Godly Sorrow – Part 1

bRecently I discovered a gem of Christian sermons. It is Spurgeon’s sermon “Godly Sorrow and Sorrow”. I am compelled to share this today as I am convinced this sermon, and the text it is based upon, speaks directly to the ubf context. I have pointed out repeatedly that I care little for the changes that are occurring in ubf, even as we speak. The changes are good and necessary, yet count as nothing to me. Change and reform are essential, and will continue to occur as they always have. Yet I am not impressed with any change in ubf so far. But why? What am I looking for?

Evidence of Godly Sorrow

I seek evidence of godly sorrow. And yes, I have sought this in myself for many years. Here is part 1 of a 3-part series in which I present some thoughts on this sermon from the Prince of Preachers. Spurgeon has done much to correct my highly flawed theology, and this sermon in particular fills a gaping hole in the fabric of my mind.


I highly recommend reading the Scripture text first: 2 Corinthians 7:5-13.

Spurgeon’s Introduction

Many years ago, and indeed in some measure to a later date, preachers of the Word seemed mainly to dwell upon the inner experience of men. They both preached sermons and wrote books in which they set forth the condition of convinced sinners, describing what they usually felt before they found peace with God. They were very strict in their search for the genuine tokens of true repentance, and the internal evidences of regeneration. They preached continually upon the work of the Spirit of God in convincing sinners of their lost condition; but they were not accustomed to say to them so baldly and so boldly as we do now, “Believe, and live;” and the consequence was, that a large number of truly awakened persons were kept in bondage, and did not come into the liberty wherewith Christ makes believers free, – at least, not so soon as they do nowadays. I believe that, under God’s blessing, those experimental preachers were the means of producing very sturdy Christians. They did a great deal of deep plowing, with a very sharp plowshare, before they began to sow the good seed of the kingdom. They took care to use the pointed needle of the law to make a way for the silken thread of the gospel, so that what they did sew was well sewn, and the garments which they made did not rend and tear quite so easily as much of the spiritual raiment does which is made in these days of more showy, but less substantial, labor.

Still, there was this defect about that style of preaching, it led men to look too much within instead of looking away from self to Christ. No matter how faithfully they proclaimed the grace of God, they preached some sort of preparation for the reception of that grace; and, therefore, sinners often looked to themselves to see whether they had that preparation rather than to the grace which it was most desirable that they should seek. I believe you may say so much about the disease of sin that, instead of leading the sinner in despair to turn his gaze to Christ, as the bitten Israelites looked to the brazen serpent as the only remedy, – you may merely make him sit down, and study the disease, and look, and look, and look again for the various symptoms you have described; and though he will be well acquainted with the disease, he will not in that way find a cure for it. You may dive as far as you like into the sea, but you will not find any fire there; you may rake as long as you please in the burning fiery furnace, but you will never reach any cooling blocks of ice; you may hunt, for many a day, in the human heart’s natural death, but you will not there discover any signs of life; and, within the charnel-house of man’s corruption, you shall never be able to discern any remedy for a sin-sick soul. It was in that particular that the experimental preaching lacked an important element.

But, now, times have changed, and very many of us, who are ministers of the gospel, do very plainly proclaim to sinners the message, “Believe, and live.” This plain declaration rings out from almost every part of our land, – not yet quite in every place, I would that it were so; but, still, there is a large company of Evangelical preachers continually repeating the apostolic message, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved.” I am sure that much good must result from this proclamation of the truth, for this is God’s ordained way of blessing the souls of men; and yet, – and yet, – I sometimes fear lest there should be all sowing and no plowing; – lest there should be the preaching only of the remedy, with almost an entire ignoring of the disease; – and lest the message “Believe, and live,” should take the place of that other great truth, “Ye must be born again.” It will never do for men to be led to think that they are healed before they know that they are sick unto death, or to imagine that they are clothed before they see themselves to be naked, or to be taught to trust Christ before they are aware that they have anything for which they have need to trust him. It would be a happy circumstance if, in our preaching, we could have a blending of these two elements, so that we could have somewhat of our forefathers’ deep experimental teaching, and with it, and growing out of it, a plain, unfettered delivery of the gospel declaration, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved.”

