Acts 7:60
And he kneeled down, and cried with a loud voice, Lord, lay not this sin to their charge. And when he had said this, he fell asleep.
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(60) Lord, lay not this sin to their charge.—Here again we cannot help finding proof, not only that the mind of Stephen was after the mind of Christ, but that the narrative of the Crucifixion, as recorded by St. Luke, was, in some measure, known to him. The resemblance to the prayer of Christ, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34), could hardly have been accidental. We may well think of the prayer as having for its chief object him who was the foremost of the accusers. The old words of Augustine (Serm. 314-318), that we owe the conversion of Saul to the prayers of Stephen, may be accepted as the expression of a great spiritual fact. This prayer, like that which preceded it, was addressed, it will be noted, to the Lord Jesus.

He fell asleep.—The thought and the phrase were not altogether new. (Comp. John 11:11, and Note.) Even a heathen poet had said of one who died the death of the righteous—

“When good men die, it is not death, but sleep.”

—Callimachus, Epig. 10.

7:54-60 Nothing is so comfortable to dying saints, or so encouraging to suffering saints, as to see Jesus at the right hand of God: blessed be God, by faith we may see him there. Stephen offered up two short prayers in his dying moments. Our Lord Jesus is God, to whom we are to seek, and in whom we are to trust and comfort ourselves, living and dying. And if this has been our care while we live, it will be our comfort when we die. Here is a prayer for his persecutors. Though the sin was very great, yet if they would lay it to their hearts, God would not lay it to their charge. Stephen died as much in a hurry as ever any man did, yet, when he died, the words used are, he fell asleep; he applied himself to his dying work with as much composure as if he had been going to sleep. He shall awake again in the morning of the resurrection, to be received into the presence of the Lord, where is fulness of joy, and to share the pleasures that are at his right hand, for evermore.And he kneeled down - This seems to have been a "voluntary" kneeling; a placing himself in this position for the purpose of "prayer," choosing to die in this attitude.

Lord - That is, Lord Jesus. See the notes on Acts 1:24.

Lay not ... - Forgive them. This passage strikingly resembles the dying prayer of the Lord Jesus, Luke 23:34. Nothing but the Christian religion will enable a man to utter such sentiments in his dying moments.

He fell asleep - This is the usual mode of describing the death of saints in the Bible. It is an expression indicating:

(1) The "peacefulness" of their death, compared with the alarm of sinners;

(2) The hope of a resurrection; as we retire to sleep with the hope of again awaking to the duties and enjoyments of life. See John 11:11-12; 1 Corinthians 11:30; 1 Corinthians 15:51; 1 Thessalonians 4:14; 1 Thessalonians 5:10; Matthew 9:24.

In view of the death of this first Christian martyr, we may remark:

(1) That it is right to address to the Lord Jesus the language of prayer.

(2) it is especially proper to do it in afflictions, and in the prospect of death, Hebrews 4:15.

(3) sustaining grace will be derived in trials chiefly from a view of the Lord Jesus. If we can look to him as our Saviour; see him to be exalted to deliver us; and truly commit our souls to him, we shall find the grace which we need in our afflictions.

(4) we should have such confidence in him as to enable us to commit ourselves to him at any time. To do this, we should live a life of faith. In health, and youth, and strength, we should seek him as our first and best friend.

(5) while we are in health we should prepare to die. What an unfit place for preparation for death would have been the situation of Stephen! How impossible then would it have been to have made preparation! Yet the dying bed is often a place as unfit to prepare as were the circumstances of Stephen. When racked with pain; when faint and feeble; when the mind is indisposed to thought, or when it raves in the wildness of delirium, what an unfit place is this to prepare to die! I have seen many dying beds; I have seen many persons in all stages of their last sickness; but never have I yet seen a dying bed which seemed to me to be a proper place to make preparation for eternity.

(6) how peaceful and calm is a death like that of Stephen, when compared with the alarms and anguish of a sinner! One moment of such peace in that trying time is better than all the pleasures and honors which the world can bestow; and to obtain such peace then, the dying sinner would be willing to give all the wealth of the Indies, and all the crowns of the earth. So may I die and so may all my readers - enabled, like this dying martyr, to commit my departing spirit to the sure keeping of the great Redeemer! When we take a parting view of the world; when our eyes shall be turned for the last time to take a look of friends and relatives; when the darkness of death shall begin to come around us, then may we be enabled to cast the eye of faith to the heavens, and say, "Lord Jesus, receive our spirits." Thus, may we fall asleep, peaceful in death, in the hope of the resurrection of the just.

