Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness’ sake; for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake. Rejoice, and be exceeding glad; for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you (Matthew 5:10–12).
This is the peculiar blessing of the elect of God, and it stands high up in the list of honour. The only homage which wickedness can pay to righteousness is to persecute it. Those who in the first blessing were poor in spirit, are here despised as well as poverty-stricken; and in this they get a new royal charter, which for the second time ensures to them “the kingdom of heaven.” Yea, they have the kingdom now: it is their present possession. Not because of any personal fault, but simply on account of their godly character, the Lord’s Daniels are hated.
CAUSE OF PERSECUTION
It is striking to reflect how the history of the coming ages must have stood before the Redeemer when he spoke these words. The cause of this antagonism we find expressed in John 3:20, “Every one that doeth evil hateth the light.” The Christian is, by his very appearance, a moving conscience to excuse or condemn the children of the world. On the other hand, John 7:7 discloses another reason of this enmity: the Christian, and, above all, the Apostles, must by the testimony of their word condemn the nature of the world.
Because you are not of the world, saith Christ, the world hates you. The saint’s nature and life are antipodes to the world; fire and water, heaven and hell, may as soon be reconciled as they with it. The heretic is his enemy for truth’s sake; the profane for holiness’ sake; to both the Christian is an abomination, as the Israelite to the Egyptian. Hence come wars; the fire of persecution never goes out in the hearts of the wicked, who say in their hearts as they once with their lips, “Christians to the lions.”
But blessed be God, that although enemies have in all ages spoken all manner of evil against us, yet they have done it falsely, and for Christ’s sake; wherefore we may take up their books written against us, and “wear them as a crown.” “Do well and bear it, is written upon heaven’s gates,” said the martyr, Bradford. “Christ himself,” saith father Latimer, “was misreported, and falsely accused, both as touching his words and meaning also.” Count it not strange to be traduced, disgraced, scandalized. Austere John hath a devil; sociable Christ is a wine-bibber, and the scribes and Pharisees (whose words carry such credit) say as much. It is but a vain persuasion for any child of God to think, by any discretion, wholly to still the clamours and hates of wicked men. In the meantime, let our lives give them the lie—confute them by a real apology.
FOR RIGHTEOUSNESS’ SAKE
But it must be endured for righteousness’ sake, to secure the blessing promised. Men often refer to the opposition which they meet, and the persecutions they undergo, as a proof of their rectitude. But this in itself is no proof at all. The opposition must result from righteous acts, or it is no evidence of the favor of God.
JOHN J. OWEN
The necessity of suffering persecution, in order to being a true Christian, has undoubtedly by some been carried to an extreme, and the doctrine has been abused. It has been looked upon necessary to uphold a man’s credit amongst others as a Christian, that he should be persecuted. I have heard it made an objection against the sincerity of particular persons, that they were no more hated and reproached. And the manner of glorying in persecution has in some been very wrong, so as has had too much of an appearance of lifting up themselves in it, that they were very much hated and reviled, more than most, as an evidence of their excelling others, in being good soldiers of Jesus Christ. Such an improvement of the doctrine of persecution has a direct tendency to cause those that would be accounted true Christians, to behave themselves so towards those that are not well affected to religion, as to provoke their hatred, or at least to be but little careful to avoid it, and not very studiously and earnestly to strive (after the apostles’ example and precepts), to please them to their edification, and by meekness and gentleness to win them.
BLESSEDNESS OF THE PERSECUTED
The particular reason our Lord assigns for pronouncing those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake happy, is, that “theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” The phrase is commonly considered as equivalent to, “They shall enjoy celestial happiness.” I have no doubt this is included in it, but this is by no means all that is included in it. It is not, “Theirs shall be the kingdom of heaven” though that is true, but “theirs is the kingdom of heaven” even while suffering for righteousness’ sake. The kingdom of heaven is the new economy, the order of things under the Messiah.
It is the nature of true grace to grow up with difficulties. As the ark rose higher with the waters, so likewise the soul grows higher and higher, it mounts up as discouragements and oppositions grow. Nay, the soul takes vigour and strength from discouragements, as the wind increaseth the flame. So the grace of God, the more the winds and waves of affliction oppose it, with so much the more violence it breaks through all oppositions, until it attains the desired hope.
In Christ’s conception of the blessed life I find that even the enemy himself is made a contributor. Why, Christ shoves us how flowers grow in the nighttime, how the wilderness may rejoice and blossom as the rose, how the black devil with sharp teeth and eyes of fire is the servant of the good man, and waits upon him and ministers to his joy. O that we might enter into this meaning, then all things would be ours, life, death, height, depth—our servants would be a multitude among which would be found the angels of God.
For your reward: that is, not merely the general reward of grace which in the kingdom of heaven awaits you; but in addition there shall be, for every affliction and for every wicked word which you have to endure as expedient for the confirmation of your faith to yourselves, a distinct, and precisely apportioned requital and compensation—the more ye suffer, the more the reward.… The reward is reserved in the heavens. Him whom they tolerated no longer under the heaven, heaven will receive into itself!
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