Eighth Sermon: Matthew 5:10
"Blessed are they which are persecuted for the sake of justice; for theirs is the kingdom of heaven." (Matthew 5:10.)
The blessings upon the persecuted immediately follows the blessing upon the peacemakers, and it might appear at first sight that there is no special connection between them; but when we understand that the Word of God is written in a series, and that each thing connects with that which precedes it and with that which follows it, we know at once that there is some connection between the idea of persecution and the idea of peacemaking. We have already seen what this connection is. We have seen that by the "pure in heart" are meant those in whom the internal man has been formed anew, preparatory to the regeneration of the external, and that the conflict between the internal and the external is what is meant by peacemaking, because peace, the peace of heaven, is the result of spiritual war, and is acquired in no other way. The conflict arises because the external man assaults the internal, or those who are external men assault those who are internal, being inspired by the evil spirits who occupy the imaginary heavens, and who have put on a garment of external holiness for the sake of deceiving and ruling over the simple and the well-disposed. These latter are internal men, though not as yet instructed in the things of the kingdom of heaven; but as soon as they are instructed, their love of truth is assailed, and hence it is said that they are "persecuted for the sake of justice."
In the Greek language, the word persecute signifies to put into rapid motion, to pursue, to follow eagerly. The idea is that of energetic and at the same time malignant pursuit, as of dogs after a wounded deer, or as when the deer stands at bay and there is conflict. The meaning is similar in the English word persecute, namely, to pursue with the purpose of injury, to grieve or afflict another, to harass, punish or endeavor to destroy the property, life or good name of another. It is especially applied to persecution of any one on account of his religious opinion or mode of worship.
When the natural idea of persecution is applied to the spiritual life of man, or to his regeneration, we are quite ready to see what is involved in the spiritual sense of the text. There is indeed a manifest suggestion of spiritual persecution, or spiritual temptation, in the definition which applies the word to persecution of another on account of his religious opinion or mode of worship; for this in reality presents to our view that thing in the Writings which is called spiritual temptation. We are told that the distress and grief in which man is when his faith is assaulted, when attack is made upon the doctrine which he believes and loves, when the spiritual truth of the Word which he has made a principle of life and conscience is assailed with bitterness and malignity,—that the distress and grief of heart which arises when that which is valued above all things is placed in jeopardy, —this is spiritual temptation, and brings before us the subject of the text, "Blessed are they which are persecuted for the sake of justice; for of such is the kingdom of heaven."
There is involved in the idea of persecution a condition that is most general. There is nothing that exists that is not in danger of assault or attack, in danger of the destruction of its form and mode of activity; and there is nothing that exists that does not resist this attack upon its constitution, structure, mode of life, or use. Even in the mineral kingdom, every pebble or grain of sand, every piece of metal or mineral, is in danger of what we call destruction from the corroding or biting acids of nature, or from other causes; and it may or may not successfully resist this attack. In the vegetable kingdom, every seed, plant, flower or fruit is environed by its enemies, and it may successfully resist, or may be compelled to yield its life as the result of attack. Every animal is in the same situation, and there is no exception in animal life to this fact of nature. Every man, as soon as he is born, begins to be persecuted, or his natural life attacked; dangers attend the life of the body at every step of its growth. It is so with the spiritual man, or man after his spiritual birth in adult age, and hence we read of the great red dragon which stood before the woman to devour her child as soon as it was born. (Rev. 12:4.)
