The World's Great Sermons, Volume I

Part 3 out of 3

tribulations or grievous vexations of body or of mind are never signs of
God's displeasure against the sufferer, neither yet does it follow that
God has cast away the care of His creatures because He permits them to
be molested and vexed for a time. For if any sort of tribulation were
the infallible sign of God's displeasure, then should we condemn the
best beloved children of God. But of this we may speak hereafter. Now to
the temptation.

Verse 2. "And when he fasteth forty days and forty nights, He was
afterwards an hungered." Verse 3. 'Then came to Him the tempter,' and
said, 'If you be the Son of God, command that these stones be made
bread,' etc. Why Christ fasted forty days and would not exceed the same,
without sense and feeling of hunger, is before touched upon, that is, He
would provoke the devil to battle by the wilderness and long abstinence,
but He would not usurp or arrogate any more to Himself in that case than
God had wrought with others, His servants and messengers before. But
Christ Jesus (as St. Augustine more amply declares), without feeling of
hunger, might have endured the whole year, or to time without end, as
well as He did endure the space of forty days. For the nature of mankind
was sustained those forty days by the invisible power of God, which is
at all times of equal power. But Christ, willing to offer further
occasion to Satan to proceed in tempting of Him, permitted the human
nature to crave earnestly that which it lacked, that is to say,
refreshing of meat; which Satan perceiving took occasion, as before, to
tempt and assault. Some judge that Satan tempted Christ to gluttony, but
this appears little to agree with the purpose of the Holy Ghost; who
shows us this history to let us understand that Satan never ceases to
oppugn the children of God, but continually, by one mean or other,
drives or provokes them to some wicked opinions of their God; and to
have them desire stones to be converted into bread, or to desire hunger
to be satisfied, has never been sin, nor yet a wicked opinion of God.
And therefore I doubt not but the temptation was more spiritual, more
subtle, and more dangerous. Satan had respect to the voice of God, which
had pronounced Christ to be His well-beloved Son, etc. Against this
voice he fights, as his nature is ever to do against the assured and
immutable Word of God; for such is his malice against God, and against
His chosen children, that where and to whom God pronounces love and
mercy, to these he threatens displeasures and damnation; and where God
threatens death, there is he bold to pronounce life; and for this course
is Satan called a liar from the beginning. And so the purpose of Satan
was to drive Christ into desperation, that he should not believe the
former voice of God His Father; which appears to be the meaning of this
temptation: "Thou hast heard," would Satan say, "a voice proclaimed in
the air, that Thou wast the beloved Son of God, in whom His soul was
pleased; but mayst Thou not be judged more than mad, and weaker than the
brainless fool if Thou believest any such promise? Where are the signs
of His love? Art Thou not cast out from comfort of all creatures? Thou
art in worse case than the brute beasts, for every day they hunt for
their prey, and the earth produces grass and herbs for their sustenance,
so that none of them are pined and consumed away by hunger; but Thou
hast fasted forty days and nights, ever waiting for some relief and
comfort from above, but Thy best provision is hard stones! If Thou dost
glory in thy God, and dost verily believe the promise that is made,
command that these stones be bread. But evident it is that so Thou canst
not do; for if Thou couldst, or if Thy God would have showed Thee any
such pleasure, Thou mightest long ago have removed Thy hunger, and
needest not have endured this languishing for lack of food. But seeing
Thou hast long continued thus, and no provision is made for Thee, it is
vanity longer to believe any such promise, and therefore despair of any
help from God's hand, and provide for Thyself by some other means!"

Many words have I used here, dearly beloved, but I can not express the
thousandth part of the malicious despite which lurked in this one
temptation of Satan. It was a mocking of Christ and of His obedience. It
was a plain denial of God's promise. It was the triumphing voice of him
that appeared to have gotten victory. Oh, how bitter this temptation
was no creature can understand but such as feel the grief of such darts
as Satan casts at the tender conscience of those that gladly would rest
and repose in God, and in the promises of His mercy. But here is to be
noted the ground and foundation. The conclusion of Satan is this: Thou
art none of God's elect, much less His well-beloved Son. His reason is
this: Thou art in trouble and findest no relief. There the foundation of
the temptation was Christ's poverty, and the lack of food without hope
of remedy to be sent from God. And it is the same temptation which the
devil objected to Him by the princes of the priests in His grievous
torments upon the cross; for thus they cried, "If he be the Son of God,
let him come down from the cross and we will believe in him; he trusted
in God, let him deliver him, if he have the pleasure in him." As tho
they would say, God is the deliverer of His servants from troubles; God
never permits those that fear Him to come to confusion; this man we see
in extreme trouble; if He be the Son of God, or even a true worshiper of
His name, He will deliver Him from this calamity. If He deliver Him not,
but suffer Him to perish in these anguishes, then it is an assured sign
that God has rejected Him as a hypocrite, that shall have no portion of
His glory. Thus, I say, Satan takes occasion to tempt, and moves also
others to judge and condemn God's elect and chosen children, by reason
that troubles are multiplied upon them.

But with what weapons we ought to fight against such enemies and
assaults we shall learn in the answer of Christ Jesus, which follows:
But He, answering, said "It is written, man shall not live by bread
alone, but by every word which proceedeth out of the mouth of God." This
answer of Christ proves the sentence which we have brought of the
aforesaid temptation to be the very meaning of the Holy Ghost; for
unless the purpose of Satan has been to have removed Christ from all
hope of God's merciful providence toward Him in that His necessity,
Christ had not answered directly to his words, saying, "Command that
these stones be made bread." But Christ Jesus, perceiving his art and
malicious subtility, answered directly to his meaning, His words nothing
regarded; by which Satan was so confounded that he was ashamed to reply
any further.

