Acts 7:57


It is not impossible that the foregoing defense of Stephen may own to some slight ellipses; if so, to be accounted for partly by the fact of his immediate martyrdom, which prevented his rehearsal of it to any penman. But if it be not so, and if we have here in due connection all that Stephen said that is material to a right apprehension of the exact position of things, then his outburst recorded in vers. 51-53 is indeed full of suggestion, hints at much that lay behind, and invests itself with great additional interest. For we must suppose that his discernment, all on fire at that moment, enabled him to see, both in the eyes of the council of judges and in some of their movements, perhaps of the most unconscious and involuntary character, that the crisis had arrived when, without another minute's delay, he should deliver himself of truth's scathing rebuke. And this superior illumination and quickened intelligence was, perhaps, but the stealing on, and with no very stealthy pace either, of the dawn of heavenly light itself. Whatever might be coming upon the enraged persecutors, to the brave and dignified persecuted was near at band the luster of the perfect day, the perfect truth, the perfect love. Let it be that the "age of miracles" has passed, how often all along up to the present have last moments of the servants of Christ, specially of his suffering ones, been visited in sight and sound by quickened perceptions of the eternal realities. With those realities Stephen is already in company in a degree beyond, possibly not in a manner altogether different from, manifestations vouchsafed in later days. The circumstances surrounding the death of Stephen have ever attracted special attention. The death is a martyrdom; it is the first distinct martyrdom for the name of Jesus. It is in some aspects of it not an altogether unworthy or unfaithful copy from the great original, and it is, on the other side, a type of many a close to earthly life which should hereafter come to pass. The surroundings of the death of Stephen well justify the gaze of all who pass by the way, the breathless listening of all who have an ear to hear, the deeper inquiry of all who are moved to deeper faith. And they reward these, abundantly reward them. There can be no mistake as to where the closing scene began. It began from the point at which the enemies of Stephen "gnashed their teeth on him." And from this beginning of what may well be called here "the pain, the bliss of dying," we may notice the things which shall seem chiefly to distinguish the death of the first Christian martyr - a death which is plainly offered for an open vision to all the world.

I. THE "FULL" POSSESSION "OF THE HOLY GHOST" ON THE PART OF THE MARTYR. This had long commanded life for Stephen and for his work. This had made him "full of faith" and "full of power," and able to "work great wonders and miracles among the people." This commands all Christian life, energy, and usefulness. It is the secret of life, but, more than that, the strong, sure force of it. And as the Holy Ghost had been the mighty Quickener of spiritual life and "work and wonder "for Stephen while he lived, so he is with him the strong Director and Supporter when he must face death, None can tell all the force of the Holy Spirit. He who has most only knows up to what he has; but is it not very plain, as the more a man has of him so he is the more strong and the more full of spiritual life and work, that we may therefore safely conclude that with him rests the complete transforming of our nature, no doubt, as well body as soul and spirit? Well may it be that we need not to "fear them who kill the body on]y," when we have with us One, the Holy Spirit, who can, who does vanquish their killing work, even while they are yet in the act, himself pouring fuller streams of life into the soul. Is it not greatly to be feared that the modern Church is guilty (though unconsciously, yet guilty in that very thing) of dishonoring the Spirit? We dishonor the Spirit

(1) in not owning our entire dependence on him for spiritual life;

(2) in not taking far higher views than we generally do of the circle of his influence and of the degree of it; and

(3) in not obeying, and that both sensitively and trustingly, such impulses as he does graciously vouchsafe.

II. A POWER OF THE EYE TO SEE BEYOND THE USUAL HUMAN POWER OF SIGHT. Glorious is the contrast, and surely it must have been all designed, when Stephen can turn away his saddened gaze from the vision of malignant, hostile, and infuriate faces, to what an opened heaven now proffers to his sight. But even a more essential glory than the substituted objects of vision may be said to have been found in the new-born or all but new-born realization of the power itself that lay sleeping there so long - sleeping and confined beneath the eyelid of flesh all life's length, till the moment had come before "the last trump" to startle it into proving its unknown gift. So we live daily amid the presence of most momentous realities, nor know by how fine a veil, how frail a partition, they are separated from our sight, while any moment may do one or both of these same things for us - rend open the veil or give the piercing sight to see through, past, and far, far above all the hindrances of sense and matter, let them be what they may. Glory now dawns on the horizon for Stephen; while he is yet in the strangest place and with a repulsive foreground, the distance is most radiant. It is far less of a miracle than a very simple fulfillment of assertions of Scripture and assurances of spiritual natures. The pure - " blessed arc the pure in heart: for they shall see God." He "looked up steadfastly into heaven, and saw the glory of God."

III. THE SIGHT OF REALITIES MOST SIGNIFICANTLY APPROPRIATE TO STEPHEN. It may be observed that, alike, the historian affirms the resplendent objects that Stephen's elevated gaze beheld, and also gives in quotation the words of his lips, uttered while yet his eyes beheld the ecstatic sight. We cannot err in understanding that what Stephen said he saw was keenly noticed and thought of by the historian and many a contemporary devout brother. Nor can we miss for ourselves the point - the less that this is the only occasion on which we find Jesus Christ directly styled "the Son of man by any one but himself (but see Revelation 1:13). For announcing, defending, advocating these facts; for preaching them with a zeal and faith in them that would not be silenced and could not be gainsaid, - it was that Stephen was in his present place and position. The facts were these exactly: that

(1) the Jesus, whom they were none of them unwilling to call Son of Man," and who called himself so, was, though "betrayed and murdered," not only "Son of man;" and

(2) that he now stood, manifest in the opened heaven, in a position that offered no doubtful evidence of all the rest. This had been the preaching of Peter and the rest of the apostles and of Stephen - that the Jesus whom the Jews had slain was "exalted to the right hand of God." Yes; is Stephen going to seal his testimony with his blood? before that shall be, God will seal his testimony, and give to Stephen the vision of what is close awaiting his sacrifice. The "everlasting gates" are already flung "open." The "King of glory" has already gone through. Glory in all its effulgence is there, for God and Jesus, the Light and Glory, the Strength and Love of the universe, are there; and "an abundant entrance" is about to be given to Stephen. Oh what a sight for Stephen! What a contrast! What an infinite reward! What supreme grace of Heaven! And what a thought for us is Jesus is there, and he is "standing" there, to take at the first possible moment the hand of Stephen, and welcome his feet to the golden floor. The correspondence between the work of Stephen and the peril into which he had been brought by it, and the gracious manifestations now made to him, tells its own tale.

