« הקודםהמשך »
attention to that law of God, upon the profession of which they prided themselves. They too were
“ stiffnecked and uncircumcised in heart and ears,” just as their fathers were, through the same resistance of the Holy Spirit. Was there ever a prophet sent to them by God, who had not been received with persecution in some way or other by the former generations of Jews ? nay, they had even put to death those who foretold the coming of that Righteous One who, when He came, had been given up to the Gentiles, and so in fact murdered by those then living. Though they appeared so zealous for the law which they had received of old in the presence, and through the ministration of angels (Gal. iii. 19. Heb. ii. 2), yet they had not obeyed that law.
While proceeding in this way, Stephen was interrupted by the effect which his discourse produced on the members of the Sanhedrim. They could bear his faithful reproofs no longer; but being enraged, they ground their teeth at him with malicious violence. But Stephen did not regard their menaces, for the Holy Spirit took full possession of his heart; and he gazed upwards into heaven, where it pleased God to manifest His glory to him, and where he saw the Lord Jesus Christ at the right hand of God. As the glorious sight was spread before him, he exclaimed that he saw the heavens opened, and Jesus, as the Son of man, standing at the right hand of the glory of God. Upon this, the Sanhedrim were excited beyond all restraint :—they tried to drown his voice by bawling out louder than he spoke; and they put their fingers to their ears, that they might not hear what he was saying, and they rushed forward and bore him along with them as they ran, until they got him outside of the city walls, (as it was contrary to the law to execute a malefactor within the Holy City), and there they proceeded at once to stone him as if he had been a blasphemer, justly condemned by the sentence of lawful judges. (Lev. xxiv. 13—16. Heb. xiii. 11, 12.)
As the crowd of enraged Jews were casting stones at Stephen, he was calling on the Lord Jesus, and earnestly committing his spirit into the hands of his Saviour. He fell upon his knees while doing this, and in this attitude he
received his death-blow and calmly expired the last words he uttered were a prayer to the Lord Jesus, iinploring him not to lay the sin of his death to the charge of his murderers. The witnesses against a criminal were required by the law to cast the stones at him (Deut. xvii. 6, 7); those who were acting this part toward Stephen, threw off their loose upper garments that they might be more at liberty to exert themselves in the work of rage and death; but as there was a crowd about, in the midst of which their clothes might easily be lost, they asked a young man who was standing by, and looking on, to take care of the garments which they hastily flung down before him. This he consented to do; and by this act made himself a party to the death of Stephen, unjust and violent as it was. This man was Saul, who afterwards became the Apostle Paul. (Acts xxii. 20.)
1. The circumstances recorded in this portion, not only display the deep enmity to the Gospel of the human heart, which“ hateth' reproof,” but they shew also the progress by which that hatred leads men from the beginning of opposition, to the end of violence : the manner of acting upon this hatred may be very various; but the principles upon which men oppose the Gospel being the same, the progress will always be in principle similar to that here described. The opposers of the Gospel are quite unprepared for the unanswerable arguments with which it may be supported; they do not scruple therefore to enter into controversy about it, in which they find themselves defeated; but remaining unaffected by the power of the truth, they only become more inveterate in their opposition. Perversions of truth, and mis-statement of doctrines, are no uncommon means to which those resort, who have been unable to resist the Gospel by fair argument; and the attempt at controversy often furnishes opportunity for such setting up of false witnesses, by suggesting some occasion for slander. Those who are led by their enmity to truth to forge or follow up such false statements open their hearts to Satan, and prepare their consciences for more active anger; and when any occasion for persecution is afforded, the tongue
that has slandered the advocates of truth, finds a ready hand to persecute them. This would be carried even to violence and murder if restraint were removed, and circumstances opened the way for such acts; and the true christian is indebted to the providence of God for his safety and his life, rather than to the forbearance of those who stop their ears at the reproofs of the Gospel. The controversy which disappointed these Jews without subduing their hearts, gave rise to their slander of Stephen, upon which they grounded the persecution, which led to his cruel murder.
What effect is produced in me by unanswerable arguments which disprove any religious opinion I may entertain ? am I excited to anger? or subdued to conviction?
