ŇAnd others had trial of cruel mockings and scourgings, yea, moreover of bonds and imprisonment: They were stoned, they were sawn asunder, were tempted, were slain with the sword: they wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins; being destitute, afflicted, tormentedÓ Hebrews 11:36-37.
I. And others had trial of cruel mockings and scourgings, yea, moreover of bonds and imprisonment.
The second kind of suffering wherewith the servants of God were then tried is mocking. Touching the which we may observe divers points:
1. First, whence it came. No doubt it came from ungodly persons that were enemies to GodŐs church and true religion; for here it is made a part of the trial of GodŐs church by the enemies hereof.
Here then behold the state of mockers and scoffers at the servants of God; they are here accounted wicked wretches, and enemies to God and to His truth. So St Jude, speaking of certain false prophets which were crept into the church, calls them ungodly men (Jude 4), which he proves afterward by their black mouths in evil speaking (vv. 8,10). And Ishmael is accounted a persecutor by the Holy Ghost for mocking Isaac (Gal. 4:29). And David reckoning up the degrees of sinners, makes the chair of the scornful the third and highest (Psa. 1:1). All these places shew the heinousness of this sin; and therefore if any of us, young or old, high or low, have been overtaken with it heretofore, let us now repent and leave it; for it is odious in GodŐs sight. Thou that art a scoffer mayest flatter thyself and think all is well, let the matter prove how it can, words are but wind. But know thy case is fearful; for as yet thou wantest the fear of God, and art an enemy to Christ and His religion, and one day thou shalt be judged, not only for thy wicked deeds, but for all thy cruel speakings (Jude 15).
2. Secondly, whereas these servants of God were tried by mockings, it shews that GodŐs church in this world is subject to this affliction. It is not a thing newly begun in this age of ours, but hath always been in GodŐs church from the beginning (Gen. 21:9), Ishmael mocked Isaac; and Isaiah brings in Christ complaining thus (Isa. 8:18): Behold I and the children whom the Lord hath given me are as signs and wonders in Israel. And Jeremiah saith (Jer. 20:7), I am in derision daily; every one mocketh me. Yea, our Saviour Christ upon the cross, when he was working the blessed work of manŐs redemption, was even then mocked by the spiteful Jews (Matt. 27:41). And Paul was mocked of the Athenians for preaching Christ and the resurrection (Acts 17:18).
Now if this has been the estate of Christ our Head, and of His most worthy prophets and apostles, to be mocked and scorned; then must no child of God at this day think to escape; for if they have done this to the green tree, what will they do to the dry? Wherefore if we belong to Christ, we must prepare for it, and arm ourselves with patience to undergo this trial. The disciple is not above his master, nor the servant above the lord. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebub, how much more them of the house (Matt. 10:24,25).
3. Thirdly, whereas these servants of God were tried by mockings, and did endure the same by faith; here we learn how to behave ourselves when we are subject to mocking and derision, especially for religionŐs sake. We must not return mock for mock and taunt for taunt; but with meekness of heart learn to bear the same. When Christ was upon the cross, the Jews most shamefully mocked Him; yet even then did Christ pray for them. And the same was DavidŐs behaviour, as we read notably in Psalm 38:12-14. When his enemies spake evil of him, what did he? Did he rail on them again? No; He was as a deaf man, and heard not; and as a dumb man which openeth not his mouth; even as a man that heareth not; and in whose mouth are no reproofs. This was a rare thing in David, that he could thus bridle his affections in the case of reproach; but read the 15th verse and we shall see the cause: He trusted in the Lord his God; also he considered the hand of God in their reproaches (2 Sam. 16:10), and these things made him silent. This example we must look upon, and learn hereby with patience to possess our souls under reproach.