“How are the two things to be reconciled?” someone asks. My dear brother, I have long ago given up trying to reconcile friends who never fell out. These two truths are both taught in Scripture, and therefore they cannot be at variance with one another. You would be as much puzzled to prove where they differ as I should be to show that they agree. I am confident that they do agree, because I find them both in the Book. Therefore, let them both be preached. Somehow, we are constantly coming across truths that lie side by side, like the metals on which the railway carriages run. If we only preach one of them, it will be like trying to run the train on a single rail. You know that there are often two truths, if not three, closely connected with one another. I am frequently led to see that there is a trinity of truths as there is a Trinity in the Godhead; and if they are all preached, in due proportion, they will balance one another, and prevent any one truth from being too prominent. Luther, with his free justification, by faith, is apt to go too far unless there shall come in Calvin and Zwingle, with their balancing truths, to set him right. Even Paul’s inspired words might have been the means of leading some men astray unless James had also been inspired to write on the practical side of truth so that Paul’s meaning should be the better understood. There is nothing wrong in the teaching of either Paul or James; they are both right, the two together bring out both aspects of truth.

(Source: Godly Sorrow and Sorrow, a sermon by Charles H. Spurgeon delivered on 9/9/1900)

1. Godly sorrow is not fear-driven. A certain amount of fear is healthy for us. But fear does not produce godly sorrow. In fact, the opposite is true: godly sorrow produces fear. Spurgeon speaks well to this in his first point: “Many are sorry for sin because of its temporal consequences; and many more because of its eternal consequences. They are afraid of hell. If there were no hell, they would like to continue to live in sin. They would be delighted if it could be proved that there is no God. Nothing would please them better than to have the law of the Lord and all its penal consequences abolished. They are as fond of sin as ever they were, but they sorrow because they see that it is bringing them down to the gulf of perdition. Now, that kind of sorrow is not repentance. A moth may burn its wings in the candle, and then, full of pain, fly back to the flame. There is no repentance in the moth, though there is pain; and so, there is no repentance in some men, though there is in them a measure of sorrow on account of their sin. Do not, therefore, make a mistake in this matter, and think that sorrow for sin is, or even necessarily leads to, repentance.”

2. Godly sorrow is not void of human sorrow. Repentance does indeed mean simply “a change of mind”. But what a total, complete change of mind! Godly sorrow is not the opposite of human sorrow and certainly not the absence of emotion. Here again Spurgeon shines: “Here is a man who says, “I repent.” But are you really sorry that you sinned? “No,” he replies. Then, my dear sir, you cannot have truly repented; for a man, who has not got even so far as repentance, is often sorry for having done wrong. When a man is convinced that he has transgressed against God he ought to be sorry; and if you tell me that there can be such a thing as Spiritual repentance, and yet no sorrow for having broken the law of God, I tell you that you do not know what you are talking about.”

3. Godly sorrow is not self-loathing. Some take godly sorrow too far, saying we must see ourselves the “worst of sinners”. But is this what God intended for his “new wine” creations? A realistic review of history, filled with tyrants and mass killers should quickly enlighten us that we are not the worst of sinners. Spurgeon corrects this thinking well: “There are some persons who seem to think that we must reach a certain point of wretchedness, or else we are not truly penitent. They imagine that we must grieve up to a certain point of temperature, or we cannot be saved; and they watch the convicted sinner to see when he gets near to what they consider to be a sufficient measure of brokenness of heart….   ….I will not waste time by dwelling upon it, because it is altogether a baseless supposition. We admit that many, who come to Christ, have passed through very great terror and agony before doing so; but a large part of their suffering was the work of the devil, and not the work of the Spirit of God at all. A great part of it might have been spared if they had not been so ignorant, and a still larger part of it they might never have suffered if they had heard the gospel preached with greater simplicity, and had not been muddled and handled so roughly by some who put their own experience into the place of the Savior After all, we are not saved by any feelings or alarms that we may have.”

