Acts 7:51
We have some of the best and one of the worst things illustrated in this passage.

I. FAITHFULNESS FINDING UTTERANCE IN VEHEMENT REPROACH. (Vers. 51-53.) Stirred (as we suppose) by the impatient interruptions of the senators, who at this point showed themselves unwilling to listen, Stephen rebuked them in the strong and stringent language of the text. They who imagined themselves to be "the cream of the cream," the very best specimens of the holiest people, were setting themselves to resist the gracious dealings of God, who was willing to bless them with his fullest blessing; they were resisting the "Holy Ghost" and injuring, in the worst of all ways, the people they were chosen to serve. Unqualified condemnation is sometimes the duty of the servant of God. Not often, indeed; for usually it is our wisdom and our duty to hold our feelings of indignation in check. But there are times when holy resentment should overflow in words of unmeasured indignation, when we shall not "deliver our soul" unless we denounce the wrong that has been done and warn against the evil which impends.

II. SIN IN THE MOMENT OF EXASPERATION. (Vers. 54, 57, 58.) Sometimes sin is checked and cowed by the strong voice of holy censure, and it holds its hand if not its tongue. At other times it is only driven by exasperation to say and do its very worst. So here, it

(1) yielded to frenzy;

(2) proceeded to unmannerly exhibitions of rage - "they gnashed on him with their teeth;" and

(3) ended in brutal and fatal violence "they stoned him." There is something, not only painful and horrible, but also contemptible in this resort to physical violence. It seems to say, "We cannot answer your words; we cannot resist your influence. We will do the only thing we can do; we will break your bones and draw your blood." Such a fearful sight is sin driven to its worst. How needful to keep clear of its dominion!

III. DIVINE MANIFESTATIONS IN THE HOUR OF TRIAL. (Vers. 55, 56.) To his devoted servant in this trying hour God vouchsafed an exceptional manifestation of himself, an extraordinary proof of his Divine favor and assurance of support. We do not look for anything of this kind. But to us, if we are true and loyal to our Savior's cause, when the time of special trial comes, our Lord will grant some tokens of his presence and of his sympathy. He will not leave us alone; he will come to us. And if the heavens be not opened, and if a vision of the Son of man be not granted us, we shall have "the comfort of the Holy Ghost," and the strong inward assurance that he who was with Stephen at this solemn scene is laying beneath us "the everlasting arms."

IV. CHRISTIAN MARTYRDOM AND MAGANIMITY. (Vers. 59, 60.) "They stoned Stephen... and he cried... Lord, lay not this sin to their charge." We can hardly conceive a nobler end than this: a man sealing his testimony to Christian truth, with his life-bleed, and with his last breath praying for mercy to be granted to his murderers. To few of us is it thus given," not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for his sake." But in the course of every Christian life there are offered many opportunities of

(1) showing the martyr spirit, and of

(2) acting in the spirit of large-heartedness. Though we may gain no applause for so doing, and expect no notice to be taken of it by any chronicler, we may remember that "great is our reward in heaven," that we have the approval of the Divine Master, when in any sphere and in any degree we cheerfully "bear his reproach" and show a generous spirit toward those who do us wrong.

V. A CHRISTIAN EXODUS. (Vers. 59, 60.) In the midst of such agitating scenes Stephen was perfectly trustful; he said, "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit." In the midst of such tumult he was calm; it seemed natural to the historian to write of his death as if he were going to rest - " he fell asleep." We often look on to the time of our departure, and perhaps wonder what will be the manner of our "going out into the light." If we nourish our faith in Christ as we have the means of doing, by use of sacred privilege and seizure of manifold opportunity, then when the end shall come, in whatsoever form it may appear, our hearts will be

(1) trustful in our Divine Savior - we shall tranquilly resign our spirits to his charge, as into the hands of our Almighty Friend;

(2) peaceful - our death will be to us as a pleasant sleep. Weary with the toil and strife of earth, we shall lie down to die as those who commit themselves to the darkness of the night, to the restfulness of the couch, in sweet assurance that the eyes which close on this side the grave will open on the other side, to be filled with the light and to behold the glories of immortality. Live in Christ, and you will die in reverent confidence and unbroken serenity of soul. - C.