II-V. The third kind of suffering is scourging. They were not only mocked for religion, but also whipped and scourged. The fourth is bonds and imprisonment. The fifth is stoning (v.37), they were stoned. The sixth is this: They were sawn asunder. These were all worthy fruits of faith, being endured for religionsŐ sake; but the particular points that might here be observed have been handled before, and therefore I pass them over.
VI. The seventh kind of suffering is this: They were tempted. These words, by the change of a letter in the original, may be read thus: They were burned. And some do so translate it; thinking that they that wrote or copied out this epistle at first, did put one letter for another. Their reason is because examples of grievous punishments are mentioned both before and after this; and therefore they think that this should be burning, which is a sore and grievous death. But we may safely and truly read the words thus: They were tempted; contriving hereby that they were enticed and allured by fair promises of life to forsake their religion. So the same word is used by St James, saying (Jam. 1:14), Every man is tempted when he is drawn away by his own concupiscence and is enticed. If any ask why this trial in tempting should be placed among such cruel torments, I answer, because it is as great a trial as any can be. For it is as dangerous a temptation to overthrow religion and a good conscience as any punishment in the world. This appears plainly in ChristŐs temptations by the devil; for in those three, Satan bewrays his malice and craft against Christ and His church most notably. Now Satan, not prevailing with the two first, makes his third and last assault from the glory and dignity of the world; for shewing unto Christ all the kingdoms of the world, and the glory of them, He saith, All these will I give thee, if thou wilt fall down and worship me (Matt. 4:9). Indeed ChristŐs holy heart would not yield unto it; but that it was a grievous temptation appears by ChristŐs answer. For in the former temptations, He only disputed with Satan out of Scripture; but when this temptation comes, Christ bids him (as it were in passion) Avoid Satan; signifying thereby not only His abhorring of that sin, but also the danger of that assault by the world. And indeed these temptations on the right hand (as we may call them) will most dangerously creep into the heart, and cause shipwreck of faith and a good conscience. All DavidŐs troubles and persecutions could not bring him to so grievous sins as did a little ease and rest. A huge great army cannot so soon give entrance to an enemy into a city, as riches and fair promises; neither can bodily torments so soon prevail against a good conscience, as will worldly pleasures and fair promises. In regard whereof, we must take heed that we be not deceived by the world; for the view of the glory and pomp thereof will sooner steal from a man both religion and a good conscience than any persecution can possibly do. And indeed, who do so oft change their religion when trials come, as they that have the world at will?
VII. The eighth example of suffering is this: They were slain with the sword. There can be nothing said of this which hath not been spoken in the former examples, and therefore I omit it.
VIII. The ninth and last example of suffering is this: They wandered up and down in sheepskins and goatskins, being destitute, afflicted and tormented; that is, being either banished, or constrained by flight to save their lives, they wandered up and down in base attire, and were destitute of ordinary food and comfort; and so in great affliction and torment.
1. Here we see these servants of God were driven from their own country, friends and families, by persecutions. Whence we observe that in time of persecution, a Christian man may lawfully flee for his safety, if he be not hindered by the bond of private or public calling. For these servants of God, here commended for their faith, did flee when they were persecuted; and that by faith; therefore the action is lawful, as I might prove at large, but that I have spoken of it heretofore. When our Saviour Christ knew that the Pharisees heard of the multitude of disciples which he made (John 4:1,3), He left Judea, where they had greatest jurisdiction, and came into Galilee for His safety. The prophets in the Old Testament did flee; as Elijah from Jezabel (1 Kin. 19:3). And so did the apostles in the New, and that by ChristŐs direction (Matt. 10:23).
Objection 1. But some will say, persecution is the hand of God, and therefore no man may flee from it; for so he should seem to flee from God Himself. Answer: We must consider persecution two ways: First, as it is the hand of God; secondly, as it is the work of the wicked enemies of GodŐs church. For them God useth sometimes as instruments, in laying His hands upon His church, either for chastisement or for trial. Now a Christian being persecuted for the truth, and having liberty to flee, cannot be said to flee from GodŐs hand, unless he went away contrary to GodŐs command, as Jonah did being sent to Nineveh; and besides, he knows that is impossible. But his intent is to flee from the wrath of his enemies to save his life for the further good of GodŐs church. Again, the reason is not good to say that persecution is the hand of God, therefore a man may not flee from it. For so might a man conclude that none ought to flee from sickness, or from war; both which a man may do with a safe conscience, not being hindered by some special calling.