2. The previous remarks may apply more particularly to the enmity of a heart which is habitually double; but the portion calls our attention to a similar effect, produced upon one who was certainly sincere and single-hearted in his resistance to the doctrines of the Gospel. Saul testifies to his own state at this time, being one who was blasphemer, and a persecutor, and injurious,” but who “ did it ignorantly in unbelief" (1 Tim. i. 13.); yet we find him consenting to Stephen's death, and becoming a party to the murder by undertaking to take care of the clothes of those who were thereby more active in putting him to death. It is very probable that Saul was led unintentionally into this position; and it is evident that he quietly looked on, without putting his own hand to the work of violence; but we may trace a progress in him even under these circumstances, which is similar in its course to that pointed out in the former application. By passively consenting to Stephen's death, he prepared himself for the active enmity that led him to obtain the commission from the high priest, under which he went about “ haling men and women” (Acts viii. 3),-“ breathing out threatening and slaughter against the disciples”,—and seeking them even in foreign places, to get them punished in Jerusalem. (Acts ix. 1, 2.) So it ever is, that every passive consent to the opposition of the world against christians tends to harden the heart, and prepares it to indulge the excitement of anger against them, which following circumstances may produce. This view of the subject shews it to be as important for the preservation of christian tenderness of feeling, that we should promptly protest against the disparagement of christians, as it is obedient to Christ's word and for his glory, that we should not be ashamed of him and his gospel. Those who are silent in a company where religious persons are spoken against, as such, are not far from the condition of heart which will be glad to raise the outcry against them. Having begun by guarding the garments of active opposers, they are not unlikely themselves to breathe out threatening and slaughter against the true disciples of Jesus.
QUESTION. How have I behaved upon any occasion on which I may have heard religious people and religious subjects treated improperly? Have I promptly defended them? or have I considered it to be no business of mine, and been silent on the subject.
3. But on the other hand this portion supplies us with a splendid testimony to the power of true religion. Stephen
full of faith and power;" and though these were shewn in the "great wonders and miracles" which he worked, yet they were more effectually manifested in “ the wisdom and spirit by which he spake” in defence of the truth-by his calmness in meeting the charges of falsehood -his adaptation of arguments to suit the case
ehis uncompromising faithfulness in stating them—his boldness in making the application of the truth he put forth. These were tokens of the presence of the Holy Spirit by whom he was filled with “ faith and power," surpassing those other evidences in miracles, by which he did but call the attention of the people to the more practical proofs which afford examples for other christians possessing the same Spirit with Stephen (see page 55). It is the same Holy Ghost that inspired Stephen, who bestows the gift of spiritual life upon every true christian; and he will supply a similar power to suit whatever difficulty any disciple may be brought into for the cause of spiritual religion. It is
not superior learning amongst men, but rather the wisdom from on high which fits us for conducting a controversy successfully: the spirit of meekness enabling us to stand calmly under slanderous charges, is the fruit of the Spirit of God within us; the suitable selection of scriptural arguments for defence of the truth does not flow from high talent, but from the direction of the Holy One, who gives his children what to say on such occasions, when they seek him calmly and patiently: the boldness to be faithful at the risk of loss and danger is that courage which comes from “ seeing Him who is invisible.”
Whatever may be the circumstances by which the faith of a true christian is tried, he may ask for that Holy Spirit which was given to Stephen,
and which will not be refused to any who ask faithfully in Christ's name; and he shall find that God will supply him as surely and as suitably as he did in the case of this first martyr of the christian church.
QUESTION. Upon what do I depend in endeavouring to stand up for the truth I profess to believe, when it is assailed by enemies ? Do I seek wisdom, calmness, faithfulness, and courage from the Holy Spirit? or do I depend upon learning, natural temper, talent, or human support? 4. While Stephen's own conduct manifested the
power of the Holy Spirit on whom he depended, he expressly attributed the hardened state of his enemies to their resistance of that Holy Ghost. And it is not only that worldly opposers of spiritual religion do not seek to obtain the Spirit of God within them, but that they constantly resist the blessed influence by which He is ever applying for admittance into their hearts. The workings of conscience the instructions of Scripture, and of those who communicate scriptural knowledge—the dealings of Providence are all channels by which Christ, by His Spirit, approaches the heart: and those who remain worldly under the various influences of all, or any of these means which that Spirit makes use of, may truly be said “always to resist the Holy Ghost.” How awful must be the result of such a resistance, if it continue unto the end !