But that you may the better understand the meaning of Christ's answer,
we will express and repeat it over in more words. "Thou laborest,
Satan," would Christ say, "to bring into my heart a doubt and suspicion
of My Father's promise, which was openly proclaimed in My baptism, by
reason of My hunger, and that I lack all carnal provision. Thou art bold
to affirm that God takes no care for Me, but thou art a deceitful and
false corrupt sophister, and thy argument, too, is vain, and full of
blasphemies; for thou bindest God's love, mercy, and providence to the
having or wanting of bodily provision, which no part of God's Scriptures
teach us, but rather the express contrary. As it is written, 'Man doth
not live by bread alone, but by every word that proeeedeth out of the
mouth of God,' that is, the very life and felicity of man consists not
in the abundance of bodily things, or the possession and having of them
makes no man blest or happy; neither shall the lack of them be the cause
of his final misery; but the very life of man consists in God, and in
His promises pronounced by His own mouth, unto which whoso cleaves
unfeignedly shall live the life everlasting. And altho all creatures in
earth forsake him, yet shall not his bodily life perish till the time
appointed by God approach. For God has means to feed, preserve, and
maintain, unknown to man's reason, and contrary to the common course of
nature. He fed His people Israel in the desert forty years without the
provision of man. He preserved Jonah in the whale's belly; and
maintained and kept the bodies of the three children in the furnace of
fire. Reason and the natural man could have seen nothing in these cases
but destruction and death, and could have judged nothing but that God
had cast away the care of these, His creatures, and yet His providence
was most vigilant toward them in the extremity of their dangers, from
which He did so deliver them, and in the midst of them did so assist
them, that His glory, which is His mercy and goodness, did more appear
and shine after their troubles than it could have done if they had
fallen in them. And therefore I measure not the truth and favor of God
by having or by lacking of bodily necessities, but by the promise which
He has made to me. As He Himself is immutable, so is His word and
promise constant, which I believe, and to which I will adhere, and so
cleave, whatever can come to the body outwardly."

In this answer of Christ we may perceive what weapons are to be used
against our adversary the devil, and how we may confute his arguments,
which craftily, and of malice, he makes against God's elect. Christ
might have repulsed Satan with a word, or by commanding him to silence,
as He to whom all power was given in heaven and earth; but it pleased
His mercy to teach us how to use the sword of the Holy Ghost, which is
the word of God, in battle against our spiritual enemy. The Scripture
which Christ brings is written in the eighth chapter of Deuteronomy. It
was spoken by Moses a little before His death, to establish the people
in God's merciful providence. For in the same chapter, and in certain
others that go before, He reckons the great travail and divers dangers
with the extreme necessities that they had sustained in the desert the
space of forty years, and yet, notwithstanding how constant God had been
in keeping and performing His promise, for throughout all perils He had
conducted them to the sight and borders of the promised land. And so
this Scripture more directly answers to the temptation of Satan; for
thus does Satan reason, as before is said, "Thou art in poverty and hast
no provision to sustain thy life. Therefore God takes no regard nor care
of Thee, as He doth over His chosen children." Christ Jesus answered:
"Thy argument is false and vain; for poverty or necessity precludes not
the providence or care of God; which is easy to be proved by the people
of God, Israel, who, in the desert, oftentimes lacked things necessary
to the sustenance of life, and for lack of the same they grudged and
murmured; yet the Lord never cast away the providence and care of them,
but according to the word that He had once pronounced, to wit, that they
were His peculiar people; and according to the promise made to Abraham,
and to them before their departure from Egypt, He still remained their
conductor and guide, till He placed them in peaceable possession of the
land of Canaan, their great infirmities and manifold transgressions

Thus are we taught, I say, by Christ Jesus, to repulse Satan and his
assaults by the Word of God, and to apply the examples of His mercies,
which He has shown to others before us, to our own souls in the hour of
temptation, and in the time of our trouble. For what God doth to one at
any time, the same appertains to all that depend upon God and His
promises. And, therefore, however we are assaulted by Satan, our
adversary, within the Word of God is armor and weapons sufficient. The
chief craft of Satan is to trouble those that begin to decline from his
obedience, and to declare themselves enemies to iniquity, with divers
assaults, the design whereof is always the same; that is, to put
variance betwixt them and God into their conscience, that they should
not repose and rest themselves in His assured promises. And to persuade
this, he uses and invents divers arguments. Sometimes he calls the sins
of their youth, and which they have committed in the time of blindness,
to their remembrance; very often he objects their unthankfulness toward
God and present imperfections. By sickness, poverty, tribulations in
their household, or by persecution, he can allege that God is angry, and
regard them not. Or by the spiritual cross which few feel and fewer
understand the utility and profit of, he would drive God's children to
desperation, and by infinite means more, he goeth about seeking, like a
roaring lion, to undermine and destroy our faith. But it is impossible
for him to prevail against us unless we obstinately refuse to use the
defense and weapons that God has offered. Yea, I say, that God's elect
can not refuse it, but seek for their Defender when the battle is most
strong; for the sobs, groans, and lamentations of such as fight, yea,
the fear they have lest they be vanquished, the calling and prayer for
continuance, are the undoubted and right seeking of Christ our champion.
We refuse not the weapon, altho sometimes, by infirmity, we can not use
it as we would. It suffices that your hearts unfeignedly sob for greater
strength, for continuance, and for final deliverance by Christ Jesus;
that which is wanting in us, His sufficiency doth supply; for it is He
that fighteth and overcometh for us. But for bringing of the examples of
the Scriptures, if God permit, in the end we shall speak more largely
when it shall be treated why Christ permitted Himself thus to be
tempted. Sundry impediments now call me from writing in this matter,
but, by God's grace, at convenient leisure I purpose to finish, and to
send it to you. I grant the matter that proceeds from me is not worthy
of your pain and labor to read it; yet, seeing it is a testimony of my
good mind toward you, I doubt not but you will accept it in good part.
God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, grant unto you to find favor
and mercy of the Judge, whose eyes and knowledge pierce through the
secret cogitations of the heart, in the day of temptation, which shall
come upon all flesh, according to that mercy which you (illuminated and
directed by His Holy Spirit) have showed to the afflicted. Now the God
of all comfort and consolation confirm and strengthen you in His power
unto the end. Amen.




