Acts 7This chapter contains St. Stephen's apology, or defensative plea which he makes for himself: The Jews had in the foregoing chapter accused him for blaspheming their law, and profaning their temple, imagining that Almighty God was so pleased with the temple-service and Mosaic rites, that no other way of worship could be acceptable to him.
Therefore by an historical deduction, he shows them that God was worshipped aright before either tabernacle or temple was built, or any of the Mosaic rites instituted or ordained, and consequently that the true worship of God was not necessarily and inseparably annexed to any of these things.
For the proof of this, he begins at Abraham, and shew them, that he living of old at Ur of the Chaldeans, in the midst of idolators, God was pleased of his free mercy to call him, to enlighten, and draw him to own and worship the true God, and commanding him to leave his native country, and go into a land which he should shew him; He promised to make of him a great nation, and that in him all the families of the earth should be blessed. Now the design and drift of Stephen in this relation, is to prove, that Abraham, from his first call in Chaldea, when he was seventy years old, to the time of his being ninety years old, had served God faithfully all that time, without either circumcision or ceremony, without tabernacle or temple; and consequently, that the true worship of God might be now performed acceptably after these ceremonies were abolished, as well as it was performed before they were instituted.
Learn hence, 1. That religious worship is manifestly due to God by the law and light of nature.
2. That the manner how that worship should be acceptably performed, was not known by the law of nature, but discovered by divine revelation. Adam in innocence knew God was to be worshipped; yet he did not know by what outward acts he was to testify that homage, till God the Sovereign Governor and Supreme Lawgiver did give direction.
3. That the worship due from the creature to God the Creator, is a spiritual worship and ought to be spiritually performed.
4. The Judaical worship, though appointed by God himself, was fleshly and carnal, and never pleased God for its own sake.
5. The evangelical worship being spiritual, and most suitable to the nature of God, is therefore most acceptable and best pleasing to him. The ceremonial worship was therefore good, because God commanded it; but the evangelical worship is therefore commanded, because good.
The legal worship is called flesh in scripture, and a carnal ordinance, in opposition to the gospel, which is called spirit, and a ministration of the Spirit, because attended with a more spiritual efficacy on the hearts and lives of men.
Observe here, The great trial which God put Abraham's faith unto; The Lord promised to give him the land of Canaan for a possession, but he gave him not a foot's breadth: He promised to give it unto his seed, when as yet he had no child; and when God gave him seed, yet they were to sojourn in a strange land, Egypt; and continue there in bondage four hundred years.
Learn hence, That there is no grace which God delights more to exercise and try, than the faith of his people; as faith put honour upon God, so doth God put honour upon faith; and faith never honours God more, nor is more highly honoured by him, than when it is put upon the greatest exercise and trial; That the trial of your faith being much more precious than of gold that perisheth, might be found unto praise, and honour, and glory. 1Pe 1:7
Here the apostle compares faith unto, and prefers it before gold, even the most precious gold purified in the fire. Is gold precious and rare? So is faith. Is gold pure and resplendent? So is faith. Is gold lasting and durable? So is faith. Is gold purified and improved by trying in the fire? So is faith by exercise; as the instance of Abraham here fully proves.
Observe, 2. How God takes Abraham and his seed into covenant with him, and gives him circumcision, the seal of the covenant.
Thence learn, That in the covenant which God made with Abraham, he gave himself to be a God to Abraham and to his seed, and received Abraham and his seed to be a people unto himself.
2. That circumcision was both the sign and the seal of the covenant which God made with Abraham.
1. Circumcision was a sign, and that in several respects:
It was a commemorative sign of God's covenant with Abraham;
it was a representative sign of Abraham's faith and obedience towards God.
A demonstrative sign of original sin, and the depravity of human nature.
A discriminating and distinguishing sign of the true church, and people of God, from all the rest of the world.
An initiating sign, by which all strangers were admitted into the Jewish church.