We find the subject of spiritual persecution, which is spiritual temptation, in the Word throughout, either expressed or involved. It is the burden of most of the Psalms, and it is in nearly every chapter of the Prophets and the historical parts of the Word. The Lord often spoke of it to His disciples, as when He said, "But beware of men; for they will deliver you up to the councils, and they will scourge you in their synagogues; and ye shall be brought before governors and kings for my sake, for a testimony against them and the Gentiles." (Matthew 10:17, 18.) "Remember the word that I spake unto you, The servant is not greater than his Lord. If they have persecuted me, they will also persecute you; if they have kept my saying, they will keep yours also." (John 15:20.) "They which are sown in stony ground have no root in themselves, and so endure but for a time, afterward, when affliction and persecution ariseth for the word's sake, immediately they are offended." (Mark 4:17.) The Lord also said to the Jews, "Wherefore, behold, I send unto you prophets, and wise men, and scribes; and some of them ye shall kill and crucify; and some of them ye shall scourge in your synagogues, and persecute from city to city." (Matthew 23:34.) And in Revelation we read that "when the dragon saw that he was cast into the earth, he persecuted the woman which brought forth the man child." (12:13.) And the reason why this subject is so often treated of in the Word, the reason why the Lord so often spoke to His disciples concerning it, is because men receive eternal life by means of temptations, by means of persecutions, by means of conflict and resistance to evil and falsity when they assail. "Blessed are they that are persecuted for the sake of justice; for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely for my sake. Rejoice, and be exceeding glad; for great is your reward in heaven; for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you." (Matthew 5: 10-12.)
They who suffer persecution, they who are in spiritual temptation, are they who are in the spiritual affection of truth, the affection of truth for its own sake, the affection of truth for the sake of truth—the spiritual truth of the Word—not for the sake of self or the glory of the world, not to satisfy the cravings of ambition or for the applause of men, not for the sake of worldly advantage or worldly reward, not for reputation and gain, but because the truth is from the Lord and points out the way of life, because it reveals what evil is, and points out the way to the removal of evil, because it leads to good, to use, to heaven and to the Lord, because it establishes man in his true relations with his neighbor and with his God, because it renews, vivifies, restores, because it is the only thing that makes life worth living, because it is the only thing that has eternity in it and the hope and promise of eternal life. This is the spiritual affection of truth, the love of truth for its own sake, the love of truth because it is truth; and these are they that suffer spiritual temptation, that suffer persecution for the sake of justice, but who thereby receive the kingdom of heaven; for the promise is, "Great is your reward in heaven."
The assault of persecution is the attempt of evil spirits, and of men who are inspired by them, to deprive others of truth, to take away the truth that is so much loved and valued. This is done by insinuating false doctrines, false ideas, false principles; and when these enter the thought and engage the attention, truths cannot appear; they are as it were under a cloud. Man loves them, but they seem to be gone away, and there is anxiety and distress. There is a constriction of the faculties of the mind, and freedom seems to have departed, and with it all the delight of life. Man is held bound, as it were in prison. He is unhappy because he cannot understand the truth of the Word; yet he wishes to understand it; and sometimes he reaches the extreme of despair, which is to stand upon the brink of hell, into which he would fall if the Lord did not come to rescue and deliver. But even in this state he is blessed, because the truth is still there, the affection of truth is still there, the Lord is still there, and even more present than before, and delivers by giving new light, new truth in a new perception; for every new perception of truth is a coming of the Lord to redeem and save.
This affection, the affection of truth for its own sake, is the ruling idea in the Blessings, and this ruling idea presents itself in many forms. We see it in the first Blessing, where the "poor in spirit" are said to be blessed. There is blessing in true poverty of spirit because in the love of truth for its own sake there is the acknowledgment that all truth is from the Lord, and nothing of it from man; and those who have this acknowledgment in the thought of the understanding are they who are said to be "poor in spirit." We see it again in the fourth Blessing, in which the Lord says, "Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after justice; for they shall be filled." The love of truth for its own sake, which is also called the spiritual affection of truth, is a hunger and thirst after justice; and the state of justice is the state established in those who love truth because it is truth. No others are really just, or are in the love of justice. And now the same thing appears in the eighth Blessing, which is before us. The regenerating man is now established in justice and the love of justice, and he is persecuted because of it. The internal man is formed, the spiritual affection of truth has descended out of heaven into the interior of the natural; a new will and a new understanding are there; his hunger and his thirst have been satisfied; conscience is there; the love of justice is there; and he is assailed because he is just, and will not bend to the demands of the world, nor yield to the love and delights of the world, which are still active and still capable of being excited in the external man.
