A Share in Shame
Joseph is one of the most prominent individuals to have suffered for righteousness’ sake, and as a consequence of this we can see clearly in his life the two phases of persecution to which all who stand up for the truth are liable to suffer. On the one hand he is disgraced by isolation, being cast out by his brethren (Gen. 37: 18–28), and on the other (having struggled through those contrary circumstances into a place of honour), he has to brave a second disgrace in association. This is on account of the fact that the Israelites were shepherds, and belonged to a class loathed and feared by the Egyptians (Gen. 46: 34). Despite this Joseph voluntarily identifies himself with the children of Israel—they were God’s people—and thus takes a share in their disgrace.
Some, who have the courage to stand alone in a right cause, do not have the courage to associate themselves with a discredited people. The latter is much more shameful and humbling. To stand alone against the world may seem heroic; there is no such appearance, indeed quite the reverse, in being connected with a derided company. There may, however, be real heroism in being so connected.
Look at Church history. Erasmus had the courage to publish the principles of the Reformation and to satirise the priests of Rome, but he did not dare associate himself with the humble, ignorant and disorderly peasantry led by the Saxon miner’s son. He said Luther and his adherents were “too violent and extreme”—and the words of it was, what he said was quite true! Sadly, the contemptible few who hold the truth are often open to attack, and are, like Israel, blemished with sins and inconsistencies which their critics are swift to detect and exaggerate. Nonetheless they are the people of God, and the faithful servant of God will identify himself with them. Not only will he say “And I will speak of thy testimonies before kings, and will not be ashamed” (Ps. 119: 46), but also “I am the companion of all that fear thee, and of them that keep thy precepts” (v63). Indeed, he will eat for them the sin offering in the holy place and confess, as the Messiah does in the sixty–ninth psalm, their sins as his own. The world despises them, and never tires of chronicling their sins and caricaturing their infirmities. Strange to say, the gravest charge against the children of Israel was a matter in which they were not only innocent but commendable—the Egyptians despised them mainly because they were shepherds! Thus, though the world will not shrink from pointing those faults, you, in measure, take character from Christ.
It is good to see the truth and declare it as Erasmus did, but how much more noble to be willing to take the consequences of it, and identify oneself with its disadvantages and associations. In this way Joseph, Moses, Mordecai, Nehemiah and others, courtiers though they were, sanctioned the cause of the persecuted and faulty people of God. Again, how grateful was Paul to Onesiphorus: “for he has often refreshed me, and has not been ashamed of my chain; but being in Rome sought me out very diligently, and found [me]” (“ Tim. 1: 16–17). Truly a place of obscurity and dishonour! So John of Gaunt stood by Wvcliff, and “three Bohemian gentlemen” by Huss, and Benjamin Franklin welcomed Whitfield at a time when he was scorned and pilloried. We must understand that there may be a further trial than having to stand alone for the truth—that of being associated with others—and a higher quality needed for it. The quality needed for the first position is courage, for the second, grace. You may not fear blows, but do you fear derision?
When there is a union of strength and grace we have indeed a balanced disposition. Injustice and persecution, like Joseph suffered, is apt to leave the mind soured and embittered—courage alone cannot enable it to retain its sweetness. The strong men stand at bay and defy the whole world, but strength and grace together can stand just as resolutely and pray for the opposition. It is a blessed thing to have an unconquerable faith in a right cause and in right principles, something much more to exhibit the spirit of Stephen in the defence of that cause and those principles: “Lord, lay not this sin to their charge” (Acts 7: 60). Thus Anne Askew, burnt at the stake for imbibing the doctrines of the Reformation was not only “Unmoved by wrath” but “Unchilled in love”. In that noble song she composed in prison before being torn on the rack and burnt to death she speaks of herself as “Like as the armed knight, Appointed to the field, With this world will I fight, And faith shall be my shield”. There we see her undaunted courage. But there is more: “Yet, Lord I Thee desire, For that they do to me, Let them not taste the hire, Of their iniquity”. That is grace.