Great Texts of the Bible
Faithful unto Death
They stoned Stephen, calling upon the Lord, and saying, Lord Jesus, receive my spirit. And he kneeled down, and cried with a loud voice, Lord, lay not this sin to their charge. And when he had said this, he fell asleep.—Acts 7:59-60.
When we read St. Luke’s Gospel and the Book of Acts we are constantly finding history presented in pictures which live in the imagination and which have been reproduced on the canvas of our great artists. This story of the martyrdom of St. Stephen is one of them. It has been regarded all through the Christian ages as a theme of never-failing and most touching interest. But it is more than this. It has been represented by Christian Art in devotional pictures more frequently perhaps than any subject not immediately connected with our blessed Lord. The few words in which St. Luke has recorded it are full of suggestiveness. In the vision, for instance, which was vouchsafed to nerve Stephen for his doom, we are told that he saw Jesus standing at the right hand of God; whereas elsewhere in Scripture our Lord is described as sitting. This, however, is not the posture in which we should wish to find one to whom we went for help in time of trouble and distress. It was doubtless for this reason that when the veil was drawn, Jesus was manifested to His faithful servant as standing, as One who has risen from His seat and is stretching out a helping hand to him in the crisis of his need. The Church of England has been careful to preserve this beautiful idea in one of her most beautiful Collects: “Grant, O Lord, that in all our sufferings here upon earth for the testimony of Thy truth, we may steadfastly look up to heaven, and by faith behold the glory that shall be revealed; and, being filled with the Holy Ghost, may learn to love and bless our persecutors, by the example of Thy first martyr, Saint Stephen, who prayed for his murderers to Thee, O blessed Jesus, who standest at the right hand of God to succour all those that suffer for Thee, our only Mediator and Advocate.”
One of the pictures which Tintoret conceived most rapidly and painted with passionate speed is his picture of the martyrdom of St. Stephen. It is in the great Church of St. George at Venice. Entirely ideal, it shares in the weakness which sometimes belonged to this artist’s work when he was painting what was impossible. Not one of the stones which lie in hundreds round the kneeling figure of the martyr has touched him; he is absolutely unhurt. It would have suited Tintoret’s character far more to have filled the air with a rain of stones, and to have sent the saint to the ground with a huge mass crashing on his Shoulder. And he could have done this without erring against our sense of beauty if he had chosen. But he was ordered otherwise; and we have now from his hand the Spiritual idea of martyrdom, not the actual reality.
The picture somewhat fails, because he wished to do it otherwise; but the kneeling figure, with clasped hands and face upturned in ecstasy—its absolute forgetfulness of the wild cries and the violence of death, its rapturous consciousness of the glory which from the throne of God above strikes upon the face—is a concentration of all the thoughts which in many ages have collected around the idea of the sacrifice of life for the love of truth conceived of as at one with the love of Christ.
But this is not all that was represented on the canvas of this thoughtful and imaginative painter. Tintoret, who knew his Bible well, knew that Stephen had won his martyrdom by bold speaking, and that though he prayed for those who slew him, he had not been patient with their blindness to good. So there is in the whole picture a sense of triumph—the triumph and advance of Christianity. “Thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” That is the note. The glorious group above in Heaven is dominant. We see the future joy of the martyr in the triumph flashing from the face of Stephen, and the circle of the witnesses seated around in light seem to form an aureole round the dying figure. Not a stone touches the martyr. Nothing is fairer, nothing more victorious than his face.1 [Note: Stopford Brooke.]
