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
The reasons why the storm of persecution has chiefly fallen upon the ministers are:
1. They have their corruptions as well as others, and lest they should be lifted up ‘through the abundance of revelation’, God lets loose some ‘messenger of Satan’ to vex and persecute them. God sees they have need of the flail to thresh off their husks. The fire which God puts them into, is not to consume, but to refine them.
2. The ministers are Christ’s ensign-bearers. They are the captains of the Lord’s army, therefore they are the most shot at. ‘I am set for the defense of the gospel’ (Philippians 1:17). The Greek word here used alludes to a soldier that is set in the forefront of the battle and has all the bullets flying about his ears. The minister’s work is to preach against men’s sins, which are as dear to them as their right eye—and they cannot endure this. Every man’s sin is his king to which he yields love and subjection. Now as Pilate said, ‘Shall I crucify your king?’ Men will not endure to have their king-sin crucified. This then being the work of the ministry—to divide between men and their lusts, to part these two old friends—it is no wonder that it meets with so much opposition. When Paul preached against Diana, all the city was in an uproar. We preach against men’s Dianas, those sins which bring them in pleasure and profit—this causes an uproar.
3. From the malice of Satan. The ministers of Christ come to destroy his kingdom, therefore the old serpent will spit all his venom at them. If we tread upon the devil’s head, he will bite us by the heel. The devil sets up several forts and garrisons in men’s hearts—pride, ignorance, unbelief. Now the weapons of the ministry beat down these strongholds (2 Corinthians 10:4). Therefore Satan raises his militia, all the force and power of hell against the ministry. The kingdom of Satan is a ‘kingdom of darkness’ (Acts 26:18; Revelation 16:10), and God’s ministers are called the ‘light of the world’ (Matthew 5:14). They come to enlighten those who sit in darkness. This enrages Satan. Therefore he labors to eclipse the lights, to pull down the stars—that his kingdom of darkness may prevail. The devil is called a lion (1 Peter 5:8). The souls of people are the lion’s prey. The ministers’ work is to take away this prey from this lion. Therefore how will he roar upon them, and seek to destroy them!
 It shows us what a work the ministry is; though full of dignity—yet full of danger. The persecution of the tongue is the most gentle persecution can be expected. ‘It is not possible’ (says Luther) ‘to be a faithful preacher and not to meet with trials and oppositions.’
 It shows the corruption of men’s nature since the fall. They are their own enemies. They persecute those who come to do them most good. What is the work of the ministry, but to save men’s souls from hell? to pull them as ‘brands out of the fire’. Yet worldly men are angry at this. We do not hate the physician who brings such a remedy as makes us nauseated, because it is to make us well; nor the surgeon who lances the flesh, because it is in order to a cure. Why then should we quarrel with the minister? What is our work but to bring men to heaven? ‘We are ambassadors for Christ . . .’ (2 Corinthians 5:20). We would have a peace made up between you and God; yet this is the folly of depraved nature, to requite evil for good.
Aristoxenus used to moisten his flowers with wine, honey, and perfumes that they might not only smell more fragrantly but put forth more fruit. So should we do with our ministers. Give them wine and honey. Encourage them in their work that they might act more vigorously. But instead of this we give them gall and vinegar to drink. We hate and persecute them. Most deal with their ministers as Israel did with Moses. He prayed for them and wrought miracles for them—yet they were continually quarreling with him and sometimes ready to take away his life.
 If the fury of the world is against the ministers, then you who fear God had need pray much for them. ‘Pray for us, that the Word of the Lord may have free course, and that we may be delivered from unreasonable and wicked men.’ (2 Thessalonians 3:1, 2). People should pray for their ministers that God would give them wisdom of the serpent—that they may not betray themselves to danger by indiscretion; and the boldness of the lion—that they may not betray the truth by fear.
5. What that suffering persecution is, which makes a man blessed.
1. I shall show what that suffering is, which will NOT make us blessed.
 That is not Christian suffering, when we pull a cross upon ourselves. There is little comfort in such suffering. Augustine speaks of some in his time who were called Circumcellions, who out of a zeal for martyrdom, would run themselves into sufferings. These were accessory to their own death, like King Saul who fell upon his own sword. We are bound by all lawful means to preserve our own lives. Jesus Christ did not suffer until he was called to it. Suspect that to be a temptation, which bids us cast ourselves down into sufferings. When men through rashness run themselves into trouble, it is a cross of their own making and not of God’s laying upon them.
 That is not Christian suffering, when we suffer for our offences. ‘Let none of you suffer as an evildoer’ (1 Peter 4:15). ‘We indeed suffer justly’ (Luke 23:41). I am not of Cyprian’s mind that the thief on the cross suffered as a martyr. No! he suffered as an evildoer! Christ indeed took pity on him and saved him. He died a saint—but not a martyr. When men suffer by the hand of the magistrate for their uncleanness, blasphemies etc., these do not suffer persecution—but execution. They die not as martyrs—but as malefactors. They suffer evil—for being evil.
 That is not Christian suffering, when they suffer, out of sinister respects, to be cried up as head of a party, or to keep up a faction. The apostle implies that a man may give his body to be burned—yet go to hell (1 Corinthians 13:3). Ambitious men may sacrifice their lives to purchase fame. These are the devil’s martyrs.
