and devote ourselves to prayer and the ministry of the word."
I. FUNCTIONAL, FAITHFULNESS. "Each in his office wait."
1. Apostles held an exceptional position, but in all main respects examples of singleness of mind and wisdom.
2. Distinguish between faithfulness in office and officialism. Special gifts adapted to special work; should be stirred up.
3. The hope of the Church is in the spirituality of its ministers. If they lower the conception of their office and regard themselves as mere popular leaders, they let in a flood of evils both into the pulpit and into the Church.
II. The WORLD'S CONVERSION IN THE HANDS OF GOD'S PEOPLE. The chief agency - prayer and the ministry of the Word. Charity secondary, not primary. Philanthropy is not a substitute for Christianity. The apostles put their own office as preachers before that of the deacons. In these times a temptation to put the "tables," the bodily necessities, before the spiritual wants. We must wait for results, but Christ understood the work of his Church. Stand by the apostolic method, and the end will vindicate it. The world must be changed by spiritual forces. The Church must use all the material and social advantages supplied, but not as though they were sufficient by themselves; "By my Spirit, saith the Lord." - R.
Wherefore, brethren, look ye out among you seven men.I. THE REASONS ASSIGNED.
1. That the apostles might be relieved of secular duties. This did not arise out of any idea of superiority. They were the servants of all, ready to be, do, or suffer anything that might be for the glory of God and the good of men. Nor did it arise from any low estimate of the temporal interests of the Church. They were no ascetics. Temporalities were important in themselves, and in their influence on spiritual concerns. It arose out of their higher office and its absorbing claims. With these nothing must be allowed to interfere. However valuable the bodies of men, their souls were more so. What reproof is here administered to modern ministers and laymen! How many ministers are serving tables! And the offence is aggravated when this is the result of lay neglect. Both are sufferers — the minister whose mind is secularised, and the people who are less effectually instructed.
2. That the apostles might give themselves wholly to their proper duties. This is "reason." The duty of a minister is to aim at the conversion of sinners, and to employ all means to secure that. And the danger is lest his mind should be brought under any influence that would disincline or disqualify it. These ends are only to be gained by an entire devotion to the sacred calling. Paul says to Timothy, "Give thyself wholly to them." The philosophy is as sound as the sentiment is heavenly. The physician who would be successful in his profession must be devoted to it. So must the merchant and the labourer. The apostles were to give themselves to prayer in secret, and the Word in public. Without prayer there will be no heart for the Word — no success in it. Without the Word prayer will be a pretence and a mockery. Together they are omnipotent through grace. Let all the arrangements of the Church be such as to cherish and encourage their union. Let its temporalities be so managed by the members that the ministry may be relieved.
II. THE MANNER. Church officers in the apostolic age were chosen by Church members. Matthias was so chosen. The voice of the Church is essential to the validity of the ministry. Members have an interest in the minister they have chosen which they can never have in one placed over them without their approval At the same time guards are necessary.
1. The purity of the Church. Its membership must not be a promiscuous community. Men of the world are incompetent to elect a Christian minister.
2. The sanction of the existing ministry. As these deacons were elected by the people, they were appointed by the apostles. Both had their rights and their duties. Either might refuse consent. And thus the one was a wholesome restraint on the other. What a consummate knowledge of human nature was manifested in the organisation of the Church! Its Author truly "knew what was in man."
III. THE QUALIFICATIONS (vers. 3, 8). Note that these are the qualifications required for the management of temporal concerns. It must not be supposed, then, that mere business men can manage such. They have a sacred bearing; they must be conducted on holy principles, and be directed to holy ends. The meanest duties may be elevated by high motives. The deacons were to be —
1. Men of honest report. Their conduct must be such as to command respect. The public seldom err in their judgment of men. They may dislike their piety and persecute them, but secretly they will honour them, especially if they are, as they ought to be, useful and amiable as well.
2. Full of the Holy Ghost. Not only should they be men of piety, but eminently so.
3. Men of wisdom. Piety, although the first requisite, is not the only one. There are men of whose godliness we may be persuaded, but in whose ability for the direction of affairs we have not confidence.
4. Full of faith.
5. As a result of all this there will be power — mighty influence for good.
IV. THE APPOINTMENT.
1. The disciples set the elected deacons before the apostles.
2. The apostles prayed over them. Without God it was felt that the whole procedure was vain. We must do nothing in the Church on which we may not ask His blessing.
3. Then they laid their hands upon them. The Spirit was sought for men who already had the Spirit, and this was to be a token of the increase of His gifts and graces for their new duties.
V. THE EFFECTS.
1. Many evils were prevented of which no mention is made.(1) The discontent was silenced, for the cause was removed.(2) The apostles were not hindered or distracted by misunderstandings in the Church.
2. Better than this, much good was done.(1) The Word of God increased. It was preached more generally and powerfully, and a greater blessing rested on the preachers.(2) The most prejudiced, "the priests," were persuaded. The bitterest enemies were won to friendship, and so far the greatest barrier to the gospel was thrown down. "When a man's ways please the Lord, He maketh his enemies to be at peace with him." Conclusion: Note the connection between a right ecclesiastical polity and a successful ministration of the Word. Of course God can bless His Word under any polity; but there is a polity that hinders and a polity that promotes the truth.
