by Thomas Watson
“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. (v.10)
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.”
“Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.”
“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.”
“Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.”
“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.”
“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.”
“Blessed are those who are persecuted, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven”
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