Ye stiffnecked and uncircumcised in heart and ears.

1. This was not the first Christian sermon that the Jews or the Sanhedrin had heard. Otherwise, possibly, such vehement and unsparing denunciations had been out of place. They had already heard of Christ twice from His inspired messengers, and he did not speak till the ecclesiastical rulers had shown a determined animus to put their foot on the gospel. It was to a council who had, and still were, resisting grace that Stephen spoke.

2. Stephen was addressing the authorities, and the tone of Peter towards them had been very different from his tone with the people (Acts 3:17; cf. 4:11; 6:30). There was deep reason and equity in this difference. It was the Sanhedrin which had all along fomented the hostility of the people to Christ. The common people heard Christ gladly, and shouted Hosannah; and in the closing scene it was only at the persuasion of the chief priests and elders that they were induced to "ask Barabbas and destroy Jesus." They had, no doubt, their full share of guilt, and Peter charges them with being accomplices; but, as at the Fall, God recognises a difference in degree of guilt between man and the serpent, so those who are of the same mind with God draw a distinction between those who sin through weakness, and those who sin of malice prepense. It is against the latter that Stephen hurls his indignant invective.


1. There was the natural friction which his own argument produced in his mind. As he traced the history of his nation, view after view opened upon him of the perversity, bigotry, and wilful opposition to truth which had characterised them at every period. They had only been too consistent in rejecting Divine messengers, and now by their rejection of the love and Spirit of God they had put the finishing stroke upon their sin. This repeated defiance of God galls Him, and kindles His holy indignation.

2. In all probability his quotation from Isaiah, so palpably adverse to their view of the temple, and so impossible to be answered stung them to the quick. This is indicated in the narrative, "They while in the act of listening were cut to the heart and kept gnashing upon him with their teeth." It is not difficult to picture the scene. Audible murmurs are heard as Stephen says, "The Most High dwelleth not in temples," etc. They make menacing gestures as wild beasts would spring upon their prey. There two scribes, reaching across to one another, have got a scroll between them, in which they are pointing to passages which they think confute him. One finger is on the words, "I have hallowed this house," etc.; the fist of the other contracts and is raised towards the prisoner. The young man from the Cicilian synagogue glances to and fro from the accused to Gamaliel. The great doctor had in a previous council made a diversion in favour of the apostles. But on that occasion it appears that the high priest had been under the influence of the Sadducees. Stephen's speech brought out into full prominence the anti-Pharisaic element of the gospel. And as he did so the eyes of Saul are turned wistfully to his great authority mutely asking, "Will you plead for these Galileans now?" And Gamaliel's contracted brow answers "No." Then catching the symptoms of the storm long brewing, with that, quick apprehension which always characterises an earnest speaker, and seeing in a moment "the wicked husbandmen" before him, he bursts forth in the words of the text. In the early part of his speech he is cautious, and avoids giving offence; "He keeps his mouth, as it were, with a bridle, while the ungodly is in sight." But at last his heart grows hot within him, and while he is musing upon the circumstances he has recited, the fire kindles; and at the last he throws away his caution and speaks in accents of burning indignation. Conclusion: What has been said may read us a needful lesson on the subject of spurious charity. Charity is not uniform suavity under all circumstances; it has in it a stern element of moral indignation which is the salt that keeps it from corruption. Charity never flatters a man in wilful sin, but tells him plainly that continuance means death; just as a surgeon, who desires nothing but the health of his patient, does not hesitate to perform a painful operation. And because heresy is mischievous to souls charity pays it no compliments. If some safeguards are required with perfect righteousness of indignation —

1. Rid the mind of personal resentment.

2. Be sure that it is vital error, and do not confound it with your view of it.

(Dean Goulburn.)

Ye do always resist the Holy Ghost
Essex Congregational Remembrancer.

1. Their leading feature is obduracy, which the Scriptures call hardness of heart. There may be a variety of dispositions, yet all merging in this spirit.(1) Stiff-neeked means nearly the same as stout-hearted; one who is unyielding and obstinate; who sets at nought the councils of God and follows his own.(2) Uncircumcised in heart and ears. Circumcision was a rite intended to point out the nature and necessity of spiritual renovation (Deuteronomy 10:16-18).