(J. Morgan, D. D.)
(J. A. James.)Neo-Caesarea, A.D. 814, ordained that the number of seven deacons should never be exceeded in any city, while in the Church of Rome the same limitation prevailed from the second to the twelfth century, so that the Roman cardinals, who were the parochial clergy of Rome, numbered among them merely seven deacons down to that late period. The seven chosen by the primitive Church were to be men of good report because they were to be public functionaries, whose decisions were to allay commotions and murmurings; and therefore they must be men of weight, in whom the public had confidence. But, further, they must be men "full of the Spirit and of wisdom." Piety was not the only qualification; they must be wise, prudent, sound in judgment as well.
(G. T. Stokes, D. D.)
We will give ourselves continually to prayer, and to the ministry of the Word
(W. Arnot, D. D.)
They laid their hands on themNumbers 27:18-23; cf. Deuteronomy 34:9), that it was used even in the synagogue in the appointment of Jewish rabbis, and had been sanctioned by our Lord's practice. They naturally, therefore, used this symbol upon the solemn appointment of the first deacons, and the same ceremonial was repeated upon similar occasions (see Acts 13:3; 2 Timothy 1:6; Hebrews 6:2). This ceremony was also employed by the apostles as the rite which filled up and perfected the baptism which had been administered by others (Acts 8:17). The ceremony of imposition of hands was so essential and distinguishing a point, that Simon Magus selects it as the one he desires above all others effectually to purchase, so that the outward symbol might be followed by the inward grace (Acts 8:19). Again in chap. Acts 19. we find St. Paul using the same visible ceremony in the case of St. John's disciples, who were first baptized with Christian baptism, and then endued by St. Paul with the gift of the Spirit. Imposition of hands in the case of ordination is a natural symbol, indicative of the transmission of function and authority. It fitly indicates and notifies to the whole Church the persons who have been ordained, and therefore has ever been regarded as a necessary part of ordination.
(G. T. Stokes, D. D.)
A man full of faith and of the Holy GhostI. STEPHEN'S FAITH. From the speech he made in defence we may gather some of the leading features of his faith.
1. Stephen believed that God's hand was discernible in history. He gives a rapid survey of the Scripture story from the call of Abraham to the death of Jesus, and shows how all had been overruled by God. The common notion is that kings and statesmen make history. Stephen believed that God made it. To him the value of history was not merely that it told succeeding generations the things that had happened to their fathers, and the deeds their fathers had done, but that it revealed God, made known His character, principles, and relationship to man. The life and soul of history is God. It is noticeable that Stephen's speech is far from exact in its statements. Dean Stanley points out no less than twelve differences from the Mosaic history. But mere precision of record was not his aim. He desired to show the purposes of God. There may be the most minute exactitude of delineation, and yet no life. The true artist will sacrifice the rectitude of a line that he may express the soul of his subject.
2. Stephen believed that the most noticeable way-mark of the universal march had just been passed. It was the Cross of Jesus. So far the race had been journeying on and on to Calvary.
3. Stephen believed that Jesus, after His Cross and passion, had risen from the dead, and ascended to the right hand of the Father.
4. Stephen believed that the exalted Jesus still cared for, and could help His servants in all their labour and suffering upon earth. He beheld Jesus "standing on the right hand of God," as if ready to assist him, and he prayed to Jesus.
II. STEPHEN'S POSSESSION OF THE HOLY SPIRIT.
1. It was this that gave life to his faith. It is not the correctness of the creed that makes a man a Christian, in the highest sense, but the quickening power of the Holy Spirit.
2. If we would be useful as servants of God among men we must be baptized in the Holy Ghost.
3. Nay, we cannot live aright without this.
4. The most important question we can be asked is, "Have ye received the Holy Ghost?"
(J. Kirk Pike.)I. THE SPIRITUAL ENDOWMENTS BY WHICH HE WAS DISTINGUISHED. "Full of faith and of the Holy Ghost."
1. The high and honourable office to which he was elected would demand the continual exercise of a simple affiance in the power, the faithfulness, the love of Jesus Christ — in the stability of that religion to which he was self-devoted — in the fulfilment of that promise (Matthew 28:20).
2. Stephen was also full of the Holy Ghost. As the Shekinah, the bright emblem of the Divine presence, descended from heaven and filled the holy of holies, so did a sacred influence from above fill the heart of Stephen, and make his body the temple of the Holy Ghost.
II. THE EARNESTNESS OF HIS LABOUR IN THE CAUSE OF CHRIST. He who is full of faith and of the Holy Ghost, proves the power of religion as a practical principle by abounding in every good word and work. His obligations to the Fountain of Mercy are so great, his deliverance so gracious, his hope so animating, his responsibilities so awful, that one master-feeling will occupy his mind — a desire to walk worthy of God, who hath called him to His kingdom and glory.
