You stiff necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears, you do always resist the Holy Ghost: as your fathers did, so do you.…
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.
Parallel VersesKJV: Ye stiffnecked and uncircumcised in heart and ears, ye do always resist the Holy Ghost: as your fathers did, so do ye.