IV. A FAITHFUL AND EMPHATIC FULFILMENT UP TO THE LAST MOMENT OF THE RIGHT PARTS OF EARTHLY DUTY. NOW literally hurried away by force by his enemies, we are not told. of any struggle whatever on his part, nor of any murmur, nor of any expression of instinctive horror and dread. But we are told:

1. How, when the first storm of stones gave him the clear signal of what was to be expected for earth, he "calls upon God," and, by no means forgetting the full meaning of his own "preaching and faith," cries, "Lord Jesus, receive my sprat. The care of his own soul is ever the first duty of any man.

2. And how, with marvelous memory, he

(1) does not omit to pray for his murderers; nor

(2) omits to" kneel down," as he prays," Lord, lay not this sin to their charge." We have in all this, not the signs of an enthusiast merely or a fanatic. Here is something very different - a man with the splendor of the glory of God and the realities of heaven and the exalted Jesus bursting on his vision, and yet, amid storms of stones, recalled to prayer for himself and the trustful committing of his soul to the charge of Jesus, and to intercession on bended knees for his murderers. To disregard the suggestions of the patience of Stephen, the dying charge of his spirit, and the prayer for those who kill him, in their power to recall the temper and the trust and the forgivingness of his great Master and Savior, were to disregard Christ's own grandest achievements. Of such achievements his force, his word, his Spirit, have now wrought in Stephen so early an illustrious and ever-enduring monument. Nor, amid all the rest of the splendor of the surroundings of Stephen's departing from this world, was there any more intrinsic mark of what it all meant than the copy which he himself exhibited of a character and a portrait "after the Master" - the Master Jesus.

V. A WORD APPLIED IN THE NARRATIVE TO DESCRIBE THE DEATH OF THE MARTYR AS SINGULARLY IN HARMONY WITH THE WHOLE WORLD'S IRRESISTIBLE CONVICTION OF THE PERFECT PEACE OF THE SPIRIT, AS IT WOULD SEEM INAPPROPRIATE TO THE SUFFERINGS OF THE BODY. "And when he had said this, he fell asleep. The beautiful expression was not unknown nor unused before Christians used it; but men may be pardoned if they felt (perhaps against strict letter of fact) it could never be appropriately drawn upon without Christian revelation. But its use now, its use in the circum- stances presented here, is a sign and a mark indeed. This is not some occasion where truth is complimentarily sacrificed, and facts dragged in disgraceful chains in the train of words. On the contrary, facts, in spite of all appearances, deeper facts, despite the sight and the sounds and stones that are flying about, facts that insist on giving expression to themselves, triumph over words and over all opposing forces, and demand that, as the last thing we know of Stephen in this world, we shall know this - that his death was as though a sleep," and his yielding to it as though he yielded to Heaven's gracious remedy for nature's deepest need - sleep! "He fell asleep " - in Jesus (1 Thessalonians 4:14). "Well done, good and faithful servant" - "faithful unto death." And in death also faithful - a faithful witness of the Lord's faithfulness to his own.

"He fell asleep in Christ his Lord;
He gave to him to keep
The soul his great love had redeemed,
Then calmly went to sleep.
And as a tired bird folds its wing
Sure of the morning light,
He laid him down in trusting faith,
And dreaded not the night." = -B.







Then they cried with a loud voice, and stopped their ears, and ran upon him.
I.THE MATTER FOR WHICH HE DIED.

II.THE DIVINE ASSISTANCE WHICH HE EXPERIENCED.

III.THE COMPOSURE WITH WHICH HE PASSED AWAY.

(J. A. Krummacher, D. D.)

Sermons by the Monday Club.
I. THE CALL OF STEPHEN WAS TO MARTYRDOM. Neither he nor the Church knew the honour which awaited him. Note —

1. That the humblest service leads to the highest.

2. How a man may enlarge a narrow sphere. We do not want so much men for large places as men to enlarge small places.

3. What God wanted of Stephen did not fully appear at the first. All that the Church could see was, that he had qualifications for a difficult trust. God bad a larger purpose. He wanted him, not to live, but to die.

4. That a man's greatest services may only begin when he is buried.

5. That no Divine cause hinges on a man. God always has another.

II. STEPHEN WAS CALLED BECAUSE HE WAS FULL OF THE HOLY GHOST. Through the Spirit he —

1. Had a message.

2. The power of a holy face. The baptism of the Spirit is an illumination. We have seen faces of men and women weal; and expressionless, dark and evil, through conversion glorified. The change at first is in softening, idealising. As it progresses, the peace of God is reflected in the features. In its completeness there is the manifestation of unearthly power.

3. He displayed the Divine union of severity and gentleness.

4. Had a vision.

5. Was sustained. He triumphed over pain.

III. THE EFFECTS OF THE MARTYRDOM.

1. On the world. He showed how a Christian could die. There had been deaths of disciples already, but they were shameful, dreadful: first Judas, then Ananias and his wife. But God now gave His people a grave to glory in.

2. On the Church (ver. 1). A general persecution was let loose. The Christians met the storm as they had been instructed by Jesus; they fled from the city and were scattered, but wherever they went they preached. Thus a part of the Divine plan appeared. In all ages persecution has been one of the greatest providential agencies for the spread of the gospel.

3. On the apostles. It was a discipline only paralleled by that which followed the crucifixion; but through it they were to become better leaders, and God would take care of His Church. They met the trial nobly. They stayed at their posts. The influence of their constancy upon the Christians, and also upon their enemies, must have been very great.

