WHO PERSECUTES WHOM
That persecution exists is a sad fact both of history and of our own times. First of all let us establish what we mean by persecution. Broadly speaking, persecution may be said to be any action toward a person or group of persons that causes them pain and or fear. Persecution comes because of political, ethnic, cultural or religious reasons, although some of these causes may overlap. In some places it does also seem that women are persecuted simply because they are women. Our primary interest in this article is in persecution because of religion and especially that aimed against the Baptists. It is a fact of history that the Baptist forefathers, although called by different names, have been persecuted for almost two thousand years. It is also a fact of history that Baptists have never been the persecutors, though often persecuted themselves.
But the Baptists are not alone in experiencing persecution because of their devotion to God and to His truth. Many went before us. The Book of Job is thought by many to be the oldest Bible book, written before the time of Moses and long before the Lord established His church. In it Job speaks to his “friends” saying, “Why do ye persecute me as God, and are not satisfied with my flesh?” (Job 19:22). If we are correct about the era in which Job lived, this would be the oldest reference to persecution that we have in the Bible. The Psalmist cried out, “O LORD my God, in thee do I put my trust: save me from all them that persecute me, and deliver me” in Psalm 7:1. No doubt this has been and continues to be the heart-cry of God’s children whenever persecuted. Our Lord Jesus instructed His followers how to react when persecuted. In Matthew 5:11, 12 He said, “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.” Merriam-Webster says that revile means to subject to verbal abuse. If we are following God’s Book, we can expect to be reviled and to have all manner of evil falsely attributed to us. While enduring persecution may not bring happiness to us, we are instructed to be joyful in it. Jesus said this kind of persecution puts us in good company because “they” also persecuted the Old Testament prophets this way. Notice it is the “they” who do the persecuting. Stephen, in his powerful sermon before the Jewish leadership spoke of this persecution of God’s prophets, saying: “Which of the prophets have not your fathers persecuted? and they have slain them which shewed before of the coming of the Just One; of whom ye have been now the betrayers and murderers” (Acts 7:52). Notice the use of the word “they” once again here. Further instructions from our Lord included these words in Matthew 5:44: “But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you.” Again the Lord Jesus said, “Remember the word that I said 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). Notice again that it is the “they” who do the persecuting. True followers of the Lamb should expect nothing less than the same treatment that was heaped upon the reviled, lied against, persecuted and slain Lamb Himself. In 2 Timothy 3:12 Paul warned us with these words: “Yea, and all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution.” Let us always remember, “It is enough for the disciple that he be as his master, and the servant as his lord. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebub, how much more shall they call them of his household?” (Matthew 20:25). Again a fourth time I call your attention to the “they” who persecute. The use of the word “they” puts them in a different category from those persecuted. “They” are an identifiable group. Many religious groups have been and continue to be persecuted, and while we deplore this, our concern in this article is with the true followers of the Lamb who are members of sound Baptist congregations. We dare not speak of all who claim the name Baptist or who have been called Baptists as true followers of the Lamb. Among those so named there have been both heretics and apostates just as there are today.
