Acts 7:55
It is not impossible that the foregoing defense of Stephen may own to some slight ellipses; if so, to be accounted for partly by the fact of his immediate martyrdom, which prevented his rehearsal of it to any penman. But if it be not so, and if we have here in due connection all that Stephen said that is material to a right apprehension of the exact position of things, then his outburst recorded in vers. 51-53 is indeed full of suggestion, hints at much that lay behind, and invests itself with great additional interest. For we must suppose that his discernment, all on fire at that moment, enabled him to see, both in the eyes of the council of judges and in some of their movements, perhaps of the most unconscious and involuntary character, that the crisis had arrived when, without another minute's delay, he should deliver himself of truth's scathing rebuke. And this superior illumination and quickened intelligence was, perhaps, but the stealing on, and with no very stealthy pace either, of the dawn of heavenly light itself. Whatever might be coming upon the enraged persecutors, to the brave and dignified persecuted was near at band the luster of the perfect day, the perfect truth, the perfect love. Let it be that the "age of miracles" has passed, how often all along up to the present have last moments of the servants of Christ, specially of his suffering ones, been visited in sight and sound by quickened perceptions of the eternal realities. With those realities Stephen is already in company in a degree beyond, possibly not in a manner altogether different from, manifestations vouchsafed in later days. The circumstances surrounding the death of Stephen have ever attracted special attention. The death is a martyrdom; it is the first distinct martyrdom for the name of Jesus. It is in some aspects of it not an altogether unworthy or unfaithful copy from the great original, and it is, on the other side, a type of many a close to earthly life which should hereafter come to pass. The surroundings of the death of Stephen well justify the gaze of all who pass by the way, the breathless listening of all who have an ear to hear, the deeper inquiry of all who are moved to deeper faith. And they reward these, abundantly reward them. There can be no mistake as to where the closing scene began. It began from the point at which the enemies of Stephen "gnashed their teeth on him." And from this beginning of what may well be called here "the pain, the bliss of dying," we may notice the things which shall seem chiefly to distinguish the death of the first Christian martyr - a death which is plainly offered for an open vision to all the world.

I. THE "FULL" POSSESSION "OF THE HOLY GHOST" ON THE PART OF THE MARTYR. This had long commanded life for Stephen and for his work. This had made him "full of faith" and "full of power," and able to "work great wonders and miracles among the people." This commands all Christian life, energy, and usefulness. It is the secret of life, but, more than that, the strong, sure force of it. And as the Holy Ghost had been the mighty Quickener of spiritual life and "work and wonder "for Stephen while he lived, so he is with him the strong Director and Supporter when he must face death, None can tell all the force of the Holy Spirit. He who has most only knows up to what he has; but is it not very plain, as the more a man has of him so he is the more strong and the more full of spiritual life and work, that we may therefore safely conclude that with him rests the complete transforming of our nature, no doubt, as well body as soul and spirit? Well may it be that we need not to "fear them who kill the body on]y," when we have with us One, the Holy Spirit, who can, who does vanquish their killing work, even while they are yet in the act, himself pouring fuller streams of life into the soul. Is it not greatly to be feared that the modern Church is guilty (though unconsciously, yet guilty in that very thing) of dishonoring the Spirit? We dishonor the Spirit

(1) in not owning our entire dependence on him for spiritual life;

(2) in not taking far higher views than we generally do of the circle of his influence and of the degree of it; and

(3) in not obeying, and that both sensitively and trustingly, such impulses as he does graciously vouchsafe.

II. A POWER OF THE EYE TO SEE BEYOND THE USUAL HUMAN POWER OF SIGHT. Glorious is the contrast, and surely it must have been all designed, when Stephen can turn away his saddened gaze from the vision of malignant, hostile, and infuriate faces, to what an opened heaven now proffers to his sight. But even a more essential glory than the substituted objects of vision may be said to have been found in the new-born or all but new-born realization of the power itself that lay sleeping there so long - sleeping and confined beneath the eyelid of flesh all life's length, till the moment had come before "the last trump" to startle it into proving its unknown gift. So we live daily amid the presence of most momentous realities, nor know by how fine a veil, how frail a partition, they are separated from our sight, while any moment may do one or both of these same things for us - rend open the veil or give the piercing sight to see through, past, and far, far above all the hindrances of sense and matter, let them be what they may. Glory now dawns on the horizon for Stephen; while he is yet in the strangest place and with a repulsive foreground, the distance is most radiant. It is far less of a miracle than a very simple fulfillment of assertions of Scripture and assurances of spiritual natures. The pure - " blessed arc the pure in heart: for they shall see God." He "looked up steadfastly into heaven, and saw the glory of God."

