“And seeing the multitudes, he went up into a mountain: and when he was set, his disciples came unto him: And he opened his mouth, and taught them, saying…Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness’ sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” Matthew 5: 1-2, 10
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’.
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).
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’.
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.; 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.
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). 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.
5. What that suffering persecution is, which makes a man blessed.
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.
What that suffering persecution is, which will make us blessed
 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.
We suffer as Christians when we suffer and pray for our persecutors. ‘Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you’ Luke 6:27-28
Quotes and Excerpts taken from: The Beatitudes by Thomas Watson, 1660 -An exposition of Matthew 5:1-12.