And so we come to our title and point of this article: Who Persecutes Whom? I have called your attention four times to the “they” who persecute. “They” are a different people from those persecuted. The people persecuted are the “Whom.” The persecutors are the “Who.” But who are “they?” Are they simply misguided Christians? By that I mean do the true children of God persecute other true children of God? Some would have us think so. Today many called Baptists are in love with the Reformers. Some of this sort even call themselves “Reformed Baptists.” Some boast of their Calvinism and speak of John Calvin as if he were a great saint of God. Some denominated Baptist admire certain Roman Catholics such as Augustine. Others among the Baptists claim affinity with the Puritans. This writer knows a Baptist preacher who established a Bible college and was so enamored with John Wesley that he named his school after that Anglican minister – for the Wesley brothers lived and died in the Church of England. Not only were these churches involved in the active persecution of Baptists, all these preached a false gospel of water-salvation. They “baptized” babies and taught (and still teach) that their sprinkling of a little water on an unbelieving child saves that child and makes it a member of their church. We live in a time when truth is mixed with error and both Protestant and Catholic ideas are mixed with the Baptists. Where shall we go for an answer to the question “Who Persecutes Whom?” Where can we learn just who the “they” are? We shall not appeal to history, biographies or human reason. Rather, we have learned to flee to God’s Book for answers to perplexing questions. It is in that Holy Volume God has told us all we need to know about salvation and godly living. And what do we find on this subject? Must we delve into deep theological reasoning? No! The Lord Jesus Himself gave us the answer to this question in plain and clear words. He told us “Who” does the persecuting. He told us who the “they” are in “If they have persecuted me, they will also persecute you…” Here are the words of our Lord: “Remember the word that I said 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. But all these things will they do unto you for my name’s sake, because they know not him that sent me” (John 15:20, 21). There is a clear distinction between persecutors and those persecuted. There is a clear distinction between revilers and those reviled. There is a clear distinction between those who falsely accuse and those falsely accused. Jesus said in our last quoted text, “…all these things will they do unto you for my name’s sake, because they know not him that sent me.” You may admire the intellects and writing skills of great Protestants, Puritans and Catholics, but if they, like Calvin and others among them are or were persecutors of the followers of the Lamb, “they know not him that sent me.” This preacher did not say that: Christ Himself said that! If you wish, you may identify yourself with the Reformers, but among their leadership were persecutors of our Baptist forefathers. If our Baptist forefathers loved the truth, their persecutors did not even though they may have given mental assent to some truth. Intellectually they may have been doctrinally correct. An old preacher once said, “A false prophet can be gun-barrel-straight and just as empty.” What a trick of the devil! Is it possible that the devil would be behind men who were/are gun-barrel-straight on sovereign grace but who teach a false way of salvation – baptismal regeneration? An intellectual apprehension of truth does not necessarily in itself guarantee regeneration. We must not doubt or deny the words of our Lord: those who persecute the Lord’s people do not know the Father!
Years ago I came across these words. I admired them greatly as a concise history of the treatment of dissenters at the hands of both the Harlot and her Harlot-daughters. So greatly did I admire them that I wrote them on a flyleaf of my Bible. Briefly they tell the truth about persecutors. Consider the import of these words, please: “With the Catholics it was the Mass or the musket: The full sacraments of the church or torture, gibbets and flames – Conformity or death. With the Church of England it was the prayer book or the prison: The whole service of her Rubric or the severest penalties of her laws – Submission or Smithfield. With the Puritans it was the meeting-house-worship or the custody of the jailer: Parish rates or stakes, stripes and confiscations – The seal of the covenant or the statute of exile.” (History of the Puritans, Dr. Colts). (Smithfield in the above quotation refers to the place now in central London where Baptists and others were burned at the stake.) This is an excellent and very concise summary of the persecutions inflicted by Catholics, Anglicans and Puritans wherever they have been in power. And shall we call the men brethren who were part and party to such persecution? Dare we think that our Baptist forefathers who suffered at the hands of the men who led these groups called them brethren? Do you think they thought of them as simply misguided fellow followers of the Lamb? And shall we, their children, identify ourselves with their persecutors? They may have held to some truth, but if they subjected others to persecution in its various forms, we have no Bible authority to think of them as genuine Christians. Those who persecute do not follow the Lamb! Those who persecuted Christ’s followers were then unregenerate and unconverted regardless of their doctrinal soundness in certain areas of theology. Sadly, there does not seem to be historical evidence that these men ever experienced godly sorrow, repentance and evangelical faith after their despicable persecution of God’s children.
“Who Persecutes Whom?” Paul persecuted the true children of God, but did so before he was converted. His testimony in this matter is found in 1 Timothy 1:13 in these words: “Who was before a blasphemer, and a persecutor, and injurious: but I obtained mercy, because I did it ignorantly in unbelief.” In this testimony we find further support for the principle that those who persecute do so because they do not know the Father. Again, the Holy Spirit through Paul teaches us just who the “they” is: “they” are the ones that do the persecuting and they are unregenerate. In Galatians 4:29 Paul wrote: “Now we, brethren, as Isaac was, are the children of promise. But as then he that was born after the flesh persecuted him that was born after the Spirit, even so it is now.” Who are the “they” who persecute? They are in the same crowd as Ishmael who “was born after the flesh.” You may call persecutors your brothers in Christ if you wish, but you do so at your own peril for the Bible clearly teaches otherwise. Finally, consider the words of Paul in closing: “And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them.” (Ephesians 5:11).