Acts 7:59
While they were stoning him, Stephen appealed, "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit."
Sermons
A Watchword for Life and DeathJ. Parker, D. D.Acts 7:59
Fellowship in DeathH. T. Miller.Acts 7:59
Prayer in DeathLife of Dr. Livingstone.Acts 7:59
Prayer in DeathHomiletic ReviewActs 7:59
StR. Paisley.Acts 7:59
Stephen's Dying PrayerR. L. Dabney, D. D.Acts 7:59
The Clearing Shower of LifeH. W. Beecher.Acts 7:59
The Close of the Christian LifeW. Harris, D. D.Acts 7:59
The Death of the Master and the Death of the ServantAlexander MaclarenActs 7:59
The Dying Testimony of StephenR. P. Buddicom, M. A.Acts 7:59
The Last RequestJ. Parker, D. D.Acts 7:59
The Martyrdom of WishartActs 7:59
The SoldD. Thomas, D. D.Acts 7:59
Transfigured StonesK. Gerok.Acts 7:59
IllustrationsW. Clarkson Acts 7:51-60
The Martyrdom of StephenE. Johnson Acts 7:54-60
The Proto-MartyrR.A. Redford Acts 7:54-60
The Glory of the MartyrP.C. Barker Acts 7:55-60
Stephen's DeathC. H. Spurgeon.Acts 7:57-60
Stephen's Death a Witness to Vital Christian TruthW. B. Williams, M. A.Acts 7:57-60
Stephen's MartyrdomC. H. Spurgeon.Acts 7:57-60
Stephen's MartyrdomD. Thomas, D. D.Acts 7:57-60
The Death of StephenR. Watson.Acts 7:57-60
The Death of StephenT. W. Mays, M. A.Acts 7:57-60
The Death of StephenJ. Parker, D. D.Acts 7:57-60
The First Christian MartyrSermons by the Monday ClubActs 7:57-60
The First Gospel MartyrJ. A. Krummacher, D. D.Acts 7:57-60
The First MartyrdomDean Vaughan.Acts 7:57-60
The Martyrdom of StephenW. M. Punshon, LL. D.Acts 7:57-60
The MassacreT. De Witt Talmage, D. D.Acts 7:57-60
Noble Dying CriesR. Tuck Acts 7:59, 60
Some account may be given of the mode of securing death by stoning. The practice is first heard of in the deserts of stony Arabia, this mode having been suggested probably by the abundance of stones, and the fatal effect with which they were often employed in broils among the people. Originally the people merely pelted their victim, but something like form and rule were subsequently introduced. A crier marched before the man appointed to die, proclaiming his offence. He was taken outside the town. The witnesses against him were required to cast the first stones. But the victim was usually placed on an elevation, and thrown clown from this, before he was crushed with the stones flung upon him. For full details, see Kitto's 'Bibl. Illus.,' 8:63. It was the mode of execution usual for the crimes of blasphemy and idolatry (see Deuteronomy 13:9, 10; Deuteronomy 17:5-7). Stephen's dying cries should be compared with those of our Lord Jesus Christ, in order that the measures in which Stephen caught the Christly spirit may be realized.

I. THE PRESENCE OF CHRIST TO HIS SPIRIT MADE STEPHEN DEAD TO THE PRESENCE OF HIS FOES. In this we learn the secret of our elevation above the world, care, suffering, or trouble. It lies in our being so full of" Christ and things Divine "as to have no room for them. Our hearts may be so full of God's presence, and so restful in the assurance of his acceptance and smile, that we may say, "None of these things move me." "If God be for us, who can be against us? 'One of the greatest practical endeavors of life should be to bring and to keep Christ closely near to heart and thought. If outward circumstances reach to such an extremity as in the case of Stephen, we shall then say with him, "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit."

II. To HIM WHO WAS SO NEAR, STEPHEN PRAYED FOR HIMSELF. Observe that:

1. His prayer indicates submissive acceptance of the fact that he must die. He does not ask for any bodily deliverance, any miracle-working for his personal release. Compare in this our Lord's submission when his life came to its close.

2. His prayer indicates superiority to bodily suffering. There is no petition for relief from pain or even for speedy release. Exactly what was God's will for him he would bear right through. Compare our Lord's triumph in Gethsemane, and his going forth to bodily sufferings calm and trustful. Stephen fulfilled his Lord's words that his disciples should drink of the "cup" that he drank of.

