Scripture Characters

"For godly sorrow worketh repentance to salvation not to be repented of: but the sorrow of the world worketh death." 2 COR. vii. 10. "And the king was exceeding sorry; yet for his oath’s sake, and for their sakes which sat with him, he would not reject her." MARK vi. 26.

"THE king was exceeding sorry;" such is the explanation shall we say partly the excuse, of Herod's conduct, suggested by the inspired historian. It is the very apology which he might have been disposed to offer for himself, or his friends might have offered for him; it is the sort of extenuating circumstance that he or they might have wished to be left on record, in connection with the narrative of so dark a deed. In consenting to it, "the king was exceeding sorry." Such sensibility seems, so far as it goes, to be rather creditable than otherwise; indicating a certain tenderness of feeling, which, in one view of it, looks well in contrast with the remorseless and cruel levity of the fair dancer and her parent, making sport, amid their revelry, of that venerable and holy head.

But then how far did this sensibility of Herod's go? Of what avail was his exceeding sorrow? It did not save the prophet's life, would it save the prince's soul or satisfy his conscience? Must it not, on the contrary, in another view of it, appear to be even an aggravation of his guilt, that, in the face of his exceeding sorrow, he went on to commit the crime? At all events, this sorrow is nothing more than what is very commonly the accompaniment of sin, especially when the sinner has any natural or gracious emotions that must be got over before he gives in to the sin.

For in fact sin is usually, or rather invariably, more or less a cause of sorrow, either beforehand, or at the time, or afterwards. Beforehand, there is reluctance and hesitation; at the time, a sharp pang of sudden shame, or undefined uneasiness and alarm; and afterwards, regret and remorse. The sorrow beforehand is what chiefly tests the state of the sinner's heart, and affords the measure of his criminality. Of such sorrow there may be in some cases little or none; as where the hurry of a hasty temptation, or the violence of passion, carries a man on with scarce a moment for reflection; or where long and hackneyed familiarity with vice has deadened all the feelings. But between such cases there lies a sort of middle or debatable ground, on which, with more of deliberation than in the one case, and less of obduracy than in the other, the man solicited to sin sways to and fro before he falls; and it is the pain of such oscillation of mind the sorrow of this weak or wicked suspense ere the blow is struck that the example of Herod illustrates.

Now the sorrow in question may arise out of either of two contingencies; either, first, when sin comes to disturb a religious profession; or, secondly, when religion comes to disturb a course of continuance in sin.
I. The first of these occasions on which this sorrow is apt to be felt, is when sin comes to disturb a decent and perhaps serious profession of religion. This was Herod's case with reference to the first great crime which he committed, in taking to himself Herodias, his brother Philip's wife. Until he was thus tempted, and fell a victim to the temptation, all apparently might be going on well with him, as the follower and friend of the Baptist. He respected that holy man, waited on his ministry, admitted him to his intimacy, complied with his counsels, and had the reputation, perhaps, of being an earnest and consistent disciple. Doubtless, when he found that he could no longer continue on the same terms with his spiritual adviser, but must reject his too faithful advice, he was "exceeding sorry."

His sorrow, however, did not hinder his sinning. Is the case uncommon? May it not once have been may it not still at this very moment be your own? You are willing, nay, forward, to adopt a profession of godliness; and, if not quite prepared to go all lengths, yet up to a certain point you are ready to go hand and heart along with the godly. It is not that you are consciously insincere. You have received deep impressions; you are anxious to maintain a Christian character; you hear the word with joy; you do many things to prove your earnestness and zeal; you delight not a little in services of piety, works of faith, and labours of love. It is true, you are not yet altogether such as Paul, were he speaking to you as he did to Agrippa, might wish you to be " Such," he would say, "as I am, except these bonds;" you are only almost persuaded to be such.

There is a hidden reserve and secret guile in your spirit; and a sort of suspicion may visit others, and even haunt yourself, that there might be some sacrifice required of you, some renunciation of self-indulgence, or some act of self-denial, to which you might not be quite able to consent. Still, so long as a peremptory and painful decision, in a particular instance, is not actually forced upon you, the symptoms of your general unsteadfastness in the covenant of God may not be very apparent, and the root of bitterness may not spring up to trouble you.

