The Christian religion is certainly the most persecuted worldwide. But some people feel that, despite growing hostility to Christian values, it is going too far to speak about persecution in the West. Others speak of an evangelical persecution complex. We tend to associate it with physical violence but persecution actually extends to thought control. If it is impossible to be in a particular job with certain biblical convictions (even unexpressed) then those beliefs are certainly being persecuted. When we turn to Scripture, it is in fact clear that all Christians should expect persecution to some degree.
Christ says, “If they have persecuted me, they will also persecute you” (John 15:20). The context of this verse shows that such persecution arises from contempt for the teaching of faithful and godly ministers. A media culture that attacks and ridicules every area of Christian values is one that is constantly both excluding and targeting the Christian conscience. The secular inquisition seems relentless.
Recently a Middle Eastern underground house church leader was quoted as follows: “Persecution is easier to understand when it’s physical: torture, death, imprisonment…American persecution is like an advanced stage of cancer; it eats away at you, yet you cannot feel it. This is the worst kind of persecution.” It echoes what Francis Schaeffer once said: “I believe that pluralistic secularism, in the long run, is a more deadly poison than straightforward persecution.”
Scripture also says “all that will live godly in Christ Jesus, shall suffer persecution” (2 Timothy 3:12). As David Dickson comments, “it is the common lot, not only of pastors, but of all Christians, to suffer afflictions and persecutions for the gospel’s sake”. If they are living godly in Christ Jesus, Christians in the west are experiencing some form of persecution and should expect it. Persecution of various kinds has been the normative experience of the Church down through the ages. Perhaps we need to dwell on these considerations a great deal more than we do. If persecution increases in the future, will we have a theology of suffering for Christ (as it were) that will sustain us? In the following video clip we have an example of when believers suddenly needed to put their theology of suffering for Christ into practice.
Robert MacWard (1633–1687) knew what it was to suffer for Christ. In 1661, in the midst of preaching he solemnly protested against the way in which Charles II’s government were forcibly overturning the Second Reformation. He was arrested and imprisoned in the Tolbooth on a charge of treason. He was sentenced to be banished and spent the remainder of his life ministering in Holland. He wrote and published books to strengthen those suffering in Scotland, including Samuel Rutherford’s letters. One of these was called The Poor Man’s Cup of Cold Water ministered to the Saints and Sufferers for Christ in Scotland, who are amid the Scorching Flames of the Fiery Trial; it was printed in 1676. MacWard was speaking to people who were suffering in the extreme. MacWard speaks of their “huntings, harassings, and hidings”. Those who attended the conventicles faced heavy fines, exile, slavery and even imprisonment. Ultimately summary execution was used against them with abandon. MacWard earnestly encouraged them that God could be very near to them they were forced to “lie as among the pots, and are black with the smoke of that fiery furnace, heated seven times beyond what you or your fathers have found, or could have feared”. The following updated extract speaks about suffering for Christ being something that the faithful Christian cannot avoid. A Christian was forced to choose “he must either go with the drove of those who depart from the living God” or stand out in adhering to God and departing from “these workers of iniquity…[and] opposing their Christ-opposing courses” despite their fury.
We Cannot Avoid Suffering for Christ
The true reason why there is so little of real Christianity to be found among Christians, is that we do not consider that Christianity is the soul shaped by the blessed mould of non-conformity to the world and conformity to Christ. Bearing His blessed name does not only mean association with Him, it also obliges us to be conformed to Him. Without this we will not have benefit from Him and can never make it apparent that we share the anointing that bearing this blessed name implies. Few who profess Christianity strive to know the excellency of this condition – its special comforts and duties – and how closely these are connected.
