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« they gnashed upon him with their teeth,” like beasts of prey, ready to tear and devour him.
St. Stephen, then, had nothing to expect, but immediate destruction : yet he remained undauntedo The Lord God conferred upon hiin a more signal honour, than before. Such abundant confolations were administered to the poor persecuted saint, as enabled him to be collected in the face of his furious enemies, though he seemed to lie at their mercy. The glories of tre heavenly world were unfolded to his view, and he experienced within his enraptured soul a large measure of its blessedness.
What a striking contrast is here exhibited between him and his adverfaries! They felt diabolical tempers, which constitute ö á part of infernal misery: he, possessing peace and joy unspeakable, exulted, as if he had been translated into the immediate presence of God. Under the full infuence of the Holy Ghost, he disregarded their rage, and looked up with fixed attention, as if he were appealing to the righteous Judge of all. He saw the fplendour, which encircles the throne of God, and the Saviour himself standing at the right hand of the divine Majesty, engaged for his defence, and waiting to receive him.
The man of God, fired with a holy transport, and not attending to his own situation, declared the delightful vision. The believer, when favoured with heavenly confolations, may frequently be unable to conceal his emotions, and, without consulting the dictates of worldly prudence, may call upon others to admire the greatness of his joy. But it is not probable, that sinners will credit such accounts, as accord not with their own experience. Thus the persecu. tors of St. Stephen, fo far from being convinced by his relation of the wondrous fact, were the more incensed. Confirmed in their former opinion, they concluded that he was a blafphemier, who ought not to be permitted to live. The council broke up in
the utmoft confusion: they stopped their ears, that they might not be shocked by his profaneness, rushed upon him with furious rage, and hurried him out of the city, that they might destroy him by stoning.
It is remarked, that among those, who encouraged this violent outrage, was a young man, named Saul, who foon afterwards became a principal pillar of the Church, and preached the faith, which he then hated and opposed. He gave consent to Stephen's death,
and, in teftimony of approbation, defended the garปร
ments of those, who thed his blood. Do we not lang ment their blind and intemperate zeal? They fup
posed, that they were doing God service*, and pre
tended a regard to his law. But, alas! they knew 07 not, what were their real principles. O Lord, de
liver us from such a grievous delusion; and while we profefs to contend for thy truth and glory, suffer us not to be carried away by the tempers of Satan!
Wé turn our eyes from the madness of the murthe derers, to contemplate the conduct of the dying faint. 2nd With unshaken courage, with sweet compofure, with the lively faith, and fervent love, he closed his valuable ting life, and left a bright pattern for the admiration of the
Church in every fucceeding age, While they hurled
upon him the instruments of destruction, he looked de.
up in prayer, and commended his soul into the hands
of the Saviour, whom he beheld in glory. “Knowe to ing, in whom he had believed, and being persuaded the that he was able to keep that which he commitied
unto him against that day t," he exclaimed, “ Lord oba Jesus, receive my spirit. cord
We remark, to whom his folemn petition was adécil dressed, and we are at no loss to collect his opinion of :d by the divine nature of Christ. He considered hiin, e in evidentiy, as possessed of power to preserve the facred they depofit, then intrufted to him, and as “the true God,"
John xyi. 2.
who demands supreme reverence and worship. Shall any presume to insinuate, that this eminent faint,
being full of the Holy Ghott," could die in the very commission of idolatry? But this horrible pofidion must be maintained, if it be not allowed, that Jesus Christ i: God, equal with the Father. It is observable, that Stephen here paid the same adoration to the Redeemer, in delivering up to him the care of his departing soul, which the Redeemer himself of fered to the Father, when he said, “ Into thy hands I commend my spirit *."
