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THE BEATITUDES PERSECUTION FOR RIGHTEOUSNESS' SAKE.
REV. J. RUDGE, D.D.
ST. SEPULCHRE'S CHURCH, SNOW HILL, 1824.
"Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness' sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven."-MATTHEW, v. 10.
WHAT are those persecutions? Such is the present inquiry, of which the happy tendency is to render us blessed. It will be unnecessary, in conducting this investigation, to state, that the blessed promise of the text applies not to any of those persecutions which we may be said to bring upon ourselves by our own follies and sins, and which are so open to common observation, that they need not any particular detail to prove. The beatitude is annexed only to those persecutions to which every good and faithful man is subjected in bearing the cross of Christ, and in maintaining a conscience void of offence, and a conduct free from reproach, amid the complicated trials and temptations with which every step of his course and every path of his life are beset in the present world. This is a general proposition; and I will now endeavour to prove it by an induction of particular instances, in which its truth will be exhibited. Without further preface, then, but just beseeching you to pay that measure of attention to the words to be spoken, which can alone, through God, render them of any avail to your personal improvement, I proceed to prove the leading point of the present discourse, viz. What those persecutions are, which render us blessed. They are of various kinds, and I shall enumerate them in order.
The first of which I shall speak is, that of which mention is made in the text, when a good and faithful Christian is called upon "to suffer for righteousness' sake." We are then called upon to do so, when we are placed in circumstances in which we must maintain, pure and undefiled, the character of our religious principles, and suffer no strength of temptation, and no accumulation of trials, to induce us to swerve from our allegiance to God, and our duty to Christ. To this kind of persecution, not a day, shall I add, not an
hour, scarcely passes, without something or other occurring to subject us to its strength and virulence. Instances must present themselves to you innumerable in your daily walk through life. Is not your nature corrupt, and your heart continually prone to evil-to comply with this temptation, and to yield to this or that passion? Strictly speaking, the persecution to which you are subjected from the innate propensity to evil in your nature, is constant and unintermitted. When you would do good, how often, alas! is evil present with you; and how disciplined must that faith, and well regulated must that mind be, which is exposed to persecution or trials, and yet, for the sake of righteousness, or, in other words, for the triumph of Christian principle, suffers not; or, to express the sentiment in different terms, maintains his consistency unimpaired, and his conduct unrebuked. The Christian life being one of continual warfare (With whom? With a corrupt nature, and with evil propensities within) may be said to be one which calls for a constant demand of suffering for righteousness' sake. Not upon any parting pressing emergency, not in any particularly great difficulty, but on all occasions: in the every-day transactions of life-in your domestic circles, and with your respective relations, countless circumstances will occur in which you are called upon to exhibit the Christian temper, and, in a word, to suffer for righteousness' sake, for the triumph of Christian principle. I shall perhaps make myself better understood, if I illustrate my meaning by a particular and familiar instance. Every thing is not happy or comfortable within the domestic circle. You have to deal with a relative, who is perverse in temper, and obstinate in conduct. His singularities or his vices are a constant source of provocation to you. To your mildness, he opposes rudeness of speech-to your gentleness, grossness of manner. What, but persecution, is this? Now how is a real Christian to conduct himself in such an unhappy situation?—a situation in which, more or less, the members of most families are placed. Is rudeness to be returned for rudeness, and passion for passion? No; for the sake of righteousness, the enduring temper and the suffering virtue must be illustrated: and in the forbearance and the patience with which we submit to this domestic vexation, we must display the triumph of the Christian temper, and the meekness of the Christian spirit, and, in a word, suffer for righteousness' sake. But you say, You have given an instance, in which few would, or could be able to afford such a display of temper for the sake of religion. To which I answer, whether or no I have done so, may be a question;
but it is no question that you ought to act as I have recommended in this and in every other similar case of trial or persecution; and that if you fail thus to act, I know not how it can be said that you are persons to whom they can have a happy tendency of making you blessed. A case may occur in which a man is called upon to suffer for righteousness' sake, and yet be unrighteous himself; therefore it behoves him not only to have a good cause, but also a pure conscience-a conscience void of offence both towards God and towards man. If he possesses this consciousness, it will enable him to suffer with comfort, and march with as much cheerfulness to endure his cross, as it would to receive his crown. On the contrary, he who suffers with a bad conscience, though in a good cause, has neither comfort to support himself here, nor reward to anticipate hereafter.
Secondly: Persecution may then be said to be blessed to him, who has a real call to suffer, and has a good end in suffering. When the Almighty opens a door by which a persecuted Christian may escape from suffering, he certainly has a right to embrace the opportunity. But when he is seized and brought before kings and rulers for the testimony of Jesus Christ; and when the case is such that either he or the truth must suffer, then he has an undoubted call to suffer, and by suffering to obtain a martyr's name. This is the sense in which the word call is used; and, thus understood, it may be said that every individual has a call of this kind; in other words, it is his duty to show forth to the world the purity of his Christian principles, whatever be the persecution, or ridicule, or opposition to which he may expose himself, and to maintain them with a firm and inflexible spirit. He is not unnecessarily to court, but to endure, whatever has been imposed upon him, and his call to bear the yoke of the Christian precepts, and to take up the cross, will be obeyed, through evil report, and good report. His Christian humility will exclude all bold and enthusiastic pretensions, and the same mind which was in Christ Jesus, will also be in him, in the meek and submissive bearing of it.
