8. Persecution

 •  11 min. read  •  grade level: 5
"Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness' sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven."—Matt. 5:1010Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness' sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5:10)
Affliction is the beaten road in which all the saints have gone. The living stones in the spiritual building have been all hewn and polished. Christ's lily has grown among the thorns. "All that will live godly in Christ Jesus, shall suffer persecution" (2 Tim. 3:1212Yea, and all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution. (2 Timothy 3:12)).
"We must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God" (Acts 14:2222Confirming the souls of the disciples, and exhorting them to continue in the faith, and that we must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God. (Acts 14:22)). Though Christ died to take away the curse from us, yet not to take away the cross. The way to heaven, though it be full of roses in regard of the comforts of the Holy Ghost, yet it is full of thorns in regard to persecutions. It is a saying of Ambrose, there is no Abel but hath his Cain. Put the cross in your creed.
A true saint carries Christ in his heart, and the cross on his shoulders. Christ's kingdom on earth is the kingdom of the cross. Christ and His cross are never parted. Persecution is the legacy bequeathed by Christ to His people. "In the world ye shall have tribulation" (John 16:3333These things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world. (John 16:33)). We are all for reigning. "When wilt thou restore the Kingdom again to Israel?" But the Apostle tells us of suffering before reigning. "If we suffer we shall also reign with Him" (2 Tim. 2:1212If we suffer, we shall also reign with him: if we deny him, he also will deny us: (2 Timothy 2:12)). Was His head crowned with thorns, and do we think to be crowned with roses?
Let us take heed of becoming persecutors: some think there is no persecution but fire and sword; yes, there is persecution of the tongue.... Reviling is called persecution, "men shall revile you and persecute you"; this is tongue persecution. "His words were softer than oil, yet were they drawn swords" (Psa. 55:2121The words of his mouth were smoother than butter, but war was in his heart: his words were softer than oil, yet were they drawn swords. (Psalm 55:21)). You may kill a man as well in his name as in his person; a good name is as precious ointment. Now to smite another in his name, is by our Savior called persecution. Thus the primitive saints endured the persecution of the tongue. They "had trial of cruel mockings" (Heb. 11:3636And others had trial of cruel mockings and scourgings, yea, moreover of bonds and imprisonment: (Hebrews 11:36)). Slandering is tongue persecution, "When men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely." Thus Paul was slandered in his doctrine; it was reported he should preach, men might do evil that good might come of it. Thus Christ, who did cast out devils, was charged to have a devil (John 8:4848Then answered the Jews, and said unto him, Say we not well that thou art a Samaritan, and hast a devil? (John 8:48)). "They laid to My charge things that I knew not" (Psa. 35:1111False witnesses did rise up; they laid to my charge things that I knew not. (Psalm 35:11)).
Why THERE MUST BE PERSECUTION
First, it is God's decree, "We are appointed thereunto" (1 Thess. 3:33That no man should be moved by these afflictions: for yourselves know that we are appointed thereunto. (1 Thessalonians 3:3)). 'Whoever brings the suffering, God sends it. God did bid Shimei curse; Shimei's tongue was the arrow, but it was God that did shoot it. Second, it is God's design for the trial of His saints. "Many shall be tried." It discovers true saints from hypocrites; unsound hearts pretend fair in prosperity, but in a time of persecution fall away (Matt. 13:20-2120But he that received the seed into stony places, the same is he that heareth the word, and anon with joy receiveth it; 21Yet hath he not root in himself, but dureth for a while: for when tribulation or persecution ariseth because of the word, by and by he is offended. (Matthew 13:20‑21)). Hypocrites will follow Christ to Mount Olivet, but not to Mount Calvary. Suffering times are sifting times. "When He hath tried me, I shall come forth as gold" (Job 23:1010But he knoweth the way that I take: when he hath tried me, I shall come forth as gold. (Job 23:10)). God lets His children be in the furnace that they may be "partakers of His holiness" (Heb. 12:1010For they verily for a few days chastened us after their own pleasure; but he for our profit, that we might be partakers of his holiness. (Hebrews 12:10)). "I am black but comely" (Canticles [Song of Songs] 1:5). The torrid zone of persecution made the spouse's skin black, but her soul fair.