60. cried with a loud voice—with something of the gathered energy of his dying Lord (see on [1961]Joh 19:16-30).

Lord—that is, Jesus, beyond doubt, whom he had just before addressed as Lord.

lay not this sin to their charge—Comparing this with nearly the same prayer of his dying Lord, it will be seen how very richly this martyr of Jesus had drunk into his Master's spirit, in its divinest form.

he fell asleep—never said of the death of Christ. (See on [1962]1Th 4:14). How bright the record of this first martyrdom for Christ, amidst all the darkness of its perpetrators; and how many have been cheered by it to like faithfulness even unto death!

He kneeled down; a posture used in most earnest prayers; and if so, he prayed at least as earnestly for his enemies as for himself, he praying for them kneeling, and for himself standing.

Lay not this sin to their charge; do not weigh it, reckon or impute it, that it may not remain against them, to hinder their conversion. This our Saviour commanded, Matthew 5:44, this he practised, Luke 23:34 and whosoever can thus pray for his enemies, and do good for evil, hath a great evidence that the Spirit of Christ is in him.

He fell asleep; he died; his death being thus expressed, in that,

1. He died quietly, as one fallen into a sleep.

2. Because of his certain hope of the resurrection.

3. As easily to be raised again by Christ, as one that sleeps is to be awaked by us.

4. It is an ordinary Hebraism to express death by sleep; which made St. Luke use it amongst them, with whom it was frequently thus expressed.

And he kneeled down,.... It seems as if he stood before while they were stoning him, and while he was commending his soul to Christ, but now he kneeled down; prayer may be performed either kneeling or standing:

and cried with a loud voice; not only to show that he was in good spirits, and not afraid to die, but chiefly to express his vehement and affectionate desire to have the following petition granted:

Lord, lay not this sin to their charge: do not impute it to them, or place it to their account; let it not rise and stand in judgment against them, or they be condemned for it; grant them forgiveness for it, and for every other sin: there is a great deal of likeness between Christ and this first martyr of his at their deaths; Christ committed his Spirit into the hands of his Father, and Stephen commits his into the hands of Christ; both prayed for forgiveness for their enemies; and both cried with a loud voice before they expired; for so it follows here,

and when he had said this, he fell asleep; or died; for death, especially the death of the saints, or dying in Jesus, is expressed by sleep. This way of speaking is common with the Jews, who say (t), that Rabbi such an one "slept"; i.e. "died"; and this they say is a pure and honourable way of speaking with respect to an holy body, whose death is no other than as it were a sleep: and elsewhere (u) it is said, that one saw such an one "sleeping"; the gloss upon it is, "expiring": See Gill on John 11:11, See Gill on 1 Thessalonians 4:13. The Vulgate Latin version adds, "in the Lord."

(t) T. Bab. Sanhedrin, fol. 11. 1. T. Hieros. Sota, fol. 23. 2. Avoda Zara, fol. 42. 3. & Horayot, fol. 483. (u) Bereshit Rabba. sect. 91. fol. 79. 3. & Mattanot Cehuna in ib. T. Bab. Moed. Katon, fol. 28. 1.

{11} And he kneeled down, and cried with a loud voice, Lord, {c} lay not this sin to their charge. And when he had said this, he {d} fell asleep.

(11) Faith and charity never forsake the true servants of God, even to the last breath.

(c) The word which he uses here refers to a type of imputing or laying to one's charge that remains firm and steady forever, never to be remitted.

(d) See 1Th 4:13.