You are not of the world. Since there is so great a change made in your condition and in your conduct in contrast with the world do not think these fiery trials strange. You must go through such until you get through the world. He who does not look on suffering as his daily work, has not received Christ Jesus aright. Whosoever would be the disciple of Christ must take up his cross daily and follow Him. This cross must be what Christ chooses and is pleased to lay on us. The cross is the necessary concomitant of a Christian. Sharp conflict must take place before the conqueror’s crown is obtained. We must expect to meet with such fiery trials as will consume our darling idols into ashes for some means must be used to removed our right eye and right hand that have made us offend. We must and may expect to meet with the saddest trouble and the most intolerable sharp trials from an unexpected source and direction. The people and things which should give the people of God most comfort often prove the source of the calamities they endure and the means by which they are afflicted.
We still think there is a way (because we desire it and often make a way where God has not) to evade these hard sayings, shun these heavy things and yet come to heaven. We imagine it is possible to pass through the world with the world’s good will and be religious too. But this is to be wise above what is written. The devil must first cease to lie, murder and way-lay those that are going to heaven. The enmity between the seed of the woman and the seed of the serpent, must first be abolished, or changed into perfect amity (which shall never be). All this would need to happen before the day could dawn that the traveller to heaven did not need to reckon on meeting with trouble in the way.
The World Hates Godliness
The wicked have such complete hatred for God that they hate His image in His children. They do not like but rather hate even the (so-called) godliness of a hypocrite. They do so, not because of the evil that lies below the surface, but because of the good that appears outwardly. There is a light in the Christian’s life who walks as a child of light, which exposes the blemishes of the profane world around him. This light also has a heat which scorches and troubles their conscience. This is why they cannot endure them but take every opportunity to deal with them as if they are come to torment them before the time by their shining and burning. This ought to fortify us in being resolved to prepare for the worse the world can do. This must be so, for all who will live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution (2 Timothy 3:12).
Persecution Must Increase as Apostasy Increases
It is madness to think otherwise, since our time is a time of defection and shameful apostasy and this has always been found to be a time of hot persecution. The practice of apostates has always been to hate as hell those that stand fast in owning the cause of God which they have relinquished. They treat them like the worst of men. A man who resolves to keep his conscience void of offence towards God must take his life in his hands. He must be ready to part with it when his lot is to live in a time and place where those who have made shipwreck of faith and a good conscience are in power.
Apostasy is the special sin of devils. Satan is the great apostate who hates all that set their faces heaven-ward and are servants of God. They seek God and that blessedness from which he for his apostasy is everlastingly banished. Anyone whom Satan draws away from the ways of the Lord into the guilt of apostasy are by him driven into the same sin of hatred. They persecute those who hold on their way, adhere to the precious truths they have forsaken and are followers of God as dear children. This should alarm everyone into watchfulness against the very first and smallest degrees of defection from the good old ways of God.
Watch Against the Least Defection
It is dangerous for someone (though mainly sound) to slip from one degree of their zeal and integrity (even merely omitting to stand up for defence of the gospel when assaulted by enemies). They can quickly slide, before they are aware, into censuring and despising fellow believers who will not do the same. Such frequently become more active and industrious to draw others away than to strengthen the things that remain and are ready to die in a time of decline.
The enemies of God have not yet finished and therefore you are best to prepare for new assaults and make provision against the evil day. Blessed are those, who in this dismal day, will not be offended in Christ, but will endure to the end. Expect the worst that violence and enmity armed with power and enflamed with revenge can make you suffer. If we have such foresight and preparation we will not be amazed or taken off guard when we meet with what we were expecting.
Hold Out and Hold On
Hold out and hold on in firm resolution, even though it comes to resisting unto blood after you are robbed and spoiled of your goods. There is nothing in all these fires and waters, dangers and deaths you have to pass through which can make a soul that knows in whom they have believed go back from his master and walk no more with him. When Christ asked whether the disciples would also leave Him they answered with fervent resolve. They could not for He had the words of eternal life (John 6:68). No matter who else would leave, they were forever tied to continue with Him. Eternal life which is in Christ, is to be had by abiding with Him. We must forsake all in following Christ, and be willing to be forsaken of all.