Brother Beebe: - As I have never troubled you much, will you give me your views on the words, “Godly sorrow worketh repentance,” etc. What is it that repents, the new man or the old man, or neither? Is the Christian constituted of three parts? The new man has nothing to repent of, and the old man will not.
Reply: - A careful reading of the chapter and epistle which contains these words of the apostle will show that Paul addressed his instructions to the saints in their complexed character, as children of God but here in the flesh. As subjects only of a fleshly birth they could have known nothing of godly sorrow; for the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God, and sorrow to be godly must be a spiritual exercise. And as that life which is born of God cannot commit sin, it, when abstractly considered, has nothing to be sorry for, or to repent of. And we know of no third nature in what constitutes a Christian. In our natural birth we partake of a nature which we call human, which is depraved and by which we were children of wrath even as others. In our new birth, we are born of God, and made partakers of the divine nature. “Being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God, which liveth and abideth forever (I Peter 1:23).”
We cannot therefore apply these words either to the old man, abstractly from the new, nor to the new man, abstractly from the old; for in the absence of either, a Christian cannot be found on earth. The old man, before the new birth by which the new is born, can neither receive nor know the things of the Spirit of God, and when the new man shall be separated from the old, it will mingle only with the spirits of just men made perfect, and be found on earth no more. The apostle was not addressing his instructions to carnal, unquickened, ungodly men, nor to the glorified spirits of the departed saints; but to the church of God at Corinth, with all the saints which were at Achaia. These, in both epistles, he describes as being saints, born of God and yet in the flesh. The saints in the militant state of the church are always addressed in the Scriptures as subjects of two distinct births; one of the flesh, the other of the Spirit. The production of the first birth is flesh, and the production of the second, or new birth, is spirit. These two natures, which are called flesh and spirit, old man and new man, inner man and outer man, are contrary one to the other; and while both exist in every Christian, they never exist in harmony, but are in continual conflict one with the other. We know of no instance in the Scripture where the appellative is given either to the flesh or to the spirit separately considered. A Christian is then a person who has been born of the flesh, and afterward of the Spirit - a complex being, having both flesh and spirit. An old man which is corrupt with its deeds, and which he is admonished to put off, keep under, deny, etc.; and the new man which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness, and which is to be put on, followed and exhibited. The first verse of the chapter in which our text occurs, recognized in the people addressed the existence of both natures, in the admonition, “Let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God.” In this complex character the saints are addressed in this, and in all the admonitions given by the apostle. In either nature separately considered from the other, these admonitions would all be totally inapplicable. In this state and condition Christians and saints are subject to two kinds of sorrow; the one is called the sorrow of the world, such as is common to the world, and even to Christians while in the world, and which worketh death. Not the death of the new man, for that is eternal life, and can not die; but the death of that worldly nature which, borne down with excessive sorrow, yields up the ghost. As expressed by our Savior when he said, “My soul is exceedingly sorrowful, even unto death.” Crushed beneath the guilt of all our transgressions, his holy soul groaned in spirit and was sorrowful even to death. But his was godly sorrow, so far as he was personally the subject of it; but resulting from the sins and ungodliness of those for whom he bore it. “Surely he hath borne our griefs, carried our sorrows (Isaiah 53:4).” But the apostle is here speaking particularly of the two kinds of sorrow to which God’s children are subject while here in the flesh. The sorrow to which our earthly nature is subject, occasioned by losses, crosses, bereavements, disappointments, diseases and pains, tend to bow us down with sorrow to the grave. But godly sorrow arising from a godly source differs from worldly sorrow, both in its nature and effects. As the one worketh death, the other develops the life of the spirit which is manifested by a godly walk and deportment. It was thus exemplified in the Corinthians. They had been made sorry by Paul’s letter (his first epistle, in which he had reproved them for many disorders which existed among them); and the sorrow thus occasioned proved to be of a godly sort, for they sorrowed after a godly manner, so that it resulted in their profit, in producing repentance and deliverance from their disorder. Herein then is the salvation, or deliverance, to which godly sorrow tends. “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!” Godly sorrow wrought repentance, or reformation, as described in the foregoing particulars. This repentance, or reformation, was wrought by godly sorrow. Godly sorrow is not repentance, as many suppose; for it is a spiritual exercise of a quickened child of God, which springing from the Spirit which dwells in the saints, makes them sorry for their faults; not from any sense of wrath or damnation, but because they love God, and loving him supremely they love holiness, and hate sin; it therefore works, or leads to repentance, as in the examples given by Paul. It is not the dread of retribution, but the love of God in the Christian’s heart that leads to repentance. Because the Christian loves God and holiness, he is filled with sorrow for his faults, and that sorrow leads to reformation.
Now as to what part of the Christian repents, etc., we understand that this is said of the Christian as he is, and not to any particular part of him. It is true that the eternal life which is born of God cannot commit sin; because it is born of God; but the Christian is nevertheless subject to vanity, and liable to transgress the laws of Christ. And the law of sin which is in the members of the Christian may, and too often does, bring him into captivity to the law of sin and death. Not to everlasting death, but to that death of which the apostle speaks when he says, “If ye live after the flesh ye shall die.” It is the Christian, as such, including his whole person, soul, body and spirit, that is required to conform to the law of Christ.
October 1, 1867.
Elder Gilbert Beebe
Editorials Volume 7
Pages 79 – 82