When they heard these things, they were cut to the heart, and they gnashed on him with their teeth.
I. THE RAGE OF CONVICTED CONSCIENCES. Pierced to the heart with the pain of the sense of guilt, though judges, they gnashed with their teeth upon Stephen, "like chained dogs who would bite those who would set them free. Contempt pierces through the shell of the tortoise, says the Indian proverb. On their high seat they were reached by the stinging words of the servant of Jesus; their obstinacy exposed, the contradiction between the part they were playing as the representatives of the Law and outwardly, while their spirit and aims were deadly opposed to its spirit, brought into the most glowing light. The most hellish of wrath is that where the mind is felt to be at variance with itself and seeks a victim on which to discharge its fury. If the truth does not convert men, it turns them into its foes.
II. THE INNER JOY OF THE MARTYR. The martyr is he whose life-interests are bound up with the truth, to whom nothing in the world can afford satisfaction in which truth and reality are not. He cannot separate his consciousness of life and its sweetness from his consciousness of God's light and love in him, which are dearer than life. With this clear light within his breast, he" sits in the center and enjoys clear day." "No greater thing can man receive, no more august boon can God bestow, than truth," said one of the noblest of heathen writers, Plutarch. This is the feeling in which the martyr lives, in which he is willing to die. And he may be and doubtless is often favored with peculiar visions, which foretell the triumph of truth and of faith. Stephen sees the heaven opened, and the crucified One, the "Son of man," standing in the place of glory and power, at God's right hand. There are secrets in the life of individual piety which if known, might go far to explain the cheerfulness with which privation or persecution has been borne. God opens an inner door into heaven to others inaccessible, and speaks of things, which cannot be uttered, and offers visions, which cannot be described. We know little more than the outside of others' lives. The bad man in power, the good man in weakness and suffering, each has another side to his life.
III. CONVICTION STIFLED IS VIOLENCE. Here are two resources of hypocrisy.
1. To pretend indignation against the person of an opponent. It is easy to feign a pious horror of sentiments we do not care to examine, and to cast obliquely the reproach of blasphemy upon one who utters truths which are evil in their bearing upon us, Jesus, Stephen, Paul, and in their turn all reformers, have had to incur this reproach.
2. To end the matter by violence. Cast the offender out of the synagogue; hand him over to the civil power; or put him to death under the show of law and justice. So was Stephen done to death. The worst crimes have been done in the name of law and under the cloak of religion.
IV. THE MARTYR'S END. In many features it repeats that of the Master.
1. Stephen is thrust out of the city, like him who suffered "without the gate." Nor can any man expect to live at all places and times the true life, without having to suffer some form of social expulsion. In suffering for our convictions we come to know the deeper fellowship of the spirit of Jesus. Better to go with Jesus "without the gate "and suffer, than to tarry within the city and to purchase ease at the expense of compliance with evil.
2. Life is yielded up in prayer. As he had sighed, "Father, into thy hands I commit my spirit," so his servant, "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit." As he," Father, forgive them," so Stephen, "Lay not this sin to their charge." Love, the animating principle of the Christian in life,, the secret energy which prompts all, his words and deeds, in the cause of truth, - love is the temper in which he dies. Christ's religion, in teaching us this love and making its practice possible, proves itself Divine. And this active love is rooted in the sense that we have been loved and sought of God. He who has once found us and blessed us with fatherly hand, gives courage for struggle and resignation in defeat.
3. The effect on others. We think of the young man Saul who stood by. What effect upon him had not this spectacle of love in death? And what evidence amidst wild scenes of savage life has not the end of the good man blessing, not cursing his foes, given to the love of God and what it can accomplish in the human heart! The red Indian, as he binds his captive to (he stake, expects him to prove his manhood, when escape is hopeless, by bitter taunts and blasphemies to the last. And this is the fruit of cruelty in many lands. It is the marvel in human nature, the appearance of the lamb where we looked for the lion - the reaction of love against hatred, which betokens the presence of a power and a will beyond experience. The life of the world had passed into a new phase when men could die in the very arms of love and fall asleep with the smile of blessing on their brow. - J.
Parallel VersesKJV: When they heard these things, they were cut to the heart, and they gnashed on him with their teeth.