And cast him out of the city, and stoned him: and the witnesses laid down their clothes at a young man's feet, whose name was Saul.
The meeting here described was a memorable event in the Church's history, and suggests to us some important lessons.
I. DO NOT THINK THERE ARE ANY CHANCE MEETINGS IN THIS STRANGE WORLD OF OURS.
1. It was no accident that Saul was by. This perhaps may be admitted; but never let us think that saints and martyrs live under a different form of Providential government from that of common men. Impiety will sometimes wear the cloak of humility, and talk of worms like ourselves being too insignificant to be watched at every step by the Eye that never sleeps. In such reasoning there is a twofold fallacy,
(1) What is little, and what is great? Take into account the wide domain which stretches from God's central throne to the farthest limits of creation, and what is our world, and what are the grandest men who move upon its surface? But take into account, on the other hand, responsibility and an immortal nature, and the relation of dependence on an heavenly parent, with all that is involved in the rewards of loyalty and the perils of disobedience; take into account the great redemption, and the universal promise and the inspiriting thought that here God's purposes are being worked out, and then what about us is mean? which of us all, if bought with precious blood, can be overlooked and forgotten?
(2) Even if some pass for great, and some are reckoned mean, in this strangely varied scene, still the two worlds intermingle at a thousand points. Something that looks little becomes the parent of an evil of portentous magnitude; or a deed, small at first as the mustard-seed, dropped into the ground at a venture, grows into a harvest of blessing by which a nation is enriched. The first link in a chain of events shall be a word spoken at hazard, a journey taken without a motive, a child's whim, a fool's false reckoning, but the last shall be a city consumed by conflagration, a kingdom convulsed by civil strife, a generation wasted and half devoured by the aggressions of war; yet the first link and the last were as certainly bound together as if an hour's interval only had elapsed between the original movement and its final consequences.
2. Saul and Stephen came together that day for good. And as God guided their steps, so God guides ours. You can tell of meetings, some of you, which have coloured your whole life, meetings which you never planned, meetings, it may be, with one unknown to you before, as the apostle was to the martyr, yet never forgotten, because step by step you can trace the occurrences which have grown out of that single interview, and which have done more, perhaps, to influence your condition or your character than all that you have deliberately planned for your own good through half a life. These thoughts are good for us, because the more we own God everywhere, and look on the common working world as His world, shaped by His wisdom, and brightened by His presence, the more diligently and cheerfully shall we do His will.
II. WE MUST NOT THINK THAT GOOD TEACHING OR EXAMPLE IS LIKE WASTED SEED, BECAUSE THE FRUIT IS NOT AT ONCE APPARENT. Stephen died, and little thought who saw him die. His dying scene was like the conqueror's march; but even then room would have been found for one emphatic burst of thankfulness — to Him who can make the wrath of man to praise Him — if it had been revealed to him that one, who stood within his view, would soon rank as the champion of the Cross, and a master-builder of Christ's Church. He did not reap the harvest, nor see it reaped; yet was he sowing for it when he lived and died so well. So we may do good in the world that we never live to see. What is well done for God is never wholly lost; and half of what we fancy to be wasted may ripen and bear fruit when our course is ended. "In the morning," then, "sow thy seed, and in the evening withhold not thy hand." "The husbandman waiteth for the precious fruit of the earth, and hath long patience for it."
III. WATCHFUL EYES ARE UPON US AT ALL TIMES, AND WE MAY BE DOING GOOD, OR DOING HARM, UNCONSCIOUSLY, TO SOME WHOM WE KNOW NOT NOW, AND NEVER SHALL KNOW. St. Stephen thought, perhaps, that the men before him were all alike. He did not know that one in that crowd looked on with more eager interest and with deeper feeling than the rest. Nothing was aimed at Saul; for to St. Stephen he was but one of a hundred spectators, probably all strange to him alike; but every word was heard and remembered: and to a thoughtful, inquiring mind, an end that looked so holy must have seemed a wonder, if the dying man were indeed a profane blasphemer. Surely a lesson like that ought not to be lost upon us. If God has taught us by His Spirit, without going out of our way, or setting ourselves up to be preachers, we may wonderfully help the ignorant and ungodly to understand what living Christianity is. We may expound to them what can hardly be learnt from books, by the persuasive eloquence of a holy, consistent example. In the occupations and engagements of common life we may be testifying for God and preaching Christ, as St. Stephen was when he died. It is a blessed service rendered to the cause of truth and righteousness if we stand the test, and because God helped us to act faithfully, and speak wisely, the man shall trust us more henceforth, and receive our message more willingly. On the other hand, fearful mischief will ensue if the life contradict the lips. Parents, masters, remember this, and all of you who become teachers of others in any sense. Numbers, who are dull-sighted in other things, are sharp-sighted to detect the flaw when there is manifest inconsistency between words and deeds.
(J. Hampden Gurney, M. A.)
Parallel VersesKJV: And cast him out of the city, and stoned him: and the witnesses laid down their clothes at a young man's feet, whose name was Saul.