2. The obduracy of an ungodly man may be resolved into —

(1)Sensuality (Deuteronomy 21:18-20).

(2)Pride and prejudice (Jeremiah 6:10-13).

(3)Habitual negligence and the spirit of slumber (Isaiah 66:8, 4; Isaiah 29:9-13).

II. HOW UNGODLY MEN RESIST THE HOLY GHOST. That a creature should rise in rebellion against the great Creator might seem incredible, had we not demonstration of the fact. Gamaliel said, "If this council, or this work, be of God, ye cannot overthrow it, lest ye haply be found even to fight against God." There are many ways in which men do fight against God; but the most awful is in resisting the Holy Ghost. The Sovereign of the universe maintains a communication with our fallen world by the agency of His Spirit. Now this Divine Spirit is called —

1. The Spirit of Truth. He revealed the will of God to us. When any one opposes Divine truth, he resists the Holy Ghost. The grand doctrines of the gospel are confessedly clear and plain in the Word. How then is it that they are not received? (Isaiah 30:8-13; John 3:19.) To those who prefer agreeable things, which flatter the roving imagination, and the unrenewed heart, a full exhibition of Divine truth, will ever be unwelcome. Herein consists the guilt of obstinate unbelief and impenitence. Hence, too, arises the sophistry which contrives a thousand subtle devices to nullify the Word of God.

2. The spirit of purity. He is the sole source and efficient author of sanctity. He has given a hallowed and peculiar stamp to the various precepts, ordinances, and institutions of true religion. Now, the man who labours to stain this stamp of purity resists the Holy Ghost.

3. The Spirit of Grace. God engaged to pour out the spirit of grace and of supplication. The favour of Jehovah is eminently manifested through the agency of the Holy Ghost. Yet, alas I great numbers resist this Divine Agent of mercy, stifling those convictions which are produced by His power. The truth is heard, but not heeded and applied.


1. Those persons who have long and obstinately opposed truth, are usually given over to a reprobate mind. The light which they have laboured so hard to exclude is withdrawn, and they are enveloped in the thick darkness they love. Compunction of conscience gradually abates till they are past feeling. "My Spirit shall not always strive with man," etc. "Ephraim is joined to idols, let him alone." "For it is impossible for those who were once enlighted," etc.

2. The future punishment of those who have resisted the Holy Ghost will be beyond expression dreadful. Though for a time they may be hardened, so as to have little or no fear, the justice of God is preparing their doom. He that despised Moses' law, died without mercy, under two or three witnesses; of how much sorer punishment, etc. "Woe unto him that striveth with his Maker!"

(Essex Congregational Remembrancer.)


1. Convincing.

2. Entreating.

3. Admonishing.

4. Threatening.


1. The Word.

2. Examples.

3. Conscience.

4. Providential dealings.


1. Inattention.

2. Procrastination.

3. Contradiction.

(W. W. Wythe.)

To resist the Holy Ghost is a sin of the deepest guilt. It is the basest ingratitude against God; for it is resisting the very means which God of His infinite mercy freely offers for recovering our souls from sin, and bringing us to Christ, our only Saviour. Does it not seem strange that against one so good, so merciful, so willing to help, and comfort us, we should ever be led to commit wilful sin?

1. Christians of the present day approach towards this "sin" several ways; and first whenever they despise or ridicule things belonging unto God. Should they persevere in these sinful habits, they may in the end lose all reverence for holy things; and then, if, with a soul indifferent to things spiritual, they die, have they a hope that their sin can be forgiven? Like the Pharisees of old, they seemed to have refused the very means by which they might have been brought to Christ.

2. There is another way by which Christians "resist the Holy Ghost"; and this, in the language of Scripture, is called grieving, or quenching, the Holy Spirit. In one sense every sin wilfully committed against God, every known Christian duty wilfully omitted, is grieving the Holy Spirit. But in a more especial manner Christians grieve the Holy Ghost when they refuse to receive those doctrines of the gospel of Jesus Christ which He hath Himself revealed; when the plain teachings of the Scriptures seem unto them "foolishness."