4. Upon the devout Jews. The persecution tested them. At the peril of their lives they paid the murdered man the reverence of burial. So the death of Jesus brought out Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea.

5. On Saul. Upon him the impression was deep. His reference to the part he had had in the murder, when he was in his trance at Damascus, shows it. One of the goads against which, from that time, he kicked in vain, was then buried in his heart. The immediate result was to infuriate him. But he had received his death-wound. The cord of love held him.

(Sermons by the Monday Club.)

Note —

I. STEPHEN'S FAITH. He did not say, "All these things are against me"; if Christ had designed to own my work, He would not thus have cut it short; if this be the manner in which Christ's cause prospers below, how can I believe that He Himself lives and reigns above? Never was his faith so strong, or his vision so unclouded. While his enemies are rushing upon him he is rapt above earth and earthly things, and privileged to behold his beloved Master Himself standing at the right hand of God.

II. His HOPE. In the midst of the uproar of angry voices, and of the flight of stupefying, crushing stones, he is calling upon his Master, not as a mere expression of pain or disquietude or weakness; or as the ignorant ejaculations sometimes heard from a sinner's deathbed, when for the first time the grasp of a mightier power is felt, which must be propitiated by abject invocation: not thus, but in the tone of one who "knows whom he has believed."

III. His CHARITY. As the mangled frame begins to totter to its dissolution, the dying martyr kneels. That posture with which we allow any little excuse to interfere, which many of us never practise even in God's house, which few of us would practise in a season of pain or sickness, he deemed the fittest attitude even for a dying man: he would honour God with his body as well as with the spirit: and then he cries aloud, in the hearing of his enemies still thirsting for his blood, "Lord, lay not this sin to their charge!" He prays not, as some have done, that the murderers may find out their sin one day in punishment — not even that his blood may produce a speedy and an abundant harvest, but that that cruel deed may never be weighed in God's balances against its perpetrators. Thus he prayed, and in one case at least we know that his prayer was heard and answered.

IV. His COMPOSURE. He was laid to rest. He was lulled to slumber. The word itself is enough to take the sting from death. The ease of St. Stephen himself may assure us that no circumstances of death can prevent its being this to a Christian. It matters not whether the cause of death be disease or accident, the weapon of war or the stroke of the executioner. It matters not whether the scene of death be the house or the roadside, the field of battle or the desolate prison-house. There are three conditions of such a death. It must be —

1. A rest from labour. "Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord," etc.(1) An idle, desultory, self-indulgent life has earned no rest. Night may come to such a life, but not the sweet sleep of the healthily wearied labourer.(2) Again, a rest from what labour? Not from common worldly occupations, such as have their reward (if anywhere) here, and have nothing stored up for them in the world unseen. He who would rest in Christ must first have wrought in Christ. It is Christ's labourer, not the world's, who, when he dies, falls asleep.

2. A rest with Christ. "I have a desire to depart, and to be with Christ, which is far better." "While we are at home in the body, we are absent from the Lord."

3. A rest unto rising. A sleep not to be again broken is death, not sleep. A sleep only to be broken by terrific Suffering is no sleep: it is a frightful dream, a horrible nightmare. Such is the death of the wicked.

(Dean Vaughan.)

True Christian zeal will seek to do the highest work of which sanctified humanity is capable. Stephen is first heard of as a distributor of the alms of the Church to needy widows. Doubtless he used the office of a deacon well, and so purchased to himself a good degree. Although the onerous duty of serving tables might well have excused him from other service, we soon find him doing great wonders among the people; and not even content with that, we see him defending the faith against a synagogue of subtle philosophical deniers of the truth. He had a higher promotion yet — he gained the peerless dignity of martyrdom. Put a man without zeal into the front place, and he will gradually recede into his native insignificance, or only linger to be a nuisance; but put a man into the rear, if his soul be full of holy fire, you will soon hear of him. Observe

I. THE POWER OF THE HOLY SPIRIT AS DEVELOPED IN STEPHEN'S DEATH, IN ORDER THAT WE MAY LEARN TO RELY UPON THAT POWER. This power is seen in —

1. The fact that although surrounded by bitter enemies, and having no time for preparation, Stephen's defence is wonderfully logical, clear, and forcible. This chapter does not read like an address delivered to a furious mob. He could not have delivered it with greater fearlessness had he been assured that they would thank him for the operation. To what do we trace this mouth and wisdom but to the Holy Spirit? The Holy Ghost exerts such a power over the human mind, that when it is His will, He can enable His servants to collect their scattered thoughts, and to speak with unwonted power. Moreover, the Lord can also touch the stammering tongue, and make it as eloquent as the tongue of Esaias. When we can study the Word, it is mere presumption to trust to the immediate inspiration of the moment; but if any one of you be called to speak for your Master when you can have had no preparation, you may confidently depend upon the Spirit of God to help. It is better to be taught of the Holy Spirit than to learn eloquence at the feet of masters of rhetoric. The Spirit of God needs to be honoured in the Church in this respect.

2. The manner and bearing of the martyr. He gazes steadfastly up into heaven. They may gnash their teeth, but they cannot disturb that settled gaze. What he beholds above makes him careless of the bloodthirsty foes below. The bearing of many of the martyrs has been singularly heroic. When the King of France told Bernard Palissy that, if he did not change his sentiments, he should be compelled to surrender him to the Inquisition, the brave potter said to the king, " You say I shall be compelled, and yet you are a king; but I, though only a poor potter, cannot be compelled to do other than I think to be right." The potter was more royal than the king. Now if you and I desire to walk among the sons of men without pride, but yet with a bearing that is worthy of our calling and adoption, we must be trained by the Holy Ghost. Those men who go cap-in-hand to the world, asking leave to live, know nothing of the Holy Ghost.

3. His calm and happy spirit. It is a great thing for a Christian to keep himself quiet within when turmoil rules without. To be calm amid the bewildering cry, confident of victory — this is so hard that only the Divine Dove, the Comforter, can bring us from above the power to be so; but when once the art of being still is fully learned, what strength and bliss is in it!

