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"Yet if any man suffer as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God on this behalf."
– 1 Peter 4:16
IN the latter part of the first age, the rage of Jews and Gentiles was exceedingly stimulated by the prevalence of the gospel; the apostles, therefore, considered themselves as especially called to comfort and encourage their suf fering brethren. With this view, Peter reminded the disciples of Christ of the obligations they were under to suffer for their religion, and suggested a variety of motives to persuade them to do it cheerfully. See context: also 3:14-18.
We are not in similar circumstances with the first Christians; hence, the danger of our religion being superficial; yet, if any man's piety and decision of character subject him to suffering, "let him not be ashamed." We may therefore state,
1. What is implied in suffering as a Christian.
2. Why characters who thus suffer should not be ashamed.
3. Their duty under suffering circumstances.
The term Christian was given to the disciples of Christ first at Antioch, and is used in three places only in the New Testament, viz. here; in Acts 11:26; and 26:28. It imports nothing less than an experimental and practical believer in the Lord Jesus Christ. To suffer as a Christian, is,
(a) To suffer in the character of a Christian. Where piety has its seat in the heart, it will appear in the life; hence believers are the salt of the earth, to spread a salutary influence, and save the world from moral putrefaction - the light of the world; as such they are to shine brighter and brighter to the perfect day - a city set on a hill, to be seen and identified by all, Matt. 5:13-16. It was never the design of the Head of the church that any of its members should seclude themselves from society, John 17:15. It is the duty of all who believe in Christ to confess him before men, Matt. 10:32, 33; and to conceal our religion is a tacit denial of Christ, and opposed to the doctrine of our text.
(b) To suffer for discharging the duties of a Christian. Christianity frees its possessors from the slavery of custom; they are governed by the high principles of religion. In the service of God, like Joshua (24:15), and Daniel (6:10), they are undaunted. Whatever is the opinion of the world, the work of God is to them of paramount importance. In domestic life, they are faithful, conscientious, and obliging; as religious characters, they are fixed in their views, and bold in their profession; in the civil world, they are true and just in all their dealings, embodying principle and conscience in each action; while, as subjects of the realm, they are peaceable and quiet. If, therefore, such a conduct subject them to suffering, "let them not be ashamed."
(c) To suffer in the spirit of a Christian. If human enemies rise against you, think it not strange, but "in patience possess ye your souls," Luke 21:19. Should their unkindness and sin lead to an unjust impeachment of your character, the injury of your person or circumstances, suffer not the spirit of revenge to betray you into sin. "Recompense to no man evil for evil," Rom. 12:17; but, if it be possible, "live peaceably with all men," (v.18); and "if thine enemy hunger, feed him," (v.20, 21). Like our Lord, be ready to forgive, and shew that you have added to your courage, patience, &c. 2 Pet. 1:5 - 7. Let not persecution, either in its mild or terrific forms, intimidate you; remember him, "who, when he was reviled, reviled not again," &c. 1 Pet. 2:23; take also for your example the apostles of our Lord, who would say, "Being reviled, we bless," &c. I Cor. 4:12. Let that mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, Phil. 2:5. Let us therefore consider,
(i) Because they suffer innocently. "If any man suffer as a murderer, or as a thief, or as an evil doer, or as a busy-body in other men's matters," he has cause to be ashamed; but if innocent, his record is with God, and he partakes of that satisfaction which is the good man's inheritance, Prov. 14:14. Let the craft and subtlety of the devil and man be directed against you, the shield of innocence will repel every dart. "Blessed are ye when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely for my sake," &c. Matt. 5:10 - 12.
(ii) They suffer in a good cause. Not like the man whom justice has arrested for dishonesty - the law condemned for perjury, or sentenced to death for murder; theirs is the cause of truth, justice, mercy, benevolence, and piety. Their business is to get good and do good - to injure no one by word or deed; and while their motto is " Holiness to the Lord," and in all things they seek to glorify him who has bought them with his blood, they should not be ashamed.