Objection 2. But everyone is bound to testify his faith and his religion before his enemies; and therefore may not flee in persecution. Answer: True indeed; a Christian man must so testify his faith, if he be called thereto of God; but if God give him liberty and opportunity to flee, then He will not have him at that time to justify his religion by that means.
Objection 3. But if it be lawful to flee, how then comes it to pass that some of GodŐs children, when they might have fled, would not; but have stood to justify their profession unto death? Answer: We must judge reverently of them, and think they did it by some special instinct and motion of GodŐs Spirit; as appeareth by their patience and constancy in their greatest torments. Examples hereof we have in our English Acts and Monuments, in men worthy of notable commendations for their constancy and zeal for the truth of the gospel.
Question: If flight in persecution may be an action of faith; why may not the minister of GodŐs Word flee in persecution? Answer: There be some cases wherein the minister may lawfully flee: First, when that particular church and congregation over which he is placed, is dispersed by the enemies; so as he hath no hope to gather and call them back again; then (no doubt) he may flee, till his congregation be gathered again. Secondly, if the persecutors do specially aim at the ministerŐs life, then with the consent of his flock, he may go apart for his own safety for a time. So it was with Paul, when the Ephesians were in an uproar about their Diana. Paul in zeal would have entered in among them, but the disciples suffered him not (Acts 19:30). This they did for PaulŐs safety and the good of the church; for they knew those idolaters would have been most fierce against Paul. And so ought every particular church to have special care of the life of the minister. Other causes there be in which he may flee; but I will not stand to recite all, because there be so many circumstances which may alter the case, as well respecting his enemies as himself and his people; making that unlawful at one time, and to some persons, which to others, or at another time may be lawful.
2. Secondly, whereas it is said, These servants of God wandered up and down; we do learn that a man may lawfully go from place to place, and travel from country to country; if so be he goes in faith, as these men did. Again, their going was to keep faith and a good conscience; and for the same end may a man lawfully travel from place to place. But when men go not in faith, nor yet for this end, the better to keep a good conscience; then undoubtedly their travel is not lawful.
By this then we have just cause to reprove the bad course of many wanderers among us; as:
(1) First, of our common beggars, whose whole life is nothing else but a wandering from place to place; though not in faith nor for conscienceŐs sake; but they find a sweetness in their idle kind of life; and therefore they wander, because they would not work. Now this their course (having no other ground but love of idleness, and contempt of pains in a lawful calling) cannot but be greatly displeasing unto God; who enjoins that every man should walk in some lawful calling, and eat his own bread (2 Thess. 3:12). This they do not, and therefore the curse of God pursueth them; for generally they are given up to most horrible sins of injustice and uncleanness; they walk inordinately; for they range not themselves into any families, but live more like brute beasts than men; they are not members of any particular congregation, but excommunicate themselves from all churches; and so live as though there were no God, no Christ, nor true religion. And herein we may see GodŐs hand more heavy upon them, that they take all their delight in that course of wandering, which in its own nature is a curse and a punishment.
(2) Secondly, we may here also justly reprove the course of some others among us, who will needs be travellers; not for religionŐs sake (for that were commendable if they had such need), nor yet by virtue of their calling (which were lawful), but only for this end, to see fashions and strange countries; and they refrain not from such places as Rome, Spain etc., wherein the cruel Inquisition will hardly suffer any to pass with safety of a good conscience. But shall we think that this their travel is commendable? No surely; for the end of lawful travel is the preservation of faith and a good conscience, or the bond of some lawful calling. Now these men travelling upon no such grounds, but only upon pleasure; how shall we think they will stand to the truth, when they thrust themselves into such needless danger and trial? The crazed consciences of many at their return shew sufficiently the badness of that course.