3. And his prayer indicates supreme concern, but absolute confidence concerning his soul and his future. There is no tone of questioning; with full faith in the Lord Jesus, he commends his spirit to him - a last and unquestioning testimony to his faith in the living, spiritual Christ.

III. To HIM IN WHOM HE HAD SUCH CONFIDENCE HE PRAYED FOR HIS FOES, Compare our Lord's words, "Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do." In the older clays of political execution by the axe, the headsman used to kneel and ask the forgiveness of the victim, before proceeding to place his head upon the block. Stephen knew how blinded by prejudice and false notions of religion his persecutors were, and he gives a beautiful illustration of heavenly, Divine charity in thus pleading for his very murderers. One point should not be lost sight of. Even in this last word of the noble man he asserted his characteristic truth once more. The Lord Jesus is living, and the exalted Savior, for he controls the charging and the punishing of sin. "Lord, lay not this sin to their charge " - an unmeaning prayer if he had not fully believed that Jesus had power on earth to deal with, to punish, and to forgive sin. Close by showing the wondrous calmness and the exquisite tenderness of the words of the narrative, "He fell asleep." We hear the howlings of the people, the whirr and smash of the stones, but amid it all and "in the arms of Jesus," the saint and hero and martyr softly "falls asleep " - asleep to earth, waking to heaven and peace and the eternal smile of the living Christ, for whose sake he died. - R.T.







And they stoned Stephen.
When mists have hung low over the hills, and the day has been dark with intermittent showers, great clouds hurry across the sky, and the rain comes pouring down, then we look out and say, "This is the clearing-up shower." And as the clouds part to let the blue sky reappear, we know that just behind them are singing-birds and glittering dew-drops. So the Christian, on whom chilling rains of sorrow have long fallen, when the last sudden storm breaks knows it is but the clearing-up shower. Just behind it he hears the songs of angels and sees the glories of heaven.

(H. W. Beecher.)

The stones which the world lifts against the witnesses of Christ are changed into —

I.MONUMENTS OF SHAME for the enemies of truth.

II.JEWELS IN THE CROWNS of the glorified martyrs.

III.THE SEED OF A NEW LIFE for the Church of Christ.

(K. Gerok.)

Calling upon God, and saying, Lord Jesus, receive my spirit
This seems to teach us —

I. THAT STEPHEN REGARDED JESUS CHRIST AS VERY GOD. There are sundry places where this prime doctrine is not so much dogmatically asserted as clearly implied. These are, in one aspect, even more satisfactory than formal assertions, because so obviously sincere expressions of the heart, and show how this cardinal truth is interwoven with the believer's whole experience. Our text in the Greek reads, "They stoned Stephen, invoking, and saying, Lord Jesus, receive my spirit." The intention of the evangelist was to state that Christ was the object of his prayer. In every office of the Redeemer the enlightened Christian feels that he could not properly rely on Him for salvation unless He were very God. "It is because He is God, and there is none else," that Isaiah invites "all the ends of the earth to look unto Him and be saved." But in the hour of death especially the Christian needs a Saviour who is no less than God. An angel could not sympathise with our trial, for he cannot feel the pangs of dissolution. A human friend cannot travel with us the path through the dark valley. The God-man alone can sustain us; He has survived it and returns triumphing to succour us, for He is God. Unless this Divine Guide be with us, we must fight the battle with the last enemy alone and unaided.

II. TO EXPECT AN IMMEDIATE ENTRANCE INTO THE PRESENCE OF CHRIST. Stephen evidently did not expect that the grave would absorb his spirit into a state of unconscious sleep until the final consummation; or that any limbus, or purgatory, was to swallow him for a time in its fiery bosom. His faith aspired directly to the arms of Christ, and to that blessed world where His glorified humanity now dwells. He manifestly regarded his spirit as separate from the body, and therefore, as true, independent substance. The latter he relinquishes to the insults of his enemies, the former he commits to Christ. If only we are in Christ by true faith, the grave will have naught to do with that which is the true, conscious being, and no purgatorial fires after death can be inflicted upon believers; for "Lazarus died and. was carried by angels to Abraham's bosom." To the thief it was said, "This day thou shalt be with Me in paradise." "To be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord."

