by Thomas Watson
"Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness sake; for theirs is the kingdom of heaven." Matthew 5:10
We are now come to the last beatitude: 'Blessed are those who are persecuted . . '. Our Lord Christ would have us reckon the cost. 'Which of you intending to build a tower sits not down first and counts the cost, whether he have enough to finish it?' (Luke 14:28). Religion will cost us the tears of repentance and the blood of persecution. But we see here a great encouragement that may keep us from fainting in the day of adversity. For the present, blessed; for the future, crowned.
The words fall into two general parts.
1. The condition of the godly in this life: 'They are persecuted'.
2. Their reward after this life: 'Theirs is the kingdom of heaven'.
I shall speak chiefly of the first, and wind in the other in the application. The observation is that true godliness is usually attended with persecution. 'We must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God' (Acts 14:22). 'The Jews stirred up the chief men of the city and raised persecution against Paul . . .' (Acts 13:50). Luther makes persecution the very definition of a Christian. Though Christ died to take away the curse from us—yet not to take away the cross from us. Those stones which are cut out for a building are first under the saw and hammer—to be hewed and squared. The godly are called 'living stones' (1 Peter 2:5). And they must be hewn and polished by the persecutor's hand, that they may be fit for the heavenly building.
The saints have no charter of exemption from trials. Though they live ever so meek, merciful, pure in heart—their piety will not shield them from sufferings. They must hang their harp on the willows and take the cross. The way to heaven is by way of thorns and blood. Though it be full of roses in regard of the comforts of the Holy Spirit—yet it is full of thorns in regard of persecutions. Before Israel got to Canaan, a land flowing with milk and honey, they must go through a wilderness of serpents and a Red Sea. So the children of God in their passage to the holy land must meet with fiery serpents and a red sea of persecution. It is a saying of Ambrose, 'There is no Abel, but has his Cain.' Paul fought with beasts at Ephesus (1 Corinthians 15:32). Set it down as a maxim—if you will follow Christ, you must see the swords and staves. 'Yes, and everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution.' (2 Timothy 3:12). Put the cross in your creed. For the amplification of this, there are several things we are to take cognizance of.
1. What is meant by persecution.
2. The several kinds of persecution.
3. Why there must be persecution.
4. The chief persecutions are raised against the ministers of Christ.
5. What that persecution is, which makes a man blessed.
1. What is meant by persecution? The Greek word 'to persecute', signifies 'to vex and molest', sometimes 'to prosecute another', to 'arraign him at the bar', and 'to pursue him to the death'. A persecutor is a 'pricking briar' (Ezekiel 28:24); therefore the church is described to be a 'lily among thorns' (Canticles 2:2).
2. What are the several kinds of persecution? There is a twofold persecution; a persecution of the hand; a persecution of the tongue.
1. A persecution of the HAND. 'Which of the prophets have not your fathers persecuted?' (Acts 7:52). 'For your sake we are killed all the day long' (Romans 8:36; Galatians 4:29). This I call a bloody persecution, when the people of God are persecuted with fire and sword. So we read of the ten persecutions in the time of Nero, Domitian, Trajan etc.; and of the Marian persecution. England for five years drank a cup of blood, and lately Christians in Bohemia have been scourged to death with the rod of the persecutor. God's Church has always, like Abraham's ram, been tied in a bush of thorns.
2. The persecution of the TONGUE, which is twofold.
 Reviling. This few think of or lay to heart—but it is called in the text, persecution. 'When men shall revile you and persecute you'. This is tongue persecution. 'His words were 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' (Ecclesiastes 7:1). A good conscience and a good name is like a gold ring set with a rich diamond. Now to smite another by his name, is by our Savior called persecution. Thus the primitive Christians endured the persecution of the tongue. 'They had trial of cruel mockings' (Hebrews 2:36). David was 'the song of the drunkards' (Psalm 69:12). They would sit on their ale-bench and jeer at him. How frequently do the wicked cast out the squibs of reproach at God's children: 'These are the holy ones!' Little do they think what they do. They are now doing Cain's work! They are persecuting.
 Slandering. So it is in the text: 'When they shall persecute you and say all manner of evil against you falsely'. Slandering is tongue persecution. Thus Paul was slandered in his doctrine. Report had it that he preached, 'Men might do evil that good might come of it' (Romans 3:8). Thus Christ who cast out devils—was charged to have a devil (John 8:48). The primitive Christians were falsely accused for killing their children, and for incest. 'They laid to my charge things that I knew not' (Psalm 35:11)
Let us take heed of becoming persecutors. Some think there is no persecution but fire and sword. Yes, there is persecution of the tongue. There are many of these persecutors nowadays, who by a devilish chemistry can turn gold into dung—the precious names of God's saints into reproach and disgrace! There have been many punished for clipping of coin. Of how much sorer punishment shall they be thought worthy, who clip the names of God's people to make them weigh lighter!
3. WHY there must be persecution. I answer for two reasons.
1. In regard of GOD: his decree and his design.
God's DECREE: 'We are appointed 'hereunto' (1 Thessalonians 3:3). Whoever brings the suffering—God sends it! God bade Shimei curse. Shimei's tongue was the arrow—but it was God who shot it!
God's DESIGN. God has a twofold design in the persecutions of his children.
 TRIALS. 'Many shall be tried' (Daniel 12:10). Persecution is the touchstone of sincerity. It discovers true saints from hypocrites. Unsound hearts look good in prosperity—but in time of persecution fall away (Matthew 13:20, 21). Hypocrites cannot sail in stormy weather. They will follow Christ to Mount Olivet—but not to Mount Calvary. Like green timber they shrink in the scorching sun of persecution. If trouble arises, hypocrites will rather make Demas their choice than, Moses their choice. They will prefer thirty pieces of silver before Christ. God will have persecutions in the world to make a discovery of men. Suffering times are sifting times. 'When I am tried I shall come forth as gold' (Job 23:10). Job had a furnace-faith. A Christian of right breed (who is born of God), whatever he loses, will 'hold fast his integrity' (Job 2:3). Christ's true disciples will follow him upon the water.
 PURITY. God lets his children be in the furnace that they may be 'partakers of his holiness' (Hebrews 12:10). The cross is cleansing. It purges out pride, impatience, love of the world. God washes his people in bloody waters to get out their spots and make them look white (Daniel 12:10). 'I am black—but lovely' (Canticles 1:5). The torrid zone of persecution made the spouse's skin black—but her soul lovely. See how differently afflictions work upon the wicked and godly. They make the wicked worse; they make the godly better. Take a cloth that is rotten. If you scour and rub it, it frets and tears; but if you scour a piece of plate, it looks brighter. When afflictions are upon the wicked, they fret against God and tear themselves in impatience—but when the godly are scoured by these, they look brighter.
2. There will be persecutions in regard of the enemies of the church. These vultures prey upon God's doves. The church has two sorts of enemies.
Open enemies. The wicked hate the godly. There is 'enmity between the seed of the woman and the seed of the serpent' (Genesis 3:15). As in nature there is an antipathy between the elephant and the dragon; and as vultures have an antipathy against sweet smells; so in the wicked there is an antipathy against the people of God. They hate the sweet perfumes of their graces. It is true the saints have their infirmities—but the wicked do not hate them for these—but for their holiness, and from this hatred arises open violence. The thief hates the light, therefore would blow it out.
Secret enemies, who pretend friendship but secretly raise persecutions against the godly. Such are hypocrites and heretics. Paul calls them 'false brethren' (2 Corinthians 11:26). The church complains that her own sons had vexed her (Canticles 1:6). That is, those who had been bred up in her bosom and pretended religion and sympathy, these false friends vexed her. The church's enemies are those 'of her own house'. Such as are open pretenders, but secret opposers of the faith, are ever worst. They are the vilest and basest of men, who hang forth Christ's colors—yet fight against him.
4. The fourth particular, is that the chief persecutions are raised against the ministers. Our Lord Christ turns himself directly to the apostles whom he was ready to commission and send abroad to preach: 'Blessed are you when men shall persecute you' (verse 11). 'So persecuted they the prophets before you' (verse 12). 'Take, my brethren, the prophets for an example of suffering affliction' (James 5:10). No sooner is any man a minister—but he is part martyr. The ministers of Christ are his chosen vessels. Now as the best vessel of gold and silver passes through the fire, so God's chosen vessels pass often through the fire of persecution. Ministers must expect an alarum.
Peter knew how 'to cast the net on the right side of the ship', and at one sermon he converted three thousand souls. Yet neither the divinity of his doctrine nor the sanctity of his life could exempt him from persecution. 'When you shall be old, another shall gird you, and carry you where you would not'. It alludes to his suffering death for Christ. He was (says Eusebius) bound with chains and afterwards crucified at Jerusalem with his head downwards.
Paul, a holy man, who is steeled with courage, and fired with zeal, as soon as he entered into the ministry 'bonds and persecutions awaited him' (Acts 9:16; 20:23). He was made up of sufferings. 'I am ready to be offered up' (2 Timothy 4:6). He alludes to the drink offerings wherein the wine or blood used in sacrifice was poured out, thereby intimating by what manner of death he would glorify God; not by being sacrificed in the fire—but by pouring out his blood, which was when he was beheaded. And that it might seem no strange thing for God's ministers to be under the heat and rage of persecution, Stephen puts the question, 'Which of the prophets have not your fathers persecuted?' (Acts 7:52). Ignatius was torn with wild beasts. Cyprian and Polycarp were martyred. Maximus, the emperor gave charge to his officers to put none to death but the governors and pastors of the Church.
