When, towards the close of his career, Paul is writing to Timothy, he makes a deeply-interesting allusion to the circumstances which now engage our attention. “Thou hast fully known,” he says to that beloved disciple, “my doctrine, manner of life, purpose, faith, long-suffering, charity, patience, persecutions, afflictions, which came upon me at Antioch, at Iconium, at Lystra: what persecutions I endured, but out of them all the Lord delivered me. Yea, and all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution.”
Here the apostle alludes to afflictions and persecutions with which the history makes us acquainted; but these, even all that are written, though enough is written for our profit, form but a part of the trials of his entire career, of which Timothy knew more than we shall ever in this world know. We have, however, an abridgment of his life, written by his own hand, and what a record of suffering and trial it is! Some of the particulars to which he refers we can trace, but many of them we do not recognize among the recorded facts of his history. “Are they ministers of Christ? I speak as a fool: I am more. In labors more abundant, in stripes above measure, in prisons more frequent, in deaths oft. Of the Jews five times received I forty stripes save one. Thrice I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, thrice I suffered shipwreck, a night and a day I have been in the deep; in journeyings often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils by mine own countrymen, in perils by the heathen, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren; in weariness and painfulness, in watchings often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness. Besides those things that are without, that which cometh upon me daily, the care of all the churches. Who is weak, and I am not weak? who is offended, and I burn not?” Note: 2Co_11:23-29. And this terrible catalogue of sufferings was written, it will be observed, during that long residence at Ephesus, recorded in the nineteenth chapter of Acts, when Paul had hardly completed two-thirds of his course, and he had still ten years to labor—that is, to suffer, in his Master’s cause. Thus largely had the Lord fulfilled the promise made at his call to his great work: “I will show him how great things he must suffer for my name sake.” Note: Act_9:16.
And was this vocation of suffering peculiar to Paul and to the times in which he lived? Let this question be answered by another: “Then is the offence of the cross ceased?” It is to preclude this idea that the apostle adds, “Yea, and all that will live godly in Christ Jesus, shall suffer persecution.” Doubtless, in thus speaking to Timothy, he had a leading reference to the then present time, and meant to impress upon him that he was not to expect exemption from the like sufferings. But that he did not limit his meaning to this application, is clear from the exceedingly general terms in which this declaration is made: “All;” all that do what? Not merely all who, like himself, went forth into the active warfare against “principalities and powers” for Christ’s sake, but all who will do what every sincere Christian must do in all ages—“All who will live godly in Christ Jesus.” Conformable to this is the intimation which Paul and Barnabas made to the converts generally, as they returned upon their former steps in this very journey: “exhorting them to continue in the faith, and that we must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God.” Note: Act_14:22. Here, again, is an object and aim common to all believers in every age. Our Lord’s own declarations are entirely to the same purport.
The thing is, indeed, plain and inevitable as a matter of declaration; and if it were not of declaration, it might be made clear by invincible reasoning. We know that “whatever is in the world, the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father but of the world.” Note: 1Jn_2:16. These are the things the carnal mind seeks after and rests on. But “the carnal mind is at enmity with God;” Note: Rom_8:7. and necessarily, “the friendship of the world is enmity with God.” Note: Jas_4:4. He, therefore, who takes up his cross to follow the Lamb whithersoever he goeth; he who “will give godly in Christ Jesus,” does, by that act and purpose, turn his back upon the world, and renounce that friendship which is at enmity with God. The world will then be affronted, and its hostility roused. In some ages and countries it will be shown after this manner; and in other ages and countries after that; but shown it will be, in some form or other. If our religion be of that neutral tint that rouses not the enmity of the world; if the world cannot, from our walk and conversation, take knowledge of us that we have been with Jesus, we may then indeed escape this; but woe unto us, if we so escape! And let us look well to ourselves if our religion be of that sort which the world regards with no distaste, which does not provoke its hostility, which is compatible with the retention of its friendship.
In this age and country we have not now to expect the lash, the rack, the fagot, or the sword; but it is not the less true that those who will live godly in Christ Jesus must suffer persecution. There is the alienation of relatives and friends, there is the forfeiture of many social advantages, there is the exclusion of men from the society they are fitted to adorn and improve. There is the quiet neglect, the cold shrug, the contemptuous sneer, the derisive laugh, the unworthy depreciation. There is the distress of witnessing the brightest, or at least most popular intellects of the age, employed in systematically or habitually holding up all really serious religion to contempt and scorn, as so much cant and hypocrisy, swindle, or foolishness.
All this, however, was to be expected. These, and things like these, make up the burden of that cross which our Master calls us to take up and bear after Him. Indeed, if our religion be of that kind which can bear the eye of man, which can escape his contumely, it is questionable how far it will bear the eye of God.
There is, in fact, less of this persecution now than formerly. Religion is a more comfortable thing. The world seems to hate it less intensely, and even, to a large extent, regards it as a decent and creditable thing. How is this? Has the world become less worldly? Has its enmity to the things of God abated? Or is it that the church has become more worldly? Has it kept out of the world’s sight, and even out of its own sight, those holy roughnesses on its fair but earnest face, at which the world took most offence? We tremble to press too closely for an answer to this question, and prefer to offer the words of a wise and eloquent preacher, which bear very distinctly on this question. “If you share the feelings with which St. Paul has inspired me, and which continue to grow by the renewed study of his life; if you have been penetrated with veneration, with gratitude, and with love, for the apostle of the Gentiles, I rejoice at this, but only on one condition: it is, that you do not stop there; it is, that you will seek for yourselves that which you praise in him; it is, that you will not dispense with the duty of imitation for the pleasure of admiration; it is, in short, that you will not deceive yourselves by substituting this fine but fruitless word, ‘Be admirers of me,’ for that earnest and fruitful one ventured on by the holy apostle, ‘Be ye followers of me.’…
“If, indeed, your tastes are for worldly things, for worldly glory, for worldly fortune, for worldly satisfaction, or even for worldly affections, do not trust yourselves to the example of St. Paul and to the application which I make of it. It is not without significance, that while hearing me speak of imitating him, you perceive within yourselves an unseen hand hastening to protect your money, your comforts, your human renown, and your idolatrous attachments. This movement has the promptness of an instinct, but it is also an intelligent one. All this hoard of selfish pleasure, you risk its loss by engaging to imitate St. Paul. The sacrifice was demanded of him, and he made it; it may be required of you also, and it will be the more painful in proportion to that which is sacrificed. Ah! if Jesus Christ were to require you to exchange the general good opinion which you enjoy, for the humiliations of his life and the opprobrium of his death: the riches which abound in your houses, for the abasement and destitution of his poverty—mark that, his poverty; that comfortable life, that delicate bringing-up, all those desires gratified as soon as formed, for the privations, the disquietudes, the sufferings of the body; the intense solicitude, or the sweet society of those dearly-loved ones, who are the delight of your eyes and the joy of your heart, for separation, bereavement, and bitter solitude. Do you think within yourselves that you would be ready to bear the loss of all things, so that you may win Christ? If you can say with St. Peter, ‘I am ready to go with thee both to prison and to death,’ it only remains that you examine yourselves, lest you should be deceiving yourselves. But if you inwardly answer, ‘This is a hard saying, who can bear it?’ all is said. I do not here decide whether your soul can be saved such as you are; but it is very certain, such as you are you will not be a follower of St. Paul.” Note: St. Paul: Five Discourses. By A. Monod.