John Calvin was born in 1509, at Noyon, France. He has been called the
greatest of Protestant commentators and theologians, and the inspirer of
the Puritan exodus. He often preached every day for weeks in succession.
He possest two of the greatest elements in successful pulpit oratory,
self-reliance and authority. It was said of him, as it was afterward
said of Webster, that "every word weighed a pound." His style was
simple, direct, and convincing. He made men think. His splendid
contributions to religious thought, and his influence upon individual
liberty, give him a distinguished place among great reformers and
preachers. His idea of preaching is thus exprest in his own words: "True
preaching must not be dead, but living and effective. No parade of
rhetoric, but the Spirit of God must resound in the voice in order to
operate with power." He died at Geneva in 1564.



_Let us go forth therefore unto him without the camp bearing his
reproach_.--Hebrews xiii., 13.

All the exhortations which can be given us to suffer patiently for the
name of Jesus Christ, and in defense of the gospel, will have no effect
if we do not feel assured of the cause for which we fight. For when we
are called to part with life, it is absolutely necessary to know on what
grounds. The firmness necessary we can not possess, unless it be founded
on certainty of faith.

It is true that persons may be found who will foolishly expose
themselves to death in maintaining some absurd opinions and dreams
conceived by their own brain, but such impetuosity is more to be
regarded as frenzy than as Christian zeal; and, in fact, there is
neither firmness nor sound sense in those who thus, at a kind of
haphazard, cast themselves away. But, however this may be, it is in a
good cause only that God can acknowledge us as His martyrs. Death is
common to all, and the children of God are condemned to ignominy and
tortures as criminals are; but God makes the distinction between them,
inasmuch as He can not deny His truth. On our part, then, it is
requisite that we have sure and infallible evidence of the doctrine
which we maintain; and hence, as I have said, we can not be rationally
imprest by any exhortations which we receive to suffer persecution for
the gospel, if no true certainty of faith has been imprinted in our
hearts. For to hazard our life upon a peradventure is not natural, and
tho we were to do it, it would only be rashness, not Christian courage.
In a word, nothing that we do will be approved of God if we are not
thoroughly persuaded that it is for Him and His cause we suffer
persecution, and the world is our enemy.

Now, when I speak of such persuasion, I mean not merely that we must
know how to distinguish between true religion and the abuses or follies
of men, but also that we must be thoroughly persuaded of the heavenly
life, and the crown which is promised us above, after we shall have
fought here below. Let us understand, then, that both of these
requisites are necessary, and can not be separated from each other. The
points, accordingly, with which we must commence are these: We must know
well what our Christianity is, what the faith which we have to hold and
follow, what the rule which God has given us; and we must be so well
furnished with such instructions as to be able boldly to condemn all the
falsehoods, errors, and superstitions which Satan has introduced to
corrupt the pure simplicity of the doctrine of God. Hence, we ought not
to be surprized that, in the present day, we see so few persons disposed
to suffer for the gospel, and that the greater part of those who call
themselves Christians know not what it is. For all are, as it were,
lukewarm; and instead of making it their business to hear or read, count
it enough to have had some slight taste of Christian faith. This is the
reason why there is so little decision, and why those who are assailed
immediately fall away. This fact should stimulate us to inquire more
diligently into divine truth, in order to be well assured with, regard
to it.

Still, however, to be well informed and grounded is not the whole that
is necessary. For we see some who seem to be thoroughly imbued with
sound doctrine, and who, notwithstanding, have no more zeal or affection
than if they had never known any more of God than some fleeting fancy.
Why is this? Just because they have never comprehended the majesty of
the Holy Scriptures. And, in fact, did we, such as we are, consider well
that it is God who speaks to us, it is certain that we would listen more
attentively, and with greater reverence. If we would think that in
reading Scripture we are in the school of angels, we would be far more
careful and desirous to profit by the doctrine which is propounded to

We now see the true method of preparing to suffer for the gospel. First,
We must have profited so far in the school of God as to be decided in
regard to true religion and the doctrine which we are to hold; and we
must despise all the wiles and impostures of Satan, and, all human
inventions, as things not only frivolous but also carnal, inasmuch as
they corrupt Christian purity; therein differing, like true martyrs of
Christ, from the fantastic persons who suffer for mere absurdities.
Second, Feeling assured of the good cause, we must be inflamed,
accordingly, to follow God whithersoever He may call us: His Word must
have such authority with us as it deserves, and having withdrawn from
this world, we must feel as it were enraptured in seeking the heavenly

But it is more than strange that, tho the light of God is shining more
brightly than it ever did before, there is a lamentable want of zeal! If
the thought does not fill us with shame, so much the worse. For we must
shortly come before the great Judge, where the iniquity which we
endeavor to hide will be brought forward with such upbraidings that we
shall be utterly confounded. For, if we are obliged to bear testimony to
God, according to the measure of the knowledge which He has given us,
to what is it owing, I would ask, that we are so cold and timorous in
entering into battle, seeing that God has so fully manifested Himself at
this time that He may be said to have opened to us and displayed before
us the great treasures of His secrets? May it not be said that we do not
think we have to do with God? For had we any regard to His Majesty we
would not dare to turn the doctrine which proceeds from Him into some
kind of philosophic speculation. In short, it is impossible to deny that
it is our great shame, not to say fearful condemnation, that we have so
well known the truth of God, and have so little courage to maintain it!