This is the only narrative in the New Testament of a Christian martyrdom or death. As a rule, Scripture is supremely indifferent as to what becomes of the people with whom it is for a time concerned. So long as the man is the organ of the Divine Spirit he is somewhat; as soon as the Spirit ceases to speak through him he drops into insignificance. So this same Acts of the Apostles kills off James the brother of John in a parenthesis; and his is the only other martyrdom that it concerns itself even so much as to mention. Why, then, this exceptional detail about the martyrdom of Stephen? For two reasons: because it is the first of a series, and the Acts of the Apostles always dilates upon the first of each set of things which it describes, and condenses the others. But more especially because, if we come to look at the story, it is not so much an account of Stephen’s death as of Christ’s power in Stephen’s death. And the theme of this book is not the acts of the Apostles, but the acts of the risen Lord in and for His Church.
i. The Deacon
1. Stephen was originally a Hellenistic Jew. The Hellenistic Jews were made up, partly of men of purely Gentile parentage who were proselytes to the Mosaic Law, and partly of Jews, who, by long settlement in foreign lands, had adopted the language and manners of Greek civilization. To say that a man was a Hellenist proved nothing as to his descent; but it showed that he accepted the religion of Israel, while yet he used Greek speech and followed Greek customs. Stephen’s name, although Greek, does not exclude the possibility of his having been a Jew by birth; and he is said to have had a Syriac name of the same meaning.
2. Of his conversion to the Faith of Christ we know nothing; he is first mentioned when he was chosen one of the seven Deacons. The Church of Jerusalem in the earliest Apostolic age had a common fund, into which its members at their conversion threw their personal property, and out of which they were assisted according to their needs. The administration of this fund must have come to be a serious and complicated business within a few months from its establishment. And as the higher ministries of the Church were ordained, not with a view to carrying on a work of this kind, but for the conversion and sanctification of souls, it was natural that, with the demands upon their time which the Apostles had to meet, the finance and resources of the Church should occasionally fall into confusion. So it was that, before many months had passed, “there arose a murmuring of the Grecians against the Hebrews”—that is, of the Hellenistic against the Jewish converts—“because their widows were neglected in the daily ministration.” Probably these widows or their friends may have been somewhat exacting. But the Apostles felt that their time ought not to be spent in managing a bank. The Twelve, who were all in Jerusalem still, assembled the whole body of the faithful, and desired them to elect seven men “of honest report, full of the Holy Ghost and of wisdom,” to be entrusted, as Deacons, with the administration of the funds of the Church. Seven persons were chosen; and at their head Stephen, described as “a man full of the Holy Ghost and of faith.” These seven were ordained by laying on of the Apostles’ hands; and the result of this arrangement was that “the number of the disciples multiplied in Jerusalem greatly; and a great Company of the (Jewish) priests were obedient unto the faith.”
3. Of St. Stephen’s exertions in the Organization and direction of the public charity we hear nothing; although we may be sure that this was not neglected. We are told, however, that he was “full of faith and power,” and that he “did great wonders and miracles among the people.” No details are given, but his miracles must not be forgotten in our estimate of the causes of his success. His chief scene of labour seems to have been in the synagogue, or group of synagogues, “of the Libertines, and Cyrenians, and Alexandrians, and of them of Cilicia and of Asia.” The Libertines were Jews who had been taken prisoners, reduced to slavery, then enfranchised by the Roman general Pompey. Many of them had recently been banished from Rome, and would naturally have had a synagogue to themselves in Jerusalem. At least one synagogue would have belonged to African Jews from Cyrene and Alexandria; and two or three others to the Jews of Cilicia and Asia Minor. These were a very numerous class, and among them the future Apostle of the Gentiles was at this date still reckoned an enthusiastic Pharisee. It was among these Jews from abroad that Stephen opened what we should call a mission; he had more points of contact with these men of Greek speech and habits than had the Twelve. He engaged in a series of public disputations; and although he was almost unbefriended, and represented a very unpopular cause, his opponents “were not able to resist the wisdom and the spirit with which he spake.”