III. THE SIGHT OF REALITIES MOST SIGNIFICANTLY APPROPRIATE TO STEPHEN. It may be observed that, alike, the historian affirms the resplendent objects that Stephen's elevated gaze beheld, and also gives in quotation the words of his lips, uttered while yet his eyes beheld the ecstatic sight. We cannot err in understanding that what Stephen said he saw was keenly noticed and thought of by the historian and many a contemporary devout brother. Nor can we miss for ourselves the point - the less that this is the only occasion on which we find Jesus Christ directly styled "the Son of man by any one but himself (but see Revelation 1:13). For announcing, defending, advocating these facts; for preaching them with a zeal and faith in them that would not be silenced and could not be gainsaid, - it was that Stephen was in his present place and position. The facts were these exactly: that

(1) the Jesus, whom they were none of them unwilling to call Son of Man," and who called himself so, was, though "betrayed and murdered," not only "Son of man;" and

(2) that he now stood, manifest in the opened heaven, in a position that offered no doubtful evidence of all the rest. This had been the preaching of Peter and the rest of the apostles and of Stephen - that the Jesus whom the Jews had slain was "exalted to the right hand of God." Yes; is Stephen going to seal his testimony with his blood? before that shall be, God will seal his testimony, and give to Stephen the vision of what is close awaiting his sacrifice. The "everlasting gates" are already flung "open." The "King of glory" has already gone through. Glory in all its effulgence is there, for God and Jesus, the Light and Glory, the Strength and Love of the universe, are there; and "an abundant entrance" is about to be given to Stephen. Oh what a sight for Stephen! What a contrast! What an infinite reward! What supreme grace of Heaven! And what a thought for us is Jesus is there, and he is "standing" there, to take at the first possible moment the hand of Stephen, and welcome his feet to the golden floor. The correspondence between the work of Stephen and the peril into which he had been brought by it, and the gracious manifestations now made to him, tells its own tale.

IV. A FAITHFUL AND EMPHATIC FULFILMENT UP TO THE LAST MOMENT OF THE RIGHT PARTS OF EARTHLY DUTY. NOW literally hurried away by force by his enemies, we are not told. of any struggle whatever on his part, nor of any murmur, nor of any expression of instinctive horror and dread. But we are told:

1. How, when the first storm of stones gave him the clear signal of what was to be expected for earth, he "calls upon God," and, by no means forgetting the full meaning of his own "preaching and faith," cries, "Lord Jesus, receive my sprat. The care of his own soul is ever the first duty of any man.

2. And how, with marvelous memory, he

(1) does not omit to pray for his murderers; nor

(2) omits to" kneel down," as he prays," Lord, lay not this sin to their charge." We have in all this, not the signs of an enthusiast merely or a fanatic. Here is something very different - a man with the splendor of the glory of God and the realities of heaven and the exalted Jesus bursting on his vision, and yet, amid storms of stones, recalled to prayer for himself and the trustful committing of his soul to the charge of Jesus, and to intercession on bended knees for his murderers. To disregard the suggestions of the patience of Stephen, the dying charge of his spirit, and the prayer for those who kill him, in their power to recall the temper and the trust and the forgivingness of his great Master and Savior, were to disregard Christ's own grandest achievements. Of such achievements his force, his word, his Spirit, have now wrought in Stephen so early an illustrious and ever-enduring monument. Nor, amid all the rest of the splendor of the surroundings of Stephen's departing from this world, was there any more intrinsic mark of what it all meant than the copy which he himself exhibited of a character and a portrait "after the Master" - the Master Jesus.

V. A WORD APPLIED IN THE NARRATIVE TO DESCRIBE THE DEATH OF THE MARTYR AS SINGULARLY IN HARMONY WITH THE WHOLE WORLD'S IRRESISTIBLE CONVICTION OF THE PERFECT PEACE OF THE SPIRIT, AS IT WOULD SEEM INAPPROPRIATE TO THE SUFFERINGS OF THE BODY. "And when he had said this, he fell asleep. The beautiful expression was not unknown nor unused before Christians used it; but men may be pardoned if they felt (perhaps against strict letter of fact) it could never be appropriately drawn upon without Christian revelation. But its use now, its use in the circum- stances presented here, is a sign and a mark indeed. This is not some occasion where truth is complimentarily sacrificed, and facts dragged in disgraceful chains in the train of words. On the contrary, facts, in spite of all appearances, deeper facts, despite the sight and the sounds and stones that are flying about, facts that insist on giving expression to themselves, triumph over words and over all opposing forces, and demand that, as the last thing we know of Stephen in this world, we shall know this - that his death was as though a sleep," and his yielding to it as though he yielded to Heaven's gracious remedy for nature's deepest need - sleep! "He fell asleep " - in Jesus (1 Thessalonians 4:14). "Well done, good and faithful servant" - "faithful unto death." And in death also faithful - a faithful witness of the Lord's faithfulness to his own.

"He fell asleep in Christ his Lord;
He gave to him to keep
The soul his great love had redeemed,
Then calmly went to sleep.
And as a tired bird folds its wing
Sure of the morning light,
He laid him down in trusting faith,
And dreaded not the night." = -B.







