Acts 7:60
Falling on his knees, he cried out in a loud voice, "Lord, do not hold this sin against them." And when he had said this, he fell asleep.
Sermons
Death a SleepR. Brodie, A. M.Acts 7:60
Death a SleepJ. Cumming, D. D.Acts 7:60
Death a SleepH. W. Beecher.Acts 7:60
Death to the Believer: WhatW. Mudge, B. A.Acts 7:60
Forgiveness: a Sign of a Noble NatureLaurence Sterne.Acts 7:60
Forgiveness: its NatureG. Thring, D. D.Acts 7:60
Forgiveness: its NobilityLord Bacon.Acts 7:60
Forgiveness: its Rarity in HeathendomEcce. HomoActs 7:60
Forgiveness: the Mark of a ChristianCawdray.Acts 7:60
Forgiveness: the Power of Christ Necessary ToPhillips.Acts 7:60
Stephen's SleepJ. Donne, D. D.Acts 7:60
Stephen's Three CrownsK. Gerok.Acts 7:60
The Best Testament of a ChristianStarke.Acts 7:60
The Blood of the Martyrs the Seed of the ChurchArchdeacon Farrar.Acts 7:60
The Cross of Christ Reflected in Stephen, Living and DyingK. Gerok.Acts 7:60
The Death of StephenJohn Ramsay, M. A.Acts 7:60
The Magnanimity of the Christian SpiritG. N. Judd, D. D.Acts 7:60
The Power of Christ in BelieversLeonhard.Acts 7:60
The Prayer of StephenFriedrich Schleiermacher Acts 7:60
The Request of StephenSchleiermacher.Acts 7:60
The Sleep of DeathC. F. Secretan, M. A.Acts 7:60
The Victory of Dying StephenK. Gerok.Acts 7:60
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 he kneeled down, and cried with a loud voice.
To commend —

1. His soul to heaven.

2. His body to the earth.

3. His friends to the Divine protection.

4. His enemies to the Divine compassion.

(Starke.)

I. HE STRENGTHENS THEM TO BOLDNESS IN CONFESSING, the power of which their enemies cannot resist.

II. HE ADORNS THEM WITH PURITY OF CONDUCT, which the tongues of blasphemers cannot stain.

III. HE FILLS THEM WITH A TENDERNESS OF LOVE, which prays for their bitterest enemies.

IV. HE SWEETENS THEIR DYING with a blessed insight into His eternal glory.

(Leonhard.)

I. THE FAIR CROWN OF GRACE, with which the Lord adorned him in life and death.

II. THE BLOODY CROWN OF THORNS, which he wore after his Saviour in suffering and death.

III. THE HEAVENLY CROWN OF GLORY, which was reserved in eternity for the faithful martyr.

(K. Gerok.)

I. He triumphs over THE MURDEROUS CRY OF A HOSTILE WORLD by a look of faith to heaven.

II. He overcomes THE SHARPNESS OF DEATH by a child-like surrender of his spirit into the arms of Jesus.

III. He triumphs over FLESH AND BLOOD by a priestly petition for his murderers.

(K. Gerok.)

I. THE SHAME OF THE CROSS.

1. Before the same council.

2. The like false accusations.

3. A similar thrusting out of the city.

4. The like unrighteous doom.

II. THE GLORY OF THE CROSS, displayed —

1. In courageous defence.

2. In patient meekness.

3. In love, blessing its enemies — Jesus' first and Stephen's last dying words.

4. In a blessed hope of heaven.

(K. Gerok.)

Lord, lay not this sin to their charge
The request —

1. Of one dying.

2. Of a soul that entirely forgets itself.

3. Of a man who is striving after nothing but the kingdom of God.

(Schleiermacher.)

This is shown by —

1. The victories it achieves over the corrupt affections of the human heart.

2. Its superiority to the principles, spirit, and practices of the world.

3. Its fortitude under the infliction of unprovoked injuries.

4. The support and consolation which it gives in seasons of pain and sorrow, and the victory it achieves over the king of terrors.

5. The benevolence and grandeur of its purposes, and the labours and sufferings which it prompts in the execution of them.

(G. N. Judd, D. D.)

