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them that do evil.” In my text, the approbation of men also is held forth, as in some respects a recompence to be hoped for : “ For who is he that will harm you,
if ye be followers of that which is good ?” But, aware that this argument would not always prove valid, the Apostle turns his address to a consolatory strain ; and encourages the Lord's people with the thought, that if they should not meet with approbation from men, they might yet assure themselves of abundant support and comfort from their God.
Now, in these words, I wish you to notice, I. The point conceded
Humanly speaking, it should seem impossible that any should " suffer for righteousness' sake"
[If we be “ followers of that which is good," and maintain a holy consistency in our conduct, we must, one would think, meet with universal approbation. For we give to no one any occasion for offence : and when we meet with unkindness from others, we render nothing but good in return for it. If perverse and prejudiced people will speak evil of us, “our good conversation will put them to silence" and" to shame b.” Hence wives are encouraged to hope, that if, unfortunately, they are connected with unbelieving husbands, they may " by their good conversation win” those who would not be won by any thing else. At all events, after a season this may be expected, if not at first; since God has said, that “when a man's ways please the Lord, he maketh even his enemies to be at peace with him d.” Hence the question in my text is reasonable, and, one would think, unanswerable.]
Experience, however, proves that sufferings for righteousness' sake cannot altogether be avoided
[This is conceded in my text; and in other parts of this epistle is plainly intimated : “ This is thankworthy, if a man for conscience toward God endure grief, suffering wrongfully. For what glory is it, if, when ye be buffeted for your faults, ye shall take it patiently? But if, when ye do well, and suffer for it, ye take it patiently, this is acceptable with God: for even hereunto were ye callede.” Now, here it is intimated, not that we may suffer though we do well, and maintain a good conscience toward God, but because we do so: our very piety may
be the ground on which the sufferings are inflicted. This shews that there is more connexion between the different beatitudes in our Lord's Sermon on the Mount than we should be ready to imagine. Our Lord, after saying, “ Blessed are the poor in spirit, and they that mourn, and the meek, and they that hunger and thirst after righteousness, and the merciful, and the pure, and the peace-makers,” adds, " Blessed are they that are persecuted for righteousness' sake?." But what connexion can there be between persecution and the characters before portrayed? Can they be persecuted? Are there any people in the world so blind, yea, so abandoned, as to "revile them, and
persecute them, and say all manner of evil falsely against them," and that too "for Christ's sake," and because of his image that is thus enstamped upon them? Yes; this piety is the very thing which will provoke the world's enmity, and call it forth in every act of hostility that can be conceived. For thus has our Lord forewaned us: “If ye were of the world, the world would love its own: but because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you.” David found it so in his day: “They that render evil for good are against me, because I follow the thing that good ish.” And we also shall find the same: for it is said, “ All that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecutioni.” Indeed, if our blessed Lord himself could not escape, notwithstanding the inconceivable wisdom of his discourses, and the immaculate purity of his whole conduct, how shall we, who are so frail and fallible, hope to pass without much inveterate opposition?“ If they called the master of the house Beelzebub, much more will they those of his householdk.” Hence we are told not to be surprised at persecution, when it comes : “Beloved, think it not strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened unto you ..... But let none of you suffer as a murderer, or as a thief, or as a busy-body in other men's matters : yet, if any man suffer as a Christian, let him not be ashamed; but let him glorify God on this behalf!"]
This point being conceded, let us proceed to consider, II. The consolation administered
Persecution for righteousness' sake is by no means so great an evil as people are apt to imagine.
1. It is no proper ground for sorrow
f Matt. v. 3—11. h Ps. xxxviii. 20.
k Matt. x. 25. VOL. XX.