4. But the victory which his opponents could not hope to win by argument, they hoped they might win by denunciation and clamour. They persuaded some false witnesses to swear that in their hearing Stephen had spoken blasphemous words against Moses and against God. They combined against him the jealousy of the upper classes and the prejudices of the lower; and they brought him, on trial for blasphemy, before the highest Jewish court—the Sanhedrin.
ii. Before the Sanhedrin
1. “And all that sat in the Council, fastening their eyes on him, saw his face as it had been the face of an angel” (Acts 6:15). There is one question which we all want to have answered, and it is this: How came Stephen to he thus self-possessed before the frowning Sanhedrin—fearless before an excited multitude in his home-thrusts of truth, brave in the crisis of trial, forgiving at the moment of death? Men are not born thus. As we mentally put ourselves into his circumstances, and try to realize each rapidly succeeding danger, our hearts fail within us, and we feel that no physical courage, no hardihood of mere natural bravery, could sustain us here. There must have come some supernatural change upon him, to have induced at once this undaunted fortitude and this superhuman tenderness of love. Was it a miraculous bestowment, limited in its conferment to the first ages, and to some specially selected and specially missioned men? or is it within the reach and enjoyment of believers in Jesus now? These are questions which are interesting to us, as we dwell upon the developments of holy character presented in the life of Stephen.
2. How are we to account for this boldness? The secret of all the heroism and of all the loveliness is in the delineation of the man. “He was a man full of faith and of the Holy Ghost.” He did not leap into this perfect balance of character in a moment—springing at once full-armed, as Minerva is fabled to have sprung from the brain of Jupiter. There was no mystic charm by which the graces clustered round him; he had no mystery of soul-growth—no patented elixir of immortal ripening which was denied to others less favoured. He had faith; it was the gift of God to him, just as it is the gift of God to us. He had the indwelling of the Holy Ghost; which has been purchased for us in like manner by the blood-shedding of our Surety. The only difference between ourselves and him is that he claimed the blessings with a holier boldness, and lived habitually in the nearer communion with God. There is no bar to our own entrance into this fulness of privilege; the treasury is not exhausted; the Benefactor is not less willing to bestow. His ear listens to any prayer for the increase of faith. He waits to shed forth the richer baptisms of the Holy Ghost upon all those who ask Him for the boon.
3. It is not then in physical endowment that we are to find the source of this moral courage. Some of the men who could lead the van of armies in the field—who could fix the scaling-ladder against the parapet and be the first to scale the wall—who could climb the rugged slope that was swept by the bristling cannon—have displayed the most utter cowardice when a moral duty has been difficult, when some untoward disaster has surprised them, or when they have had to maintain the right against the laugh of the scorner. Sometimes, indeed, those who have been physically timid, and who have shuddered sensitively at the first imagined danger, have been uplifted into the bravery of confessorship when the agonizing trial came.
The Sister knew that the whole place was given over to evil purposes. She knew that no help would be given from inside. In case of violence it would be necessary for her to descend to the streets. She was not afraid, but she was conscious of apprehension and a vague alarm. However many policemen may walk the streets outside, it is no easy matter for a woman to face one of these pandars in the seclusion of his own establishment. But Sister Mildred is a saint, and there is no courage like the courage of the saint.1 [Note: Harold Begbie, In the Hand of the Potter, 188.]
It is related that in the Duke of Wellington’s campaigns two officers were once despatched upon a Service of considerable danger. As they were riding together, the one observed the other to be greatly agitated, with blanched cheek and quivering lip, and limbs shaken as with a paralysis of mortal fear. Reining his steed upon its haunches, he haughtily addressed him, “Why, you are afraid.” “I am,” was the reply; “and if you were half as much afraid as I am, you would relinquish the duty altogether.” Without wasting another word upon his ignoble companion, the officer galloped back to headquarters, and complained bitterly that he had been ordered to march in the companionship of a coward. “Off, sir, to your duty,” was the commander’s sharp reply, “or the coward will have done the business before you get there.”1 [Note: W. M. Punshon.]