III. TO WHAT GUIDANCE THE CHRISTIAN MAY COMMIT HIS SOUL DURING THE JOURNEY INTO THE WORLD OF SPIRITS. Heaven is as truly a place as was paradise. When we first arrive there we shall be disembodied spirits. But spirits have their locality. The clearer evidence, however, that heaven is a literal place is that it contains the glorified bodies of Enoch, of Elijah, of Christ, and of the saints who rose with their Redeemer. But where is this place? In what quarter of this vast universe? When death batters down the walls of the earthly tabernacle, whither shall the dispossessed soul set out? It knows not; it needs a skilful, powerful guide. But more: it is a journey into a spiritual world; and this thought makes it awful to the apprehension of man. The presence of one disembodied spirit in the solitude of night would shake us with a thrill of dread. How, then, could we endure to be launched out into the untried ocean of space, peopled by we know not what mysterious beings? How could we be certain that we might not lose our way in the pathless vacancy, and wander for ever, a bewildered, solitary rover amidst the wilderness of worlds? This journey into the unknown must issue in our introduction to a scene whose awful novelties will overpower our faculties; for even the very thought of them when we dwell upon it fills us with dreadful suspense. Truly will the trembling soul need some one on whom to lean, some mighty, tender guardian, who will point the way to the prepared mansions, and cheer and sustain its fainting courage. That Guide is Christ; therefore let us say in dying, "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit." It is a delightful belief to which the gospel gives most solid support, that our Redeemer is accustomed to employ in this mission His holy angels. "Are they not ministering spirits?" etc. When Lazarus died he was carried by angels to Abraham's bosom.

IV. THE ARMS OF CHRIST MAY BE LOOKED TO AS OUR FINAL HOME. We are authorised to say, "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit"; not only that Thou mayest sustain it in the pangs of dying, and guide it to its heavenly home, but that it may dwell with Thee world without end. "Father, I will that they also, whom Thou hast given Me, be with Me where I am," etc. Oh, blessed resting-place! In Thy presence is fulness of joy: at Thy right hand are pleasures for evermore. Let us live and die like believing Stephen, and our spirits will be received where the God-man holds His regal court, to go out thence no more for ever.

(R. L. Dabney, D. D.)

I. THERE IS A SPIRIT IN MAN DISTINCT FROM THE BODY. The body is the habitation of the soul, and only the instrument by which it acts. This is the frame of human nature, and agreeable to the original account of its formation. We find it represented as a principle of life (Genesis 2:7). The dust of the earth was animated by a living soul. The dissolution of our constitution is described by the wise man, agreeably to this account (Ecclesiastes 12:7). It is principle of thought and reason, of understanding and choice (Job 20:2, 3; Job 32:8). It is represented as a principle both of natural and religious action: we not only live and move, but worship God in the spirit (John 4:24). It is represented as a distinct thing from the body, and of another kind (Matthew 10:28; Matthew 24:39; 2 Corinthians 4:16). And although we do not know the precise nature of a spirit, or the manner of its union with the body, which is a great mystery in nature; as neither do we the substratum or abstract essence of matter; yet we do know the essential and distinguishing properties of them. The soul is a thinking conscious principle, an intelligent agent, a principle of life and action, which bears a near resemblance of God the Infinite Spirit, and of angels, who are pure unbodied spirits.

II. AT DEATH THE SPIRIT WILL BE SEPARATED FROM THE BODY, AND EXIST APART FROM IT. Though they are closely united to one another in the present state, yet the bonds of union are not indissoluble. But then as it is a vital principle, and all life and action proceeds from the union of soul and body; so the separation of the soul from the body is the death and dissolution of it. It is destroying our present being and way of existing: the body dies and returns to the dust when deserted of the living soul. This is plainly implied here, when Stephen prays, "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit"; not only that he had a spirit distinct from the body, but that the spirit was now dislodging, and ready to depart from the body. It was to be then out of the body. So the apostle says (2 Corinthians 5:1, 4; 2 Timothy 4:6). To the same purpose St. Peter says (2 Peter 1:14, 15). The separation of soul and body is properly the death of our present nature. This came into the world by sin, and is the proper fruit of it. It is the sentence of the law executed upon the breach of it (Genesis 2:17; Genesis 3:19). Our death is appointed by the Divine will, though we know not the day of our death. Nature tends to a dissolution, and gradually wears out, though no evil befall it; and it is liable to many distempers, and many accidents, which often prove fatal, and hasten a separation,