Above all, when we look to the martyrs of past times, well may we detest
our own cowardice! The greater part of those were not persons much
versed in Holy Scripture, so as to be able to dispute on all subjects.
They knew that there was one God, whom they behooved to worship and
serve--that they had been redeemed by the blood of Jesus Christ, in
order that they might place their confidence of salvation in Him and in
His grace--and that, all the inventions of men being mere dross and
rubbish, they ought to condemn all idolatries and superstitions. In one
word, their theology was in substance this--There is one God who created
all the world, and declared His will to us by Moses and the prophets,
and finally by Jesus Christ and His apostles; and we have one sole
Redeemer, who purchased us by His blood, and by whose grace we hope to
be saved: All the idols of the world are curst, and deserve execration.

With a system embracing no other points than these, they went boldly to
the flames, or to any other kind of death. They did not go in twos or
threes, but in such bands that the number of those who fell by the hands
of tyrants is almost infinite! We, on our part, are such learned clerks
that none can be more so (so at least we think), and, in fact, so far as
regards the knowledge of Scripture, God has so spread it out before us
that no former age was ever so highly favored. Still, after all, there
is scarcely a particle of zeal. When men manifest such indifference, it
looks as if they were bent on provoking the vengeance of God.

What then should be done in order to inspire our breasts with true
courage? We have, in the first place, to consider how precious the
confession of our faith is in the sight of God. We little know how much
God prizes it, if our life, which is nothing, is valued by us more
highly. When it is so, we manifest a marvelous degree of stupidity. We
can not save our life at the expense of our confession with out
acknowledging that we hold it in higher estimation than the honor of
God and the salvation of our souls.

A heathen could say that "It was a miserable thing to save life by
giving up the only things which made life desirable!" And yet he and
others like him never knew for what end men are placed in the world, and
why they live in it. It is true they knew enough to say that men ought
to follow virtue, to conduct themselves honestly and without reproach;
but all their virtues were mere paint and smoke. We know far better what
the chief aim of life should be, namely, to glorify God, in order that
He may be our glory. When this is not done, wo to us! And we can not
continue to live for a single moment upon the earth without heaping
additional curses on our heads. Still we are not ashamed to purchase
some few days to languish here below, renouncing eternal kingdom by
separating ourselves from Him by whose energy we are sustained in life.

Were we to ask the most ignorant, not to say the most brutish, persons
in the world why they live, they would not venture to answer simply that
it is to eat, and drink, and sleep; for all know that they have been
created for a higher and holier end. And what end can we find if it be
not to honor God, and allow ourselves to be governed by Him, like
children by good parents; so that after we have finished the journey of
this corruptible life, we may be received into His eternal inheritance?
Such is the principal, indeed the sole end. When we do not take it into
account, and are intent on a brutish life, which is worse than a
thousand deaths, what can we allege for our excuse? To live and not know
why is unnatural. To reject the causes for which we live, under the
influence of a foolish longing for a respite of some few days, during
which we are to live in the world, while separated from God--I know not
how to name such infatuation and madness!

But as persecution is always harsh and bitter, let us consider how and
by what means Christians may be able to fortify themselves with
patience, so as unflinchingly to expose their life for the truth of God.
The text which we have read out, when it is properly understood, is
sufficient to induce us to do so. The apostle says, Let us go forth from
the city after the Lord Jesus, bearing His reproach. In the first place,
he reminds us, altho the swords should not be drawn against us nor the
fires kindled to burn us, that we can not be truly united to the Son of
God while we are rooted in this world. Wherefore a Christian, even in
repose, must always have one foot lifted to march to battle, and not
only so, but he must have his affections withdrawn from the world, altho
his body is dwelling in it. Grant that this at first sight seems to us
hard, still we must be satisfied with the words of St. Paul (I Thess.
iii.), that we are called and appointed to suffer. As if He had said,
Such is our condition as Christians; this is the road by which we must
go if we would follow Christ.

Meanwhile, to solace our infirmity and mitigate the vexation and sorrow
which persecution might cause us, a good reward is held forth: In
suffering for the cause of God, we are walking step by step after the
Son of God, and have Him for our guide. Were it simply said that to be
Christians we must pass through all the insults of the world boldly, to
meet death at all times and in whatever way God may be pleased to
appoint, we might apparently have some pretext for replying that it is a
strange road to go at peradventure. But when we are commanded to follow
the Lord Jesus, His guidance is too good and honorable to be refused.
Now, in order that we may be more deeply moved, not only is it said that
Jesus Christ walks before us as our Captain, but that we are made
conformable to His image; so St. Paul says in the eighth chapter to the
Romans that God hath ordained all those whom He hath adopted for His
children, to be made conformable to Him who is the pattern and head of

Are we so delicate as to be unwilling to endure anything? Then we must
renounce the grace of God by which He has called us to the hope of
salvation. For there are two things which can not be separated--to be
members of Christ, and to be tried by many afflictions. We certainly
ought to prize such a conformity to the Son of God much more than we do.
It is true, that in the world's judgment there is disgrace in suffering
for the gospel. But since we know that believers are blind, ought we not
to have better eyes than they? It is ignominy to suffer from those who
occupy the seat of justice, but St. Paul shows us by his example that we
have to glory in scourings for Jesus Christ, as marks by which God
recognizes us and avows us for His own. And we know what St. Luke
narrates of Peter and John (Acts v., 41); namely, that they rejoiced to
have been counted worthy to suffer infamy and reproach for the name of
the Lord Jesus.