We read that when a man lives according to the precepts of the Lord, he procures to himself justice, not the justice of the Lord's redemption and redeeming work, for this justice is the Lord's alone, but the Lord Himself as justice. (T. C. R. 96.) To live according to the precepts of the Lord is not to live according to the precepts of the world, the precepts of man, the precepts of human intelligence. To live according to the precepts of the Lord is to believe in justice, it is to love justice, and to do it; then man receives the justice of the Lord. When man loves justice, and does it, he is assailed by the powers of hell because he acts not according to the appearance, and is unwilling to act according to the appearance, but believes in a just judgment, and lives accordingly. He does not act according to what the world wants him to do, but according to what he sees to be right. He has the courage to say, No. He does not believe in the appearances of truth, nor does he accept the appearances of good; and so the fires of jealousy, hatred and revenge are enkindled against him, and he is persecuted because he loves the truth more than the opinions of men, and justice more than the demands and requirements of the world. In so doing he is following the Lord; for the Lord, when He was in the outer world among men, was persecuted for the sake of justice. He came into the world as Justice Itself, and to establish justice among men; He was therefore reviled and persecuted, and finally made to suffer the ignominious death on the cross; all because the Divine Justice was embodied in Him,—the Divine Justice, which at the same time was the Divine Love and the Divine Mercy.
There is nothing the infernal spirits so hate as justice, and hence there are none they so hate as those who are in the love of justice, and who do justice from the love of it. This is the reason they inspired the Jews to revile and persecute the Lord and put Him to death, and this is the reason they inspire men in all time to do the same to those who are images of the Lord. But notwithstanding infernal hatred and fury, the Lord, by acts of justice, redeemed the human race as a whole, and will redeem every individual man who is willing to love the justice of God, and make it his own by acts of justice in his own individual sphere and life. Nor can any man be redeemed and saved unless he believes and has faith in justice, and unless he loves it, and does the justice which is not his own but the Lord's with him.
That which is of essential value in human life is always considered as worth fighting for, in order to hold it when threatened, or to obtain it when it is not as yet in one's possession, but is most ardently desired for its value and its use—such as the liberty of one's country. When one loves spiritual or eternal life, commensurate with its value, he will endure all things to keep it and to preserve it, no matter what the cost may be. He will also love the instrumentalities of that life, which are truths of doctrine from the Word; and he will defend them with all the ardor and energy of his soul. The truths of the Word, and the life that is obtained by them, is what is meant by justice; and the spiritual temptation which arises, —the stress and strain, the grief and pain, the sorrow and anguish, when one is assailed for his love of justice and its truth,—is what is meant by being "persecuted for the sake of justice."
But all is not justice that appears like it. Even the wicked,—evil spirits and evil men,—may put on the robe of justice; and the regenerating man at first —perhaps not in this life—is not able to distinguish between those who love justice for its own sake and those who put it on from self will, caprice, self-love, the love of dominating, and who do not value the thing itself except as instrumental to selfish ends; who even put on the garment of the Word, and clothe themselves with the habiliments of eternal life, girding themselves about with the eternal justice of God, in order to accomplish their wicked designs. And we are told that the evil in the other world so clothe themselves, to the end that they may persecute the good under the appearance of what is just, thereby justifying themselves. This is the justice that is without mercy. These are they that deceive the faithful after death, forming what are called the imaginary heavens, and holding tie simple in both worlds under their dominion, by means of those in this world who co-operate with them. When those who have in themselves a remnant of good discover the character of these hypocrites, they then resist their inflowing spheres, and fight against them for their spiritual life; while the evil, on their part, persecute with the endeavor and purpose of subjugation, or of holding them under their Egyptian bondage; and their persecution is under the appearance of truth and justice. It is not the open attack of the evil fighting an honest war, but the insidious attack of malignant cunning under the appearance of right and justice, under the appearance and claim of being the rightful holders and guardians of the truth and good of heaven. Especially in the other life do these "wolves in sheep's clothing" practice their persecutions upon the innocent; but the church on earth is also infested by their pestilential sphere—a church which has as its dominant principle of life a "hunger and thirst after justice," a love of the truth and good of justice, the justice which is revealed by the Lord in His Word.
