And all that sat in the council, looking steadfastly on him, saw his face as it had been the face of an angel.
1. The Jews were familiar with angels, and knew that some of the greatest things in their national history had been accomplished by their agency. It was easy, therefore, for them to see any resemblance between a human creature and an angel of God.
2. Here is a man who had the look of an angel, and yet was still a man. Nay, in this trying yet favoured moment, he towered as it were to the height of his manhood, and put on all its bloom. It was Stephen's beauty that shone in the face. It was the real qualities of Stephen's character that made that beauty. It would seem, then, that a perfect man and an angel are brothers. Or say an imperfect man, in a mood of perfectness, or when he is wholly Christian, a child of God when he is looking homewards, And if this be the way of it, then surely there is many an angel-face on earth, and much beholding of the same from the higher spheres.
3. Of course we do not associate the angel-look with any particular style of face. We know nothing about the personal appearance of Stephen: only this seems plain, that such as he was in type and by Divine intention, that he now became with great clearness, and in becoming that, of necessity put on the likeness of the angel. Yet, I think we may say that there are certain things common to the angel-face on man amid all the endless variety of type and form.
I. BRIGHTNESS. We cannot be wrong in supposing that there was something luminous on the face of Stephen. We always associate brightness with the angels. If they come like common men (as they did to Abraham on the plain), the veiled brightness soon begins to shine through. If they come in their own nature, and proper state, then "the countenance is like lightning, and the raiment white as snow." If Stephen's countenance had been dull or sad on that day, this in the text bad never been recorded of him. Why should any man wear darkness or heaviness on his face? There is something in the world which we may learn, there is something from God which we may have, that will change all to brightness. The true philosophy of life is to get the light within ourselves; and then to get the habit of looking for and seeing the light everywhere, according to that profound and beautiful Scripture, "In Thy light shall we see light."
II. CALMNESS. Stephen was preternaturally calm in a scene of the utmost excitement. The test of a man's soul-state is often thus made very practical. He is tried by the pressure of the hour, by the hurry of the happening events. And it is not enough to have a general cheerfulness as the result of a survey of life and the world on the whole. There must be superiority to particular disquietudes, and a keeping of the heart in the stillness of grace, in the great and deep peace of God. It need not be disguised. that this is sometimes a matter of supreme difficulty. But no one can hope to get the angel-face who furrows and flushes his own with daily excitements. The peace of God is to keep the heart and mind as a garrison is kept. Surely "the helmet of salvation" should keep the head cool and quiet. The very feet should be "shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace."
III. BENIGNITY. This is the family likeness. For "God is love," and told us so in the visible form of His Son. And he that loveth not is not of God, and cannot wear an angel-face. The devil wears a kind of shattered splendour on his face. He is intellectual, he is calm; but there is no flush of benignity on his face; and by a long course of rebellion he has forgotten how to love. But those who, like Stephen, learn the lesson at the feet of Christ, and practise it among those who return good for evil, and seek the salvation of souls, they put on the image of the heavenly, and look like what they are — the children of the King!
IV. FEARLESSNESS. In Stephen's case consequences were what we call "fatal." But in the nomenclature of heaven fatal sometimes means vital. Courage in the highest sense always means safety. If an angel were here, to live for a while the life of a man, you would see what it is to be brave. You. would see him pass through sorrows smiling, his heart borne up already with foretaste of the after-joy. Conclusion:
1. He who would have the angel-face must look high and far. He must learn to look not so much at things, as through them, to see what is in them, and what is beyond. In a little while Stephen "looked steadfastly up into heaven." There is a look for a mortal man to give! A look which in his case was well rewarded, for "He saw the glory of God," etc. And that look gave him final victory. Men were gnashing their teeth, etc., beside him; they did not know that to him the pains of death were over. He had "looked" himself into heaven. He had trodden the streets of gold. But this was not the first time he had looked into heaven. Ever since he became a believer he had been looking that way. "If ye then be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth." You find them everywhere — in daily duties, in commonest things — but it needs the angel-eye to see them. Be an angel, or be a child in this; for the little child is not unlike the angel in its looking. Did you never see it on the little face — that calm, dreamy, distant look, that pierces quite through your world, and transcends all your ideas of prudence, and care, and duty, with a sublime indifference which is none the less grand that it is so simple?
2. Of course it is quite vain to attempt to put it on — the angel-face — directly, and by mental intention, as a soldier puts on his armour, or a king his royal robe. Could anything more absurd be conceived than this, that a man should say, "Now I am going to look like an angel!" If you try to put any particular emotion into the features, it will not be suprising if the very opposite emotion should come instead. Try to look grand, and you may make yourself little. Try to look innocent, and (although you may not remember a single sin) the general consciousness of guilt may seize you and put its colour into your face. Have the angel within, and leave all else to come, as it will. Or, as in the case of Stephen, be "full of faith, and of the Holy Ghost," i.e., be a Christian man, through and through, and the Lord.. your God will put His "beauty" on you, in one or other of its many forms, and in some supreme moments of life, in suffering, in trial, in death, may give your friends beholding you the privilege and joy of looking as it were upon the face of an angel.
(A. Raleigh, D. D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: And all that sat in the council, looking stedfastly on him, saw his face as it had been the face of an angel.