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Special Directions to Escape the Guilt of Persecuting. Determining also the Case about Liberty in matters of Religion.
Though this be a subject which the guilty cannot endure to hear of, yet the misery of persecutors, the blood and groans, and ruins of the church, and the lamentable divisions of professed Christians, do all command me not to pass it by in silence; but to tell them the truth, “Whether they will hear, or whether they will forbear; ” though they were such as Ezek. iii. 7–9. 11. Direct. 1. If you would escape this dreadful guilt, “Understand well what persecution is.” Else you may either run into it ignorantly, or oppose a duty as if it were perse cution. The verb ‘persequor' is often taken in a good sense, for no more than ‘continuato motu vel ad extremum sequor;” and sometimes for the blameless prosecution of a delinquent : but we take it here as the English word ‘persecute’ is most commonly taken, for “inimico affectu insequor;” a malicious or injurious hurting or persecuting another, and that for the sake of religion or righteousness. For it is not common injuries which we here intend to speak of. Three things then go to make up persecution. 1. That it be the hurting of another, in his body, liberty, relations, estate or reputation. 2. That it be done injuriously, to one who deserveth it not, in the particular which is the cause. 3. That it be for the cause of religion, or of righteousness, that is, for the truth of God which we hold or utter; or for the worship of God which we perform; or for obedience to the will of God revealed in his laws. This is the cause on the sufferer's part, whatever is intended by the persecutor. There are divers sorts of persecutions. As to the principles of the persecutors. 1. There is a persecution which is openly professed to be for the cause of religion; as heathens and Mahometans persecute Christians as Christians. And there is an hypocritical persecution when the pretended cause is some odious crime, but the real cause is men's religion, or obedience to God. This is the common perse
cution, which nominal Christians exercise on serious Christians, or on one another. They will not say that they persecute them, because they are godly or serious Christians, but that is the true cause: for if they will but set them above God, and obey them against God, they will abate their persecution. Many of the heathens thus persecuted the Christians too, under the name of ungodly, and evildoers; but the true cause was, because they obeyed not their commands in the worshipping of their idol gods. So do the Papists persecute and murder men, not as professors of the truth, (which is the true cause), but under the name of heretics and schismatics, or rebels against the pope, or whatever their malice pleaseth to accuse them of. And profane, nominal Christians seldom persecute the serious and sincere directly by that name, but under some nickname which they set upon them, or under the name of hypocrites, or self-conceited, or factious persons, or such like. And if they live in a place, and age, where there are many civil wars or differences, they are sure to fetch some odious name or accusation thence: which side soever they are on ; or if they meddle not on any side, they are sure by every party whom they please not, to hear religion loaded with such reproaches as the times will allow them to vent against it. Even the Papists who take this course with Protestants, it seems by Acosta are so used themselves, not by the heathens; but by one another, yea, by the multitude, yea, by their priests. For so saith he, speaking of the parish priests among the Indians, having reproved their dicing, carding, hunting, idleness. Lib. iv. cap. 15. pp. 404,405. “Itaque is cui pastoralis Indorum cura committitur, non solum contra diaboli machinas et naturae incentiva pugnare debet; sed jam etiam confirmatae hominum consuetudini et tempore et turba praepotentisese objicere; et ad excipienda invidorum ac malevolorum tela forte pectus opponere; qui siquid a profano suo instituto abhorrentem viderint; proditorem, hypocritam, hostem clamant: ” that is, “He therefore to whom the pastoral care of the Indians is committed, must not only fight against the engines of the devil, and the incentives of nature; but also now must object or set himself against the confirmed custom of men, which is grown very powerful both by time, and by the multitude; and must valiantly oppose his breast, to receive the darts of the envious and malevolent, who if they see anything contrary to their profane fashion (or breeding) cry out, A traitor, an hypocrite, an enemy.” It seems then that this is a common COurse. 2. Persecution is either done in ignorance or knowledge. The commonest persecution is that which is done in ignorance and error; when men think a good cause to be bad, or a bad cause to be good, and so persecute truth, while they take it to be falsehood, or good while they take it to be evil, or obtrude by violence their errors for truths, and their evils as good and necessary things. Thus Peter testifieth of the Jews, who killed the Prince of life; “I know that through ignorance you did it, as did also your rulers".” And Paul; “Which none of the princes of this world knew : for had they known it, they would not have crucified the Lord of Glory".” And Christ himself saith, “These things will they do unto you, because they have not known the Father, nor me".” And Paul saith of himself, “I thought verily with myself, that I ought to do many things contrary to Jesus of Nazareth, which thing I also did",” &c. And, “that it was ignorantly in unbelief, that he was a blasphemer, a persecutor and injurious".” And on the other side, some persecute truth and goodness, while they know it to be so. Not because it is truth or goodness, but because it is against their carnal, worldly interest and inclination. As the conscience of a worldling, a drunkard, a whoremonger, beareth witness against his sin while he goeth on in it; so ofttimes doth the conscience of the persecutor; and he hath secret convictions, that those whom he persecuteth, are better and happier than himself. 