It is thus that the real temptations of the church in both worlds arise, namely, from the evil who are in possession of the truths of the church, and not from the evil who are in ignorance of them. The evil who are in possession of the truth are meant by those who "persecute for the sake of justice;" and they are permitted to assail the truth of justice, which they interiorly hate, because of the acquisition of good that accrues to the church, or to the regenerating men of the church, by persecution, or by the combat of spiritual temptation.
At the stage of regeneration which we have now reached in our consideration of the subject of the Beatitudes, the internal man is formed, with its new will and new understanding; but the external man is still in evil, and this fact or condition of the external makes it easy for falsities to invade and excite in the external the delights of the love of the world, and thus to assail the internal. It is through these delights that evil spirits, by their falsities of evil, are able to enter, to have a hold, and to bind, to inflict pain, grief and distress,—to persecute. For the conflict of temptation is a conflict of the delights of the internal and external man; and so long as evil delights are in the external, the devil has power; and if these delights are not fought against and removed, the internal will in the end be overcome, and the imprisonment of man become permanent in some society of hell after death.
Because of the bitterness of the conflict at this stage of regeneration, a strong word like persecution is used to express the idea of a cunning and malignant assault upon the spiritual life of man—upon the spiritual life of those signified by the disciples whom the Lord was addressing. They are to be persecuted because they love justice and its truth; but still they are blessed even in the persecution, and by it; for it is to be the means to them of obtaining the kingdom of heaven; it is to be the means by which the Lord is to give them that kingdom, or introduce them into His church on earth and into His heaven in the other life.
In the text, the phrase "the kingdom of heaven" is used the second time in the series of the Blessings. It occurs in the first in these words, "Blessed are the poor in spirit; for theirs is the kingdom of heaven," and now a second time in the text before us. First, "the poor in spirit," and now "they which are persecuted" are to receive the kingdom of heaven. We read in the Doctrine that "the kingdom of heaven signifies the church, because the kingdom of the Lord is in heaven and on earth, and His kingdom on earth is the church." John the Baptist preached in the wilderness that "the kingdom of heaven is at hand." The Lord also, preaching in Galilee, spake the same words, by which He meant that He had come into the world Himself to establish an internal church, which was to be His heaven on earth, preparatory for His heaven after death.
Now why is the term used twice in the series? It appears like a repetition, but we are taught that there are no repetitions in the Word; where there is an apparent repetition of words and phrases, it is because one treats of truth and the other of good, or one treats of wisdom and the other of love, or again, one treats of the understanding and the other of the will. It is so in the present instance. In the first Blessing the subject is faith, or the understanding of truth, and the acknowledgment in the understanding that we know nothing from ourselves, but only from God, as we are taught by His Word; now, however, the subject is charity in the will, established there by means of temptations. In either case, we become an inhabitant of the kingdom of heaven, or a member of the church on earth,—first by a spiritual faith, and second by charity or a spiritual love of the neighbor. Faith comes first in time, and then there is a regular progression from faith to charity, through the path way of spiritual temptation,—the only pathway from faith to charity, from the earth to heaven.
The Lord's kingdom, indeed, is also over hell, and hell is therefore made to serve the ends of His kingdom; for nothing exists that is not made to serve the ends and uses of the Lord's spiritual kingdom among men. The evil serve by means of temptation, by means of the war they are permitted to wage against good,—an unwilling service, but a use which those who are in evil must serve, whether they will or not; for resistance is excited on the part of the regenerating man, and in this resistance his redemption is nigh, the kingdom of heaven is at hand. Therefore," in patience possess ye your souls. And when ye shall see Jerusalem encompassed with armies, then know that the desolation thereof is nigh. ... So likewise when ye see these things come to pass, know ye that the kingdom of God is nigh at hand." (Luke 21:19, 20, 31.) Amen.
Lessons: Deuteronomy 30. Luke 21:1-24.
5069, 70; or
T. C. R.