He being full of the Holy Ghost.
Note how explicitly the character, attainments, and triumph of Stephen are ascribed to the Holy Spirit. In the first notice of him he is called "a man full of faith and the Holy Ghost." So here in his death. Bearing this in mind, observe —

I. HE LOOKED UP STEADFASTLY INTO HEAVEN, where his heart and treasure had long been. Where else could he look? Everything urged him to look away from earth and invited him to look up to heaven. He had no sympathy below, but there was all sympathy above. There were the redeemed who had gone before him, the angels, Jesus, his heavenly Father, all waiting to welcome him. So good is brought out of evil, and man's violence made to hasten the saint's blessedness. "As thy days so shall thy strength be." When earth casts us out, heaven waits to receive us.

II. As he looked HE SAW THE GLORY OF GOD.

1. In Isaiah 6. we may see the meaning of this glory, especially as interpreted by John. "These things, said Esaias, when he saw Christ's glory." The seraphim saw in Christ the glory of God — His mercy and His holiness, how He could be just and yet forgiving. So Stephen saw the Divine honour secured by that redemption for which he was called upon to die.

2. He saw Jesus standing, and the glory of God softened in the Person of his Saviour. He saw Jesus —(1) Glorious after His humiliation.(2) Accepted by the Father, and in that the proof that His work was accomplished.(3) "Standing," to import that He was interceding, giving the Spirit, and that human nature was indeed exalted in His Person.

III. In full harmony with these views he said, "LORD JESUS, RECEIVE MY SPIRIT."

1. He had a clear apprehension of the soul's independence of the body.

2. He knew that as soon as his enemies had despatched him his soul would be admitted into glory.

3. He realised the sufficiency of Christ for his salvation.

IV. How was he exercised towards his enemies? He prayed, LORD, LAY NOT THIS SIN TO THEIR CHARGE.

1. What just views of Christ these prayers discover.

2. What a view does his conduct give of the power of Christianity.

V. It was while he expressed such a spirit that HE FELL ASLEEP. Learn from the example of Stephen —

1. How to die in peace.

2. That the Spirit has brought great glory to Christ from the death of His people.

3. What shall be the glory of the martyr in heaven?

(J. Morgan, D. D.)

I. ITS NATURE.

1. Negatively. It does not consist in —

(1)Mere external ceremony.

(2)The mere utterance of any prescribed forms of prayer.

(3)Any special attitudes of devotion.

(4)Mere devotional feeling.

2. Positively. The true conception of worship is realised only in the vision of Jesus.This view —

1. Respects His Divine-human character.

2. Is centred in Jesus as Mediator.

3. Is directed to Christ in His position of official dignity.

III. ITS CHARACTERISTICS. Stephen —

1. "Looked." This was —

(1)Personal.

(2)Present.

(3)Anxious.

(4)Intelligent.

(5)Glorious.

2. "Steadfastly." The soul was in the act. It was no mere " vacant stare"; no idle, curious glance.

3. "Into heaven." He entered within the veil and worshipped with the spirits before the throne. He was not content to look merely at its burnished gates.

4. "Saw the glory of God." The instrument of vision was the eye of the soul. He saw by faith not the outer, but the inner, glory, of the temple of God.

IV. ITS MORAL CONDITION. He was "full of the Holy Ghost." It is the power of the Holy Ghost that purifies the heart, spiritualises the conceptions, and develops the true worshipping faculty in man. Worship is a dead letter without such power.

(John Tesseyman.)

Looked up steadfastly into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing.
Let us regard this as —

I. A RAVISHING GLIMPSE INTO HEAVENLY REALITIES. Divine manifestations usually fasten on something in the fortunes or thoughts of those who receive them. To Joshua, about to besiege Jericho, the angel of the Lord appears as a captain; to the wise men, whose study was astronomy, the revelation of Christ's birth was made by a star; to St. Peter and his fellow-fishermen, a sign of Christ's power is given in a miraculous draught of fishes. Stephen was now in the temple, and was familiar with the history of the shekinah of its holy place. He was before the high priest, with whose function on the day of atonement he was also familiar. With, then, this imagery in his mind he sees the shekinah of the heavenly sanctuary, and the great High Priest standing before God to intercede for the human race.

II. A CONFESSION OF CHRIST BEFORE THOSE WHO HAD CRUCIFIED HIM. Stephen's mind was full of his Master's words when placed in similar circumstances, "Hereafter shall ye see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of power," and his declaration is tantamount to "Lo, His words are fulfilled. I see your late Victim crowned with glory at the right hand of God."

III. A CONSOLATION AND SUPPORT TO HIMSELF. Our Lord had warned the Jews that they would see Him "sitting"; Stephen sees Him "standing." The difference is significant. To the Jews He will sit as Judge; to Stephen He stands —

1. As ready to assist him. A person who sits while contemplating the sufferings of another gives an impression of indifference. One who rises and advances towards us shows that he hears our cry and is willing to help.

2. As ready to plead for him. The earthly high priest sat before him as judge, fury on his countenance, and condemned him. The heavenly High Priest stands as his Advocate with the Father.

