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.
Sleep is not unfrequently used by ancient heathen writers for the same general purpose of denoting the termination of human life. The still, quiescent state into which man passes when he sinks into repose is no unapt image of what takes place in appearance when man expires, more especially if under circumstances of gentle dissolution. It was only in such circumstances that the metaphor would have been deemed appropriate by a heathen, and would not probably have been used in a case like the present. To one, however, who, like the author of this history, regarded the present life as introductory to a better world, and who held the doctrine of the resurrection, death under whatever circumstances was regarded as being merely a sleep. This language suggests two ideas.
I. THE STATE OF THE GRAVE IS NOT PERMANENT: it is a sleep.
1. Sleep is not the extinction, but a suspension, of the faculties, and extends only to the body. The mind continues its activity, and when we awake the two continue as before to act together. Death is not the final end of man. The stroke which consigns the body to the grave does not destroy the active, functions of the soul. It still subsists in a state of consciousness, and at the resurrection it will be again united to its corporeal companion. He whom Stephen saw standing on God's right hand had formerly suffered the pangs of dissolution.
2. On the subject of the resurrection many difficulties have been proposed and questions started, and some have taxed ingenuity in framing answers. But, perhaps the best answer is a short and simple one — the resurrection is an act of Omnipotence. If this is admitted, to speculate on the supposed obstacles to its accomplishment is useless. Is anything impossible with God? But independently of Divine revelation, there are many presumptions of the resurrection. Inanimate nature undergoes an annual death and resurrection. But however striking vegetable analogies are, they afford a far less satisfactory presumption of immortality than that which is derived from contemplating the sufferings of good men, and to which even their virtues in some cases contribute. Can it be that the man, like Stephen, shall have no other recompense for his virtues but pain and torture; while ease, affluence, and secular honours shall be the lot of those who have been his tormentors?
II. THE STATE OF THE GRAVE WILL, TO THE CHRISTIAN, BE IN ITS CONSEQUENCES IMPROVING. It is a sleep.
1. All have experienced the feeling induced after a day of severe exertion. Both body and mind are jaded. You know likewise what in health are the feelings after a night of sound repose; you rise invigorated, and are in some respects new men. In this the resemblance holds between sleep and death. In advanced age the mind and the body equally exhibit symptoms of decay; and disease, at any period of life, will soon produce in both mind and body the effects which are produced by age. When they are reunited, after the body has been raised from the grave, we shall be free from former imperfections, and those numerous sufferings which are connected with the body will he no more known. It must be obvious, however, from this statement, that the analogy in this case is in some respects far less perfect than in the former. In awaking after the slumbers of the night, though invigorated in comparison of what we were at the time when, through the exhaustion of nature, sleep became necessary, there is no alteration in our general condition. It is otherwise after the repose of the grave. On the morning of the resurrection we will not only be different from what we were at the time when natural decay or disease brought on dissolution, but different from what we ever have been.
2. To render a future life an object of desire, it is necessary that it should be an improvement on the present. Take away from the enjoyments of this life the pleasure connected with the hopes of another, and a good man would have little inducement to resume it. If the feelings of the worldly man were analysed, it would perhaps be found that even in his case, at every period of life, it is the hope of something better that is his chief support. Much more is hope the principle of a Christian — a hope which is not restricted to the expectation merely of another life, but includes in that other the expectation of a better. In the Christian this hope will not be disappointed. Of this highly consolatory doctrine Stephen had an ocular demonstration. In what Jesus now is, Stephen saw what His followers shall be.
(R. Brodie, A. M.)
Parallel VersesKJV: 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.