III. THE LORD JESUS WILL RECEIVE THE DEPARTING SPIRITS OF GOOD MEN. This was the matter of Stephen's payer. And we cannot suppose that he would have prayed in this manner, who was full of faith and of the Holy Ghost, if the case had been otherwise; if it did not belong to Him to receive it, or He was not disposed to do it. This is a more distinct and particular account of the matter, and proper to the Christian revelation. In the Old Testament we are only told that the spirit returns to God who gave it, and who is the Father of spirits; but here we are told that the Lord Jesus receives our departing spirits. It is through the Mediator, and by His immediate agency, that the whole kingdom of providence and grace is now administered in all the disposals of life, and the issues of death. But what is the import of His receiving the departed spirits of good men?

1. The taking them under His protection and care, He is their Refuge and Guide, to whom they fly, and whom they follow, when they go into a new and unknown state. He preserves the naked trembling spirit by a guard of holy angels from affrightment and amazement, from the terror and power of envious spirits, who would gladly seize it as a prey, and distress and terrify it, as the devil now goes up and down seeking whom he may devour.

2. He conveys them to God, and to a state of blessedness. What this state will be we can have no more clear conceptions than Scripture gives us, and what arises from the natural notions of a spirit, and the essential difference between good and evil. That they are in a state of activity, and in a state of rest and happiness, and vastly different from that of wicked spirits.

IV. CHRISTIANS SHOULD COMMEND THEIR DEPARTING SPIRITS TO CHRIST BY PRAYER. This was directly the case here, and is the form of the expression, "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit." This prayer was directed to Christ in His exalted state, standing at the right hand of God, and in the quality of a Mediator, who ever lives to make intercession for us. But upon what grounds may a dying Christian offer up such a prayer to Christ? With what warrant and hope of success? I answer, upon good grounds and sufficient security.

1. His great love to the spirits of men. Will He deny us anything when He freely gave His life for us? Will He forsake them at last, and leave them exposed in an unknown state, whom He has preserved all their lives, and wherever they have been in this?

2. His relation to them. He is their Lord and Saviour, their Head; they are His subjects and servants, His members and friends, to whom He stands in a special relation, and who is endeared to them by special marks of favour. And He is concerned in the protection and care of His faithful servants, as a prince is concerned to secure his subjects.

3. His ability and power to take care of them (Hebrews 7:27).

4. His engagements and undertaking. He who by the grace of God tasted death for every man, was to bring the many sons unto glory (Hebrews 2:9, 10). And He would fail in His trust if any of them miscarried, and came short of the glory of God. Besides, He is engaged by His promise and faithfulness to preserve and secure them (John 10:28).Inferences:

1. That the soul does not die with the body, or sleep in the grave.

2. We should be often thinking and preparing for a time and state of separation.

3. The peculiar happiness of good men, and the great difference between them and others.

4. We learn what is the proper close of a Christian's life. When we have finished our course of service, and done the work of life, what remains but the lifting up of our souls to God, and commending them into His hands?

(W. Harris, D. D.)

Passing inside, they looked toward the bed; Dr. Livingstone was not lying on it, but appeared to be engaged in prayer, and they instinctively drew backward for the instant. Pointing to him, Majwara said, "When I lay down he was just as he is now, and it is because I find that he does not move that I fear he is dead." They asked the lad how long he had slept. Majwara said he could not tell, but he was sure that it was some considerable time. The men drew nearer. A candle stuck by its own wax to the top of the box shed a light sufficient for them to see his form. Dr. Livingstone was kneeling by the side of his bed, his body stretched forward, his head buried in his hands upon the pillow. For a minute they watched him; he did not stir, there was no sign of breathing; then one of them — Matthew — advanced softly to him, and placed his hands to his cheeks. It was sufficient; life had been extinct for some time, and the body was almost cold: Livingstone was dead.

(Life of Dr. Livingstone.)