3. Further, note the state of these believers for their attire; it was of sheepskins and goatskins. The like may be observed in other famous prophets and servants of God; Elijah wore a garment of hair, and thereby was known (2 Kin. 1:8). And so did John Baptist (Matt. 3:4). Yea, the false prophets went so arrayed, that they might the rather be respected of the people (Zech. 3:4). And our Saviour Christ saith, The false prophets shall come in sheepŐs clothing, like the true prophets; when as indeed they are ravening wolves (Matt. 7:15). Now the true prophets of God went thus basely attired, that not only by word and doctrine, but also in life and conversation, they might preach repentance unto the people. And indeed, every minister of the gospel ought to be a light unto his people both in life and doctrine; and he that preacheth well, and doth not live according to his doctrine, builds with the one hand and pulls down with the other. Now whereas these servants of God went up and down in such base attire as sheepskins and goatskins; it was for povertyŐs sake, being deprived of friends, goods, house and lands; and so destitute of provision for better attire.
In their example, we may note that GodŐs servants and children may be brought to extreme poverty and necessity; so as they shall want ordinary food and raiment, and be fain to cover themselves with beastŐs skins. This was the poor state and condition of godly Lazarus. Yea, Christ Jesus, for our sakes did undergo a mean estate; for He had not place where to lay His head (Matt. 8:20); and at His death He had not so much ground of His own as might serve for a burial place; but was laid in JosephŐs tomb, which is a great comfort to any child of God in like distress. For why should any be dismayed with that estate which Christ Jesus and His dearest servants have undergone for His example?
Here some may ask how this can stand with the saying of David, I have been young, and am old; yet I never saw the righteous forsaken, nor begging bread (Psa. 37:25). Answer: DavidŐs saying may be taken two ways: First, as his own observation in his time. For he saith not, The righteous is never forsaken, but that he never saw it; and indeed it is a rare thing to see the righteous forsaken. Secondly (which I take to be DavidŐs meaning), the righteous man is never forsaken, and his seed too. For if God lay temporal chastisements on any of His servants, suffering them to want, yet He forsaketh not his seed after him; but reneweth His mercy towards them, if they walk in obedience before Him. He may make trial of godly parents by want, but their godly children shall surely be blessed; so that this hindereth not, but that the godly may be in want.
Further, whereas they are said to go up and down in sheepskins and goatskins, we must understand that they did it by faith. From whence we learn that when all temporal blessings fail, then the child of God must by faith lay hold upon GodŐs gracious promises of life eternal, and stay himself thereon.
This point must be remembered carefully; for say we should want all kinds of temporal benefits, must we thereupon despair, and think that God hath forsaken us? God forbid; nay, when all means fail, and the whole world is against us, yet then we must lay hold upon the promise of life eternal in Christ, and thereupon rest our souls. Thus did these believers in this place. And this faith did Job notably testify, when God had taken from him children, goods, health, yea, and all that he had, yet then he said (Job 13:15), Though he kill me, yet will I trust in Him. And so must we endeavour to do, if that case befall us; for when all worldly helps and comforts fail us, this promise of life in Christ will be a sweet and safe refuge for our soul.
4. Being destitute, afflicted and tormented.
Here the apostle amplifieth their misery in their wandering estate, by three degrees of crosses which did accompany the same. First, they were destitute of temporal blessings; secondly, they were afflicted both in body and mind; thirdly, tormented, that is, evil entreated. These are added for a special cause to shew that these servants of God were laden with afflictions; they were banished and driven to extreme poverty; they were deprived of all their goods, and of all society of men; they were afflicted in body and in mind, and evil entreated of all men; no man would do them good, but all men did them wrong; whereby we see that even waves of misery overwhelmed them on every side.