4. His holy and forgiving temper. He knelt down, as if to make them see how he prayed, and then he prayed with a loud voice, that they might hear. Surely this is a work of the Holy Spirit indeed! We find it not altogether easy to live at peace with all men, but to die at peace with our murderers, what shall I say of it? The prayer we have just mentioned did not die in the air; it passed through the gate of pearl, and it obtained an answer in the conversion of Saul.

II. THE SOURCE OF RICHEST COMFORT, WITH THE HOPE THAT WE MAY LEARN TO LOOK THERE. It was the end and aim of the Holy Spirit to make Stephen happy. How could this be done? By revealing to him the living and reigning Saviour at the right hand of God. If we have like precious faith with Stephen, since it is a great fact that Christ is there, there is no reason why oar faith should not see what Stephen's faith saw. He saw —

1. That Jesus was alive. He was not serving a dead Christ; he was speaking for a Friend who still existed to hear his pleadings, and to accept his testimony. Stephen argued within himself, "If Christ lives after crucifixion, why should not Stephen live, through Christ, after stoning?"

2. That Jesus saw him and sympathised with him. Is not that the meaning of the attitude which the Lord assumed? The Man of Sorrows is alive, and sympathises with His people still. "In all your affliction He is afflicted."

3. Jesus standing at the right hand of God. That was the point in dispute. The Jews said the Nazarene was an impostor. "No," said Stephen, "there He is." The people rage, the rulers take counsel together, but yonder is the King upon the holy hill of God; and to Stephen's heart this was all he wished. I have known what it is to be brought so low in heart, that no promise of God's Word gave me a ray of light, nor a gleam of comfort, and yet, so often as I have come across this text, "Wherefore God also hath highly exalted Him," etc., I have always found a flood of joy bursting into my soul, for I have said, "Well, it is of no consequence what may become of me so long as my Lord Jesus is exalted." Like the dying soldier in the hour of battle, who is cheered with the thought, "The general is safe; the victory is on our side." I would like to put this telescope, then, to the eye of every sorrowing Christian. Your Saviour is exalted —

(1)To intercede for you.

(2)To prepare a place for you.

(3)As your representative. Because He lives, we shall live also.

III. THE COMFORT ITSELF. We do not find that the appearance of Jesus stopped the stones. That is the plan of the present dispensation. The Lord Jesus does not come to us to forbid our suffering, nor to remove our griefs, but He sustains us under them. "My grace is sufficient for thee." How sweetly is Stephen's triumph pictured in those last words, "He fell asleep." This is the life of a Christian. When the world has been most in arms against a believer, it is wonderful how he has rested with perfect composure in the sight of his enemies. This shall be the death of the Christian. He shall shut his eyes to earth and open them to heaven. His body shall but sleep, to be awakened by the heavenly trumpeter.

(C. H. Spurgeon.)

On reviewing the whole narrative we cannot fail to be struck with three things —

1. The professed patrons of religion engaged in banishing it from the world. The peculiar enormity of the crime is that it was done in the name of religion.

2. The most eminent future apostle accessory to the death of the most eminent disciple. This teaches us —(1) How the conscience may be perverted. An action is not necessarily right because the author believes it to be so.(2) How concealed the spirituality of the law may be from its most diligent student. Some knew its letter, but had not learned the alphabet of its spirit. "The letter killeth."(3) How sovereign and .almighty is the grace of God. Christ selected Saul to become His apostle, and the martyrdom of Stephen was one of the causes of His conversion. "He is able of stones to raise up children to Abraham."

3. The most useful man of his time allowed to be stoned out of the world as a blasphemer. Stephen appears in two opposite lights — as a victim and as a victor. Though crushed he yet conquered-illustrating the dark and bright sides of piety.

I. THE DARK SIDE. Stephen dying under a shower of stones. The world has ever hated vital Christianity. Two causes led to this result —

1. He held convictions which clashed with the prejudices and worldly interests of his contemporaries.

2. He faithfully declared those convictions. Had he kept them to himself, compromised them, or toned them down to the corrupt spirit of his age, he would have avoided such an end as this.

II. The bright side. Piety looked upon from the world's side is rather a miserable object — but not so when viewed from the spiritual side.

1. Stephen was in vital connection with God. He was "filled with the Holy Ghost."

2. He had a glorious vision of heaven. Having God within him, everything was full of divinity.

3. His spirit was inspired with the sublimest magnanimity.

4. He had a delightful departure from the world.(1) He commended his spirit to Christ. This prayer implies —

(a)Consciousness that he had a spirit.

(b)Belief that that spirit would survive his expiring body.

(c)Unbounded faith in Christ to take care of his spirit.(2) He fell asleep. Implying —

(a)A welcome rest.

(b)An anticipated rising.

(D. Thomas, D. D.)

I. WHAT WAS THE SECRET OF HIS MEEKNESS AND HIS BRAVERY? There must have been some Divine bestowment. Was it, then, some miraculous gift reserved for some specially chosen man? The secret lies in the fact that he was "full of faith and of the Holy Ghost." He did not leap into this character. There was no special charm by which these graced clustered round him: they were the gift of God to him as they are to us. The only difference between us and him is that he grasped the blessing with a holier boldness, and lived in a closer communion with God. It was not physical hardiness then. There are men whose bravery no one dare question, who have yet beer the veriest cowards in the face of moral duty, and vice versa. The Duke of Wellington once despatched two officers on a service of great hazard, and as they were riding the one turning to the other saw his lips quivering and his cheek blanched. Reining in his horse he said, "Why, you are afraid." "I am," was the answer; "and if you were half as much afraid as I am, you would relinquish the duty altogether." Without wasting a word the officer galloped back and complained bitterly that he had been sent in the company of a coward. "Off, sir, to your duty," was the duke's reply, "or the coward will have done the business before you get there." And the great man was right. There was physical timidity, perhaps the result of a highly-wrought nervous organisation, but there was an imperial regard for duty which bore him above his fears to triumph. Yes; and Church history can tell us many a story of sufferings endured for Christ by delicate and high-born womanhood. Martyrs are what they are from the "demonstration of the Spirit and power."