Speaking of the martyrdom of Wishart, in 1546, Mr. Froude writes: "In anticipation of an attempt at rescue, the castle guns were loaded, and the port-fires lighted. After this, Mr. Wishart was led to the fire, with a rope about his neck and a chain of iron about his middle and when he came to the fire, he sat down upon his knees and rose up again, and thrice he said these words: 'O Thou Saviour of the world, have mercy on me. Father of heaven, I commend my spirit into Thy holy hands.' He next spoke a few words to the people; and then, last of all, the hangman that was his tormentor fell upon his knees and said, 'Sir, I pray you forgive me, for I am not guilty of your death'; to whom he answered, 'Come hither to me,' and he kissed his cheek and said, 'Lo, here is a token that I forgive thee. Do thy office.' And then he was put upon a gibbet and hanged, and then burned to powder."

"Father, into Thy hands I commend My spirit" (Luke 23. 46). "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit" (Acts 7:59).

I. FELLOWSHIP OF SUFFERING.

II. FELLOWSHIP OF VISION.

III. FELLOWSHIP OF PITY. "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do." "Lord, lay not this sin to their charge."

IV. FELLOWSHIP OF ATTITUDE. With hounding might and "loud" voices the last enemy was confronted and destroyed.

V. FELLOWSHIP OF BURIAL. Devout duty to the dead. This is the work of the living. Let us bury our friends reverently. They have an undying history. Let us bury our friends sympathetically. They ask a brother's interest. Let us bury our friends hopefully. They have a lasting destiny.Lessons:

1. This precious coincidence is surely not accidental.

2. Here is a proof of the true humanity of Jesus Christ. We wonder less that Stephen was like the Saviour than that the Saviour was so like Stephen.

3. How completely one are the Lord and His people! "Thou shalt be with Me." With Him heaven is not only near, but accessible.

4. Fellowship with Jesus Christ in life is the surest guarantee of His presence in death.

(H. T. Miller.)

Human history is a record of the thoughts and exploits of human spirits. Wherever we touch the history of spirit, we find it invested with the gravest responsibilities. Wherever we look, we behold memorials of spirit-power. I am anxious to impress you with the fact that you are spirits, and that your history here will determine all your conditions and relationships in the endless ages!

I. MAN'S SUPREME CONCERN SHOULD BE THE WELL-BEING OF HIS SPIRIT. Because your spirit —

1. Is immortal. Only eternity can satisfy it. It claims the theatre of infinitude! Yet many occupy more time in the adornment of the flesh, which is to turn to corruption, than in the culture of the spirit which no Lomb can confine! You pity the imbecility of the man who estimates the casket more highly than the gem, but your madness is infinitely more to be deplored if you bestow more care on the body than on the soul.

2. Can undergo no posthumous change, whereas the body may. There is no repentance in the grave. "He that is unjust, let him be unjust still," etc. Moral change after death is an eternal impossibility. Not so with the body; Christ will change our vile body, and make it like unto His own glorious body.

3. Has been Divinely purchased. "Ye are not redeemed with corruptible things," etc.

4. Is capable of endless progress. There is no point at which the spirit must pause and say, "It is enough!"

II. MAN IS APPROACHING A CRISIS IN WHICH HE WILL REALISE THE IMPORTANCE OF HIS SPIRIT. Stephen was in that crisis when uttering this entreaty. Amid the commotion of the world — the strife for bread and the battle for position — men are apt to overlook the moral claims of their nature. But remember that there hastens a time in which you must give audience to the imperious demands of your spiritual nature! I have visited the prodigal in the chamber of death; and he who was wont to scorn the appeals of Christianity — who had drunk at the broken cisterns of crime — even he has turned upon me his glazed eye, and stammered out with dying breath, "My soul!" I have stood at the bedside of the departing rich; and he whose aim it was to build around himself a golden wall — who considered no music so entrancing as that produced by the friction of coin — even he has turned his anxious gaze to me, and, with stifled utterance, has said, "My soul, my soul!" I have watched the votary of fashion — whose ambition it was to bedeck his mortal frame, whose god was elegance, and whose altar the mirror — and even he has wept and cried, "My naked soul, my naked soul!" I have stood in the chamber where the good man has met his fate: has he displayed anxiety or given way to despair? Nay, he exclaims, "Into Thy hands I commend my spirit!" Now, seeing that the approach of this momentous hour is an infallible certainty, two duties devolve upon us.