But let an emergency occur, let there be some sin so besetting that your principles can remain quiet and tolerant no longer; then comes the "tug of war," the strife and inward controversy. Conscience, but now smooth and satisfied, becomes agitated and uneasy. Inclination, on the other hand, is importunate, and there is a strong necessity pressing upon you. Everything like truce or compromise between the contending powers is, for the time at least, at an end. The customary terms of good understanding are broken. It is "war to the knife" now; and you are sorry for it, "exceeding sorry."

Christian! Professing Christian! and thou especially whose profession of serious godliness is yet fresh and recent! Consider, with reference to such experience as this "consider your ways." Call to mind the first marked step you have been tempted to take, since you seriously assumed the Christian character and name, in the direction of self-indulgence or worldly conformity. You have been advancing, as you flattered yourself, steadily and happily, finding "Wisdom's ways are ways of pleasantness, and all her paths peace;" nor has any anticipation of the embarrassment of a doubtful choice marred the serenity of your heavenly fellowship. All at once a question is started bearing upon your practical conduct, your walk before God in the world. A proposal is made that you should enter into a certain society, or engage in a certain pursuit, or consent to a certain alliance, of which the lawfulness, or at least the Christian expediency, may not be altogether so clear as you would wish. There may be a secret leaning perhaps in your own heart towards compliance; or, if not, the very absence of it may be a snare, making compliance look all the more like a duty. And there may be much friendly advice, and even perhaps parental authority, on the same side. But, on the other hand, there is a scruple; and there is the divine warning sounded in your ears "Whatsoever is not of faith is sin." "He that doubteth is condemned if he eat;" "Happy is he that condemneth not himself in that thing which he alloweth;" "Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind." Such full persuasion, in the instance on hand, you are very far from having; and the want of it distresses you, and makes you "exceeding sorry." Still much is to be said in favour of concession; there are many arguments against an unreasonable and impracticable degree of strictness; there are various considerations of plausible worldly policy and propriety to justify or excuse the step; time presses; the matter is urgent; people all around are waiting for your decision; and what can you do? At least you may cast another look on what you are thus solicited to sanction. You look and linger; you linger and begin again to long. Your hand is stretched out; your feet are about to move.
Here, however, once more, at the very critical moment, an arrest is laid upon you, a voice from within is heard; from on high there flashes upon you the eye of a frowning God, an angry Father; and the clear, emphatic word of warning, "It is not lawful for thee," rings in your ears, as it rung in the ears of Herod. You are startled, you stop short, your special pleading is laid bare, your duty is clear. Thus arrested, you draw back, and you seem to be safe, and to breathe freely.

And so you might be safe, were it not that, even in the very act of stopping short, you are "sorry." Thankful, doubtless, for your escape, glad of your seasonable deliverance, coming as it did just in time, and no more than in time, contented to acquiesce in the rejection of the offered worldly boon or worldly pleasure, and satisfied that it must be so, you yet at bottom cannot help being, if not "exceeding sorry" yet at least a little, a very little sorry, that it should be so.

And of this natural sorrow the tempter knows right well how to make the most. Returning, as opportunity serves, to the assault, he plies you with still more subtle arguments than before. It is really so small an affair, after all so trifling a question; why make so much of it? It is but one little liberty; and when it is over, and you have done with it, all will be well. In this one particular, Herod cannot meet the views and wishes of the Baptist. He is sorry for it, "exceeding sorry;" but, situated as he is, how can he follow such a rigid rule as his spiritual counsellor would lay down? How should he be expected to do so? This John, a native of the wilderness, fed on wild food and clothed with coarsest raiment, cannot know the ways of kings and kings' courts. As a well-meaning man, a powerful preacher of righteousness, a faithful and friendly adviser, he is no doubt entitled to esteem; and Herod has by no means ceased to esteem him, though in one solitary point of private honour or public policy he cannot absolutely defer to him. For once, he must set aside the stern code of heavenly morality for the less impracticable maxims of worldly interest and worldly views of the sort of virtue it is reasonable to expect in kings' houses : but he will not, on that account, think the less highly, but rather the more, of the prophet, whose honest admonition he is only sorry he cannot, in this instance, regard; he will not wait the less punctually, or with the less docility, on his ministrations; nor will he welcome him less cordially to his house, his table, and his closet.

