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Stephen, permitted to answer to the accusation of blasphemy, sheweth that Abraham worshipped God rightly, and how God chose the fathers, before Moses was born, and before the tabernacle and temple were built: that Moses himself witnessed of Christ: and that all outward ceremonies were ordained according to the heavenly pattern to last but for a time: reprehending their rebellion, and murdering of Christ, the just One; whom the prophets foretold should come into the world: whereupon they stone him to death; who commendeth his soul to Jesus, and humbly prayeth for them.
Anno Domini 34.
Acts 7:2. And he said, Men, brethren, and fathers,— Dr. Benson has illustrated this speech of St. Stephen in a large and very judicious manner, to whom we shall be frequently obliged; and the following introductory remarks from Dr. Ward's 39th Dissertation will serve to shew its general propriety. The charge brought against Stephen, says he, consisted of two parts: that Jesus of Nazareth would destroy the temple where they were then assembled, and change the rites of Moses, Ch. Acts 6:14. The foundation of this charge seems to have been, that Stephen, in disputing with them, had plainly proved, that Jesus was the Messiah. Hence his accusers inferred their charge, fixing upon him their own consequences as his affections, and that with a design to take away his life, for which reason they might justly be called false witnesses, Acts 7:13. But though Stephen had not directly asserted these things, yet were they true in themselves, and might be inferred from the law and the prophets (Deuteronomy 15:0.). He could not therefore deny them; and to have owned them in express terms, would have been to give himself up to their rage and fury. The method therefore which he takes in his defence is, first, to shew them, from theirwritings, that all their former dispensations were to issue in that of the Messiah; and he begins with God's calling Abraham from his country and family, and promising to him and his posterity the land of Canaan for a possession; and it is remarkable, that he does not call it an everlasting possession, as it is called Gen 17:8 which might have seemed not so consistent with their forfeiture of it upon their rejecting the Messiah. Then he observes to them, how their fathers rejected Moses, after the clearest proofs of his mission, and that they were punished for it in the wilderness; and this he does, to prepare them to consider what they might justly expect upon rejecting Christ. He reminds them likewise, that Moses himself had declared to them, that another prophet was to arise, like him, whom they were ordered to hear. This was the Messiah; and his being like to Moses must consist in his bringing in a new dispensation, and confirming it with miracles, as Moses had done. This seems to respect the latter article of the charge;—and thus farthey heard him patiently. He then proceeds to speak of the temple, which relates to the former part of the accusation: and here he uses such depreciating expressions, as, though taken from the prophets, could not be agreeable to them, and very probably inflamed their minds; but when he came to charge them with the murder of Jesus, calling him the Just One, that is, the Messiah, they could no longer bear with him; but their passions rose to such a height, that they gnashed their teeth at him, and very probably made such a disturbance, that he could not proceed in what he designed to say further; though we find that Peter had twice before taken the same method, and charged them as expressly with the death of Jesus, Ch. 2: and 4: but Peter had, in both cases, the advantage of a present miracle to support him, and give weight to what he said; and we find that the council were deterred by that from proceeding to extremities, Ch. Acts 4:16. The Jewish rulers, before our Saviour's death, were apprehensive that he designed, by gaining over the populace, to set himself up for a king; and that, in consequence of this, the Romans would come and destroy their city, John 11:48. This they hoped to prevent, by taking him off; but, after his death, finding that the apostles not only went on to propagate the same theme of religion, and support it with miracles, as he had done, but also charged them with murdering him, whom his followers asserted to be the Messiah, they seemed now to be more immediately concerned for their own security. However, at first they endeavour to prevent the spreading of this doctrine, and to deter the preachers of it by less severities, as in the case of Peter and John; but when they found that those would not do, it is not improbable they might resolve upon greater; and thinking Stephen a proper subject for their purpose, might determine, if possible, to take away his life; which seems more likely from Ch. Act 5:33 where it is said, that the Jewish senate took counsel to slay the apostles, as if they had not been dissuaded by Gamaliel. However, as that could not have been done judicially, and in form of law, but by a trial before the Roman governor, who might not think their charge against him sufficientto put him to death, there might be a particular design of Providence thus to honour himwith being the first martyr for Christianity, and permit him to be taken off in such a manner, as drew no civil disorders after it. For we do not find that any notice was taken of this fact by the Roman governor; though one would think that he could hardly have omitted to make some inquiries about it. But it was easy for the council to allege in their excuse, that indeed they did call that man to an account for some offences against their law, who was so far from clearing himself, that he persisted in them with blasphemy, which was a crime of so heinous a nature with them, that they could not restrain the mob from dragging him out, and stoning him immediately. Upon such a representation, the governor might think it more advisable to drop any further inquiry, than by proceeding in it to inflame so turbulent a nation. Upon the whole, this speech of Stephen, so far as it goes, seems to be a proper reply to the charge laid against him; but what he would have added further, if he had not been prevented, may be difficult to say. By the methods taken to bring about this charge, and the behaviour of the Jews at the trial, it seems probable, that the council designed, if possible, to take away his life, as a terror to others; and Divine Providence, for wise ends, thought fit to permit them to accomplish their desig
Acts 7:4. And from thence; when his father was dead, &c.— See Genesis 26:32. Abraham was not Terah's eldest, but his youngest son; though, by way of honour and distinction, Moses has mentioned him the first of the three, as being the great patriarch of the Jewish nation. For Haran was Terah's eldest son, who died in Ur of the Chaldees, his native country; and who left a daughter, called Milcah, old enough to be married to Nahor. When therefore Terah was seventy years of age, then was Haran born, being his eldest son; Nahor, his second son, was born some years after; and Abraham, his youngest son, was born sixty years after his brother Haran, and when his father Terah was one hundred and thirty years of age. Now seventy-five added to one hundred and thirty, make up two hundred and five, the age at which Terah died in the land of Charran. See Archbishop Usher's Annals, A.M. 1948
Acts 7:5. And he gave him none inheritance in it, &c.— Probably Canaan was not at that time so universally given to idolatry as Chaldea; for there Abraham met with Melchisedech, who was a worshipper of the true God; and as he was a king, very likely his subjects were not idolaters; but in Chaldea idolatry must have had a large spread, when Terah's family, nay, and most likely Abraham himself, was infected; for St. Paul calls him, Romans 4:5. τον ασεβη, an ungodly person, or an idolater; for that is the word by which he usually intends to signify an idolater. Therefore the calling Abraham into Canaan at that time, was a likely method to preserve him from the further infection of idolatry, as it removed him from his kindred, who would have been apt to have tempted him more than strangers;—and as he was directed to a land where idolatry had not then spread so much. Nay, yet further to deter Abraham, God intimated to him, that in some future generations that very land of Canaan should become notorious for idolatry, and then God would take it from the inhabitants, and give it to him for a possession, even to his seed after him; for so the sentence should properly be read. It is plain that Abraham had not a foot of land in Canaan; for he bought a burying-place to bury his dead.
