When they heard these things, they were cut to the heart, and they gnashed on him with their teeth.
I. THE NARRATIVE. Full of faith and power, he did great wonders and miracles among the people. He is, therefore, singled out for special attack, not in relation to the reality of his miraculous pretensions, but on what, no doubt, his assailants felt with such a man would be their higher vantage ground, the open field of theological controversy. And herein they were foiled. Chosen as the disputants were most probably for their superior learning and abilities, they would doubtless look upon Stephen with much the same scorn as the armed warrior of Gath regarded the stripling of Bethlehem. But on coming to close hand strife, they found that human learning was a poor match against Divine gifts, and they were not able to resist the wisdom and the spirit by which he spoke. This signal defeat compelled a change in their mode of attack. Satan has more than one arrow in his quiver, and whenever he has set upon a man to destroy him, will never be wanting. If reasoning fail, the adversary will try invective; invective silenced, he has recourse to falsehood; falsehood confuted, there are well laid engines of subtlety and fraud and brute force. All these means were successively employed against Stephen. The refuted argument was followed by the charge of blasphemy. The groundless charge of blasphemy had to be propped up by bribed witnesses, as these could only obtain a judicial hearing by the violent dragging of the case before the council; and in the very act of making his defence before this body, Stephen is seized, cast out of the city, and put to death.
II. ITS LESSON. In reading narratives like this, we are prompted to look for some principles on which to account for the bitterness and violence which usually characterises religious persecution. Men, we know, will get angry sometimes if people differ from them in politics, and will even forget their charities when contending on the most ordinary topics of dispute; but the fury, the gnashing with the teeth, and the showers of stones, are only met with when that which is to be put down is the pure truth of God; when the object of popular hatred can have no end of his own to compass. The fact is a standing, undeniable testimony to the doctrine, that the carnal mind is enmity against God. If the feeling of the natural heart, which supervened upon the fall, had been only the negation of a former love towards God, leaving man to settle down into a Gallio unconcerndness, we should never have heard anything of the blood of martyrs. Men would no more have risen up against an apostle than against a philosopher. But the case we know to be far otherwise. Press upon the consciences of men in any age the obligations of spiritual religion; carry the lamp of God's condemning truth into the heart's chambers of imagery; disturb that untempered mortar with which men daub over the walls of their refuge of lies, and in an instant you wake up the old feud of our nature; the embers begin to glow again of an ancient but long-slumbering fire; you have touched the man in the very quick of his cherished delusion, and at once he stands up in stout and rebellious front against God. Neither has advancing civilisation done more than restrain the outward expression of this feeling. It may have taught men, when convinced of the utter futility of their own religious principles, that they cannot now have recourse to the rude retributions of a rude age — but it has not dispossessed them of their malignity, or altered the original antagonism of the natural mind to the reception of Bible truth, or the practice of Bible requirements. If I tell a Socinian, that in the sight of God his moralities are no more than so many disguised and garnished sins; if I tell a man of right creed and pious activities, that if he has not something besides this, the publicans and harlots shall go into heaven before him; if I say to the proud, the worldly, the over-reaching, the slander-dealer, the uncharitable, the blasphemer, and the Sabbath-breaker, "Ye have not the Spirit of Christ, and therefore can be none of His" — yea, if I can so bring home these evidences of an unchanged heart to the individual conscience as that a man shall feel as if I were saying to him, Thou art the man whom, in your present state, the blood of Christ cannot reach; for whom the mansions of heaven can make no room; whose peace is a delusion, and whose hope is but a spider's web — spared though I may be from the gnashing teeth of unbridled rage, yet, while determined to stand out against conviction, the spirit of the persecutor is in that sinner's heart, and only to the age, and other accidents of social life, is it owing that men are not found to rush upon a faithful messenger with one accord, and to cast him out of the city, and to stone him. By nature men hate truth as the midnight robber hates the light.
(D. Moore, M. A.)
Parallel VersesKJV: When they heard these things, they were cut to the heart, and they gnashed on him with their teeth.