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Sunday, July 14th, 2024
the Week of Proper 10 / Ordinary 15
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Bible Commentaries
Acts 7

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Verses 1-60

Acts 6:0 ; Acts 7:0


From the history of Stephen we learn:

I. That fidelity to truth provokes antagonism; holiness and sin are mutually repellent; love and selfishness are the opposites of each other; and sooner or later the followers of the one will come into collision with the votaries of the other. The opposition of the ungodly is one of the seals to the genuineness of our discipleship; and if we bear ourselves rightly under it, who can tell but that it may be the occasion of blessing to multitudes? The banner which hangs in idle folds round the flagstaff in the sultry stillness of the summer noon, is fully unfurled by the wild rudeness of the wintry wind; and men may see in the latter case the emblem and inscription which were invisible in the former. Even so the antagonism of our spiritual adversaries is valuable, in that it brings forth anew those traits of Christian character and points of Christian doctrine which otherwise would have been unobserved.

II. The deep interest which the glorified Redeemer has in His suffering followers. He cannot sit in such an emergency, for He is Himself persecuted in His dying disciple, and must go to soothe and sustain Him. Our foes can strike us only through our Saviour's heart. He is our shield and buckler, our high tower and our deliverer.

III. The peacefulness of the believer's death. "When he had said this, he fell asleep." These words tell of the peace that was in the martyr's heart. You cannot go to sleep with anxiety fretting your spirit; but when your mind is calm and undisturbed, then the night angel comes to you with her gift of forgetfulness and her ministry of restoration. So when we read that Stephen fell asleep, we see through the words into the deep unbroken quiet of his soul.

IV. Words which seem to have been in vain are not always fruitless. Stephen's defence was unsuccessful so far, at least, as securing the preservation of his own life was concerned. But his argument was not lost, for when not long afterward the zealous Saul was converted on his way to Damascus, this address, I have no doubt, came back upon him, and became the means which, in the hands of the Holy Ghost, were used for his enlightenment in the significance of the gospel of Christ.

W. M. Taylor, Paul the Missionary, p. 1.

References: Acts 7:2-17 . E. M. Goulburn, Acts of the Deacons, p. 80. Acts 7:9 . Preacher's Monthly, vol. iv., p. 61; E. D. Solomon, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xxvii., p. 235.Acts 7:9 , Acts 7:10 . J. N. Norton, Old Paths, p. 104.Acts 7:13 . Spurgeon, My Sermon Notes, Gospels and Acts, p. 183.Acts 7:20-22 . F. W. Robertson, The Human Race, p. 51.Acts 7:22 . H. Wonnacott, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xiv., p. 46. Acts 7:30 . Ibid., p. 59. Acts 7:35 . J. B. Mozley, Sermons, Parochial and Occasional, p. 182; C. J. Vaughan, Church of the First Days, vol. i., p. 244.Acts 7:35 , Acts 7:36 . Christian World Pulpit, p. 75.Acts 7:37-55 . E. M. Goulburn, Acts of the Deacons, p. 126; H. Melvill, Pulpit, vol. iii., p. 1627. Acts 7:38-53 . E. G. Gibson, Expositor, 2nd series, vol. iv., p. 427. Acts 7:39 . H. P. Liddon, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xxx., p. 152; Ibid., Contemporary Pulpit, vol. v., p. 129; Ibid., vol. vi., p. 129.

Verse 44

Acts 7:44

I. The wandering of the Israelites was all a parable. It was, if we may trust apostolic teachings, all a Divine shadow of that great invisible and spiritual society, the yet more mysterious Ecclesia, "the Church throughout all ages" on its mighty march through time, with all its attendant omens and prodigies, for such is the Church everywhere, a witness in the wilderness; such, indeed, is the Church; such are all its varieties of ordinance. It is the perpetual remonstrance against the sufficiency of the seen and temporal; it is a perpetual witness for the unseen and eternal; it is a perpetual testimony for the existence of a spiritual perpetuity and continuity; it is a mysterious procession; infinite aspirations are infused in the soul of man. The tabernacle of the testimony is the story of the Church and the soul a witness for faith. A world with no tabernacle of Divine testimony has a philosophy which only sees the worst, which goes on declaring its dreary monologue that this is the worst of all possible worlds, that sleep is better than waking, and death is better than sleep. In the presence of such thoughts, the sky shuts down upon us, there is no motive in life; as Emerson well says, "This low and hopeless spirit puts out the eyes, and such scepticism is slow suicide."