II. THE LOT OF THE CHRISTIAN IS ORDINARILY AN INHERITANCE OF PERSECUTION. There was nothing in Stephen's character to arouse hostility. But he was faithful, and his reproofs stung his adversaries to the quick; he was consistent, and his life was a perpetual rebuke to those who lived otherwise; he was unanswerable, and that was a crime too great to be forgiven.

1. Persecution has been the lot of the Church in all ages. The prophets were scoffed, and some of them were slain. Nearly all the apostles wove the martyr's amaranth into their crown of thorns. Rome pagan persecuted, so has Rome papal, and even churches of purer faith.

2. But apart from ecclesiasticism altogether "they that will live godly must suffer persecution." The developments of the persecuting spirit are restrained by the advance of enlightenment, the decorums of society, the interlacings of interest, the silent unrecognised leaven of Christian faith; but depend upon it, if you are a Christian the world hates you and your practice still. The father may interpose to prevent his child's devotion, the husband withdraw his wife's privileges, or the custom may be withdrawn, the preferment withheld, the suspicion insinuated. There are a thousand ways by which the latent hate may be shown — in the shrug of the shoulder, the curl of the lip, the glance of the eye, the wave of the hand.

3. If you are persecuted take it as a proof of your legitimacy. I wonder almost whether the reason that there is so little persecution now is that there is so little faithfulness. Unfaithfulness to the Christian is like the Deluge to the world — a flood to drown it: persecution to the Christian spirit is like the Deluge to the ark — a flood to lift it nearer to heaven.

III. STRENGTH AND GRACE ARE ALWAYS GIVEN MOST LIBERALLY WHERE THEY ARE MOST NEEDED. In the early part of Stephen's life, when acting as deacon and evangelist, he had grace according to his day. When before the council the Spirit inspired his unpremeditated speech and gave him a vision of glory. And now amid the shower of stones he lay his head upon his Saviour's bosom and went triumphant home. "As thy days, so shall thy strength be." Have you not heard from the lips of the now glorified that the time of their fiercest trial was the time of their most glorious deliverance? Have you not listened sometimes in the death-chamber, and wondered at the disclosures of the realities of heaven?

IV. DEATH IS NOT DEATH TO A BELIEVER. "He fell asleep." When men sleep they usually surround themselves with the most favourable circumstances. They demand quiet, they exclude light and sound. Stephen fell in circumstances very different, but when God wills a man to sleep it does not matter how much noise there is around him. In sleep there is —

1. Repose.

2. Security. Men do not usually commit themselves to slumber without some prospect of safety; so there was security for Stephen's body in the grave and his soul in paradise.

3. Restoration; for after the night comes the morning.

(W. M. Punshon, LL. D.)

Observe —

I. THE MALIGNANT EXCITEMENT OF THE JEWISH COUNCIL. We are shocked at the wickedness of which the heart of man is capable. It has many manifestations; but in no case is it so strongly marked as in the contrasts presented in instances of religious persecution. On the one hand, there is everything to conciliate regard; and on the other, there are the worst of passions. But how is this to be accounted for? Enmity to the truth of God; and hatred to them who hold it. Yet, think not that this spirit is confined to ages of persecution. It exists in ages of professed liberality. Be faithful witnesses of the truth; and you will see the enmity, and often hear the growl of the savage within, though chained. Be faithful to yourselves; and you will often find when truth and its preachers press hard upon your errors, the inquiry rising, "Hast thou found me, O mine enemy?"

II. THE ATTITUDE OF THE MARTYR.

1. The fact that he was "full of the Holy Ghost" intimates that he had in that moment a special visitation of Divine strength and comfort. How often does this appear in the Bible! Hence St. Paul remarks, "We glory in tribulations also." When the three Hebrew children were cast alive into the burning fiery furnace, "one like unto the Son of God" appeared amongst them, so that not a hair of their heads was singed. When St. John was banished to the Isle of Patmos he was favoured with the presence of his glorified Lord and of the holy angels. All these facts are designed to teach us that the Lord is "a very present help in the time of trouble."

2. The immediate effect of this visitation was, that "he looked up stedfastly into heaven," a devout committal of his cause into a supreme hand. A man whose eye is fixed on heaven tramples equally underfoot the smiles and the frowns of earth. Here is no defiance, no retreating of man into himself in search of natural courage or other principles to sustain him. In Christian heroism man goes out of himself to a higher power, and becomes mighty through God.

III. THE VISION VOUCHSAFED TO HIM. How appropriate it was to the two great purposes which to him were so important in that hour!

1. To confirm his faith. Whether he had seen our Lord before does not appear; but he now saw Him in His glory. Here was faith rewarded and confirmed by the evidence of vision; just as all true faith shall finally be rewarded. For true faith fixes upon the reality of things. They exist, though the distance which separates time from eternity intervenes; and God does not work a miracle, as in the case of Stephen, to enable us to see. Still they are there, and the faith which the world despises shall be crowned with the glorious sight. Ah! how soon may God lift the veil and let the saint into the anticipated glories, and plunge the sinner into the forgotten horrors of eternity!

2. To inspire courage and comfort. It was a vision of Jesus —(1) At the place of power and authority; everything below, therefore, was under His management and control. If the sovereign Lord permitted his enemies to destroy him, it was the part of the servant to bow. Still He is at the right hand of power, to control the rage of man, to choose the moment when His servant should thus glorify Him, to afford him almighty succour, to turn his death into a means of furthering His own eternal truth, and by opening His glory to receive his spirit.(2) Standing and looking down upon him. How could he then faint? There was Christ tacitly exhorting him by His look, "Be thou faithful unto death," etc. He looks upon us; let us take care that we sin not. He requires of us patiently to bear the cross, and to suffer with resignation. He will give us the help we need. Let us look to Him in habitual reverence and stedfast trust.

IV. His DEATH It was a death of —

1. Prayer. He died calling upon God. No former grace was then sufficient, although important; for he knew how to call upon God. Let us now learn the habit of prayer. We shall need it to our last struggle.