So Herod might think; and so may you, when "exceeding sorry," as you may be, to go against the misgivings of conscience, and what you cannot help suspecting may be the dictates of the Divine Word, you resolve, nevertheless, to go. You may intend and expect that your general reverence for the authority of that Word is to continue uncompromised, and your general conscientiousness unimpaired. The solitary exception is to confirm rather than invalidate the otherwise universal rule.

Alas for the infatuation of such a hope! You said you would be none the worse for your one compliance. It was to be a single instance, and in all other respects you were to be as devout and as scrupulously holy as ever. But have you, in fact, found it so? Have you ever, in such circumstances, been able to realize your anticipation? After a concession or compromise like what we have been describing, have you lived as near to God as before? or walked as closely with him? or prayed to him as fervently? or rejoiced as lovingly in the light of his countenance, and the blessed peace of conscious reconciliation, divine fellowship, and heavenly hope ? Ah, no! An inward blight has come over you; a withering coldness and callousness of heart oppresses you. Herod could never again be on the same terms as before with the Baptist, or with the Baptist's ministry. He could not, with clear and calm eye, look John in the face; and never again could he hear him gladly. With hanging head, averted ear, and sullen heart, he must have listened ever after to his friendly voice. And on you too, in the like case, a similar spell falls. Singleness of eye is gone, and with it all simplicity of faith and frank cordiality of love. The living spirit of your religion has passed away; a dead and weary weight of forced formality remains. You feel this, and complain of it, and mourn over it, though too frequently, alas! without searching out the cause! You have a vague sense of dreariness and undefined dissatisfaction. You are "exceeding sorry," you often know not why. Nor is this all. As you have not kept your promise to yourself, so the tempter does not keep his promise to you. You said you would be as godly as ever, upon the whole, in spite of your one doubtful step: he said he would be as forbearing as ever, and would take no advantage of that step to draw you farther on. You were not to tempt God any more by any further tampering with his authority: Satan was not to tempt or trouble you any more by any further working on your weakness. Such was the sort of tacit understanding on both sides.

But have you kept your part of the agreement? and if not, can you reasonably expect the adversary to keep his? Can you wonder if, seeing you unfaithful to yourself, and to your God, he should be unfaithful to you? If you were able to fulfil your purpose, to realize all your intended uprightness of walk with God, and be as spiritually-minded and as tender-hearted as you thought that, notwithstanding your slight conformity to the world, you might still continue to be; then Satan might not venture to break his truce with you, he might shrink from assailing you again. But perceiving you to be as unstable as you are unhappy, as feeble and silly as you are "exceeding sorry," it is too much to think that he should forego so attractive an opportunity, let slip so easy a prey, and continue to leave you alone. Back, therefore, he comes to you, urging all his old pleas, and this new one in addition, that you have already so far committed yourself as to make it vain for you to attempt either to stay or to change your course. ‘See' he cries, ‘you have broken with that holy man and his holy teaching, beyond the hope of any accommodation. You have found it so. Why, then, stand upon scruples and ceremonies any longer? You have made up your mind, in a right kingly manner, to brave this spiritual tyrant, and set at defiance his intrusive and impertinent interference with your domestic affairs, and the arrangements of your court and kingdom. You have shown, so far, a proper spirit; you have asserted your independence and freedom; you have proved to this proud Mentor that he is not to dictate to you in everything. But do you not feel that, so long as you suffer him to live and be at large, you have no full confidence, no unembarrassed freedom, in the way which you have chosen? He may not now be allowed to preach to you so often as before. He may be silent when he finds his remonstrance unheeded. But he is still there; and his very presence is a restraint. The mere glance of his eye is a drawback on the pleasure you should be enjoying. Come, have him disposed of somehow anyhow; and, without further unmanly temporizing, give free scope to what your heart is set on.'