1. To employ the best means for meeting its requirements. What are those means? Those who know the deceitfulness of riches and the cares of this world, emphatically testify that they cannot meet the requirements of the spiritual constitution. Faith in Christ and obedience to His will constitute the true preparation for all the exigencies of life, and the true antidote for the bitterness of death!

2. To conduct the business of life with a view to its solemnities. "How will this affect my dying hour?" is an inquiry too seldom propounded, but, when conscientiously answered, must produce a powerfully restraining influence on man's thoughts and habitudes. Few men connect the present with the future, or reflect that out of the present the future gathers its materials and moulds its character.

III. MAN KNOWS OF ONE BEING ONLY TO WHOM HE CAN SAFELY ENTRUST HIS SPRIT — the "Lord Jesus." This prayer implies —

1. Christ's sovereignty of the spiritual empire. Whom does Stephen see? There are ten thousand times ten thousand glorified intelligences in the heaven to which he directs his eyes: but the triumphant martyr sees "no man but Jesus only." All souls are Christ's. All the spirits of the just made perfect are loyal to His crown.

2. Christ's profound interest in the well-being of faithful spirits. He said that He went to "prepare a place" for His people, and that where He was, there they should be also. Now one of His people proves this.

3. Christ's personal contact with departed Christian spirits. Stephen acknowledges no intermediate state; looking from earth, his eye beholds no object until it alights on the Son of Man. Stephen's creed was — "absent from the body, present with the Lord."

4. Christ's unchanging relationship to human spirits. Lord Jesus was the name by which Christ was known on earth. How He was designated in the distant ages of eternity none can tell! But when He uncrowned Himself He assumed the name of Jesus, for He came to save His people from their sins! And now that He has returned to His celestial glory He has not abandoned the name.

IV. MAN ALONE IS RESPONSIBLE FOR THE ETERNAL CONDITION OF HIS SOUL. You make your own heaven or hell, not by the final act of life, but by life itself. Your spirit is now undergoing education. Two results ought to be produced by your trials.

1. They should discipline your spirit; bring it into harmony with the Divine will, by curbing passion, checking error, rebuking pride.

2. They should develop the capabilities of your spirit. Trials may do this, by throwing you back on great principles. But for trial, we should never know our powers of endurance. Trial brings out the majesty of moral character.

(J. Parker, D. D.)

Homiletic Review.
A Christian should die praying. Other men die in a way fitting their lives. The ruling passion of life is strong in death. Julius Caesar died adjusting his robes, that he might fall gracefully; Augustus died in a compliment to Livia, his wife; Tiberius in dissimulations; Vespasian in jest. The infidel, Hume, died with pitiful jokes about Charon and his boat; Rousseau with boasting; Voltaire with mingled imprecations and supplications; Paine with shrieks of agonising remorse; multitudes die with sullenness, others with blasphemies faltering on their tongues. But the Christian should die praying; for "Prayer is the Christian's vital breath," etc. "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit! " This is the prayer of faith, commending the immortal spirit to the covenant care of Jesus.

(Homiletic Review.)

From this prayer we infer —

I. THAT MAN'S SOUL SURVIVES CORPOREAL DEATH. This was now a matter of consciousness with Stephen. He had no doubt about it, and hence he prays Jesus to take it. This is with all men rather a matter of feeling than argument. The Bible not only addresses this feeling, but ministers to its growth.

II. THAT IN DEATH THE IMPORTANCE OF MAN'S SOUL IS ESPECIALLY FELT. The "spirit" was now everything to Stephen. And so it is to all dying men. Death ends all material interests and relations, and the soul grows more and more conscious of itself as it feels its approach to the world of spirits.

III. THAT THE WELL-BEING OF THE SOUL CONSISTS IN ITS DEDICATION TO JESUS. "Receive my spirit." What does this mean?

1. Not the giving up of our personality. Such pantheism is absurd.

2. Not the surrender of our free agency.

3. But the placing of its powers entirely at Christ's service, and its destiny entirely at His disposal. This implies, of course, strong faith in the kindness and power of Jesus.

