And Saul was consenting to his death. And at that time there was a great persecution against the church which was at Jerusalem…
This short paragraph is not only full of incident, but of strangely contrary kind of incident. It seems at first a mere medley of facts, history's patchwork, or like some mosaic pretending to no harmony at all. This first impression, however, soon passes off, and each incident of the group assumes yet clearer outline and is seen to fit into its place. The fact still remains, however, that the materials are of very antagonistic kind, and the wonder still remains, broadening more and more clearly to view, that out of all the variety a sovereign power is working a certain unity of result. The martyrdom is at the center of the subject yet. It is the key of the position. It makes a landmark conspicuous far and wide, and a date forever memorable. And this paragraph develops to view a fivefold energy resulting from the martyrdom.
I. IT BRINGS OUT IN BROAD RELIEF OTHER THAN THE LATE HUMBLING ASPECTS OF HUMAN NATURE. (Ver. 2.) Other hearts than those that beat in the breasts of the Sanhedrim are in Jerusalem, other hands than those that stone are at this very moment outside its walls. The triumph has not been an unqualified one. The contrast is a wonderful relief to the strain put on faith, a welcome restorer of hope for human outlook. And one and the same hour shows no doubtful sign of those sternest Works, those tenderest offices of which the angel of Christianity would through all the ages be witness. The storm is spent, and men seek in the morning to bury them - the dead washed ashore. The battle is over, and in the evening men gather their slaughtered to bury them. The cross has done its work, and the sacred body is "begged" and with tenderest care and service is buried. The stoning has finished, and devout men carry mangled limbs to honored burial. Christianity has her chivalry, and the chivalry of Christianity is that purest affection which, mingled with purest faith, before all reverences and mourns her fallen heroes and warriors, though she never excused them while they lived a duty, nor exempted them a pang while they struggled and fought. Most impressive is that which is left to our imagination to fill up. When the last stone had been thrown, and the echoes of howling murderers bad died away, and the mob had swept by, - then "devout men carried Stephen to his burial, and made great lamentation over him."
II. IT FINDS OUT THE TRUE DISCIPLES, AND SCATTERS THEM EACH WITH HIS FRUITFUL INFLUENCE FAR AND WIDE. (Ver. 1.) Persecution - a thing of darkest deeds, a very word of dread - has ever had some crop of most beneficent results. Of it, it may emphatically be said, "Bow no chastening for the present seemeth to be joyous, but grievous: nevertheless afterward it yieldeth the peaceable fruits of righteousness unto them which are-exercised thereby." Persecution:
1. Tries the sincerity of character.
2. It ascertains the dominance of faith or its comparative weakness.
3. It gives faith much stronger hold on its proper object or objects.
4. It chases away vast quantities of vague thought, vaguer feeling, mists that have long misled, and a habit of doubt that has gone far to undermine the nobility of Christian life.
5. It exerts a vast benefit on others. If this be not part of its intention, it is a grand overruled use of it. The happy hour often is touched with the taint of selfishness. The members of happiest family are so united to one another that they render an unfairly small contribution to the happiness that should touch their borders too on all sides. And it has in point of fact often been so with the Church, till," when persecution arises" (which "persecution" may "arise from very various causes, and appear in very various shapes), it is broken in upon, and those who composed it are separated and spread and many a missionary is made (ver. 1).
III. IT FINDS OUT THE CALLED APOSTLES" - TRUE TO THEIR CALL. (Ver. 1.) The believers were scattered. Some voice, some power, or some pure impulse tied the apostles. The post of duty remains so for them, though it become the post of danger. They are to remain yet in Jerusalem, to guide, to comfort, to keep together the lessened flock, and to face fearlessly the enemy. This word, "except the apostles," should be heard like a trumpet-call by the leaders of Christ's flock, at all times, in all places. And does it not indicate that leaders there ought to be, and in this sense, ranks of service - better so called than ranks of office and dignities - in the Church of Christ? The analogy of all nature says, "Yes," supported not only by the "call" and the special "inspiring" of apostles, but by such a fact as that which underlies this exception, "except the apostles." It is left meantime open to us to imagine only why this crisis was not used by those who persecuted to turn a fierce tide of opposition upon the apostles themselves. They must have been easy to find, and they must have been known to be at the root of the whole matter. The most probable account of the matter seems to us to be that the Sanhedrim had already had enough of them, and in interfering with them had been so humblingly worsted (see homilies on Acts 4., 5.).