(iii) They suffer from the purest motive. Their conscientious exactness is not the result of fostered peculiarity, or with a view to be singular. God is their witness, that with sincerity and simplicity they wish to walk before him. His will is their law - his glory their end; and they esteem the approbation of God more than any thing this world can afford.
(iv) They suffer for a blessed Master. He is a high Priest who is touched with a feeling of their infirmities, Heb. 4:15; and what they suffer for him, though painful, will conduce to their good, Rom. 8:28; 2 Cor. 4:16-18. "Think it not strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you," &c. (v. 12, 13); "for unto you it is given in the behalf of Christ, not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for his sake," Phil. 1:29; "and if we suffer, we shall also reign with him," 2 Tim. 2:12.
(v) They suffer in imitation of the brightest examples. Look at the catalogue of patriarchs, kings, priests, and prophets (Heb.10), whose intrepidity, faith, patience, and purity, they follow. They have a noble army of martyrs before their eyes, and as their great example, a suffering Saviour, Heb. 12:1-3. Let us therefore consider,
viz. to "glorify God on this behalf." We are not, however, to suppose that man can add anything to the essential glory of God; but they are to glorify God by,
1. Devoutly ackowledging Him and his gifts, 1 Chron. 29:11, 12; confessing him "worthy to receive honour, glory, might and majesty," Rev. 4:11. The very circumstance of their suffering should prompt them to this.
2. By firmness in the day of trial. Let them consider him who endured the contradiction of sinners against himself, and not be discouraged; let nothing shake their firmness, I Cor.15:58; but imitate the example of the disciples, who continued with their Lord in hls temptations, Luke 22:28, 29. When the service of God demands their attention, let not secondary considerations discourage them. He who, for fear of persecution, or for the sake of his temporal interest, abandons religion, shall lose his soul; and he who, in the time of persecution, abjures the religion of Christ, is not only in danger of losing his soul, but his life, Matt. 10:39. "He that findeth his life shall lose it." That was literally fulfilled in Archbishop Cranmer, who for confessing Christ against the devil and the pope, was ordered to be burnt; to save his life he recanted, and was, notwithstanding, burnt. In the service of God, we must persevere, fearless of consequences. Honour God, and God will honour you, 1 Sam. 2:30.
3. By a faithful and patient endurance of suffering. Should conflicts increase, friends forsake, and enemies combine against you, "rejoice, inasmuch as ye are partakers of Christ's suffering,"&c. v. 13. Think it not strange if an ungodly world should hate you, John 15:18. "All that will live godly in Jesus Christ, shall suffer persecution," 2 Tim.3:12; therefore, "in your patience, possess your souls," Lule 21:19. "Let patience have her perfect work," Jas. 1:4; and glorify God in the exercise of that grace which his own hand has planted, and which his providence has suffered to be exercised.
To this act of glorifying God, they are encouraged from,
a. The declarations and promises he has made. These are many, great, and various, Isa. 41:10; 43:1,2; 54:17; Matt. 10:32, Jas. 1:12; Rev. 2:10; 22:7.
b. The honour it will confer upon them. Let the warrior have his blood-stained laurel, boast of the immensity of his possessions purchased by the gore of his fellow men, and spread his fame from pole to pole; a nobler reward awaits them; their names shall continue when the annals of history are destroyed - their inheritance will not fade away - their memorial will endure for ever, 1 Pet. 1:3- 5; Psa. 112:6.
1. Let us examine our experience by this test. Do I believe in, and love the Lord Jesus Christ? Am I modestly, ye boldly, confessing him before the world? Can I patiently and cheerfully suffer for his sake?
2. Let us encourage ourselves in the Lord. In such a cause, for such a Master, with such promises, and in the strength of grace, let us pursue our course. Victory, rest, and glory are before us.
3. Let us pray for our persecutors. Their state is awful - it is dangerous. May the Lord our God grant them repentance unto life!