1. The two dying prayers of Stephen carry us back in thought to the prayers of our Lord at His crucifixion.
(1) “Lord, lay not this sin to their charge.”—We are told in the sacred narrative that St. Stephen “kneeled down” while they were in the act of stoning him. The picture fills us with amazement. It is so unlike what we should have expected, that some have attempted to persuade us that this was not a voluntary or deliberate act of the martyr. We are not, it is said, to understand that it expresses the purpose of one who was resolved, despite all the violence to which he was subjected, to spend his last moments in a posture of calm resignation and prayer; that would have been next to impossible for any human being to do under such circumstances. He had no alternative; “another crash of stones brought him upon his knees.” But the Christian conscience will not readily consent to have such a beautiful feature in the scene explained away. It shows us the dying martyr gathering up his failing strength and all the energy of his expiring life for one last, one crowning act of homage to his Lord; and a record of it Stands on the sacred page, to teach us what the greatest saints have felt about the value of external forms or bodily postures in expressing the worship that is due from the creature to the Creator. Then let us hear his prayer: “Lord, lay not this sin to their charge.” What an echo it is of his Master’s dying words!—“Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.” Not the slightest thought of vengeance in the prayer, but an unreserved entreaty that their sins may never be remembered against them.
A generous prayer is never presented in vain; the petition may be refused, but the petitioner is always, I believe, rewarded by some gracious Visitation.1 [Note: Robert Louis Stevenson, The Merry Men.]
I saw an angry crowd
Gathered about a youth, that loud
Were crying: Slay him, slay,
And stoned him as he lay.
I saw him overborne by death,
That bowed him to the earth beneath:
Only he made his eyes
Gates to behold the skies,
To his high Lord his prayer outpouring,
Forgiveness for his foes imploring:
Even in that pass his face
For pity making place.2 [Note: Dante, Purg. xv. 106–114, trans. by Dr. Shadwell.]
(2) “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.”—We need not dwell now upon the fact that here we have a distinct instance of prayer to Jesus Christ, a distinct recognition, in the early days of His Church, of the highest conception of His person and nature, so that a dying man turns to Him, and commits his soul into His hands. Passing this by, though not overlooking it, let us think of the resemblance, and the difference, between this entrusting of the spirit by Stephen to his Lord, and the committing of His spirit to the Father by His dying Son. Christ on the Cross speaks to God; Stephen, on his Calvary, speaks to Jesus Christ. Christ, on the Cross, says, “I commit.” Stephen says, “Receive,” or rather, “Take.” The one phrase carries in it something of the notion that our Lord died not because He must, but because He would; that He was active in His death; that He chose to summon death to do its work upon Him; that He “yielded up his spirit,” as one of the Evangelists has it, pregnantly and significantly. But Stephen says, “Take!” as knowing that it must be his Lord’s power that should draw his spirit out of the coil of horror around him. So the one dying word has strangely compacted in it authority and Submission; and the other dying word is the word of a simple waiting servant.
2. How was Stephen strengthened for the trial? What were the manifestations granted to him, and which sustained him through the bitterness of martyrdom? You find these recorded in the preceding part of the chapter: “But he, being full of the Holy Ghost, looked up stedfastly into heaven, and saw the glory of God, and Jesus Standing on the right hand of God.” We may not pretend to explain what Stephen saw in seeing the glory of God. We can only suppose that, as with St. Paul caught up to the third heaven, it was not what human speech could express, for it is very observable that when he asserts what he saw he makes no mention of “the glory of God,” but confines himself to the opening of the heavens, and the manifestation of Christ at the right hand of the Father. It is not for us to speculate where the martyr is silent. We can only suppose that “the glory of God” that was shown to him was some special display of the Divine presence calculated to reassure the sufferer.
To stretch my hand and touch Him,
Though He be far away;
To raise my eyes and see Him
Through darkness as through day;
To lift my voice and call Him—
This is to pray!
To feel a hand extended
By One who standeth near;
To view the love that shineth
In eyes serene and clear;
To know that He is calling—
This is to hear!