IV. IT FINDS OUT SAUL, TO SET AN INDELIBLE MARK, NOT ON HIM, BUT RATHER IN HIM. It will seem to the reader at first, perhaps, that it is none but the historian who sets a mark on Saul, and that the mark which he sets is none but an outward mark, though he repeats it three times (Acts 7:58, 60; Acts 8:3). Second thoughts will persuade him of something very different. As sure as ever sureness was, mark surer far than even Cain's mark is being set upon Saul, get where nothing can endanger its lasting depth. Ineffaceable memories are furnishing the secret cabinet of his mind; thoughts and resolutions and strong forces of conviction are being stored there, that no future crowd of cares, or throng of occupations, or tumults of mirth should avail to drive out. In the whole scene Saul takes three parts.
1. He takes a passive part, or what may seem mostly so (Acts 7:58), and then a picture was being photographed on an inner tablet in its stillness, accurate, full, safe, to be permanent also. It was destined for a while, indeed, to be overlaid by other images, fleeting and vain, but after a while to brighten out and become, perhaps, brightest of all except one.
2. Saul takes a consenting part (Acts 7:60). He says nothing against the martyrdom; he looks approval of it. Do they ask whether it is all right and to his mind? - his answer is in the affirmative.
3. Saul takes an active part. Full of zeal, full of fury, full of impetuous, imperious, intolerant determination, he "makes havoc of the Church, entering into every house, and haling men and women, commits them to prison" (ver. 3). He is mercilessly marking himself, unless you say that, with triple mark, another hand, a gracious one, is marking him for mercy - Jesus Christ's own "pattern of all long-suffering" (1 Timothy 1:15). Yes; the Saul of Stephen's martyrdom; the Saul who permitted the polluted garments of those that stoned that saintliest Stephen to lie at his feet for safety's sake; who made himself a consenting accomplice of the causeless murder, and who then girded himself up to the full stretch of his mighty energy to presume to "make havoc" of the flock of Jesus, will make a good pattern indeed, a pattern hard to improve upon - "pattern of the all long-suffering" of that same "Jesus."
V. IT FINDS UTTERANCES ABUNDANT, RINGING, FAR AND WIDE, FOR "PREACHING CHRIST," A THOUSAND-FOLD FOR THE ONE LOVING VOICE THAT HAD BEEN HUSHED. (Ver. 4.) And no thought outside of the rapture of his own soul, delivered unto the glory of God, of Christ, of heaven, could have been more welcome than this to Stephen. His murderous, stoned death, he would have said, was already amply and blessedly revenged. The one thing, "preaching Christ" that caused his death, was multiplied immediately a thousand-fold by that very thing - his death. In his death Samson slew more than all he had slain while he lived in his mighty manhood. Unenviable achievement! Fame unblessed! His seed perish from the earth! But Stephen in his death becomes the means of the offer of life, and doubtless of life too to more, innumerably more than all whom he could reach with all his saintly force while he lived. Honored servant! Deathless renown! His seed" the noble army of martyrs," and converts exceeding the drops of morning dew! No unworthy pendant to the thrilling sacred tale of Scripture itself is the proverb that takes date from this one: "The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church." - B.
Parallel VersesKJV: And Saul was consenting unto his death. And at that time there was a great persecution against the church which was at Jerusalem; and they were all scattered abroad throughout the regions of Judaea and Samaria, except the apostles.
WEB: Saul was consenting to his death. A great persecution arose against the assembly which was in Jerusalem in that day. They were all scattered abroad throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except for the apostles.