Acts 7:6. Sojourn in a strange land;— Some think that this is said in opposition to their sojourning as strangers in the land of Canaan, Heb 11:9 which was not a strange land, but theirs by divine promise. But God himself teaches us otherwise, Exo 6:4 where he calls Canaan the land of their pilgrimage, wherein they, that is, Abraham and his descendants, had hitherto been strangers; for they were not as yet possessed of it, though they had a good title to it. This is proper to be taken notice of, in order to explain what immediately follows. See the note on Genesis 15:13.
Acts 7:8. And he gave him the covenant of circumcision:— St. Stephen, the reader may observe, draws no inferences. If he had denied the charge laid against him, as there were two witnesses who swore against him, he had been condemned immediately. If he had owned the charge, he would likewise thereupon have fallen under immediate condemnation. If he had gone about directly to have defended the truth of what the witnesses had alleged, the Sanhedrim would not have had the patience to have heard him. As it was, he proceeded in the only possible way to be heard so long as till he had vindicated himself; that is, by laying down the premises, and leaving them to draw the proper inferences from what he said: just as our Lord, in like cases, had often spoken in parables. Now the inferences to be drawn from what was thus far said, are plainly these: 1st, That in different ages and circumstances positive and external rites have been different; and holiness was not originally confined to one particular place; as appears plainly from the history of Abraham, and from what follows concerning Moses: 2nd, That temporal prosperity, and the favour of the multitude, are not always the lot of the people of God, as appears from the cruel treatment of righteous Abraham's more immediate descendants:3rdly, That the divine favour is not confined through all ages to the observation of any one sort of positive institutions;forAbrahamwasinthefavourof God before circumcision was instituted.
Acts 7:9. Moved with envy, sold Joseph— The plain inference to be drawn from hence was, that they might learn from this example, to abate their hard thoughts of Jesus of Nazareth, whom they, in like manner, through envy, delivered into the hands of strangers, who dealt cruelly with him. Further, from the treatment which Joseph met with, they might see how holy and good persons may be treated in a cruel and unjust manner by men, and at the same time be highly in the favour of God: and therefore, in the present case, it behoved them to examine carefully, and to judge with candour: and hence too they might learn, that holiness and acceptance with God are not confined to any one particular country. For God shewed favour to Joseph in Egypt, amongst an idolatrous and wicked people.
Acts 7:14. Threescore and fifteen souls.— See the notes on Genesis 20:18.
Acts 7:16. And were carried over, &c.— It is not improbable, that the bones of the other eleven patriarchs might be carried along with the bones of Joseph, when the children of Israel went out of Egypt, Exo 13:19 and be afterwards buried along with his bones, when Israel came into Canaan. There was the same reason for them to desire to be buried there, as there was for Joseph; that is, their firm belief, that God would in due time fulfil his promise, in giving Canaan unto Israel for a possession;
(Comp. Genesis 50:25.Hebrews 11:22; Hebrews 11:22.) and accordingly some of the ancient Jews affirm that the bodies of the patriarchs were carried and buried along with Joseph's; and St. Jerome asserts, that the twelve patriarchs were buried at Sychem. It seems, that St. Stephen, rapidly running over so many circumstances of history, had not leisure, nor was it needful where they were so well known, to recite them all distinctly. Therefore he here contracts into one, two different sepulchres, places and purchases, so as in the former history, to name the buyer, omitting the seller; in the latter, to name the seller, omitting the buyer. Abraham bought a burying-place of the children of Heth, Genesis 23:0. There Jacob was buried. Jacob bought a field of the children of Ha-mor. There Joseph was buried. We may observe here how St. Stephen contracts these two purchases into one. This concise manner of speaking, strange as it seems to us, was common among the Hebrews; particularly when, in a case notoriously known, the speaker mentioned but part of the history, and left the rest, which would have interrupted the current of his discourse, to be supplied in the mind of the hearer.—The first land which these strangers, these patriarchs bought, was for a sepulchre. They sought for a country in heaven. Perhaps the whole sentence, Act 7:15-16 might be rendered thus: So Jacob went down into Egypt, and died, he and our fathers, and were carried over to Shechem, and laid by the sons (that is, descendants) of Hamor the father of Shechem, in the sepulchre that Abraham bought for a sum of money. The reader will find much on this subject in Chais's note on Genesis 23:16. Houbigant on Genesis 33:19. Biscoe's Lectures, p. 607. Whitby, L'Enfant, Sir Norton Knatchbull, &c.
Acts 7:18. Another king— Probably of another family.
Acts 7:19. So that they cast out their young children,— By causing their infants to be exposed. Heylin and Doddridge.
Acts 7:20. Was exceeding fair— 'Αστειος τω Θεω, fair to God; or divinely fair: for we have had occasion frequently to observe, that the word God is often made use of in the Hebrew as expressive of the superlative degree. Concerning the beauty of Moses, see the note on Exodus 2:2.
Acts 7:21. And—Pharaoh's daughter took him up,— All these extraordinary circumstances relating to the birth, preservation, education, genius and character of Moses, serve to aggravate the crime of Israel in rejecting him when he offered himself to them as a deliverer under so many advantages, and when the providence of God had so wonderfully interested itself in his favour.
Acts 7:22. Moses was learned in all the wisdom of the Egyptians,— Where the wisdom of a man is spoken of, that which is characteristic of it must needs be meant; where the wisdom of a particular man, that which is peculiar to his quality and profession. St. Stephen in this place speaks of both: in both, therefore, he must mean civil or political wisdom; for in that the Egyptian nation was principally distinguished; and in that the true character of Moses, whether we consider his rank, his education, or his office, was eminently comprised. He became at length the leader and lawgiver of a numerous people: but more than this, St. Stephen is here speaking of him under his public character, and therefore must necessarily be understood to mean, that Moses was consummate in the science of legislation. The words indeed are, all the wisdom of the Egyptians: but every good reasoner knows, that where the thing spoken of refers to some particular use, (as here Moses's to the conducting the Israelites out of Egypt,) the particle all cannot mean all of every kind, but all the parts of one kind: in this restrained sense, all is frequently used in the sacred writings. But further, the concluding part of the character,—and mighty in words and deeds, will not easily suffer the foregoing part to admit of any other interpretation. Mighty in words and deeds, was in a natural sense the precise character of the ancient chiefs, who, leading a free and willing people, needed the arts of peace, such as persuasion and law making—the words; and the arts of war, such as conduct and courage,—the deeds. Hence it is that Jesus, who was the prophet like unto Moses, the legislator of the new covenant, as Moses was of the old, and the conductor of our spiritual warfare, is characterized in the same words, A prophet mighty in deed and word, before God, and all the people. Luke 24:19. This wisdom, therefore, in which Moses was said to be versed, we conclude was the practical part of philosophy, in contradistinction to the theoreticalor speculative. This is the interpretation which Bishop Warburton gives in his Divine Legation, book 4: sect. 6. Several eminent commentators, however, suppose that a general erudition is referred to. Dr. Benson gives the following paraphrase of the verse: "By this means Moses had a most liberal education, being instructed in all the learning of the Egyptians; which were then the most learned people upon earth; and, though he could not speak fluently, he became mighty and powerful both in word and deed; that is, his speeches were solid and wise, and his actions virtuous, honest, and brave." Several ancient testimonies to the extraordinary learning of Moses may be seen in Philo de Vit. Mos. lib. 1: p. 470. Justin Mart. Quaest. ad Orthod. 25: Orig. cont. Cels. lib. 3: p. 139. Clem. Alex. Strom. lib. 1: p. 343.