IV. THAT THIS DEDICATION OF THE SOUL TO JESUS IS THE ONE GREAT THOUGHT OF THE EARNEST SAINT. It is the beginning and end of religion, or rather the very essence of it. The first breath, and every subsequent respiration, of piety is, "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit."

(D. Thomas, D. D.)

Stephen is not a prodigy. He is aa example; he is a Christian; he is a believer, nothing more; nothing more than all of us would become and be this day if we were followers of his faith.

I. HE DIED IN CHARITY.

II. HE DIED AS A TRUE MARTYR, CONDEMNING THE WORLD, REARING THE CROSS OF CHRIST. His defence is no apology, as if he were pleading for life, or deprecating either death or their displeasure. Thus in Christ's spirit did he go forth, faking up his cross, and confronting all that was not of God in the world and in the Church.

III. HE DIED CONTENDING AS A TRUE MARTYR FOR THE COMMON, OR CATHOLIC, FAITH. His was no sectarian stand, or fight. What was the Christianity for which he pleaded, and for Which he was ready to sacrifice his life against their dead form of godliness, and conventional faith, and mere Judaism? It was a Christianity that revealed the way of access to this living God, and admission to this communion in Jesus Christ; a Christianity that revealed that new and better covenant in which these unspeakable gifts of grace were now published as man's birthright, in the faith of which he became alive unto God, the faith of which was eternal life.

IV. HE DIED, AS HE HAD LIVED, BY FAITH. That opened his eyes to "see the heavens opened, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God." That made his face to the spectators in the council "as the face of an angel." The Holy Ghost wrought in him visibly. God thus sealed His martyr's ministry by a token which even his murderers could not deny, and said, as audibly as by a voice from heaven, "Well done, good and faithful servant, enter thou into the joy of thy Lord." Stephen-like, men in general, Christians and others, die as they live.

1. There are, it is evident, few deathbeds like Stephen's. Those who are familiar with the history of the Church in ancient times could cite many a parallel to Stephen among the glorious company of its martyrs and confessors. Nor are modern biographies without instances corresponding or similar. But what are these, or the greater number still of unrecorded triumphs over death and suffering, to the multitudes that are different, to the myriads that furnish a contrast rather than a counterpart? To how few is death without a sting, a conquered enemy!

2. There are, perhaps, as few lives like Stephen's as there are deathbeds like his. What is the value of a deathbed testimony, even of triumph like Stephen's, if what has gone before has either ill corresponded, or has contradicted? Look at family life, and social life, and Church communion among us, as compared with the fellowship of Stephen's day (Acts 2:46, 47). We shall then cease to wonder that there are few deathbeds like Stephen's. Stephen's was but the appropriate close of a consistent life.

3. The spirit, the faith of the Church certainly now is not Stephen's, nor like those of the Church of Stephen's day. How many fail to claim the fulness of the Holy Ghost, to walk worthily of their vocation by living in the faith of this vocation?

4. Hence the Church's weakness — want of faith like Stephen's; want of the Holy Ghost. Not a withholding on God's part of grace, or of the Spirit, but a want of response, or reciprocal action on ours. We are not straitened in Him, but in ourselves.

(R. Paisley.)

(Text and Psalm 31:5; Luke 23:1. 46.)

1. David said in his lifetime, "Into Thy hand I commit my spirit." In the hour of torture and dissolution Christ and His servant used almost the same expression. It is not, then, necessarily a dying speech. It is as appropriate to youth as to old age, to the brightness of life as to the shadow of death.

2. The greatest concern of man should be about his spirit. His clothes wear out; his house crumbles away; his body must return to dust: it is in his spirit alone that man finds the supreme possibilities of his being. Care for the spirit involves every other care. Regard the words as supplying —

I. THE TRUE WATCHWORD FOR LIFE. Life needs a watchword. Our energies, purposes, hopes, should be gathered round some living and controlling centre. We stray far from the right line when we take ourselves into our own keeping. When we commit our spirit into the hand of God, three results accrue.

1. We approach the duties of life through a series of the most elevating considerations.

(1)We are not our own.

(2)We are parts of a great system.

(3)We are servants, not masters.

(4)The things round about us are beneath our serious notice, except for momentary convenience or instruction.

2. We accept the trials of life with the most hopeful patience. They are —

(1)Disciplinary.

(2)Under control.