II. The pulpit has been through all the fluctuating ages a tabernacle of testimony in the wilderness. The pulpit is like that ancient tabernacle of my text, it rests, but it moves: it rests in the ancient truths it was instituted to announce. Christ is final; and, as has been truly said, "Christianity is a fixed quantity, not a fluxion, and Jesus Christ is all in all"; it is a spiritual universe; it has its immense and infinite announcements, which, like the definitions of mathematics and the numbers of arithmetic, are unchangeable and final we cannot go beyond them. We need no new Messiah; we shall find no wiser teacher, no more sufficient Saviour in any time to come. Christianity is complete, like the round globe and the blue sky. In giving to us the principles of the ultimate law of morality, He has exhausted the moral world of its treasures when He proclaims God for our Father. But what an unlimited progress is there in men's ideas and sentiments, and their application to religion; and should not the pulpit be the tabernacle of testimony to these, for the ideas of Christianity are progressive in the human mind? It is not the speculator but God Himself who goeth forth with our armies, who bids us to strike the tent and march forward to some spot where the future shall fulfil itself even as the past has been fulfilled.

E. Paxton Hood, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xxiii., p. 233

Verses 47-50

Acts 7:47-50

The Temples of God.


I. The physical creation. "Heaven is My throne; and earth is My footstool. Hath not My hand made these things?" These words refer directly to the material creation, and imply that God fashioned the heaven and the earth to be a temple to Himself, in which He might manifest His glory.

II. The second creation, or Judaism. God became nearer man in Judaism than in the material creation. He was pleased to concentrate the symbol of His presence in one special locality, first in the Tabernacle, afterwards in the Temple. The Temple on Moriah was not the goal, it was only a stage in the onward march of the Divine economies.

III. The third creation, or Christianity. Christianity is described in prophecy as a "stone cut out of the mountain without hands." God's proper templets holy humanity, and under the Christian dispensation He has found the temple He so earnestly coveted.

J. Cynddylan Jones, Studies in the Acts, p. 159.

References: Acts 7:51 . Parker, City Temple, vol. iii., p. 445.Acts 7:51-53 . S. A. Brooke, Sermons, p. 164.Acts 7:54-60 . H. W. Beecher, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xxvi., p. 422.Acts 7:55 , Acts 7:56 . Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xiii., No. 740; H. Melvill, Voices of the Year, vol. i., p. 58; E. M. Goulburn, Acts of the Deacons, p. 147.

Verse 56

Acts 7:56

The Witnesses for the Glorified Son of Man.

I. When Stephen spoke the words of our text, the truth which he had been proclaiming in all his discourse, which he had perceived to be the subject and climax of all revelation, presented itself to him just as actually as any visible thing presents itself to the eye. It was not a doctrine of the Incarnation which he acknowledged in that hour a mere doctrine would have stood him in little stead. It was a person who stood before him, a person upon whom he might call, in whom he might trust; he was sure that it was life and substance he was in contact with, not hard forms of the understanding. It was a Son of man on the right hand of God, an actual mediator between man and God, one in whom God could look well pleased upon man, in whom man could look up to God and be at peace. Was it not an opening of heaven which disclosed such a union of manhood with Godhead? Did not that opening of heaven foreshadow a shaking of all religions of all polities upon earth which stood on some other foundation than this?

II. St. Stephen's witness is the witness which the Church of God is to bear upon earth. The true martyr the martyr who deserves honour and reverence from men bears that witness and no other. Religious bodies are wrong only in pretending that they have been faithful stewards of the Divine message of men; that their divisions, hatreds, persecutions, have not marred it, broken it, inverted it; that each has not often been used by the wisdom of God to bring forth some witness of it which the other has suppressed or mangled; that there has not been a cry rising out of the depths of the human heart often a cry of bitter wailing and cursing against them all which has also, if we interpret it according to the teachings of Scripture, the same significance. Judging according to human calculations, there never was a time when such men as Stephen were more demanded, or were less likely to appear. But we are not to judge according to human calculations. This is God's own cause, and He will take care of it. In places of which we know nothing, by processes of education which we cannot guess, He may have been preparing His witnesses. They will speak with power to the hearts of men who need a Son of man. They will be sure, even when their own vision is weakest, that the heavens will one day be opened, and that the Son of man will be revealed to the whole universe at His Father's right hand.

F. D. Maurice, Sermons, vol. v., p. 59.

References: Acts 7:56-60 . T. de Witt Talmage, Christian World Pulpit, vol. viii., p. 56; E. M. Goulburn, Acts of the Deacons, p. 165.Acts 7:57 , Acts 7:60 . Expositor, 2nd series, vol. iv., p. 428. Acts 7:58 . Spurgeon, My Sermon Notes, Gospels and Acts, p. 186. Acts 7:59 . J. Pulsford, Three Hundred Outlines on the New Testament, p. 111; Parker, Cavendish Pulpit, vol. ii., p. 181.

