The Hardest Persecution

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“The things you own…end up owning you.”

-Tyler Durden, Fight Club

I found myself flipping through St. Clement’s treatise The Rich Man’s Salvation recently, as I reflect on possessions for my current sermon series on the 10 Commandments.  He has an interesting take on Christian persecution:

“Now one kind of persecution comes from without, when men, whether through hatred, or envy, or love of gain, or by the prompting of the devil, harry the faithful.  But the hardest persecution is that from within, proceeding from each man’s soul that is defiled by godless lusts and manifold pleasures, by low hopes and corrupting imaginations; when ever coveting more, and maddened and inflamed by fierce loves, it is stung by its attendant passions…into states of frenzied excitement, into despair of life and contempt of God. This persecution is heavier and harder, because it arises from within and is ever with us; nor can the victim escape from it, for he carries his enemy about within himself everywhere.” (Clement of Alexandria, #92 in the Loeb Classical Library [Cambridge: Harvard University press 2003], 322-323.)

This does not deny that the outward and overt forms of persecution should be denied or marginalized, mind you.  But it does serve as a useful reminder that the Church has always flourished when faced with external persecution.  This other, “hardest” persecution, however, seems to be precisely that which is destroying the church in the modern West.

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2 thoughts on “The Hardest Persecution”

  1. Hi Pastor Mack,

    Thank you for your post. It immediately reminded me of The Great Divorce by C. S. Lewis. I do not know if you have read the text, but there is a character who literally carries his sin of lust around with him in the form of a little red lizard that rides on his shoulder, whispering lustful thoughts into to his ear. In the book, the man is confronted by an angel who offers to rid him of his sin/lizard and kill it, but the angel can only do so by the man giving him his permission. After going back and forth as to why the lizard should be spared, the man finally allows the angel to kill the lizard. Upon doing so, the man is transformed into a being similar to the angel — glowing in righteousness — and the lizard has changed into a noble steed.

    Essentially, your post helped me remember that in addition to the “hardest persecution” being “that from within,” that it can be done away with by submitting our sins to God and allowing our Heavenly Father to cleanse us. We often get caught up in the struggle and think that our sins, or a particularly persistent sin, will be a constant burden and that we will just need to get used to dealing with it. However, I don’t believe this is the case. I think that if we were to truly practice consistent obedience to God in all things that we would be relieved of our carnal weaknesses. Yet, while this is possible, the only person who has managed to do so is Jesus Christ. Again, we sometimes rationalize our seeming inability to overcome temptation in saying that we are not Christ or that it is too difficult to fully emulate the Son of God. Despite this, as believers, we cannot argue that Jesus was human; therefore, we are like Christ in that regard. I think we just do not give ourselves enough credit or perhaps even refuse to acknowledge what we are capable of and that this can be due to an unwillingness to abandon our sins or an attack from the enemy wanting to keep us tied to our sinful behavior, or both. Regardless, in order to move past our sins we must submit them to God. Only then can we experience the serenity of being gathered in His bosom and the confidence of knowing that through God we have the power to overcome anything.

    Best Regards,

    – That Theologian

    1. That,

      I am a big fan of CS Lewis but i didn’t recall that particular section. Thanks for the reminder and the connection to my own reflection. I think you are right that we often cut ourselves short; “humanity” is too often used as if it is coterminous with “interminably fallible and frail”. The Christian East was right in saying, “God became man that man might become God.” The tradition of deification/theosis/holiness is one that is very much lost, or at least pathetically distorted, among Protestant Christians. The lives of the saints like Francis remind us that, through the Holy Spirit’s work in us, we can be free of sin in many respects. John Wesley spoke of “perfecting grace,” by which we could become perfect – not in the sense of angelic perfection – but perfect in love and devotion to God. We usually aim too short of the goal of Christian living, and hit our goal. Thanks for stopping by.

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