2. What that suffering persecution is, which will make us blessed, and shall wear the crown of martyrdom.
 We suffer as a Christian, when we suffer in a good cause. So it is in the text. ‘Blessed are those who suffer for righteousness sake’. It is the cause which makes a martyr. When we suffer for the truth and espouse the quarrel of true religion, this is to suffer for righteousness’ sake. ‘For the hope of Israel, I am bound with this chain’ (Acts 28:20).
 We suffer as a Christian, when we suffer with a good conscience. A man may have a good cause—and a bad conscience. He may suffer for ‘righteousness sake’—yet he himself be unrighteous. Paul, as he had a just cause, so he had a pure conscience. ‘I have lived in all good conscience to this day’ (Acts 23:1). Paul kept a good conscience to his dying day. It has made the saints go as cheerfully to the stake—as if they had been going to a crown. See to it that there is no flaw in conscience. A ship that is to sail upon the waters must be preserved from leaking. When Christians are to sail on the waters of persecution, let them take heed there be no leak of guilt in their conscience. He who suffers (though it is in God’s own cause) with a bad conscience, suffers two hells; a hell of persecution, and a hell of damnation.
 We suffer as a Christian, when we have a good call. ‘You shall be brought before kings . . .’ (Matthew 10:18). There is no question but a man may so far consult for his safety that if God by his providence opens a door, he may flee in time of persecution (Matthew 10:23). But when he is brought before kings, and the case is such that either he must suffer, or the truth must suffer—here is a clear call to suffering, and this is reckoned for martyrdom.
 We suffer as a Christian, when we have good ends in our suffering, namely, that we may glorify God, set a seal to the truth, and show our love to Christ. ‘You shall be brought before kings for my sake’ (Matthew 10:18). The primitive Christians burned more in love, than in fire. When we look at God in our sufferings and are willing to make his crown flourish, though it be in our ashes—this is that suffering which carries away the garland of glory.
 When we suffer with Christian virtues. ‘If any man suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed’ (1 Peter 4:16). To suffer as a Christian is to suffer with such a spirit as becomes a Christian, which is:
When we suffer with patience. ‘Take, my brethren, the prophets for an example of suffering affliction and of patience’ (James 5:10). A Christian must not repine but say, ‘Shall I not drink the cup’ of martyrdom which my Father has given me? There should be such a spirit of meekness in a Christian’s suffering, that it should be hard to say which is greater—his persecution or his patience. When Job had lost all, he kept the breastplate of innocence and the shield of patience. An impatient martyr is a contradiction.
To suffer as Christians is when we suffer with courage. Courage is a Christian’s armor. It steels and animates him. The three Hebrew children, or rather the three champions, were of brave heroic spirits. They do not say to the king, ‘We ought not to serve your gods’—but ‘We will not!’ (Daniel 3:18). Neither Nebuchadnezzar’s music nor his furnace could alter their resolution. Tertullian was called an adamant, for his invincible courage. Holy courage makes us (as one of the fathers says) ‘have such faces of brass that we are not ashamed of the cross’. This is to suffer as Christians, when we are meek yet resolute. The more the fire is blown—the more it flames. So it is with a brave-spirited Christian. The more opposition he meets with—the more zeal and courage flames forth.
To suffer as Christians is to suffer with cheerfulness. Patience is a bearing the cross; cheerfulness is a taking up the cross. Christ suffered for us cheerfully. His death was a freewill offering (Luke 12:50). He thirsted to drink of that cup of blood! Such must our sufferings be for Christ. Cheerfulness perfumes suffering and makes it the sacrifice of a sweet-smelling savor to God. Thus Moses suffered cheerfully. ‘Moses, when he was come to years, chose to suffer affliction with the people of God,rather than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season’ (Hebrews 11:24, 25). Observe: ‘When he was come to years’: It was no childish act. It was when he was of years of discretion. ‘He chose to suffer affliction.’ Suffering was not so much his task—as his choice. The cross was not so much imposed—as embraced. This is to suffer as Christians, when we are volunteers; we take up the cross cheerfully, nay, joyfully. ‘They departed from the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for his name’ (Acts 5:41). Or as it is more emphatic in the original, ‘They rejoiced that they were so far graced as to be disgraced for the name of Christ’. Tertullian says of the primitive Christians, that they took more comfort in their sufferings than in their deliverance. And indeed well may a Christian be joyful in suffering, because it is a great favor when God honors a man to be a witness to the truth. Christ’s marks in Paul’s body were prints of glory. The saints have worn their sufferings as ornaments. Ignatius’ chains were his jewels. Never have any princes been so famous for their victories, as the martyrs for their sufferings.
We suffer as Christians when we suffer and pray for our persecutors. ‘Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you’ (Luke 6:27-28).
There are two reasons why we should pray for our persecutors.
Because our prayers may be a means to convert them. Stephen prayed for his persecutors: ‘Lord, lay not this sin to their charge’ (Acts 7:60). And this prayer was effectual to some of their conversions. Augustine says that the church of God was indebted to Stephen’s prayer for all that benefit which was reaped by Paul’s ministry.
We should pray for our persecutors because they do us good, though against their will. They shall increase our reward. Every reproach shall add to our glory. Every injury shall serve to make our crown heavier. As Gregory Nazianzen speaks in one of his orations, Every stone which was thrown at Stephen was a precious stone which enriched him and made him shine brighter in the kingdom of heaven.