And, lastly, It was a prefigurative sign of baptism, which succeeded in the room of not only a sign, but a seal also: He received the sign of circumcision, the seal of the righteousness by faith Rom 4:11.
It was a seal on God's part, to confirm all the promises made to Abraham and his seed:
And it was a seal on his and their part, to blind him to renounce the sevice of all other gods, and to oblige them to the observation of the whole Jewish law.
From the history of Abraham, Stephen proceeds to that of Joseph; and shews, as he did before, that Joseph, as well as Abraham, worshipped God acceptably without wither tabernacle or temple, and without such customs as Moses delivered; and consequently, that the worship of God is not confined to an outward temple, or a mosaical ministration; and that therefore it was not blasphemy in him to say, That God might be so worshipped. This is St. Stephen's argument from the instance of Joseph.
As the particular story of Joseph, observe, 1. The great and sore afflictions which befell that holy and good man; he was envied and hated of his brehtren, they conspired against him, and sought to take away his life; he is thrown into a pit, and afterwards sold for a bond-slave to the Midianites; they sell him into Egypt where he was imprisoned so long, till the iron entered into his soul; that is, so loaded with irons, that his flesh was eaten with them.
Learn thence, That afflictions, many and great afflictions, long and sore afflictions, have been, and may be, the lot and portion of the holiest and best of men, and all these occcasioned by their own brethren: Joseph's brethren moved with envy, sold Joseph into Egypt.
Observe, 2. The singular support and comfort which Joseph experienced in, and under, his great afflictions; God was with him. God was with Joseph in Potiphar's house, and gave him favour in the eyes of his master, who reposed an entire confidence in him. God was with Joseph in prison, and caused his imprisonment to make way for enlargement. God was with Joseph in Pharoah's court, and gave him a prudent and provident spirit, making him a father unto Pharoah, and to all his people; giving him also a compassionate and merciful spirit to his brethren; pardoning their cruelties and forgiving the injuries done unto him.
Hence we learn, That all the envy, malice, and mischievous designs of men, shall never be able to hinder or disappoint the purpose and pleasure of God: The Patriarchs, moved with envy, sold Joseph into Egypt: But God was with him.
Observe, 3. The religious desire which Jacob and Joseph, and the rest of the holy Patriarchs had to be buried together in the land of Canaan, Jacob died, and our fathers, and were carried over into Sychem, and laid in a sepulchre. Acts 7:15,16 No doubt, this was done by way of declaration of their own faith and in order to the confirmation of the faith of others, that their posterity whould enjoy and possess that land; so that this act of theirs was a profession of their faith in the promises which God had made to them of their possessing and enjoying the land of Canaan. There is a natural desire in persons to be buried by their ancestors; but here it was a religious desire, they died in the faith of their ancestors, and laid down their heads together upon the same pillow of dust, in hope of a blessed and glorious resurrection.
From the history of Abraham and Joseph, St. Stephen descends to that of Moses; where we have observable,
1. The birth and education of Moses, he was born and hid three months in his father's house; and then being cast out, was taken in by the Pharoah's daughter, and had a noble education given to him; being instructed in all kinds of good literature to fit him for such great services as a prince's court might probably have brought him to: Moses was learned.
Hence note, That the greater men are, the greater should their care be for the learning and religious education of their children; because nothing is more incongruous and unsuitable than greatness of estate and meanness of understanding. It is a shame to great men to breed up their children sensually, to gaming, sporting, and excess, as if an inheritance did serve for no other purpose but to make the heir of it useless, and good for nothing.
Again note, The latitude and extent of Moses's learning. He was learned in all the learning of the Egyptians.
Where remark, 1. The different end which God had in his providence, from what Pharoah's daughter had in her particular care. She intended by this education, of Moses, the good of Egypt; but God intended the good of Israel: She designed the service of Pharoah; but God designed Moses to be a deliverer from Pharoah. Thus the wise and holy providence of God useth the diligence of men to effect and bring things about which they never thought of.