Ignominy and dignity are two opposites: so says the world, which, being
infatuated, judges against all reason, and in this way converts the
glory of God into dishonor. But, on our part, let us not refuse to be
vilified as concerns the world, in order to be honored before God and
His angels. We see what pains the ambitious take to receive the commands
of a king, and what a boast they make of it. The Son of God presents His
commands to us, and every one stands back. Tell me, pray, whether in so
doing are we worthy of having anything in common with Him? there is
nothing here to attract our sensual nature, but such notwithstanding
are the true escutcheons of nobility in the heavens. Imprisonment,
exile, evil report, imply in men's imagination whatever is to be
vituperated; but what hinders us from viewing things as God judges and
declares them, save our unbelief? Wherefore, let the name of the Son of
God have all the weight with us which it deserves, that we may learn to
count it honor when He stamps His marks upon us. If we act otherwise our
ingratitude is insupportable.

Were God to deal with us according to our desserts, would He not have
just cause to chastise us daily in a thousand ways? Nay more, a hundred
thousand deaths would not suffice for a small portion of our misdeeds!
Now, if in His infinite goodness He puts all our faults under His foot
and abolishes them, and instead of punishing us according to our
demerit, devises an admirable means to convert our afflictions into
honor and a special privilege, inasmuch as through them we are taken
into partnership with His Son, must it not be said, when we disdain such
a happy state, that we have indeed made little progress in Christian

Accordingly, St. Peter, after exhorting us (I Peter iv., 15) to walk so
purely in the fear of God, as not to suffer as thieves, adulterers, and
murderers, immediately adds, that if we must suffer as Christians, let
us glorify God for the blessing which He thus bestows upon us. It is
not without cause he speaks thus. For who are we, I pray, to be
witnesses of the truth of God, and advocates to maintain His cause? Here
we are poor worms of the earth, creatures full of vanity, full of lies,
and yet God employs us to defend His truth--an honor which pertains not
even to the angels of heaven! May not this consideration alone well
inflame us to offer ourselves to God to be employed in any way in such
honorable service?

Many persons, however, can not refrain from pleading against God, or, at
least, from complaining against Him for not better supporting their
weakness. It is marvelously strange, they say, how God, after having
chosen us for His children, allows us to be trampled upon and tormented
by the ungodly. I answer: Even were it not apparent why He does so, He
might well exercise His authority over us, and fix our lot at His
pleasure. But when we see that Jesus Christ is our pattern, ought we
not, without inquiring further, to esteem it great happiness that we are
made like Him? God, however, makes it very apparent what the reasons are
for which He is pleased that we should be persecuted. Had we nothing
more than the consideration suggested by St. Peter (I Peter i., 7), we
were disdainful indeed not to acquiesce in it. He says that since gold
and silver, which are only corruptible metals, are purified and tested
by fire, it is but reasonable that our faith, which surpasses all the
riches of the world, should be so tried.

It were easy indeed for God to crown us at once without requiring us to
sustain any combats; but as it is His pleasure that until the end of the
world Christ shall reign in the midst of His enemies, so it is also His
pleasure that we, being placed in the midst of them, shall suffer their
oppression and violence till He deliver us. I know, indeed, that the
flesh rebels when it is to be brought to this point, but still the will
of God must have the mastery. If we feel some repugnance in ourselves,
it need not surprize us; for it is only too natural for us to shun the
cross. Still let us not fail to surmount it, knowing that God accepts
our obedience, provided we bring all our feelings and wishes into
captivity, and make them subject to Him.

When prophets and apostles went to death, it was not without feeling
some inclination to recoil. "They shall carry thee whither thou wouldst
not," said our Lord Jesus Christ to Peter. (John xxi., 18.) When such
fears of death arise within us, let us gain the mastery over them, or
rather let God gain it; and meanwhile, let us feel assured that we offer
Him a pleasing sacrifice when we resist and do violence to our
inclinations for the purpose of placing ourselves entirely under His
command: This is the principle war in which God would have His people
to be engaged. He would have them strive to suppress every rebellious
thought and feeling which would turn them aside from the path to which
He points. And the consolations are so ample that it may well be said,
we are more than cowards if we give away!

In ancient times vast numbers of people, to obtain a simple crown of
leaves, refused no toil, no pain, no trouble; nay, it even cost them
nothing to die, and yet every one of them fought for a peradventure, not
knowing whether he was to gain or to lose the prize. God holds forth to
us the immortal crown by which we may become partakers of His glory: He
does not mean us to fight at haphazard, but all of us have a promise of
the prize for which we strive. Have we any cause then to decline the
struggle? Do we think it has been said in vain that if we die with Jesus
Christ we shall also live with Him? Our triumph is prepared, and yet we
do all we can to shun the combat.

But it is said that all we teach on this subject is repugnant to human
judgment. I confess it. And hence when our Savior declares, "Blest are
they which are persecuted for righteousness' sake" (Matt, v., 10), He
gives utterance to a sentiment which is not easily received in the
world. On the contrary, He wishes to account that as happiness which in
the judgment of sense is misery. We seem to ourselves miserable when
God leaves us to be trampled upon by the tyranny and cruelty of our
enemies; but the error is that we look not to the promises of God, which
assure us that all will turn to our good. We are cast down when we see
the wicked stronger than we, and planting their foot on our throat; but
such confusion should rather, as St. Paul says, cause us to lift up our
heads. Seeing we are too much disposed to amuse ourselves with present
objects, God in permitting the good to be maltreated, and the wicked to
have sway, shows by evident tokens that a day is coming on which all
that is now in confusion will be reduced to order. If the period seems
distant, let us run to the remedy, and not flatter ourselves in our sin;
for it is certain that we have no faith if we can not carry our views
forward to the coming of Jesus Christ.