3. The supreme thought which these prayers suggest is the great possibilities that lie in faith in Christ. We see the soul of the suffering disciple leaning on the Lord who had suffered. We see that the secret of strength in all trials lies in appealing to the love and power of the blessed Jesus. In the death-struggle St. Stephen had faith to hang upon his Lord, and his Lord bore him through the agonies of that hour. This is what we are most likely to think of in reading of the martyr’s death. But was this the greatest proof of St. Stephen’s faith? Was his greatest trial in this world? Did it not lie beyond this world? The life was nearly crushed out of him. The pains of death were Coming thick and fast upon him. But was death the end? What was awaiting him after death? He was entering on the unseen state. All was dim, unknown, untried before him. And if his spirit passed away, to whom would it go? It must return to God, who gave it. It must go before God, meet Him, and give up its account to Him. It is such thoughts as these which add so wonderful a power and force to those words, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” I know not where I go; all nature seems to open out into vast untried depths beneath me; take me, hold me in Thine everlasting arms; I am safe with Thee. I know not who may attack me, how the powers of evil may gather against me; take me, guard me. I know not how to meet the Judgment. I know only that I have been dear to Thee in this life. Thou hast loved me, died for me, kept me. Take me now; to Thee do I commit my cause; “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” Here is indeed a strange, calm faith in the power of our blessed Lord to keep and bless the soul in that unseen world. One who could speak thus must have felt that our Lord had conquered in that world, as in this, and emptied it of its horrors. He looked, as it were, through the mist and darkness that was gathering around him; he pierced with the steady gaze of his mind through the veil that was drawn between him and the state on which he was entering, and there he saw his Lord waiting and ready for him. Or rather, with a surer faith, though he did not see, he felt certain that the Lord was King in that realm of the departed, and he was ready to pass into it, because he knew that the Lord had power to keep and uphold him there. It may be that we shall never know the full force of those calm words of St. Stephen till we are on the edge of that unseen world ourselves.
4. His faith was faith in Christ, in the crucified Lord Jesus Christ. Observe the words of the prayers. While they stoned Stephen St. Luke says, according to the Authorized Version, that he was “calling upon God.” In the original text the Person upon whom he called is not named. The Authorized Version has supplied what seemed to be wanting, “God,” intimating that it was the First Person of the Trinity. But the last Revisers have substituted “The Lord,” to indicate that it was the Second Person: and this is certainly more in accordance with the prayer that follows: “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.”
The Revisers were anticipated in their interpretation by Bishop Cosin, who, in view of perpetuating another characteristic feature of St. Stephen’s martyrdom, has addressed his Collect to God the Son. With very rare exceptions (there are three others only in our Prayer Book) Liturgical Collects have always been addressed to the Father, because they form part of an office in which the Son joins with the Church in presenting to the Father the Memorial of His own Sacrifice. It seems, therefore, to introduce an incongruity to appeal at such a time to Him who is acting as Priest. It was for this reason that certain of the Early Councils directed that “when we are officiating at the altar, prayer should always be addressed to the Father.”1 [Note: H. M. Luckock.]
5. And now, one great lesson rises out of all that has been said. If God has given us but little clear knowledge of the state of the departed, if we have been obliged to guess at what passes in that State, and are not able to speak with absolute certainty, one thing at least is clear and certain. Every hope of the soul as it passes from the body centres in our blessed Lord. So then, if He is to be our hope and stay after death, He must be our hope and stay now. We must live in close, earnest, true communion with Him. We must live with Him as our Friend and Guide, our heart’s inmost life. If we wish to feel that we can commit ourselves to Him, and lean upon Him, when our spirits shall have to venture forth at His call into the dim, uncertain, untried world beyond the grave, then we must familiarize ourselves now with His love, His power, His gifts, His might. If we hope to say with the calm, undoubting trust of St. Stephen, at that last moment, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit,” then we must learn such trust beforehand by commending our spirits to Him now.
Beloved, yield thy time to God, for He
Will make eternity thy recompense;
Give all thy substance for His Love, and be
Beatified past earth’s experience.
Serve Him in bonds, until He set thee free;
Serve Him in dust, until He lift thee thence;
Till death be swallowed up in victory
When the great trumpet sounds to bid thee hence.
Shall setting day win day that will not set?