A forgiving spirit is a noble, generous Christian virtue. It takes its rise in that love of God and man which is the fruit of the Spirit and the fulfilling of the law; it is made up of love and forbearance, united with the tenderness of compassion towards those who have injured us, and fortified by some just sense of our own sinfulness and need of forgiveness from God. In the full sense of the thing itself, it consists of the inward spirit of forgiveness and the outward act of reconciliation. It belongs to the heart, just as every other grace has its seat in the inner man. In this view of it, it is the opposite of revenge, which angrily seeks redress for injuries by inflicting injuries in return. It is the inward exercise of kindness and good-will toward our enemies.

(G. Thring, D. D.)

Ecce. Homo.
Of forgiveness, we cannot certainly say that it was unknown to the ancients; under certain conditions, no doubt, it was very common among them. In family life, in which all the germs of Christian virtue are to be found, it was undoubtedly common. Undoubtedly friends fell out and were reconciled in antiquity, as amongst ourselves. But where the only relation between the two parties was that of injurer and injured, and the only claim of the offender to forgiveness was that he was a human being, then forgiveness seems not only not to have been practised, but not to have been approved. People not only did not forgive their enemies, but did not wish to do so, nor think better of themselves for having done so. That man considered himself fortunate who on his death-bed could say that no one had done more good to his friends or more mischief to his enemies. The Roman Triumph, with its naked ostentation of revenge, fairly represents the common feeling of the ancients. Nevertheless, forgiveness of enemies was not unknown. They could conceive it, and feel that there was a Divine beauty in it; but it seemed to them more than could be expected of human nature — almost superhuman.

(Ecce. Homo.)

Generous and magnanimous minds are readiest to forgive; and it is a weakness and impotency of mind to be unable to forgive.

(Lord Bacon.)

The brave only know how to forgive; it is the most refined and generous pitch of virtue human nature can arrive at. Cowards have done good and kind actions; cowards have fought and even conquered; but a coward never forgave: it is not in his nature; the power of doing it flows only from a strength and greatness of soul, conscious of its own force and security, and above the little temptations of resenting every fruitless attempt to interrupt its happiness.

(Laurence Sterne.)

As a seal leaves a mark of itself in the wax, whereby it is known; so it is with every one who has a readiness to forgive others: for by it the Christian may know that God hath sealed the forgiveness of his sins upon his heart.

(Cawdray.)

"What can Jesus Christ do for you now?" said an inhuman slave-master, when in the act of applying the lacerating whip to an already half-murdered slave. "Him teach, me to forgive you, massa," was his reply.

(Phillips.)

And when he had said this, he fell asleep
I. EVERY MAN IS BOUND TO DO SOMETHING BEFORE HE DIE.

1. Every man is bound to be something, to take some calling upon him. We begin with our beginning, our birth. "Man is born to labour" (Job 5:7; Hebrews). Howsoever honourable his station is, he is bound to do his day's work in the day, the duties of the place in the place. How far is he from doing so who never so much as considers why he was sent into this world, and in spite of all that God has done for him, and taught him in creation and redemption! Such a man passes through life as an ignis fatuus, which gives no light, and signifies nothing. He passes out of the world as a body out of a bath, when the water may be the fouler, but otherwise retains no impression; so the world may be the worse for his having lived in it, or else retains no mark of his having been here. When God placed Adam in the world He enjoined him to fill, subdue, and rule it; when God placed His children in the land of promise He enjoined them to fight against idolatry — to everybody some task for His glory. God made every man something, but many make the best of things, man, nothing. He that qualifies himself for nothing does so; he whom we can call nothing is nothing. God's own name is "I am" — Being, and nothing is so contrary to God as to be nothing. Be something or else thou canst do nothing, and till thou hast done something thou canst not sleep Stephan's sleep.

2. Every man is bound to do seriously, sedulously, and sincerely the duties of his calling. He that stands in a place and does not the duties of that place is a statue, and a statue without an inscription. The duty in the text is speaking, "When he had said," a duty devolving upon ministers and magistrates, and unless they speak, and speak to purpose, they cannot sleep Stephen's sleep. But as in creation God does as well as says, so we must not only speak, but act. Therefore do not complain that God exacts the duties of thy place, and say not of it that it is good for nothing, for it is good for this that when thou hast discharged its duties thou mayest sleep Stephen's sleep.

