Then they cried out with a loud voice, and stopped their ears, and ran on him with one accord,…
Let us regard this as refuting some practical mistakes.
I. THAT CHARACTER WILL SAVE A MAN FROM HARM. That would be so in certain conditions of society, but those conditions are not present in our life. Stephen was a man of blameless character, yet when he was called upon to make his defence, and had made it, his character went for nothing. The meanest criminal could not have received more malignant treatment. A bad world cannot tolerate good men. If we were better we should be the sooner got rid of. It is our gift of compromise that keeps us going.
II. THAT TRUTH NEEDS ONLY TO BE HEARD IN ORDER TO BE RECOGNISED AND ACCEPTED. But show where truth has ever been crowned readily. Truth spoken to the true will always be so received, but truth spoken to the false challenges a contest of strength.
III. THAT REGULARLY CONSTITUTED AUTHORITIES MUST BE RIGHT. You smile at the suggestion that one odd man can have the truth, and seventy regularly trained and constitutionally appointed men do not know the reality of the case in dispute. The Church must be right; we cannot allow ourselves to be bewildered and befooled by eccentric reformers and by individual assailants. All history reverses such opinions. The truth, it would seem, has always been with the one man. The moment another man joins him he is less than he was before. The sense of individual responsibility is almost lost. The Almighty seems to have elected the individual man, and through him to have spoken to the crowd or the race. But he has not God's message simply because he happens to be one. You are not great because you are eccentric. You are not wise because you are solitary. But being called and inspired, having the assurance of the truth, and being prepared to establish that assurance by daily sacrifice, go forward, and at the last the vindication will come.
IV. THAT PERSONAL DELIVERANCE IN TRIAL IS THE ONLY POSSIBLE PROVIDENCE. That is the very idea that would recur to the simplest mind that could look at the case. It is the first rush at a popular riddle; but there is nothing in that answer. If that were God's method there would never be any need of deliverance at all. There must be something grander than this. The miracle was wrought within. "Lord, lay not this sin to their charge." Any miracle of merely personal deliverance set side by side with that miracle of grace would be an anti-climax and a pitiful commonplace. Any religion that will evoke such a spirit in its believers, and lead them under such circumstances to offer such prayers, needs no vindication of its divinity.
V. THAT LIFE IS LIMITED BY THAT WHICH IS OPEN TO THE EYES OF THE BODY. It would have been a poor case for Stephen but for the invisible. "If in this life only we have hope, we are of all men most miserable." Moses endured as seeing the invisible. Stephen said, "I see heaven opened," etc. "Blessed are the pore in heart, for they shall see God." In great dangers God shows us great sights. What did Elisha ask the Lord to do in the case of the young man who saw the gathering hosts surrounding his prophet master? "Lord, open his eyes that he may see." That is all we want. The enemy is near: but the friend is nearer. Stephen's spiritual faith made him forget that he had a body. Think of trusting his spirit to a God that had allowed his body to be killed! This is the sublimity of faith. When the spirit is inspired, when heaven is opened, when Christ rises to receive the guest, there is no flesh, there is no pain, there is no consciousness but in the presence of God, the absorption of the heart in the infinite love. When the heart seizes God as an inheritance it fears not them that kill the body.
(J. Parker, D. D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: Then they cried out with a loud voice, and stopped their ears, and ran upon him with one accord,