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The Blessedness of the Persecuted

Humanity, so far as it stands for the just, the noble, the brave, and the true, for those who in any way have crucified, sacrificed, limited themselves for the love of God and for the sake of His Kingdom and of their fellowmen, is a mystical Christ, a collective Logos, a Word or Manifestation of the Father; and every member of that society is in his measure a Christ, or revealer in whom God is made flesh and dwells in our midst.—TYRRELL.



The sevenfold picture of the character of the children of the Kingdom is complete, and as we look back we see how it was His own character that Jesus was setting before His disciples as the ideal after which they were to strive. He might have summed up all the Beatitudes in the one word, “Blessed are all who follow me.” And many, in those early days, rose up gladly to follow. A life that welcomed poverty and trusted God, and loved mercy and sought for righteousness—surely such a life offered a present good as well as a future blessedness. But before long the early enthusiasm began to wane; the way proved more arduous than men had supposed; contemporary religious opinion frowned on the dangerous laxity of an ethical system that seemed to hold outward forms in small respect. So while the gracious words of the seven Beatitudes were still ringing in men’s ears, Jesus added, probably for the first time, the warning that He repeated so often. He who would follow the way must count the cost. It was no bloodless victory that He called men to achieve. Looking back on the history of the chosen people, He told them that the men who kept loyal to God were always a remnant, sometimes an insignificant minority. Their blessedness was not in the applause of men, or in outward prosperity and success. The moral progress of the world had always been won by suffering. Through much tribulation men must enter into the kingdom of God.


It was a current belief among the Jews that the final establishment of the Messianic Kingdom would be preceded by an outbreak of persecution—the “Great Tribulation”—from which the faithful remnant would be delivered by the advent of the Christ. We see traces of this belief in the Book of Revelation, and some commentators have thought that the clauses of the Lord’s Prayer, “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the Evil One,” contain a reference to this idea of a final time of testing. Certainly Jesus never spoke as though there would come a time when it would be an easy thing to be a Christian. His words are a warning against the facile optimism that regards the martyr-robe and the crown of thorns as sacred relics of an age that has passed away.


Dr. Savage describes this Beatitude as gathering up into one terse summary, as the very climax of the whole series of Beatitudes, the prophet’s picture of the suffering servant of the Lord. “The consecration of willing sacrificial suffering there depicted; the certain spiritual victory of the victim of secular hatred and wrong; and the glorious retribution of redemption, which outweighs all the shame of rejection by the world; these constitute the deepest insight into the mystery of suffering and injustice which was ever attained under the Old Covenant, and give the most graphic description of persecution for righteousness’ sake.”1


In countries like our own, where Christianity has been for long the religion of a considerable proportion of the people, there seems, at first sight, little need for the reassertion of this eighth Beatitude. But every parish priest who is in touch with his people knows how far this is from being the case. When every allowance has been made for men who bring persecution on themselves by eccentricity or ostentatious self-righteousness, it remains true that a working man who tries to live a Christian life is liable to petty annoyances that often amount to real persecution. And it is a question whether the immunity from persecution that many of us enjoy is not purchased at the cost of a certain lowering of the standard of the Christian ideal. For the moral standard of the Christian man must always be in advance of that of the world in which he lives. While it would be absurd to deny that the ethical standard of the modern world is higher than that of the Roman world in the time of Christ, it is easy to exaggerate the amount of progress that has been made. Crude selfishness and frank brutality lurk like wild beasts in the dark places of modern life. The Russian revolution is a warning to us of the way in which large sections of an apparently Christian nation may suddenly repudiate Christ, and reenthrone the old gods of lust and violence. Any such repudiation may seem impossible in this country, but where the Christian ideal demands the sacrifice of material advantages, it is always liable to be treated as an impracticable dream, unsuited to the work-a-day world in which we live. There are not wanting signs that the issue between the Christian ideal and the ideals of the world will become more clearly marked in the new age on which we have entered; that men will be obliged to recognize that there is no immunity from the way of the cross for those who would follow Jesus. Our age is infinitely tolerant of differences of opinion, and a man may believe any creed, or none, without any loss of popularity. But toleration tends to break down when ethical principles are at stake, as the uncompromising demand that Jesus made for right conduct ranged against Him, in the end, many who would have tolerated His theological teaching. For the moral teaching of Jesus was a challenge that could not be evaded. The Beatitudes were the gentle overture of a tragedy and a triumph; through the soft chords sounds the note of an age-long struggle against dark forces of evil that, like the fabled dragon, renew their strength when they seem defeated.


We do not gain the Kingdom of Heaven by a morbid craving for unpopularity and public disapproval.


He who crowns himself is not the more

Royal, or he who mars himself with stripes

The more partaker of the cross of Christ.1


But in social, political and business life, the man who quietly and resolutely maintains the Christian ideal will often find himself in collision with conventions and compromises that he cannot accept without disloyalty. It may seem an exaggeration to describe the opposition that he will experience by the name of persecution, but the pinpricks of public resentment and private hostility are sometimes harder to bear than “the thrill of the bare limbs bound fast for martyrdom.” A man will sometimes be ready to give his life for a cause and yet hesitate to make much smaller sacrifices.


A religion that cost nothing would have no value as a training of the moral character:—


So, duly, daily, needs provision be

For keeping the soul’s prowess possible,

Building new barriers as the old decay,

Saving us from evasion of life’s proof,

Putting the question ever, “Does God love,

And will ye hold that truth against the world?”2


“Against the world”—for God is not on the side of the big battalions, and great moral victories are generally won by men who are prepared to “walk uncowed, by fear or favor of the crowd.” The man who is afraid to face unpopularity in the cause of what he believes to be right has not counted the cost of discipleship. Wilberforce, Clarkson, Joseph Sturge, Richard Oastler, Lord Shaftesbury, F. D. Maurice, Mrs. Josephine Butler, and many other men and women in modern England have had to face obloquy and misrepresentation for righteousness’ sake, and have won the causes for which they fought by what they suffered as well as by what they said.


It is the way the Master went.

Should not the servant tread it still?


What matters is that the apathy or open hostility of men should not make us embittered or fanatical. Our safeguard is in remembering that “even hereunto were ye called, because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example that we should follow His steps.”1 Like the early disciples, we must learn to rejoice if we are counted worthy to suffer dishonour for the Name, following in the footsteps of Him “Who, for the joy that was set before Him, endured the cross, despising the shame.”


Yet we need St. Peter’s warning.1 Persecution that we bring upon ourselves by lack of courtesy and consideration, or by unwillingness to recognize our own fallibility, is not persecution for righteousness’ sake. Meekness, mercifulness, purity of heart, and a great desire for peace, are the necessary qualifications for the moral reformer who enlists under the banner of Christ. They will not secure for him immunity from suffering, but they will give him courage to endure without resentment, and grace to sow, in tears if need be, the moral good that other men will reap. The lesson of Jonah and his gourd is one that we all need to learn, lest in our zeal for righteousness our own moral character suffer shipwreck because we have not entered into fellowship with the pity and the patience of God.



1 Dr. Savage, The Gospel of the Kingdom.


1 Mrs. King, The Disciples.


2 Browning, A Death in the Desert.


1 1 St. Peter 2:21.


1 1 St. Peter 4:15.


Masterman, J. H. B. (1921). Aspects of Christian Character: A Study of the Beatitudes (pp. 106–113). Longmans, Green and Co. (Public Domain)

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