"Blessed are they which are persecuted." What is that suffering which will make us blessed?
When we suffer in a good cause. Blessed are they which suffer "for righteousness' sake". It is the cause that makes a martyr. "For the hope of Israel I am bound with this chain" (Acts 28:2020For this cause therefore have I called for you, to see you, and to speak with you: because that for the hope of Israel I am bound with this chain. (Acts 28:20)).
When we suffer with a good conscience. A man may have a good cause, and a bad conscience. Saint Paul, as he had a just cause, so he had a pure conscience. "I have lived in all good conscience before God until this day" (Acts 23:11And Paul, earnestly beholding the council, said, Men and brethren, I have lived in all good conscience before God until this day. (Acts 23:1)). A good conscience will make a man suffer with comfort.
When we have a good call. When "ye shall be brought before governors and kings" (Matt. 10:1818And ye shall be brought before governors and kings for my sake, for a testimony against them and the Gentiles. (Matthew 10:18)). If God by His providence open a door, a man may fly in time of persecution (Matt. 10:2323But when they persecute you in this city, flee ye into another: for verily I say unto you, Ye shall not have gone over the cities of Israel, till the Son of man be come. (Matthew 10:23)). But when he is brought before kings, and the case is such that either he must suffer, or the truth must suffer; here is a clear call to suffering.
When we have good ends in our suffering. "When ye shall be brought before governors and kings for My sake." The primitive Christians did burn more in love than in fire; when we look at God in our sufferings, and are willing to make His crown flourish, though it be in our ashes, this is that suffering which carries away the garland of glory.
When we suffer as Christians. "If any man suffer as a Christian, let him not be ashamed" (1 Peter 4:1616Yet if any man suffer as a Christian, let him not be ashamed; but let him glorify God on this behalf. (1 Peter 4:16)).
When we suffer with patience. "Take, my brethren, the prophets... for an example of suffering affliction, and of patience" (James 5:1010Take, my brethren, the prophets, who have spoken in the name of the Lord, for an example of suffering affliction, and of patience. (James 5:10)).
When we suffer with cheerfulness. Thus Moses suffered cheerfully. Moses, when he was come to years, chose rather "to suffer affliction with the people of God, than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season" (Heb. 11:2525Choosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of God, than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season; (Hebrews 11:25)). "He chose to suffer affliction", suffering was not so much his choice; the cross was not so much imposed as embraced. "They departed from the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for His name." They rejoiced that they were so far graced, as to be disgraced for the name of Christ. Christ's marks in Saint Paul's body were prints of glory.
When we suffer and pray. "Pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you." Stephen prayed for his persecutors, "Lord, lay not this sin to their charge." Austin saith, the Church of God was beholden to Stephen's prayer for all that benefit which was reaped by Paul's ministry.
God WITH US IN TROUBLE
"I will be with him in trouble" (Psa. 91:1515He shall call upon me, and I will answer him: I will be with him in trouble; I will deliver him, and honor him. (Psalm 91:15)). What if we have more afflictions than others, if we have more of God's company! "I will deliver him and honor him" (Psa. 91:1515He shall call upon me, and I will answer him: I will be with him in trouble; I will deliver him, and honor him. (Psalm 91:15)). He who can strengthen our faith, can break our fetters. "Your sorrow shall be turned into joy" (John 16:2020Verily, verily, I say unto you, That ye shall weep and lament, but the world shall rejoice: and ye shall be sorrowful, but your sorrow shall be turned into joy. (John 16:20)). There is the water turned into wine. "Be of good cheer, Paul." In time of persecution God broacheth the wine of consolation; cordials are kept for fainting.