The reasons why the storm of persecution has chiefly fallen upon the ministers are:
1. They have their corruptions as well as others, and lest they should be lifted up 'through the abundance of revelation', God lets loose some 'messenger of Satan' to vex and persecute them. God sees they have need of the flail to thresh off their husks. The fire which God puts them into, is not to consume, but to refine them.
2. The ministers are Christ's ensign-bearers. They are the captains of the Lord's army, therefore they are the most shot at. 'I am set for the defense of the gospel' (Philippians 1:17). The Greek word here used alludes to a soldier that is set in the forefront of the battle and has all the bullets flying about his ears. The minister's work is to preach against men's sins, which are as dear to them as their right eye—and they cannot endure this. Every man's sin is his king to which he yields love and subjection. Now as Pilate said, 'Shall I crucify your king?' Men will not endure to have their king-sin crucified. This then being the work of the ministry—to divide between men and their lusts, to part these two old friends—it is no wonder that it meets with so much opposition. When Paul preached against Diana, all the city was in an uproar. We preach against men's Dianas, those sins which bring them in pleasure and profit—this causes an uproar.
3. From the malice of Satan. The ministers of Christ come to destroy his kingdom, therefore the old serpent will spit all his venom at them. If we tread upon the devil's head, he will bite us by the heel. The devil sets up several forts and garrisons in men's hearts—pride, ignorance, unbelief. Now the weapons of the ministry beat down these strongholds (2 Corinthians 10:4). Therefore Satan raises his militia, all the force and power of hell against the ministry. The kingdom of Satan is a 'kingdom of darkness' (Acts 26:18; Revelation 16:10), and God's ministers are called the 'light of the world' (Matthew 5:14). They come to enlighten those who sit in darkness. This enrages Satan. Therefore he labors to eclipse the lights, to pull down the stars—that his kingdom of darkness may prevail. The devil is called a lion (1 Peter 5:8). The souls of people are the lion's prey. The ministers' work is to take away this prey from this lion. Therefore how will he roar upon them, and seek to destroy them!
 It shows us what a work the ministry is; though full of dignity—yet full of danger. The persecution of the tongue is the most gentle persecution can be expected. 'It is not possible' (says Luther) 'to be a faithful preacher and not to meet with trials and oppositions.'
 It shows the corruption of men's nature since the fall. They are their own enemies. They persecute those who come to do them most good. What is the work of the ministry, but to save men's souls from hell? to pull them as 'brands out of the fire'. Yet worldly men are angry at this. We do not hate the physician who brings such a remedy as makes us nauseated, because it is to make us well; nor the surgeon who lances the flesh, because it is in order to a cure. Why then should we quarrel with the minister? What is our work but to bring men to heaven? 'We are ambassadors for Christ . . .' (2 Corinthians 5:20). We would have a peace made up between you and God; yet this is the folly of depraved nature, to requite evil for good.
Aristoxenus used to moisten his flowers with wine, honey, and perfumes that they might not only smell more fragrantly but put forth more fruit. So should we do with our ministers. Give them wine and honey. Encourage them in their work that they might act more vigorously. But instead of this we give them gall and vinegar to drink. We hate and persecute them. Most deal with their ministers as Israel did with Moses. He prayed for them and wrought miracles for them—yet they were continually quarreling with him and sometimes ready to take away his life.
 If the fury of the world is against the ministers, then you who fear God had need pray much for them. 'Pray for us, that the Word of the Lord may have free course, and that we may be delivered from unreasonable and wicked men.' (2 Thessalonians 3:1, 2). People should pray for their ministers that God would give them wisdom of the serpent—that they may not betray themselves to danger by indiscretion; and the boldness of the lion—that they may not betray the truth by fear.
5. What that suffering persecution is, which makes a man blessed.
1. I shall show what that suffering is, which will NOT make us blessed.
 That is not Christian suffering, when we pull a cross upon ourselves. There is little comfort in such suffering. Augustine speaks of some in his time who were called Circumcellions, who out of a zeal for martyrdom, would run themselves into sufferings. These were accessory to their own death, like King Saul who fell upon his own sword. We are bound by all lawful means to preserve our own lives. Jesus Christ did not suffer until he was called to it. Suspect that to be a temptation, which bids us cast ourselves down into sufferings. When men through rashness run themselves into trouble, it is a cross of their own making and not of God's laying upon them.
 That is not Christian suffering, when we suffer for our offences. 'Let none of you suffer as an evildoer' (1 Peter 4:15). 'We indeed suffer justly' (Luke 23:41). I am not of Cyprian's mind that the thief on the cross suffered as a martyr. No! he suffered as an evildoer! Christ indeed took pity on him and saved him. He died a saint—but not a martyr. When men suffer by the hand of the magistrate for their uncleanness, blasphemies etc., these do not suffer persecution—but execution. They die not as martyrs—but as malefactors. They suffer evil—for being evil.
 That is not Christian suffering, when they suffer, out of sinister respects, to be cried up as head of a party, or to keep up a faction. The apostle implies that a man may give his body to be burned—yet go to hell (1 Corinthians 13:3). Ambitious men may sacrifice their lives to purchase fame. These are the devil's martyrs.
2. What that suffering persecution is, which will make us blessed, and shall wear the crown of martyrdom.
 We suffer as a Christian, when we suffer in a good cause. So it is in the text. 'Blessed are those who suffer for righteousness sake'. It is the cause which makes a martyr. When we suffer for the truth and espouse the quarrel of true religion, this is to suffer for righteousness' sake. 'For the hope of Israel, I am bound with this chain' (Acts 28:20).
 We suffer as a Christian, when we suffer with a good conscience. A man may have a good cause—and a bad conscience. He may suffer for 'righteousness sake'—yet he himself be unrighteous. Paul, as he had a just cause, so he had a pure conscience. 'I have lived in all good conscience to this day' (Acts 23:1). Paul kept a good conscience to his dying day. It has made the saints go as cheerfully to the stake—as if they had been going to a crown. See to it that there is no flaw in conscience. A ship that is to sail upon the waters must be preserved from leaking. When Christians are to sail on the waters of persecution, let them take heed there be no leak of guilt in their conscience. He who suffers (though it is in God's own cause) with a bad conscience, suffers two hells; a hell of persecution, and a hell of damnation.
 We suffer as a Christian, when we have a good call. 'You shall be brought before kings . . .' (Matthew 10:18). There is no question but a man may so far consult for his safety that if God by his providence opens a door, he may flee in time of persecution (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, and this is reckoned for martyrdom.
 We suffer as a Christian, when we have good ends in our suffering, namely, that we may glorify God, set a seal to the truth, and show our love to Christ. 'You shall be brought before kings for my sake' (Matthew 10:18). The primitive Christians burned 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 with Christian virtues. 'If any man suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed' (1 Peter 4:16). To suffer as a Christian is to suffer with such a spirit as becomes a Christian, which is:
When we suffer with patience. 'Take, my brethren, the prophets for an example of suffering affliction and of patience' (James 5:10). A Christian must not repine but say, 'Shall I not drink the cup' of martyrdom which my Father has given me? There should be such a spirit of meekness in a Christian's suffering, that it should be hard to say which is greater—his persecution or his patience. When Job had lost all, he kept the breastplate of innocence and the shield of patience. An impatient martyr is a contradiction.
To suffer as Christians is when we suffer with courage. Courage is a Christian's armor. It steels and animates him. The three Hebrew children, or rather the three champions, were of brave heroic spirits. They do not say to the king, 'We ought not to serve your gods'—but 'We will not!' (Daniel 3:18). Neither Nebuchadnezzar's music nor his furnace could alter their resolution. Tertullian was called an adamant, for his invincible courage. Holy courage makes us (as one of the fathers says) 'have such faces of brass that we are not ashamed of the cross'. This is to suffer as Christians, when we are meek yet resolute. The more the fire is blown—the more it flames. So it is with a brave-spirited Christian. The more opposition he meets with—the more zeal and courage flames forth.
To suffer as Christians is to suffer with cheerfulness. Patience is a bearing the cross; cheerfulness is a taking up the cross. Christ suffered for us cheerfully. His death was a freewill offering (Luke 12:50). He thirsted to drink of that cup of blood! Such must our sufferings be for Christ. Cheerfulness perfumes suffering and makes it the sacrifice of a sweet-smelling savor to God. Thus Moses suffered cheerfully. 'Moses, when he was come to years, chose to suffer affliction with the people of God, rather than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season' (Hebrews 11:24, 25). Observe: 'When he was come to years': It was no childish act. It was when he was of years of discretion. 'He chose to suffer affliction.' Suffering was not so much his task—as his choice. The cross was not so much imposed—as embraced. This is to suffer as Christians, when we are volunteers; we take up the cross cheerfully, nay, joyfully. 'They departed from the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for his name' (Acts 5:41). Or as it is more emphatic in the original, 'They rejoiced that they were so far graced as to be disgraced for the name of Christ'. Tertullian says of the primitive Christians, that they took more comfort in their sufferings than in their deliverance. And indeed well may a Christian be joyful in suffering, because it is a great favor when God honors a man to be a witness to the truth. Christ's marks in Paul's body were prints of glory. The saints have worn their sufferings as ornaments. Ignatius' chains were his jewels. Never have any princes been so famous for their victories, as the martyrs for their sufferings.
We suffer as Christians when we suffer and pray for our persecutors. 'Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you,
28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you' (Luke 6:27-28).
There are two reasons why we should pray for our persecutors.
Because our prayers may be a means to convert them. Stephen prayed for his persecutors: 'Lord, lay not this sin to their charge' (Acts 7:60). And this prayer was effectual to some of their conversions. Augustine says that the church of God was indebted to Stephen's prayer for all that benefit which was reaped by Paul's ministry.