2. We may remark, How that Moses, the great prophet, whom God spake to, mouth to mouth, is here commended for his learning, yea, for Egyptian learning.
Thence we may gather, That human learning is a noble and beneficial gift of God, and a very great ornament and honour unto the greatest and most excellent men; for it is in itself an ornament and perfection to the mind; it renders men the more useful and serviceable in their generation, and a greater blessing to human society, but especially to the church of God.
Human learning indeed is far inferior to holiness: but in holy men, learning is a rare ornament and accession to holiness. Sanctified wit beautifies religion, sanctified reason defends it, sanctified power protects it, sanctified elocution persuades others to the love of it; so that to decry the use of human learning must proceed either from ignorance or from malice, and a desire of having religion betrayed. Let us see that we get our learning seasoned with holiness, that we use it with humility, moderation, and sobriety, as an handmaid unto Christ; not vain-gloriously unto ostentation, not proudly with contempt of others, not heretically in defence of error; never suffering human learning, but divine revelation, to determine articles of faith; then, if with Moses we be learned in all the learning of the Philosophers, the more glory we shall bring to God, and be the more useful and beneficial to mankind.
Observe, 2. As the education of Moses in Pharoah's court, so the time of his continuing ther; namely, till he was forty years old: After which God put it into his heart to visit his brethren, the children of Israel, and to offer himself to be a deliverer to them; and he supposed that they would have understood the purpose of God to save them by his hand, but they understood it not.
But what reason was there for the Israelites to so suppose, that Moses was the person designed by God for their deliverer?
Answer, Very great reason; because
1. They knew that the time of their deliverance did now draw very near.
2. From the extraordinariness of Moses's preservation;
by his being hid three months in his father's house without discovery;
by his floating upn the waters in an ark of bulrushes without danger, when an infant;
they might have rationally thought that such a person was designed by God for very great purposes.
3. From his readiness to defend them at this time, when an Israelite and an Egyptian contended; for it was wonderful, that so great a person as Moses was, and might have been, should concern himself with in a private quarrel betwixt two obscure persons.
Moses might well suppose, that his brehtren would have understood, how that God by his hand would have delivered them; but they understood it not.
Observe, 3. The ill treatment given to Moses, when he offered himself to be a recounciler; they thrust him form them, and expostulate with him, Who made thee a ruler or a judge? The meek man replies, Sirs, ye are brethren, why do ye wrong one to another?
Where note, 1. Who were the persons doing wrong to each other; they were Israelites, both Israelites. To see an Israelite and an Egyptian struggling had been no wonder; but to see two Israelites, who were brethren, brethren by nation, brethren by religion, brethren in tribulation, both of the seed of Abraham, both initiated into the same covenant, both in bondage to a cruel tyrant, Pharaoh, who had condemned them to an ignominious slavery, and designed such a degree of cruelty, as to murder all the male issue; This was an astonishing sight, and Moses might well say, Why do ye wrong one to another?
Plainly implying, that both parties were to blame; but that party most; who would not hear of a reconciliation, or putting a stop to the quarrel; a reconciler is more odious than a stranger in the apprhension of some.
Observe lastly, How Moses being thus ill treated by them, departs from them, and they hear no more of him for forty years, Then fled Moses, and was a stranger in the land of Madian Acts 7:20.
Where observe, The years of Moses's life were an hundred and twenty: Forty years he spent at the court in Egypt; forty years he spent in Madian with his father-in-law Jethro; and the last forty years of his life in the wilderness. Now all this time Moses as a worshipper of the true God, and that in an acceptable manner; and most of this time he worshipped God without either tabernacle or temple.
From whence, St. Stephen draws his argument to prove, that as God was acceptabley worshipped by holy men, before either tabernacle or temple were erected, in like manner he may be so again, after both tabernacle and temple are destroyed; and consequently, that they unjustly accused him of blasphemy, or speaking blasphemous words against Moses, and against God.
