed mind submit to those evils which no sorrow can either alleviate or prevent. But, if in godly sorrow the effects are just the contrary; if penitential grief brings us to a knowledge of ourselves; if it brings us to Jesus Christ, the only refuge for the wounded spirit; and thereby we are at peace with God and ourselves; if now life is rendered comfortable, and death not terrible; if we are rid of fear for the present, and filled with hope of future glory; how happy are we, who through conviction of and sorrow for sin, are thus led to Christ, holiness, and happiness!
How these blessed fruits grow out of godly sorrow, will appear from the words in question; whence we may observe,
1. That sorrow is distinguished from repentance; for godly sorrow is said to work repentance,—and is therefore supposed to have the same relation to it, that the cause has to its effect. In common speech we are apt to speak of sorrow for sin under the name of repentance, and to ascribe to it that effect which belongs only to repentance. But the Apostle here has plainly another notion of repentance, since the common notion would create an absurdity: for if by repentance we understand sorrow for sin, the Apostle must then be understood to say, "That godly sorrow produces sorrow for sin; that is, that godly sorrow produces itself," since that only is godly sorrow, which is upon the account of sin. Repentance therefore is distinct from sorrow, as it is wrought by it; and properly denotes "such a change of mind, as leads us ardently to pant after Christ, forgiveness, and spiritual things, instead of the world and the things which are in the world."
Sorrow then is not repentance, though it be the cause of repentance in very many cases. The alliance between them will be best explained by considering the nature of sorrow in general, and the impressions it makes upon every man's mind. Whatever is the cause of sorrow, must needs be the cause of aversion too; since to take pleasure in the thing that grieves us, and causes us pain, is a contradiction in nature. Sin especially cannot be the cause of our sorrow, but it must be likewise of our aversion; the natural consequence of which is repentance. Thus we see how consequentially repentance arises from godly sorrow, or sorrow for sin.
2. This godly sorrow, secondly, is not said to work salvation immediately, and of itself, but through divine grace by means of that repentance which it produces, and that conversion which follows. So many are the sad effects of sin, with respect to this world, that the sinner who has no fear of God before his eyes, has reason enough, even in respect to his state here below, to be sorry for his sins. But sorrow arising from these motives is mere worldly sorrow: one man laments the decay of his health; another the loss of his reputation; and a third the ruin of his fortune; and very often one laments the loss of all; and equally would they have lamented these losses, had they come from any other cause besides sin. He that is sorry for his sin, merely because it has destroyed his health, would have been as sorry had a fever destroyed it; and he that grieves for the loss of his fortune, would have grieved in the same manner, if fire, or the raging sea, had been his undoing. Whence it is plain, that in such sorrow as this, no regard is had to God; whom yet we are principally to respect in our repentance, as being the person against whom we have offended, and whose mercy and pardon through Jesus Christ we must obtain, or be undone for ever.
In true sorrow, which produces repentance, the sense of our guilt is a great ingredient, as well as the sense of our misery. The very hopes we have of obtaining pardon at the hand of God through the infinite merits of the Redeemer, will fill our minds with indignation at ourselves, for having offended so gracious a Master; for if we can think him so good as to be willing to forgive us through the Son of his love, we must needs think ourselves exceedingly wicked, and lost to all sense of gratitude and goodness, that we could offend so kind and compassionate a Lord. In short, fear, zeal, indignation, every passion will be roused to act its part in making us hate ourselves and our iniquities, and will never let us be at peace with our own hearts, till we have found pardon in Jesus Christ, and through his Spirit have purged ourselves of every evil lust, and consecrated ourselves entirely to the service of our Master:—and this is that true repentance unto salvation never to be repented of.
Fear may sometimes prevail against the power of lust; and the wretch who hates to think of God, may yet not be able to exclude the servile dread of him. When the flames of hell play before the sinner's eyes, and guilt, conscious of its own deserts, fills the imagination with all the horrors of damnation; in this case there will never be a want of some kind of sorrow, though perhaps there be no signs of genuine repentance. Thus Judas grieved; in his grief he died; and in his death he found the pains of hell.
In the Gospel there are no promises made to grief and sorrow; the mercies of God are offered to the genuine penitent, on the condition of faith in the Redeemer's blood. Sorrow which produces not real repentance and living faith, is of no account in the sight of God. Such sorrow forms a trifling part of the sinner's due; if he suffer under it, he has but a part of his reward: it is the punishment of his iniquity, but can never be a preparation for pardon.
