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MATTHEW v. 10-12.
" BLESSED ARE THEY WHICH ARE PERSECUTED FOR
RIGHTEOUSNESS' SAKE, FOR THEIR'S 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 PER. SECUTED THEY THE PROPHETS WHICH WERE BEFORE YOU'.”
THERE was something exceedingly honourable in the conduct of the Lord Jesus Christ, with respect to the information he gave his disciples as to the trials they would have to endure in his service. Instead of concealing from them, as an impostor would have done, the sufferings which they would be required to undergo in the discharge of their mission, he plainly told them, that " they should be hated of all men for his name's sake, and that he who endured to the end, the same should be saved.” And when he addressed them for the last time before “ he was led as a lamb to the slaughter," he repeated the declaration in these prophetic words—" In the world ye shall have tribulation.” Whatever, therefore, befel thein in the faithful execution of their
appointed work, they could not complain of being taken by surprise, or of being deceived by their Lord and Master.
In accordance with these declarations, are the words of the beatitude I have now to explain. It is, indeed, the most extraordinary of all the heatitudes. It pronounces a benediction on the persecuted and suffering saint. It contains a maxim wholly at variance with all the notions of the carnal heart. How the oppressed and afflicted can be happy, and even happy on account of his oppressions and afflictions, is a mystery to be solved by faith, and not by sense. Comparatively, it is easy to see how the lovely virtues already enumerated, yield peace and satisfaction to the mind where they dwell; but to be deprived of liberty, to be plundered of estate, to be defamed in character, or incarcerated in prison, and finally put to death as unworthy to live for this to be happiness, what a paradox is here!
“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.”* This divine truth strictly applies to every generation of man, but seems remarkably apposite to the opinions of the Jews relative to their expected Messiah. They looked wholly “ for peace, but behold trouble ;" and for deliverance from all their national degradation, but behold affliction. They were dreaming of liberty and earthly splendour, but behold persecutions and imprisonment awaited them in his service. “ Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness' sake. Blessed are ye when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake.”—As though he had said, “ Flatter not yourselves that I am come to redeem you from Roman tyranny, or worldly enemies. Imagine not for a moment
Isaiah lv, 8--9.
that I shall raise you or any of my followers to civil distinction or political importance. My kingdom is not of this world, nor must my disciples follow its maxims or covet its honours. I charge them rather to prepare for sufferings and sorrows, for bitter injuries and cruel oppressions, for such will be their portion. But let them receive this for their consolation, that amidst every tribulation and storm they shall have peace in me. And when injustice and persecution have done their worst, they shall have an inheritance above," Great is their reward in heaven.”
THE PERSECUTIONS WHICH THE DISCIPLES OF CHRIST ARE TAUGHT TO EXPECT—THE CAUSES BY WHICH THEY ARE PRODUCED AND THE POWERFUL MOTIV ES SUGGESTED FOR A PATIENT ENDURANCE, ARE THE THREE PARTS OF THE TEXT WHICH I HAVE NOW TO ILLUSTRATE.
I. THE PERSECUTIONS WHICH ALL THE DISCIPLES op CHRIST ARE TAUGHT TO EXPECT. “ BLESSED ARE THEY WHICH ARE PERSECUTED FOR RIGHTEOUSNESS' SAKE.”
The word persecute is comprehensive, and in the connection in which it here stands, signifies to be earnestly pressed upon, and bitterly injured on a righteous account. In its application to the disciples of Christ, both primitive and modern, it includes all kinds of suffering and privation, the infliction of every species of evil and cruelty, for their religion. Every professor of “ the truth as it is in Jesus," who suffers either in his name, or person, or family, for the faithful discharge of what he considers to be his duty to God, and who is actuated, not by a spirit of pride or affected singularity, but by a commendable regard to divine authority, and a sincere intention of promoting the interests of Christianity and the good of man, is “ persecuted for righteousness' sake.” Produce such an individual from among the various denominations in the Christian world, and if he suffers in any degree for the exhibition of such principles and a conscientious adherence to the plain and obvious truths of the revealed will of God, he is one of those happy men who are commanded “to rejoice and be exceeding glad, for great is their reward in heaven.”
It is required of us, however, to be more particular in the illustration of this important subject. There is one fact which we ought always to remember on this point. It is the cause which makes the martyr. Before we are brought within the case in question, the object for which we suffer must be good. Persecution in the scriptural use of the term, is evil treatment on a religious account. It is the infliction of an injury, or the withholding a right, because the, person thus treated renders what he deliberately regards a paramount duty to his God. A man may, indeed, through mistaken zeal subject himself to punishment for violating the civil laws of his country in the exercise of his religious tenets; but it may be easily demonstrated, that such a case falls not within the meaning of the term as it is here used. We are not to do evil that good may come, or break down the laws of the land in order to serve the Lord: except, indeed, where the command of Scripture is plain and imperative, and the laws vexatious, unrighteous and oppressive. The punishment of evil doers and the protection of the innocent must be provided for by every civilized society, or all will be anarchy and confusion.
Now it is highly probable, that many have considered themselves persecuted who were never worthy of persecution: and who never deserved such an honour. Doubtless multitudes have mistaken the nature of persecution altogether. If the forty men, who bound themselves with an oath, that they would neither eat or drink till they had murdered Paul, had been permitted to carry their dreadful
purpose into execution, they would have forfeited their lives to the Roman law: and the civil magistrate might have inflicted a capital punishment upon them for the murder. Had this been the case, they would, beyond all doubt, have considered themselves "persecuted for righteousness' sake;" because they supposed such a bloody deed was only commendable zeal for the interests of their nation and their religion. But they would have been much mistaken in coming to such a conclusion. The act they contemplated was unjust and deadly. It was condemned both by the laws of God and man: and the penalty which they would have incurred by the commission of so heinous a crime, is required by the strong claims of justice. On the other hand, when the three Hebrew youths were thrown into the furnace of fire because they refused to comply with the unrighteous edict of an idolatrous monarch, it was the very essence of persecution. The mistaken and cruel men in the former case determined on the destruetion of of Paul, because he worshipped God according to the truth; and had they suffered for such an impious intention, supposing it had been accomplished, it could not for that sufficient reason be oppression. But here were three individuals punished because they chose “to obey, God rather than man.” The same may be affirmed of Daniel, who was cast into the den of lions on account of his fidelity : and, also, of a large number of the prophets who suffered for the cause of truth.
There is, indeed, a case sometimes presented to our notice, in looking over the different kinds of civil policy which are maintained among the nations of the earth, which is generally allowed by all who “ think soberly, as they ought to think,” to partake of the nature of persecution. I allude to the withholding civil rights, and the imposing certain restrictions on individuals on account of the peculiar tenets of their faith, and the character of the