Beatitudes 50: Persecute 4

“Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great; for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you” (Matthew 5:10-12).

Last week we looked at Christ and how people wondered at His gracious words until He applied the Word to them. Then they wanted to kill Him. Then we looked at men like Jon Huss and William Tyndale. Both men were burned because they stood for Scripture and would not give in to the pressure of Roman Catholicism to conform to it. They caused trouble and they would have been considered rude and crude in our day. They would have been accused of being divisive and of calling names in our day. In their own day they were considered as those who were causing disunity and bringing trouble to the Church, and they would have been accused of the same in our day. However, without Jon Huss there might have been no Martin Luther. Without William Tyndale our world would be different without the Bible in the English language that molded men and history.

If we look at men in Scripture and of the history of the Church, those that God used to change history were men who were not liked and caused trouble. As we look at more of those who were either martyred or heavily persecuted for their faith, we see a pattern emerge. God uses those with faith in Him and who love Him enough not to take the standard path of those around them to bring true change. We must always remember that when people try to bring change by something less than a firm standing for the truth that they themselves are the ones that are changed. This is something that is far different than just being a person that is stubborn or being a troublemaker, but this is something that God must put in a person and comes from a deep conviction that is moved from a fire for the truth and glory of God. Those that desire true change in our day will also be called names and will suffer insults and persecutions done in the name of religion and perhaps orthodoxy.

George Wishart was a preacher in Scotland who became infected with the Reformation teaching. He was forced into exile in 1538 after charges of heresy put his life in danger. He returned to Scotland in 1544 and was in Dundee ministering to those afflicted with the plague that had consumed the city. While there, Wishart was preaching and a priest under the orders of Cardinal Beaton confronted Wishart with a cloaked dagger. Wishart noticed the dagger and the intent of the priest and said, “My friend, what would you have?” The man was terrified and fell to his knees pleading for forgiveness. Those in the congregation of the sick were ready to do harm to the would-be assassin, but Wishart protected him.

Cardinal Beaton caught up with Wishart in December of 1545. Wishart was accused and put on trial for the following teachings:

  1. For refusing to accept that a confession was a sacrament.
  2. For denying free will.
  3. For rejecting the idea that an infinite God could be comprehended in one place between the priests hands. Instead, he said that the true Church was where Christ’s Word was truthfully taught.

Wishart dedicated his life to bringing Reformation to Scotland. He once said that “with the hazard of my life I have remained among you; and I must leave my innocence to be declared by my God.” He was burned in March 1, 1546 while Cardinal Beaton watched from a castle window. In the last minutes of his life he was like his Lord who prayed for the forgiveness of those who were responsible for his death. Wishart could have saved his own life if he would have given in to the teaching that a confession was a sacrament and to uphold free will. Today we think of free will as a rather small issue. Luther wrote in the Bondage of the Will that it was the heart of the Gospel. George Wishart thought the denial of free will was worth dying for. Wishart would have wept to see our day.

“Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great; for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you” (Matthew 5:10-12).

Felix Manz became enamored with the teachings of Ulrich Zwingli in 1519 and became associated with that reform movement. Within two years, however, he was wondering if Zwingli was compromising over the baptism issue. Despite Zwingli’s teaching, Manz and a few others could not find infant baptism in the Bible. If something is not in the Bible, they reasoned, it must have been invented by human beings. Sound faith cannot be based on things that are the result of human invention. The small group continued to dissent even after the Zurich City Council found in favor of Zwingli’s ideas. Four days later Manz and a small group met to pray over this issue. They ended up baptizing each other which was a crime against the state.

After two years Manz was arrested and put in prison. He was ordered to cease his radical reforms but he could not deny his faith. Manz was not even thirty years old when he was martyred by other reformers. On January 5 of 1527 he was placed in a boat and taken out on the Lammat River. He was bound and weighted with the intent to throw him into the river and drown him as was thought appropriate for a Baptist. On his way to the boat his mother and brothers urged him to remain strong. His faith endured and he was thrown into the river where he drowned. He left these words in prison: “I praise thee, O Lord Christ in Heaven, that Thou dost turn away my sorrow and sadness…already before my end has come, that I should have eternal joy in Him.”

“Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great; for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you” (Matthew 5:10-12).

Michael Sattler was born in 1495 and eventually became a monk. Eventually he broke his oath of celibacy and married a nun named Margarita. They became part of the Anabaptist movement. At one point Michael renounced his beliefs in order to avoid imprisonment, but he returned with strengthened convictions in 1526. He began to preach in a strongly Catholic area of Austria. In 1527 the Anabaptists met in a small town in Germany and wrote out Seven Articles of Faith. Michael Sattler was one who helped to write this founding document. While traveling home from this meeting both Michael and Margarita were captured and their documents confiscated. They were tried before a judge in May of 1527. The charges against them were various violations of doctrine and practice, but the most serious were the charges against the Eucharist, baptism and the veneration of the saints. The court ordered that Michael would be taken to the square and have his tongue cut out and then chained to a wagon where his body was to be torn twice with hot tongs there and then five times at the gate. His body was to be burned to powder as an arch-heretic. While Michael cried “Almighty eternal God, Thou are the way and the truth, the sentence was carried out. Eight days later the same sentence was carried out on Margarita.

“Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great; for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you” (Matthew 5:10-12).

Whereas Wishart was burned because he would not recant his belief that the doctrine of free will was false and of issues on the sacraments, Manz was drowned in icy water over the issue of Baptism. Michael and Margarita Sattler were tortured and killed for their beliefs against the Roman Catholic way of salvation. There were others who died too and understood that they were not their own and were as sheep to be slaughtered. They understood that their first love was to Christ and so they did not seek an easy peace in order to live easy lives. They were willing to be insulted, persecuted and die for their love for the truth of God and His glory. The issues of free will and of baptism were not considered minor things, though today many think that they are. Luther suffered much over his denial of free will and the Gospel and certainly appeared ready to die for it. Wishart did die for his denial of free will as the essence of the Gospel was at stake. In our day in the United States we don’t face trials, tortures and then burnings for our denial of free will and of baptism. Maybe that is why we don’t see them as all that important any longer. We might get kicked out of a church or face some denominational ridicule at most if we really stood up. Some think it is foolish to cause disturbances within churches and denominations over free will. Nevertheless, we will all stand before the judgment seat of God for how we treat Him and the one Gospel of grace alone. The Gospel is not by grace and free will, but of grace alone. Love for Him should give us all that we need to stand firm. We will see.

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