Acts 7:24. And seeing one of them suffer, &c.— See Exo 2:11 where the word is מכה meche, which sometimes signifies to smite so as to kill; and the Israelite is here represented as καταπονουμενω, subdued in a struggle, and in immediate danger of his life: so that Moses had no occasion for a divine impulse in order to his doing this action; for, (not to mention, that God most probably would have supported him afterwards, and he needed not to have fled for it,) as the Egyptian had got the Israelite down, and was, as appeared by all circumstances, just going to kill him; Moses only defended the injured, and vindicated the innocent when oppressed; a thing which any person may lawfully do at any time, or in any place for a stranger, and much more for his own friend: nay, the thing was in itself so far from a crime, that it was highly laudable and praise-worthy; and what Moses might, with great reason, have done to the Israelite, had he been going as unjustly to kill the Egyptian. It is true, that justice could not be then had in the Egyptian court in behalf of the Israelites; and therefore some may think it was in those circumstances imprudent. But it must be remembered, that, according to the history, Exodus 2:12. Moses used all proper precautions, and looked every way to see whether there were any Egyptians in sight, before he ventured to rescue his brother from the hand of the oppressor, and from death: and had not the Israelites themselves discovered it, it is highly probable that Pharaoh would never have known it. So that it is easy to vindicate the justice and prudence of this action of Moses. See the notes on Exodus 2:0.
Acts 7:25. He supposed his brethren would have understood— It appears from this passage, that Moses had received some immediate revelation from God, that he was the person who should deliver Israel: besides, knowing that there was a divine promise of deliverance made to, and retained in the house of Israel; that he himself had been extraordinarily preserved and educated, and that the time of their deliverance was approaching, he shewed himself willing to run all hazards and dangers with the people of God, rather than continue in the splendor of the Egyptian court; and that when the time should be fully come, he would cheerfully join and head them in order to rescue them from their bondage and cruel slavery.
Acts 7:26. Set them at one again,— And would have persuaded them at peace. Acts 7:27. Thrust him away, &c.] It is plain, that the speech of this single person is represented, Act 7:35 as expressing the sentiments of the whole body of the people; as their slowness afterwards to believe the mission of Moses, when attended by miracles, seems evidently to shew that it was. See Exodus 5:20-21.
Acts 7:30. And when forty years were expired,— This circumstance might have been handed down by tradition, or received by immediate inspiration, as the express time of Moses's continuance in voluntary exile isnot mentioned in the Old Testament; and no doubt many other circumstances respecting that great legislator, which are not related in that concise history, were handed down either by tradition or by some writings then extant. Respecting the subsequent circumstances, we refer the reader to the notes on Exodus 3:0.
Acts 7:35. This Moses, whom they refused,— As the terms of high respect, in which St. Stephen, through the whole of his discourse, speaks of Moses, tended to shew how improbable it was, that he should have spoken contemptibly of him, as the witnesses pretended; so this circumstance of the Israelites having rejected him whom God had appointed to be a ruler and redeemer, plainly adverted to their usage of the Lord Jesus, whom they had lately rejected, but whom God had constituted a Saviour by the divine determination.
Acts 7:37. A prophet shall the Lord your God, &c.— Concerning this prophesy, see the note on Deuteronomy 18:15; Deuteronomy 18:22.
Acts 7:38. This is he, that was in the church— When this clause is quoted, as it has been by some great men, to prove that Christ was the person who brought Israel out of Egypt, gave them the law, conducted them through the wilderness, &c. (which is undoubtedlymost true)the argument drawn from this passage is certainly inconclusive: for he—ουτος — here evidently answers to the word ουτος, Act 7:36 and to the words ουτος ο Μωυσης, Act 7:27 and the following clause, which expresses his being with the angel, plainly proves that angel to be a different person. The doctrine itself, that Christ was the God of Israel, the angel or messenger who appeared to Moses, is a great and certain truth, capable of being evinced from many passages both of the Old and New Testament; and from the passage before us in particular, though not from the clause. The word εκκλησια, rendered church, would more properly be rendered here assembly, as it is Act 19:41 because it refers not to their being incorporated into one church, in the appropriate sense of that word, but to their being assembled round the mountain on the solemn day, when the law was given. See Exodus 19:17; Exodus 19:25.
Acts 7:39. To whom our fathers would not obey,— This is observed by Stephen more than once, and he insists upon it largely, that they might see it was no new thing for Israel to rebel against God, by rejecting deliverers sent from him. See on Acts 7:35.
Acts 7:40. For as for this Moses—we wot not, &c.— We know not. This is the phraseology both of the LXX and of the Hebrew; (Exodus 32:1.) and has been called putting the nominative case absolute; accordingly Dan 12:2 may be thus explained: As to the multitude who sleep in the dust of the earth, they shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt. So Daniel's words would appear to be a prophesy of the general resurrection of mankind, which does not fully appear in our common English translation. Many other texts might be explained, by observing that this phraseology is used. Both Beza and Grotius have represented it as a Hebraism; but Raphelius has shewn that it was made use of by the best Greek writers. The plain inference from all this was, "You are not the first who have rejected the laws which came from God, but evidently approve yourselves the children of your wicked forefathers."
Acts 7:42-43. Then God turned,— See Romans 1:21-24.Psalms 81:11-12; Psalms 81:11-12. There were two sorts of idolatry; namely, the worshipping the true God by idol mediators, and terminating their worship upon false Gods. Israel began with the former; and for a punishment was permitted to fall into the latter. See on Exodus 32:1. &c. the notes on Amos 5:25; Amos 5:27.
Acts 7:44. Our fathers had the tabernacle of witness— As St. Stephen had been accused of blaspheming the temple, he now proceeds to speak with peculiar propriety, and with due reverence, of their sacred places, as raised by special direction from God; and yet corrects that extravagant regardfor them, and confidence in them, which the Jews were so ready to entertain.
Acts 7:45. With Jesus— With Joshua. The word εθνων, rendered Gentiles, would more properly be rendered heathens in this place.
Acts 7:46-50. And desired to find a tabernacle, &c.— 'Ητησατο, made it his petition. From the account which the Scripture gives of David, it appears how greatly he longed to find out a place for the Lord,—an habitation,—which is a properer word than tabernacle in this place. Comp. 2 Samuel 7:2. &c. and Psalms 132:1-5. However, as he was a man of war, and had shed blood, he was not allowed to build the temple; which was deferred to the peaceful reign of his son; and hence the plain inference was, that if king David was not thought fit to build the temple, because he was a man of blood, how much less fit are they to have such a structure continued to them, who have murdered the great Messiah, king David's son and Lord. Farther, it is evident, that David and the Patriarchs worshipped God as acceptably before this temple was built, as he was worshipped afterwards; though it cannot be denied that both the tabernacle and the temple were erected according to the will and appointment of God; and,when used agreeably to the original design and intention of them, were highly to be esteemed. St. Stephen, however, goes on to convince them that they set too great a value on this temple, when they would confine to it the divine presence, and all acceptable worship, seeing that God is the omnipresent being, able to shew favour to the pious and holy in one place, as well as another, throughout the whole creation. Nay, indeed, the whole creation is too narrow a temple for the omniscient and omnipresent God.