Hence we learn that GodŐs servants may be overwhelmed with manifold calamities at the same instant, being pressed down with crosses in goods, in body, mind, friends, and every way. This was JobŐs case, a most worthy servant of God; he was afflicted in body, in friends, goods and children, and (which was greatest of all) he wrestled in conscience with the wrath of God (Job 13:26), Thou writest bitter things against me, and makest me to possess the iniquities of my youth. And the like hath been the estate of many of GodŐs children (Psa. 88:3,7), My soul is filled with evils; thou hast vexed me with all thy ways, etc.
Question: How can this stand with the truth of GodŐs Word, wherein are promises of all manner of blessings both temporal and spiritual to those that fear Him (Deut. 28:1,2 etc.), If thou obey the voice of the Lord thy God, all these blessings shall come upon thee and overtake thee; blessings in the city and in the field; in the fruit of thy body, and of thy ground and cattle. (Psa. 34:10), They that seek the Lord shall lack nothing that is good. For godliness hath the promise of this life, and of the life to come (1 Tim. 4:8). And therefore David compareth the godly man to the tree that is planted by the waterŐs side, which bringeth forth much fruit, and is green and well liking (Psa. 1:3). How then comes this to pass that GodŐs own servants should be thus oppressed and laden not with one calamity or two, but with sundry and grievous afflictions at the same time? Answer: True it is the Scripture is full of gracious promises of temporal blessings unto GodŐs children; but they are conditional, and must be understood with an exception to this effect: GodŐs children shall have such and such blessings, unless it please God by afflictions to make trial of His graces in them, or to chastise them for some sin; so that the exception of the cross for the trial of grace, or chastisement for sin, must be applied to all promises of temporal blessings. And hence it comes to pass that the most worthy and renowned servants of God for their faith, are said to be afflicted and in misery. For His promises of temporal blessings are not absolute but conditional. All things are theirs (as Paul saith, 1 Cor. 3:21), and they shall have honour, favour etc. unless it please God to prove their faith, or to chastise their sins by crosses and afflictions.
Question: How can GodŐs servants be able to bear so many and grievous crosses at once, seeing it is hard for a man to bear one cross patiently? The answer is here laid down, to wit, by faith; for many and grievous were the miseries that lay on these servants of God; and yet by believing the promise of life in the Messiah, they were enabled to hear them all. This is a sovereign remedy against immoderate grief in the greatest distress; and undoubtedly the floods of affliction shall never overwhelm him that hath his heart assured by faith of the mercy of God toward him by Jesus Christ. This made David say (Psa. 23:4), He would not fear evil, though he should walk through the valley of the shadow of death. And Paul speaking of tribulation, anguish, famine, persecution, yea, and death itself, saith, In all these we are more than conquerors through Him that loved us (Rom. 8:37). And from this faith it was that he was able to endure all estates, to be hungry, to want, etc. (Phil. 4:12,13).
If this be true, that GodŐs children may be afflicted with manifold calamities at once, then the opinion of natural and ungodly men is false, who judge him and think him to be wicked and ungodly, whom God ladeth with manifold calamities. This was the judgement of JobŐs three friends, and the ground of all their disputation against him; that because God had laid so many crosses upon him, therefore he was but an hypocrite. And this is the rash judgment of natural men in our days, especially upon those that make profession of religion; when GodŐs hand of trial or correction lies upon them, they presently censure them for hypocrites; but this is a wretched opinion; for GodŐs dearest children may be pressed down with manifold calamities.
Secondly, seeing faith in Christ will support the soul under manifold crosses; be they never so grievous; we must labour in the fear of God, to have our hearts rooted and grounded in this faith; and when afflictions come, we must strive to shew forth the fruit and power of it by bearing them patiently.
And thus much of the several branches of affliction, in this last example of believers.