Then they cried out with a loud voice, and stopped their ears, and ran on him with one accord,…
I. ITS GENERAL CHARACTER.
1. It was in the midst of his service. He had been appointed an officer of the Church to see that the alms were distributed properly, and thereby he did most useful service, for it gave the apostles opportunity to give themselves wholly to their true work, and it is no small matter to be able to bear a burden for another if he is thereby set free for more eminent service than we could ourselves perform. The care which Stephen exercised over the poor tended also to prevent heartburning and division. Bat, not content with being a deacon, Stephen began to minister in holy things as a speaker of the Word with great power. He stands forth as quite a leading spirit; so much so, indeed, that the enemies of the gospel made him the object of their fiercest opposition. Stephen stood in the front rank of the Lord's host, and yet he was taken away! "A mystery," say some; "A great privilege," say I. Is it not well to die in harness? Who wants to linger till he becomes a burden rather than a help?
2. In the prime of his usefulness. And is not this well? Well, first, that God should teach His people how much He can do by a man whom He chooses; well, next, that He should show them that He is not dependent upon any man. If our life can teach one lesson, and when that is taught, if our death can teach another, it is well to live and well to die. If God be glorified by our removal, is it not well?
3. It was painful, and attended with much that flesh and blood would dread. He died not surrounded by weeping friends, but by enemies who gnashed their teeth; no holy hymn made glad his death chamber, but the shouts and outcries of a maddened throng rang in his ears. For him no downy pillow, but the hard and cruel stones. Now this is all the more for our comfort, because if he died in joy and triumph, how much more may we hope to depart in peace!
4. It was calm, peaceful, confident, joyous. He never flinched while addressing that infuriated audience. He was as calm as the opened heaven above him, and continued so though they hurried him out of the city. He stood up and committed his soul to God with calmness, and when the first murderous stones felled him to the earth he rose to his knees, still not to ask for pity, but to plead with his Lord for mercy upon his assailants; then, closing his eyes, "he fell asleep." Believe, then, O Christian, that if you abide in Christ, the like will be the case with you. We wept when we were born though all around us smiled; so shall we smile when we die while all around us weep. Why should we expect it to be otherwise? Stephen's God is our God; the Holy Spirit dwells in us even as He did in him.
5. His mind was in a very elevated condition, Remark —
(1) His intense sympathy with God. All through that long speech of his you see that his soul is taken up with his God, and the treatment which he had received from Israel.
(2) His exclusive attachment to the spiritual. All ritualism was clean gone from him. I dare say at one time Stephen felt a great reverence for the temple; but Stephen says, "Howbeit the Most High dwelleth not in temples made with hands." It is noteworthy how the saints, when they are near to die, make very little of what others make a great deal of. The peculiar form of worship and the little specialities of doctrines which he made much of, will seem little in comparison with the great spiritual essentials when the soul is approaching the presence chamber of the Eternal.
(3) His superiority to the fear of men. He looks like an immortal angel rather than a man condemned to die. The fitter we are for heaven the more we scorn all compromise, and feel that for truth, for God, for Christ, we must speak out, even if we die.
(4) His freedom from all cares. He was a deacon, but he does not say, "What will those poor people do? What will the apostles do?" He trusts the Church militant with her Captain; he is called to the Church triumphant. Why should it not be thus with us? Our Lord managed His Church well enough before we were born; He will not be at a loss because He has called us home.
(5) His triumphant death. His name was Stephanos, or crown, and truly that day he not only received a crown, but he became the crown of the Church as her first martyr.
II. ITS MOST NOTABLE PECULIARITY. It was full of Jesus. Jesus was —
1. Seen —
(1) As the Son of Man. This is the only place in Scripture where Jesus is called the Son of Man by any one but Himself. At all times it is a gladsome sight to see the representative Man exalted to the throne of God, but it was peculiarly suitable for this occasion, for the Lord Himself had warned the present audience about "the Son of Man sitting on the right hand of power."(2) Standing — eager both to sustain and to receive him when the conflict was over.
(3) At the right hand of God, the place of love, power, and honour. Now, when we come to die, we may not, perhaps, expect with those eyes to see what Stephen saw, but faith has a grand realising power. So long as we are sure that Christ is at the right hand of God, it little matters.
2. Invoked. Dying Christians are not troubled with questions as to the Deity of Christ. Unitarianism may do to live with, but it will not do to die with. At such a time we need an Almighty Saviour.
(1) Stephen makes no mention of any other intercessor. The abomination of saint and angel worship had not been invented in his day.
(2) Neither do we find him saving a word as to his good works, and almsdeeds, and sermons, and miracles.
3. Trusted. "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit."
4. Imitated, for the death of Stephen is a reproduction of the death of Jesus. Jesus died without the gate, praying, so did Stephen; Jesus died saying, "Father, into Thy hands I commit My spirit"; Stephen says, "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit." Christ dies pleading for His murderers, so does Stephen. Now, if our death shall be a reproduction of the death of Jesus, why need we fear?
III. ITS SUGGESTION AS TO THE KIND OF DEATH WHICH WE MAY WISELY DESIRE. First, it is very desirable that our death should be —
1. Of a piece with our life. Stephen was full of faith and of the Holy Ghost in life, and so was he full of the Holy Ghost in death; Stephen was bold, brave, calm, and composed, in life, he is the same amid the falling stones. It is very sad when the reported account of a man's death does not fit in with his life. It is ill to die with a jerk, getting as it were upon another line of rails all on a sudden. It is better to glide from one degree of grace to another, and so to glory. Death may be the fringe or border of life, but it should he made out of the same piece. A life of clay is not to be joined to a death of gold.
2. The perfecting of our whole career, the putting of the cornerstone upon the edifice, so that when nothing else is wanted to complete he man's labours he falls asleep.
3. Useful. says, "If Stephen had never prayed, Saul had never preached."
(C. H. Spurgeon.)
Parallel VersesKJV: Then they cried out with a loud voice, and stopped their ears, and ran upon him with one accord,