Then they cried out with a loud voice, and stopped their ears, and ran on him with one accord,…
I. WHAT WAS THE SECRET OF HIS MEEKNESS AND HIS BRAVERY? There must have been some Divine bestowment. Was it, then, some miraculous gift reserved for some specially chosen man? The secret lies in the fact that he was "full of faith and of the Holy Ghost." He did not leap into this character. There was no special charm by which these graced clustered round him: they were the gift of God to him as they are to us. The only difference between us and him is that he grasped the blessing with a holier boldness, and lived in a closer communion with God. It was not physical hardiness then. There are men whose bravery no one dare question, who have yet beer the veriest cowards in the face of moral duty, and vice versa. The Duke of Wellington once despatched two officers on a service of great hazard, and as they were riding the one turning to the other saw his lips quivering and his cheek blanched. Reining in his horse he said, "Why, you are afraid." "I am," was the answer; "and if you were half as much afraid as I am, you would relinquish the duty altogether." Without wasting a word the officer galloped back and complained bitterly that he had been sent in the company of a coward. "Off, sir, to your duty," was the duke's reply, "or the coward will have done the business before you get there." And the great man was right. There was physical timidity, perhaps the result of a highly-wrought nervous organisation, but there was an imperial regard for duty which bore him above his fears to triumph. Yes; and Church history can tell us many a story of sufferings endured for Christ by delicate and high-born womanhood. Martyrs are what they are from the "demonstration of the Spirit and power."
II. THE LOT OF THE CHRISTIAN IS ORDINARILY AN INHERITANCE OF PERSECUTION. There was nothing in Stephen's character to arouse hostility. But he was faithful, and his reproofs stung his adversaries to the quick; he was consistent, and his life was a perpetual rebuke to those who lived otherwise; he was unanswerable, and that was a crime too great to be forgiven.
1. Persecution has been the lot of the Church in all ages. The prophets were scoffed, and some of them were slain. Nearly all the apostles wove the martyr's amaranth into their crown of thorns. Rome pagan persecuted, so has Rome papal, and even churches of purer faith.
2. But apart from ecclesiasticism altogether "they that will live godly must suffer persecution." The developments of the persecuting spirit are restrained by the advance of enlightenment, the decorums of society, the interlacings of interest, the silent unrecognised leaven of Christian faith; but depend upon it, if you are a Christian the world hates you and your practice still. The father may interpose to prevent his child's devotion, the husband withdraw his wife's privileges, or the custom may be withdrawn, the preferment withheld, the suspicion insinuated. There are a thousand ways by which the latent hate may be shown — in the shrug of the shoulder, the curl of the lip, the glance of the eye, the wave of the hand.
3. If you are persecuted take it as a proof of your legitimacy. I wonder almost whether the reason that there is so little persecution now is that there is so little faithfulness. Unfaithfulness to the Christian is like the Deluge to the world — a flood to drown it: persecution to the Christian spirit is like the Deluge to the ark — a flood to lift it nearer to heaven.
III. STRENGTH AND GRACE ARE ALWAYS GIVEN MOST LIBERALLY WHERE THEY ARE MOST NEEDED. In the early part of Stephen's life, when acting as deacon and evangelist, he had grace according to his day. When before the council the Spirit inspired his unpremeditated speech and gave him a vision of glory. And now amid the shower of stones he lay his head upon his Saviour's bosom and went triumphant home. "As thy days, so shall thy strength be." Have you not heard from the lips of the now glorified that the time of their fiercest trial was the time of their most glorious deliverance? Have you not listened sometimes in the death-chamber, and wondered at the disclosures of the realities of heaven?
IV. DEATH IS NOT DEATH TO A BELIEVER. "He fell asleep." When men sleep they usually surround themselves with the most favourable circumstances. They demand quiet, they exclude light and sound. Stephen fell in circumstances very different, but when God wills a man to sleep it does not matter how much noise there is around him. In sleep there is —
2. Security. Men do not usually commit themselves to slumber without some prospect of safety; so there was security for Stephen's body in the grave and his soul in paradise.
3. Restoration; for after the night comes the morning.
(W. M. Punshon, LL. D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: Then they cried out with a loud voice, and stopped their ears, and ran upon him with one accord,