3. As ready to receive him in fulfilment of His own gracious words (John 14:2, 3).

IV. CONFORMING THE MARTYR TO THE IMAGE OF HIS LORD. At Christ's baptism "the heavens were opened," and in Gethsemane "there appeared an angel from heaven, strengthening Him." Thus was He prepared for the two great conflicts of the temptation and the passion. Now that the disciples might be made like Him it pleased God, in the first martyrdom, to vouchsafe the support of a heavenly vision, It was otherwise with James. He had no vision, but what had passed in Stephen's case must have given him support. "He who welcomed Stephen will welcome me." These different circumstances of the two martyrdoms open up the general plan of God's administration of His Church. "We walk by faith, not by sight." If every believer had such a vision there would he no longer any trial of character in faith, and the great object of our probation would be seriously interfered with. God's plan, therefore, is to give glimpses into the heavenly world only at the outset of a dispensation. But if our privileges are less high in this respect, we have the opportunity of exercising a nobler faith. "Blessed are they who have not seen, and yet have believed."

V. THROWING INTO RELIEF THE OBTUSENESS OF THE JEWS. Blinded by their malicious fury, they can no more see Christ than Balaam could the angel. In this there is something very awful. A transaction was going on in the spiritual world, which intimately concerned them, of which they were totally unconscious. So it may be with us; and there is but one thing which can make the spiritual world a reality to us, and that is the faculty which penetrates into the unseen — faith.

(Dean Goulburn.)

The eye of man is "the window of his soul." Through it, he himself looks out; and if any one stands high enough in his confidence, through it he may likewise look in. The direction of just one glance sometimes exhibits a whole character in a single flash of revelation: and this may be drawn forth by the same object. Lot looked down towards Sodom; thus he displayed his avarice. Lot's wife looked back towards Sodom; thus she disclosed her disobedience. Abraham looked forth on Sodom; thus he showed his faith after prayer. Note —

I. STEPHEN'S OUTLOOK.

1. Its expectancy. "He looked." He was now in search of help in his extremity; it was nowhere to be found in that neighbourhood. He looked off from everything earthly, sent his mind backward after some old promise, forward for some fresh revealing of hope, and upward beyond all pain and worry for himself or the young Church he loved. Our lesson is this: Give up all responsibility for the world's history into the hands of a faithful God. How some people distress themselves about the future of their children; forgetting that they lived somehow after their parents died. God lives always.

2. Its intelligence. "He looked up." He might have, in some way, sought help from the Roman government, or sympathy from his fellow-believers, but "up" was the only way in which to look, for one who had read the Old Testament as he had (Isaiah 31:1). So we must rest for living help, and for dying grace, upon Jesus Christ (Hebrews 12:2).

3. Its tranquillity. "He looked up steadfastly." There is here no quailing of the coward, no cringing of the captive, no weak sympathy for those who would mourn his death. Is it not strange that the one person in all the world who would fitly express his exact feelings was at the time standing? (Acts 20:24). And any sincere believer may depend upon his covenant-keeping God to give him perfect peace in dying, even under the most dreadful circumstances.

4. ITS TRIUMPH. "Into heaven." True faith, eminent and dauntless, has an eyesight of its own, which will prove gloriously serviceable at the final moment of life.

II. THE VISION. When Stephen looked up, what did he see? Two years afterwards, the "young man" Saul saw the same grand spectacle (chap. Acts 9:3-5). It made him an apostle (1 Corinthians 9:1).

1. "The glory of God." Moses and Elijah appeared in glory with Christ (Luke 9:31). When Moses and Aaron saw it, it was like a pavement of sapphires (Exodus 24:10). The dying martyr saw an unutterable splendour. He sprang towards it with an impulsive gesticulation of discovery. He forgot where he was, and even ceased to think how unsympathetic an audience he had.

2. "The Son of Man." Our Lord called Himself by that name often, but no one else till this martyr died. The Son of God is still the Son of Man. Conclusion: Heaven is —

1. The only real thing in the universe.

2. The only hope worth cherishing.

3. The only end worth striving for.

(C. S. Robinson, D. D.)

We get the keynote of Stephen's life and character in the text — "He, being full of the Holy Ghost, looked up steadfastly unto heaven." That was not a mere outward gesture, a solitary act, but expressed the constant habit, the normal attitude of his soul. Habitually he looked through the things that are seen to the things that are not seen, and saw life in the light of God. He saw the glory of God — the one perfect revelation of the character of God — in the face of Jesus Christ. He looked through all the changes and.through all the apparent moral confusion of this world to the Divine reality behind.

I. First of all, it is said, he was "full of grace and power." In the same chapter it is said he was "full of faith and of the Holy Ghost." Practically it is the same thing. "Full of faith and of the Holy Ghost," and "full of grace and power": the one is the condition of the other. The one points to the inward fact, the thing which made him what he was; the other to the manifestation of that, the impression which he left upon those who came into contact with him.