3. God's Holy Spirit is resisted also by every one who, in direct opposition to conscience, refusing the holy aid which alone could have preserved him, wilfully commits sin, knowingly violates the moral law of God. Such are some of the very awful considerations arising from the subject before us. Warned of the danger, let us watch and pray against it. Let us not resist the Holy Ghost in this our accepted time, and He will fit us for the full enjoyment of the salvation purchased by the blood and secured by the intercession of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.

(H. Marriott, M. A.)

Which of
I. THE REJECTION OF CHRIST WAS THE NATIONAL SIN OF THE JEWISH PEOPLE. It was the act of the whole nation, the result of the full development of the then Jewish mode of looking at the world — the spirit of the age.

1. The term, a national sin, wants a clear definition. It is used at present recklessly. Every party declares its opponents guilty of a national sin. But a national sin is not an evil done by any one party to the nation, but an evil done by the nation itself. I might mention courses of political action in which England has persisted for years, through all changes of party, which are of the character of national sins, but I will content myself with saying that one of the worst of national sins is the rejection or neglect of the great men whom God has sent to save or to teach the nation. It is a proof of the perfect culture of a people, when it recognises its great men, puts them forward at once and obeys them.

2. The man of noble genius, the prophet, or whatever else you call him, is the test of the nation. Those are lost who reject him — the whole nation is lost if the whole nation rejects him — for it is not he so much whom it rejects as the saving ideas of which he is the vehicle. The question whether Christ shall be accepted or rejected has again and again been placed before the nations. It was placed most completely before the Jews at the appearance of the perfect Man — is placed before each of us — since He was the representation of that which is noblest in humanity. This passive work was recognised by Simeon when he said, "This child is set for the fall and the rising again of many in Israel." It was recognised by Christ Himself when He said, "For judgment," i.e. for division, for sifting of the chaff from the wheat, "am I come into the world." And so it was, wherever He went He was the touchstone of men. Those who were pure and true-hearted saw Him. and loved Him; those who were conscious of their need and sin believed in Him, drank deep of His Spirit, and found redemption and repose. Those who were base or false of heart naturally recoiled from Him, and, to get rid of Him, hanged Him on a tree. In doing so — and this was the deed of the mass of the people — they destroyed their nationality which was hidden in their reception of Christ. In a coincidence with this, the priesthood rejected Christ in words which repudiated their distinct existence as a nation — "We have no king but Caesar." He did nothing overt to produce this. He simply lived His life, and it acted on the Jewish world as an electric current upon the water; it separated its elements.

II. THE CAUSE OF THIS REJECTION WAS PRIMARILY DEVOTION TO THE CONVENTIONAL, which is practically identical with want of individuality, one of the most painful deficiencies in our present society.

1. Now the rectification of that evil lies at the root of Christianity. Christ came to ensure the distinct life, the originality of each man, to rescue men from being mingled up, indistinguishable atoms, with the mass of man.

2. The spirit of the world is in exact opposition to this. Its tendency is to reduce all men and women to one pattern. There must be nothing original in the world's language, eccentric, erratic. Custom is to be despot. We must all dress in the same way, read the same books, talk of the same things. We do not object to progress, but everybody must be levelled, and then collectively advance; no one must leave the ranks or step to the front.

3. This is the spirit which either cannot see, or, seeing, hates men of genius. They are in conflict with the known and the accredited modes of action. So it comes to pass that they are depreciated and neglected; or, if they are too great and persist, persecuted and killed. And, indeed, it is not difficult to get rid of them, for men of genius cannot breathe in this atmosphere, it kills them. The pitiable thing in English society now is, that it is in danger of becoming of so dreadful a uniformity that no original man can be developed in it at all. This, if anything, will become the ruin of England's greatness.

4. There is, it is true, a kind of re-action going on at present against this tyranny. Young men and women, weary of monotonous pleasures, are in rebellion, but the whole social condition has been so degraded that they rush into still more artificial and unnatural pleasures and excitements; in endeavouring to become free, they enslave themselves the more.

5. Those who might do much, do little. It is one of the advantages of wealth and high position that those who possess them may initiate the uncustomary without a cry being raised against them. But even with every opportunity, how little imagination do they ever display, how little invention, how little they do to relieve the melancholy uniformity of our pleasures, or the intense joylessness of our work!