St. Stephen here goes on with the history of Moses, and having, in the former verses, made mention of what occurred to him in Egypt and in Madian, here an account is given of what happened to him in the wilderness; and the first thing observable, is the appearance of God to him in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush, which burned, but was not consumed. This bush was an emblem of the church: This bush burning pointed out the afflicted state of the church in Egypt, having a long time been in the fiery furnace there; but the burning bush, not consumed, signified the church's preservation. God was in the midst of the bush, whilst the bush was in the midst of the burning.
Where note, How almighty God, intending to send Moses as a deliverer of his people out of Egypt, gives him a visible sign for confirming of his faith, in the sight of this burning but unconsumed bush:
1. To assure him of his people's deliverance, that though they were now slave in Egypt, yet they should be set free, and instated in a land flowing with milk and honey; next to satisfy him that he should be the instrument to bring to pass so glorious a work.
O how gracious is God's condescension towards his servants, who is pleased, by visible signs, to support the weakness of their faith. The Lord appeared to Moses in a flame of fire in the bush.
Observe, 2. How Moses, in the faith of God's presence with him, protection over him, and assistance of him, goes forth for Egypt, where he works many signs and wonders before Pharoah, at last brings the people forth into the wilderness to Mount Sinai, where God gave them his law, and appointed Moses then to make a tabernacle for his worship.
Now, the use which St. Stephen makes of this, is to convince the Jews, that for above four hundred years their fathers had worshipped God without any tabernacle at all, and consequently, that now that sort of worship was abolished, God might be very acceptably served and worshipped in the absence of it.
Observe, 3. That notwithstanding Moses was raised up by God, and sent to be a deliverer into Egypt, and a lawgiver to the Israelites in the wilderness; yet they rebelled against him, and against God in him; for they ran into the vilest idolatry, even to make and worship a golden calf, to adore the host of heaven, the sun, moon, and stars, for deities; yea, they carried about with them the images and pictures of the heathen gods, Mars and Saturn, with design to worship them, for which gross idolatry God sent them into captivity beyond Babylon.
Hence learn, 1. That there is a strange inclination in man's heart to the sin of idolatry; the reason is, because it is a worship of our own invention. Now, man is most fond of, and forward for, that service of God which is of his own finding out and setting up. We love a devotion of our own devising very dearly.
Learn, 2. That idolatry in worshipping the sun, moon, and stars, is a very ancient sin; both the old Gentiles and old Jews were guilty of it; and consequently, we may infer, that neither antiquity nor universality will bear us out in idolatrous worship. Example is no plea against a rule, nor antiquity against truth: It is no excuse to us, when we do evil, to say our forefathers did so before us.
Learn, 3. That the idolatry of the Jews was a grand iniquity, and much worse than the idolatry of the heathens; the Gentiles knew not God, but the Jews owned him, and gloried in him. But though they knew God, they worshipped him not as God.
Observe, 4. The Israelites being come out of Egypt by the conduct of Moses, and having entered the wilderness at God's appointment and particular direction, the tabernacle for his public worship and serivce erected: This is here called, The tabernacle of witness Acts 7:44; it being the place where God used to witness and manifest his glorious presence, and because the ark of the covenant, the law and the testimonies, were laid up in it, which were witnesses and declarations of God's will how he would be served.
Now this tabernacle was an ambulatory temple, a the temple was a standing tabernacle.
This tabernacle was moveable; they carried it with them from place to place, while they sojourned in the wildrness, and at last they brought it with them into Canaan, Acts 7:45. which tabernacle our forefathers brought in with Jesus, (that is, Joshua, into the possession of the Gentiles, that is, the hand of Canaan, where it continued all the days of David, till Solomon began his reign, who built the temple in a most magnificent and sumptuous manner.)
Here note, 1. That the public worship of almighty God is a moral duty, founded in the light of nature, and the common reason of mankind.