Acts 7:60. θεὶς δὲ τὰ γόνατα: a phrase not used in classical writers, but Blass compares Ovid, Fasti, ii., 438; five times in St. Luke’s writings, Luke 22:41, Acts 9:40; Acts 20:36; Acts 21:5; only once elsewhere in N.T., Mark 15:19. The attitude of kneeling in prayer would no doubt commend itself to the early believers from the example of their Lord. Standing would seem to have been the more common attitude among the Jews, but cf. instances in the O.T. of kneeling in prayer, LXX, 1 Kings 8:54, Ezra 9:5, Daniel 6:10, and also the expression used twice by St. Paul, κάμπτειν τὰ γόνατα, 1 Chronicles 29:20, 1Es 8:73, Isaiah 45:23, etc., Ephesians 3:14, and Php 2:10 (Romans 11:4; Romans 14:11). See Friedrich, Das Lucasevangelium, p. 42.—φωνῇ μεγάλῃ, cf. Luke 23:46. The last final effort of the strong love which showed itself also in the martyr’s bended knees (see Wendt, in loco), Eusebius, H. E., v., 2, tells us how the martyrs of Vienne and Lyons took up St. Stephen’s words in their own prayer for their persecutors (cf. the famous instance of the last words of Sir Thomas More before his judges, and Dante, Purgatorio, xv., 106 ff., on the dying Stephen): μὴ στήσῃς αὐτοῖς τὴν ἁμαρτίαν ταύτην: the negative expression best corresponds to the positive ἀφιέναι τὴν ἁμαρτίαν (Wendt), cf. 1Ma 13:38-39; 1Ma 15:5; 1Ma 15:8, where the contrast marked between ἱστάναι and ἀφιέναι seems to favour this explanation. Blass takes it as marking a contrast like that between ἱστάναι and ἀναιρεῖν, cf. Hebrews 10:9. Weiss lays stress upon ταύτην, and regards the prayer as asking that their present sin might not be weighed out to them in an equivalent punishment, cf. Grotius on the Hebrew שָׁקַל, 1 Kings 20:39, whilst De Wette (so Felten) takes it as simply “reckon it not,” i.e., “weigh it not,” cf. Zechariah 11:12. Schöttgen sees a reference to the Rabbinical notion “si quis bonum aut malum opus facit, hoc sequitur eum, et stat juxta eum in mundo futuro,” Revelation 14:13, and cf. a similar view quoted by Farrar, St. Paul, i., 167. Rendall regards it as a judicial term, as if Stephen appealed to Christ as Judge not to impute their sin to the murderers in condemnation (Romans 10:3). The words of St. Stephen again recall the words of his Master, Luke 23:34, words which (Eusebius, H. E., cf. ii., 20) also formed the dying prayer of James, “the Lord’s brother”. In James as in Stephen we may see how the true Christian character, whilst expressing itself in righteous indignation against hypocrisy and wrong, never failed to exhibit as its counterpart the meekness and gentleness of Christ.—ἐκοιμήθη (cf. 1 Corinthians 15:18), a picture-word of rest and calmness which stands in dramatic contrast to the rage and violence of the scene. The word is used of death both in LXX and in classical Greek, cf., e.g., Isaiah 14:8; Isaiah 14:18; Isaiah 43:17, 1 Kings 11:43, 2Ma 12:45, etc.; Homer, Il., xi., 241; Soph., Elect., 509. Blass well says of this word, “sed nullo loco æque mirandum,” and describes the reference in Homer, κοιμήσατο χάλκεον ὕπνον, as “et simile et dissimile”: Christians sleep in death, but no “brazen sleep”; they sleep ἐν Χριστῷ; simple words which formed the epitaph on many a Christian grave—in Him, Who is Himself “the Resurrection and the Life”. Page notes the cadence of the word expressing rest and repose, cf. Farrar, St. Paul, i., 167, note, and ἀκωλύτως, Acts 28:31.

