Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness sake; for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Matthew 5:10
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’.
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)