So we may conceive of the tempter pleading with his now scarce-resisting victim. And "the king is exceeding sorry;" sorry to be called upon to take a new step in the direction against which the convictions of his conscience and the affections of his heart equally protest. Must he, then, give up this man of God, whom he has in former days heard so gladly? To his death, indeed, even yet he cannot bring himself to consent. But a middle course may be tried. Let him be cast into prison, and, on the principle of "out of sight out of mind" the king may hope that he will be less sorry, less "exceeding sorry," as he now finally settles down, unrebuked and unadmonished, into a customary and unreflecting course and routine of sin.

Thus also, in your case, backsliding soul! your sorrow in sinning may force you at last to the expedient of ridding yourself of what you take to be the cause of it which is not of course, in your view, your sin, but the troublesome monitor that reproves it. The struggle may be more or less protracted and severe; but, as it goes on, the issue may be too surely foreseen. You reckon without warrant, when you trust the tempter's fair promises of forbearance. His favourite plea of ‘But once' is a mere blind and snare: soon it will be ‘Once more, only once more;' and again it will be ‘Once more;' and still always but once. The tide of encroaching ocean may be stemmed sooner, and turned back more easily, than his advances, when, planting his foot upon one concession, he lifts his never-satisfied, never-ceasing demand for another, and another, until all is gained. And if there be any form or fashion of religious profession, or any feeling of religious principle, that stands out in silent grief against the successive compromises that are thus claimed; if there be so much of a remaining scruple of conscience and reverential awe of God and his Word, as to make the poor yielding soul sorry, "exceeding sorry," every time it yields, even such a measure of godliness is more than can long be tolerated. There is a growing urgency in the demand to have the pertinacious reprover still more effectually silenced and set aside.

True, it may be too much, as yet, to require that you should actually put him to death. To the absolute and final extinction of your religious character, such as it is, you can scarcely consent. But a prison may be found for it, a cold and dreary cell of formalism, a dull, icy dungeon of foul, pharisaical, and antinomian hypocrisy; where the word of God's law and gospel may be kept in safe custody apart, far enough away from the palace, with its council-chamber and banquet-hall, from the world, with its plans and pleasures: so that, like King Herod, relieved of the Baptist's presence, the worldly Christian, chaining his Christianity out of sight and out of hearing, may abandon himself at last to his worldly-mindedness; without being so sorry, so "exceeding sorry" as, in more puling [obsolete word meaning ‘whimpering'] and effeminate days, when, like the frightened schoolboy,
"Still as he ran he look'd behind ;
He heard a voice in every wind,
And snatch'd a fearful joy."
Such is the kind of sorrow apt to arise on the occasion of sin coming to disturb a decent or serious profession of godliness; and such its practical value.

II. But there is another occasion of sorrow, when religion, or godliness, returns the compliment, as it were, and comes to disturb a course of continuance in sin. Let it be supposed that the process which you have been hitherto trying, for silencing conscience and getting ease in sin, has been, on the whole, rather successful. Your experiment of confining, imprisoning, and chaining your religion, has turned out tolerably well. You have now freedom and enlargement in your worldly conformity. Weak scruples and fond fancies trouble you no longer. Your unfashionable timidity, your ridiculous singularity, the sigh of regret, the blush of shame, all have been got over; and with a smile, or a jest, you can venture boldly on the ice. No frown of an offended God, no warning of any pious friend, no voice of a wounded conscience, haunts you now. You can talk as familiarly as your neighbours of the world's vanities and venial indulgences; and, contriving to keep at a distance, and in a dark unvisited corner of your mind, any religious scruples that might still give annoyance, you find tolerable security and comfort in the broad road along which you are following the multitude to do evil.