St. Stephen’s Speech.—Many and varied explanations have been given of the drift and purpose of St. Stephen’s address. But the various explanations need not be mutually exclusive, and St. Stephen, like a wise scribe instructed unto the kingdom, might well bring out of his treasury things new and old. It is often said, e.g., that the address is no reply to the charges alleged, that it would be more intelligible how the charges were framed from a perversion of the speech, than how the speech could be framed out of the charges; whilst, on the other hand, it is possible to see from the opening to the closing words an implicit repudiation of the charges of blasphemy against God and contempt of the law. The speech opens with a declaration of the divine majesty of Jehovah; it closes with a reference to the divine sanction of the law, and with the condemnation of those who had not kept it. This implicit repudiation by Stephen of the charges brought against him is also contained in St. Chrysostom’s view of the purpose of the martyr, viz., that he designed to show that the covenant and promises were before the law, and sacrifice and the law before the temple. This view, which was adopted by Grotius and Calvin, is in some degree retained by Wendt (so also Felten), who sums up the chief aim of the speech as a demonstration that the presence of God is not confined to the holy place, the temple, but that long before the temple was built, and before the people had settled in the promised land, God had given to the fathers a share in the proofs of this revelation, and that too in strange countries (although there is no reason to suppose that Stephen went so far as to contend that Jew and Gentile were on a precisely equal footing). But Wendt is conscious that this view does not account for the whole of the speech, and that it does not explain the prominence given in it to the obstinacy of Israel against the revelation of God vouchsafed to Moses, with which the counter accusation against Stephen is so closely connected (see Spitta’s severe criticism, Apostelgeschichte, pp. 111, 112, and Weizsäcker’s evident failure to maintain the position that the climax of the whole address is to be found in the declaration about Solomon’s temple, which he is obliged to explain as a later thought belonging to a later time, Apostolic Age, i., pp. 68–71, E.T.). Thus in his last edition, p. 151 (1899), he points out that in section Acts 7:35-43, as also in Acts 7:25; Acts 7:27, the obstinacy of the people against Moses, sent to be their deliverer, is evidently compared with their obstinacy in rejecting Jesus as the Messiah, and in Acts 7:51-53 the murder of Jesus is condemned as a fresh proof of the opposition of the people to God’s revelation to them: here is a point of view which in Wendt’s judgment evidently had a share in the composition of the address. Wendt urges his view against the older one of Meyer and to some extent at all events that of Baur, Zeller and Overbeck, that the central point of the speech is to be found in Acts 7:51, to which the whole preceding sketch of the history of the people led up: however great had been the benefits bestowed by God upon His people, on their part there had been from the beginning nothing in return but a corresponding thanklessness and resistance to this purpose. McGiffert, Apostolic Age, pp. 87, 88, also recognises that the theme of the address is to be found in Acts 7:51-53, but he also admits the double purpose of St. Stephen, viz., not only to show (as Meyer and others) that at all stages of their history Israel had been stiffnecked and disobedient, but also (as Wendt) to draw a parallel between their conduct and the treatment of Jesus by those whom he is addressing.

This leads us to a consideration of the view of Spitta as to the main purpose of St. Stephen’s speech. Whatever may be thought of its merits, it gives a unity to the speech which is wanting in many earlier and more recent expositions of it, as Hilgenfeld recognises, although he himself holds a different view, and one essentially similar to that of Baur. According to Spitta, in Acts 7:2-16 we have an introduction to the chief section of the address which begins with Acts 7:17, καθὼς δὲ ἤγγιζεν ὁ χρόνος τῆς ἐπαγ. Moses, Acts 7:20, was the person through whom God would save His people, and lead them to His true service in the promised land, Acts 7:7; Acts 7:35; Acts 7:38; Acts 7:44. If we ask why Moses occupies this important place in the speech, the answer is found in Acts 7:37, which forms the central point of the description of Moses, and divides it into two parts (a verse in which Clemen and Hilgenfeld can only see an interpolation of a redactor, and in which Weiss finds something suspicious, see Zöckler’s note, in loco). In the first part, 17–36, we are told how Moses by divine and miraculous guidance grows up to be the deliverer of Israel. But when he would commence his work of deliverance his brethren will not understand his aim and reject him, 23–28. In the wilderness he receives a fresh commission from God to undertake the delivery of the people, 29–34. But this Moses (οὗτος) who was thus repulsed God had sent to be a ruler and deliverer—this man was he who led these people forth—and it was this Moses who said to the children: “A prophet” etc., Acts 7:37. Why is this prophecy introduced except to support the inference that as Moses, a type of the Messiah, was thus repulsed, and afterwards raised to be a ruler and deliverer, so must, according to Moses’ own words, the Messiah of Israel be first rejected by His people? In the next division, Acts 7:38-50, the same parallel is again instituted between Moses and the Messiah. The former had delivered a law which consisted of “living oracles,” but instead of receiving it, Israel had given themselves up to the worship of idols, 35–43; instead of establishing a worship well-pleasing to God, those who came after Moses, not content with the tabernacle, which was not confined to one place, and which represented the heavenly archetype, had built a temple which called forth the cutting words of the prophet, 47–50. In his explanation of these last verses there lies at least one weakness of Spitta’s explanation, for he does not seem in his disapproval of the temple to allow that it had even a relative value, and that Solomon was well aware that God did not dwell only in temples made with hands. But Spitta’s main point is to trace again a connection with the verse which forms his centre, Acts 7:37 (Deuteronomy 18:15). As Moses in vain communicated a spiritual law and a corresponding worship to a people whose heart turned after idols and the service of a temple, so the Messiah must also experience that the carnal mind of the people would oppose His revelation of the divine will in relation to a rightful service. Thus the whole speech becomes a proof of the Messiahship of Jesus as against those who appealed to the authority of Moses, and saw in Jesus a twofold cause of offence: (1) that He was rejected by His people and crucified; (2) that He had treated with impiety that which they held most sacred—the law and the temple.