We should pray for our persecutors because they do us good, though against their will. They shall increase our reward. Every reproach shall add to our glory. Every injury shall serve to make our crown heavier. As Gregory Nazianzen speaks in one of his orations, Every stone which was thrown at Stephen was a precious stone which enriched him and made him shine brighter in the kingdom of heaven.
Thus have I shown what that suffering is, which makes us blessed, and shall wear the crown of martyrdom.
1. It shows us what the nature of Christianity is, namely, sanctity joined with suffering. A true saint carries Christ in his heart—and the cross on his shoulders. 'All who will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution' (2 Timothy 3:12). Christ and his cross are never parted. It is too much for a Christian to have two heavens, one here and another hereafter. Christ's kingdom on earth is the kingdom of the cross. What is the meaning of the shield of faith, the helmet of hope, the breastplate of patience—but to imply that we must encounter sufferings? It is one of the titles given to the church, 'afflicted' (Isaiah 54:11). Persecution is the legacy bequeathed by Christ to his people. 'In the world you shall have tribulation' (John 16:33). Christ's spouse is a lily among thorns. Christ's sheep must expect to lose their golden fleece. This the flesh does not like to hear of. Therefore Christ calls persecution 'the cross' (Matthew 16:24). It is cross to flesh and blood. We are all for reigning. 'When will you restore the kingdom again to Israel?' (Acts 1:6). But the apostle tells of suffering before reigning. 'If we suffer—we shall also reign with him' (2 Timothy 2:12). How loath is corrupt flesh to put its neck under Christ's yoke, or stretch itself upon the cross!
True religion gives no charter of exemption from suffering. To have two heavens is more than Christ had. Was Christ crowned with thorns—and do we think to be crowned with roses! 'Don't be surprised at the fiery trials you are going through, as if something strange were happening to you' (1 Peter 4:12). If we are God's gold, it is not strange to be cast into the fire. Some there are, who picture Erasmus as half in heaven and half out. Methinks it represents a Christian in this life. In regard of his inward consolation—he is half in heaven. In regard of his outward persecution—he is half in hell.
2. See hence that persecutions are not signs of God's anger or fruits of the curse, for 'blessed are those who are persecuted'. If they are blessed who die in the Lord, are they not blessed who die for the Lord? We are very apt to judge them hated and forsaken of God, who are in a suffering condition. 'If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross' (Matthew 27:40).The Jews made a question of it. They could hardly believe Christ was the Son of God when he hung upon the cross. Would God let him be reproached and forsaken—if he were the Son of God? When the barbarians saw the viper on Paul's hand, they thought he was a great sinner. 'No doubt this man is a murderer' (Acts 28:4). So when we see the people of God afflicted and the viper of persecution fastens upon them, we are apt to say, 'These are greater sinners than others, and God does not love them.' This is for lack of judgment. 'Blessed are those who are persecuted'. Persecutions are pledges of God's love, badges of honor (Hebrews 12:7). In the sharpest trial, there is the sweetest comfort. God's fanning his wheat, is but to make it purer.
1. It reproves such as would be thought good Christians, but will not suffer persecution for Christ's sake. Their care is not to take up the cross—but to avoid the cross. 'When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, he quickly falls away' (Matthew 13:21). There are many professors who will suffer nothing for him. These may be compared to the crystal which looks like diamond until it comes to the hammering, then it breaks. Many, when they see the palm-branches and garments spread, cry 'Hosanna!' to Christ—but if the swords and staves appear, then they slink away. It is to be feared there are some among us, who, if persecutions should come, would rather make Demas' choice—than Moses' choice, and would study rather to keep their skin whole—than their conscience pure. Erasmus highly extolled Luther's doctrine—but when the Emperor threatened all who should favor Luther's cause, he unworthily deserted it. Hypocrites will sooner renounce Christ, than take up the cross. If ever we should show ourselves Christians to purpose, we must with Peter throw ourselves upon the water to come to Christ. He who refuses to suffer, let him read over that sad scripture, 'Whoever shall deny me before men, him will I also deny before my Father which is in heaven' (Matthew 10:33).
2. It reproves them who are the opposers and persecutors of the saints. How great is their sin! They resist the Holy Spirit. 'You always resist the Holy Spirit! Which of the prophets have your not fathers persecuted?' (Acts 7:51, 52). Persecutors offer affront to Christ in heaven. They tread his jewels in the dust, touch the apple of his eye, and pierce his sides. 'Saul, Saul, why persecute you me?' (Acts 9:4). When the foot was trodden on, the head cried out. As the sin is great, so the punishment shall be proportionable. 'Because they poured out the blood of the saints and the prophets, You also gave them blood to drink; they deserve it!' (Revelation 16:6). Will not Christ avenge those who die in this quarrel?
1. Let it exhort Christians to think beforehand and make account of sufferings. This reckoning beforehand can do us no hurt; it may do us much good.
 The fore-thoughts of suffering will make a Christian very serious. The heart is apt to be feathery and frothy. The thoughts of suffering persecution would solidify it. Why am I thus light? Is this a posture fit for persecution? Christians grow serious in the casting up their spiritual accounts. They reckon what religion must cost them, and may cost them. It must cost them the blood of their sins. It may cost them the blood of their lives.
 The fore-thoughts of persecution will be as sauce to season our delights, that we do not surfeit upon them. How soon may there be an alarum sounded? How soon may the clouds drop blood? The thoughts of this would take off the heart from the immoderate love of the creature. Our Savior at a great feast breaks out into mention of his death. 'She has prepared this against my burial' (Mark 14:8). So the fore-thoughts of persecution would be an excellent antidote against a surfeit.
 The fore-thoughts of sufferings would make them lighter when they come. The suddenness of an evil adds to the sadness. This was ill news to the fool in the gospel, 'This night shall your soul be required of you' (Luke 12:20). This will be an aggravation of Babylon's miseries: 'Her plagues shall come in one day' (Revelation 18:8). Not that antichrist shall be destroyed in a day—but ('in a day') that is, suddenly. The blow shall come unawares, when he does not think of it. The reckoning beforehand of suffering, alleviates and shakes off the edge of it when it comes. Therefore Christ, to lighten the cross, still forewarns his disciples of sufferings that they might not come unlooked for (John 16:33; Acts 1:7).
 Fore-thoughts of persecution would put us in mind of getting our armor ready. It is dangerous as well as imprudent, to have all to seek when the trial comes—as if a soldier should have no weapons when the enemy is in the field. He who reckons upon persecution will be in a ready posture for it. He will have the shield of faith and the sword of the Spirit ready, that he may not be surprised unawares.
Let us prepare for persecution. A wise pilot in a calm, will prepare for a storm. God knows how soon persecution may come. There seems to be a cloud of blood hanging over the nation.
How shall we prepare for sufferings? Do three things.
1. Be people rightly qualified for suffering.
2. Avoid those things which will hinder suffering.
3. Promote all helps to suffering.
1. Labor to be people rightly qualified for suffering. Be righteous people. That man who would suffer 'for righteousness sake' must himself be righteous. I mean evangelically righteous. In particular I call him righteous:
 A righteous person breathes after holiness (Psalm 119:5). Though sin cleaves to his heart—yet his heart does not cleave to sin. Though sin has an alliance—yet no allowance. 'I do the very thing I hate!' (Romans 7:15). A godly man hates the sin to which Satan most tempts and his heart most inclines (Psalm 119:128).
 A righteous person is one who makes God's grace his center. The glory of God is more worth than the salvation of all men's souls. He who is divinely qualified, is so zealously ambitious for God's glory, that he does not care what he loses, so long God may be a gainer. He prefers the glory of God before credit, estate, relations. It was the speech of Kiliaz, that blessed martyr, 'Had I all the gold in the world to dispose of, I would give it to live with my family (though in prison)—yet Jesus Christ is dearer to me than all.'
 A righteous person is one who values the jewel of a good conscience at a high rate. Good conscience is a saint's festival, his music, his paradise, and he will rather hazard anything than violate his conscience. They say of the Irish, if they have a good scimitar, a warlike weapon—that they had rather take a blow on their arm than their scimitar should be hurt. To this I may compare a good conscience. A good man had rather sustain hurt in his body or estate than his conscience should be hurt. He had rather die than violate the virginity of his conscience. Such a man as this is evangelically righteous, and if God calls him to it—he is fit to suffer.
2. Avoid those things which will hinder suffering.
 The love of the world. God allows us the use of the world (1 Timothy 6:7, 8). But take heed of the love of it. He who is in love with the world will be out of love with the cross. 'Demas has forsaken me, having loved this present world' (2 Timothy 4:10). He not only forsook Paul's company but his doctrine. The love of the world chokes our zeal. A man wedded to the world will for thirty pieces of silver betray Christ and his cause. Let the world be as a loose garment that you may throw off at pleasure. Before a man can die for Christ—he must be dead to the world. Paul was crucified to the world (Galatians 6:14). It will be an easy thing to die, when we are already dead in our affections.
 Carnal fear. There is a twofold fear:
A FILIAL fear, when a man fears to displease God. When he fears he should not hold out, this is a good fear. 'Blessed is he who fears always'. If Peter had feared his own heart better, and said, 'Lord Jesus, I fear I shall forsake you; Lord strengthen me'; doubtless Christ would have kept him from falling.