1. He was "full of grace." The expression suggests a type of character with qualities of its own, which not only calls forth our admiration, but which leads our thoughts upwards to God. There are persons who, in a special way, make us think of the Lord Jesus Christ. We recognise the character I am pointing at when we meet with it, although we may feel that we can only very inadequately describe it. It is a character partly like that of Christ Himself, but also in some essential particulars unlike it; like it in the presence of simple trust in God, and purity of heart, and prompt faithfulness of loving obedience; like it in the pain and indignation caused by falsehood and cruelty and meanness; like it in the love that seeketh not her own, that is not easily provoked, that beareth all things and hopeth all things; but also unlike it, not only in the imperfection that belongs to human goodness at its best, but in the profound humility which accompanies deep consciousness of sin, and the grateful love which springs from sin forgiven. Yes, we know very well that there is a character which has in it something distinctive, something peculiarly its own, even when it is very imperfectly developed, something that we recognise, and we know whence it is and how it cometh. We know whence it is, for it is grace; and we know how it cometh, for it cometh by that faith which realises the unseen and lives as in the presence of Him who is unseen, which habitually looks up into heaven, which has learned to see the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ, and which, as the result of beholding the glory of the Lord, reflects it, and is changed into the same image.

2. And being "full of grace," he was "full of power." The power here indicated was not simply that of working miracles, nor was it even intellectual force — the wisdom with which he selected from a memory well-stored with Old Testament Scripture, and the cogency with which he drove home his arguments, though that was part of it; but it was above all moral force of character, the power which always goes along with grace, and suffers no life where that is to be resultless. For grace in itself is power. We -an understand that Stephen was "full of power" when he was pressing his antagonists in debate with arguments which they were unable to answer, and they retreated step by step, baffled and silenced, and at last slunk away abashed. We can understand it when we perceive how, while professedly dealing with the past, he was really holding up history before them as a mirror, in which they could see themselves, and observe that in one respect at least they were proving themselves to be the children of the fathers, by doing after their deeds; and we can understand it again, when his pent-up feeling at last finds vent in a burst of indignant denunciation, which must have made those men who held his life in their hands quail in his presence. We recognise that there was a power there; and perhaps it is not that in us which is most akin to the spirit of Christ, which is most quick to appreciate that kind of power; but how slow we are to realise that there was perhaps greater, wider, and more lasting power in the daily round of common duty, in the unnoticed ministries of charity, as he daily wended his way through the lanes and closes of the city among the poor committed to his charge, in his example of patience and self-mastery, in the help he gave by friendly counsel, in the silent influence of his ordinary life. It is good to covet earnestly the best gifts; but it is well to remember that there is something more excellent, for greater — greater in power — than all these is love, the love which is quickened and sustained by looking up steadfastly into heaven and beholding Jesus.

II. It is in harmony with what we are told of Stephen — "that he was full of grace" — that we read of that glory upon his face in the great crisis of his life. For grace is the inner beauty of the soul; this was the shining through of that inner beauty. Who cares to stop to discuss the question whether this was, in the commonly accepted sense of the word, miraculous? Does not that which is inward ever tend to find for itself outward expression? Do not the habitual emotions and cherished thoughts of the soul record themselves upon the countenance? And if the evil dispositions write themselves upon the face, do not the best feelings of the heart — does not grace — tend to do the same? Is there not something unmistakably its own in the eye of guilelessness and transparent openness? Does not the habitual trustfulness which rests on God come at last to reflect itself in serene placidity of expression? Does not love in its purest, intensest, self-sacrificing forms — the love of a mother, for instance — almost glorify?

III. The inward likeness to Christ, which comes by steadfastly looking to Him, which was manifest in the life of Stephen, making it full of grace and power, was also conspicuous in his death. He is like his Lord in faith and in love.

1. He is like Him in faith. There is similar confidence, yet with a significant difference. Our Lord in dying had said, "Father, into Thy hands I commend My spirit." Stephen, in his last agony, commits his spirit not directly to the Father, but to Jesus, who has bought it with His blood, knowing in whom he has believed, and that He is able to keep that which is committed to Him against that day.

2. And, once more, in his dying hour, in showing himself strong in love, Stephen reveals how full his mind and heart are of the thought of his Saviour, and how deeply he has drunk of His Spirit. While the blinding volleys of stones are flying round him, crashing upon body and brain, the last effort of his yet clear consciousness is an act of prayer; and the prayer of Jesus for those who were nailing Him to the Cross is echoed in his expiring appeal — "Lord, lay not this sin to their charge." We can scarcely help tninking of a wonderful contrast. In the days of King Joash, Zechariah the son of Jehoiada, the faithful friend and counsellor of the king, stood forth to rebuke the corruption of the popular worship. Like Stephen's, his warning provoked an outburst of popular fury; and like him, he received the earthly recompense of his faithfulness in being stoned to death, the king, with shameful ingratitude, being a party to it; and when he died, he said, "the Lord look upon it and require it." In what a different strain does the first Christian martyr plead. Since the old prophet's time a new revelation of Divine love had been given to men; a new example of human love had been set before them; a new motive of love had begun to work within them; a new spirit of love, the Spirit of Christ Himself, had been imparted to them; and of that Spirit Stephen was full — "full of the Holy Ghost."