3. The better to perform those duties every one shall do well to propose to himself some example to imitate in that calling, It was the counsel of that great little philosopher, Epictetus, whensoever thou undertakest any action to consider what a Socrates or a Plato would do in that case, and to do conformably to that. Here is an example which suits everybody.(1) Note this name, Stephen, a crown — the reward of faithfulness. Our names are debts; every man owes the world the signification of his name, and every additional name of honour or office lays a new obligation on him; and his first name, his Christian name above all. The duties of a Christianity must weigh down the duties of all other plans.(2) He became a disciple early, and therefore takes rank even before Paul.(3) He made his ambition only to serve Christ, and not in a high place, but as a deacon.(4) But Stephen's exemplariness consists not so much in what he did as in what he suffered. He cheerfully laid down his life for Christ's sake. To suffer for God is the greatest thing in the world, except God's sufferings for man. The latter was the nadir of God's humiliation, the former is the zenith of man's exaltation. Nor is it needful to suffer death to imitate Stephen. Every man who suffers injuries without resentment, who resists temptations from power or pleasure, who cheerfully bears God's crosses, is a true copy of Stephen.(5) Christ was his and our supreme pattern, as we see conspicuously here.

II. TO THAT MAN WHO HATH DONE THOSE THINGS WHICH THE DUTIES OF HIS CALLING BIND HIM TO, DEATH IS BUT A SLEEP. There are two classes of men, those who die in the bath of a peaceable, and those who die upon the wreck of a distracted conscience — and the lives of each are correspondent to, and lead up to their death.

1. The death of the wicked is not a sleep.

(1)It is bloody conflict and no victory.

(2)It is a tempestuous sea and no harbour.

(3)A slippery height and no footing.

(4)a desperate fall and no bottom.

2. The death of the righteous is a sleep. They do not only go to heaven by death, but heaven comes to them in death; their very manner of dying is an inchoative act of their glorified state: therefore it is not called a dying, but a sleeping, which intimates two blessings —(1) Present rest. Now men sleep not well fasting; nor does a fasting conscience, a conscience that is not nourished with a testimony of having done well, come to this sleep. "The sleep of a labouring man is sweet," and to him that laboureth in his calling this sleep of death is welcome (Proverbs 3:24; Psalm 4:8).(2) Future waking is the resurrection (1 Thessalonians 4:14). They shall awake as Jacob did, and say as he said, "Surely the Lord is in this place, and this is none other than the house of God and the gate of heaven."

(J. Donne, D. D.)

I. IN STEPHEN WE HAVE A PATTERN OF FAITH. He knew and was persuaded that his gracious Redeemer reigned on high, that He was not unmindful of His followers on earth, and would keep that which was committed to Him till the day of His appearance. Depending on this hope, he died with a composure and magnanimity which religion alone can produce.

II. IN STEPHEN WE HAVE AN EXAMPLE OF UNSHAKEN CONSTANCY IN OBEDIENCE TO GOD. When he was chosen a deacon to assist the apostles in managing the concerns of the Church, he had a high character for piety, integrity, and wisdom. Nor did he ever afterwards do anything to forfeit that character. On the contrary, the more he was tried, the more his virtues shone forth. Let his unshaken constancy be a pattern to us. Religion does not consist of fits and starts of devotion, of resolutions that are quickly made and as quickly abandoned, of that wavering and inconsistent conduct which always indicates unsoundness in the faith. It is a steady principle abiding in the heart and influencing the conduct.

III. IN STEPHEN WE HAVE A PATTERN OF PIOUS RESIGNATION. No complaining words proceeded from his lips. He discovered no distrust of the power, or the love of his Saviour. We may not have trials to endure, like Stephen, but we are placed in a situation which will afford ample scope for the exercise of resignation. We are subject to sickness, losses, and disappointments, together with innumerable vexatious circumstances, which we cannot prevent. We should ever remember that God is the sovereign disposer of all events; that He has a right to place us in what station, and expose us to what sufferings He pleases. But though the sovereignity of God over His creatures be absolute, yet we know that He doth not afflict willingly, nor grieve the children of men. These very sufferings may be the means of our salvation. Such considerations will prevent murmuring, and dispose us to a calm acquiescence in the appointments of Providence. This pious principle will diffuse its benign influence over the whole soul. It will soothe our sorrows, overcome our angry passions, and sweeten the bitter cup of life. The God whom we serve will grant us support and consolation here, and bestow upon us unspeakable happiness hereafter.

