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
Let us prepare for persecution. A wise pilot in a calm, will prepare for a storm. God knows how soon persecution may come. There seems to be a cloud of blood hanging over the nation.
3. Promote those things which will help to suffer. Continued
 Get a suffering frame of heart.
What is that? you say. I answer: A self-denying frame. ‘If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.’ (Luke 9:23). Self-denial is the foundation of godliness, and if this foundation is not well-laid, the whole building will fall. If there is any lust in our souls which we cannot deny—it will turn at length either to scandal or apostasy. Self-denial is the thread which must run along through the whole work of piety. The self-denying Christian will be the suffering Christian. ‘Let him deny himself and take up his cross’.
For the further explication of this, I shall do two things.
1. Show what is meant by this word deny.
2. What is meant by self.
1. What is meant by DENY? The word ‘to deny’ signifies to lay aside, to put off, to annihilate oneself. Beza renders it ‘let him renounce himself’.
2. What is meant by SELF? Self is taken four ways:
A man must deny WORLDLY self, that is, his estate. ‘Behold we have forsaken all and followed you’ (Matthew 19:27). The gold of Ophir must be denied—for the pearl of great price. Let their money perish with them (said that noble Marquess of Vico) who esteem all the gold and silver in the world worth one hour’s communion with Christ.
A man must deny RELATIVE self, that is, his dearest relations—if God calls. If our nearest relative, father or mother, stand in our way and would hinder us from doing our duty, we must either leap over them or tread upon them! ‘If you want to be my follower you must love me more than your own father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, more than your own life. Otherwise, you cannot be my disciple’ (Luke 14:26). Relations must not weigh heavier than Christ.
A man must deny NATURAL self. He must be willing to become a sacrifice and make Christ’s crown flourish, though it be in his ashes. ‘They loved not their lives unto the death’ (Luke 14:26; Revelation 12:11). Jesus Christ was dearer to them, than their own heart’s blood.
A man must deny CARNAL self. This I take to be the chief sense of the text. He must deny carnal ease. The flesh cries out for ease. It is loath to put its neck under Christ’s yoke or stretch itself upon the cross. The flesh cries out, ‘There is a lion in the way’ (Proverbs 22:13). We must deny our self-ease. Those who lean on the soft pillow of sloth, will hardly take up the cross. ‘You as a good soldier of Christ endure hardness’ (2 Timothy 2:3). We must force a way to heaven through sweat and blood. Caesar’s soldiers fought with hunger and cold.
A man must deny self-esteem. Every man by nature has a high opinion of himself. He is drunk with spiritual pride, and a proud man is unfit for suffering. He thinks himself too good to suffer. What (says he) I who am of such a noble descent, such high abilities, such repute and credit in the world—shall I suffer? A proud man disdains the cross. Oh deny self-esteem! How did Christ come to suffer? ‘He humbled himself and became obedient unto death’ (Philippians 2:8). Let the plumes of pride fall off!
A man must deny self-confidence. Peter’s self-confidence undid him. ‘Even if everyone else deserts you, I never will! Not even if I have to die with you! I will never deny you!’ (Matthew 26:33, 35). How did this man presume upon his own strength, as if he had more grace than all the apostles besides! His denying Christ was for lack of denying himself. Oh deny your own strength! Samson’s strength was in his locks. A Christian’s strength lies in Christ. He who trusts to himself—shall be left to himself. He who goes out in his own strength comes off to his own shame.
A man must deny self-wisdom. We read of the ‘wisdom of the flesh’ (2 Corinthians 1:12). Self-wisdom is carnal policy. It is wisdom (says the flesh) to keep out of suffering. It is wisdom not to declare against sin. It is wisdom to find out subtle ways to avoid the cross. The wisdom of the flesh—is to save the flesh. Indeed there is a Christian prudence to be used. The serpent’s eye must be in the dove’s head. Wisdom and innocence do well—but it is dangerous to separate them. Cursed be that policy which teaches to avoid duty. This wisdom is not from above, but is devilish (James 3:15). It is learned from the old serpent. This wisdom will turn to folly at last. It is like a man who to save his gold—throws himself overboard into the water. Many, to save their skin—will damn their souls.