2. That solemn places for public worship have been from the beginning, before the giving of the law. The ancient devotion of the world delighted much in groves, Abraham planted a grove, and called there on the name of the Lord Gen 21:33. This was a sort of oratory or chapel, whither Abraham and his family resorted, to worship the true God. After the giving of the law, while the people of the Jews were in an unsettled condition, God was contented with a mean tabernacle; but when they were settled in Canaan, then a magnificent temple is built, in some measure suitable to the greatness and majesty of that God who was to be worshipped in it.
From whence we may infer, That the public worship of God, though it doth require inward and spiritual devotion, yet, as public, is necessarily external; and as such, it ought to express, in the best manner we are able, that profound reverence which we pay to the divine Majesty.
And therefore, that the circumstances of it should not only be decent, but very solemn and magnificent, the light of nature seems plainly to require, and the gospel doth nowhere gainsay. When David determined to build God an house for public worship, he resolved it should be exceedingly magnificent; which reolution was not a piece of ceremonial piety, but grounded upon a moral and eternal reason, of equal force in all ages; namely, that the greatest and best of Beings be most awfully adored by us in the best manner we are able; and that we declare our high regard and esteem of so glorious a Majesty, by all outward fitting testimonies of respect and reverence.
Observe, lastly, That, after the temple was built, the worship of God was not so tied to that place, as that he could not be worshipped acceptably anywhere else; for God hath declared, by the mouth of his holy prophet, That he delighted not in temples made with hands, as if He were included therein, and bound thereto. Isa 66:1,2
And thus St. Stephen, by a large induction of particulars, made good his defense, that he was not guilty of blasphemy for affirming that Christ would destroy the temple, and change the customs which Moses delivered.
He closes his apology with this argument, That which was not blaphemy to affirm of the tabernacle, though it was set up by God's special appointment given to Moses, is not blasphemy to affirm of the temple; but it was no blasphemy to affirm the use of the tabernacle to have been temporary, and consequently alterable; therefore to affirm the same of the temple is not blasphemy; especially since the Lord hath said, That he dwelleth not in temples made with hands.
Observe here, 1. How St. Stephen, having finished his general discourse in the foregoing verses to the Jews, comes now to a particular and close application of it to them. All the while he was generally discoursing, they were quiet and still, and made no noise at all; for generals do not affect: but when he came to apply it particularly, and say, "You are the men, ye stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart, this enrages them, and drives them into the worst kind of madness.
Learn hence, 1. That the efficacy of the word preached lies in a particular and close application of it to every every man's conscience.
2. That it is ministers great duty not to satisfy themselves with delivering general truths to their people, but they must point at their particular sins (though not at their particular persons) and reprove them for the same, what hazards soever they run, and whatever the event may be. St. Stephen's close preaching here, and impartial reproving of sin, he saw would cost him his life; but, nothing terrified by his adversaries, he spares not to tell them, the greatest of them, of their faults.
Accordingly, observe, 2. The particular sins which St. Stephen here convict them of and reproves them for:
1. The stoutness, and stubbornness, and stiff-neckedness of their hearts; Ye stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart: A metaphor taken from a bullock not used to the yoke, who therefore will not submit his neck to bear it. Wicked men are often called children of Belial, because they will not endure the yolk of obedience; but when God comes to put it upon their necks, they lift up their heel against him.
2. He charges them with rebelling against, and resisting the Holy Spirit of God: Ye do always resist the Holy Ghost; That is, both the outward testimony of the Holy Ghost, speaking to them in the ministry of the prophets and apostles, and also the inward operations of the Holy Spirit, in that work of illumination and conviction which they had been under.
3. For their imitating their cruel ancestors, who killed the old prophets and crucified the Lord of life and glory; As your fathers did, so do ye.