8 John xv. 18, 19.
[Would any one wish for a testimony from God, that he is in the right way, and that God is well-pleased with him? Behold, that is the very satisfaction which such evil treatment is intended to convey: “ They shall lay their hands on you, and persecute you; delivering you up to the synagogues and into prisons; being brought before kings and rulers for my name's sake: and it shall turn to you for a testimonym.” But it is, in fact, a participation of Christ's sufferings, and a source of great glory to God. And is that a ground of sorrow? No; but rather of exalted joy; as the Apostle tells us : “Rejoice, inasmuch as ye are partakers of Christ's sufferings; that when his glory shall be revealed, ye may be glad also with exceeding
ye be reproached for the name of Christ, happy are ye; for the Spirit of glory and of God resteth upon you. On their part, he is evil spoken of; but on your part, he is glorified." In truth, it is a signal honour conferred upon us : and, instead of repining at it, we ought to " rejoice that we are counted worthy" to sustain ito. But to speak of it thus, is, in reality, to come very far short of the statement which should be given : for, if the truth be spoken, it is a most invaluable gift:.“ Unto you it is given, in the behalf of Christ, not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for his sake P." Yes, it is conferred as God's choicest gift, in answer to the prayers of his only dear Son. In bestowing upon us pardon, and peace, and holiness, and glory, God gives to us : but when we are permitted to suffer for righteousness' sake, we give to God: we give our reputation, our property, our body, our life, to be disposed of according to his will, and for the glory of his name. And surely this is an honour in which we ought to rejoice with most unfeigned and exalted joy9] 2. It is no just occasion for fear
[I will grant, that there is a confederacy of the whole world against us: (that is the case supposed by the prophet, whose words are cited in my text":) What can they do? They cannot touch so much as a hair of our head, without the special permission of our God®: nor can they do any one thing which shall not be overruled for our eternal good Hear the representation which holy David gives us of this matter: “ The wicked plotteth against the just, and gnasheth upon him with his teeth. The Lord shall laugh at him 4. And if the Lord “ laugh,” shall we cry? God designs both to prepare us for glory, and to increase to us the measure of our happiness to all eternity: and for these ends he permits ungodly men to put us into a furnace, that he may “purify us from our dross;" and he makes “our light and momentary affliction to work out for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory*.” Now, who that knew the designs of Heaven in relation to us, would dread the process by which such ends were to be accomplished? God has said, that “the wrath of man shall praise him; and the remainder of it he will restrain.” As one, who, in a flood that threatens to destroy his mill, lets upon it so much water only as shall accomplish his own purposes, and turns off the remainder by another sluice; so will God effect his gracious purposes for his people's good, by the very efforts which their enemies are making for their destruction. Knowing this, therefore, we should “ not be afraid of their terror, nor be troubled” at any confederacies they may make against us.]
m Luke xxi. 12, 13.
n 1 Pet. iv. 13, 14. • Acts v. 41.
3. A due regard to God is an ample security to all his people
[To "sanctify the Lord God in our hearts” is to conceive of him as an all-wise Governor, that orders every thing in heaven and earth; and as an all-sufficient Protector, who is "a wall of fire round about” his people, not only to protect them, but to devour their assailantsy; and, lastly, as an all-gracious Rewarder, who,“ if we suffer with him, will cause us also to reign with him, that we may be glorified together 2.” In this view of him, our duty is precisely what St. Peter tells us : “ Let them that suffer according to the will of God, commit the keeping of their souls to him in well-doing, as unto a faithful Creatora.” We have only to realize in our hearts the agency, the power, the love, the faithfulness, of the omnipresent God, and we shall be as composed in the conflict, and as confident of the victory, as if we were already in heaven. If God has said, “ Fear not; for I am with thee: be not dismayed; for I am thy God: I will strengthen thee; yea, I will help thee; yea, I will uphold thee with the right hand of my righteousness b;" it is not merely our privilege, but our duty, to reply with David, “ The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom then shall I fear? The Lord is the strength of my life; of whom then shall I be afraid?"] IMPROVEMENT1. Let us be thankful for the peace we enjoy
[There have been seasons in the Church when has raged with great fury, and almost driven Christianity from the face of the earth. That it is not so now, is not owing to
persecution men's love of religion; but to the protection afforded by human laws, and to the prevalence of an idea, that toleration in religion is essential to civil liberty. It is however a great mercy to us to live in these days: and I call upon you to improve the opportunities afforded you. You can assemble together, none making you afraid : you can consecrate yourselves to the Lord, without any apprehension of being dragged for it to prison or to death. You must not however imagine, that is the offence of the cross has ceased," or that you will not in your domestic and social circles have any thing to suffer. You may still have to make considerable sacrifices : your parents and governors may still act an unkind and oppressive part towards you; and your friends may treat you with such contempt as is not easy to be borne. But, if you are not
y Zech. ij. 5.
called to resist unto blood," you have reason to be thankful: and, in this season of comparative peace, you must prepare to maintain, when called to it, a vigorous and active warfare. The roaring lion is as vigilant as ever to destroy; and you also must be vigilant, if you would defeat his efforts 4.]
2. Let us, when persecution shall arise, act worthy of our high and holy calling
[The command of our blessed Lord is, that we should be ready to lay down our lives for his sake. And he has plainly told us, that "he who will save his life, shall lose it; and he only who will lose his life for his sake, shall save it unto life eternale." On no other terms can we be acknowledged as his disciples. Nor should we wish for any other terms than these. We should be ready to " rejoice in tribulation";" and to "glory in the cross : ” for our Lord's sake: yea, we should even take pleasure in infirmities and distresses for his sake,” in order that he may be glorified in us, and that “his strength may be perfected in our weakness h.” To all of you then I say, Prepare to approve yourselves "good soldiers of Jesus Christ.” Whoever you are, you are to "fight the good fight of faith,” and to stem the torrent against all the enemies of your salvation : and to you God says, as he did to the Prophet Ezekiel, “ Behold, I have made thy face strong against their faces, and thy forehead strong against their foreheads; as an adamant, harder than flint, have I made thy forehead: fear them not, neither be dismayed at their looks, though they be a rebellious housek." “ Be faithful unto death, and then will God give unto you the crown of life!."]
d 1 Pet. v. 8.
e Luke xvii. 33.
f Rom. v. 3.