Acts 7:51-53. Ye stiff-necked, &c.— "Thus have I given you a brief account of the various periods of revelation, or the several dispensations of God to man, from the time in which Abraham, our renowned ancestor, was called out of idolatry to the knowledge of the true God, unto this very day when the kingdom of the Messiah has begun to take place—that seed of Abraham, in whom all the nations of the earth are to be blessed. And what I would have you understand by all that has been said, is this: that, in various ages and circumstances, God hath made various revelations, and appointed different positive institutions; that temporal afflictions are consistent with being in the divine favour; and that a temporal Messiah is not to be expected: but that God, who of old laid the plan for the successive dispensations, is now going to introduce the last and best of them, by erecting his spiritual kingdom under the Messiah, who is none other than Jesus of Nazareth. And, it is no wonder that you should treat him as you did; for you are a stubborn, obdurate people, who, though you boast of the circumcision of the flesh, yet are uncircumcised in heart and ears, and incorrigibly bent upon your own wicked ways. You even reject the very means which oughtto bring you to repentance, refusing the gracious invitations and offers of the Spirit of God, and treading in the steps of your disobedient ancestors. Which of the prophets have not your fathers persecuted? Nay, they even slew many who prophesied of the coming of that divine person, the Messiah, whom Abraham, Moses, Israel, David, Solomon,—the tabernacle, the temple, the law, the prophets, and all the past dispensations, did unanimously point at, and did some way or other tend to prepare men for. And yet, notwithstanding all this vast apparatus of along succession of promises, prophesies, shadows, and representations, which God from age to age hath given, to prepare you for the reception of him;—you, who ought to have received him with the greatest affection and regard, and protected him from any injurious treatment from others:—You yourselves, I say, have basely betrayed, and wickedly murdered him. And as your sin is much greater than that of your fathers, who rejected only Moses and the prophets; you may reasonably expect (unless you speedilyand sincerely repent) that the judgments of God, which followed them, will come upon you to the uttermost. Nor will it be in the least wonderful, if God should depart from you, and if what you have charged me with asserting, should come to pass; namely, that your city and temple should be destroyed, and your whole nation slain, or carried away into a long and severe captivity. I have charged you with despising and murdering the Just One: but how should you be supposed to attend to one who came in so low and humble a manner, when the law, in which you so much boast,waspublishedinanawful pompous manner, amidst troops of angels;—and yet, you have not kept it." Christ was, by way of eminence, called the Just or Righteous One, as being alone perfectly righteous; Acts 7:52. See ch. Acts 3:14.Isaiah 53:11; Isaiah 53:11.Zechariah 9:9; Zechariah 9:9. It is a fine remark of Grotius, that the Sanhedrim was obliged, by virtue of its very constitution, to guard and defend the lives of the prophets with peculiar care. How much more to protect from anyinjurious assault, so divine a messenger as Christ was; instead of which, they had not only basely deserted him, but had themselves become principals in his murder. The word διαταγας, rendered disposition, (Acts 7:53.) is a militaryword, and signifies ranks or troops; so that the passage should be read, who have received the law through ranks of angels, who were marshalled in solemn array on that great occasion. Comp. Deu 33:2 and Psalms 68:17. The sacred writer gives us an august idea of the majesty which attended the giving of the law. It was delivered with the utmost pomp and magnificence, amid the innumerable hosts of the Lord God Almighty. To what we have said on Act 7:2 respecting this speech of St. Stephen, we will here subjoin, in brief, the sum of his discourse. "I acknowledge the glory of God revealed to the fathers, Acts 7:2,—the calling of Moses, Acts 7:34., &c.—the dignity of the law, Acts 7:8; Acts 7:38; Acts 7:44.—the holiness of this place, Acts 7:7; Acts 7:45; Act 7:47—And indeed the law is more ancient than the temple; the promise more ancient than the law: for God shewed himself the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and their children, freely, Acts 7:2., &c. Acts 7:9., &c. Acts 7:17., &c. Acts 7:32; Acts 7:34; Acts 7:45.—And they shewed faith and obedience to God, Acts 7:4; Acts 7:20; Act 7:23 particularly by their regard for the law, Act 7:8 and the promised land, Acts 7:16. Mean time, God never confined his presence to this one place, or to the observers of the law; for he has been acceptably worshipped before the law was given, or the temple built, and out of this land, Acts 7:2; Acts 7:9; Acts 7:33; Acts 7:44. And that our fathers, and their posterity, were not tied down to this land, their various sojournings and exiles shew, Acts 7:4., &c. Acts 7:14; Acts 7:29; Act 7:43-44 but you and your fathers have always been evil, Act 7:9 have withstood Moses, Acts 7:25., &c. Acts 7:39., &c. have despised the land, Act 7:29 forsaken God, Acts 7:40., &c. superstitiously honoured the temple, Act 7:48 resisted God and his spirit, Act 7:25 killed the prophets, and the Messiah himself, Act 7:52 and not kept the law for which ye contend, Acts 7:53. Therefore, God is not bound to you, much less to you alone."
Acts 7:55. And Jesus standing on the right hand of God.— See the next note. It has been well observed, that Christ is generally represented sitting, but now as standing at God's right hand; that is, as risen up from the throne of his glory, to afford help to his distressed servant, and ready to receive him. It seems a very just conclusion of Mr. Addison's, that other martyrs, when called to suffer the last extremities, had extraordinaryassistances of some similar kind; or frail mortality could not surely have endured the torments under which they rejoiced; and sometimes preached Christ to the conversion of the spectators, and, in some instances, of their guards and tormentors too. See Addison's Evid. of Christianity, ch. 3: sect. 5.