IV. This is the only narrative with any fulness of detail of any death in the New Testament, save One. Is it wrong to infer from this that in the New Testament greater importance is attached to the manner of a man's life than to the manner of a man's death; that in his conquering temptation in living, even more than in his triumphing over fear in dying, is the power of the grace of Christ displayed? At any rate, for once we are asked to contemplate a Christian in the hour of his departure. His was a stormy passage to the heavenly rest; but this is what we have to remember — what was true in his case is true as to the main things in all who have obtained like precious faith. There may be no brightness like the reflection of the heavenly glory lighting up the face; there may be no telling of a -vision of the opened heavens; there may be only pain and weakness, dull unconscious stupor, or a clouded mind; but none the less it is true that as here, so over every dying believer the Lord Jesus Christ stands to succour and to receive the spirit he commits to Him then, or has committed long before. Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of all His saints. Like Stephen they fall asleep, and awake to behold His face in righteousness, and shall be satisfied with His likeness.

(A. O. Johnston, M. A.)

Notice —

I. THE GLORIOUS SCENE THAT EXISTS IN THE WORLD ABOVE — "the glory of God, and Jesus standing on the right hand of God." This Stephen saw; but it did not come into existence then; it was in existence before; it is in existence now. We find it difficult to give reality in our minds to distant and unseen things, My friend in some remote land is a really existing being, though I cannes realise his presence. None of us doubts the existence of countries on the other side of the globe. They are as real as though we beheld them. So of heavenly things.

II. THOSE DISTRESSING SCENES THAT OFTEN OCCUR IN OUR WORLD BELOW. Scenes like that are often acted in our world. They seem to be a part of our fallen world's sad inheritance. To some of us the injustice, cruelty, and evil tempers of those we live with, have embittered our lives. We must not murmur at this. It is to be endured patiently, just as sickness or any other calamity. Let us, as one fruit of it, long more for a world where we and all admitted shall be creatures of another mind — all happy one in another, as well as happy in our God.

III. THE CONDUCT OF THE FAITHFUL CHRISTIAN AMID THE DISTRESSING SCENES OF LIFE. "They gnashed on him with their teeth." They were becoming wild in their rage against him: yet what does he? Strive to mollify their rage? Appeal for protection to the judges? Look round to find some one less violent than the rest, to interpose in his behalf? No; great as his danger appears, he looks above his danger. "Full of the Holy Ghost, he looks up steadfastly into heaven." The expression implies that he felt sure that there was help for him there. Here is the secret of bearing trouble well — it is not to keep our eyes on our trouble, anxious for any and ready to catch at the first alleviation of it; it is to look above our troubles, to get our whole soul riveted on Christ in the heavens.

IV. THE MANIFESTATION WHICH THE LORD SOMETIMES MAKES OF HIMSELF TO HIS EXPECTING SERVANTS. Our Lord had promised His disciples that if they loved Him and kept His commandments, He will still manifest Himself to them. Now to draw our attention to this promise, and to assure us of the fulfilment of it, we may conceive to be the design of this wonderful vision. At this time most certainly he was loving his Lord, and proving his affection to Him by the danger in which he had placed himself for His sake. Here, then, was an opportunity for the Lord to show how precious to Him are the people that love Him, and how mindful He is of His own word.

(C. Bradley, M. A.)

Dr. Owen, just previous to his death, said, "I am going to Him whom nay soul has loved — or, rather, who has loved me with an everlasting love — which is the sole ground of all my consolation." On Mr. Payne saying to him, "Doctor, I have just been putting your book on 'The Glory of Christ' to the press," he answered, "I am glad to hear it. But oh, brother Payne, the long-looked-for day is come at last, in which I shall see that glory in another manner than I have ever done yet, or was capable of doing in this world."

Robert Glover, mentioned by Mr. Foxe in the "Book of Martyrs," though he was a man very gracious and holy, faithfully bearing witness to the truth, yet it pleased God to withdraw Himself and presence from him, insomuch that he was greatly distressed while he was in prison, and, opening himself to his friend; told him bow God had left and deserted him. His friend exhorted him still to wait on God, which he laboured to do, and the night before his execution spent much of that time in prayer; yet no comfort came, no manifestations of the presence of Christ. The next day he was drawn out to the stake to die for the truth, and as he went he mourned much for the presence of Christ; but when he came in sight of the stake it pleased God so to fill his heart and soul with comfort, and the incomes of His love, that he cried out unto his friend, "Oh, Austin, He is come! He is come! He is come!" The good man was in the dark a great while, but when in the darkest time then Christ came.

(C. H. Spurgeon.)

