According to Thomas Brooks, a British Congregationalist preacher who lived 1608-1680, church history records the extent to which the early followers of Jesus suffered for their faith.
Peter was crucified with his heels upward—Christ was crucified with his head upwards, but Peter thought this was too great an honour for him to be crucified as his Lord, and therefore he chose to be crucified with his heels upward; and Andrew was crucified by Egeus, king of Edessa; and James the son of Zebedee was slain by Herod with the sword, (Acts 12:2); and Philip was crucified at Hierapolis in Asia; and while Bartholomew was preaching the glad tidings of salvation, multitudes fell upon him and beat him down with staves, and then crucified him, and after all this, his skin was flayed off, and he beheaded; Thomas was slain with a dart [short lance] at Calumina in India; and Matthew was slain with a spear, say some, others say he was run through with a sword; and James the son of Alpheus, who was called the Just, was thrown down from off a pinnacle of the temple, and yet having some life left in him, he was brained with a fuller’s club; Lebbeus was slain by Agbarus, king of Edessa; and Paul was beheaded at Rome under Nero; and Simon the Canaanite was crucified in Egypt, say some, others say that he and Jude were slain in a tumult of the people; and Matthias was stoned to death; and John was banished into Patmos, (Rev 1:9), and afterwards, as some histories tell us, he was by that cruel tyrant Domitian cast into a tun [large cask] of scalding lead, and yet delivered by a miracle. Thus all these precious servants of God, except John, died violent deaths, and so through sufferings entered into glory; they found in their own experience the truth of what Christ had foretold concerning their sufferings and persecutions. [From a sermon entitled “Are We Mad Now to Pursue after Godliness?” found here.]
This record is painfully accurate fulfillment of Jesus’ warning to His disciples concerning the reality of being hated for being a Christian:
If the world hates you, you know that it has hated Me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you, ‘A slave is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you (John 15:18-20).
But be on your guard; for they will deliver you to the courts, and you will be flogged in the synagogues, and you will stand before governors and kings for My sake, as a testimony to them. And the gospel must first be preached to all the nations. And when they arrest you and deliver you up, do not be anxious beforehand about what you are to say, but say whatever is given you in that hour; for it is not you who speak, but it is the Holy Spirit. And brother will deliver brother to death, and a father his child; and children will rise up against parents and have them put to death. And you will be hated by all on account of My name, but the one who endures to the end, he shall be saved (Mark 13:11-13).
The bodily pain endured by our faithful forefathers is almost indescribable. Some heroes of the faith “were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were tempted, they were put to death with the sword; they went about in sheepskins, in goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, ill-treated” (Hebrews 11:37). Such bodily torture is hard for comfortable Christians in peace-loving countries to imagine.
However, there is another, less visible, form of suffering for Christ—the internal, emotional agony that accompanies watching how your suffering affects those closest to you. That was the case for John Bunyan, writer of the enduring classic Pilgrim’s Progress. His autobiographical testimony of conversion, Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners, stirred my heart. During his twelve-year imprisonment for preaching the gospel, he wrote of the internal pain of being separated from his family, especially his blind daughter, Mary.
I found myself a man encompassed with infirmities. The parting with my wife and poor children has often been to me in this place as pulling the flesh from the bones [take a moment to think about it!], not only because I am somewhat too fond of these great mercies, but also because I would have often brought to my mind the many hardships, miseries, and needs that my poor family were likely to meet with should I be taken from them, especially my poor blind child, who lay nearer to my heart than all the others. Oh, the thoughts of the hardship my poor blind one might undergo would break my heart to pieces. Poor child, what sorrow are you likely to have for your portion in this world! You must be beaten, must beg, suffer hunger, cold, nakedness, and a thousand calamities, though I cannot now endure that the wind should blow upon you. Yet, recalling myself, I thought that I must entrust you all with God, though it goes to the quick to leave you.
What are we to make of all of this? It seems so strange, so distant from our own peaceful form of Christianity. What we should make of it is that persecution should be expected. Suffering for the sake of the gospel is an honor bestowed on those who love God wholly. Paul warned young Timothy, “all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Tim 3:12). The pursuit of holiness will surely evoke fierce winds of persecution, but Brooks leaves us with massive encouragement:
All the troubles, afflictions, and persecutions that attends holiness, can never reach a Christian’s soul, they can never diminish a Christian’s treasure; they reach the shell, not the kernel; the case, not the jewel; the lumber, not the goods; the outhouse [outbuilding], not the palace; the ribbon in the hat, not the gold in the purse. The most fiery trials and persecutions can never deprive a Christian of the special presence of God, nor of the light of his countenance, nor of the testimony of a good conscience, nor of the joys of the Spirit, nor of the pardon of sin, nor of fellowship with Christ, nor of the exercise of grace, nor of the hopes of glory (Ps 23:4; 2 Cor 1:8,9,12); and therefore certainly they can’t hurt a Christian, they can’t wrong a Christian in his greatest and chiefest concernments (p. 29).
Praise be to God who has (already) given us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ!
[Excerpted from my book, Delight in the Word]