Acts 7:56. Behold, I see the heavens opened,— The reality of Stephen's seeing this vision, as he described it, appears from the improbability of his being guilty of any design to deceive, as well as from the authenticity and certainty of divine revelation. He was a man of great note and eminence in the church, and held the first place among the seven deacons. He justified the Christian faith against all opposers with singular wisdom. He confounded all those with whom he disputed. When false witnesses were suborned, and he was brought before the Sanhedrim to be tried, his judges saw that he was so far from being daunted, that there was a sparkling majesty in his countenance, like that of an angel. This emboldened him to speak without reserve to the council, and to reprove them for resisting the Holy Ghost; which enraged them to the highest degree. But Stephen, still full of the Holy Ghost, and undaunted at what he foresaw he must suffer from an exasperated mob, cast his eyes toward heaven, from whence cometh help, and bade them take notice that he saw the glory of God, and Jesus shining at his right hand, in far greater glory than they had seen in his face. If he had not been sure that he beheld him whom they crucified, a person of his wisdom would have been more cautious, than to follow him in that bloody path, to which this assertion of course led him; especially as his silence might have preserved him from danger. But so visible was the majesty of our Saviour, that he could not but proclaim it, though he knew they would call it blasphemy, and punish him for it with death. He was willing to suffer for the honour of his Master, who, by this vision, demonstrated to him that he was the Son of the Highest, and able to reward all his faithful servants with immortal glory. If it be asked how he could see the glory of God, (Acts 7:55.) and how he knew the person who appeared at God's right hand to be Jesus? in answer to the first question, we may reply that he saw God's glory in the same sense as others are said to have seen God: he beheld some very bright appearance. Thus Moses was afraid to look upon God, Exodus 3:6. Such a glory it was that Stephen beheld; a glory more pure and refulgent than the light of the sun; a glory, which was the symbol of the presence of the divine majesty, who used in this manner to make men sensible of his transcendant invisible glory. In this divine presence he saw Jesus in the most high and most exalted place. Stephen indeed saw him standing; which might refer to his priestly office;—standing being the posture of those who ministered in the temple at the altar. This posture, therefore, might imply his officiating in the heavenly places, for the comfort of all Christians, as well as of Stephen himself; or rather as ready to come to take vengeance upon the implacable enemies who had killed him, and now persecuted his servants. As to the second question, how he could know that it was Jesus whom he saw, it is easily replied to;—he appeared in the same form as upon earth; only more shining and resplendent: and therefore, when Stephen says to the Jews, "I see the Son of man standing," &c. he means that very Person who used to call himself the Son of man. And if we follow the scope of his speech, he seems to say no less than this; "That very Person who called himself the Son of man, whom you have crucified, I now see so exalted, that I had rather die as he did, than not confess him to be the Son of God." Stephen saw him risen up from his throne, as if he was coming to be avenged of his enemies, to succour all his servants, and to welcome this martyr to immortal bliss. That Stephen was fully confident of this is evident from his resigning up his soul to Jesus with the same confidence, (Acts 7:59.) and almost in the same words, with which Jesus gave up his to God the Father. The last words of our Saviour were, "Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit!" Luke 23:46. Stephen, in the extremity of his sufferings, called upon God, and said, Lord Jesus, receive my spirit! he died with these and the following words in his mouth, crying again with a loud voice,—Lord, lay not this sin to their charge! In which he expressed as much charity to men, as in the other sentence he did faith in Christ. Now, as in this awful period he displayed such piety and goodness, such candour and humanity, and was so utterly void of all rancour, when he had the highest provocations from his enemies; we may conclude (besides the certainty of the fact as declared in the canon of Scripture) that it is utterly improbable he could be guilty of a lie to deceive others; and we may be assured that God would not suffer so extraordinary a person to be deceived, to the ruin of himself, and to the sacrificing, if not calling away, so precious a life.
Acts 7:57. Then they cried out, &c.— "This declaration and reference provoked them to such a degree, that crying out with a loud voice that they might drown that of Stephen, they stopped their own ears, as if they could not bear to hear such blasphemy as they conceivedhe had spoken, and furiously rushed upon him with one accord."
Acts 7:59. And they stoned Stephen,— While they stoned Stephen, he prayed, and said, &c. Literally, They stoned Stephen, invoking and saying, &c. There is nothing for the word God in the original. A solemn prayer, like this to Christ, in which a departing soul is thus committed into his hands, is such an act of worship as no good man would have paid to a mere creature, Stephen here worshipping Christ in the very same manner in whichChrist worshipped the Father on the cross. This stoning seems to have been an act of popular fury, like the stoning of St. Paul at Lystra, ch. Act 14:19 and exceeding the power which the Jews regularly had. The Jews were more than once ready to stone Christ, not only when by their own confession they had not power to put any one to death, but when nothing had passed which had the shadow of a legal trial. How far they might now have formed those express notions of what the rabbies called the judgment of zeal, is uncertain; but it is plain they acted on that principle, and as if they had thought every private Israelite had, like Phineas, who is pleaded as an example of it, a right to put another to deathon the spot, if he found him in a capital breach of the divine law; a notion directly contrary to Deu 17:6 which requires at least two witnesses in capital cases, where there is a legal process. The manner of their stoning persons was this: a crier went before him who was to die, proclaiming his name, his crime, and those who were witnesses against him. When they were come within two or three yards of the place of execution, they stripped the criminal naked, except a small covering, for decency, about his middle. The place of execution, from which they threw down the malefactor, was above twice the height of a man, upon which he was made to ascend with his hands bound. When he was ascended, the witnesses laid their hands upon him, and then stripped off their upper garments, that they might be fitter for going through the execution. From that high place one of the witnesses threw down the criminal, and dashed his loins against a great stone, which was laid there for that very purpose; if that killed him not, then the other witness threw from thesame height a great stone upon his heart, as he lay on his back, and was stunned with the fall. If that dispatched him not, then all the people fell on him with stones till he died.
Acts 7:60. Lord, lay not this sin to their charge.— The original is emphatical; literally, Weigh not out to them this sin, that is, "The punishment due to it;" alluding to passages of Scripture where God is represented as weighing men's characters and actions in the dispensations of his justice and providence. Compare 1 Samuel 2:3.Job 31:6; Job 31:6. Proverbs 16:2.Isaiah 26:7; Isaiah 26:7. Daniel 5:27. This prayer of St. Stephen was heard and remarkably answered in theconversion of Saul, of whose history we shall shortly hear more.
Inferences.—Do any call us to account concerning our faith and hope in Christ? Let the law and the testimony be our defence; they all along spake of him, and by them we are assured that he is in himself the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, who appeared to Moses in the flaming bush without consuming it, was with him in all his dangers, and wrought all the wonders of Israel's deliverances by his hands; and who was typified by that celebrated prophet, and by Joshua their leader into the land of Canaan, and by the tabernacle and temple, and is now exalted, in our nature, to the highest dignity of his office in heaven, and is worthy of all faith, religious worship and adoration.—How true and faithful is God to his promises; though we, alas! are dull of understanding, and do not observe his way and time for fulfilling them! But how sure are his performances of all his promises, in due season, to them that trust in him; and how graciously does he accept them and their services, according to his own institution, of what nation, or in what place soever they are! And, O how much better is it to have God dwelling in our hearts by faith, and in our religious assemblies by his Spirit, as his temple upon earth, till we get to the throne of his glory in heaven, than to imagine that his special presence is confined to any material temple! But, ah! how prone are hypocritical professors to be more fond of rites and ceremonies, than of his law and gospel! How sadly have many revolted from him, resisted his Spirit, persecuted his servants, and rejected him and his salvation, to their own dreadful perdition! But the Lord Jesus will stand by the true confessors of his name at the worst of times, will fill them with the Holy Ghost, and give them seasonable manifestations of his glory; and when his enemies cast them out, and cruelly put them to death, he stands ready to support and comfort them, to take them into the arms of his love, and to receive them into heaven, that they may live with him for ever. And O! with what holy liberty, zeal, and courage, will they speak for him, and in his strength suffer even to the worst of martyrdoms for his sake, when he calls them to it! With what humble confidence and assuring satisfaction may they invoke his name, and commit their departing souls to him; and with what peace and pleasure may they die, with a forgiving spirit towards their enemies, and with a joyful assurance of their own souls' going immediately to Jesus, and of their bodies sleeping in him, till they shall awake to everlasting life, and appear with him in glory!
