Then they cried out with a loud voice, and stopped their ears, and ran on him with one accord,…
I. THE MALIGNANT EXCITEMENT OF THE JEWISH COUNCIL. We are shocked at the wickedness of which the heart of man is capable. It has many manifestations; but in no case is it so strongly marked as in the contrasts presented in instances of religious persecution. On the one hand, there is everything to conciliate regard; and on the other, there are the worst of passions. But how is this to be accounted for? Enmity to the truth of God; and hatred to them who hold it. Yet, think not that this spirit is confined to ages of persecution. It exists in ages of professed liberality. Be faithful witnesses of the truth; and you will see the enmity, and often hear the growl of the savage within, though chained. Be faithful to yourselves; and you will often find when truth and its preachers press hard upon your errors, the inquiry rising, "Hast thou found me, O mine enemy?"
II. THE ATTITUDE OF THE MARTYR.
1. The fact that he was "full of the Holy Ghost" intimates that he had in that moment a special visitation of Divine strength and comfort. How often does this appear in the Bible! Hence St. Paul remarks, "We glory in tribulations also." When the three Hebrew children were cast alive into the burning fiery furnace, "one like unto the Son of God" appeared amongst them, so that not a hair of their heads was singed. When St. John was banished to the Isle of Patmos he was favoured with the presence of his glorified Lord and of the holy angels. All these facts are designed to teach us that the Lord is "a very present help in the time of trouble."
2. The immediate effect of this visitation was, that "he looked up stedfastly into heaven," a devout committal of his cause into a supreme hand. A man whose eye is fixed on heaven tramples equally underfoot the smiles and the frowns of earth. Here is no defiance, no retreating of man into himself in search of natural courage or other principles to sustain him. In Christian heroism man goes out of himself to a higher power, and becomes mighty through God.
III. THE VISION VOUCHSAFED TO HIM. How appropriate it was to the two great purposes which to him were so important in that hour!
1. To confirm his faith. Whether he had seen our Lord before does not appear; but he now saw Him in His glory. Here was faith rewarded and confirmed by the evidence of vision; just as all true faith shall finally be rewarded. For true faith fixes upon the reality of things. They exist, though the distance which separates time from eternity intervenes; and God does not work a miracle, as in the case of Stephen, to enable us to see. Still they are there, and the faith which the world despises shall be crowned with the glorious sight. Ah! how soon may God lift the veil and let the saint into the anticipated glories, and plunge the sinner into the forgotten horrors of eternity!
2. To inspire courage and comfort. It was a vision of Jesus —
(1) At the place of power and authority; everything below, therefore, was under His management and control. If the sovereign Lord permitted his enemies to destroy him, it was the part of the servant to bow. Still He is at the right hand of power, to control the rage of man, to choose the moment when His servant should thus glorify Him, to afford him almighty succour, to turn his death into a means of furthering His own eternal truth, and by opening His glory to receive his spirit.
(2) Standing and looking down upon him. How could he then faint? There was Christ tacitly exhorting him by His look, "Be thou faithful unto death," etc. He looks upon us; let us take care that we sin not. He requires of us patiently to bear the cross, and to suffer with resignation. He will give us the help we need. Let us look to Him in habitual reverence and stedfast trust.
IV. His DEATH It was a death of —
1. Prayer. He died calling upon God. No former grace was then sufficient, although important; for he knew how to call upon God. Let us now learn the habit of prayer. We shall need it to our last struggle.
2. Faith. Christ was recognised by the dying martyr, and into His hands the soul was commended.
3. Certainty. In the mind of Stephen there was no gloom as to the future. "And now, O ye judges," said Socrates, "ye are going to live, and I am going to die. Which of these is best, God knows; but I suppose no man does." "I am going to take a leap in the dark!" exclaimed an infidel in the prospect of dissolution. The despairing sinner trembles at the sight of the great gulf. It is your privilege to die like Stephen.
4. Charity. A soul ripe for heaven can have no resentments.
5. Peace. "He fell asleep."
Parallel VersesKJV: Then they cried out with a loud voice, and stopped their ears, and ran upon him with one accord,