One would think this were too plain a case to be mistaken; and yet, so commonly is it mistaken, that repentance is grown, in the Christian world at large, almost into a form and method; and instead of reforming from their sins through divine grace, these people only see themselves so many days to be sorry for them. Alas! it is a fruitless grief; and they may assure themselves their hopes of pardon will be as empty and delusive as their sorrow. Were men once truly sensible of their guilt, there would need no art to produce sorrow, no rules whereby to limit their grief; they would fly to the only refuge, and to the only fountain, for sin and for uncleanness, with unsought tears and groans. Were we sincere, we should of course through grace fly the viper that had stung us, and not cherish and caress the venomous animal, while with false tears we bathe the wound that we have received.
3. The nature of this godly repentance will be better understood, by comparing it with worldly sorrow, and shewing the difference between them. Now, worldly sorrow is said immediately to work death: it brings forth nothing analogous to repentance, but does rather confirm the evil dispositions from which it grows.
There is such a connection between the passions, that one cannot be powerfully set on work, but it must move and engage the others in their several spheres. Thus 2 Corinthians 7:11 the Apostle tells us, that the godly sorrow of the Corinthians produced fear, indignation, zeal, and vehement desire and revenge. And thus it must be: whatever afflicts us, is in some sense the object of our aversion; whatever we lament the loss of, that we must needs vehemently desire and long after; and our grief for the loss will rouse us to recover, if possible, the thing we lament for: and thus it always is in respect to religion through the grace of God.
This being agreed, we need only consider the causes from which worldly sorrow and godly sorrow arise, to see the workings of both, and the different effects which they must produce. In all godly sorrow we grieve for having enjoyed too much of the world, to the hazard of losing the infinitely more valuable pleasures of immortality: in worldly sorrow we lament our having had too little of the world. It is evident then that sorrow in one case will, through grace, make us fly from the world and its allurements; in the other it will render us but the more eager to pursue and overtake them. In the one case, sorrow, by the divine blessing, gives us new desires, and rouses us to seek new joys and comforts, to which before we were strangers. In the other case, grief confirms the old habits, quickens the old desires, and makes a man ten times more worldly-minded than he was before: so that his last state is even worse than his first. Which will further appear by considering,
4. That the death which is wrought by worldly sorrow is opposed by the salvation which follows repentance, and may therefore signify eternal death, as well as temporal; the truth of the proposition admitting either or both of these explications: only that repentance must be followed by persevering faith and holiness, if we be eternally saved.
The natural effect of grief, considered as such, is, to waste and impair the strength, to deaden the faculties of the mind, and to make a man useless to himself and his friends. But then here lies the difference between godly sorrow and worldly sorrow. The first, in every step, tends to peace and joy; and its most obvious effect, through divine grace, is, to destroy itself, and leave the mind, by faith in Jesus, in perfect ease and tranquillity. The sinner's tears, though they spring from grief, do, like flowers in summer, portend a cooler and more refreshing air. But worldly sorrow knows no rest, has no period; it still urges men to new pursuits after the world; and the world has new disappointments in reserve to baffle all their eager care. Every disappointment is a new occasion of grief; and the whole gain of this passion for the world, being fairly computed, amounts to this,—Vanity and vexation of spirit.
Thus the case stands, if we regard only the comforts of this life. Godly sorrow for sin produces, through faith in the Redeemer, the pleasure of righteousness, which is a perpetual spring of joy and spiritual consolation; while the worldly man, pursuing false enjoyments, is ever reaping real torments. But if we change the scene,—if we look into the other world, the difference grows wider still. The time is coming, when all tears shall be for ever wiped away from the eyes of the faithful. Whereas worldly sorrow will then have a heavy account to pass: those tears, those guilty tears, which were fixed for the transitory pleasures of mortality, will rise up in judgment against the sinner's soul, and fearfully exclude him from the joys of that divine life, which endureth for evermore.—The sorrow of the world worketh DEATH.
REFLECTIONS.—1st, Having mentioned the amazingly rich and gracious promises of God, the Apostle,
1. Draws an inference from them. Having therefore these promises, dearly beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, avoiding every kind of intemperance or uncleanness which would pollute our bodies; and mortify the inward abominations of pride, malice, falsehood, &c. which defile the soul; perfecting holiness in the fear of God, growing in grace unto perfect love, increasing with all the increase of God, till ultimately our course be completed in endless glory.