But, O Saul! couldst thou have believed, if one had told thee, while thou was urging on the cruel multitude, while thou wast glorying over the venerable corpse of pious Stephen,—couldst thou have believed that the time would come, when thou thyself shouldst be twice stoned in the same cause for which he died?—That thou shouldst triumph in having committed thy soul likewise to that Jesus, whom thou wast now blaspheming! In this instance his dying prayer was illustriously answered for thee! In this instance, the wolf lies down with the lamb, and the leopard with the kid, as Isaiah has foretold. And it is most delightful to think that the martyr Stephen, and Saul the barbarous persecutor, (afterwards his brother—both in faith and in martyrdom,) are now joined in bonds of everlasting friendship, and dwell together in the happy company of those who have washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the lamb, Revelation 7:14. May we at length be joined with them, and, in the mean time, let us glorify God in both!
REFLECTIONS.—1st, Stephen, that noble confessor, is before his judges assembled in full council, with the high-priest at their head, all his known, avowed, and inveterate enemies: yet, in answer to the high priest's demand, Are these things so? he boldly undertakes his defence. The scriptures are the armoury whence he draws the weapons of his warfare, and we find him a complete master of his subject. Being a Hellenist Jew, he quotes the septuagint, as the version commonly in use in their synagogues, though containing some variations from the original Hebrew. He begins,
1. With a respectful and affectionate address, entreating their unprejudiced attention; Men, brethren, and fathers hearken.
2. He lays before them a concise view of the patriarchal history, in order that they might remember, that God had a visible church and people in the world before the law was given, and still would have one when all the ceremonial institutions were abolished.
[1.] He opens with the call of Abraham, to whom the God of glory appeared, in some visible display of his presence, when he was in Mesopotamia, before he dwelt in Char-ran, in an idolatrous land, and said unto him, Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and come into the land which I shall shew thee: accordingly he immediately left his country, and removed to Charran, and after his father's death receiving a second call, he came into the land of Canaan, and abode there where they now dwelt.
Hence it appeared, that Abraham was in God's favour before he was circumcised, and that God's Shechinah had visited Ur of the Chaldees, before it appeared in Canaan; and therefore they might see, that neither the dispensation of the law, nor the land of Israel, were needful for the acceptable worship of God. Note; (1.) Though we may not see clearly whither God is leading us, yet, when we have his call, we may confidently go forward. (2.) They who are travelling to the heavenly Canaan, cheerfully turn their backs on earth with all its allurements.
[2.] Though God had promised Abraham the land of Canaan for a possession, and to his seed after him, when as yet he had no child, yet he gave him not a foot of land for a present inheritance: nor for four hundred years afterwards, reckoning from the birth of Isaac, did any of his posterity enjoy the promised inheritance, but lived unsettled, and afflicted, under the tyranny of strangers, till, at the expiration of the time appointed, God judged their Egyptian oppressors, and brought them at last to serve him in this place. And this Stephen suggests, in order to lower their pride on their original; and, from the length of time which elapsed between the promise and the fulfilment of it, as well as from the hardships which their fathers endured in the intermediate space, to shew them that the principal object to which the Lord intended to lead them, was the heavenly Canaan, of which this was but the figure; and therefore it could be no blasphemy to say, that Jesus could destroy this country, when he promised to bring his faithful servants to the heavenly Canaan, and the Jerusalem which is above. Note; (1.) Though God's promises may be long in their fulfilment, they are sure to the faithful. (2.) The children of God may be, and very frequently are, called to endure the severest afflictions here. (3.) He will finally avenge them on their oppressors.
[3.] Having called Abraham to be his servant, God gave him the covenant of circumcision, as a seal of the righteousness of that faith which he had, being yet uncircumcised; and this rite he transmitted to his posterity, circumcising his son Isaac on the eighth day, according to the divine command. And Isaac begat Jacob and the twelve patriarchs, in whom the family of Abraham began to enlarge; yet even then did the same spirit of envy break forth against Joseph, as they who boasted themselves descendants from these patriarchs afterwards shewed to Jesus, of whom Joseph was an eminent type, both in his sufferings and exaltation. The patriarchs, moved with envy, sold him into Egypt: but God was with him, and delivered him out of all his afflictions; and endued him with such wisdom as recommended him to Pharaoh's favour, who constituted him governor over Egypt and all his house. And thus had God exalted his Son Jesus, whom they had brought to the lowest state of ignominy and abasement, to a throne of glory. A dearth, which Joseph had foretold, drove the brethren of Joseph shortly after from Canaan to Egypt, where, through his care, provision had been laid up against the years of famine. There at the second interview, to the astonishment of his brethren, Joseph made himself known to them; and Pharaoh being acquainted with his kindred, Joseph, at his desire, invites his father and all his family into Egypt, consisting of seventy-five persons. There Jacob, with the patriarchs, died, and, in the faith of the fulfilment of God's promise to Abraham, the bones of the patriarchs were carried out of Egypt, and laid in the sepulchre that Jacob the grandson of Abraham bought for a sum of money of the sons of Emmor the father of Sychem. (See the Annotations.) Thus they might observe, that the land on which they set so high a value, was afflicted with famine; that the patriarchs, of whom they boasted, all died in a strange country, and never got possession of Palestine; and yet the faithful among them were nevertheless accepted of God, and their faith was carried out to the heavenly inheritance, which Jesus has brought to light, and has obtained for all that perseveringly believe in him.
2nd, Stephen proceeds with the history of the Jewish people.
1. When the time of the promise drew nigh, they multiplied exceedingly. Then a new king arose, which knew not Joseph, nor remembered what a Saviour he had been to the land; but, jealous of the increase of the Israelites, with hellish craft he sought to extirpate them by a bloody edict to kill all the male children which should be born; while by the most servile and incessant toils and labour he sought to harass to death their fathers. And thus were they acting against the disciples of Jesus and his infant church; but their subtilty and malice would be equally abortive; the followers of Jesus but increased and multiplied the more.
2. In this state of distress Moses was born, designed of God for their great deliverer; for when God's people are at the last extremity, he is ready gloriously to appear on their behalf. The child was exceedingly fair; something peculiarly beautiful appeared in his infant countenance. After being concealed three months, he was at last exposed; and so Providence ordered it, that Pharaoh's daughter, coming down to the spot to bathe, found the babe, and was so struck with his beauty and tears, that she took and brought him up as her own son, giving him the most accomplished education; so that he was learned in all the wisdom of the Egyptians, and was mighty in words and in deeds; remarkably judicious in his counsels, and eminent for his courage.
