Then they cried out with a loud voice, and stopped their ears, and ran on him with one accord,…
True Christian zeal will seek to do the highest work of which sanctified humanity is capable. Stephen is first heard of as a distributor of the alms of the Church to needy widows. Doubtless he used the office of a deacon well, and so purchased to himself a good degree. Although the onerous duty of serving tables might well have excused him from other service, we soon find him doing great wonders among the people; and not even content with that, we see him defending the faith against a synagogue of subtle philosophical deniers of the truth. He had a higher promotion yet — he gained the peerless dignity of martyrdom. Put a man without zeal into the front place, and he will gradually recede into his native insignificance, or only linger to be a nuisance; but put a man into the rear, if his soul be full of holy fire, you will soon hear of him. Observe
I. THE POWER OF THE HOLY SPIRIT AS DEVELOPED IN STEPHEN'S DEATH, IN ORDER THAT WE MAY LEARN TO RELY UPON THAT POWER. This power is seen in —
1. The fact that although surrounded by bitter enemies, and having no time for preparation, Stephen's defence is wonderfully logical, clear, and forcible. This chapter does not read like an address delivered to a furious mob. He could not have delivered it with greater fearlessness had he been assured that they would thank him for the operation. To what do we trace this mouth and wisdom but to the Holy Spirit? The Holy Ghost exerts such a power over the human mind, that when it is His will, He can enable His servants to collect their scattered thoughts, and to speak with unwonted power. Moreover, the Lord can also touch the stammering tongue, and make it as eloquent as the tongue of Esaias. When we can study the Word, it is mere presumption to trust to the immediate inspiration of the moment; but if any one of you be called to speak for your Master when you can have had no preparation, you may confidently depend upon the Spirit of God to help. It is better to be taught of the Holy Spirit than to learn eloquence at the feet of masters of rhetoric. The Spirit of God needs to be honoured in the Church in this respect.
2. The manner and bearing of the martyr. He gazes steadfastly up into heaven. They may gnash their teeth, but they cannot disturb that settled gaze. What he beholds above makes him careless of the bloodthirsty foes below. The bearing of many of the martyrs has been singularly heroic. When the King of France told Bernard Palissy that, if he did not change his sentiments, he should be compelled to surrender him to the Inquisition, the brave potter said to the king, " You say I shall be compelled, and yet you are a king; but I, though only a poor potter, cannot be compelled to do other than I think to be right." The potter was more royal than the king. Now if you and I desire to walk among the sons of men without pride, but yet with a bearing that is worthy of our calling and adoption, we must be trained by the Holy Ghost. Those men who go cap-in-hand to the world, asking leave to live, know nothing of the Holy Ghost.
3. His calm and happy spirit. It is a great thing for a Christian to keep himself quiet within when turmoil rules without. To be calm amid the bewildering cry, confident of victory — this is so hard that only the Divine Dove, the Comforter, can bring us from above the power to be so; but when once the art of being still is fully learned, what strength and bliss is in it!
4. His holy and forgiving temper. He knelt down, as if to make them see how he prayed, and then he prayed with a loud voice, that they might hear. Surely this is a work of the Holy Spirit indeed! We find it not altogether easy to live at peace with all men, but to die at peace with our murderers, what shall I say of it? The prayer we have just mentioned did not die in the air; it passed through the gate of pearl, and it obtained an answer in the conversion of Saul.
II. THE SOURCE OF RICHEST COMFORT, WITH THE HOPE THAT WE MAY LEARN TO LOOK THERE. It was the end and aim of the Holy Spirit to make Stephen happy. How could this be done? By revealing to him the living and reigning Saviour at the right hand of God. If we have like precious faith with Stephen, since it is a great fact that Christ is there, there is no reason why oar faith should not see what Stephen's faith saw. He saw —
1. That Jesus was alive. He was not serving a dead Christ; he was speaking for a Friend who still existed to hear his pleadings, and to accept his testimony. Stephen argued within himself, "If Christ lives after crucifixion, why should not Stephen live, through Christ, after stoning?"
2. That Jesus saw him and sympathised with him. Is not that the meaning of the attitude which the Lord assumed? The Man of Sorrows is alive, and sympathises with His people still. "In all your affliction He is afflicted."
3. Jesus standing at the right hand of God. That was the point in dispute. The Jews said the Nazarene was an impostor. "No," said Stephen, "there He is." The people rage, the rulers take counsel together, but yonder is the King upon the holy hill of God; and to Stephen's heart this was all he wished. I have known what it is to be brought so low in heart, that no promise of God's Word gave me a ray of light, nor a gleam of comfort, and yet, so often as I have come across this text, "Wherefore God also hath highly exalted Him," etc., I have always found a flood of joy bursting into my soul, for I have said, "Well, it is of no consequence what may become of me so long as my Lord Jesus is exalted." Like the dying soldier in the hour of battle, who is cheered with the thought, "The general is safe; the victory is on our side." I would like to put this telescope, then, to the eye of every sorrowing Christian. Your Saviour is exalted —
(1) To intercede for you.
(2) To prepare a place for you.
(3) As your representative. Because He lives, we shall live also.
III. THE COMFORT ITSELF. We do not find that the appearance of Jesus stopped the stones. That is the plan of the present dispensation. The Lord Jesus does not come to us to forbid our suffering, nor to remove our griefs, but He sustains us under them. "My grace is sufficient for thee." How sweetly is Stephen's triumph pictured in those last words, "He fell asleep." This is the life of a Christian. When the world has been most in arms against a believer, it is wonderful how he has rested with perfect composure in the sight of his enemies. This shall be the death of the Christian. He shall shut his eyes to earth and open them to heaven. His body shall but sleep, to be awakened by the heavenly trumpeter.
(C. H. Spurgeon.)
Parallel VersesKJV: Then they cried out with a loud voice, and stopped their ears, and ran upon him with one accord,