4. Godly sorrow is not a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Some may get the meaning of godly sorrow, but err on the side of experience, claiming you only experience godly sorrow once. Scripture upon Scripture, and life itself, should readily expose the fallacy of this thinking. Spurgeon dismissed this idea: “Then, again, there is another mistake made by many, – that this sorrow for sin only happens once, – as a sort of squall, or a hurricane, or thunderstorm, that breaks over a man once, and then he is converted, and he talks about that experience all the rest of his life, but he has nothing more to do with it. Why, dear friends, there is nothing more erroneous than that.”

5. Godly sorrow is not a miserable feeling. When we hear the word sorrow, we are often turned off immediately. Is it more godly to walk around with a sour face all the time? Spurgeon corrects this too: “I want also to correct another mistake, namely, that sorrow for sin is a miserable feeling. The moment the word “sorrow” is mentioned, many people suppose that it must necessarily be grief of a bitter kind. Ah! but there is a sweet sorrow, a healthy sorrow. In honey, there is a sweetness that cloys after awhile. We may eat too much of it, and make ourselves ill; but in repentance there is a bitter sweetness, or a sweet bitterness, – which shall I call it? – of which, the more you have, the better it is for you.”

Spurgeon’s Questions

In this first part, I leave you with Spurgeon’s own questions which convict and pierce the soul:

“What have you been doing that is wrong, brother? Are the consolations of God small with thee? Is there any secret sin that is keeping thee sad and sorrowful? Shall I help you to find out the source of the evil? Have you been neglecting the reading of the Word? Have you been lax in private prayer of late? Have you been getting covetous? As you have grown richer, have you grown tighter in the fist? Have you been getting more worldly? Do you speak less about Christ than you used to do, and more about vanity? Have you been mixing up in bad company? Have you been entangled by a so-called friend who is no help to you, but who really hinders you greatly in spiritual things? Have you been forming some associations that you know Christ does not approve of? Have you been letting things go a little amiss in your business, – only a little amiss?”


  1. About #3. When I came to ubf I was a very naive freshman. At so called “Bible Academies” (that sounds very strange in Russian) and conferences I heard some ubf style sogams. People confessed their sins (I am not sure about sorrow, to me there seemed to be more of pride and self-praise). It was an “idee-fixe” of our director that to repent means “to confess the sin of sexual lust”. So in his view nobody repented in our chapter until he/she confessed lust sins. And as the director heard a confession of the lust sin he considered the one to be a regenerated Christian (even though he/she had nothing to do with being a Christian).

    The same was with usual weekly sogams. Your sogam is not sincere if you don’t say a word about your lust. On the other hand, I remember how a brother fell into such a sin and confessed it. Then the director said that it was the best sogam he had ever heard. He also said that it was the only sincere sogam at the meeting. I know that the director had a “weak point” and that was lust, and when he came to ubf he was “helped” the same way. Confessions “helped” him to temporarily “overcome” this sin. There was another brother who “sinned” in his thoughts regularly and weekly confessed the sin. The director told him to stop mentioning the sin in his sogam. And the brother stopped (as if the sin suddenly dissappeared from his life). This brother was a good example for me that such human methodics (regular confession and strugle to be busy enough so that not to sin) can not solve a sin problem (Only Jesus can).

    When I came to ubf I almost didn’t know what lust is. So it was ubf and sogams that tought me this sin. I was demanded to “repent” and write my own sogam. But I answered, “I really have nothing to write about and to share, I don’t have a girlfriend even”. The director asked me, “You listened to the sogams, what did you learn?” I answered, “Well, I learnt the sogamsharers are really experienced sinners and nevertheless they say that God forgives them”. Actually I received a lession at the time that I am free to sin, I am not an experienced sinner yet and God will fogive me and after I have enough experience I will be able to share a “good” ubf sogam.

