Acts 6Here observe, 1. How the number of Christians increased upon the foregoing persecution: as the Jewish church in Egypt, the more it was oppressed, the more it multiplied; so the Christian church here got ground by opposition; In those days the number of the disciples was multiplied Acts 6:1.
Observe, 2. How the number of believers increasing, there arose (as it too often happens among a multitude) a murmuring among them: The Grecians, that is, such Jews as were dispersed abroad among the Greeks, complaining that their widows were neglected, and received less than the widows of the Hebrews in the daily distribution of the church's money for charitable uses.
Thence learn, That neglect of the poor, particularly of the godly poor, is a sin in all, but especially in the churches of Christ.
Observe, 3. How the apostles desiring to have the poor well provided for, and not having leisure themselves personally to take care of them, advise the church to chuse seven persons out of the hundred and twenty, mentioned chapter the first, to be stewards and dispensers of the church's stock, to distribute the same with equity and indifference to all proper objects of charity without exception.
Thence learn, That a general concern for the poor, and a tender regard to their necessities and wants, is a duty that well becomes the ministers and ambassadors of God: God's poor are his treasure, his jewels, the signet upon his arm; they are always in his eye, and upon his heart: how well then doth it become the ministers of God to take care of them who are so dear to him?
Observe, 4. How the apostles resolve to perform their duty to God and their people, with such zeal and application, as became persons of their holy character and profession. We will give ourselves continually unto prayer, and to the ministry of the word.
Where note, 1. That such as are called by God to the work of the ministry, ought to give themselves wholly to it: We will give ourselves continually thereunto.
2. That a minister's giving himself unto prayer, is as great, if not a greater duty than giving himself to the preaching of the word: We will give ourselves continually unto prayer, and to the ministry of the word: To the one as the end, to the other as the mean; it is God that sets the word on work, but it is prayer that sets God on work: That minister that is not fervent in prayer cannot expect to be successful in preaching. Pray for us, says the apostle to the Thessalonians, that the word may run and be glorified; he that begged prayer of others, did not neglect it himself, but prayed without ceasing.
Observe here, That to remove the forementioned murmuring at the inequality of the poor's relief, seven deacons were chosen to assist the apostles, and to dispose of that treasure (which had been laid down at the apostles' feet) with more indifferency to all fit objects of charity without exception.
Here note, 1. The qualification of the persons chosen; Men full of the Holy Ghost: That is, persons that were extraordinarily assisted by the Spirit to perform the duties required of them; for the office of a deacon was besides the taking care of the poor, to preach the gospel, and to baptize, as it appears Phillip did; had it been only to take care of the poor, they needed not to be so inquisitive to find out men full of the Holy Ghost for that service.
Here observe, That the scripture mentions a threefold fullness of the Holy Ghost, according to a threefold capacity of the receivers.
There is plenitudo sufficientia, the fulness of a vessel; this every believer hath; there is plenitudo abundantia, the fulness of a stream; this the apostles had, when extraordinarily inspired, and filled with the Spirit at the first plantation of the gospel; and there is plenitudo superabundantia, the fullness of a fountain; and this Christ had, It pleased the Father that in him should all fulness dwell Col 1:19.
Note, 2. The manner how these deacons enter into their office; it is by prayer and imposition of hands, They prayed and laid their hands on them Acts 6:6.
This rite of laying on of hands was used anciently upon a threefold occasion in the Jewish church: namely,
in their sacrifices. Exod 29:15.
In their blessing, Gen 48:14.
And in their designation unto a charge or office, Num 27:18.
Thus Moses laid his hands on Joshua; and from hence it was derived and brought into the gospel church, when ministers were ordained by the apostles in the primitive times, they laid their hands upon them, 1Tim 5:22.
Note, 3. The mighty success of the gospel, notwithstanding all the violent opposition that was made against it; The word of God, that is, the doctrine of the gospel, increased, the number of believers multiplied: yea, some of the priest themselves, though formerly bitter enemies to Christ, now embraced the faith, and were joined to the church; great is truth, especially the spirit of truth, and will prevail. Naked truth is too hard for armed error. Truth has the strength of God in it, and therefore human power can never prevail against divine truth. So mighty grew the word of God and prevailed.
Observe here, The great character given of St. Stephen; a man full of the grace of God, full of faith, full of power to work miracles, mighty in word and deed; able to do all things, and to suffer all things through Christ that strengthened him.
Observe, 2. The violent opposition which this good man met with in the way of his duty.
He is, 1. Encountered by disputation with the heads of five colleges in Jerusalem, namely, Libertines, Cyrenians, Alexandrians, Cilicians, and Asiaties.
Behold here, an admirable act kept, wherein St. Stephen was the respondent against whom opponents appeared from all parts of the then known world; but all too few to resist the wisdom and Spirit by which he spake. He asserted the truth so convincingly, that all his opposites had no power to oppose him. See here how faithful Christ was in fulfilling of his promise, I will give you a mouth and wisdom, Which all your adversaries shall not be able to gainsay or oppose Luke 21:15.
2. His adversaries being baffled in their disputes, they burn with revenge; they hire men to accuse him falsely, that they might take away his life. The best arguments of a baffled adversary are ever found to be craft and cruelty: it has been and old artifice of the devil, to swear innocent men out of their lives: And therefore it is next to a miracle, that no greater number of innocent persons have been murdered in the world by perjury and false accusation; when so many thousands hate them, who make no conscience of false oaths.
Observe, 3. The charge and accusation brought against Stephen, that he spake dishonourably of the Jewish religion, that he was continually foretelling destruction to the temple, and threatening the change of all the Mosaic rites. It is very probable, that he told them the shadows and ceremonies were to vanish, now the substance was come; and that the Mosaic rites were to give place, that a more excellent and spiritual worship might succeed. For as God was worshipped aright four hundred years before either tabernacle or temple were built, or the Jewish rites instituted: So he might again be truly worshipped after they were abolished.
Observe, lastly, How almighty God, by a miracle, bears witness to the innocency of his holy servant St. Stephen; and to convince his accusers, that he had done no wrong to Moses, God makes his face to shine now as Moses's face had shined of old, and gave him an angelical countenance, in which appeared an extraordinary lustre and radiancy; not that an angel has a face, or shines visibly; but it intimates that amazing brightness of beauty which was instamped upon the face of Stephen. He now began to border upon heaven, and had received some beams of glory approaching: It pleaseth God sometimes to give his children and servants some prelibations and foretastes of heaven before they step into heaven, especially holy martyrs and confessors, who love not their live unto death: to his name and truth; and as they shall shine forth in the kingdom of their Father, so will God sometimes put a lustre upon their faces here: All in the council saw St. Stephen's face, as it had been the face of an angel.
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