Poor price wert thou to spend thyself for Christ,
Had not His wealth thy poverty sufficed:
Yet since He makes His garden of thy clod,
Water thy lily, rose, or violet,
And offer up thy sweetness unto God.1 [Note: Christina G. Rossetti.]
1. “They stoned Stephen.” Our ordinary English idea of the manner of the Jewish punishment of stoning is a very inadequate and mistaken one. It did not consist merely in a miscellaneous rabble throwing stones at the criminal, but there was a solemn and appointed method of execution which is preserved for us in detail in the Rabbinical books. And from it we gather that the modus operandi was this. The blasphemer was taken to a certain precipitous rock, the height of which was prescribed as being equal to that of two men. The witnesses by whose testimony he had been condemned had to cast him over, and if he survived the fall it was their task to roll upon him a great stone, of which the weight is prescribed in the Talmud as being as much as two men could lift. If he lived after that, then others took part in the punishment.
2. “And when he had said this, he fell asleep.” How absolute the triumph over the last enemy which these words express! When men court slumber, they banish from their hearts all causes of anxiety, and from their dwelling all tumult of sound; they demand quiet as a necessity; they exclude the light and draw the curtains close; they carefully put away from them all that will have a tendency to defeat, or to postpone the object after which they aim. But Stephen fell asleep under very different circumstances from these. Brutal oaths, and frantic yells, and curses loud and deep, were the lullaby which sang him to his dreamless slumbers; and while all were agitated and tumultuous around him,
Meek as an infant to its mother’s breast,
So turned he, longing, for immortal rest.
The evident meaning of the words is that death came to him simply as a release from suffering—as a curse from which the sting was drawn—so mitigated in its bitterness, that it was as harmless and as refreshing as sleep.
The image of sleep as a euphemism for death is no peculiar property of Christianity, but the ideas that it suggests to the Christian consciousness are the peculiar property of Christianity. Any of you that ever were in the Vatican will remember how you go down corridors with Pagan marbles on that side and Christian ones on this. Against one wall, in long rows, stand the sad memorials, each of which has the despairing ending, “Farewell, farewell, for ever farewell.” But on the other side there are carved no goddesses of slumber, or mourning genii, or quenched lamps, or wailing words, but sweet emblems of a renewed life, and the ever-recurring, gracious motto: “In hope.” To the non-Christian that sleep is eternal; to the Christian that sleep is as sure of a waking as is the sleep of the body. The one affects the whole man; the Christian sleep affects only the body and the connexion with the outer world.1 [Note: A. Maclaren, Last Sheaves, 248.]
There is none other thing expressed,
But long disquiet merged in rest.
“He fell asleep.” Repose, safety, restoration—these are the ideas of comfort which are held in the expression of the text. Take them, and rejoice in the majestic hopes which they inspire. Christ has died. He, dying, drew the sting from death; and, properly speaking, there has been no death of a believer since that day. What says the Scripture? “He that believeth on Jesus, though he were dead, yet shall he live: and whosoever liveth and believeth in him shall never die.” What fulness of consolation to those who are mourning for others—to those who are dying themselves! With the banner of this hope in hand, the believer may return with a full heart from the grave of his best beloved, “giving thanks unto the Father which hath made us meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light,” and may march calmly down to the meeting of his own mortal foe.2 [Note: W. M. Punshon.]
Sleep, little flower, whose petals fade and fall
Over the sunless ground;
Ring no more peals of perfume on the air—
Sleep long and sound.
Sleep, summer wind, whose breathing grows more faint
As night draws slowly nigh;
Cease thy sweet chanting in the cloistral woods
And seem to die.
Sleep, thou great Ocean, whose wild waters sink
Under the setting sun;
Hush the loud music of thy warring waves
Till night is done.
Sleep, thou tired heart, whose mountain pulses droop
Within the Valley cold:
On pains and pleasures, fears and hopes of life,
Let go thine hold.
Sleep, for ’tis only sleep, and there shall be
New life for all, at day;
So sleep, sleep all, until the restful night
Has passed away.
Sleep—sleep.1 [Note: S. J. Stone, Lullaby of Life.]