Verses 59-60

Acts 7:59-60


I. The faith of Stephen. How was it manifested, and in what respect may we seek to imitate it? Now, I think we may say that as his faith was seen in every part of his trial, so most remarkably in the manner in which he faced death. It was seen in that upward looking of his soul to God in the hour of deepest suffering; it was proved by the cry which he then uttered, "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit." These words, spoken at such a time, must be regarded as the strongest evidence to the reality and soundness of Stephen's faith. They show us that he endured as seeing Him who is invisible. Let us also be prepared beforehand. Let us try now and examine our faith. Do not expect to find comfort from it at the last, unless you have proved and tested it in the course and conduct of your common life. Calls for such proof are daily occurring. We have all periods of sorrow; we are all tried by many infirmities; we are all subject to the loss of health, and to the loss of friends. When such things happen unto us, then is the trial of our faith. Let us take them as sent for our good, our portion of the cross, and let us bear cheerfully our burden; ever amidst the present distress let our eye look steadfastly towards heaven.

II. The charity of Stephen. It was of that kind so commended by the Apostle; that which beareth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things. Martyr as he was, his death had not been that tranquil sleep in the Lord which now it is, had he carried with him to the grave one thought of harm, one feeling of revenge against his persecutors. But then, neither can our death be tranquil except on the same terms. It is not safe for any man to die at enmity with his fellow. Nay, more. It is not safe for any man to live at enmity with his fellow. The very charter by which we hold the promise of God's pardon is that we pardon our brother his trespasses.

H. D. B. Rawnsley, Village Sermons, 4th series, p. 110.

The Martyrdom of Stephen.

I. The first question that we must ask ourselves in reading this story is, "What is the secret of all this meekness and of all this bravery? How came Stephen to be thus self-possessed before the frowning Sanhedrim, fearless amidst that excited multitude in his home-thrusts of truth, brave in the crisis of trial, forgiving at the moment of death?" Men are not born thus. As we mentally put ourselves into his circumstances, we feel that no physical hardihood, no endowment of natural bravery, could sustain us. There must have been some Divine bestowment, in order to secure this undaunted heroism and this supreme tenderness of love. Then, was it a miraculous gift, reserved for some specially commissioned and specially chosen man, or is it the common heritage of all mankind? These are questions that become interesting as we dwell upon the developments of holy character that are presented to us in the life of Stephen. The secret lies in the delineation of the man. He was "a man full of faith and of the Holy Ghost." He did not leap into this character in a moment; he did not spring, fully armed, as Minerva is fabled to have sprung from the brain of Jupiter. There was no mystic charm by which the Graces clustered around him. He had faith, and that faith was the gift of God to him, as it is the gift of God to us. He had the indwelling of the Holy Ghost, and that indwelling is promised to us, as to him, by the blood-shedding of our Surety and Saviour. The only difference between us and him is that he grasped the blessing with a holier boldness and lived habitually in a closer communion with God.

II. The lot of the Christian is, ordinarily, an inheritance of persecution. There was nothing in the character of Stephen to arouse any special hostility. He was reputed learned and honourable, he had refinement of manner, and as the Church's almoner his office was benevolent and kind. But he was faithful, and his reproofs stung his adversaries to the quick. He was consistent, and his life was a perpetual rebuke to those who lived otherwise. He was unanswerable, and that was a crime too great to be forgiven, and so they stoned Stephen. And persecution has been the lot of the Church in all ages.

III. I gather thirdly from this subject that strength and grace are always given most liberally when they are most needed. With special and onerous duty there came to Stephen specially replenished supply. How it rushed in upon him when he needed it! He went into that fierce council unprepared; but how it came upon him the grace, the strength, the manliness, the utterance just as he required it, and lighting up, making him so translucent, so to speak, with glory, that, breaking through the serge and sackcloth of his humiliation, the inner glory mantled out upon the countenance as the morning mantles upon the sky! "As thy days, so shall thy strength be."

IV. We gather from the narrative that death is not death to a believer in Jesus.

"Brutal oaths and frantic yells

And curses loud and deep"

these were the lullaby that sang him to his dreamless slumber. But when God wills a man to sleep, it does not matter how much noise there is around him. "He giveth His beloved sleep."

W. M. Punshon, Christian World Pulpit, vol. vi., p. 385.

References: Acts 7:59 , Acts 7:60 . P. Robertson, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xv., p. 179; J. C. Jones, Christian World Pulpit, vol. vi., p. 385; Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xx., No. 1175; Clergyman's Magazine, vol. v., p. 31.Acts 7:60 . Christian World Pulpit, vol. x., p. 148; C. J. Vaughan, Church of the First Days, vol. i., p. 261; Three Hundred Outlines on the New Testament, p. 112.Acts 7:0 E. G. Gibson, Expositor, 2nd series, vol. iv., p. 425; Homiletic Quarterly, vol. ii., p. 213.Acts 8:1 . H. P. Liddon, Contemporary Pulpit, vol. vi., p. 366; Ibid., Thoughts on Present Church Troubles, p. 63; Ibid., Sermons, vol. ii., No. 1132.Acts 8:2 . Homiletic Quarterly, vol. iii., p. 283; E. M. Goulburn, Acts of the Deacons, p. 189; Bishop Simpson, Sermons, p. 421.

Bibliographical Information
Nicoll, William R. "Commentary on Acts 7". "Sermon Bible Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/sbc/acts-7.html.
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