There is a COWARDLY fear, when a man fears danger more than sin, when he is afraid to be godly; this fear is an enemy to suffering. God proclaimed that those who were fearful should not go to the wars (Deuteronomy 20:8). The fearful are unfit to fight in Christ's wars. A man possessed with fear does not consult what is best—but what is safest. If he may save his estate, he will snare his conscience. 'In the fear of man, there is a snare' (Proverbs 29:25). Fear made Peter deny Christ, Abraham equivocate, David pretend to be mad. Fear will put men upon sinful courses. Fear makes sin appear little, and suffering great. The fearful man sees double. He looks upon the cross through his microscope, and it appears twice as big as it is. Fear argues sordidness of spirit. It will put one upon things most ignoble and unworthy. A fearful man will vote against his conscience. Fear enfeebles. It is like the cutting off Samson's locks. Fear melts away the courage. 'Their hearts melt because of you' (Joshua 2:9). And when a man's strength is gone he is very unfit to carry Christ's cross. Fear is the root of apostasy. Spira's fear made him abjure and recant his religion.
Fear hurts one more than the adversary. It is not so much an enemy outside the castle, as a traitor within, which endangers it. It is not so much sufferings without, as traitorous fear within, which undoes a man. A fearful man is versed in no posture so much as in retreating. Oh take heed of this! Be afraid of this fear. 'Fear not those who can kill the body' (Luke 12:4). Persecutors can but kill the body, which must shortly die anyway. The fearful are set in the forefront of those who shall go to hell (Revelation 21:8). Let us get the fear of God into our hearts. As one wedge drives out another, so the fear of God will drive out all other base fear.
 Take heed of a vacillating spirit. A vacillating man will be turned any way with a word. He will be wrought as wax. He is so tame that you may lead him where you will. 'With fair speeches they deceive the hearts of the simple' (Romans 16:18). A vacillating man is malleable to anything. He is like wool that will take any dye. He is a weak reed that will be blown any way with the breath of men. One day you may persuade him to engage in a good cause, the next day to desert it. He is not made of oak—but of willow. He will bend every way. Oh take heed of a vacillating spirit! It is folly to allow one's self to be abused. A good Christian is like Mount Zion that cannot be moved (Psalm 125:1). He is like Fabricius of whom it was said, a man might as well alter the course of the sun as turn him aside from doing justice. A good Christian must be firm to his resolution. If he be not a fixed star, he will be a falling star.
 Take heed of listening to the voice of the flesh. Paul 'conferred not with flesh and blood' (Galatians 1:16). The flesh will give bad counsel. First King Saul consulted with the flesh—and afterwards he consulted with the devil. He sends to the witch of Endor. 'Oh,' says the flesh, 'the cross of Christ is heavy! There are nails in that cross which will lacerate, and fetch blood!' Be as a deaf adder stopping your ears to the charmings of the flesh!
3. Promote those things which will help to suffer.
 Inure yourselves to suffering. 'As a good soldier of Christ endure hardship' (2 Timothy 2:3). Jacob made the stone his pillow (Genesis 28:18). 'It is good for a man that he bear the yoke in his youth' (Lamentations 3:27). The bearing of a lighter cross, will fit for the bearing of a heavier cross. Learn to bear a reproach with patience, and then you will be fitter to bear an iron chain. Paul died daily. He began with lesser sufferings and so by degrees learned to be a martyr. As it is in sin—a wicked man learns to be expert in sin by degrees. First he commits a lesser sin, then a greater, then he arrives at a habit in sin, then he grows impudent in sin, then he glories in sin (Philippians 3:19); so it is in suffering. First a Christian takes up the chips of the cross—mockings and scornings—and then he carries the cross itself.
Alas how far are they from suffering, who indulge the flesh: 'They lie upon beds of ivory and stretch themselves upon their couches' (Amos 6:4); a very unfit posture for suffering. That soldier is likely to make but poor work of it, who is stretching himself upon his bed when he should be in the field exercising and drilling. 'What shall I say,' says Jerome, 'to those professors who make it all their care to perfume their clothes, to crisp their hair, to sparkle their diamonds—but if sufferings come, and the way to heaven has any difficulty in it, they will not endure to set their feet upon it!' Most people are too delicate. They pamper themselves too tenderly. Those 'silken Christians' (as Tertullian calls them) who pamper the flesh, are unfit for the school of the cross. The naked breast and bare shoulder, is too soft and tender to carry Christ's cross. Inure yourselves to hardship. Do not make your pillow too easy.
 Be well skilled in the knowledge of Christ. A man can never die for one he does not know. 'For which cause I suffer those things; for I know whom I have believed' (2 Timothy 1:12). Blind men are always fearful. A blind Christian will be fearful of the cross. Enrich yourselves with knowledge. Know Christ in his virtues, offices, privileges. See the preciousness in Christ. 'To you who believe, he is precious' (1 Peter 2:7). His name is precious; it is as ointment poured forth. His blood is precious; it is as balm poured forth. His love is precious; it is as wine poured forth. Jesus Christ is made up of all sweets and delights. He himself is all that is desirable. He is light to the eye, honey to the taste, joy to the heart. Get but the knowledge of Christ and you will part with all for him. You will embrace him though it be in the fire. An ignorant man can never be a martyr. He may set up an altar—but he will never die for an unknown God.
 Prize every truth of God. The filings of gold are precious. The least ray of truth is glorious. 'Buy the truth—and sell it not' (Proverbs 23:23). Truth is the object of faith (2 Thessalonians 2:13), the seed of regeneration (James 1:18), the spring of joy (1 Corinthians 13:6). Truth crowns us with salvation (1 Timothy 2:4). If ever you would suffer for the truth—prize it above all things. He who does not prize truth above life will never lay down his life for the truth. The blessed martyrs sealed the truth with their blood. There are two things God counts most dear to him, his glory and his truth.
 Keep a good conscience. If there is any sin allowed in the soul, it will unfit for suffering. A man who has a boil upon his shoulders cannot carry a heavy burden. Guilt of conscience is like a boil. He who has this can never carry the cross of Christ. If a ship is sound and well-rigged, it will sail upon the water—but if it is full of holes and leaks, it will sink in the water. If conscience be full of guilt (which is like a leak in the ship), it will not sail in the bloody waters of persecution. If the foundation is rotten, the house will not stand in a storm. If a man's heart is rotten, he will never stand in a storm of tribulation. How can a guilty person suffer when for ought he knows, he is likely to go from the fire at the stake—to hell-fire! Let conscience be pure. 'Holding the mystery of the faith in a pure conscience' (1 Timothy 3:9). A good conscience will abide the fiery trial. This made the martyrs' flames, to be beds of roses. A good conscience is a wall of brass. With the Leviathan, 'it laughs at the shaking of a spear' (Job 41:29). Let one be in prison—a good conscience is a bird that can sing in this cage. Augustine calls it 'the paradise of a good conscience'.
 Make the Scripture familiar to you (Psalm 119:50). The Scripture well digested by meditation, will fit for suffering. The Scripture is a Christian's armory. It may be compared to the 'tower of David on which there hang a thousand shields' (Canticles 4:4). From these breasts of Scripture, divine strength flows into the soul. 'Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly' (Colossians 3:16). Jerome speaks of one who by frequent studying the Scripture made his breast 'the library of Christ'. The blessed Scripture as it is a honeycomb for comfort, so an armory for strength. First, the martyrs 'hearts did burn within them' (Luke 24:32) by reading the Scripture, and then their bodies were fit to burn. The Scripture arms a Christian both against temptation and persecution.
The Scripture arms a Christian both against TEMPTATION. Christ himself, when he was tempted by the devil ran to Scripture for armor: 'It is written'. Three times he wounds the old serpent with his sword. Jerome says of Paul, he could never have gone through so many temptations, but for his Scripture-armor. Christians, are you tempted? Go to Scripture; gather a stone hence to fling in the face of a Goliath-temptation. Are you tempted to pride? Read that scripture, 'God resists the proud' (1 Peter 5:5). Are you tempted to lust? Read James 1:15, 'When lust has conceived, it brings forth sin; and sin when it is finished, brings forth death'.
The Scripture arms a Christian both against PERSECUTION. When the flesh draws back the Scripture will recruit us. It will put armor upon us—and courage into us. 'Do not be afraid of what you are about to suffer. I tell you, the devil will put some of you in prison to test you, and you will suffer persecution for ten days. Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you the crown of life' (Revelation 2:10). O, says the Christian, I am not afraid to suffer. 'Do not be afraid of what you are about to suffer.' But why should I suffer? I love God and is not this sufficient? Nay—but God will test your love. God's gold is best tried in the furnace. But this persecution is so long! No! it is but for 'ten days'. It may be lasting—but not everlasting. What are ten days put in balance with eternity? But what am I the better if I suffer? What comes of it? 'Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you the crown of life.' Though your body is martyred, your soul shall be crowned. 'But I shall faint when trials come.' 'My grace shall be sufficient' (2 Corinthians 12:9). The Christian though weak, has omnipotence to underprop him.
 Get a suffering frame of heart.
What is that? you say. I answer: A self-denying frame. 'If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.' (Luke 9:23). Self-denial is the foundation of godliness, and if this foundation is not well-laid, the whole building will fall. If there is any lust in our souls which we cannot deny—it will turn at length either to scandal or apostasy. Self-denial is the thread which must run along through the whole work of piety. The self-denying Christian will be the suffering Christian. 'Let him deny himself and take up his cross'.
For the further explication of this, I shall do two things.
1. Show what is meant by this word deny.
2. What is meant by self.
1. What is meant by DENY? The word 'to deny' signifies to lay aside, to put off, to annihilate oneself. Beza renders it 'let him renounce himself'.
2. What is meant by SELF? Self is taken four ways:
A man must deny WORLDLY self, that is, his estate. 'Behold we have forsaken all and followed you' (Matthew 19:27). The gold of Ophir must be denied—for the pearl of great price. Let their money perish with them (said that noble Marquess of Vico) who esteem all the gold and silver in the world worth one hour's communion with Christ.