In all this Spitta sees no direct answer to the false witnesses; but the speech, he maintains, is much rather an answer to the two causes of offence which must have been discussed in every synagogue, and which the infant Church must have been obliged to face from the first, especially as it took its stand upon the proof that Jesus was the Christ. Stephen in his disputations, Acts 6:9, must have often faced opponents who thus sought to invalidate the Messianic claims of Jesus; what more natural than that he should now repeat before the whole assembly the proofs which he had before given in the synagogue, where no one could resist the spirit and the wisdom with which he spake? In this way Spitta maintains that the charges in Acts 7:52-53 occupy their proper place; the Jews had rejected the prophets—Moses and his successors—finally they rejected the Messiah, whom the prophets had foretold (Apostelgeschichte, p. 105 ff.). Whatever strictures we may be inclined to pass upon Spitta (see, e.g., Wendt in new edition, 1899, pp. 150, 151), it is not unlikely that he has at all events grasped what others have failed to see, viz., that in the nature of the case, Stephen in his ἀπολογία, or counter-accusation—whichever it was—could not have been unmindful of the Prophet like unto Moses, whom Moses had foretold: his dying prayer revealed the Name, not uttered in the speech, which was enshrined in his inmost heart; Jesus was the Christ—He came οὐ καταλῦσαι ἀλλὰ πληρῶσαι, whether that fulfilment was made by a spiritual temple or a spiritual law. In thus keeping the thought of Jesus of Nazareth prominent throughout the speech, whilst not actually uttering His Name, in thus comparing Moses and Christ, Stephen was answering the charges made against him. “This Nazarene” (so it was said in the charge made against Stephen) “would destroy this place and change the customs,” etc.—the prophet Moses had given the people living oracles, not a law which should stifle the spirit in the letter; the prophet Isaiah had spoken of a presence of God far transcending that which filled any earthly temple; and if these prophets had pointed on to the Messiah, and if the Nazarene were indeed the Christ thus foretold, what wonder that He should reveal a commandment unto life, and a worship of the Father in spirit and in truth? Nor must it be forgotten that if Stephen was interrupted before his speech was concluded, he may well have intended to drive home more closely the manifest fulfilment in Christ of the deliverance dimly foreshadowed in the work of Moses and in the freedom from Egyptian bondage. This was the true parallel between Moses and the Messiah on which the Rabbis were wont to dwell. Thus the Messiah, in comparison with Moses, was the second, but in comparison with all others the great, deliverer; as Moses led Israel out of Egypt, so would the Messiah accomplish the final deliverance, and restore Israel to their own land (Weber, Jüdische Theologie, pp. 359, 364 (1897)). It is to be observed that Spitta warmly supports the historical character of the speech, which he ascribes without interpolations to his source A, although in Acts 7:55-60 he refers some “insertions” to B. His criticism as against the tendency critics, especially Overbeck, is well worth consulting (pp. 110–123), and he quotes with approval the judgment of Gfrörer—“I consider this speech unreservedly as the oldest monument of Gospel history”. So too Clemen, pp. 97, 288, allows that the speech is essentially derived, with the exception of Acts 7:37, as also the whole chapter with the exception of Acts 7:60, from an old written source, H.H., Historia Hellenistarum; and amongst more recent writers, McGiffert holds that whilst many maintain that the author of the Acts composed the speech and put it into the mouth of Stephen, its contents are against such a supposition, and that Luke undoubtedly got the substance of the discourse from an early source, and reproduced it with approximate accuracy (p. 89 and note). So Weiss refers the speech to his Jewish-Christian source, and refuses to admit that with its profound knowledge of the O.T. it could have been composed by the author of the book. The attempt of Feine (so also Holtzmann and Jüngst) to split up the speech into two distinct parts is based upon the idea that in one part an answer is made to the charge that Stephen had spoken against God, and that the other part contains an answer to the charge that he had spoken against the temple. The first part is contained in Acts 7:2-21; Acts 7:29-34; Acts 7:44-50, and the second part in Acts 7:22-28; Acts 7:35-43; Acts 7:51-53. The latter sections are taken from Feine’s Jerusalem source; they are then added to those which belong to a new source, and finally combined by the canonical Luke. Hilgenfeld may well ask how it is possible to break up in this manner the narrative part of the speech relating to Moses, so as to regard Acts 7:22-28 as a section atien from what precedes and what follows! (see especially Hilgenfeld’s criticism on Feine, Zeitschrift für wissenschaft. Theol., p. 396 (1895) and Knabenbauer, p. 120); on the truthful record of the speech see Lightfoot’s striking remarks “Acts,” B.D.2, i., p. 33. Whatever may be said as to the various difficulties which the speech contains, two things are apparent: (1) that these difficulties do not touch the main drift of the argument; (2) that the fact of their presence, where their removal was easy, bears witness to the accuracy of the report.