4. For their wicked violatoin of the holy law of God, which was given them by the glorious ministry and proclamation of angels: Ye received the law by the disposition of angels: that is, the angels were testes and internuncii, witnesses and messengers betwixt God and Moses, in giving of the law, or Jesus Christ the angel of the covenant, who is God's messenger, and the angel that appeared to Moses in the bush: He gave the law to Moses, and by Moses to you, which law ye have notwithstanding violated and never kept.
Observe here, 1. The Jews' angry and unreasonable resentment of the foregoing representation; though it was exact truth and matter of fact, yet were they cut to the heart; that is, they were angry even unto madness. Here was a most proper corrosive, and applied by a skillful hand, but they would not let it stick, nor endure a cure; such is the enmity of wicked hearts, that when the ministers of God reprove sin sharply, instead of receiving the message, they rage at the messenger: When they heard these things, they were cut to the heart.
Observe, 2. How they discover their rage against the holy man two ways: by their gestures, and by their actions;
Their gestures made a full discovery of their enraged minds.
1. They gnashed upon him with their teeth; the action of damned fiends.
2. They made a great outery with an unanimous and tumultuous rage; They cried out with a loud voice.
3. They stopped their ears, resolved to hear no more either of his counsels or complaints.
4. They ran upon him with one accord, like persons combined and united together in malice and madness.
5. They cast him out of the city, not out of the synagogue only, but out of the city also. They look upon this good man, of whom the world was not worthy, as a person not fit for human society.
"Lord! why should any of thy present ministers and ambassadors wonder at, or be discouraged by the ill treatment which an unkind world now gives them, when thy blessed aposltes, full of the Holy Ghost, and endowed with power to work miracles, were cast out before us, as the filth of the world, and the off-scouring of all things!"
But this was not all; not only by their gestures, but by their actions did they discover the utmost effects of their rage and malice against this holy and innocent person: for they put him to death; yea, stoned him to death: shooting a whole volley of cruelty at his naked breast; a shower of stones came down upon him, from those hands which ought to have cast the first stone at themselves; but all this did but join him the closer to Christ, the chief Corner-stone; Et per tot lapides petra conjungitur uni.
Learn hence, That it is not in the power of piety and religion to exempt and secure the most holy and religious person either from the attempts of popular fury, or from the stroke of a violent and bloody death; They cast him out of the city, and stoned him.
Observe, 3. What a blessed sight St. Stephen had of heaven, and of Jesus in heaven, to prepare and fit him for his sufferings, and to support and uphold him under them, Behold, I see the heavens opened, and Jesus standing on the right hand of God Acts 7:56.
Blessed Jesus: what encouragement it is to us suffering for thee on earth, to look up stedfastly by faith unto thee in heavnen, who art continually standing there to behold and observe, to strengthen and support, to receive and reward thy suffering servants; to count every stone cast at them, and to revenge all the injuries and wrongs done unto them!
Observe lastly, How these bloody persecutors manage their cruelties under a form of law, that they may appear the more specious. By the law of God, stoning was the punishment due to blapheming; and they that witnessed against the blasphemer were, by the law of God, to cast the first stone at him, Deut 17:7.
Accordingly the witnesses here put off their upper garments, to fit themselves for their bloody work; and a young man called Saul, undertook to look to them, kept their garments for them, and consequently consented unto his death, and had a hand in stoning of him: The witnesses laid down their garments at a young man's feet, whose name was Saul. By consenting to the sins of other men, we certainly become partakers of other mens' sins.
Observe here, 1. The holy deportment of this humble saint at his death; he prays.
Learn hence, That good men should shut up their lives with prayer, and die with prayer in their mouths. Our Saviour did so; his first martyr here did so. St. Stephen imitated the death of Christ, and he imitated Christ in his death: turning from malicious men to speak unto a merciful God in prayer. They stoned Stephen, calling upon God.
Observe, 2. The object of his prayer, or whom St. Stephen prays to, Jesus Christ: He doth not say, "O blessed Virgin! O St. Thomas! O St. Bridget! intercede with my Saviour for me." But he directs his supplications immediately to Christ, saying, Lord Jesus! From whence we may strongly infer the divinity of Christ. Prayer is an act of religious worship, and he that is the proper object of religious worship must be God: Noen must be the object of my prayer, but he that is the object of my faith. How shall I pray to him, in whom I have not believed?