But it may happen, on an occasion that you are abruptly asked to go a great deal farther than you ever dreamed of. A sudden demand is made upon you for a decision in an entirely new case, such as cannot but bring back "your banished" to your memory. A proposal is made to you, so much beyond all that you have as yet consented to in daring profanity and crime, that your conscientious scruples and religious principles are again stung into reviving sensitiveness. The miserable battle and intestine feud of soul is resumed, and again you are sorry "exceeding sorry." This was Herod's case in his last and crowning wickedness. He has got over the Baptist's opposition to his incestuous marriage; he is living quietly in his sinful indulgence, and has even a kind of peace in it. He can enjoy the revelry of the banquet and the ball; there being no officious intermeddler to trouble him with unseasonable remonstrances, and make him sorry or afraid. John is safe in prison; as well treated as his insolent and unaccommodating temper will admit of, certainly as well as, after all that has passed, he deserves or can expect. And the king has his own way, and is his own master. Why may not matters rest on this decent and decorous footing?

So Herod would have it. But not so the tempter: "Give me John the Baptist's head in a charger." Horror-struck, the king staggers under the shock! So fiendish and blood-thirsty a cry, issuing from lips so fair and young, appals him! He is agitated in his whole frame. Fain would he live on at ease, forgetful of his old guide, monitor, and friend: but now all the past rushes in fierce and fiery flood upon his soul, with all its vivid recollections of past kindnesses and past wrongs; and the holy, placid countenance of the man of God is before his mind's eye once more, as in the days of old; and all this while the horrid words are ringing in his ears, Give me his head! Little wonder that the king is "exceeding sorry!"

The instance may seem to be an extreme one, but it has many a parallel in the church and the world of every age. No downward career of declension or apostasy has ever been without circumstances and symptoms similar to those which we find in that of Herod. One feature in particular is invariably to be observed, and it is a most insidious and disastrous one: Always, now and then, an interval occurs a pause, a break, a sort of rest or breathing-time between one concession reluctantly extorted, and the demand of another awakening all the old reluctance again. For this strife with conscience is close and deadly, and the parties in the wrestling-match must have some space between the rounds. The tug and strain upon the moral nature the spiritual constitution, the whole framework of the religious sensibilities and affections is so intense, that were it not from time to time relaxed, and a season of comparative quiet allowed, the cord must break and the tempter's art be foiled. It is not his interest to have you always struggling and always "exceeding sorry." He has his landing-places on which, having dragged you so far down, he lets you have a little peace before again he shocks and startles you by another grasp to drag you down still farther.

Beware of these devil's landing-places, for they are most deceitful They are the successive compromises which you are but too glad to make, as step by step you are led on in sin. Hardened profligates, confirmed and habitual drunkards, seared and sordid slaves of avarice and the world's gain, know these landing-places full well. There is not one of them who could not tell of stages at which, ceasing to be sorry for practices or indulgences now become familiar, he had some measure of a sort of ease, and even of contentment, till some new excess, into which he found himself fast falling, startled him from his drowsy quiet, roused his remorseful agonies once more, and made him again "exceeding sorry." And he can tell too how that second sorrow, like the first, was in due time overcome, and a second season of repose ensued, until new and larger strides in the path of wickedness became inevitable; and, after weary alternations of angry tumult and false peace, the death-blow being at last given to whatever of God's word or voice within him could raise a feeble protest against his madness, he has been given over to a reprobate mind, to do without feeling those things which are not convenient.

Let the young man, entering on life's busy scene, beware of these false and fatal landing-places. Plunged into the tumult and temptations of a great city while yet fresh from the endearments of a holy home, you meet the first solicitations of evil with a comparatively pure conscience and a tender heart. Compliances are required of you, which create uneasiness; you are expected to tolerate at least what but lately you would have rejected with utter loathing: you must, as you think, mix a little in doubtful society, and consent to some doubtful practices; you yield; but you are "exceeding sorry." Soon, however, your sorrow wears away, and you are tranquil and unconcerned. You have come to an understanding with your religion on the one hand, and with the world's claims on the other. You cease to be shocked with what is so common in your circle; and, familiar with its little levities and liberties, you are no longer "exceeding sorry" when you occasionally conform to them. Thus far the tempter has gained the day; whatever ease or liberty you now experience, it is to him that you owe it; and you may be very sure that he will soon exact a reckoning. Accordingly, ere long, he has some new demand to make in the line of sinful compliance and conformity. Again you struggle, as a bird in the net. Old memories of home, its joys, its prayers, its tears, the yearnings of parental fondness, the loving smiles of familiar faces, holy thoughts of holy seasons, all crowd around you; and you are sorry, "exceeding sorry." But again an extorted compromise purchases a precarious peace; until a new call of vanity or folly occasions a new resistance and a new surrender; and the end comes alas! how speedily ruined character, blighted prospects, and broken hearts.