Stephen shewed hereby, that, far from dishonouring Moses, he regarded him with the greatest admiration, and spoke of him with the highest encomiums. He was also an eminent figure of Christ, exposed to like danger in his infancy, and raised up of God to be an infinitely greater Saviour to his faithful people.
3. And when he was full forty years old, being arrived at the prime of life, and almost at the height of grandeur and affluence, moved by a divine impulse, he resolved to leave the court of Pharaoh, and visit his afflicted brethren. And seeing one of them most unjustly abused and beaten, he interposed in his behalf, and slew the Egyptian, as a specimen of that authority with which he was invested, as their appointed deliverer; supposing by this action they would understand what God intended to do for them by his means; but they understood not. The next day he shewed himself again unto them as they strove, and, as a peace-maker, would fain have reconciled the two Hebrews who quarrelled with each other, suggesting their near relation, and how unbecoming it was in them to abuse and fight with one another. But he who was the aggressor, impatient of the rebuke (as those usually are, who are in the wrong), insultingly rejects his interposition, saying, Who made thee a ruler and a judge over us? as if he assumed an authority to which he had no title; and upbraids him with what he had done the day before; Wilt thou kill me as thou killedst the Egyptian yesterday? Perceiving hereby the danger in which he was, and the ingratitude and baseness of his brethren, Moses fled, lest, the fact being published, he should be arrested as a murderer; and taking up his abode in the land of Midian, he spent another forty years there, where he begat two sons.
Now Stephen insinuates that it was no new thing with them to reject and ill use their divinely-appointed deliverers. As their fathers perversely shut their eyes against the pretensions of Moses, so had they refused Jesus the Prince of glory, who came to deliver them from a worse than Egyptian bondage, even from the tyranny of sin and Satan, and from the power of death and hell.
3rdly, Stephen proceeds in his account of Moses, and, far from speaking ought that could be construed into blasphemy against him, none could ever make more honourable mention of this great lawgiver.
1. At the expiration of forty years, the great Angel of the covenant, who in the fulness of time was to come into the world as God incarnate, in the person of the man Christ Jesus, appeared to him in a bush, which seemed all on fire, yet remained unconsumed. Struck with astonishment at this strange sight, when Moses approached to take a nearer view, the voice of God was heard from the midst of the bush, saying, I am the God of thy fathers, the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, remembering his covenant, and now about to fulfil his promises to their seed, after so long a time. The doctrine then of a resurrection, at which the Sadducees were so offended, has Moses for its voucher: and God had not limited his presence to the temple, but had here displayed his glory in a wilderness; and that very covenant of promise made unto the fathers, which God spake of to Moses, Stephen preached, shewing its most evident and glorious accomplishment in the spiritual salvation of Jesus; so far was he from contradicting, and much more from blaspheming Moses, as they alleged.
2. Struck with sacred reverence, his eyes fixed on the earth, Moses durst not behold the glory. Then God bids him put off his shoes from his feet, as standing now on holy ground; and gives him his commission: I have seen, I have seen the affliction of my people which is in Egypt, and I have heard their groaning, and am come down to deliver them. Though God suffer his believing people to be in distress, he hears their cry, and in his good time will help them. This Moses whom they refused, saying, Who made thee a ruler and a judge? the same did God send to be a ruler and a deliverer, by the hand of the Angel which appeared to him in the bush; and thus had God the Father exalted his Son Jesus, whom they had in like manner rejected, to be a Prince and Saviour.
3. Moses faithfully executed his commission, and brought them out from the house of bondage, after that he had shewed wonders and signs in the land of Egypt and in the Red-Sea, and in the wilderness forty years. So highly does he speak of Israel's deliverer; nor was it any derogation from him, that a greater than he should arise, accomplishing a more glorious redemption for them, since of such a one does Moses himself prophesy.
4. This is that Moses, the very person for whose honour they were so jealous, which said unto the children of Israel, A prophet shall the Lord your God raise up unto you of your brethren, like unto me; a new lawgiver, who should introduce another dispensation; or as me, as he hath raised up me, so shall there arise another, invested with divine authority and power: him shall ye hear, submitting to his word, and obedient to his voice in all things. Far therefore from dishonouring Moses, Stephen shews the accomplishment of his prophesy, and that they ought to testify their real veneration for his memory, by obeying his injunctions, and submitting to that new and spiritual dispensation which Jesus the great Prophet came to introduce.
5. Notwithstanding all the services which Moses did them, and all the honour that God had conferred upon him, their fathers had treated him with the highest contempt and ingratitude. This is he that was in the church in the wilderness, as their captain and leader, with the angel, that uncreated Angel of the covenant, the great Jehovah Jesus, which spake to him in the mount Sinai, and with our fathers, face to face, as a man talketh to his friend; who received the lively oracles to give unto us; oracles, as being of infallible certainty; and lively, sharp, and piercing the conscience, or leading those who truly understood them, and perseveringly obeyed them, to eternal life. Yet greatly as Moses was honoured of God herein, our fathers would not obey him, but thrust him from them, and in their hearts turned back again into Egypt; murmuring and mutinying against him, and sinking into the grossest idolatry, at the very time when, as their mediator, he was in the mount with God,—saying unto Aaron, Make us gods to go before us: for as for this Moses, which brought us out of the land of Egypt, we wot not what is become of him. So disrespectfully did they speak of their great deliverer. And accordingly, they made a calf in those days in imitation of the Egyptian god Apis, and offered sacrifice unto the idol, and rejoiced in the works of their own hands. Instead therefore of charging Stephen with blasphemy, they would do well to remember what their own ancestors had done.
6. For these abominations God was justly provoked. Then he turned, withdrew from them his grace and favour, and gave them up to worship the host of heaven, leaving them in righteous judgment to their own inventions. In consequence of which they neglected God, and all the newly-instituted ordinances, and relapsed, after they came into Canaan, into the grossest idolatry; for which he quotes a prophet's words, whose authority they would not dispute, (Amos 5:25-27.) Have ye offered to me slain beasts, and sacrifices, by the space of forty years in the wilderness? No: they neglected his worship, and what they offered was to devils, and not to God, (Deuteronomy 32:17.) so that they themselves disused for forty years those very customs which Moses had delivered to them. And, worse still, ye took up the tabernacle of Moloch, the image of this idol inclosed in a shrine; and the star of your god Remphan, figures which ye made, to worship them, in express contradiction to the commands of God: and for this he threatens them with condign punishment; I will carry you away beyond Babylon, (see 2 Kings 17:5-8.)
Now if God dealt thus severely with them for despising Moses' law, of how much sorer punishment, than even their ancestors received, would they be counted worthy, for rejecting the dispensation of grace which Jesus, so far greater than Moses, came from God to reveal to them!
4thly, The accusation lodged against Stephen was for speaking against the temple, as if he was guilty of blasphemy thereby; whereas he shews, that their fathers worshipped God acceptably for ages before any temple was built.
