(x) Let us lay in suffering considerations. A wise Christian is considerative.
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 which saves us? Oh remember we espouse God's own quarrel and he will not suffer us to be losers. If no man shall 'kindle a fire on God's altar for nought (Malachi 1:10), then surely no man shall sacrifice himself for God in the fire for nought.
It is a great honour to suffer persecution. Ambrose, speaking in the encomium of his sister said, 'I will say this of her, she was a martyr.' It is a great honour 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 5:40). 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. Gregory Nazianzen calls Athanasius the bulwark of truth.' It is a credit to appear for God. Martyrs are not only Christ's followers, but his ensign-bearers. The Romans had their Camilli and Fabricii, 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 an honour 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), 'Ye 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 honour to the disciples than to have had a temporal reign upon earth. A bloody cross is more honourable than a purple robe. Persecution is called the 'fiery trial' (1 Peter 4:12). God has two fires, one where he puts his gold, and another where he puts his dross. The fire where he puts his dross is hell-fire. The fire where he puts his gold is the fire of persecution. God honours 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 Order, so an ensign of our glory. What greater honour 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. St Paul gloried more in his iron chain than if it had been a gold chain (Acts 28: 20).
Consider what Jesus Christ endured 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 hath not where to lay his head' (Matthew 8:20). Are you surrounded with enemies? So was Christ. 'Against thy holy child Jesus whom thou hast 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 cast out devils through the prince of devils' (Matthew 9:34). Are you ignominiously used? So was Christ. 'Some began to spit upon him' (Mark 14: 65). Are you betrayed by friends? So was Christ. 'Judas, betrayest thou the Son of Man with a kiss?' (Luke 22:48). Is your estate sequestered? 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 said Pilate 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 (though he came to loose them) 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 one deciphering the bitterness, the other 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 an 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 is nothing 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.
Great is the honour we bring to Christ and the gospel by suffering. It was an honour to Caesar that he had such soldiers as were able to fight with hunger and cold and endure hardship in their marches. It is an honour to Christ that he has such 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 durst embrace it in the flame! And as the saints' sufferings adorn the gospel, so they propagate it. Basil says, the zeal and constancy of the martyrs in the primitive times made some of the heathens to be Christianized. '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. There we took our press-money. We solemnly vowed that we would be true to Christ's interest and fight it out 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 liege-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 colours, it is perjury in the highest degree, and how shall we be able to look Christ in the face another day? That oath which is not kept inviolably shall be punished infallibly. Where does the 'flying roll' of curses light, but in the house of him that 'sweareth falsely' (Zechariah 5: 4)?
Our sufferings are light. This 'light affliction . . . (2 Corinthians 4:17)! It is heavy to flesh and blood, but it is light to faith. Affliction is light in a three-fold respect:
1. It is light in comparison of sin. He that 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 that is taken up about his sins, and sees how he has provoked God, thinks the yoke of affliction light (Micah 7: 9).
2. Affliction is light in comparison of hell. What is persecution to damnation? What is the fire of martyrdom to the fire of the damned? It is no more than the pricking of a pin to a death's wound. 'Who knoweth the power of thine 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 be light we should in a manner set light by it. Let us neither faint through unbelief, nor fret through impatience.
Our sufferings are short: 'After ye have suffered awhile' (1 Peter 5: 10); or as it is in the Greek, 'a little'. 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 awhile when the saints shall have a writ of ease granted them. They shall weep no more, 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.
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 blest Saviour 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 thee' (2 Corinthians 12: 9). 'Underneath are the everlasting arms' (Deuteronomy 33: 27). If Christ put the yoke of persecution over us, he will put his arms under us. The Lord Jesus will not only crown us when we conquer, but he will enable us to conquer. When the dragon fights against the godly, Christ is that Michael which stands up for them and helps them to overcome (Daniel 12: 1).
He that refuses to suffer persecution shall never be free from suffering
Internal sufferings. He that will not suffer for conscience shall suffer in conscience. Thus Francis Spira, after he had for fear abjured that doctrine which once he professed, was in great terror of mind and became a very anatomy. 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 conscience.
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.
Eternal sufferings: 'Suffering the vengeance of eternal fire' (Jude 7).
These present sufferings cannot hinder a man from being blessed. 'Blessed are they that are persecuted . . .' We think, 'Blessed are they that are rich; nay, but Blessed are they that are persecuted. 'Blessed is the man that endures temptation . . .' (James 1: 12). 'If ye suffer for righteousness' sake, happy are ye' (1 Peter 3:14).
Persecution cannot hinder us from being blessed, I shall prove this by four demonstrations:
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 aboundeth' (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.
They are blessed for whom Christ prays; but such as are persecuted have Christ praying for them. 'Keep through thine own name those whom thou hast 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.
They are blessed that have sin purged out; but 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 physic God applies to his children to carry away their ill humours. That surely which purges out sin cannot hinder blessedness.
(xi) The great suffering consideration is the glorious reward which follows sufferings: 'Theirs is the kingdom of heaven.' The hope of reward, says Saint Basil, is very powerful and moving. Moses had an eye at the 'recompence of reward' (Hebrews 11: 26), yea, 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 honour. If men will hazard their lives for a little temporal honour, what should we do for the reward of glory? A merchant, says Chrysostom, does not mind a few storms at sea, but he thinks of the emolument and gain when the ship comes fraught home. So a Christian should not be over-solicitous about his present sufferings, but think of the rich reward 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 that gives 'a cup of cold water' shall not lose his reward, then much less he that gives a draught of warm blood. The rewards of glory may sweeten all the waters of Marah. It should be a spur to martyrdom.
Not that we can merit this reward by our sufferings. 'I will give thee a crown of life' (Revelation 2: 10). The reward is the legacy which free grace bequeathes. Alas, what proportion is there between a drop of blood and a 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 consider 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 crown, and faint if you can. The reward is as far above your thoughts as it is beyond your deserts. A man that is to wade through a deep water, 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.' They that 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, yea, his thrones for his martyrs. It is true, he that has the least degree of glory, a door-keeper in heaven, will have enough; but as Joseph gave to Benjamin a double mess 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 recompence of the reward'. Not all the silks of Persia, the spices of Arabia, the gold of Ophir, can be compared to this glorious reward. How should the thoughts of this whet 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 honour 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, then kings. Julian honoured 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 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 over-confident of himself. 'I will lay down my life for thy 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.
Excerpted from The Beatitudes, published by Banner of Truth Trust