2. He returns from the digression that he had made, to vindicate himself and his fellow-labourers from the slanders of the false teachers. Receive us with cordial regard: we have wronged no man, we have corrupted no man, we have defrauded no man; our principles have been according to God's word, and our practice upright and unblamable. I speak not this to condemn you, reflecting on you as a body, as having traduced us: for I have said before, that ye are in our hearts to die and live with you; such confidence have we in you, and such warm affection towards you. Great is my boldness of speech toward you, in censuring the disorders among you; great is my glorying of you, as, in general, obedient children, and ornaments to your profession. I am filled with comfort in you; I am exceeding joyful in all our tribulation, to hear the late gracious accounts from you. For when we were come into Macedonia, in search of Titus, our flesh had no rest, but we were troubled on every side, not only with the opposition of our enemies, but with the anxiety of our minds on your account; without, were fightings from our foes; within, were fears for you, lest you should be removed from the simplicity which is in Christ. Nevertheless, God, that comforteth those that are cast down, comforted us by the coming of Titus, whose arrival revived our drooping hearts; and not by his coming only, but by the consolation wherewith he was comforted in you, by the affectionate and respectful reception he met with at Corinth; when he told us your earnest desire to obey our injunctions, your mourning for the offences which had been committed, your fervent mind toward me, vindicating with zeal my character against the false teachers, and longing for my coming; so that I rejoiced the more, and his report exceedingly heightened the pleasure of his arrival. For though I made you sorry with a letter, wherein I was constrained to use sharp rebukes, I do not repent, though I did repent, and grieved exceedingly, even at the time, that I should be necessitated to use such severity: for I perceive that the same epistle made you sorry, though it were but for a season, and engaged you immediately to correct what was amiss. Now I rejoice, not that ye were made sorry: in that I could have no satisfaction, and sympathized tenderly with you; but that ye sorrowed to repentance: for ye were made sorry after a godly manner, mourning over your unfaithfulness, and returning in deep humility to God, that ye might receive damage by us in nothing, but contrariwise be abundantly profited. For godly sorrow worketh repentance to salvation, not to be repented of; and what has such a gracious effect, cannot but in the issue prove matter of the most solid satisfaction: but the sorrow of the world, which men of earthly minds feel, on account of the losses and crosses here below, worketh death, driving them to despair, impairing their health, and sometimes even causing them to lay violent hands on themselves. For behold, this self-same thing, that ye sorrowed after a godly sort, what a blessed influence it had upon you! What carefulness it wrought in you to remove the cause of offence, yea, what clearing of yourselves from any connivance at iniquity; yea, what indignation against what was evil in yourselves, or in the notorious delinquent; yea, what fear of God, and jealousy for yourselves; yea, what vehement desire to make a thorough reformation of all disorders; yea, what zeal for God's glory, and the honour of your holy profession; yea, what revenge, punishing with due severity the criminal. In all things ye have approved yourselves to be clear in this matter, by your ready amendment. Note; (1.) Godly sorrow is the most profitable physic for the soul. (2.) Whatever bitterness we may have tasted, we shall never at last repent of that which worketh repentance unto salvation.
2nd, Since his admonition had so good an effect, the Apostle cannot but rejoice. Wherefore, though I wrote unto you with some sharpness, I did it not for his cause that had done the wrong, not merely that the incestuous person should be punished, nor for his cause that suffered wrong, out of any partial favour to his injured father, but that our care for you in the sight of God might appear unto you, and the church be preserved from scandal. Therefore we were comforted in your comfort, the peace and purity of your society being restored: yea, and exceedingly the more joyed we for the joy of Titus, because his spirit was refreshed by you all, by the kind, obedient, respectful, and affectionate behaviour which you shewed towards him. For if I have boasted any thing to him of you, I am not ashamed of the character I gave you; but as we spake all things to you in truth, in simplicity and godly sincerity, even so our boasting which I made before Titus, is found a truth, and the commendation that I gave you has been proved to be but just. And his inward affection is more abundant toward you, whilst he remembereth the obedience of you all to my apostolic injunctions, how with fear and trembling you received him, with deepest reverence and holy jealousy, lest you should not duly profit by his advice. I rejoice therefore that I have confidence in you in all things, that you will continue to obey my admonitions, and to refresh my spirit by your dutiful and becoming conduct on every occasion. Note; It is a singular comfort to a minister, that he has confidence in the fidelity of his people.