A man must deny RELATIVE self, that is, his dearest relations—if God calls. If our nearest relative, father or mother, stand in our way and would hinder us from doing our duty, we must either leap over them or tread upon them! 'If you want to be my follower you must love me more than your own father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, more than your own life. Otherwise, you cannot be my disciple' (Luke 14:26). Relations must not weigh heavier than Christ.
A man must deny NATURAL self. He must be willing to become a sacrifice and make Christ's crown flourish, though it be in his ashes. 'They loved not their lives unto the death' (Luke 14:26; Revelation 12:11). Jesus Christ was dearer to them, than their own heart's blood.
A man must deny CARNAL self. This I take to be the chief sense of the text. He must deny carnal ease. The flesh cries out for ease. It is loath to put its neck under Christ's yoke or stretch itself upon the cross. The flesh cries out, 'There is a lion in the way' (Proverbs 22:13). We must deny our self-ease. Those who lean on the soft pillow of sloth, will hardly take up the cross. 'You as a good soldier of Christ endure hardness' (2 Timothy 2:3). We must force a way to heaven through sweat and blood. Caesar's soldiers fought with hunger and cold.
A man must deny self-esteem. Every man by nature has a high opinion of himself. He is drunk with spiritual pride, and a proud man is unfit for suffering. He thinks himself too good to suffer. What (says he) I who am of such a noble descent, such high abilities, such repute and credit in the world—shall I suffer? A proud man disdains the cross. Oh deny self-esteem! How did Christ come to suffer? 'He humbled himself and became obedient unto death' (Philippians 2:8). Let the plumes of pride fall off!
A man must deny self-confidence. Peter's self-confidence undid him. 'Even if everyone else deserts you, I never will! Not even if I have to die with you! I will never deny you!' (Matthew 26:33, 35). How did this man presume upon his own strength, as if he had more grace than all the apostles besides! His denying Christ was for lack of denying himself. Oh deny your own strength! Samson's strength was in his locks. A Christian's strength lies in Christ. He who trusts to himself—shall be left to himself. He who goes out in his own strength comes off to his own shame.
A man must deny self-wisdom. We read of the 'wisdom of the flesh' (2 Corinthians 1:12). Self-wisdom is carnal policy. It is wisdom (says the flesh) to keep out of suffering. It is wisdom not to declare against sin. It is wisdom to find out subtle ways to avoid the cross. The wisdom of the flesh—is to save the flesh. Indeed there is a Christian prudence to be used. The serpent's eye must be in the dove's head. Wisdom and innocence do well—but it is dangerous to separate them. Cursed be that policy which teaches to avoid duty. This wisdom is not from above, but is devilish (James 3:15). It is learned from the old serpent. This wisdom will turn to folly at last. It is like a man who to save his gold—throws himself overboard into the water. Many, to save their skin—will damn their souls.
A man must deny self-will. Gregory calls the will the commander-in-chief of all the faculties of the soul. Indeed, in innocence, Adam had rectitude of mind and conformity of will. The will was like an instrument in tune. It was full of harmony and tuned sweetly to God's will—but now the will is corrupt and like a strong tide carries us violently to evil. The will has not only an indisposition to good—but an opposition to good. 'You have always resisted the Holy Spirit' (Acts 7:51). There is not a greater enemy than the will. It is up in arms against God (2 Peter 2:10). The will loves sin—and hates the cross. Now if ever we suffer for God we must cross our own will. The will must be martyred. A Christian must say, 'Not my will—but may your will will be done.'
A man must deny self-reasonings. The fleshy part will be reasoning and disputing against sufferings. 'Why are you reasoning about these things in your hearts?' (Mark 2:8). Such reasonings as these will begin to arise in our hearts:
1. Persecution is bitter.
Oh but it is blessed! 'Blessed is he who endures temptation . . .' (James 1:12). The cross is heavy—but the sharper the cross, the brighter the crown.
2. But it is sad to part with estate and relations.
But Christ is better than all. He is manna to strengthen; he is wine to comfort; he is salvation to crown.
3. But liberty is sweet.
This restraint makes way for enlargement. 'You have enlarged me in distress' (Psalm 4:1). When the feet are bound with irons, the heart may be sweetly dilated and enlarged.
Thus should we put to silence those self-reasonings which are apt to arise in the heart against sufferings.
This self-denying frame of heart is very hard. This is 'to pluck out the right eye'. It is easier to overcome men and devils, than to overcome self. 'Stronger is he who conquers himself, than he who conquers the strongest walled city'. Self is the idol, and how hard it is to sacrifice this idol and to turn self-seeking into self-denial! But though it is difficult, it is essential to suffering. A Christian must first lay down self, before he can take up the cross.
Alas! how far are they then from suffering that cannot deny themselves in the least things; who in their diet or apparel, instead of martyring the flesh, pamper the flesh! Instead of taking up the cross take up their cups! Is this self-denial, to let loose the reins to the flesh? It is sure that those who cannot deny themselves, if sufferings come, will deny Christ. Oh Christians, as ever you would be able to carry Christ's cross, begin to deny yourselves. Consider:
Whatever you deny for Christ, you shall find again in Christ. 'Everyone who has given up houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or property, for my sake, will receive a hundred times as much in return and will have eternal life.' (Matthew 19:29). Here is a very choice bargain!
It is but equity that you should deny yourselves for Christ. Did not Jesus Christ deny himself for you? He denied his joy; he left his Father's house; he denied his honor; he endured the shame (Hebrews 12:2); he denied his life; he poured out his blood as a sacrifice upon the altar of the cross (Colossians 1:20). Did Christ deny himself for you, and will not you deny yourselves for him?
Self-denial is the highest sign of a sincere Christian. Hypocrites may have great knowledge and make large profession—but it is only the true-hearted saint who can deny himself for Christ. I have read of a holy man who was once tempted by Satan, to whom Satan said, 'Why do you take all these pains? You watch and fast and abstain from sin. O man, what do you do, more than I? Are you no drunkard, no adulterer? Neither am I. Do you watch? Let me tell you, I never sleep. Do you fast? I never eat. What do you do, more than I?' 'Why,' says the godly man, 'I will tell you, Satan; I pray; I serve the Lord; nay, more than all, I deny myself.' 'Nay, then,' says Satan, 'you go beyond me for I exalt myself!' And so he vanished. Self-denial is the best touchstone of sincerity. By this you go beyond hypocrites.
To deny yourselves is but what others have done before you. Moses was a self-denier. He denied the honors and profits of the court (Hebrews 11:24-26). Abraham denied his own country at God's call (Hebrews 11:8). Marcus Arethusus endured great torments for Christ. If he would but have given a half-penny towards the rebuilding of the idol's temple, he might have been released—but he would not do it, though the giving of a hal-fpenny might have saved his life. Here was a self-denying saint.
There is a time shortly coming, that if you do not deny the world for Christ, the world will deny you. The world now denies satisfaction, and before long it will deny place. It will not allow you so much as to breathe in it. It will turn you out of possession; and, which is worse, not only the world will deny you—but Christ will deny you. 'Whoever shall deny me before men, him will I also deny before my Father which is heaven' (Matthew 10:33).
 Get suffering graces; these three in particular:
Faith; Love; Patience.
The first suffering grace is FAITH. 'In every situation take the shield of faith, and with it you will be able to extinguish the flaming arrows of the evil one' (Ephesians 6:16). The pretense of faith is one thing, the use of faith another. The hypocrite makes faith a cloak, the martyr makes it a shield. A shield is useful in time of danger; it defends the head; it guards the vitals. Such a shield is faith.
Faith is a furnace grace. 'Though it is tried with fire, it is found unto praise and honor' (1 Peter 1:7). Faith, like Hercules' club, beats down all oppositions. By faith we resist the devil (1 Peter 5:9). By faith we resist unto blood (Hebrews 11:34).
Faith is a victorious grace. The believer will make Christ's crown flourish, though it is in his own ashes. An unbeliever is like Reuben: 'Unstable as water he shall not excel' (Genesis 49:4). A believer is like Joseph, who, though the archers shot at him, 'his bow abode in strength.' Cast a believer upon the waters of affliction—he can follow Christ upon the water, and not sink. Cast him into the fire, his zeal burns hotter than the flame. Cast him into prison, he is enlarged in spirit. Paul and Silas had their prison songs. 'You shall tread upon the lion and adder' (Psalm 91:13). A Christian, armed with faith as a coat of armor, can tread upon those persecutions which are fierce as the lion, and sting as the adder! Get faith.
But how does faith come to be such strong armor? I answer—in six ways.
(1) Faith unites the soul to Christ, and that blessed Head sends forth grace into the members. 'I can do all things through Christ, who give me strength.' (Philippians 4:13). Faith is a grace which lives upon borrowed strength. As when we need water, we go to the well and fetch it; when we need gold, we go to the mine; so faith goes to Christ and fetches his strength into the soul, whereby it is enabled both to do and suffer. Hence it is that faith is such a wonderworking grace.
(2) Faith works in the heart, a contempt of the world. Faith gives a true map of the world, 'When I surveyed all that my hands had done and what I had toiled to achieve, everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind; nothing was gained under the sun!' (Ecclesiastes 2:11). Faith shows the world in its night-dress, having all its jewels pulled off. Faith makes the world appear in its true state. Faith shows the soul better things than the world. It gives a sight of Christ and eternal glory. It gives a prospect of heaven. As the mariner in a dark night climbs up to the top of the mast and cries out, 'I see a star', so faith climbs up above sense and reason into heaven and sees Christ, that bright and morning star; and the soul, having once viewed his superlative excellencies, becomes crucified to the world. Oh, says the Christian, shall not I suffer the loss of all these things that I may enjoy Jesus Christ! 'Yes, everything else is worthless when compared with the priceless gain of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. I have discarded everything else, counting it all as garbage, so that I may have Christ!' Philippians 3:8
(3) Faith gets strength from God's promises. Faith lives upon the promises. Take the fish out of the water—and it dies. Take faith out of a promise—and it cannot live. The promises are breasts of consolation. The child by sucking the breast gets strength. Faith gets strength by sucking the breast of a promise. When a garrison is besieged and is ready almost to yield to the enemy, auxiliary forces are sent in to relieve it. So when faith begins to be weak and is ready to faint in the day of battle, then the promises muster their forces together, and all come in for faith's relief and now it is able to hold out in the fiery trial.