V. IN STEPHEN WE HAVE A PATTERN OF FORGIVENESS. If we examine the history of the world, we shall find that many of the evils which from age to age have afflicted mankind, have arisen from a revengeful and unforgiving spirit. In ancient times this spirit, exerting itself without control, diffused over every land its baneful influence, producing contention and strife and every evil work. This spirit, so adverse to human improvement, our Saviour set Himself upon all occasions to correct and to subdue. He inculcated brotherly love to an extent till then altogether unknown. "Love your enemies," etc., "If we forgive not our brethren their offences, neither will God forgive us our offences." This consideration should lead us earnestly to cultivate a meek and forgiving spirit. In this spirit there is a dignity, a magnanimity, an excellence, which the sons of dissipation and the votaries of pleasure may envy and ridicule, but which the Christian, who aspires to the inheritance of the blessed, will cherish as one of the highest attainments that can adorn his character. And while he does so, every revengeful principle will die in his breast. He will be at peace with all mankind, " and the peace of God which passeth all understanding will keep his heart and mind through Christ Jesus."

(John Ramsay, M. A.)

? —

I. WHAT DEATH IS TO THE BELIEVER.

1. A sleep. The expression conveys a sweet idea of placidity and calmness. The day of life declines; the shadows of its evening fall around; wearied and exhausted nature needs repose; its strength is weakness, yea, it may be labour and sorrow, and in the appointed moment the believer falls "asleep."

2. Nor is it a troublous rest: it is a peaceful sleep. "Mark the perfect man... for the end of that man is peace." The stroke of death — the pain of dissolution, is, as it were, but the kind alarm which leads a child of God to shelter himself more closely in the bosom of God's paternal love. Since the Redeemer died, death has been abolished in its penal terror. By descending, too, into the grave, He has dispelled the grave's dark horrors, and sanctified the resting-place of His dear and believing people. The grave, therefore, is now no more than the bed where the mortal remains of the believer rest in peaceful hope.

3. A sleep from which he shall awake. "Them that sleep in Jesus will God bring with Him" to reward them. The night of the grave will pass away; the morning of the resurrection-day will dawn, and the dead in Christ shall rise first. Nothing shall resist the voice which will say, "Come forth."

4. A sleep into which, when once awakened, he will fall again no more. "Death hath no more dominion over" Christ: death shall have no more dominion over one that believes and loves and serves Him, and is "risen together with Him." As surely as "He that was dead, is alive again and liveth for evermore," so surely shall the believer rise to live for ever. In the new heavens and the new earth "there shall be no more death." The purified and ennobled powers of a glorified saint, will be too vigorous ever to need repose again. No "second death" awaits the believer. The gift of God is eternal life; "whoso liveth and believeth in Him shall never die." Thus "the righteous hath hope in his death."

II. WHENCE IT IS HE DIES SO CALMLY. Simply because he is a believer. By faith he becomes interested in all the benefits which result from "the meritorious cross and passion" of Jesus Christ. Like the martyr Stephen, the believer —

1. Partakes of the Holy Ghost.

2. Sees Jesus standing on God's right hand — not indeed as Stephen visibly, but by faith. And "where He is those who believe on Him may be also." In a persuasion of this sweet truth, the believer may smile in death.