Thirdly: The persecuted are blessed, who, through their sufferings seek to glorify God, to show their love to Christ, and to set their seal to the truth of his Gospel. It may be truly said of the primitive Christians, that they burned more in love than in the fire. Their eye was on Him who suffered greater things for their salvation; and they were willing to endure the utmost extremity of suffering that their enemies could inflict, so that his kingdom might flourish, and
his glory be exalted. Nothing could exceed the purity of this feeling by which they were transported. Now this is persecution for "righteousness' sake," which, illustrated as it was in them by purity of life, will entitle the martyr to a martyr's crown, even a crown which fadeth not away.
Fourthly: Persecution is blessed when "we suffer as Christians, and are not ashamed." When called to suffer, we must possess such a spirit as becomes a Christian. We are called upon to suffer daily, and if we possess that becoming spirit, we shall display it in our ordinary intercourse with our friends. To suffer as Christians, implies humility of spirit, and resignation of soul, and integrity of life. Now, in the lot of every individual, there is something which calls for the exercise of the Christian temper. Do we bear this species of suffering, whatever it be, with a cheerful mind, and with an unmurmuring spirit? In reference to every thing that is hard and unpleasant in our lot, is this the language of our lips, dictated by the feeling of our hearts, "My heavenly Father has given me this cup to drink, this cross to bear, or this suffering to endure. He knows that it is for my good, and shall I not drink it?" Cheerfulness is displayed in taking up, as patience is illustrated in bearing, the cross. Christ suffered cheerfully for us. His death was a free-will offering; and in this we are to imitate him. Cheerfulness perfumes martyrdom, and makes it a sacrifice, of which the fragrance is sweet-smelling in the sight of God. When the apostles had been brought before the High Priest and council of the Jews, they departed from it, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for the name of Jesus." We must imbibe the feeling by which they were animated, and with joyfulness of spirit bear the cross that is imposed upon us, and look upon the sufferings to which we are appointed in our earthly lot, rather in the light of a favour conferred, than as a calamity inflicted, when we are thus called to bear witness to the truth.
In suffering as a Christian, we are to imitate the examples of our divine Master and his disciples, in praying "for them who despitefully use and persecute us." Christ, on the cross, preached a most impressive lecture on the duty of forgiveness, and prayed for his murderers; and the proto-martyr Stephen, in his death, for his bloody persecutors—a prayer by which the conversion of some was effected. We also ought to pray for our persecutors. We owe them a debt of gratitude. In their minds our ruin was contemplated; but by their acts our good has been accomplished; for every reproach
we suffer for Christ adds to our honour, and every injury we sustain renders our crown more weighty and splendid. This is the suffering which will make us blessed, and give lustre to our crown in heaven! Hence we may learn the true nature of Christianity. It consists in holiness, as well as in suffering. A real Christian must carry Christ in his heart, and the cross on his shoulders. The Cyrenian bearing the cross is a figure of what a Christian should do daily. Whether he will or not, it will be forced upon him, and he must be compelled to bear it. "All that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution," says St. Paul to Timothy. And what saith our Lord? "In the world ye shall have tribulation." This is the legacy you see bequeathed to all the followers of the Lamb. It is too much for a Christian to have two heavens-one here, and another hereafter. Christ had them not; and if the head of the Master was crowned with thorns, it is surely too much to expect that the brows of the servants should be crowned with roses. Do not the shield of faith, the sword of the Spirit, the helmet of hope, and the breast-plate of patience, all imply that the Christian's life is a state of warfare, and that these are the weapons with which he must enter the field, and sustain the contest? Do they not intimate that, to secure the prize, he must fight, and that, to win the trophies of victory, great exertion is to be made, and much of toil and suffering is to be endured? This offensive or defensive apparatus must be put on by every Christian warrior, and none can claim an exemption from the fatigues and sufferings which are incident to a campaign against the world, the flesh, and the devil. We would all be God's gold. Well; but to have the gold pure in his sight, it must pass through the crucible, and in the fiery ordeal be refined from the dross with which it is alloyed This process must be undergone, before we shall be esteemed as fit for the Master's use, and be as the current coin of Christ's realm. We are all for reigning with Christ; but we forget what the primary requirement is, that we must first suffer with him.
Hence, for our comfort, we also learn, that persecution is not a mark of God's anger and resentment; for he pronounces those blessed who are persecuted. We may be tempted to imagine that such are hated and forsaken of God; but it is far otherwise: for, if they are blessed who die in the Lord, surely they must be blessed who die for the world. When the barbarians saw the viper fasten on Paul's hand, they concluded that he must be a murderer. And thus when we see God's people afflicted, we are ready to infer that they are greater sinners than others, and forget that fine rebuke of