And they stoned Stephen, calling on God, and saying, Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.
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.)
Parallel VersesKJV: And they stoned Stephen, calling upon God, and saying, Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.