To leave no means which may be fitted to stimulate us unemployed, God
sets before us promises on the one hand and threatenings on the other.
Do we feel that the promises have not sufficient influence, let us
strengthen them by adding the threatenings. It is true we must be
perverse in the extreme not to put more faith in the promises of God,
when the Lord Jesus says that He will own us as His before His Father,
provided we confess Him before men. (Matt x., 32; Luke xii., 8.) What
should prevent us from making the confession which He requires? Let men
do their utmost, they can not do worse than murder us! and will not the
heavenly life compensate for this? I do not here collect all the
passages in Scripture which bear on this subject: they are so often
reiterated that we ought to be thoroughly satisfied with them. When the
struggle comes, if three or four passages do not suffice, a hundred
surely ought to make us proof against all contrary temptations.

But if God can not will us to Himself by gentle means, must we not be
mere blocks if His threatening also fail? Jesus Christ summons all those
who from fear of temporal death shall have denied the truth, to appear
at the bar of God his Father, and says, that then both body and soul
will be consigned to perdition. (Matt. x., 28; Luke xii., 5.) And in
another passage He says that He will disclaim all those who shall have
denied Him before men. (Matt. x., 33; Luke xii., 10.) These words, if we
are not altogether impervious to feeling, might well make our hair stand
on end. Be this as it may, this much is certain; if these things do not
move us as they ought, nothing remains for us but a fearful judgment.
(Heb. x., 27.) All the words of Christ having proved unavailing, we
stand convinced of gross infidelity.

It is in vain for us to allege that pity should be shown us, inasmuch as
our nature is so frail; for it is said, on the contrary, that Moses,
having looked to God by faith, was fortified so as not to yield under
any temptation. Wherefore, when we are thus soft and easy to bend, it is
a manifest sign, I do not say that we have no zeal, no firmness, but
that we know nothing either of God or His kingdom. When we are reminded
that we ought to be united to our Head, it seems to us a fine pretext
for exemption to say that we are men. But what were those who have
trodden the path before us? Indeed, had we nothing more than pure
doctrine, all the excuses we could make would be frivolous; but having
so many examples which ought to supply us with the strongest proof, the
more deserving are we of condemnation.

There are two points to be considered. The first is, that the whole body of
the Church in general has always been, and to the end will be, liable to
be afflicted by the wicked, as is said in the Psalms (Psalms cxxix., 1),
"From my youth up they have tormented me, and dragged the plow over me
from one end to the other." The Holy Spirit there brings in the ancient
Church, in order that we, after being much acquainted with her afflictions,
may not regard it as either new or vexatious when the like is done to
ourselves in the present day. St. Paul, also, in quoting from another
Psalm (Rom. vii., 36; Psalm xliv., 22), a passage which says, "We have
been led like sheep to the slaughter"; shows that that has not been for
one age only, but is the ordinary condition of the Church, and shall be.

Therefore, on seeing how the Church of God is trampled upon in the
present day by proud worldlings, how one barks and another bites, how
they torture, how they plot against her, how she is assailed incessantly
by mad dogs and savage beasts, let it remind us that the same thing was
done in all the olden time. It is true God sometimes gives her a truce
and time of refreshment, and hence in the Psalm above quoted it is said,
"He cutteth the cords of the wicked"; and in another passage (Psalm
cxxv., 3), "He breaks their staff, lest the good should fall away, by
being too hardly pressed." But still it has pleased Him that His Church
should always have to battle so long as she is in this world, her repose
being treasured up on high in the heavens. (Heb. iii., 9.)

Meanwhile, the issue of her afflictions has always been fortunate. At
all events, God has caused that tho she has been prest by many
calamities, she has never been completely crusht; as it is said (Psalm
vii., 15), "The wicked with all their efforts have not succeeded in that
at which they aimed." St. Paul glories in the fact, and shows that this
is the course which God in mercy always takes. He says (I Cor. iv., 12)
that we endure tribulations, but we are not in agony; we are
impoverished, but not left destitute; we are persecuted, but not
forsaken; cast down, but we perish not; bearing everywhere in our body
the mortification of the Lord Jesus, in order that His life may be
manifested in our mortal bodies. Such being, as we see, the issue which
God has at all times given to the persecutions of His Church, we ought
to take courage, knowing that our forefathers, who were frail men like
ourselves, always had the victory over their enemies by remaining firm
in endurance.

I only touch upon this article briefly to come to the second, which is
more to our purpose, viz., that we ought to take advantage of the
particular examples of the martyrs who have gone before us. These are
not confined to two or three, but are, as the apostle says (Heb. xii., 1),
"So great a cloud of witnesses." By this expression he intimates that
the number is so great that it ought, as it were, completely to engross
our sight. Not to be tedious, I will only mention the Jews, who were
persecuted for the true religion, as well under the tyranny of King
Antiochus as a little after his death. We can not allege that the number
of sufferers was small, for it formed, as it were, a large army of
martyrs. We can not say that it consisted of prophets whom God had set
apart from common people, for women and young children formed part of
the band. We can not say that they got off at a cheap rate, for they
were tortured as cruelly as it was possible to be. Accordingly, we hear
what the apostle says (Heb. xi., 35), that some were stretched out like
drums, not caring to be delivered, that they might obtain a better
resurrection; others were proved by mockery and blows, or bonds and
prisons; others were stoned or sawn asunder; others traveled up and
down, wandering among mountains and caves.