60. And he kneeled down] in prayer, probably before the stoning had commenced.

Lord, lay not this sin to their charge] i.e. Reckon it not against them. The original word is the same as in Romans 10:3, “going about to establish their own righteousness,” as it were to shew a reckoning in their favour. It is to be observed that both the prayers of Stephen are addressed to Jesus as God. The tone of both cannot but bring to the memory the words of Jesus addressed to the Father in His agony, “Into thy hands I commend my spirit” (Luke 23:46), and “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34). As Christ had died, so did His servant learn to die.

And when he had said this, he fell asleep] The last verb is the same which is used (Matthew 27:52) of “the saints which slept” and arose at the crucifixion of Jesus.

Verse 60. - Cried with a loud voice. Compare again Luke 23:46, and with Stephen's prayer, Lord, lay not this sin to their charge, compare Luke 23:34. He fell asleep. Blessed rest after life's toilsome day! Blessed contrast with the tumult of passion and violence which brought him down to the grave! How near, too, in his dying was that likeness to his Lord advanced, which shall be perfected at his appearing (1 John 3:1)! "Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord,... that they may rest from their labors, and their works do follow them." St. Augustine ('Sermons in Festo Sti. Stephani;' Conybeare and Howson, vol. 1. p. 82) attributes Saul's conversion to the prayer of Stephen: "Si Stephanus non orasset, Ecclesia Paulum non haberet."

Acts 7:60Lay not this sin to their charge (μὴ στήσῃς αὐτοῖς τὴν ἁμαρτίαν ταύτην)

Lit., fix not this sin upon them.

He fell asleep (ἐκοιμήθη)

Marking his calm and peaceful death. Though the pagan authors sometimes used sleep to signify death, it was only as a poetic figure. When Christ, on the other hand, said, "Our friend Lazarus sleepeth (κεκοίμηται)," he used the word, not as a figure, but as the expression of a fact. In that mystery of death, in which the pagan saw only nothingness, Jesus saw continued life, rest, waking - the elements which enter into sleep. And thus, in Christian speech and thought, as the doctrine of the resurrection struck its roots deeper, the word dead, with its hopeless finality, gave place to the more gracious and hopeful word sleep. The pagan burying-place carried in its name no suggestion of hope or comfort. It was a burying-place, a hiding-place, a monumentum, a mere memorial of something gone; a columbarium, or dove-cot, with its little pigeon-holes for cinerary urns; but the Christian thought of death as sleep, brought with it into Christian speech the kindred thought of a chamber of rest, and embodied it in the word cemetery (κοιμητήριον) - the place to lie down to sleep.

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