    I don’t know why but at least in our chapter the missionaries considered Russians to be tax collectors and prostitutes at best. And every week every one had to think about what kind of a sin he/she would confess through the sogam this time to show him/herself to be really the “worst of sinners” in order to please the director.

    • “When I came to ubf I was a very naive freshman.”

      My heart cries rivers of tears thinking of our daughter who is entering college this fall. Yes, an 18 year old is so young….what if she were to be enslaved in the ubf machine?

      “I don’t know why but at least in our chapter the missionaries considered Russians to be tax collectors and prostitutes at best.”

      During my 3 month stay in St.Petersburg as a short-term ubf “missionary” I heard this also, Vitaly. The horrible explanation expressed to me by ubf missionaries there was this “Russian people are a godless people who know nothing about God.”

      This is so ludicrous! Russian icons are prime examples of Christianity. I very much want to learn about the icon painting process. And the Orthodox Church in Russia has much to offer us Westerners.

    • I think that there are many good things in the Orthodox Church. Now there are quite good and very educated leaders. There are also things I don’t like and don’t agree. But when I thought about Russian history and God’s work I can’t imagine that God was not there in Russia during the 2000 years (before ubf came))) Surely there were genuine Christians in Russia. I go here and there as my work requires and I see a church building in EVERY even very small village. In some villages they very old and haven’t been used since communists came and partly ruined. But they are there as the main buildings of the tsar time Russia in many villages and town and cities.

      Christianity in Russia is more than 1000 years. In ubf Bible study we used to understand the pharisees in the passages as representing the Orthodox priests. Now I see that it is not just. ubf leaders fit in the pharisee passages much better (especially Mt.23).

      ubf now says that there is no perfect church and so ubf is not perfect. But first ubf has not been a church. (When I say anything about ubf in the Baptist church there is silence usually because people have never heard such things and so have nothing to say just enjoying their shock)). Among other things Christian people can’t understand the lack of baptism and communion). Second, as Chris points out ubf is a “typical cult” rather than a typical non-perfect church. And third, there is more Confucianism than Christianity in ubf which is so clear from the ubf directors’ comments here on ubfriends. They don’t want to be loyal to Jesus and the Bible rather they want to stay loyal to SL and the “sacred” heritage at any cost.

      And as I shared before the Orthodox priests don’t hurt people. Yes they can be sinners but their sins are usually not against other people. They are kind and pleasant looking (with all those beards and wear))

      I was baptized in the Orthodox church and actually my great grand father was an Orthodox priest in St.Petersburg. I have a picture of him and my great grand mother. They were noble and beautiful. (They had 12 children and only three of them sirvived the blockade during the WW2)

    • Unfortunately, that is the way of most conformed style sogams in UBF. Each evangelical group has their own way of training people in expression. As I alluded to in the other article, we spend so much time to craft the testimony that we do begin to loathe ourselves. Every little aspect of it. As for lust – well – I love to remember the rebuke that Vladimir Levitsky gave to Koreans at Purdue. “If you want your sheep to leave and run away….” It was beautiful! I love the piety of a people who have “coffee” prostitutes in their own country.

      I feel that testimony writing can be so much more than just stating what works you did not fulfill or what sin you fell victim to in a week. After reading/writing on UBFriends for a couple of months I think I need to repeat in a weekly testimony that murder came into my mind every time I inferred a refusal to change the system. Should I repent of this? Of course I should and have done so. But I will not enslave myself because such a thought entered my mind as point 3 suggests. What triggered my murderous thought was a stubborn refusal to fix a broken system. But, I will not inhibit myself from being human and having such a reaction – a reaction for justice.

      We have a sorrow of conscience for those who have fallen at our own hands, but also for those who betray the one true God in favour of themselves.

    • Vitaly, Russia and Christianity are synonomous. It is a cultural marriage that has stood the test of time despite the Soviet era. If Koreans want to reflect on one snapshot in time to define Russians than every other nation can do the same regarding Koreans and their history – and I might add that the number of Christian cults in Korea is astronomical. That being said, if they even knew Soviet culture in reality they could see that Christian heritage was maintained if only as a symbolism of Russian history. Forget about what certain political people did – it did not blot out the presence of Christianity or the Orthodox Church. If we were to list all of the offensive things that Korean missionaries have said about various nationalities it would cause us to really consider their true relationship with God. (Oh, and as was stated else where I am like a blind man touching an elephant.)