1. It was not till they came into the wilderness, that the tabernacle of witness was reared, according to the model which God shewed to Moses in the mount. God accepted his faithful worshippers before there was any tabernacle; and they might again serve him as acceptably, if the holy place, the temple, was destroyed: and the very care shewn in the making of this tent according to the divine model, intimated, that it was a shadow of good things to come, being typical of the incarnation of the Son of God, and of his spiritual and gracious presence in his church.
2. This tabernacle Joshua brought into the possession of the Gentiles, whom God drave out before him; and if it was set up in that polluted land of Canaan, why might not God now erect his spiritual tabernacle among the nations of the heathen?
3. Till David's time, God was pleased to dwell in this mean and moveable tent, above four hundred years; and when David was desirous to build a temple for the Lord, he forbade him, reserving that honor for Solomon, who built him an house. It therefore appeared evident, that God was not solicitous to have a temple for his abode, as if that was necessary for their acceptable worship; and also, that if Solomon might change the tabernacle for a temple, God might no doubt, if he pleased, destroy that, and make his abode in the spiritual temple, the church of the faithful.
4. Though God ordered the erection of the tabernacle, and the building of the temple, it could not be conceived that his immensity could be circumscribed by these narrow bounds, when as the prophet (Isaiah 66:1-2.) had observed, Heaven is his throne, and earth his footstool. No house made with hands can then be comparable to that glorious temple the universe, which himself hath reared: nor can he need a place to repose himself, when all things and creatures whatever are the work of his hands. Therefore it was no disparagement to the temple, to affirm, that Jesus should destroy this temple, and set up another, into which all nations should flow together, and their worship be acceptable to him.
5thly, Perhaps Stephen was proceeding to shew that the temple and its service must come to an end; but perceiving the rage that fired the bosoms of his enemies sparkling in their eyes, and expecting soon to be interrupted, he closes with a word of piercing application.
1. He charges them with their obstinacy and stubbornness like unto their fathers. Ye stiff-necked, and uncircumcised in heart and ears; in profession God's servants, but hardened in pride and prejudice against the clearest intimations of his will; ye do always resist the Holy Ghost; rejecting the evidence of his miracles, wilfully blind to the clearest prophesies, and fighting against the convictions of your own consciences. As your fathers did, so do ye; refusing to hearken unto us the inspired servants of Jesus, as they turned a deaf ear to the warnings of the prophets: and just is it in God to devote those to ruin, who will not hearken to his admonitions, but obstinately harden their hearts.
2. They were persecutors and murderers, like their fathers. Which of the prophets have not your fathers persecuted? more or less reviling or opposing them? and they have slain them which shewed before of the coming of the Just One, the divine Messiah, Jesus, the holy one of God, sent to bring in an everlasting righteousness, through his infinite merit and intercession; of whom ye, treading closely in your ancestors' steps, and exceeding them in wickedness, have been now the betrayers and murderers.
3. They had rejected God's word, as their fathers before them, who have received the law, delivered in the most august manner, by the disposition of angels, whose ministry God employed on mount Sinai, when in shining ranks they graced that solemnity, as attendants on the king of glory; and have not kept it; have, like them, broken its most essential precepts, and added to all their guilt the rejection of the gospel also, notwithstanding all the glorious evidences wherewith it has been attended; and how then can you hope to escape the vengeance of an offended God?
6thly, We have the glorious and triumphant death of the first Christian martyr.
1. When they heard these things, they were cut to the heart, so filled were they with envy, indignation, and malice, as if sawn asunder; and they gnashed on him with their teeth, as if they would have devoured him alive. Note; Wicked men carry their hell about with them, in those diabolical tempers and raging passions, which make them their own tormentors.
2. Stephen, unterrified with their malice, and being full of the Holy Ghost, receiving an abundant increase of grace and consolation suited to his present condition, looked up steadfastly into heaven; appealing to God, confidently expecting divine support, and eagerly longing after that crown of glory which now shone bright in his view, and enabled him to look down with contempt upon the malice of his enemies; and, by a miraculous manifestation, saw the glory of God, some visible emblem of the eternal majesty, such as the Shechinah, and Jesus standing on the right hand of God, in his human nature as Mediator, exalted to the highest honour and dignity, appearing as the advocate of his suffering saint, to strengthen him boldly to resist unto blood, to crown him with martyrdom, and shortly to avenge him of his bloody persecutors. Transported with this beatific vision, he said, with wonder and delight, Behold, I see the heavens opened and the Son of man standing on the right hand of God. Note; (1.) In times of suffering, our eyes should be lifted up to heaven, for thence cometh our help. (2.) As our tribulations for Christ abound, he is pleased, by the most gracious manifestations of himself, to cause our consolations to abound also. (3.) A sight of Jesus, at the right-hand of God, will carry us triumphantly through death armed with all its terrors, and enable us to defy the stroke.
3. Concluding now that they had full cause for his condemnation, They cried out with a loud voice, to drown his speech, to express their detestation of what they heard, and to sharpen each other's fury; and stopped their ears, as if shocked at his blasphemy; and ran upon him with one accord; the whole multitude of the people rising in tumultuous rage; and cast him out of the city, as a wretch not fit to live, and who defiled that holy place where he stood, and stoned him, as a blasphemer (Leviticus 24:16.) and the witnesses, whose hands were first upon him (Deuteronomy 17:6-7.) laid down their clothes at a young man's feet, whose name was Saul, a fiery zealot, who with pleasure saw the bloody execution of this holy martyr. Note; (1.) The cause of Christ is often run down with clamour, and rage supplies the place of reason. (2.) Many of the dearest saints upon earth have been counted as the off-scouring of all things, and thought unworthy of the air they breathed.
4. They stoned Stephen, calling upon God; though cast out from earth, as unworthy to live, he had a sure interest in heaven, saying, Lord Jesus, receive my spirit; and, now ready to expire, he kneeled down, and cried with a loud voice, expressive of the vehemence of his desire, Lord, lay not this sin to their charge, copying closely his divine Master's example; and when he had said this, he fell asleep; as these words dropped from his lips, the mortal blow reached him, and in the arms of everlasting love he sweetly rested from suffering and sorrow for ever. Note; (1.) In a dying hour, we cannot be better employed than in commending our souls into the arms of Jesus. (2.) If our immortal part be safe, it little matters what becomes of the fleshly tabernacle. (3.) Jesus is very God, the object of his people's adoration; and as it is only by faith in him that we can live comfortably, so only by an eye to him, as the resurrection and the life, can we die happily. (4.) Our bitterest persecutors must share our prayers; and the more wicked they are, the more they need them. (5.) When we come to die, it will be essential to our salvation, that we are truly in charity with all men. (6.) Death to the faithful is but a sleep: their bodies reposing awhile in that bed of dust where our Lord has lain, HIS voice shall waken them up in the resurrection morn, and they shall arise to share with him the triumphs of that eternal day, when their sun shall no more go down, nor their moon withdraw itself, but the Lord shall be their everlasting light, and their God their glory.
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Coke, Thomas. "Commentary on Acts 7". Thomas Coke Commentary on the Holy Bible. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 20 / Ordinary 25