They dragged him out of the city and began to stone him. Meanwhile, the witnesses laid their garments at the feet of a young man named Saul.
I. SAUL SHARING BY HIS PRESENCE. He "was consenting unto Stephen's death." "He gave his voice against him." He watched over the clothes. He regarded the scene with satisfaction. A delusion sometimes possesses men that they cannot be guilty of a crime unless they took actual part in it. Saul had nobler moral sentiments. The approver is as guilty as the actor; for he also would have done the thing had opportunity served. But how searching and how serious becomes the consideration that, before God, we may be judged guilty on the ground of our approval and consent! With what limitations and qualifications must this point be pressed? St. Paul does not hesitate to take on himself the guilt of Stephen's death, though he never lifted a stone.
II. SAUL AVOIDING SHARING IN THE EXECUTION. This may be explained on one or other of the following grounds: -
1. The law of the execution, which required the witnesses against the victim to effect and complete the death.
2. The position Saul occupied as one of the judges. He gave his vote, and it is never regarded as becoming in a judge to execute his own sentence. Whether Saul was a member of the actual Sanhedrim, or of some committee appointed to deal with these followers of Jesus of Nazareth, does not appear.
3. Aristocratic sentiments might keep Saul from actually engaging in the stoning. Nothing could free Saul from his share of the guilt of Stephen's death.
III. SAUL RECEIVING IMPRESSIONS AS AN ON-LOOKER. Endeavor to estimate his conflict of feeling. While actually watching, rage and hatred may have prevailed, but his mind was receiving its picture of the calm and heroic sufferer; and presently Saul lost sight of judges, witnesses, and crowds, and the vision on his soul alone was before him. He saw the saintly man fall asleep; he heard again those dying cries; he seemed to look through and see what Stephen saw, the Son of man glorified; and, strive how he would to blot out the vision, it was there; rush desperately into persecuting ways how he might, still the vision was there. Stephen, we may fairly say, awakened Saul to anxiety, and prepared the way for that vision of Christ which bowed clown Saul's pride and won him to penitence, to faith, and to service. Better than the fable of the phoenix is the truth of Saul. Out of Stephen's death he sprang to a nobler, longer life of witness for the living Christ than Stephen could have lived. Death is often found the way, and the only way, to life. "Dying, and behold we live." - R.T.
And the witnesses laid down their clothes at a young man's feet, whose name was Saul.I. STEPHEN. The picture of a dying saint.
1. He enjoys the Divine presence and power (ver. 55), "Full of the Holy Ghost." The power of God was present when His faithful servant was passing through the flood.
2. He is lifted above the consciousness of earthly surroundings, enemies, and gnashing teeth.
3. He enjoys a full view of heavenly glory (ver. 55). He saw in that hour what many would have given their all to see, the vision of his glorified Redeemer.
4. He shows the spirit of his Master (ver. 60).
5. He has a peaceful death, though dying by violence. "He fell asleep," though the storm of stones was crashing upon him.
6. He leaves a blessed memory (ver. 2). Though dead he was not forgotten. Godly men mourned him, and many years afterward his name was remembered (Acts 22.). Greater still, his influence endured; for the whole life of Paul was the larger echo of Stephen's dying address.
II. SAUL. We notice in him the picture of an honest persecutor.
1. His spirit of leadership (ver. 58). The young man Saul already shows himself as a master of men.
3. His thoroughness. He must carry out his conviction, even to the bitter end.
4. His failure to check the gospel (ver. 4). The storm which was intended to destroy the gospel only served to scatter it over new soil and to cause new churches to spring up.
I. DO NOT THINK THERE ARE ANY CHANCE MEETINGS IN THIS STRANGE WORLD OF OURS.
1. It was no accident that Saul was by. This perhaps may be admitted; but never let us think that saints and martyrs live under a different form of Providential government from that of common men. Impiety will sometimes wear the cloak of humility, and talk of worms like ourselves being too insignificant to be watched at every step by the Eye that never sleeps. In such reasoning there is a twofold fallacy,(1) What is little, and what is great? Take into account the wide domain which stretches from God's central throne to the farthest limits of creation, and what is our world, and what are the grandest men who move upon its surface? But take into account, on the other hand, responsibility and an immortal nature, and the relation of dependence on an heavenly parent, with all that is involved in the rewards of loyalty and the perils of disobedience; take into account the great redemption, and the universal promise and the inspiriting thought that here God's purposes are being worked out, and then what about us is mean? which of us all, if bought with precious blood, can be overlooked and forgotten?(2) Even if some pass for great, and some are reckoned mean, in this strangely varied scene, still the two worlds intermingle at a thousand points. Something that looks little becomes the parent of an evil of portentous magnitude; or a deed, small at first as the mustard-seed, dropped into the ground at a venture, grows into a harvest of blessing by which a nation is enriched. The first link in a chain of events shall be a word spoken at hazard, a journey taken without a motive, a child's whim, a fool's false reckoning, but the last shall be a city consumed by conflagration, a kingdom convulsed by civil strife, a generation wasted and half devoured by the aggressions of war; yet the first link and the last were as certainly bound together as if an hour's interval only had elapsed between the original movement and its final consequences.