    • Mark Mederich

      long live justice!

  2. Mark Mederich

    the rich young man wanted heavenly treasure, Jesus told him to share his earthly riches with the poor: the man became sad

    • Mark Mederich

      was this rich Levite, Joseph? starting out with mere human effort/sorrow, he sought God until LATER he was enriched by Spirit/godly sorrow, selling land to help early believers, becoming known as Barnabas (son of exhortation)

      so yes it is possible, but only by seeking God’s Spirit help beyond human religious effort; if we stay shackled to inferior human methods, we hinder God’s own Spirit work: so let’s persevere in seeking Christ until his body is unshackled

  3. Thanks Brian for sharing with us this 113-year-old sermon. It reminds me of the timelessness of God’s word. I’m enjoying some sermons recently that John MacArthur delivered in 1974 on Galations. The timelessness of God’s word is so thrilling!

    Your article is very relevant. Repentance and sorrow have taken a new meaning since leaving UBF. Before, the word of God was little more than a hard-hitting interrogator beating me up to extract a confession. Like a cudgel, it beat me across the back WHAM, WHAM, WHAM, until I found something in the passage to repent of. I sometimes trembled as I prepared to read my testimony because I hadn’t found anything real, and I needed to fabricate something.

    Now, however, God’s word is so soothing, so comforting to my soul, so enlivening, and so peace-bringing. It is becoming less an interrogator, and more like listening to the beautiful voice of my Lord, and hearing his love pouring through the words in Scripture. My approach to Scripture has now changed. I approach it with eagerness to enjoy the fellowship of listening to my Lord, not in trepidation, anticipating its crushing blows for my repeated failures.

    • MarthaO

      Joshua +1

    • Yes indeed, +1.

      “It is becoming less an interrogator, and more like listening to the beautiful voice of my Lord, and hearing his love pouring through the words in Scripture.”

      Yes, Spurgeon has helped me “hear his love” in marvelous ways. In my ubf experience, I did not anticipate “crushing blows”, but I was enslaved by fear, burdened by guilt and trapped by hopelessness that comes from seeing that I would never measure up.

      One interesting things is that we messengers were always trained to have “timely” messages with the “timeless truths” of the bible. Looking back now I see that “timely” meant “invoking a decision to obey ubf heritage now” and “timeless truths” meant “instilling a mindset of harmonious obedience to leaders”.

  4. Sorry to say, but it seems to me that in UBF, repentance is primarily what your shepherd says you should repent of, such as:

    * Vitaly’s shepherd’s “idee-fixe” of lust. So you must repent of desiring to date.

    * If you missed a fellowship meeting you should repent of being “family centered.”

    * If you did not go fishing you should repent of laziness.

    * If you did not humbly listen to, submit to and obey your shepherd, you must repent of “breaking spiritual order.”

    The tragedy of such teachings is that the shepherd NEVER has any sins to repent of. It is what I addressed previously: http://www.ubfriends.org/2013/03/21/the-sins-of-older-christians/

    When a shepherd/Bible teacher/chapter director teaches repentance in such shallow moralistic legalistic ways, it is not the godly sorrow or gospel repentance that the Bible teaches.

    • Ben, don’t forget the clincher:

      * If you read UBFriends, you should repent of listening to Satan’s voice and all the bitter and lazy complainers who post things there.

    • “in UBF, repentance is primarily what your shepherd says you should repent of”

      Exactly, Ben. The ubf Shepherd (junzi man) is trained to replace the roles of the Holy Spirit in the life of new believers.

      And also “doing God’s will” means doing what your shepherd says you should do.

    • Mark Mederich

      actually writing here on friends is probably the most important Christian work i’ve ever done…