Observe, 3. The subject of his prayer, or what he prays for, his soul. Lord Jesus, receive my spirit; he doth not say, Lord Jesus, save my life, which is in so much danger of being taken away; O, deliver me from the hands of my persecutors, and bring me off safe! Not a word like this; but let it go well with my soul: Lord, receive my spirit.
Learn thence, That the godly man's care, living and dying, is for his soul; because this is the principal and immortal part, because this is the greatest talent that ever God put into our hands, and because the happiness and eternal welfare of the body depends upon the blessed condition of the soul: If the soul be happy, the body cannot be miserable.
Observe, 4. The sweet surrender, the willing and cheerful resignation which the good man makes of his soul into the hands of Christ; Lord Jesus receive my Spirit.
1. The godly man's spirit or soul is his own, he has not sold it to sin, nor pawned it to Satan, nor exchanged it for the world; but he has reserved it for Christ, who redeemed it for him.
Learn hence, It is the duty and disposition of a gracious person, to resign up his soul willingly and cheerfully into Christ's hands, whenever God calls for it; his soul is surrendered by him, not extorted from him. The knowledge that a good man has of Christ's love and care, of his faithfulness and power, encourages him to this resignation, Lord, into thy hands I commit my spirit, for thou hast redeemed it, Ps 31:5 And surely he that redeemed it will not hurt it.
We had St. Stephen's prayer in the foregoing verse for himself: here in this verse he prays for his murderers.
Here note, 1. His pious charity in forgiving his enemies, and praying for them, that God would forgive them also; Lord, lay not this sin to their charge; How doth this holy martyr imitate his dying Saviour? Father, forgive them Luke 23:34.
Note, 2. His regular charity: his charity began at home; he prays first for himself, then for his murderers; first, Lord Jesus, receive my spirit; next, Lord, lay not this sin to their charge.
Where remark, That Christ prayed first for his enemies, then for himself, Father forgive them: Father, into thy hands I commit my spirit Luke 23:35,36; but St. Stephen intercedes first for himself. The reason of the difference is this, Christ needed no prayer for himself, but Stephen did: We are to love our enemies as ourselves; but Christ loved his enemies above himself, and better than himself. Christ's love to his enemies was the copy and pattern, St. Stephen's but the transcript.
Note, 3. His holy fervency in prayer: he cried out with a loud voice, endeavouring by the cry of his prayers to drown the noise of the stones which rattled about his ears, and to divert that shower of vengeance form them, which their shower of stones upon him deservedly called for from heaven.
Note, 4. The holy martyr prayed for himself standing, but for his enemies kneeling. Acts 7:59. He stood when he said, Lord Jesus, receive my spirit; but Acts 7:60 when he said, Lord, lay not this sin to their charge, he kneeled down and cried. He was more importunate for his enemies, than he was for himself. How near did St. Stephen, the first martyr, come to his blessed Master Jesus Christ, in praying for his enemies?
Note, 5. The success and benefit of his prayer: God heard and answered Stephen's prayer in Paul's conversion, recorded in the ninth chapter. Si Stephanus no orasset, Ecclesia Paulum non habuisset, saith one of the ancients; "Saul's conversion was owing to St. Stephen's intercession."
Note, 6. The holy man's exit and happy conclusion. He fell asleep.
Where note, 1. The thing recorded of him is his death.
2. The metaphor which his death is set out by, and clothed with, and that is sleep.
3. The circumstance of time when he fell asleep, namely, after he had served Christ, and suffered for him.
Learn thence, That is is a blessed thing when death calls us off the stage of this world, after a life of service and suffering: When he had so said, he fell asleep.
Happy is that Christian who falls asleep with his Lord's work in his hand.
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