3. As to the cause, sometimes persecution is for Christianity and godliness in the gross, or for some great essential point; and sometimes it is only for some particular truth or duty, and that perhaps of a lower nature; so small or so dark, that it is become a great controversy, whether it be truth or error, duty or sin. In some respects it is more comfortable to the persecuted, and more heinous in the persecutor, that the suffering be for the greatest things. For this leaveth no doubt in the mind, whether our cause be good or not; and this sheweth that the persecutor's mind is most alien to God and truth: but in some other respect, it is an aggravation of the sin of the persecutor, and of the comfort of the persecuted, when it is for smaller truths and duties. For it is a sign of great uncharitableness and cruelty, when men can find in their hearts to persecute others for little things: and it is a sign of a heart that is true to God, and very sincere, when we will rather suffer anything from man, than renounce the smallest truth of God, or commit the smallest sin against him, or omit the smallest duty, when it is a duty. 4. Sometimes persecution is directly for religion; that is, for matters of professed faith or worship: and sometimes it is for a civil or a common cause; yet still it is for our obedience to God (or else it is not the persecution which we speak of) though the matter of it be some common or civil thing: as if I were persecuted merely for giving to the poor, or helping the sick, or for being loyal to my prince, and to the laws, or for doing my duty to my parents, or because I will not bear false witness, or tell a lie, or subscribe a falsehood, or any such like ; this is truly persecution, whatever the matter of it be, as long it is truly for obeying God, that we undergo the suffering. I omit many other less considerable distributions: and also those afflictions which are but improperly called persecutions; (as when a man is punished for a fault in a greater measure than it deserveth. This is injustice but not persecution, (unless it be his religion and obedience to God, which is the secret cause of it.) Direct. 11. “Understand well the greatness of the sin of persecution, that you may be kept in a due fear of being tempted to it.' Here therefore I shall show you how great a sin it is. 1. Persecution is a fighting against God: so it is called Acts v. 39. And to fight against God, is odious malignity, and desperate folly. 1. It is venomous malignity, for a creature to fight against his Creator, and a sinner against his Redeemer who would save him; and for so blind a worm to rise up against the wisdom of the all-knowing God! And for so vile a sinner to oppose the Fountain of Love and Goodness? 2. And what folly can be greater, than for a mole to reproach the sun for darkness? Or a lump of earth to take up arms against the Almighty, terrible God? Art thou able to make good thy cause against him 2 Or to stand before him when he is offended, and chargeth thee with sin! Hear a Pharisee, “And now I say unto you, refrain from these men, and let them alone; for if this counsel, or this work be of men, it will come to nought: but if it be of God, ye cannot overthrow it; lest haply ye be found to fight against God'.” Or hear Christ himself, “I am Jesus, whom thou persecutest; it is hard for thee to kick against the pricks 8. With bare feet or hands to beat the thorns ! How unmeet a match is man for God! He needeth not so much as a word to take away thy soul, and crush thee to the lowest hell. His will alone can lay thee under thy deserved pains. Canst thou conquer the Almighty God? Wilt thou assault the power which was never overcome, or storm Jehovah's throne or kingdom? First try to take down the sun, and moon, and stars from the firmament, and to stop the course of the rivers, or of the sea; and to rebuke the winds, and turn night into day, and winter into summer, and decrepid age into vigorous youth. Attempt not greater matters till thou hast performed these: it is a greater matter than any of these, to conquer God, whose cause thou fightest against. Hear him again; “Woe unto him that striveth with his Maker: let the potsherd strive with the potsherds of the earth. Shall the clay say to him that fashioneth it, What makest thou?” Orthy work, “He hath no hands"!” And Isaiah xlv. 2. “Who would set the briars and thorns against me in battle? I would go through them, I would burn them together.” Woe to the man that is not content to fight with men, but chooseth the most dreadful God to be his enemy It had been better for thee, that all the world had been against thee! 2. Persecution opposeth the gracious design of our Redeemer, and hindereth his Gospel, and work of mercy to the world, and endeavoureth the ruin of his kingdom upon earth. Christ came to save men, and persecutors raise up their power against him, as if they envied salvation to the