6. Now this was precisely the spirit of the Jewish religious world at the time of Christ. Men were bound down to a multitude of fixed rules and maxims;. they were hedged in on all sides. It was the most finished conventionalism of religion, in spite of the different sects, which the world has ever seen. Then came Christ, entirely original, proclaiming new ideas, or, old truths in a new form, overthrowing worn-out ceremonies, denouncing things gray with the dust of ages, letting in the light of truth into the chambers where the priests and lawyers spun their webs of theology to ensnare the free souls of men, trampling down relentlessly the darling customs of the old conservatism, shocking and bewildering the religious society. He did not keep, they said, the Sabbath day. He ate and drank — abominable iniquity! — with publicans and sinners. He allowed a fallen woman to touch Him. Worse still, He did not wash His hands before He ate bread. He did not teach as the scribes did. He did not live the time-honoured and ascetic life of a prophet. He dared to speak against the priesthood and the aristocracy. He came from Nazareth, that was enough; no good could come from Nazareth. He was a carpenter's son, and illiterate, and no prophet was made, or could be made, out of such materials. And this man! He dares to disturb us, to contest our maxims, to set at nought our customs, to array Himself against our despotism. "Come, let us kill Him;" and so they crucified Him. They did not see, the wretched men, that in murdering Him they murdered their nation also.


1. What would be the fate of Christ if He were suddenly to appear as a teacher in the middle of London? How would our orthodox religious society and our conventional social world receive Him? Desiring to speak with all reverence, He would horrify the one by His heterodox opinions, the other by His absolute scorn of many of the very palladia of society. Supposing He were to denounce — as He would in no measured terms — our system of caste; attack our most cherished maxims about property and rights; live in opposition to certain social rules, contemn with scorn our accredited hypocrisies; live among us His free, bold, unconventional, outspoken life; how should we receive Him? It is a question which it is worth while that society should ask itself. I trust more would hail His advent than we think. I believe the time is come when men are sick of the tyranny of custom of living in unreality; that they are longing for a new life and a new order of things, for some fresh ideas to come and stir, like the angel, the stagnant pool. I believe there are thousands who would join themselves to Him, thousands of true men from all religious bodies, and from those who are now plentifully sprinkled with the epithets of rationalists, infidels, heretics, .and atheists; but there are thousands who call themselves by His name who would neglect or persecute Him, for He Would come among our old conservatisms of religion, our doctrinal systems, superstitions, priesthoods, and ritualisms, as He came of old. If we could accept the revolution He would make, our nation and religion Would be saved, if not it would be enervated by the blow and die. Realising these things, realising Christ speaking to us as He would speak now, we ought to feel our falseness. We may save our nation if we resolve, each one here for himself, to free ourselves from cant, and formalism, and superstition, to step into the clear air of freedom, individuality, truth, and holiness.

2. How far is the spirit of the world preventing you personally from receiving Christ?(1) Is your sole aim the endeavour to please your party, forfeiting your individuality? Then you cannot receive Christ, for He demands that you should be true to your own soul.(2) Are you permitting yourself to chime in with the low morality of the day, to accept the common standard, repudiating the desire to be better than your neighbours, and so coming at last to join in the light laugh with which the world treats immoralities of society or trade, or the more flagrant shame, dishonesty, and folly which adorn the turf — Letting evils take their course, till gradually the evils appear to you at first endurable, and then even beautiful, being protected by the deities of custom and fashion, which we enthrone instead of God? Are you drifting into such a state of heart? If so, you cannot expect to be able to receive Christ, for He demands that life should be Godlike; not the prudence of silence about evil, but the imprudence of bold separation from evil.

3. And to come home to the inner spiritual life, is your religion only the creature of custom, not of conviction? Have you received and adopted current opinions because they are current, orthodox because it is the fashion to be orthodox, or heterodox because it is the fashion to be heterodox? How can you receive Christ? — for where He comes He claims reality. Ye must be born again; born out of a dead, Pharisaic, conventional form of religion into a living individual union with the life of God. Two things, then, are laid before you this day — conventional religion, a whited sepulchre; personal religion, a fair temple, whose sure foundations are bound together by the twisted strength of the innermost fibres of the soul.

(Stopford A. Brooke, M. A.)

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