But twice, so far as we know, since Christ's ascension has the cloud which received Him out of the sight of those first loving gazers opened its blinding folds — once for the conversion of the persecuting Saul, once for the support of the suffering Stephen. It was a great crisis in the history of the new faith. How much depended on the faithful endurance of that young champion! To him tortured men and women would look back from many a scene of agony, and take courage. But he had no example. To him, therefore, most fitly was this support vouchsafed. And mark the mode of its bestowal: "Stephen, being full of the Holy Ghost, looked up steadfastly into heaven." What a gaze was that! What faith, desire, love, need, supplication was gathered into it! And as he gazes, lo, the cloud melts away; being "full of. the Holy Ghost," the power of intuition, so weakened in us fallen men, is supernaturally strengthened, and he sees Jesus standing, because it is the priestly attitude of the great Intercessor, and because the attitude of His intercession is the attitude of His help. And so He showed Himself as reaching out from the eternal shore into the billows of this bitter storm the pierced hand to be the stay of His martyr. And that sight changed all things to him. The lights of earth paled beneath its lustre; the sounds of earth were hushed by its ineffable harmony; the mighty throb which shot through his spirit deadened the power of marking any lower sensation, as he saw that sight of glory, and knew that contenance of love which was bent full upon him. He saw God's kingdom in its strength, its vastness, and its repose, and he was safe. How can the ripple around their darkened base stir those adamantine foundations? How can the hate of man pluck him out of that hand pierced by love and full of omnipotence? "The Son of Man — the sharer of my nature." And as the shadow of the great Intercessor falls upon him, transforming him into its own likeness, the dying martyr pleads for his murderers. And then, not as one shrinking back from pain, but as a soul in rapture, thirsting for its full fruition, he calls upon his manifested Lord to receive his spirit; until amidst that storm of murdering violence, calm as the hushed infant upon its mother's breast, he sinks into a rest sweeter than that of peaceful infancy, and falls indeed asleep in Jesus. For the sake of its great practical lessons —

I. We have here a notable instance of the way in which THE WHOLE OF OUR HOLY RELIGION RESTS ON FACTS. We see what it was amongst its first confessors in a time of crucial experiment. It was not a set of beneficent maxima which leavened, and raised the tone of, society; not a set of lofty ideas which, gradually, with the help of time and distance, formed a highly-coloured medium through which reverence and affection could look back to the form of their first promulger, and gaze upon it with a wonder which at last invested him with the fancied attribute of a god. No! from the very first it was faith in a Person, Divine and human, beside His follower, and able and willing to hold him up in every struggle. Stephen's spirit did not cast itself upon sublime abstractions. No! he looks up steadfastly into heaven with the earnest, longing, searching glance of undoubting expectation, following the ascended form to where the cloud had received Him out of their sight; and before such a gaze the cloud melted, and he "saw the heavens opened, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God."

II. IF THUS THE WORD OF GOD WAS A SET OF FACTS, ANY ATTEMPT TO RESOLVE IT INTO A SET OF IDEAS SUBVERTS ITS VERY FOUNDATIONS, AND DESTROYS THE WHOLE EDIFICE. For —

1. This is to take a position altogether at variance with that occupied by the first believers, and thus to shake utterly their credit, inasmuch as, in this view, either they were so ignorant as to be misled, or so false as to mislead. Nor is this all; the great Teacher Himself appealed to these facts as the proofs of His commission (John 10:38; John 15:24). Either, therefore, the facts were real, or the Teacher was a deceiver.

2. It is not possible, consistently with any rules of reasoning, to make a selection from the facts, and yet seek to retain the ideas. A philosophy, being a speculation, may contain a multitude of great and true ideas, mixed with phantasies and fictions; and it is the office of higher intelligences to separate the precious from the vile. But in a system of alleged facts resting upon evidence, the presence of one falsehood shakes the truth of the whole fabric. This is the very issue to which St. Paul brings the whole question, "If Christ be not risen, then is our preaching vain, and your faith is also vain."

III. THE LIGHT THROWN HEREBY UPON DIFFICULTIES AS TO GOSPEL MIRACLES.

1. These difficulties rest mainly on the supposed existence of a contradiction between the universally observed law of causes and effects, and the interposition of any intervening power to suspend or to invert those laws. Such pretended interruptions, we are told, no evidence could establish, and that a miracle therefore is impossible. The same conclusion is more gently insinuated by those who would have us think that miraculous power was nothing more than a deeper acquaintance with nature, enabling the operator to work a trick and to call it a miracle; to do, as some have done by savages, when they called to their aid the secrets of science to astonish by pretended portents the ignorance of the uncivllised.

2. But cast upon all these difficulties the brightness of St. Stephen's vision, and they are scattered in a moment; for it lifts us at once out of the dull level of naturalism into the new lights and shadows of the mountain of God. If one of these recorded facts be true and real, it is of itself enough to prove that the Lord of nature has for His wise purposes resolved to manifest to us, through our sensible faculties, His peculiar presence and His direct working; and this once admitted, the probability is in favour of the truth of any other well-attested miracles. For just as one flash of lightning evinces the existence of such conditions of the atmosphere as may be expected to produce a second, and so makes the coming of that second as probable then as at another time it would be improbable; so does one such direct proof of the manifested working of the Master's hand make it even probable that according to His wise purpose it may be followed by another. One such fact, therefore, proves that, we are not under a dispensation of nature but of grace; that we are introduced into a new atmosphere, to which we cannot apply the laws which governed that from which we have been transported; that we can no more argue as to what can and cannot be from the data of mere naturalism, than we could measure the laws of light by knowledge gathered from the darkness.