2. Faith. Christ was recognised by the dying martyr, and into His hands the soul was commended.

3. Certainty. In the mind of Stephen there was no gloom as to the future. "And now, O ye judges," said Socrates, "ye are going to live, and I am going to die. Which of these is best, God knows; but I suppose no man does." "I am going to take a leap in the dark!" exclaimed an infidel in the prospect of dissolution. The despairing sinner trembles at the sight of the great gulf. It is your privilege to die like Stephen.

4. Charity. A soul ripe for heaven can have no resentments.

5. Peace. "He fell asleep."

(R. Watson.)

It is a glorious thing to be the first t achieve some great work — the first mariner to sail into an unknown sea, or the first soldier to mount the breach, and enter the beleaguered city — but nobler still to be the first to bear witness to a great truth, and to seal the testimony with one's blood. This honour was enjoyed by Stephen. In the story of his martyrdom we see —

I. A VICTIM CONQUERING. Stephen's murderers seemed to get the victory, yet in reality they were vanquished. No wonder that their victim triumphed, for persecution is always a sign of weakness. Persecution is always an attempt to accomplish the impossible. It is an endeavour to effect spiritual ends by physical means. Not all the Acts of Parliament, decrees of magistrates, rage of princes in the world can crush the soul that is strengthened by the grace of God. The martyr triumphs over his foes.

II. A WITNESS TESTIFYING. Stephen's martyrdom was an argument for Christianity.

1. He bore testimony to the facts of the gospel story. What a convincing proof of the reality of these events!

2. He bore testimony to the power of the living Saviour. Nothing can inspire such enthusiasm and devotion as a person can excite.

III. A HERO CROWNED.

1. A radiant vision. "I see the heavens opened, and the Son of Man," etc. The spirit-world is nearer than we often think. If our powers were developed, what spiritual glories would flash upon us!

2. A celestial spirit. "Lord, lay not this sin to their charge" — the martyr's prayer for his murderers. How unlike the world's spirit of revenge!

3. A profound peace. "And when he had said this, he fell asleep." How striking the contrast between Stephen's calmness and the fierce excitement of his persecutors!

(T. W. Mays, M. A.)

Let us regard this as refuting some practical mistakes.

I. THAT CHARACTER WILL SAVE A MAN FROM HARM. That would be so in certain conditions of society, but those conditions are not present in our life. Stephen was a man of blameless character, yet when he was called upon to make his defence, and had made it, his character went for nothing. The meanest criminal could not have received more malignant treatment. A bad world cannot tolerate good men. If we were better we should be the sooner got rid of. It is our gift of compromise that keeps us going.

II. THAT TRUTH NEEDS ONLY TO BE HEARD IN ORDER TO BE RECOGNISED AND ACCEPTED. But show where truth has ever been crowned readily. Truth spoken to the true will always be so received, but truth spoken to the false challenges a contest of strength.

III. THAT REGULARLY CONSTITUTED AUTHORITIES MUST BE RIGHT. You smile at the suggestion that one odd man can have the truth, and seventy regularly trained and constitutionally appointed men do not know the reality of the case in dispute. The Church must be right; we cannot allow ourselves to be bewildered and befooled by eccentric reformers and by individual assailants. All history reverses such opinions. The truth, it would seem, has always been with the one man. The moment another man joins him he is less than he was before. The sense of individual responsibility is almost lost. The Almighty seems to have elected the individual man, and through him to have spoken to the crowd or the race. But he has not God's message simply because he happens to be one. You are not great because you are eccentric. You are not wise because you are solitary. But being called and inspired, having the assurance of the truth, and being prepared to establish that assurance by daily sacrifice, go forward, and at the last the vindication will come.

IV. THAT PERSONAL DELIVERANCE IN TRIAL IS THE ONLY POSSIBLE PROVIDENCE. That is the very idea that would recur to the simplest mind that could look at the case. It is the first rush at a popular riddle; but there is nothing in that answer. If that were God's method there would never be any need of deliverance at all. There must be something grander than this. The miracle was wrought within. "Lord, lay not this sin to their charge." Any miracle of merely personal deliverance set side by side with that miracle of grace would be an anti-climax and a pitiful commonplace. Any religion that will evoke such a spirit in its believers, and lead them under such circumstances to offer such prayers, needs no vindication of its divinity.

V. THAT LIFE IS LIMITED BY THAT WHICH IS OPEN TO THE EYES OF THE BODY. It would have been a poor case for Stephen but for the invisible. "If in this life only we have hope, we are of all men most miserable." Moses endured as seeing the invisible. Stephen said, "I see heaven opened," etc. "Blessed are the pore in heart, for they shall see God." In great dangers God shows us great sights. What did Elisha ask the Lord to do in the case of the young man who saw the gathering hosts surrounding his prophet master? "Lord, open his eyes that he may see." That is all we want. The enemy is near: but the friend is nearer. Stephen's spiritual faith made him forget that he had a body. Think of trusting his spirit to a God that had allowed his body to be killed! This is the sublimity of faith. When the spirit is inspired, when heaven is opened, when Christ rises to receive the guest, there is no flesh, there is no pain, there is no consciousness but in the presence of God, the absorption of the heart in the infinite love. When the heart seizes God as an inheritance it fears not them that kill the body.

(J. Parker, D. D.)

I. ITS GENERAL CHARACTER.

1. It was in the midst of his service. He had been appointed an officer of the Church to see that the alms were distributed properly, and thereby he did most useful service, for it gave the apostles opportunity to give themselves wholly to their true work, and it is no small matter to be able to bear a burden for another if he is thereby set free for more eminent service than we could ourselves perform. The care which Stephen exercised over the poor tended also to prevent heartburning and division. Bat, not content with being a deacon, Stephen began to minister in holy things as a speaker of the Word with great power. He stands forth as quite a leading spirit; so much so, indeed, that the enemies of the gospel made him the object of their fiercest opposition. Stephen stood in the front rank of the Lord's host, and yet he was taken away! "A mystery," say some; "A great privilege," say I. Is it not well to die in harness? Who wants to linger till he becomes a burden rather than a help?