3. Has a Friend, to whose care he may commit his departing spirit. Unspeakably precious is this privilege. Our earthly friends may go with us, in their kind solicitude, to the verge of death; but there the dearest ties must be severed, and a last adieu be bidden. One there is, however, that can be with us in the shadowy vale, support and cheer us through it, and while our mortal eyes are closing on all terrestrial objects, He can give to our faith such brightening views of celestial glory as will enrapture our departing spirits, and fill them with desire to wing their upward flight. As amidst the ocean's billows the shipwrecked mariner will cling with increasing tenacity to the floating plank, so amidst the agonies of death the believer lays a firmer and still stronger hold upon the hope of life in Christ. He sees his Lord above him: and whilst he hears the gracious words, "Fear not, for I am with thee," "Receive my spirit," may he cry; and very gracious will the Lord be to him at the voice of his prayer. "So the Lord giveth His beloved sleep"; and hence it is the believer dies so calmly.In conclusion let me exhort you —

1. To awake from the slumbers of sin. How many, alas! are there "dead in trespasses and sins"! While they continue so, they cannot possibly "sleep in Jesus" or "die in the Lord." Do not be saying in your heart, "A little more sleep, a little more slumber, a little more folding of the hands to sleep." Take care lest your sleep in the death of sin be perpetuated till you sleep in the death of nature. Take care lest when "many of them who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake," you rise — not to shine as the firmament and as the stars for ever and ever, but to shame and everlasting contempt.

2. To believe on the Lord Jesus Christ. Without Him, to die peacefully, in the Scripture sense of the word, would be impossible.

3. To do immediately what you purpose doing. "Now is the day of salvation."

(W. Mudge, B. A.)

Sleep is not unfrequently used by ancient heathen writers for the same general purpose of denoting the termination of human life. The still, quiescent state into which man passes when he sinks into repose is no unapt image of what takes place in appearance when man expires, more especially if under circumstances of gentle dissolution. It was only in such circumstances that the metaphor would have been deemed appropriate by a heathen, and would not probably have been used in a case like the present. To one, however, who, like the author of this history, regarded the present life as introductory to a better world, and who held the doctrine of the resurrection, death under whatever circumstances was regarded as being merely a sleep. This language suggests two ideas.

I. THE STATE OF THE GRAVE IS NOT PERMANENT: it is a sleep.

1. Sleep is not the extinction, but a suspension, of the faculties, and extends only to the body. The mind continues its activity, and when we awake the two continue as before to act together. Death is not the final end of man. The stroke which consigns the body to the grave does not destroy the active, functions of the soul. It still subsists in a state of consciousness, and at the resurrection it will be again united to its corporeal companion. He whom Stephen saw standing on God's right hand had formerly suffered the pangs of dissolution.

2. On the subject of the resurrection many difficulties have been proposed and questions started, and some have taxed ingenuity in framing answers. But, perhaps the best answer is a short and simple one — the resurrection is an act of Omnipotence. If this is admitted, to speculate on the supposed obstacles to its accomplishment is useless. Is anything impossible with God? But independently of Divine revelation, there are many presumptions of the resurrection. Inanimate nature undergoes an annual death and resurrection. But however striking vegetable analogies are, they afford a far less satisfactory presumption of immortality than that which is derived from contemplating the sufferings of good men, and to which even their virtues in some cases contribute. Can it be that the man, like Stephen, shall have no other recompense for his virtues but pain and torture; while ease, affluence, and secular honours shall be the lot of those who have been his tormentors?

II. THE STATE OF THE GRAVE WILL, TO THE CHRISTIAN, BE IN ITS CONSEQUENCES IMPROVING. It is a sleep.

1. All have experienced the feeling induced after a day of severe exertion. Both body and mind are jaded. You know likewise what in health are the feelings after a night of sound repose; you rise invigorated, and are in some respects new men. In this the resemblance holds between sleep and death. In advanced age the mind and the body equally exhibit symptoms of decay; and disease, at any period of life, will soon produce in both mind and body the effects which are produced by age. When they are reunited, after the body has been raised from the grave, we shall be free from former imperfections, and those numerous sufferings which are connected with the body will he no more known. It must be obvious, however, from this statement, that the analogy in this case is in some respects far less perfect than in the former. In awaking after the slumbers of the night, though invigorated in comparison of what we were at the time when, through the exhaustion of nature, sleep became necessary, there is no alteration in our general condition. It is otherwise after the repose of the grave. On the morning of the resurrection we will not only be different from what we were at the time when natural decay or disease brought on dissolution, but different from what we ever have been.