2. Saul and Stephen came together that day for good. And as God guided their steps, so God guides ours. You can tell of meetings, some of you, which have coloured your whole life, meetings which you never planned, meetings, it may be, with one unknown to you before, as the apostle was to the martyr, yet never forgotten, because step by step you can trace the occurrences which have grown out of that single interview, and which have done more, perhaps, to influence your condition or your character than all that you have deliberately planned for your own good through half a life. These thoughts are good for us, because the more we own God everywhere, and look on the common working world as His world, shaped by His wisdom, and brightened by His presence, the more diligently and cheerfully shall we do His will.
II. WE MUST NOT THINK THAT GOOD TEACHING OR EXAMPLE IS LIKE WASTED SEED, BECAUSE THE FRUIT IS NOT AT ONCE APPARENT. Stephen died, and little thought who saw him die. His dying scene was like the conqueror's march; but even then room would have been found for one emphatic burst of thankfulness — to Him who can make the wrath of man to praise Him — if it had been revealed to him that one, who stood within his view, would soon rank as the champion of the Cross, and a master-builder of Christ's Church. He did not reap the harvest, nor see it reaped; yet was he sowing for it when he lived and died so well. So we may do good in the world that we never live to see. What is well done for God is never wholly lost; and half of what we fancy to be wasted may ripen and bear fruit when our course is ended. "In the morning," then, "sow thy seed, and in the evening withhold not thy hand." "The husbandman waiteth for the precious fruit of the earth, and hath long patience for it."
III. WATCHFUL EYES ARE UPON US AT ALL TIMES, AND WE MAY BE DOING GOOD, OR DOING HARM, UNCONSCIOUSLY, TO SOME WHOM WE KNOW NOT NOW, AND NEVER SHALL KNOW. St. Stephen thought, perhaps, that the men before him were all alike. He did not know that one in that crowd looked on with more eager interest and with deeper feeling than the rest. Nothing was aimed at Saul; for to St. Stephen he was but one of a hundred spectators, probably all strange to him alike; but every word was heard and remembered: and to a thoughtful, inquiring mind, an end that looked so holy must have seemed a wonder, if the dying man were indeed a profane blasphemer. Surely a lesson like that ought not to be lost upon us. If God has taught us by His Spirit, without going out of our way, or setting ourselves up to be preachers, we may wonderfully help the ignorant and ungodly to understand what living Christianity is. We may expound to them what can hardly be learnt from books, by the persuasive eloquence of a holy, consistent example. In the occupations and engagements of common life we may be testifying for God and preaching Christ, as St. Stephen was when he died. It is a blessed service rendered to the cause of truth and righteousness if we stand the test, and because God helped us to act faithfully, and speak wisely, the man shall trust us more henceforth, and receive our message more willingly. On the other hand, fearful mischief will ensue if the life contradict the lips. Parents, masters, remember this, and all of you who become teachers of others in any sense. Numbers, who are dull-sighted in other things, are sharp-sighted to detect the flaw when there is manifest inconsistency between words and deeds.
(J. Hampden Gurney, M. A.)
I. A SUGGESTED CONTRAST. Stephen and Saul.
1. These were both highly earnest, fearless men, yet at this time they were wide as the poles asunder.(1) Stephen spiritual; giving in his address great prominence to the spiritual nature of religion, and the comparative insignificance of its externals (vers. 48-50). Saul superstitious, worshipping form and ritual, full of reverence for the temple and the priests, and so forth.(2) Stephen, a humble believer in the Lord Jesus, saved by faith alone. Saul, a self-righteous Pharisee, as proud as he could live.(3) Stephen, defending and vindicating the gospel of Jesus. Saul, giving his countenance, his vote, his assistance in the persecution of the servant of the Lord Christ.
2. Inquire if a Saul is now present. Call him forth by name.(1) Have you been a consenting party to the persecution of good men? You do not object to making Christian men the theme of ridicule. You smile when you hear such ridicule.(2) By your indecision in religion you aid and abet the adversary. In these ways the witnesses lay down their clothes at your feet, and you are their accomplice.
II. A SINGULAR INTRODUCTION TO TRUE RELIGION. Many have been brought to God by means somewhat similar. The young man, whose name was Saul, met with the religion of Jesus in the person of Stephen, and thus he saw it with the following surroundings —
1. The vision of a shining face.
2. The hearing of a noble discourse.
3. The sight of a triumphant death.These did not convert Saul, but they made it harder for him to be unconverted, and were, no doubt, in after days thought of by him. Let us so introduce religion to men, that the memory of its introduction may be worth their retaining.
III. A REMARKABLE INSTANCE OF THE LORD'S CARE FOR HIS CHURCH. The apostolical succession was preserved in the Church,
1. Stephen's death was a terrible blow to the cause; but at that moment his successor was close at hand.
2. That successor was in the ranks of the enemy.
3. That successor was far greater than the martyr, Stephen, himself. There is no fear for the Church: her greatest champions, though as yet concealed among her enemies, will be called in due time. The death of her best advocates may assist in the conversion of others.
IV. A GRACIOUS MEMORIAL OF REPENTED SIN. Did not Paul give Luke this information concerning himself, and cause it to be recorded in the Acts of the Apostles? It was well for Paul to remember his sin before conversion. It will be well for us to remember ours.
1. To create and renew feelings of humility.
2. To inflame love and zeal.
3. To deepen our love to the doctrines of sovereign grace.
4. To make us hopeful and zealous for others.Let dying Stephen be cheered by the hope of young Saul's salvation. Let wicked young Saul repent of his wrong to Stephen.
(C. H. Spurgeon.)
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