2. In the prime of his usefulness. And is not this well? Well, first, that God should teach His people how much He can do by a man whom He chooses; well, next, that He should show them that He is not dependent upon any man. If our life can teach one lesson, and when that is taught, if our death can teach another, it is well to live and well to die. If God be glorified by our removal, is it not well?

3. It was painful, and attended with much that flesh and blood would dread. He died not surrounded by weeping friends, but by enemies who gnashed their teeth; no holy hymn made glad his death chamber, but the shouts and outcries of a maddened throng rang in his ears. For him no downy pillow, but the hard and cruel stones. Now this is all the more for our comfort, because if he died in joy and triumph, how much more may we hope to depart in peace!

4. It was calm, peaceful, confident, joyous. He never flinched while addressing that infuriated audience. He was as calm as the opened heaven above him, and continued so though they hurried him out of the city. He stood up and committed his soul to God with calmness, and when the first murderous stones felled him to the earth he rose to his knees, still not to ask for pity, but to plead with his Lord for mercy upon his assailants; then, closing his eyes, "he fell asleep." Believe, then, O Christian, that if you abide in Christ, the like will be the case with you. We wept when we were born though all around us smiled; so shall we smile when we die while all around us weep. Why should we expect it to be otherwise? Stephen's God is our God; the Holy Spirit dwells in us even as He did in him.

5. His mind was in a very elevated condition, Remark —(1) His intense sympathy with God. All through that long speech of his you see that his soul is taken up with his God, and the treatment which he had received from Israel.(2) His exclusive attachment to the spiritual. All ritualism was clean gone from him. I dare say at one time Stephen felt a great reverence for the temple; but Stephen says, "Howbeit the Most High dwelleth not in temples made with hands." It is noteworthy how the saints, when they are near to die, make very little of what others make a great deal of. The peculiar form of worship and the little specialities of doctrines which he made much of, will seem little in comparison with the great spiritual essentials when the soul is approaching the presence chamber of the Eternal.(3) His superiority to the fear of men. He looks like an immortal angel rather than a man condemned to die. The fitter we are for heaven the more we scorn all compromise, and feel that for truth, for God, for Christ, we must speak out, even if we die.(4) His freedom from all cares. He was a deacon, but he does not say, "What will those poor people do? What will the apostles do?" He trusts the Church militant with her Captain; he is called to the Church triumphant. Why should it not be thus with us? Our Lord managed His Church well enough before we were born; He will not be at a loss because He has called us home.(5) His triumphant death. His name was Stephanos, or crown, and truly that day he not only received a crown, but he became the crown of the Church as her first martyr.

II. ITS MOST NOTABLE PECULIARITY. It was full of Jesus. Jesus was —

1. Seen —(1) As the Son of Man. This is the only place in Scripture where Jesus is called the Son of Man by any one but Himself. At all times it is a gladsome sight to see the representative Man exalted to the throne of God, but it was peculiarly suitable for this occasion, for the Lord Himself had warned the present audience about "the Son of Man sitting on the right hand of power."(2) Standing — eager both to sustain and to receive him when the conflict was over.(3) At the right hand of God, the place of love, power, and honour. Now, when we come to die, we may not, perhaps, expect with those eyes to see what Stephen saw, but faith has a grand realising power. So long as we are sure that Christ is at the right hand of God, it little matters.

2. Invoked. Dying Christians are not troubled with questions as to the Deity of Christ. Unitarianism may do to live with, but it will not do to die with. At such a time we need an Almighty Saviour.(1) Stephen makes no mention of any other intercessor. The abomination of saint and angel worship had not been invented in his day.(2) Neither do we find him saving a word as to his good works, and almsdeeds, and sermons, and miracles.

3. Trusted. "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit."

4. Imitated, for the death of Stephen is a reproduction of the death of Jesus. Jesus died without the gate, praying, so did Stephen; Jesus died saying, "Father, into Thy hands I commit My spirit"; Stephen says, "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit." Christ dies pleading for His murderers, so does Stephen. Now, if our death shall be a reproduction of the death of Jesus, why need we fear?

III. ITS SUGGESTION AS TO THE KIND OF DEATH WHICH WE MAY WISELY DESIRE. First, it is very desirable that our death should be —

1. Of a piece with our life. Stephen was full of faith and of the Holy Ghost in life, and so was he full of the Holy Ghost in death; Stephen was bold, brave, calm, and composed, in life, he is the same amid the falling stones. It is very sad when the reported account of a man's death does not fit in with his life. It is ill to die with a jerk, getting as it were upon another line of rails all on a sudden. It is better to glide from one degree of grace to another, and so to glory. Death may be the fringe or border of life, but it should he made out of the same piece. A life of clay is not to be joined to a death of gold.

2. The perfecting of our whole career, the putting of the cornerstone upon the edifice, so that when nothing else is wanted to complete he man's labours he falls asleep.

3. Useful. says, "If Stephen had never prayed, Saul had never preached."

(C. H. Spurgeon.)

I. THE CHARACTER OF STEPHEN; or what manner of man he was: "full of the Holy Ghost." Now this Holy Spirit dwells in the heart of all "the Israel of God " (John 14:25, 26). What can be plainer, than that here is a Person distinct from either the Father and the Son, but intimately connected with both? And that He is not a principle, but a person. In this view, "the fruits of the Spirit" are to be always distinguished from the Spirit itself; the gifts are not to be confounded with the Giver; the Spirit of faith will make a man die contentedly; the Spirit of purity will make him die composedly; the Spirit of truth will make him die consistently; the Spirit of comfort will make him die happily; the Spirit of might will make him die triumphantly.

II. His CONFIDENCE; or what he did: "He looked up stedfastly into heaven." Not only looked towards, but into, as one who had "cast his anchor of hope within the veil," and knew, therefore, where again to find it.

1. "He looked up," we cannot doubt, with longing desire to be there.

