I’ve not faced any serious persecution. I have been made fun of a few times for being a Christian and there have been times when I was treated poorly because of my faith. But I haven’t faced jail time, extreme injustice, or physical torture for following Christ. I’m guessing quite a few of our readers have had similar experiences as I have had. However, perhaps some of our readers have experienced serious persecution from their family, friends, neighbors, or authority figures. There certainly are Christians today who suffer at the hands of evil and brutal persecution simply because they believe in Jesus.
Thankfully the Lord knows the suffering of his people, hears their cries, and does not leave them when they are persecuted. In fact, because he is sovereign, our Father can even use persecution for his glory and for the good of his church. In one section of his 1662 publication, The Crown and Glory of Christianity, Thomas Brooks summarizes various Bible teachings on the advantages of persecution. I’ll summarize some of them below:
- By persecution you will give an evident proof of the soundness and uprightness of your own hearts (Phil. 1:27-29). Afflictions and persecutions will discover what metal men are made of. All is not gold that glisters…he is a golden Christian indeed, who remains gold when under fiery trials. Persecutions will show that the true Christian is the one who built his house on the rock; when storms and winds come, he stands firm.
- All the persecutions which Satan brings against God’s people will not diminish their number, but rather increase them. So it was in Egypt under Pharaoh (Ex. 1:10-13). In the 8th chapter of Acts you read of great persecution and scattering, but it was so far from decreasing the number of believers that in fact their numbers increased greatly. Like Cyprian said, they may kill Christians, but they cannot overcome them.
- The persecutions that befall you in your pursuit of holiness may mean the conversion of others. See Acts 8. Paul was imprisoned for preaching the gospel, and he was content to suffer that God’s elect might be called, saved, and glorified (2 Tim. 2:9-10). Philemon was converted while Paul was in chains; Paul became Philemon’s spiritual father while in bonds (Philem. 10). Prisons in these times are made into churches. Luther once said, “The church converteth the world by blood and prayer.” So neither fear nor faint during persecution.
- The persecutions that Christians meet in their pursuit of holiness will further the increase and growth of their grace. Grace [Christian virtue] never rises to so great a height as it does in times of persecution. Suffering times are a Christian’s harvest times (Ps. 69). As one said of the French Protestants, “When Papists hurt us for reading the Scriptures, we burn with zeal to be reading them; but now that persecution is over, our Bibles are like old, dusty almanacs.” As stars shine brightest in the darkest nights, so the graces of the saints shine brightest in times of persecution.
- Persecution unites Christians. In times of peace and prosperity there is division, discord, biting and quarreling among Christians. But when persecution comes upon them, this unites them together! When a storm or wolf comes, sheep huddle together. Sometimes Christians who cannot stand to talk to one another in times of peace become close brothers in times of persecution.
- Times of persecution are times when truth advances. Truth thrives most when it is most opposed and persecuted. Philippians 1:12-14 says that the persecutions that happened to Paul caused a furtherance in the gospel. By Paul’s chains others were emboldened and encouraged to preach the word without fear. After Stephen was martyred, the scattered Christians preached the gospel.
- Persecution is a time for the Christian’s joy. A Christian’s heart is never so full of joy as it is when he suffers. Acts 5:41: ‘…rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for His Name.’ Stephen found the joys of heaven in his heart as the stones came clattering around his ears (Acts 7:55-56). So Paul and Silas sang for joy in prison. See also Romans 5:3-4.
- To suffer persecution is the greatest and highest honor you are capable of in this world. The crown of a martyr is a crown that angels are not capable of winning or wearing. 1 Peter 4:14 says if you are reproached for the name of Christ, blessed are you, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you.” The apostles all along counted their sufferings for Christ their highest honor (cf. Heb. 11:36-38). The world was not worthy of those being persecuted for righteousness’ sake.
- Though persecutions may come with your pursuit of holiness, God has a thousand thousand ways to preserve you from being destroyed by persecuting hands. Several afflictions and persecutions came upon Paul at Antioch, Iconium, and Lystra, but the Lord delivered him out of them all (2 Tim. 3:11, see Acts 18, 19). As a righteous cause led him into sufferings, so a righteous God led him out of sufferings.
- Finally, all the persecutions that you meet on earth will advance your glory in heaven. The more saints are persecuted on earth, the greater shall their reward be in heaven. As persecutions increase a Christian’s grace, so they do advance a Christian’s glory. Matthew 5:10-12: Blessed are they that are persecuted for righteousness’ sake…rejoice and be glad, for great is your reward in heaven.” So also Luke 6:22-23. The more afflictions and persecutions multiplied upon them in this world, the greater shall be their recompense in another world. Chrysostom hit the nail on the head when he said that if one man should suffer all the sorrows of all the saints in the world, yet they are not worth one hour’s glory in heaven.
If you have been are being persecuted, these are great biblical reminders. Also, for those of us not being persecuted, if the time comes, we do well to remember these blessed truths. God is sovereign even in and through persecution.
The above summarized and edited quotes by Thomas Brooks are found in volume 4 of his Works, p. 281-300.
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)