(4) Faith gives the soul a right notion of suffering. Faith draws the true picture of sufferings. What is suffering? Faith says, it is but the suffering of the body—which must shortly by the course of nature drop into the dust. Persecution can but take away my life. An ague or fever may do as much. Now faith giving the soul a right notion of sufferings and taking (as it were) a just measure of them, enables a Christian to prostrate his life at the feet of Christ.
(5) Faith reconciles God's providences with His promises. As it was on Paul's voyage, providence seemed to be against him. There was a "northeaster" which arose (Acts 27:14)—but God had given him a promise that he would save his life, and the lives of all who sailed with him in the ship (verse 24). Therefore when the wind blew ever so contrary, Paul believed it would at last blow him to the haven. So when sense says, 'Here is a cross providence. Great sufferings are coming—and I shall be undone!' Then faith says 'we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose' (Romans 8:28). This providence, though bloody, shall fulfill the promise. Affliction shall work for my good. It shall heal my corruption, and save my soul. Thus faith, making the wind and tide go together, the wind of a providence with the tide of the promise, enables a Christian to suffer persecution.
(6) Faith picks sweetness out of suffering. Faith shows God reconciled and sin pardoned; and then how sweet is every suffering! The bee gathers the sweetest honey from the bitterest herb. 'A bitter medicine often gives strength to the weary'. So faith gathers the sweetest comforts—from the sharpest trials. Faith looks upon suffering as God's love-token. 'Afflictions are sharp arrows—but they are shot from the hand of a loving Father!' Faith can taste honey at the end of the afflicting rod. Faith fetches joy out of suffering, 'your sorrow will turn to joy!' (John 16:20). Faith gets honey from the belly of the lion. Faith finds a jewel under the cross!
Thus you see how faith comes to be such a wonder-working grace. 'Above all, taking the shield of faith'. A believer having cast his anchor in heaven cannot sink in the waters of persecution.
The next suffering grace is LOVE. Get hearts fired with love to the Lord Jesus. Love is a grace both active and passive.
(1) Love is ACTIVE. It lays a law of constraint upon the soul. 'The love of Christ constrains us' (2 Corinthians 5:14). Love is the wing of the soul, which sets it flying. Love is also the weight of the soul, which sets it going. Love never thinks it can do enough for Christ—as he who loves the world never thinks he can take enough pains for it. Love is never weary. It is not tired unless with its own slowness.
(2) Love is PASSIVE. It enables to suffer. A man who loves his friend will suffer anything for him, rather than he shall be wronged. Love made our dear Lord suffer for us. The pelican out of her love to her young ones, when they are bitten with serpents, feeds them with her own blood to recover them again. Just so, when we had been bitten by the old serpent, that Christ might recover us—he fed us with his own blood. Jacob's love to Rachel made him almost hazard his life for her. 'Many waters cannot quench love' (Canticles 8:7). No! not the waters of persecution. 'Love is as strong as death' (Canticles 8:6). Death makes its way through the greatest oppositions. So love will make its way to Christ—through the prison and the furnace.
But all pretend love to Christ. How shall we know that we have such a love to him, as will make us suffer for him? I answer:
True love is a love of friendship, which is genuine and sincere—when we love Christ for himself. There is a mercenary and spurious love, when we love divine objects for something else. A man may love the queen of truth for the jewel at her ear—because she brings preferment. A man may love Christ for his 'head of gold' (Canticles 5:11), because he enriches with glory. But true love is when we love Christ for his loveliness, namely, that infinite and superlative beauty which shines in him, as Augustine says, 'We love Jesus on account of Jesus'; that is, as a man loves sweet wine for itself.
True love is a love of desire—when we desire to be united to Christ as the fountain of happiness. Love desires union. The one who sincerely loves Christ, desires death because death ushers into full union and communion with Christ. 'I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far!' (Philippians 1:23). Death slips one knot and ties another.
True love is a love of benevolence—when so far as we are able, we endeavor to lift up Christ's name in the world. As the wise men brought him 'gold and frankincense' (Matthew 2:11), so we bring him our tribute of service and are willing that he should rise—though it is by our fall. In short, that love which is kindled from heaven makes us give Christ the pre-eminence of our affection. 'I would give you spiced wine to drink—my sweet pomegranate wine' (Canticles 8:2). If the spouse has a cup which is more juicy and spiced—Christ shall drink of that! Indeed we can never love Christ too much. We may love gold in excess—but not Christ. The angels do not love Christ comparable to his worth. Now when love is boiled up to this height, it will enable us to suffer. 'Love is as strong as death'. The martyrs first burned in love—and then in fire!
The third suffering grace is PATIENCE. Patience is a grace made and cut out for suffering. Patience is the sweet submission to the will of God, whereby we are content to bear anything which he is pleased to lay upon us. Patience makes a Christian invincible. It is like the anvil which bears all strokes. We cannot be men without patience. Impatience unmans a man. It puts him beside the use of reason. We cannot be martyrs without patience. Patience makes us endure (James 5:10).
We read of a beast 'like unto a leopard and his feet were as the feet of a bear and the dragon gave him his power . . .' (Revelation 13:2). This beast is to be understood of the anti-christian power. Antichrist may be compared to a leopard for subtlety and fierceness, and on his head was the name of blasphemy (verse 1), which agrees with that description of the man of sin, 'He sits in the temple of God showing himself that he is God' (2 Thessalonians 2:4); and the 'dragon gave him power' (verse 2), that is the devil, and 'it was given to him to make war with the saints' (Revelation 13:7). Well, how do the saints bear the heat of this fiery trial? (verse 10): 'Here is the patience of the saints.' Patience overcomes by suffering.
A Christian without patience is like a soldier without arms. Faith keeps the heart up from sinking. Patience keeps the heart from murmuring. Patience is not provoked by injuries. It is sensible—but not peevish. Patience looks to the end of sufferings. This is the motto: 'God will guarantee the end also.' As the watchman waits for the dawning of the morning, so the patient Christian suffers and waits until the day of glory begins to dawn upon him. Faith says, 'God will come,' and patience says, 'I will wait for his perfect time.' These are those suffering graces which are a Christian's armor of proof.
 Treasure up suffering promises. The promises are faith's bladders to keep it from sinking. They are the breast-milk a Christian lives on, in time of sufferings. They are honey at the end of the rod. Hoard up the promises!
God has made promises of direction—that he will give us a spirit of wisdom in that hour, teaching us what to say. 'Make up your mind not to worry beforehand how you will defend yourselves. For I will give you words and wisdom that none of your adversaries will be able to resist or contradict' (Luke 21:14-15). You shall not need to study. God will put an answer into your mouth. This many of God's sufferers can set their seal to. The Lord has suddenly darted such words into their mouths—as their enemies could easier censure than contradict.
God has made promises of PROTECTION. 'No man shall set on you to hurt you' (Acts 18:10). How safe was Paul when he had omnipotence itself to screen off danger! 'Not a hair of your head shall perish' (Luke 21:18). Persecutors are lions—but chained lions.
God has made promises of his special PRESENCE with his saints in suffering. 'I will be with him in trouble' (Psalm 91:15). If we have such a friend to visit us in prison, we shall do well enough. Though we change our place—we shall not change our keeper. 'I will be with him.' God will uphold our head and heart, when we are fainting! What if we have more afflictions than others—if we have more of God's company! God's honor is dear to him. It would not be for his honor to bring his children into sufferings, and leave them there. He will be with them to invigorate and support them. Yes, when new troubles arise; 'He shall deliver you in six troubles' (Job 5:19).
The Lord has made promises of DELIVERANCE. 'I will deliver him and honor him' (Psalm 91:15). God will open a back door for his people to escape out of sufferings. 'He will with the temptation, make a way to escape' (1 Corinthians 10:13). Thus he did to Peter (Acts 12:7-10). Peter's prayers had opened heaven—and God's angel opens the prison! God can either prevent a snare or break it. 'Our God is a God who saves! The Sovereign Lord rescues us from death' (Psalm 68:20). He who can strengthen our faith—can break our fetters. The Lord sometimes makes enemies the instruments of breaking those snares which themselves have laid (Esther 8:8).
In the case of martyrdom God has made promises of CONSOLATION. 'Your sorrow shall be turned into joy' (John 16:20). There is the water—turned into wine. 'Be of good cheer, Paul' (Acts 23:11). In time of persecution, God broaches the wine of consolation. Cordials are kept for fainting. Stephen 'saw the heavens opened' (Acts 7:56). Glover, that blessed martyr, cried out at the stake in a holy rapture, 'He is come! He is come!' meaning the Comforter. 'Do not be afraid, for I have ransomed you. I have called you by name; you are mine. When you go through deep waters and great trouble, I will be with you. When you go through rivers of difficulty, you will not drown! When you walk through the fire of oppression, you will not be burned up; the flames will not consume you. For I am the Lord, your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.' (Isaiah 43:1-3)
The Lord has made promises of COMPENSATION. God will abundantly recompense all our sufferings, 'Everyone who has given up houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or property, for my sake, will receive a hundred times as much in return and will have eternal life' (Matthew 19:29). Augustine calls this the best and greatest interest. Our losses for Christ are gainful. 'He who loses his life for my sake, shall find it' (Matthew 10:39).