2. To render a future life an object of desire, it is necessary that it should be an improvement on the present. Take away from the enjoyments of this life the pleasure connected with the hopes of another, and a good man would have little inducement to resume it. If the feelings of the worldly man were analysed, it would perhaps be found that even in his case, at every period of life, it is the hope of something better that is his chief support. Much more is hope the principle of a Christian — a hope which is not restricted to the expectation merely of another life, but includes in that other the expectation of a better. In the Christian this hope will not be disappointed. Of this highly consolatory doctrine Stephen had an ocular demonstration. In what Jesus now is, Stephen saw what His followers shall be.

(R. Brodie, A. M.)

When a person is asleep what is it that rests? It is simply the muscles and the nerves and the weary limbs. The heart goes on beating, the lungs respiring and expiring; and what is remarkable in sleep, the soul never sleeps at all It seems that when one is asleep the soul often travels to far distant lands, or sails upon the bosom of the deep, amid the blue hills and green glens of other parts of the land; exploring, thinking, searching, studying. The soul is never literally dead (though it may forget) to every thought and object, to all that enters by the avenues of the senses. If sleep be the metaphor of death, it does not prove that the soul is insensible, but only that the body, the outward garment only, having been worn and wasted in the wear and toil of this present life, is folded up and laid aside in that wardrobe — the grave — a grave as truly in the keeping of the Son of God as are the angels in glory.

(J. Cumming, D. D.)

You cannot find in the New Testament any of those hateful representations of dying which men have invented, by which death is portrayed as a ghastly skeleton with a scythe, or something equally revolting. The figures by which death is represented in the New Testament are very different. One is that of falling asleep in Jesus. When a little child has played all day long, and become tired out, and the twilight has sent it in weariness to its mother's knee, where it thinks it has come for more excitement, then, almost in the midst of its frolicking, and not knowing what influence is creeping over it, it falls back in the mother's arms, and nestles close to the sweetest and softest couch that ever cheek:pressed, and, with lengthening breath, sleeps; and she smiles and is glad, and sits humming unheard joy over its head. So we fall asleep in Jesus. We have played long enough at the games of life, and at last we feel the approach of death. We are tired out, and we lay our head back on the bosom of Christ and quietly fall asleep.

(H. W. Beecher.)

Asleep amid a storm! "He felt asleep" — not, he died, or he breathed his last, but he fell asleep. "Death is but a sleep; we need no more shrink from dying than from our nightly beds; we may lie down to die with just as sure a hope of rising; we may look forward to it as the release from all the cares, all the work of life." Moses of old had been warned of the time when he should "sleep with his fathers" (Deuteronomy 31:16). The wise man talks of Samuel's "long sleep" (Ecclesiastes 46:19). David, we read, "fell on sleep" (Acts 12:36). Monarch after monarch is laid in his tomb, by the sacred writer, with the short epitaph, that he "slept with his fathers." Daniel prophesies of the time, when "those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake" (Daniel 12:2). Amid the convulsions by which Nature testified her horror at the dread hour of the Passion, "the graves were opened, and many bodies of the saints which slept arose" (Matthew 27:52). So St. Paul (1 Corinthians 15:18, 20; 1 Thessalonians 4:13, 14). Such a faith speaks still upon the walls of the ancient cemeteries in the catacombs of Rome, where to this day the simple inscriptions are preserved, by which faith and affection marked the remains of their lost, in the first and second centuries after Christ. On one we read two words, "Victoria sleeps" — or, "Saturninus sleeps in peace." — "Zoticus is laid here to sleep." — "Domitian, artless soul, sleeps in peace." — "Antonia, sweet soul, in peace. May God refresh her." — "Arethusa sleeps in God." — "He sleeps, but lives." — Laurinia, sweeter than honey, rests in peace." — "On the 5th of November was placed here to sleep, Gregory, friend of all, the enemy of none." — Or, with a studied conciseness, "Clementia, tortured, dead, sleeps; will rise again." Faith loved to dwell upon an image which represented so sweetly her hope in dying. But reason here comes in aid of Faith; and the more closely we look into the nature of sleep and of death, the more exact is the resemblance we shall discern.