Nor is it superfluous to say to the professing Christian, or even the true believer, Beware of this particular artifice of the adversary. You are not ignorant of Satan's wiles and devices; and sad experience may have proved to you that this is among the very worst of them. It is the triumph of the deceitfulness of sin. What shipwrecks of faith and of a good conscience have been made on this sunken rock! With what subtlety has insidious habit contrived in this way to weave her chains of exquisite delicacy around the weak or willing or half-willing victims of her craft! You have the strongest reasons for venturing on a measure of doubtful, or more than doubtful propriety; and in venturing upon it, timidly and for once only, you have scruples, and are "exceeding sorry." Again, however, the strong reasons, or plausible excuses, are urged; again you venture on the compliance that is asked of you, and it is with fewer scruples and less exceeding sorrow than before. Soon the first landing-place is reached. The act of worldly conformity, from being occasional, has become customary; inward upbraiding ceases and you are "exceeding sorry" no longer. It is the dark, deceitful lull before the gathering storm. Presently you are solicited to advance another step in the direction in which you have begun to walk. You resist; but your resistance is met by a smile of derision or a scowl of defiance. You are at the mercy of circumstances which you cannot now control. You are committed to associates or accomplices from whom you cannot now draw back. You have contracted habits which you cannot shake off. Forward you are constrained to go reluctantly, for you are "exceeding sorry" but still forward you are carried, till another stage is gained and another respite granted. Thus on and on you go, unless specially and almost miraculously arrested by sovereign grace, sinning and sorrowing; sorrowing and yet sinning still. For when your sorrow for sin is of such a sort as we have been tracing, and is again and again overborne, what security can it afford against the "great transgression?" (Psa. xix. 13.) Or in what can the history of your religious walk be expected to end, but the ruin of hardened and final impenitence? You are ever struggling, but still ever surrendering: you sin and are "sorry" - you are "exceeding sorry" and yet go on to sin.

But, it may be asked, If this sorrow be thus practically inefficacious, wherein does its inefficacy consist? or how may it be distinguished from that sorrow which, being of a godly sort, "worketh repentance unto salvation not to be repented of?" Two distinctive marks may be enough; and accordingly it is to be observed, that the sorrow in question has in it no true fear of God, and no just sense of sin. There is in it no true fear of God; for in all this sorrow you regard God, if you regard him at all, as if he were such an one as yourselves as if he were like an earthly friend, whom, if by any accident you happen to offend him, you may easily conciliate and appease by a few formal common-places of apologetic explanation. In making your way through a crowded street, you are compelled to elbow and jostle some one whom you respect. You pause for a moment to ask his pardon, you did not intend to hurt, you are "exceeding sorry;" but the pressure was so great! Your interest obliges you to take an un- wonted and not quite warrantable liberty with one on whose personal regard and indulgence you think you can reckon. You explain the freedom which you have used or are about to use, you are "exceeding sorry" that it should be necessary, but you know he will excuse you; and, after all, between friends is it not a trifle?

And if your sin were no more than such a liberty taken, or such a personal offence heedlessly given, in your intercourse with a being with whom you might use familiarity, and who, in his dealings with you, had to consult merely his personal predilections then you might presume that he would excuse it too. But the Almighty God, the High and Holy One, is not to be thus regarded. He is the moral governor of moral agents; and in that capacity he must be considered as acting in his treatment of sin and of sinners. Were God divested of this high supremacy, as the ruler and the judge of all; were he at liberty we speak with reverence to deal with men as a private person deals with those who have personally wronged or insulted him; then it might be conceivable that he should accept as easily as they are lightly uttered, the casual, off-hand apologies of his weak and wayward creatures. And is it not precisely because you do thus conceive of him, that you venture to trifle so recklessly with his authority, and to presume so confidently on his indulgence?