(3)Needful.

3. We recognise the mercies of life with joyful gratitude. The name of God is on the smallest of them (Psalm 31:7, 8, 19). To the atheist the morning is but a lamp to be turned to convenience; to the Christian it is the shining of the face of God. All things are ours if the spirit be Christ's. What is your life's watchword? Have you one? What is it? Self-enrichment? Pleasure? The one true watchword is, "Into Thy hands I commit my spirit," my ease, my controversies, disappointments, whole discipline and destiny.

II. THE TRUE WATCHWORD FOR DEATH. If a living man requires a watchword, how much more the man who is dying! How strange is the country to which he is moving; how dark the path along which he is travelling; how short a way can his friends accompany him! All this, so well understood by us all, makes death very solemn. This watchword, spoken by Jesus and Stephen, shows —

1. Their belief in a state of being at present invisible. Was Christ likely to be deceived? Read His life; study the character of His thinking; acquaint yourselves with the usual tone of His teaching; and then say whether He was likely to die with a lie in His mouth. And Stephen — what had he to gain if no world lay beyond the horizon of the present and invisible? Jesus and Stephen, then, must at least be credited with speak, ing their deepest personal convictions. It is something to us to show who have believed this doctrine.

2. Their assurance of the limitations of human malice. The spirit was quite free. Evil ones cannot touch the Divine side of human nature.Conclusion:

1. When the spirit is fit for the presence of God, there is no fear of death.

2. All who die in the faith are present with the Lord.

3. Jesus Himself knows what it is to pass through the valley of the shadow of death.

4. The prayer for entrance among the blest may come too late.We have no authority for the encouragement of a death-bed repentance. It is but poor prayer that is forced from a coward's lips.

(J. Parker, D. D.)

I. THE PRAYER OF STEPHEN

1. Stephen expected an immediate transfer of his soul, in the full possession of is powers and consciousness, from a state of earthly to a state of heavenly being. He understood its high relation to the Father of spirits; and expected from Him protection and provision for its unembodied existence.

2. The prayer of Stephen contained a plain, positive acknowledgment of the Saviour's proper Deity, as one with the Father, over all, God blessed for ever.

II. THE CIRCUMSTANCES IN WHICH THE PRAYER OF STEPHEN WAS OFFERED.

1. Saint Stephen was, beyond all controversy, a man of uprightness and integrity.

2. Will it be answered, "The integrity of Stephen remains unimpeached: he must, however, be ranked among those every-day characters, whose intellectual weakness is in some degree retrieved by the uprightness of their principles?" Such an apology will hardly serve the turn of those who impugn or deny the Divinity of our blessed Lord. For Stephen was a wise man, no less than a man of moral honesty and integrity. The knowledge and intellect of Jerusalem doubtless sat upon the seats of the Sanhedrin: yet they were cut to the heart with what they heard him declare, and could only answer "by gnashing upon him with their teeth." Now, it is not the part of wisdom to brave scorn, mockery, and death for an opinion unfounded in truth. Even Erasmus, one of the most amiable and learned men of modern times, who lived when the torch of the Reformation first shed its glorious light upon the benighted Church of Christ, confessed that, though he should know the truth to be on his side, be had not courage to become a martyr in its behalf. Was it, then, for one of Stephen's wisdom falsely to ascribe Godhead to Jesus Christ, when his life was endangered by the assertion, "Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of Man standing on the right hand of God"?

3. I add, however, that Stephen was a partaker of knowledge more than human: he was a man full of faith and of the Holy Ghost. "He had an unction from the Holy One, and he knew all things." No man can say that Jesus is the Christ, but by the Holy Ghost.

4. Once more: Stephen was a dying man. Whatever our previous sentiments may have been, yet when the things of this world are passing fast away, and the realities of eternal existence are opening upon our view, the mists of delusion are dissipated, and the true light of conviction usually flashes upon the soul.

III. THE DEATH BY WHICH THE PRAYER WAS FOLLOWED. Lessons:

1. It is a deduction, easily and naturally made from our review of the passage, that doctrinal religion is not a matter so unimportant as rational divines would persuade us to believe.

2. I add that faith in doctrines, unattended and unevidenced by practical religion, will serve rather to condemn than to save.

(R. P. Buddicom, M. A.)

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