Image: Title page to an early version of "Foxe's Book of Martyrs"
I preached the final message at CRBC yesterday afternoon ("Blessed are the persecuted") in the series through "The Beatitudes," using Thomas Watson's exposition as a friendly guide. Watson offers five initial reflections on this beatitudes:
1. What is persecution?
2. Various kinds of persecution: (1) hand persecution ("fire and sword") and (2) tongue persecution (encompassing things like reviling and slander). On this, Watson notes that "tongue persecutors" use "a devilish chemistry" to "turn gold into dung, the precious names of God's saints into reproach and disgrace."
3. The causes of persecution: (1) God's design to test and purify the saints; (2) The church has enemies, which includes both open enemies who flagrantly hate the gospel and "secret enemies" who "pretend friendship but secretly raise persecution" (heretics and hypocrites).
4. Chief persecutions are raised against ministers.
5. Persecution makes one blessed.
Of these five reflections, I was struck by the fourth, Watson's assertion that "Chief persecutions are raised against ministers." Here are my notes from that section:
Chief persecutions are raised against ministers.
See Christ’s direct word to the apostles in Matthew 5:11-12. “No sooner is any man a minister, but he is a piece of a martyr.”
The reasons for this:
a. Ministers have their corruptions as well as others, and God allows persecution so they are not too lifted up in pride. “God lets loose some ‘messenger of Satan’ to vex and persecute them.”
b. Ministers are “Christ’s ensign-bearers to carry his colors.” As captains of the Lord’s hosts, “they are the most shot at.” “The minister’s work is to preach against men’s sins which are dear to them as their right eye, and they cannot endure this.” A man’s sins is as a king to him. Men “will not endure to have their king-sin crucified.” Paul preached against the Diana trade in Ephesus and was opposed by Demetrius the silversmith (see Acts 19). “We preach against men’s Dianas, those sins which bring them in pleasure and profit. This causes an uproar.”
c. Ministers evoke the malice of Satan. The come to destroy his kingdom, so “the old serpent will spit all his venom at them.” If we tread on the devil’s head, he will bite us by the heel. “Therefore Satan raises his militia, all the force and power of hell against the ministry.” Ministers come to bring the light of the world to those who sit in darkness and this “enrages Satan.”
So we see that the ministry is full of dignity yet full of danger. Luther said it was not possible “to be a faithful preacher and not meet with trials and opposition.”
I don’t know any faithful ministers who do not have battle scars!
The opposition to ministers shows the corruption of men’s hearts due to sin. They “persecute those who come to do them the most good.” We do not hate the physician who treats our physical illnesses, “Why then should we quarrel with the minister?” The “folly of depraved nature” is “to requite evil for good.”
We should encourage our ministers “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 ministers as Israel did with Moses. He prayed for them and wrought miracles for them, yet they were continually quarrelling with him and sometimes ready to take away his life.”
If the fury of the world is against ministers we ought to pray for them.
I pray I'd never add to the trials of a minister of God's word. For many years after I was saved (and I ought to get back into this habit) I used to especially pray on a Sunday night for all those who'd spent the day in the pulpit. Knowing that Satan would wish to play havoc with them as they tried to sleep, I would pray that God would give them rest for their bodies and minds, and peace for their souls.
No doubt, Satan wishes to burden them with what they said, or what they didn't say....
I must remember to do more of this for you all.
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