 Set before your eyes suffering examples. Look upon others as patterns to imitate. 'Take my brethren the prophets for an example of suffering affliction' (James 5:10). Examples have more influence upon us than precepts. Precepts instruct us—but examples animate us. As they show elephants the blood of grapes and mulberries to make them fight the better, so the Holy Spirit shows us the blood of saints and martyrs to infuse a spirit of zeal and courage into us. Micaiah was in the prison; Jeremiah in the dungeon; Isaiah was sawn asunder. The primitive Christians, though they were boiled, roasted, and dismembered—yet like the adamant they remained invincible. Such was their zeal and patience in suffering, that their persecutors stood amazed and were more weary in tormenting—than they were in enduring!
When John Huss was brought to be burned, they put upon his head a triple crown of paper printed with red devils, which when he saw, he said, 'My Lord Jesus Christ wore a crown of thorns for me, why then shall I not wear this paper crown, however ignominious?' Polycarp, when he came before the court, was bidden to deny Christ and swear by the Emperor; he replied: 'I have served Christ these eighty-six years and he has not once hurt me—and shall I deny him now?' Saunders that blessed martyr, said, 'Welcome the cross of Christ; my Savior drank the bitter cup for me—shall not I suffer for him? I feel no more pain in the fire than if I were in a bed of down!'
Another of the martyrs said, 'The ringing of my chain has been sweet music in my ears. O what a comforter is a good conscience!' Another martyr, kissing the stake, said, 'I shall not lose my life—but change it for a better one! Instead of coals—I shall have pearls!' Another, when the chain was fastening to him, said, 'Blessed be God for this wedding belt!' These suffering examples we should lay up. God is still the same God. He has as much love in his heart to pity us—and as much strength in his arm to help us!
Let us think what courage the very heathens have shown in their sufferings. Julius Caesar was a man of a heroic spirit. When he was foretold of a conspiracy against him in the senate-house, he answered he had rather die than fear. Mutius Scaevola held his hand over the fire until the flesh fried and his sinews began to shrink—yet he bore it with an undaunted spirit. Lysimachus, a brave captain, being adjudged to be cast to a lion, when the lion came roaring upon him, Lysimachus thrust his hand into the lion's mouth and taking hold of his tongue, killed the lion. Did nature infuse such a spirit of courage and gallantry into heathens! How should grace much more into Christians! Let us be of Paul's mind: 'I consider my life worth nothing to me, if only I may finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me--the task of testifying to the gospel of God's grace' (Acts 20:24).
 Let us lay in suffering-CONSIDERATIONS. A wise Christian will consider several things.
Consider whom we suffer for. It is for Christ, and we cannot suffer for a better friend. There is many a man will suffer shame and death for his lusts. He will suffer disgrace for a drunken lust. He will suffer death for a revengeful lust. Shall others die for their lusts—and shall not we die for Christ? Will a man suffer for that lust which damns him—and shall not we suffer for that Christ who saves us? Oh remember, we espouse God's own quarrel and he will not allow us to be losers. Surely no man shall sacrifice himself for God for nothing.
Consider that it is a great honor to suffer persecution. Ambrose, in the eulogy of his sister said, 'I will say this of her—she was a martyr'. It is a great honor to be singled out to bear witness to the truth. 'They departed from the council rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for his name' (Acts 5:41). It is a title that has been given to kings, 'Defender of the faith'. A martyr is in a special manner, a 'defender of the faith'. Kings are defenders of the faith by their swords, martyrs by their blood. It is a credit to appear for God. Martyrs are not only Christ's followers—but his ensign-bearers. The Romans had their brave warriors which graced the field. God calls out none but his champions to fight his battles. We read that Abraham called forth his trained soldiers (Genesis 14:14), such as were more expert and valiant. What a honor is it to be one of Christ's trained band!
The disciples dreamed of a temporal reign (Acts 1:6). Christ tells them (verse 8), 'You shall be witnesses unto me in Jerusalem . . '. To bear witness by their sufferings to the truth of Christ's divinity and passion was a greater honor to the disciples than to have had a temporal reign upon earth. A bloody cross is more honorable than a purple robe. Persecution is called the 'fiery trial' (1 Peter 4:12).
'I have refined you in the furnace of affliction.' (Isaiah 48:10). 'Away with you, you cursed ones, into the eternal fire prepared for the Devil and his demons! And they will go away into eternal punishment!' (Matthew 25:41, 46). God has two fires—one where He puts His gold,
and another where He puts His dross. The fire where He puts His gold, is the fire of suffering and affliction--to purify them. The fire where He puts His dross, is the fire of damnation--to punish them.
God honors his gold when he puts it into the fire. 'A spirit of glory rests upon you' (1 Peter 1:7; 1. Peter 4:14). Persecution, as it is a badge of our honor, so an ensign of our glory. What greater honor can be put upon a mortal man, than to stand up in the cause of God? And not only to die in the Lord but to die for the Lord? Ignatius called his fetters his spiritual pearls. Paul gloried more in his iron chain than if it had been a gold chain! (Acts 28:20).
Consider what Jesus Christ suffered for us. Calvin says that Christ's whole life, was a series of sufferings. Christian, what is your suffering? Are you poor? So was Christ. 'Foxes have holes and the birds of the air have nests—but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head' (Matthew 8:20). Are you surrounded with enemies? So was Christ. 'Against your holy child Jesus whom you have anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate with the Gentiles . . . were gathered together' (Acts 4:27). Do our enemies lay claim to religion? So did his. 'The chief priests took the silver pieces and said—It is not lawful to put them into the treasury because it is the price of blood' (Matthew 27:6). Godly persecutors! Are you reproached? So was Christ. 'They bowed the knee before him, and mocked him, saying, 'Hail, King of the Jews!' (Matthew 27:29). Are you slandered? So was Christ. 'He casts out devils by the prince of devils' (Matthew 9:34). Are you ignominiously treated? So was Christ. 'Some began to spit upon him' (Mark 14:65). Are you betrayed by friends? So was Christ. 'Judas, are you betraying the Son of Man with a kiss?' (Luke 22:48). Is your estate taken from you? And do the wicked cast lots for it? So Christ was dealt with. 'They parted his garments, casting lots' (Matthew 27:35). Do we suffer unjustly? So did Christ. His very judge acquitted him. 'Then Pilate said to the chief priests and to the people, I find no fault in this man' (Luke 23:4). Are you barbarously dragged and haled away to suffering? So was Christ. 'When they had bound him they led him away' (Matthew 27:2). Do you suffer death? So did Christ. 'When they were come to Calvary, there they crucified him' (Luke 23:33). They gave him gall and vinegar to drink; the gall picturing the bitterness of his death, the vinegar picturing the sharpness of his death. Christ underwent not only the blood of the cross but the curse of the cross (Galatians 3:13). He had agony in his soul. 'My soul is exceeding sorrowful unto death' (Matthew 26:38). The soul of Christ was overcast with a cloud of God's displeasure. The Greek Church speaking of the sufferings of Christ, calls them 'unknown sufferings'. Did the Lord Jesus endure all this for us—and shall not we suffer persecution for his name? Say, as holy Ignatius, 'I am willing to die for Christ, for Christ my love was crucified!' Our cup of suffering is nothing, compared to the cup which Christ drank. His cup was mixed with the wrath of God, and if he bore God's wrath for us—well may we bear man's wrath of him.
Consider the honor we bring to Christ and the gospel by suffering. It was a honor to Caesar that he had such soldiers as were able to fight with hunger and cold and endure hardship in their marches. It is a honor to Christ that he has such people listed under him, as will leave all for him. It proclaims him to be a good Master—when his servants will wear his livery though it be sullied with disgrace and lined with blood. Paul's iron chain made the gospel wear a golden chain. Tertullian says of the saints in his time that they took their sufferings more kindly, than if they had had deliverance. Oh, what a glory was this to the truth, when they dared embrace it in the flame!
And as the saints' sufferings adorn the gospel, so they propagate it. Basil says that the zeal and constancy of the martyrs in the primitive times made some of the heathens to be Christianised. 'The Church is founded in blood and by blood it increases'. The showers of blood have ever made the church fruitful. Paul's being bound made the truth more enlarged (Philippians 1:13). The gospel has always flourished in the ashes of martyrs.
Consider who it is, that we have engaged ourselves to in baptism. We solemnly vowed that we would be true to Christ's interest and fight under his banner, to the death. And how often have we in the blessed supper, taken the oath of allegiance to Jesus Christ that we would be his servants and that death should not part us! Now if when being called to it, we refuse to suffer persecution for his name—Christ will bring our baptism as an indictment against us. Christ is called 'the Captain of our salvation' (Hebrews 2:10). We have listed ourselves by name under this Captain. Now if, for fear, we shall fly from our colors, it is perjury in the highest degree, and how shall we be able to look Christ in the face at the day of judgment? That oath which is not kept inviolably—shall be punished infallibly. Where does the 'flying scroll' of curses land—but in the house of him that 'swears falsely' (Zechariah 5:4)?
Consider that our sufferings are light. This 'light affliction . . .' (2 Corinthians 4:17) 1. It is heavy to flesh and blood—but it is light to faith. Affliction is light in a threefold respect:
1. It is light—in comparison to SIN. He who feels sin heavy, feels suffering light. Sin made Paul cry out, 'O wretched man that I am!' (Romans 7:24). He does not cry out of his iron chain—but of his sin. The greater noise drowns the lesser. When the sea roars, the rivers are silent. He who is taken up with his sins, and sees how he has provoked God—thinks the yoke of affliction to be light (Micah 7:9).