2. With great indifference to all things here below. We would not tolerate neglect of your proper concerns; but the hour cometh when the possession of the whole world, will be of no avail; when its opinions can no longer influence, when its interests can no longer bind, when its friendships can no longer profit, and when its pleasures can no longer charm. If, then, you cannot "look up stedfastly into heaven" for comfort, ah! you have nowhere else to look!

3. In prayer. Stephen knew that a martyr's grace was needful to a martyrs constancy. "He prayed," therefore, for himself; but also for his murderers — "Holy hands must be lifted up without wrath or doubting."

III. His vision and encouragement; or what he saw —

1. "The glory of God, and Jesus." As "the glory of God" is seen most, resplendent in "the face (or person) of Jesus Christ," this was most probably the view with which his soul was blest. Somewhat of this, too, Esaias saw when at the surpassing brightness even the seraphim did "ceil their faces with their wings."

2. Jesus "standing at the right hand of God," amidst His shining hosts, sovereign and supreme, arising in order to be the first to receive the dying martyr's spirit; standing, as a priest "who standeth daily ministering," to offer up this "sacrifice of a sweet-smelling savour"; standing, as a judge of masteries at the end of the goal or conflict, to hail the triumph of the candidate, and Himself confer the victor's crown!

IV. His AVOWAL; or, "what he said." "Behold, I see the heavens opened," etc. Here, then, St. Stephen gives a testimony to —

1. The Trinity; for he himself was "full of the Holy Ghent": he saw the "glory of God" the Father, and this manifested in Jesus standing at His right hand. He declared also —

2. Christ's humanity — "Son of Man." His faith and hope of admission into heaven: "I see heaven opened." Can there be a doubt but that there is "an open door, which no man can shut," proposed to us? "When Thou hadst overcome the sharpness of death, Thou didst open the kingdom of heaven to all believers."

V. HIS ADORATION; or whom it was he worshipped. "They stoned Stephen, invocating and saying, Lord Jesus, receive my spirit!" Jesus, therefore, was the object of his adoration; He was the only God he invocated, and at his last extremity of suffering and distress — a period when, if ever, men pray with the utmost seriousness, and always to Him whom they conceive to be the mightiest to help. Nor is it an immaterial circumstance that this invocation was made at the very time when Stephen "saw the glory of the Father, and was himself full of the Holy Ghost"; so that neither ignorance nor inadvertency nor imperfection could occasion it. And as if conscious, too, that He who could succour could equally forgive, he prayed again to Christ — "Lord, lay not this sin to their charge."

(W. B. Williams, M. A.)

Stephen had been preaching a rousing sermon, and the people could not stand it. They resolved to do as men sometimes would like to do in this day, if they dared, with some plain preacher of righteousness — kill him. I want to show you to-day five pictures. Stephen —

I. GAZING INTO HEAVEN. Before you climb a ladder you want to know to what point the ladder reaches. And it was right that Stephen, within a few moments of heaven, should be gazing into it. We would all do well to be found in the same posture. There is enough in heaven to keep us gazing. The whole universe is God's palace, but heaven is the gallery in which the chief glories are gathered. We have a great many friends there. As a man gets older, the number of his celestial acquaintances very rapidly multiplies. We have not had one glimpse of them since the night we kissed them good-bye and they went away; but still we stand gazing at heaven.

II. LOOKING UPON CHRIST. How Christ looked in this world, how He looks in heaven, we cannot say. Painters have tried to imagine His features, and put them upon canvas; but we will have to wait until with our own eyes we see Him. And yet there is a way of seeing Him now, and unless you see Christ on earth, you will never see Him in heaven. Look! There He is. Behold the Lamb of God. Can you not see Him? Then pray to God to take the scales off your eyes. His voice comes down to you, saying, "Look unto Me, all ye ends of the earth, and be ye saved." Proclamation of universal emancipation for all slaves, of universal amnesty for all rebels. Behold Him, little children, for if you live to threescore years and ten, you will see none so fair. Behold Him, ye aged ones, for He only can shine through the dimness of your failing eyesight. Behold Him, earth. Behold Him, heaven. What a moment when all the nations of the saved shall see Him!

III. STONED. The world has always wanted to get rid of good men. Their very life is an assault upon wickedness. Out with Stephen through the gates of the city. Down with him over the precipices. Let every man come and drop a stone upon his head. But these men did not so much kill Stephen as they killed themselves. While these murderers are transfixed by the scorn of all good men, Stephen lives in the admiration of all Christendom. Show me any one who is doing all his duty to State or Church, and I will show you scores of men who utterly abhor him. If a steamer makes rapid progress through the waves, the water will boil and foam all round it. You may assault a good man, but you cannot kill him. On the day of his death, Stephen spoke before a few people of the Sanhedrin; this Sabbath morning he addresses all Christendom!

IV. PRAYING. His first thought was not how the stones hurt his head, nor what would become of his body. His first thought was about his spirit. "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit." There is within you a soul. What direction will it take? What guide will escort it? What gate will open to receive it? Oh, this mysterious spirit i It has two wings, but it is in a cage now, but let the door of this cage open the least, and that soul is off. The lightnings are not swift enough to take up with it. And have you no anxiety about it? Thank God for the intimation of my text, that when we die Jesus takes us. In that hour it may be we shall be too feeble to say a long prayer, not even the "Lord's Prayer," for it has seven petitions. Perhaps we ms.y be too feeble to say the infant prayer our mothers taught us, but this prayer of Stephen is so short, concise, earnest, comprehensive, we surely will be able to say that.

V. ASLEEP. What a place to sleep in! Stephen had lived a very laborious life. But that is all over now. I have seen the sea driven with the hurricane until the tangled foam caught in the rigging, and wave rising above wave seemed as if about to storm the heavens, and then I have seen the tempest drop, and the waves crouch, and everything become smooth and burnished as though a camping place for the glories of heaven. So I have seen a man, whose life has been tossed and driven, coming down at last to an infinite calm, in which there was the hush of heaven's lullaby.

(T. De Witt Talmage, D. D.)

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