Let us now compare their case with ours. If they so endured for the
truth which was at that time so obscure, what ought we to do in the
clear light which is now shining? God speaks to us with open mouth; the
great gate of the kingdom of heaven has been opened, and Jesus Christ
calls us to Himself, after having come down to us that we might have
him, as it were, present to our eyes. What a reproach would it be to us
to have less zeal in suffering for the gospel than those who had only
hailed the promises afar off--who had only a little wicket opened
whereby to come to the kingdom of God, and who had only some memorial
and type of Jesus Christ? These things can not be exprest in a word, as
they deserve, and therefore I leave each to ponder them for himself.

The doctrine now laid down, as it is general, ought to be carried into
practise by all Christians, each applying it to his own use according
as may be necessary. This I say, in order that those who do not see
themselves in apparent danger may not think it superfluous as regards
them. They are not at this hour in the hands of tyrants, but how do they
know what God means to do with them hereafter? We ought therefore to be
so forearmed that if some persecution which we did not expect arrives,
we may not be taken unawares. But I much fear that there are many deaf
ears in regard to this subject. So far are those who are sheltered and
at their ease from preparing to suffer death when need shall be that
they do not even trouble themselves about serving God in their lives. It
nevertheless continues true that this preparation for persecution ought
to be our ordinary study, and especially in the times in which we live.

Those, again, whom God calls to suffer for the testimony of His name
ought to show by deeds that they have been thoroughly trained to patient
endurance. Then ought they to recall to mind all the exhortations which
were given them in times past, and bestir themselves just as the soldier
rushes to arms when the tempest sounds. But how different is the result.
The only question is how to find out subterfuges for escaping. I say
this in regard to the greater part; for persecution is a true touchstone
by which God ascertains who are His. And few are so faithful as to be
prepared to meet death boldly.

It is a kind of monstrous thing, that persons who make a boast of having
a little of the gospel, can venture to open their lips to give utterance
to such quibbling. Some will say, What do we gain by confessing our
faith to obstinate people who have deliberately resolved to fight
against God? Is not this to cast pearls before swine? As if Jesus Christ
had not distinctly declared (Matt viii., 38) that He wishes to be
confest among the perverse and malignant. If they are not instructed
thereby, they will at all events remain confounded; and hence confession
is an odor of a sweet smell before God, even tho it be deadly to the
reprobate. There are some who say, What will our death profit? Will it
not rather prove an offense? As if God hath left them the choice of
dying when they should see it good and find the occasion opportune. On
the contrary, we approve our obedience by leaving in His hand the profit
which is to accrue from our death.

In the first place, then, the Christian man, wherever he may be, must
resolve, notwithstanding dangers or threatings, to walk in simplicity as
God has commanded. Let him guard as much as he can against the ravening
of the wolves, but let it not be with carnal craftiness. Above all, let
him place his life in the hands of God. Has he done so?

Then if he happens to fall into the hands of the enemy, let him think
that God, having so arranged, is pleased to have him for one of the
witnesses of His Son, and therefore that he has no means of drawing back
without breaking faith with Him to whom we have promised all duty in
life and in death--Him whose we are and to whom we belong, even though
we should have made no promise.

In saying this I do not lay all under the necessity of making a full and
entire confession of everything which they believe, even should they be
required to do so. I am aware also of the measure observed by St. Paul,
altho no man was ever more determined boldly to maintain the cause of
the gospel as he ought. And hence it is not without cause our Lord
promises to give us, on such an occasion, "a mouth and wisdom" (Luke
xxi., 15); as if he had said, that the office of the Holy Spirit is not
only to strengthen us to be bold and valiant, but also to give us
prudence and discretion, to guide us in the course which it will be
expedient to take.

The substance of the whole is, that those who are in such distress are
to ask and obtain such prudence from above, not following their own
carnal wisdom, in searching out for a kind of loop-hole by which to
escape. There are some who tell us that our Lord Himself gave no answer
to those who interrogated Him. But I rejoin, First, That this does not
abolish the rule which He has given us to make confession of our faith
when so required. (I Peter iii., 15.) Secondly, That He never used any
disguise to save His life: and, Thirdly, That He never gave an answer so
ambiguous as not to embody a sufficient testimony to all that He had to
say; and that, moreover, He had already satisfied those who came to
interrogate Him anew, with the view not obtaining information, but
merely of laying traps to ensnare Him.

Let it be held, then, as a fixed point among all Christians, that they
ought not to hold their life more precious than the testimony to the
truth, inasmuch as God wishes to be glorified thereby. Is it in vain
that He gives the name of witnesses (for this is the meaning of the word
martyr) to all who have to answer before the enemies of the faith? Is it
not because He wished to employ them for such a purpose? Here every one
is not to look for his fellow, for God does not honor all alike with the
call. And as we are inclined so to look, we must be the more on our
guard against it. Peter having heard from the lips of our Lord Jesus
(John xxi., 18) that he should be led in his old age where he would not,
asked, What was to become of his companion John? There is not one among
us who would not readily have put the same question; for the thought
which instantly rises in our mind is, Why do I suffer rather than
others? On the contrary, Jesus Christ exhorts all of us in common, and
each of us in particular, to hold ourselves "ready," in order that
according as He shall call this one or that one, we may march forth in
our turn.

