And cast him out of the city, and stoned him: and the witnesses laid down their clothes at a young man's feet, whose name was Saul.
It is only casually mentioned that "the witnesses laid down their clothes at a young man's feet, whose name was Saul," and yet how much is declared in the brief sentence! It is our first sight of the zealous young Pharisee from Tarsus. It is at once an indication of his character and spirit. We see the impulsiveness that has taken up so violent an opposition to the Nazarene impostor and all his followers. If Saul cannot be allowed to throw the actual stones, seeing he was not one of the witnesses, he will do the next thing - he will hold the clothes of the men who have stripped themselves in order to do more efficiently their deadly work. It was the occasion on which Saul gained an impression which he never afterwards lost, and which resulted in what would surprise no one so much as it did himself, in leading him to take up and carry on that very witness and work for which the heroic Stephen died. The age of Saul at this time cannot be certainly known. We may assume that he was under thirty years old. Three points may receive consideration in the picture that our text presents to us.
I. SAUL SHARING BY HIS PRESENCE. He "was consenting unto Stephen's death." "He gave his voice against him." He watched over the clothes. He regarded the scene with satisfaction. A delusion sometimes possesses men that they cannot be guilty of a crime unless they took actual part in it. Saul had nobler moral sentiments. The approver is as guilty as the actor; for he also would have done the thing had opportunity served. But how searching and how serious becomes the consideration that, before God, we may be judged guilty on the ground of our approval and consent! With what limitations and qualifications must this point be pressed? St. Paul does not hesitate to take on himself the guilt of Stephen's death, though he never lifted a stone.
II. SAUL AVOIDING SHARING IN THE EXECUTION. This may be explained on one or other of the following grounds: -
1. The law of the execution, which required the witnesses against the victim to effect and complete the death.
2. The position Saul occupied as one of the judges. He gave his vote, and it is never regarded as becoming in a judge to execute his own sentence. Whether Saul was a member of the actual Sanhedrim, or of some committee appointed to deal with these followers of Jesus of Nazareth, does not appear.
3. Aristocratic sentiments might keep Saul from actually engaging in the stoning. Nothing could free Saul from his share of the guilt of Stephen's death.
III. SAUL RECEIVING IMPRESSIONS AS AN ON-LOOKER. Endeavor to estimate his conflict of feeling. While actually watching, rage and hatred may have prevailed, but his mind was receiving its picture of the calm and heroic sufferer; and presently Saul lost sight of judges, witnesses, and crowds, and the vision on his soul alone was before him. He saw the saintly man fall asleep; he heard again those dying cries; he seemed to look through and see what Stephen saw, the Son of man glorified; and, strive how he would to blot out the vision, it was there; rush desperately into persecuting ways how he might, still the vision was there. Stephen, we may fairly say, awakened Saul to anxiety, and prepared the way for that vision of Christ which bowed clown Saul's pride and won him to penitence, to faith, and to service. Better than the fable of the phoenix is the truth of Saul. Out of Stephen's death he sprang to a nobler, longer life of witness for the living Christ than Stephen could have lived. Death is often found the way, and the only way, to life. "Dying, and behold we live." - R.T.
Parallel VersesKJV: And cast him out of the city, and stoned him: and the witnesses laid down their clothes at a young man's feet, whose name was Saul.