The Result of Stephen’s Martyrdom
Such was the first martyrdom. How soon did the martyr’s blood become the seed of the Church! He had met his death for declaring the universality of God’s Kingdom, that Christianity was destined to spread the blessing of salvation far beyond the Jewish race, even over the whole world; and his dying prayer was answered by the conversion of one, who, as the Apostle of the Gentiles, helped most to preach the Gospel to “every creature which is under heaven.” St. Augustine said, “If Stephen had not prayed, Paul would never have been given to the Church” (Sermo ccclxxxii., De sancto Stephano). It is true the answer was delayed. There are some, however, who believe that the effect was immediate, and that the wild fury of the persecutor, which broke out with such violence, was only a desperate attempt to stifle the convictions which arose in his mind. Painters have caught up this idea and expressed it by the strongest contrast between Saul’s face and the faces of the others who witnessed the end. It may have been so; it may be that a foregleam of the coming dawn did touch him even then; but whether it came at once or only in after days, no one will think of denying that there is an eternal link between the martyr’s prayer and the Apostle’s conversion.
Why was it that in the ten years after Livingstone’s death, Africa made greater advancement than in the previous ten centuries? All the world knows that it was through the vicarious suffering of one of Scotland’s noblest heroes.
Why is Italy cleansed of the plagues that devastated her cities a hundred years ago? Because John Howard sailed in an infected ship from Constantinople to Venice, that he might be put into a lazaretto and find out the clue to that awful mystery of the plague and stay its power. How has it come that the merchants of our western ports send ships laden with implements for the fields and conveniences for the house into the South Sea Islands? Because such men as Patteson, the pure-hearted gallant boy of Eton College, gave up every prospect in England to labour amid the Pacific savages and twice plunged into the waters of the coral reefs, amid sharks and devil-fish and stinging jellies, to escape the flight of poisoned arrows of which the slightest graze meant horrible death, and in that high service died by the clubs of the very savages whom he had often risked his life to save—the memory of whose life did so smite the consciences of his murderers that they laid “the young martyr in an open boat, to float away over the bright blue waves, with his hands crossed, as if in prayer, and a palm branch on his breast.” And there, in the white light, he lies now, immortal for ever.1 [Note: N. D. Hillis, The Investment of Influence, 79.]
A patient minister was he,
A simple saint of God,
A soul that might no longer be
Bound to this earthly clod;
A spirit that sought for the purer breath
Of the land of life, through the gates of death,—
The path all martyrs trod,
That lies through the night of a speechless shame,
And leads to the light of a deathless fame.
Stoned to his death by those for whom
His soul’s last prayer was sped
Unto his God, “Avert the doom
That gathers o’er their head”;
And the stones that bruised him and Struck him down
Shone dazzling gems in his victor’s crown;
And as his spirit fled,
A light from the land where the angels dwell
Lingered saintly and grand where the martyr fell.
’Tis but a history in these days—
The cruel and final test
Of those who went life’s rugged ways
For faith they had confessed;
Yet the God who spake to the saints of old
Lacks not to-day in His mystic fold
Doers of His behest:
There are servants of men and saints of God
Who will follow, as then, where the Master trod.1 [Note: P. C. Ainsworth, Poems and Sonnets, 45.]
Faithful unto Death
Brooke (S. A.), Short Sermons, 141.
Jerdan (C.), For the Lambs of the Flock, 404.
Liddon (H. P.), Christmastide Sermons, 157.
Luckock (H. M.), Footprints of the Apostles as traced by St. Luke, i. 195.
M‘Cheyne (R. M.), Additional Remains, 189.
Maclaren (A.), Expositions, Acts i.–xii. 226.
Moore (E. W.), Christ in Possession, 113, 124.
Punshon (W. M.), Sermons, i. 303.
Randall (R. W.), Life in the Catholic Church, 272.
Wordsworth (C.), Primary Witness to the Truth of the Gospel, 104.
Christian World Pulpit, xxiv. 99 (Stevenson).