Amidst vollies of stones, which were caft upor his bruised body, Stephen continued unhaken in his inind. Confident of his own security, he felt the tenderest compassion for the persons, who were bringing upon themselves the guilt of innocent blood, and prayed aloud upon his bended knees, that their heinous offence might not rise up in judgment to their condemnation. He cried, “ Lord, lay not this fin to their charge. How amiable the temper here manifested! What an illustrious display of the power of divine grace! What a striking resemblance between the dying conduct of this holy martyr, and that of the blessed Redeemer, who, likewise, in his last moments, thus interceded for his murderers, “ Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do + !"
The whole of St. Stephen's deportment proved, that he was superior to all the menaces and cruelties of his enemies. When he had offered up his devout supplications for them, “ he fell alleep" he met his diffolution with as much composure, as if he were retiring from the fatigues of the day, and seeking rest and refreshment in Aeep for his weary body. Such is the clofe of life to the believer in Jesus. Surely, we are constrained to say, “ Blessed are the dead, which die in the Lord, from henceforth. They rest from their
• Luke xxiii. 46.
$ xxiii. 34
labours; and their works do follow them *.* « Them, also, which sleep in Jelus, will God bring with him t."
The departure of this illustrious saint, fo glorious and happy to himself, appeared a heavy loss to the Church, especially in such a season of violent perfe. cution. As a testimony of the high estimation, in which he was held, “ devout men carried Stephen to his burial, and made great lamentation over him I. It is not wrong to defire, that useful lives may be (pared; or, when they are taken away, to grieve for the many inconveniences, which we may suitain, and the obstruction, which may be apprehended, to the work of God. But is it 'thus, that the enemies of true religion die? Their removal is, frequently, an acknowledged blefing to society. « The wicked is driven away in his wickedness :” and,“ when the wicked perish, there is shouting §.”
A serious review of this singular narration will El fuggest various instructions.
1. It will confirm us in the belief of the Gospel. Among other evidences in support of our holy faith, we may produce the sufferings of its primitive teachers, as furnishing a very strong argument. They, surely, who had the best opportunities of examining, were persuaded of its truth and excellency, since they cheerfully endured the severest tortures in its defence. Stephen was the first, who died in the cause; but many others soon followed his example. Could they be actuated by interested views ? Did they conduct themselves like impostors? The holy martyr, whom we here contemplate, plainly found in his last moments the reality and blessedness of that religion, which he so powerfully maintained. By the peaceful and triumphant manner of his death, in such circum
* Rev. xiv. 13•
I Acts viji. 1, 2.
t i Theff. iv. 14.
fances of bodily pain, he has left an unquestionable proof, that our R deemer is mighty. Many private Christians, likewife, at the hour of their departure, though they fuffer-not by the hand of violence, yet put it beyond a doubt, by their heavenly tempers and lively joys, that their system is not a “cunningly devised fable," or their faith a vain delusion.
Olet us listen to their testimony, and be animated by their example! May our last end be like their’s; and, when we are clofing our eyes upon every thing below, may we be able to say, “I know that my Redeemer live eth!”
2. It will teach us how to meet the fiercest opposition for the truth's sake. Our observations on this head may be thought ill-suited to the present state of things. We grant, that the same violence of persecution, which occurred in former times, does not now prevail.
We allow the candour of the age; we are thankful for the mild and equitable laws, which prevent or punish any outrage upon our perfons. But there is still « the strife of tongues,” the 66 trial of cruel mockings,” which cannot be restrained : and these have considerable influence in de. terring men from a zealous profession of religion. Though we are not called to martyrdom, it must be felt as extremely painful to be despised and calumniated by those, whose friendship we are anxious to preserve.
We learn, however, from Stephen's example, to resist our enemies with prudence and courage. If, like him, we would “put to filence the ignorance of foolish men,” we should be able to give a confiftent account of our faith, and defend our principles. Much wisdom, also, will be requisite, in order to adapt our discourse to the circumstances, in which we may be placed. Yet let us beware of cowardice, and, while we behold Stephen's intrepidity, determine never to defert the cause of truth, for the sake of con