I explained above how little prepared we shall be to suffer martyrdom,
if we be not armed with the divine promises. It now remains to show
somewhat more fully what the purport and aim of these promises are--not
to specify them all in detail, but to show the principal things which
God wishes us to hope from Him, to console us in our afflictions. Now
these things, taken summarily, are three. The first is, that inasmuch as
our life and death are in His hand, He will preserve us by His might
that not a hair will be plucked out of our heads without His leave.
Believers, therefore, ought to feel assured into whatever hands they may
fall, that God is not divested of the guardianship which He exercises
over their persons. Were such a persuasion well imprinted on our hearts,
we should be delivered from the greater part of the doubts and
perplexities which torment us and obstruct us in our duty.

We see tyrants let loose: thereupon it seems to us that God no longer
possesses any means of saving us, and we are tempted to provide for our
own affairs as if nothing more were to be expected from Him. On the
contrary, His providence, as He unfolds it, ought to be regarded by us
as an impregnable fortress. Let us labor, then, to learn the full import
of the expression, that our bodies are in the hands of Him who created
them. For this reason He has sometimes delivered His people in a
miraculous manner, and beyond all human expectation, as Shadrach,
Meshach, and Abednego, from the fiery furnace, Daniel from the den of
lions; Peter from Herod's prison, where he was locked, chained, and
guarded so closely. By these examples He meant to testify that He holds
our enemies in check, altho it may not seem so, and has power to
withdraw us from the midst of death when He pleases. Not that He always
does it; but in reserving authority to Himself to dispose of us for life
and for death, He would have us to feel fully assured that He has us
under His charge; so that whatever tyrants attempt, and with whatever
fury they may rush against us, it belongs to Him alone to order our

If He permits tyrants to slay us, it is not because our life is not dear
to Him, and held in a hundred times greater honor than it deserves. Such
being the case, having declared by the mouth of David (Psalm cxvi., 13),
that the death of the saints is precious in His sight, He says also by
the mouth of Isaiah (xxvi., 21), that the earth will discover the blood
which seems to be concealed. Let the enemies of the gospel, then, be as
prodigal as they will of the blood of martyrs, they shall have to
render a fearful account of it even to its last drop. In the present
day, they indulge in proud derision while consigning believers to the
flames; and after having bathed in their blood, they are intoxicated by
it to such a degree as to count all the murders which they commit mere
festive sport. But if we have patience to wait, God will show in the end
that it is not in vain He has taxed our life at so high a value.
Meanwhile, let it not offend us that it seems to confirm the gospel,
which in worth surpasses heaven and earth.

To be better assured that God does not leave us as it were forsaken in
the hands of tyrants, let us remember the declarations of Jesus Christ,
when He says (Acts ix., 4) that He Himself is persecuted in His members.
God had indeed said before, (Zech. ii., 8), "He who touches you touches
the apple of mine eye." But here it is said much more expressly, that if
we suffer for the gospel, it is as much as if the Son of God were
suffering in person. Let us know, therefore, that Jesus Christ must
forget Himself before He can cease to think of us when we are in prison,
or in danger of death for His cause; and let us know that God will take
to heart all the outrages which tyrants commit upon us, just as if they
were committed on His own Son.

Let us now come to the second point which God declares to us in His
promise for our consolation. It is, that He will so sustain us by the
energy of His Spirit that our enemies, do what they may, even with Satan
at their head, will gain no advantage over us. And we see how He
displays His gifts in such an emergency; for the invincible constancy
which appears in the martyrs abundantly and beautifully demonstrates
that God works in them mightily. In persecution there are two things
grievous to the flesh, the vituperation and insult of men, and the
tortures which the body suffers. Now, God promises to hold out His hand
to us so effectually, that we shall overcome both by patience. What He
thus tells us He confirms by fact. Let us take this buckler, then, to
ward off all fears by which we are assailed, and let us not confine the
working of the Holy Spirit within such narrow limits as to suppose that
He will not easily defeat all the cruelties of men.

Of this we have had, among other examples, one which is particularly
memorable. A young man who once lived with us here, having been
apprehended in the town of Tournay, was condemned to have his head cut
off if he recanted, and to be burned alive if he continued steadfast to
his purpose. When asked what he meant to do, he replied simply, "He who
will give me grace to die patiently for His name, will surely give me
grace to bear the fire." We ought to take this expression not as that of
a mortal man, but as that of the Holy Spirit, to assure us that God is
not less powerful to strengthen us, and render us victorious over
tortures, than to make us submit willingly to a milder death. Moreover,
we oftentimes see what firmness he gives to unhappy malefactors who
suffer for their crimes. I speak not of the hardened, but of those who
derive consolation from the grace of Jesus Christ, and by His means,
with a peaceful heart, undergo the most grievous punishment which can be
inflicted. One beautiful instance is seen in the thief who was converted
at the death of our Lord. Will God, who thus powerfully assists poor
criminals when enduring the punishment of their misdeeds, be so wanting
to His own people, while fighting for His cause, as not to give them
invincible courage?

The third point for consideration in the promises which God gives His
martyrs is, the fruit which they ought to hope for from their
sufferings, and in the end, if need be, from their death. Now, this
fruit is, that after having glorified His Name--after having edified the
Church by their constancy--they, will be gathered together with the Lord
Jesus into His immortal glory. But as we have above spoken of this at
some length, it is enough here to recall it to remembrance. Let
believers, then, learn to lift up their heads towards the crown of glory
and immortality to which God invites them, thus they may not feel
reluctant to quit the present life for such a recompense; and, to feel
well assured of this inestimable blessing, let them have always before
their eyes the conformity which they thus have to our Lord Jesus Christ;
beholding death in the midst of life, just as He, by the reproach of the
cross, attained to the glorious resurrection, wherein consists all our
felicity, joy, and triumph.



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