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DISCOURSE XX.

DIRECTORY TO CHRISTIANS SUFFERING FOR THEIR

RELIGION.

1 Pet. iv. 12-19.-Beloved, think it not strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened unto you: but rejoice, inasmuch as ye are partakers of Christ's sufferings; that, when his glory shall be revealed, ye may be glad also with exceeding joy. If ye be reproached for the name of Christ, happy are ye: for the Spirit of glory and of God resteth upon you: on their part he is evil spoken of, but on your part he is glorified. But let none of you suffer as a murderer, or as a thief, or as an evildoer, or as a busy-body in other men's matters. Yet if any man suffer as a Christian, let him not be ashamed; but let him glorify God on this behalf. For the time is come that judgment must begin at the house of God: and if it first begin at us, what shall the end be of them that obey not the gospel of God? And if the righteous scarcely be saved, where shall the ungodly and the sinner appear? Wherefore, let them that suffer according to the will of God commit the keeping of their souls to him in well-doing, as unto a faithful Creator.

From many passages in this Epistle, it is obvious that they to whom it was addressed were in adverse circumstances. They had already been exposed to suffering in a variety of forms, in consequence of their profession of the faith of Christ. “They were in heaviness, through manifold temptations ;” and it is more than once not obscurely intimated, that the trials in which they had been involved were but the forerunners of more severe persecutions, to which, ere long, they might expect to be subjected. It was with them a dark and cloudy day, and their sky did not appear to be clearing. The evils they had experienced seemed to be but the prelusive drops of an approaching tempest. The paragraph which is to form the subject of our discourse at this time, contains an inspired directory for those persecuted Christians, amid the increasing difficulties of their situation. The injunctions contained in this inspired directory seem all reducible to the four following: ‘Be not astonished at your sufferings ;' Be not depressed by your sufferings ;' Be not ashamed of your sufferings ;' and, 'persevering in welldoing, commit the keeping of your souls to God, under your sufferings. Let us shortly attend to these four injunctions in their order, as explained and enforced by the Apostle.

1.-BE NOT ASTONISHED AT YOUR SUFFERINGS.

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The first direction given by the Apostle to his suffering brethren is, 'Be not astonished at your sufferings.' “Beloved, think it not strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing had happened to you."

The course of suffering on which these Christians had entered, is figuratively described as a fire or burning, intended to try them. The allusion is to the intense heat of the furnace of the refiner, by which he tests the genuineness, and increases the purity, of the precious metals. The figurative

representation is obviously designed to indicate, at once the great severity and the important purposes of the afflictions on which these Christians might reckon with certainty as awaiting them.

These afflictions were to be severe. They are compared, not to the heat of the sun, or of an ordinary fire, but to the concentrated heat of the refiner's furnace; and we know, from authentic history respecting the persecutions to which the primitive Christians were exposed, that this figure does not at all outrun the reality. Calumnious misrepresentation and spoiling of goods, stripes and imprisonments, weariness and painfulness, hunger and thirst, watchings and fastings, cold and nakedness, were to them common trials.

The Apostle's description of the Maccabean martyrs is equally applicable to the primitive Christians. “Some of them were tortured” in every form which malignant ingenuity could devise, “others had trial of cruel mockings and scourgings, yea, moreover of bonds and imprisonment : they were stoned, they were sawn asunder, were tempted, were slain with the sword : they wandered about in sheepskins and goat-skins; being destitute, afflicted, and tormented: they wandered in deserts, and in mountains, and in dens and in caves of the earth."1 Well did such sufferings deserve to be termed, the burning, “ the fiery trial.”

The figure is equally significant if we consider it as referring to the design of these sufferings. In this respect, too, they resembled the fire of the refiner's furnace. The design of its intense heat is to test and to purify the precious metals subjected to it. The design of their sufferings is to test the genuineness of profession and the power of principle; and, by separating the precious from the vile, to improve the character, both of the Christian society and of the Christian individuals of which it is composed.

