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THE SIGHT OF JESUS IN GLORY.
BY REV. MARTIN H. RICKETTS, M.A.,
(Vicar of Hatfield and Grendon Bishop, Diocese of Hereford.)
HEBREWS XI, 27.
“He endured, as seeing Him Who is invisible.”
Say what we will it seems strange that S. Stephen's day should be fixed not merely within the recognised limits of Christmastide, but on the day immediately following the Nativity itself.
We wake this morning with all the peaceful and happy thoughts of yesterday still present with us. The glorious Christmas Anthem is echoing in our ears : the “good tidings of great “joy” are, it is to be hoped, making yet more gracious music in our hearts. We hear the bells calling us again to the House of God. Surely it must be that we may thank Him more for the gift of His Son. Surely we are to continue our rejoicing in the recollection of some touching incident of the birth of the Lord Jesus.
But no! It is not of the manger-cradle of Bethlehem, or of the Blessed Child sleeping on the Virgin Mother's breast, with adoring angels hovering round, and the song of Heaven breathing of God's glory above, and of peace and good will on earth,-it is not of these we are now to think. Rather is it of a scene of violence and blood; of men's fierce passions contradicting the Divine purpose of love. We gaze on a gentle Saint, with a beautiful light resting on his face, and his hands raised in prayer, sinking beneath the crushing blows of murderers, dying because that Name, which we suppose all the world to rejoice in, stirs up only hate and malice in those unbelieving hearts.
Several reasons have been given for this placing of the commemoration of S. Stephen, the first conscious Martyr, (together with that of S. John and that of the Holy Innocents, who were martyrs in different degrees), so close to the birthday of the Lord. Some say it is because the Church would have us temper holy gladness with graver memories, since unmixed joy can never be man's portion here. Others tell us that martyrs are thus associated with the Saviour Who is come, because they who shall be nearest to Him in Heaven are His fittest attendants now. And in S. Stephen's case, it is added, there is a special cause, inasmuch as his birth into a better life so grandly illustrates the power of Christ's Birth among men.
But whatever may have been the intention of those who thus fixed S. Stephen’s day, his history suggests some useful Christmas thoughts. We might say this with its more obvious lessons in our minds. It supplies us with a glorious example of firmness in the cause of Him Whom we are professing to love; a firmness which should show itself, if the trial came, even unto death. It illustrates the victory which faith in Christ can obtain under circumstances the most painful to our earthly nature. It assures us how through the little Child born into our mortal life, death is henceforth changed for us into a peaceful childlike sleep. And perhaps above all it reminds us at this special season of love how a man like ourselves may by grace be enabled to imitate Christ's great love, even praying for those who are despitefully using and persecuting, nay kill
Yet there is something more.
courage and calmness? What was it which, by the power of the Holy Spirit, nerved, supported, and directed him throughout ?
As he stood on his defence "all that sat in the “council looking stedfastly on him, saw his face as “ it had been the face of an angel.” When his enemies, unable "to resist the wisdom and the spirit by which he spake”, cut to the heart by his just reproaches, “gnashed upon him with “their teeth,” and dragged him out of the city to die, there was something which made S. Stephen actually Christlike. He was Christlike in his endurance, and Christlike in his prayers.
It was this. From the first his faith was so bright and clear that, as is recorded of Moses in our text, “he endured as seeing Him Who is invisi“ble." And when the crisis came a special sight of Christ was vouchsafed him. As, "full of the “Holy Ghost,” S. Stephen raised his stedfast eyes to heaven, he “saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God.”
This carried him through it all. Jesus was there visible and real to him.
Beaten down upon his knees, crushed to the very earth beneath
the pitiless pelting at that bloody storm,” he sees his Lord, and it is enough. Absorbed in
that Presence, he takes little heed of anything beside. He is conscious of the savagery around him, and feels the agony inflicted on his bruised and battered body, only so far as to be moved to pity for his murderers, and to pray, “Lord, lay “not this sin to their charge.” Then, sweetly as a child watched over by a fond parent, the martyr fell asleep beneath the smile of Christ.
It matters not how S. Stephen saw his Lord, whether by the natural eye supernaturally aided, or by a spiritual impression produced inwardly. Certainly the occurrence is mentioned as if it were sober fact. It is recorded like other facts by the sacred writer before he quotes S. Stephen's exclamation which describes that which he saw. And as sober fact most earnest Christians must regard it. But, even if it were a vision, it was a vision of that which was real. The Holy Ghost would not make S. Stephen think he saw that which had no actual existence. It was because Christ, the Son of Man, still in His human nature which is glorified at the right hand of power, was à living reality to S. Stephen, because he saw Christ as clearly as he saw things around him on this earth, that he had courage, and unselfishness, and peace. He indeed“ endured as seeing Him”