III. To these qualifications of St. Stephen must be added HIS BOLDNESS IN CONFESSING CHRIST. A. Christian should indeed charge it upon his conscience to abstain, as much as in him lieth, from religious controversy. Unnecessary disputes, and oppositions of theological science, are most unfriendly to the love and power of Divine truth in his heart. But when his faith is assailed; when the foundation of every hope on which the soul rests is attacked by the daring impiety of the blasphemer, or the more covert insinuation of the secret infidel, let him remember that silence and indifference are treason against the Saviour who bought him with His blood.
IV. Considering the closing events of St. Stephen's life in the order of the sacred narrative, we next remark HIS SUPPORT IN THE HOUR OF TRIAL. He had such a view of his risen Redeemer's power and glory as strengthened him to abide unshrinkingly the fate before him; and such a foretaste of the bliss which awaited him as made him desirous to depart, and to be with Christ.
V. THE CHARITY WITH WHICH ST. STEPHEN PRAYED FOR HIS MURDERERS: "Lord, lay not this sin to their charge." In this spirit of charity we must live and die if we hope for heaven. Never let us address God with a prayer for our own pardon, if we cannot unfeignedly pardon others their wrongs against us.
VI. THE CONFIDENCE WITH WHICH ST. STEPHEN RESIGNED HIS SOUL INTO THE HAND OF CHRIST.
(R. P. Buddicom, M. A.)
I. WHO AND WHAT IS THAT MAN WHO IS FULL OF FAITH AND OF THE HOLY GHOST? Faith which believes the promise respecting the gift of the Holy Ghost, which relies upon His presence and help, which looks to Him continually, leans on His assistance confidently, is necessary to an individual's being full of the Holy Ghost: "full of faith" and "full of the Holy Ghost" are inseparably united: they twine together, they grow up each into their fulness together. The Holy Ghost is the author of faith: it is by His gift and operation that the faith of believers "groweth exceedingly." He reveals the truth "from faith to faith." And faith opens wider and wider the door of the heart for His reception; and faith, acting upon the promises, draws a larger and a larger indwelling of that blessed visitant. It is almost needless to say that the expression "being full of the Holy Ghost" must mean being under the influence of the Holy Ghost — His influence exerted over the whole man, in all his powers, under all circumstances, at all times. It is by the Holy Ghost that he is guided. He is continually under the Spirit's teaching. That blessed Spirit is acting, with all his trials, by them to sanctify him. The influence of the Holy Ghost is upon the man in all that he thinks or does: this is the "being full of the Holy Ghost." Hence Christians are said to walk in the Spirit, to pray in the Spirit, to live in the Spirit. We go on now to the effects produced — those which others see visible in our disposition and conduct. The indwelling of the Spirit must be manifest to ourselves. In true Christians — for it is of them that we are now especially speaking — one of the chief and most evident of the operations of the Holy Ghost, where His influence is richly imparted, is the shedding abroad a love to God and a love to all real Christians. In close connection with love is hope, a confiding trust in God. "And, because ye are sons, God hath sent forth the Spirit of His Son into your hearts, crying, Abba, Father" (Galatians 4:6). With these, and perhaps springing out of these in a measure, love and hope, are conjoined joy and peace, the work of the Holy Ghost. "The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace" (Galatians 5:22), says the apostle: "joy of the Holy Ghost" (2 Thessalonians 1:6), he says again. There are also exhibitions of Christian excellence — these come from the Spirit: there are works done by Christians — these are originated by the Spirit. Scripture is very clear and definite in its language. We must observe it where it is so marked and positive in its expression: it does not speak of goodness, charity, temperance, etc., as our own virtues, which we are to follow; but it calls them "fruits of the Spirit." "But the fruit of the Spirit," says St. Paul, "is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance." These, if really Christian graces, come from the Spirit's operation. He commences them; He nurtures them; He gives them their growth; He will bring them out to their full completion in another world. I would observe, too, that all these fruits of the Spirit must be sought by the Christian. Our Saviour denounces the breaking one of His least commandments. These graces of the Holy Ghost differ, in many respects, from those excellencies which the unchanged heart of man can exhibit. We may notice one of these graces in St. Stephen, that man "full of faith and of the Holy Ghost." Christian graces have their opposites, but both appear. Where the Spirit of God works it will be so. See in St. Stephen the lion and the lamb united: he is the lion in courage, as he meets his persecutors, as he stands up valiant for the truth: he is the lamb in meekness, as he kneels down and prays for his murderers, "Lord, lay not this sin to their charge."
II. OUR SINFULNESS IN COMING SHORT OF THIS, OR IT MAY BE EVEN, SOLEMN AND PAINFUL AS IS THE THOUGHT, IN SOME INSTANCES, THE NOT POSSESSING IT AT ALL. Think how often His good influences have been quenched, His work upon the soul interfered with, and more or less marred! Be humbled on account of these things. Endeavour to see them rightly. Confess them. This is the only way to obtain blessing from God.
III. THE ENCOURAGEMENTS TO OUR SEEKING THIS CHARACTER, AND, IN DEPENDENCE UPON GOD, MAKING IT OUR OBJECT TO BE MEN FULL OF FAITH AND OF THE HOLY GHOST.
(J. E. Dalton, B. D.).
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