It was not at all unnatural that the primitive Christians, when exposed to such sufferings, should not only feel them to be very painful, but reckon them to be very wonderful; that they should think 'it strange concerning the burning among them, as if some strange thing had happened to them.' Were not they " the children of God, through faith in Christ Jesus ;” the “sons and daughters of the Lord God Almighty ?”? Did he not love them? Could he not protect them? Had he not wisdom enough to confound all the plans, power enough to restrain and frustrate all the efforts, of their enemies? Had he not promised to preserve them from all evil, and to bestow on them every blessing ? Was it not strange, in these circumstances, that they should be exposed to suffering at all? doubly strange that they should be exposed to suffering for avowing the relation and performing their duty to him ? strangest of all, that they should be exposed to such suffering when following such a course?

1 Heb. xi. 36-38.

2 Gal. ii. 26. 2 Cor. vi. 18.

And if these sufferings seemed strange as coming from God, they must also have appeared strange as coming from men. They were no disturbers of the public peace, no invaders of private rights. They were “blameless and harmless, the children of God without rebuke;"1 rendering to all their due, nay, doing good to all as they had opportunity. Was it not strange that they should be the objects of the contempt and dislike of their fellow citizens, and be treated by their rulers as if they had been egregious malefactors ?

Yet, notwithstanding all this, there was abundant reason why the primitive Christians should not think their

persecutions strange, however severe. No strange thing, indeed, happened to them. The spirit of Christianity is so directly opposed to the spirit of the world, that the wonder is, not that there has been so much persecution, but that there has not been more. But for the restraints of God's providence on the world, and on him who is its prince and god, Christianity and Christians had long ago been exterminated. “If they were of the world, the world would love its own; but because they were not of the world, even as He who called them was not of the world, therefore the world hated them as it hated him.”? Without an entire change in the spiritual character of the world, it could not have been otherwise. It would have been strange indeed if it had not hated them. No! “It is not strange that the malignant world should hate holiness, hate the light, hate the very shadow of it: the more the children of God walk like their Father and their home, the more unlike must they of necessity become to the world about them, and therefore become the very marks of their enmities and malice.” “There is in the life of a Christian a convincing light, that shows the depravity of the waters of darkness, and a piercing heat that scorches

I Phil. ii. 15.

2 John xv. 18.

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the ungodly, which stirs and troubles their consciences. This they cannot endure, and hence rises in them a contrary fire of wicked hatred; and hence the trials, the fiery trials, of the godly.”

Nor is this the only reason why Christians should not account sufferings for the cause of Christ, however severe, “ strange.” They are not only natural, so far as a wicked world is concerned, but they are necessary for them. “ It is needful,” as the Apostle observes above; “it is needful that

ye

for a season be in heaviness through manifold temptation.” Such seasons of persecution are necessary to the church as a body. During a period of comparative worldly prosperity, multitudes of worldly men find their way into the communion of the church; and, just in the degree in which they have influence in it, unfit it for its great purposes both to those within its pale and those without it. A period of uninterrupted external prosperity, if it were not attended with such an effusion of Divine influence as the world has never yet witnessed, would soon lead to such secularization of the church as would destroy the distinction of the church from the world; not by converting the world, but by perverting the church; not by making the world christian, but by making the church worldly. It is needful that the great husbandman take the fan in his hand, that he may purge his floor, driving off the chaff and bringing close together the good grain. “When tribulation for the word's sake arise, those who have no root in themselves are offended,” stumbled; they “ go away, and walk no more with Jesus” and his persecuted followers, and it is a good riddance; while, on the other hand, tribulation with those who “ have root in themselves,” “ works patience," endurance. It produces not apostasy, but perseverance. For, as persecution purifies the church, so it improves her true members. They are called by it to a more vigorous exercise of all the principles of the new life ; and it is a general law, exercise

1

Leighton. VOL. III.

2 Matt, xiii. 6, 21. Rom. v.3- úrovorm.

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