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Matthew v. 10.
Blesed are they that are persecuted for righteousness” fake :
for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.
IN my last discourse I treated on a Character, illustrious in the roll of Christian graces, and distinguished above the rest by energy of action ; namely, that of the Peacemakers. I have now to treat on another Character, placed in parallel to the former, being no less illustrious in the same divine catalogue, but distinguished in a very different manner, by fortitude of suffering; namely, that of those who are persecuted for righteousness’ fake.
To endure persecution, abstractedly confidered, does not seem to fall under the des scription of virtue, as it implies what is merely passive on the part of the receiver. But to endure persecution for the sake of righteousness has every title to that honourable name ; since it implies “ out of a pure heart, of a good conscience, and of faith unfeigneda,”
ai Tim. i. 5.
in open avowal of religious truth, a voluntary submission and a patient resignation to every kind and to every degree of persecution, which the malice of the world can inflict.
This was the sentiment of our blessed Lord, an infallible Judge of moral excellence; who has not only given it a place in the series of his Beatitudes, but from the station he has assigned it at the close of all may be understood to have marked it with peculiar praise, as finishing the scale of spiritual worth, as accomplishing the Christian character, as rendering the man of God perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works b.
A disposition of this kind is peculiar to the true Religion; as no system, that wanted the stamp of truth, could engage mankind to render any very extraordinary facrifice. Thus we find it foreign to the sentiment and practice of the Heathen world. The morality of their philosophers was of so loose a kind, as to recommend a compliance with the religious customs and observances, and I may add opinions, of the age and place in which they lived. And the practice of the people in general was to caly and indifferent, that in the united history of all Heathen States it might
bo 2 Tim. jii. 17.
. 369 be difficult to produce an unquestionable instance of persecution for the sake of righteousness.
The Children of Israel were animated by a principle of faith, which moved them to make many sacrifices and to undergo many sufferings. Thus the Minister of their Law is commended by the Apostle, that he chose rather to endure reproach and to suffer affliction with the people of God, than to enjoy all the honours and all the treasures of the kingdom and court of Egypto. And the fame energy of faith was frequently difplayed among the Hebrews in their intercourse with the several idolatrous nations round about them. And though it cannot be dissembled, that in the different periods of their more ancient history they shewed many fymptoms of apoftasy from the law and worship of the true God, yet in later times, as the recompence of another life gained a firmer hold upon their faith, they shewed fo zealous an attachment to the religion of their Fathers, as in teftimony thereof to submit to every species of persecution ; as is recorded by the Apostle : They wandered in desarts and in mountains ; they concealed themselves
© Heb. xi. 25.
in ders and caves of the earth ; they were exposed to bonds and imprisonments; they had trial of cruel mockings and scourgings; they were stoned, they were fawn asunder, they were slain with the sword; they were tortured, not accepting deliverance, that they might obtain a better resurrection
But this disposition must have had a deeper hold upon the fouls of men, when a fuller assurance of a better resurrection was given. And therefore in that Dispensation, which brought life and immortality to light, our Lord had firmer ground to establish this as one of the principal virtues of his Religion. Accordingly he not only brings it forward in this catalogue of Christian graces, but he dwells upon it in the sequel, as if it had a superior claim to the regard and cultivation of his Followers. Thus he adds, with a more immediate reference to his perfonal Disciples, who for the sake of his religion would be expofed to persecution far beyond the common orders of Christians; “ Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and fhall say all manner of evil against you falsely for my fake : Rejoice and be exceeding glad : for great is your reward in
" Heb. xi. 35, &c.
heaven: for fo persecuted they the Prophets which were before you." And if the ancient Prophets were supported under afflictions by the promises of God, while given only in figures, much more indeed might the Disciples of Jesus, to whom these promises were more distinctly and openly conveyed.
In like manner he says in another place ; “ If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me. For whosoever will save his life, shall lose it; and whosoever will lose his life for my fake, shall find it f.” Thus he inculcates on his disciples the duty incumbent on them, to follow him, not only in acting, but also in forbearing and in suffering for the sake of righteousness. The suffering, to which he here alludes, had been foretold many ages before by the Prophet Isaiah, when he says, that he was despised and rejected of men ; that he was wounded for our transgressions, and bruised for our iniquities ; that he was oppressed and afflicted; that he was brought as a lamb to the slaughter, yet he opened not his mouth; that he was cut off out of the land of the living ; that for the transgressions
Mat. v. 11, 12.,
Mat. xvi. 24, 25.