You flatter yourselves that he will not severely visit your failings; and if he should chance to take offence for any reason at any neglect you seem to show, a little explanation will set all right. "You are exceeding sorry;" but you really meant no harm. He will make allowance for your infirmity, and accept, as a sufficient apology, the regret which you feel for thus offending him. Offending him! and who or what art thou, sinner! worm of the earth! that thou shouldest stand on such a footing with thy God? Thinkest thou that thy sin, or thy sorrow either, can reach or affect Him, the King, dwelling in light inaccessible and full of glory, - as if He were a man, dependent for his happiness or for his honour on thee? Alas! what presumption in us, sinful mortals, to conceive of the Holy One, or to treat with him, as we might conceive of and treat with a fellow-mortal whom we had happened to irritate or wrong! He is offended with us, we scarcely know or care to ask why, unreasonably, we are apt to think, and somewhat capriciously; but a few words of concession, a few signs of self-abasement, will pacify his resentment, and win his toleration of our weakness! Even so an ignorant and wilful child misinterprets the cause of a father's just displeasure. He knows nothing of the parental authority, or of parental discipline. He sees only that his father is angry, and fondly hopes that a few expressions of penitence and a few tears of sorrow will coax and persuade him into easy and indulgent good-humour. And you, O sinner! will deal thus with God, as a froward child with a doting parent! And when his voice is raised to forbid, and his arm to threaten, and his angel stands to oppose you, still, by humble apologies and professions of "exceeding sorrow" you will work upon his compassion, and win, if not his sanction, yet at least his tolerance and permission; so that if you may not yield to him, he shall yield to you, and standing aside, as the angel did when Balaam continued perverse, suffer you quietly to go your own way!

Nor in this kind of sorrow is there a just sense of sin. There cannot be; for a just sense of sin flows from a true fear of God. The feeling, accordingly, which such sorrow is apt to cherish, is that of regret as for a misfortune, not repentance as for a fault. There is a secret presumption that you are to be pitied rather than to be blamed; and instead of a profound sense of your guilt, and an acknowledgment of the heinousness of your offence and the justice of your condemnation, there is rather an impression that it would be an extreme measure of severity on the part of God, were he to withhold from you the indulgence which you need. Deeper feelings, doubtless, of poignant grief and remorse may wring your hearts, as more generous and gracious thoughts of God, and of his holiness and love, occasionally visit your minds. Smitten with admiration, gratitude, and awe, you may have something like a real and longing wish that you could please God, and real and bitter disappointment because you cannot. But it is a calamity that distresses you, not a crime. It is your infirmity your fate; but still not your fault! There may be sorrow when you sin; but it is the sorrow, not of self-condemnation, but of self-justification. There is no conviction in it, no guileless confession, no thorough conversion, no gracious forgiveness.

True sorrow for sin implies a recognition of the sovereignty of God, the sovereignty of his authority and the sovereignty of his grace; or, in other words, it implies your looking to the cross of Christ, and beholding there, as in a glass, the glory of God. Let the enlightening Spirit shine into your hearts, to give you the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ; then, at last, feeling the extent and reasonableness of his righteous claims over you, and the deep demerit of your opposition to his will, you stand before him naked and without excuse; "every mouth stopped" and every one of you "brought in guilty" at his bar: "Against thee, thee only, have I sinned, and done this evil in thy sight: that thou mightest be justified when thou speakest, and be clear when thou judgest" (Psa. li. 4).

Thus, as lost sinners, appropriating and apprehending the full and free forgiveness dispensed through the blood of Christ, and sealed by his Holy Spirit, you receive mercy at the hands of God, not as a kind of indulgence on which you may indefinitely presume, but as a special and signal act of grace. You feel that he sets you free, once for all, from all condemnation, and sends you forth as his redeemed and reconciled children; not to sin and be "exceeding sorry" but to be ever sorrowing after a godly sort, and so sorrowing as "to sin no more" (John v. 14; viii. 11).

Go to Scripture Characters No.9


Home | Biography | Literature | Letters | Links | Photo-Wallet