Christ HAS BEEN BEFORE IN SUFFERING
Consider what Christ endured for us. Christ's whole life was a series of sufferings: Christian, what is thy suffering? Art thou poor? So was Christ: "The Son of Man hath not where to lay His head" (Matt. 8:2020And Jesus saith unto him, The foxes have holes, and the birds of the air have nests; but the Son of man hath not where to lay his head. (Matthew 8:20)). Art thou surrounded with enemies? So was Christ: "Against Thy holy Servant Jesus... both Herod, and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles, and the people of Israel, were gathered together" (Acts 4:2727For of a truth against thy holy child Jesus, whom thou hast anointed, both Herod, and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles, and the people of Israel, were gathered together, (Acts 4:27)). Do our enemies lay claim to religion? So did His: "And the chief priests took the silver pieces, and said, It is not lawful for to put them into the treasury, because it is the price of blood" (Matt. 27:66And the chief priests took the silver pieces, and said, It is not lawful for to put them into the treasury, because it is the price of blood. (Matthew 27:6)). Godly persecutors! Art thou reproached? So was Christ: "The reproaches of them that reproached thee are fallen upon Me" (Psa. 69:99For the zeal of thine house hath eaten me up; and the reproaches of them that reproached thee are fallen upon me. (Psalm 69:9)). Art thou slandered? So was Christ: "The Pharisees said, He casteth out devils through the prince of the devils" (Matt. 9:3434But the Pharisees said, He casteth out devils through the prince of the devils. (Matthew 9:34)). Art thou ignominiously used? So was Christ: "Some began to spit on Him, and to cover His face and to buffet Him, and say unto Him, Prophesy: and the servants did strike Him with the palms of their hands" (Mark 14:6565And some began to spit on him, and to cover his face, and to buffet him, and to say unto him, Prophesy: and the servants did strike him with the palms of their hands. (Mark 14:65)). Art thou betrayed by friends? So was Christ: "Jesus said unto him, Judas, betrayed thou the Son of Man with a kiss?" (Luke 22:4848But Jesus said unto him, Judas, betrayest thou the Son of man with a kiss? (Luke 22:48)). Is thy estate sequestered? And do the wicked cast lots for it? So Christ was dealt with: "They parted My garments among them, and upon My vesture did they cast lots" (Matt. 27:3535And they crucified him, and parted his garments, casting lots: that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet, They parted my garments among them, and upon my vesture did they cast lots. (Matthew 27:35)). Do we suffer unjustly? So did Christ: His very judge did acquit Him: "Then said Pilate to the chief priests and to the people, I find no fault in this man" (Luke 23:44Then said Pilate to the chief priests and to the people, I find no fault in this man. (Luke 23:4)). Art thou barbarously dragged and haled away to suffering? So was Christ: "And when they had bound Him, they led Him away" (Matt. 27:22And when they had bound him, they led him away, and delivered him to Pontius Pilate the governor. (Matthew 27:2)). Dost thou suffer death? So did Christ: "And when they were come to the place, which is called Calvary, there they crucified Him" (Luke 23:3333And when they were come to the place, which is called Calvary, there they crucified him, and the malefactors, one on the right hand, and the other on the left. (Luke 23:33)).
Did the Lord Jesus endure all this for us, and shall not we suffer persecution for His name? Our cup is nothing to the cup which Christ drank; His cup was mixed with the wrath of God; and if He did bear God's wrath for us, well may we bear man's wrath for Him.
Sufferings ARE LIGHT
"Our light affliction" (2 Cor. 4:1717For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory; (2 Corinthians 4:17)). It is heavy to flesh and blood, but it is light to faith. It is light in comparison of sin; he that feels sin heavy, feels suffering light. Affliction is light in comparison of hell; what is persecution to damnation? What is the fire of martyrdom to the fire of the damned? "Who knoweth the power of Thine anger?" (Psa. 90:1111Who knoweth the power of thine anger? even according to thy fear, so is thy wrath. (Psalm 90:11)). Affliction is light in comparison with glory; the weight of glory makes persecution light.