2. Affliction is light—in comparison of HELL. What is persecution, compared to damnation? What is the fire of martyrdom, compared to the fire of the damned? It is no more than the pricking of a pin, compared to a death's wound. 'Who knows he power of your anger!' (Psalm 90:11) Christ himself could not have borne that anger, had he not been more than a man.
3. Affliction is light—in comparison of GLORY. The weight of glory makes persecution light. 'If,' says Chrysostom, 'the torments of all the men in the world could be laid upon one man, it were not worth one hour's being in heaven!' And if persecution is light, we should not be overly downcast by it. Let us neither faint through unbelief, nor fret through impatience.
Consider that our sufferings are short. 'After you have suffered a little while' (1 Peter 5:10). Our sufferings may be lasting, not everlasting. Affliction is compared to a 'cup' (Lamentations 4:21). The wicked drink of a 'sea' of wrath which has no bottom. It will never be emptied. But it is only a 'cup' of martyrdom, and God will say, 'Let this cup pass away'. 'The rod of the wicked shall not rest upon the lot of the righteous' (Psalm 125:3). The rod may be there, it shall not rest. Christ calls his sufferings 'an hour' (Luke 22:53). Can we not suffer one hour? Persecution is sharp—but short. Though it has a sting to torment—yet it has a wing to fly! 'Sorrow shall fly away' (Isaiah 35:10). It is but a little while when the saints shall have a writ of ease granted them. They shall weep no more—and suffer no more. They shall be taken off the torturing wrack—and laid in Christ's bosom. The people of God shall not always be in the iron furnace; a year of Jubilee will come. The water of persecution like a land-flood, will soon be dried up.
Consider that while we suffer for Christ—we suffer with Christ. 'If we suffer with him . . .' (Romans 8:17). Jesus Christ bears part of the suffering with us. 'Oh,' says the Christian, 'I shall never be able to hold out!' But remember—you suffer with Christ. He helps you to suffer. As our blessed Savior said: 'I am not alone; the Father is with me' (John 16:32); so a believer may say, 'I am not alone, my Christ is with me'. He bears the heaviest end of the cross. 'My grace is sufficient for you' (2 Corinthians 12:9). 'Underneath are the everlasting arms' (Deuteronomy 33:27). If Christ puts 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. When the dragon fights against the godly, Christ is that Michael who stands up for them and helps them to overcome (Daniel 12:1).
Consider that he who refuses to suffer persecution shall never be free from suffering:
He will have INTERNAL sufferings. He who will not suffer for conscience, shall suffer in conscience. Thus Francis Spira, after he had abjured that doctrine which once he professed for fear of persecution, was in great terror of mind. He professed he felt the very pains of the damned in his soul. He who was afraid of the stake, was set upon the wrack of a tormenting conscience!
He will have EXTERNAL sufferings. Pendleton refused to suffer for Christ; not long after, his house was on fire and he was burned in it. He who would not burn for Christ—was afterwards made to burn for his sins.
He will have ETERNAL sufferings. 'Suffering the vengeance of eternal fire' (Jude 7).
These present sufferings cannot hinder a man from being blessed. 'Blessed are those who are persecuted . . .' We think, 'Blessed are those who are rich'; nay—but 'Blessed are those who are persecuted'. 'Blessed is the man who endures temptation . . .' (James 11, 12). 'If you suffer for righteousness, sake, happy are you' (1 Peter 3:14).
Persecution cannot hinder us from being blessed. I shall prove this by these demonstrations:
1. They are blessed who have God for their God. 'Happy is that people whose God is the Lord' (Psalm 144:15). But persecution cannot hinder us from having God for our God. 'Our God is able to deliver us' (Daniel 3:17). Though persecuted—yet they could say, 'our God'. Therefore persecution cannot hinder us from being blessed.
They are blessed whom God loves—but persecution cannot hinder the love of God. 'Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall persecution?' (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' (Revelation 3:19). God visits his children in prison. 'Be of good cheer, Paul' (Acts 23:11). God sweetens their sufferings. 'As the sufferings of Christ abound in us, so our consolation also abounds' (2 Corinthians 1:5). As the mother, having given her child a bitter pill, gives it afterwards a lump of sugar; persecution is a bitter pill—but God gives the comforts of his Spirit to sweeten it. If persecution cannot hinder God's love, then it cannot hinder us from being blessed.
2. They are blessed, for whom Christ prays. Such as are persecuted, have Christ praying for them. 'Keep through your own name, those whom you have given me' (John 17:11); which prayer, though made for all believers—yet especially for his apostles which he foretold should be martyrs (John 16:2). Now if persecution cannot hinder Christ's prayer for us, then it cannot impede or obstruct our blessedness.
3. They are blessed, who have sin purged out. Persecution purges out sin (Isaiah 27:9; Hebrews 12:11). Persecution is a corrosive to eat out the proud flesh. It is a fan to winnow us, a fire to refine us. Persecution is the remedy which God applies to his children, to carry away their ill humours. That surely which purges out sin cannot hinder blessedness.
 The great suffering-consideration is the glorious reward which follows sufferings: 'Theirs is the kingdom of heaven.' 'The hope of reward,' says Basil, 'is very powerful and moving.' Moses had an eye to the 'recompense of reward' (Hebrews 11:26). Yes, so did Christ himself (Hebrews 12:2). Many have done great things for hope of a temporal reward. Camillus, when his country was oppressed by the Gauls, ventured his life for his country, to purchase fame and honor. If men will hazard their lives for a little temporal honor, what should we do for the reward of eternal glory! 'A merchant,' says Chrysostom, 'does not mind a few storms at sea—but he thinks of the gain when the ship comes fraught home.' So a Christian should not be overly concerned about his present sufferings—but think of the rich reward he shall receive, when he shall arrive at the heavenly port. 'Great is your reward in heaven' (verse 12). The cross is a golden ladder by which we climb up to heaven! A Christian may lose his life—but not his reward. He may lose his head—but not his crown. If he who gives 'a cup of cold water' shall not lose his reward, then much less he who gives a draught of warm blood. The rewards of glory may sweeten all the bitter waters of Marah. It should be a spur to martyrdom.
Not that we can merit this reward by our sufferings. 'I will give you a crown of life' (Revelation 2:10). The reward is the legacy which free grace bequeaths. Alas, what proportion is there between a drop of blood—and an eternal weight of glory? Christ himself, as he was man only (setting aside his Godhead), did not merit by his sufferings, for Christ, as he was man only, was a creature. Now a creature cannot merit from the Creator. Christ's sufferings, as he was man only, were finite, therefore could not merit infinite glory. Indeed, as he was God, his sufferings were meritorious; but considering him purely as man, they were not. This I urge against the Papists. If Christ's sufferings, as he was man only (though as man he was above the angels), could not merit, then what man upon earth, what prophet or martyr is able to merit anything by his sufferings?
But though we have no reward 'ex merito', by merit—we shall have it 'ex gratia', by grace. So it is in the text, 'Great is your reward in heaven'. The thoughts of this reward should animate Christians. Look upon the eternal crown ov glory—and faint if you can. The reward is as far above your thoughts—as it is beyond your deserts. A man who is to wade through a deep water, fixes his eyes upon the firm land 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!' Those who bear the cross patiently—shall wear the crown triumphantly!
Christ's suffering saints shall have greater degrees in glory (Matthew 19:28). God has his highest seats, yes, his thrones—for his martyrs. It is true, he who has the least degree of glory—a doorkeeper in heaven, will have enough; but as Joseph gave to Benjamin a double portion above the rest of his brethren, so God will give to his sufferers a double portion of glory. Some orbs in heaven are higher, some stars brighter. God's martyrs shall shine brighter in the heavenly horizon.
Oh, often look upon 'the recompense of the reward'. Not all the silks of Persia, nor all the spices of Arabia, nor all the gold of Ophir—can be compared to this glorious reward. How should the thoughts of this sharpen and steel us with courage in our sufferings! When they threatened Basil with banishment, he comforted himself with this—that he should be either under heaven, or in heaven. It was the hope of this reward which so animated those primitive martyrs, who, when there was incense put into their hands and there was no more required of them for the saving of their lives, but to sprinkle a little of that incense upon the altar in honor of the idol—they would rather die than do it!
This glorious reward in heaven, is called a reigning with Christ. 'If we suffer, we shall also reign with him!' First martyrs for Christ—then kings for Christ. Julian honored all those who were slain in his battles. So does the Lord Jesus. After the saints' crucifixion, follows their coronation. 'They shall reign!' The wicked first reign—and then suffer. The godly first suffer—and then reign. The saints shall have a happy reign. It shall be both peaceable and durable. Who would not swim through blood—to this crown! Who would not suffer joyfully? Christ says, 'Be exceeding glad' (verse 12). The Greek word signifies 'to leap for joy'. Christians should have their spirits elevated and exhilarated when they contemplate the eternal weight of glory!
If you would be able to suffer, pray much. Beg of God to clothe you with a spirit of zeal and magnanimity. 'To you it is given in the behalf of Christ, not only to believe on him—but also to suffer for his sake' (Philippians 1:29). It is a gift of God to be able to suffer. Pray for this gift. Do not think you can be able of yourselves, to lay down life and liberty for Christ. Peter was overconfident of himself. 'I will lay down my life for your sake!' (John 13:37). But Peter's strength undid him. Peter had habitual grace—but he lacked auxiliary grace. Christians need fresh gales from heaven. Pray for the Spirit to animate you in your sufferings. As the fire hardens the potter's vessel, which is at first weak and limber—so the fire of the Spirit hardens men against sufferings. Pray that God will make you like the anvil—that you may bear the strokes of persecutors with invincible patience!
Excerpt from The Beatitudes by Thomas Watson