A man must deny self-will. Gregory calls the will the commander-in-chief of all the faculties of the soul. Indeed, in innocence, Adam had rectitude of mind and conformity of will. The will was like an instrument in tune. It was full of harmony and tuned sweetly to God’s will—but now the will is corrupt and like a strong tide carries us violently to evil. The will has not only an indisposition to good—but an opposition to good. ‘You have always resisted the Holy Spirit’ (Acts 7:51). There is not a greater enemy than the will. It is up in arms against God (2 Peter 2:10). The will loves sin—and hates the cross. Now if ever we suffer for God we must cross our own will. The will must be martyred. A Christian must say, ‘Not my will—but may your will will be done.’
A man must deny self-reasonings. The fleshy part will be reasoning and disputing against sufferings. ‘Why are you reasoning about these things in your hearts?’ (Mark 2:8). Such reasonings as these will begin to arise in our hearts:
1. Persecution is bitter. Oh but it is blessed! ‘Blessed is he who endures temptation . . .’ (James 1:12). The cross is heavy—but the sharper the cross, the brighter the crown.
2. But it is sad to part with estate and relations. But Christ is better than all. He is manna to strengthen; he is wine to comfort; he is salvation to crown.
3. But liberty is sweet. This restraint makes way for enlargement. ‘You have enlarged me in distress’ (Psalm 4:1). When the feet are bound with irons, the heart may be sweetly dilated and enlarged.
Thus should we put to silence those self-reasonings which are apt to arise in the heart against sufferings.
This self-denying frame of heart is very hard. This is ‘to pluck out the right eye’. It is easier to overcome men and devils, than to overcome self. ‘Stronger is he who conquers himself, than he who conquers the strongest walled city’. Self is the idol, and how hard it is to sacrifice this idol and to turn self-seeking into self-denial! But though it is difficult, it is essential to suffering. A Christian must first lay down self, before he can take up the cross.
Alas! how far are they then from suffering that cannot deny themselves in the least things; who in their diet or apparel, instead of martyring the flesh, pamper the flesh! Instead of taking up the cross take up their cups! Is this self-denial, to let loose the reins to the flesh? It is sure that those who cannot deny themselves, if sufferings come, will deny Christ. Oh Christians, as ever you would be able to carry Christ’s cross, begin to deny yourselves. Consider:
Whatever you deny for Christ, you shall find again in Christ. ‘Everyone who has given up houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or property, for my sake, will receive a hundred times as much in return and will have eternal life.’ (Matthew 19:29). Here is a very choice bargain!
It is but equity that you should deny yourselves for Christ. Did not Jesus Christ deny himself for you? He denied his joy; he left his Father’s house; he denied his honor; he endured the shame (Hebrews 12:2); he denied his life; he poured out his blood as a sacrifice upon the altar of the cross (Colossians 1:20). Did Christ deny himself for you, and will not you deny yourselves for him?
Self-denial is the highest sign of a sincere Christian. Hypocrites may have great knowledge and make large profession—but it is only the true-hearted saint who can deny himself for Christ. I have read of a holy man who was once tempted by Satan, to whom Satan said, ‘Why do you take all these pains? You watch and fast and abstain from sin. O man, what do you do, more than I? Are you no drunkard, no adulterer? Neither am I. Do you watch? Let me tell you, I never sleep. Do you fast? I never eat. What do you do, more than I?’ ‘Why,’ says the godly man, ‘I will tell you, Satan; I pray; I serve the Lord; nay, more than all, I deny myself.’ ‘Nay, then,’ says Satan, ‘you go beyond me for I exalt myself!’ And so he vanished. Self-denial is the best touchstone of sincerity. By this you go beyond hypocrites.
To deny yourselves is but what others have done before you. Moses was a self-denier. He denied the honors and profits of the court (Hebrews 11:24-26). Abraham denied his own country at God’s call (Hebrews 11:8). Marcus Arethusus endured great torments for Christ. If he would but have given a half-penny towards the rebuilding of the idol’s temple, he might have been released—but he would not do it, though the giving of a hal-fpenny might have saved his life. Here was a self-denying saint.
There is a time shortly coming, that if you do not deny the world for Christ, the world will deny you. The world now denies satisfaction, and before long it will deny place. It will not allow you so much as to breathe in it. It will turn you out of possession; and, which is worse, not only the world will deny you—but Christ will deny you. ‘Whoever shall deny me before men, him will I also deny before my Father which is heaven’ (Matthew 10:33).