3. Here, then, we are led to the real cause of such difficulties. It is to be found in a want of hearty belief of the spiritual world. To any one of such a habit of mind all difficulties multiply spontaneously after their kind. It is with such spirits as with the bodies of men who live beside open drains, or are encompassed in the malaria of a marsh; they imbibe unconsciously at every pore the lurking poison: you must lift them up to higher grounds and purer airs if you would give health to their fever-stricken limbs. To heal these troubled spirits you must place them with St. Stephen on the mountain of God. If that eye, so diseasedly minute in its small criticisms; if that apprehension, so ready but so shallow in its power; if that reason, so feverishly captious in its questions; if that bent, narrow, trembling soul could but be lifted to those heights — could but be led to look up steadfastly into heaven — its difficulties would pass even unconsciously from it, and its cure be certain.

4. Here, then, is the true mode of meeting these difficulties: not by shutting our eyes feebly to them, not by turning away from them as though we were afraid of them; but by looking at them, not in the purblind darkness of a carping petulance, but in the light of these spiritual verities. To live in this light is our Christian birthright. We need not be with St. Stephen in the agony of martyrdom to attain to it. God has so made us that common life gives us daily opportunities, if we will but use them, of gaining this insight. To every soul so seeking Him He reveals Himself; the cloud opens; the form of the Son of Man is seen; and then belief is comparatively easy, and the difficulties which must remain, whilst they keep our faith humble and watchful, cease to be perplexing to the soul.

5. If this be so, then what becomes of the supposed morality of encouraged doubts in any Christian man? Surely we can see the utter falsehood of representing them as the patient reachings forth of an inquiring spirit for the light for which he longs Rather, assuredly, are they the wilful turning, through some fault of the flesh or of the spirit, away from the light; and instead of bearing the noble titles of reasonable and faithful inquiry, they should by every true heart be degraded to the discreditable category of suspicions nourished in cankered hearts against a father's truthfulness or a mother's honour. Dark and sad is the history of such a course. Its steps lead surely down from the mountain of light. The one only Sun which lighteth every man that cometh into the world, sinks for him who treads it in the mists which gather ever thicker and thicker round his blackening horizon. Worship in its fervour, prayer in its reality, and then trust, and love, and peace one by one are all extinguished — peak after peak loses the last lingering ray of the daylight — until all is dark (Isaiah 59:9-11).

6. It is not on the difficulties of belief alone, but upon all the struggles through which the life of God is maintained within our souls, that this vision of St. Stephen casts its light. Never cap the impetuous tyranny of appetite be subdued, and the soul and body kept in purity, save by these powers of the world to come. When the flesh is strong within, what shall aid us in the strife like looking up steadfastly into heaven and seeing the Son of Man as our helper? Or, again, as years go on, and these impetuous temptations of earlier life being somewhat past, new ones of a soberer, heavier, and more stupefying worldliness have taken their place, what else can so guard us against sinking into the dull, respectable, commonplace conformity with evil which, like the white ashes after the conflagration, succeeds so naturally to the burst of youthful indulgence, as the ever-living sense of our nearness to the Lord and of His perpetual presence with us? What can arouse watchfulness, keep prayer alive, kindle love, deepen humility, renew contrition, quicken zeal, minister support in sorrow, or awaken praises in the soul which God is graciously keeping, like the perpetual realisation by the eye of faith of what is now going on within the veil?

(Bp. S. Wilberforce.)

I. To understand the nature and extent of that honour and glory to which the Redeemer is now exalted, first direct your thoughts to that state of HUMILIATION to which He was once subjected upon earth.

II. As the sufferings of the Redeemer had been severe beyond example, so is His TRIUMPH over every enemy complete beyond the power of description. It commenced at that moment when He broke asunder the chains of death, and rose triumphant from the tomb; and it was still more conspicuously displayed at the hour of His ascension to heaven.

III. Consider the IMPROVEMENT TO BE MADE of this subject. The doctrines of the gospel either excite us to avoid the paths of sin by showing us the dangers with which they are beset, or they stimulate us to lives of faith on the Son of Man by displaying the rich rewards that await the righteous.

1. Of the latter description is the doctrine of our Lord's exaltation; and the first obvious inference that flows from it is, that it furnishes a theme of joy and exultation to the true Christian.

2. Another lesson to be learnt from this doctrine is a firm reliance on the promises of the gospel. Of the truth of these promises, the history of our Saviour's sufferings and triumph affords the most ample evidence.

3. This doctrine affords a noble and most powerful encouragement to a life of faith on the Son of Man. Our blessed Redeemer ascended to the bosom of His heavenly Father, not less to prepare a place for His faithful followers than to enter Himself into His glory.

4. Consider the exaltation of Christ as teaching us to set a just and proper value on the things that belong to our eternal salvation, and as conveying to us the important lesson of placing our affection on things above, and not on things below. For what are the honours, the riches, and the pleasures of this world, in comparison of that glory which is at the right hand of God?

(James Bryce.)

A little child in white was playing in the park. As long as she ran about on the grass, the nurse took little notice of her — she was safe. Presently the little feet chose a path leading down to the water, and the good nurse was after the little one in a moment — she was in danger. While we lie down in the green pasture of the 23rd Psalm, the Good Shepherd may not seem to notice us — we are safe; but when the sheep are among the wolves of Matthew 10:16, the Good Shepherd will run to their help — they are in danger.

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