Sufferings ARE SHORT
"After that ye have suffered a while" (1 Peter 5:1010But the God of all grace, who hath called us unto his eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after that ye have suffered a while, make you perfect, stablish, strengthen, settle you. (1 Peter 5:10)), or as it is in the Greek, "a little". Our sufferings may be lasting, not everlasting. Persecution is aspera but brevis; though it hath a sting to torment, yet it hath a wing to fly. "Sorrow and sighing shall flee away" (Isa. 35:1010And the ransomed of the Lord shall return, and come to Zion with songs and everlasting joy upon their heads: they shall obtain joy and gladness, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away. (Isaiah 35:10)). It is but a while when the saints shall have a writ of ease granted them, they shall weep no more, suffer no more.
Support IN SUFFERING
While we suffer for Christ we suffer with Christ: "If so be that we suffer with Him" (Rom. 8:1717And if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified together. (Romans 8:17)). Oh, saith the Christian, I shall never be able to hold out: but remember thou sufferest with Christ, He helps thee to suffer: "My grace is sufficient for thee" (2 Cor. 12:99And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. (2 Corinthians 12:9)). "Underneath are the everlasting arms" (Deut. 33:2727The eternal God is thy refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms: and he shall thrust out the enemy from before thee; and shall say, Destroy them. (Deuteronomy 33:27)). If Christ put the yoke of persecution over us, He will put His arms under us. The Lord Jesus will not only crown us when we conquer, but He will enable us to conquer.
Persecution AND THE LOVE OF GOD
They are blessed whom God loves, but persecution cannot hinder the love of God. "Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution?" (Rom. 8:3535Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? (Romans 8:35)). The goldsmith loves his gold as well when it is in the fire, as when it is in his bag; God loves His children as well in adversity as in prosperity. "As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten" (Rev. 3:1919As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten: be zealous therefore, and repent. (Revelation 3:19)). God sweetens their sufferings: "As the sufferings of Christ abound in us, so our consolation also aboundeth by Christ" (2 Cor. 1:55For as the sufferings of Christ abound in us, so our consolation also aboundeth by Christ. (2 Corinthians 1:5)). As the mother having given her child a bitter pill, gives it afterward a lump of sugar.
The REWARD OF SUFFERING
"Great is your reward in heaven" (Matt. 5:1212Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you. (Matthew 5:12)). A Christian may lose his life, but not his reward; he may lose his head, but not his crown. Not that we can merit this reward by our sufferings. "I will give thee a crown of life." The reward is the legacy which free-grace bequeaths. Alas! what proportion is there between a drop of blood, and a weight of glory? But though we have no reward by merit, we shall have it by grace; so it is in the text, "Great is your reward in heaven." Look upon the crown and faint if you can; the reward is as far above your thoughts, as it is beyond your deserts; a man that is to wade through a deep water, fixeth his eyes upon the firm land that is before him. While Christians are wading through the deep waters of persecution, they should fix the eyes of their faith on the land of promise; "Great is your reward in heaven." They that bear the cross patiently shall wear the crown triumphantly.
God brings us low before He raiseth us, as water is at the lowest ebb before there is a spring tide. When God would bring Israel to Canaan, a land flowing with milk and honey, He first led them through a sea and a wilderness. When He intended to advance Joseph to the second man in the kingdom, he cast him first into prison, and the iron entered into his soul. He usually lets it be darkest before the morning-star of deliverance appears.
Many desire to be glorified with Christ, but they are not content to suffer for Him. "If we suffer with Him, we shall also reign with Him" (2 Tim. 2:1212If we suffer, we shall also reign with him: if we deny him, he also will deny us: (2 Timothy 2:12)). The wicked first reign and then suffer; the godly first suffer, and then reign.
Afflictions are safe guides to glory. The storm drives the ship into the harbor. Blessed storm that drives the soul into the heavenly harbor. Is it not better to go through affliction to glory, than through pleasure to misery?