1. Sleep, first of all, is a mystery to us. What wonder death should be? Sleep is one of the greatest mysteries of our existence here, so mysterious that were it not so familiar to us, we should every day be wondering about it, that out of the short life God has given us for our probation, full one-third should be spent in a state of inaction, when we can do neither good nor bad. Even so shall we lie inactive in our graves. Is it a mystery, again, how we die? And who can understand how we fall asleep? It comes upon us, we know not how. We cannot recollect it afterwards. Our consciousness dissolves, and we are asleep. And so it may be at death. We lie uneasily on our bed; we try to die: on a moment the last tie is loosed; and, we know not how, we are away. Sleep soothes every pain, forgets every care; angry tempers, disappointments, want, unkindness, all the miseries of life are left behind in a moment. And so it will be at death. A parting struggle or two, one last breath, and "there is neither sorrow nor sighing, neither any more pain, for the former things are passed away."

2. The hours of sleep level all the inequalities of life, and make the poor man as happy as the king (Job 3:17-19).

3. Sleep unlooses all the ties of life, and death breaks them. In sleep the soul is disengaged from the trammels of the body; and thus we may form a conjecture how it will exist separately from it hereafter. We lie asleep, the eyes are closed, the ears are deaf, the hands lie uselessly by our side; but the mind is busily at work, and revolves within itself all those images which have been conveyed into it in our waking hours. We can so, I say, guess how, amid the darkness and silence of the grave, the soul will be able to rehearse to itself all the experience of life; and with the avenue of the senses then cut off, will have material enough within itself for incessant activity and thought.

4. Sleep, instead of contracting the powers of the mind, gives keenness to the memory, and wings to the imagination. And will not this again help us to understand how, when we have left this material world behind us, and the sheath of the body no longer encases the soul and dulls her edge, that the emancipated spirit then will be able at a glance to recall with the exactest truth the entire history of life? And when we read of the books being opened, and the judgment set, and the dead, both small and great, being judged out of the things that were written in the books; what else may be intended here, than this book of memory and conscience, with every old impression revived afresh, so that the sinner sees all his sins before his face, and goes away to his own place, speechless and without appeal, self-condemned? In sleep the mind is emancipated from the restrictions of bodily life, and the limitation of time and space. A succession of images crowd into the minds and we live a life long in a night. This is a sort of foretaste of the freedom from material ties, which the disembodied spirit shall enjoy.

5. It is in the time of sleep, again, that the soul, half-loosened from the body, is most open to communications from the unseen world (Job 33:15, 16). It was in the hour of sleep, in a vision by night, that the angel appeared to Mary, and to Joseph and to Daniel. The spirits of another world may have peculiar access to our souls when we are disengaged from this; and those that sleep in Jesus may so enjoy unrestrained communion with the innumerable company of angels. And the Father of the spirits of all flesh may thus be instructing and preparing them for His glorious kingdom. This long sleep of peace may thus be as needful for the expansion and perfection of our nature, as our nightly slumber is for the growth of our present frame, and for the refreshment of soul and body. Morning after morning now we each may thank our Maker, "I beheld and awaked, my sleep was sweet; unto me"; and every such arising we may hail as an omen of the day, when our eyes shall be opened to behold God's presence in righteousness, when we shall wake up after Christ's likeness, and be satisfied with it. Such a waking, who will not look up and hope after? Such a sleep, who need mistrust or fear? And would we know how we may so sleep with God? A quiet conscience gives the sweetest sleep. Night after night, let us take a closer and closer view of death, and then we shall not start from it when it comes. We shall lie down at last and be glad of it, just as we are glad to fall asleep.

(C. F. Secretan, M. A.)

Stephen was dead, and it might well have seemed that all the truth which was to be the glory and the thought of Christianity had died with him. But the deliverance of the Gentiles, and their free redemption by the blood of Christ, were truths too glorious to be quenched. The truth may be suppressed for a time, but it always starts up from its apparent grave. Fra was torn to pieces, and Savonarola and Huss were burnt, but the Reformation was not prevented. Stephen sank in blood, but his place was taken by the young man who stood by to incite the murderers. Four years after Jesus had died on the Cross Stephen was stoned for being His disciple; thirty years after the death of Stephen his deadliest opponent died also for the same holy faith.

(Archdeacon Farrar.).

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