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And the saying pleased the whole multitude: and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Ghost, and Philip, and Prochorus, and Nicanor, and Timon, and Parmenas, and Nicolas, a proselyte of Antioch;
Whom they set before the Apostles; and when they had prayed, they laid their hands on them.
And the word of God increased; and the number of the disciples multiplied in Jerusalem greatly; and a great company of the priests were obedient to the faith.
And Stephen, full of faith and power, did great wonders and miracles among the people.
Then there arose certain of the synagogue, which is called the synagogue of the Libertines, and Cyrenians and Alexandrians, and of them of Cilicia and of Asia, disputing with Stephen.
And they were not able to resist the wisdom and the spirit by which he spake.
Then they suborned men, and said, We have heard him speak blasphemous words against Moses and against God.
And they stirred up the people, and the elders, and the scribes, and came upon him, and caught him, and brought him to the council.
And set up false witnesses, which said, This man ceaseth not to speak blasphemous words against this holy place, and the law.
For we have heard him say, That this JESUS of Nazareth shall destroy this place, and shall change the customs which Moses delivered us.
And all that sat in the council looking stedfastly on him, saw his face as it had been the face of an angel.
Then said the high priest, Are these things so?
And he said, Men] and brethren, hearken unto me. [Then Stephen opened to them the scriptures, shewing the backslidings of the people of GoD, from the days of Abraham to the coming of CHRIST, and their idolatries, and how they disobeyed Moses, persecuted the prophets, and betrayed and crucified the MESSIAH.]
And Stephen said, Though your fathers received the law by the disposition of angels, ye have not kept it.
Ye stiff-necked, and uncircumcised in heart and ears, ye do always resist the Holy Ghost: as your fathers did,
so do ye.
When they heard these things, they were cut to the heart, and they gnashed on him with their teeth;
But he being full of the Holy Ghost, looked up stedfastly into heaven, and saw the glory of GOD, and JESUS standing on the right hand of GoD,
And said, Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of man standing on the right hand of GoD.
Then they cried out with a loud voice, and stopped their ears, and ran upon him with one accord,
And cast him out of the city, and stoned him: and the witnesses laid down their clothes at a young man's feet, whose name was Saul.
And they stoned Stephen, calling upon God, and saying LORD JESUS, receive my spirit.
And he kneeled down, and cried with a loud voice, LORD, lay not this sin to their charge. And when he had said this, he fell asleep.
And Saul was consenting unto his death.
ANNOTATIONS AND REFLECTIONS.
These called Grecians in the beginning of this Section
are supposed to have been certain converts to the Gospel, who being foreign Jews, and coming from the western country, used the Greek language in their synagogues and conversation; these murmured against the Hebrews, who were natives of Judea, and used the Hebrew or Syriac tongue, because, as they were strangers at Jerusalem, and had not so much interest as the natives, their necessitous widows were in some degree neglected in the daily administration of the charities that were distributed to the poor members of the church. The measure proposed by the Apostles of appointing Deacons to assist in the distribution of the money collected, was well calculated to prevent future disputes. Nicolas, one of the seven, was not a Jew born, but a proselyte of Antioch, whom they were the more willing to fix in this office as his peculiar relation to the Grecians would make him particularly careful to remedy any neglect of them which might inadvertently have prevailed. Upon these seven men the Apostles, after having prayed that a divine blessing might attend all their ministrations and care, laid their hands, as a sign that the HOLY SPIRIT would assist their endeavours; and thus consecrated them to their office.
It is very surprising to read that many of the priests, notwithstanding all those prejudices which they had imbibed against Christianity, from the scorn with which the High Priest and rulers treated it, and the loss of the temporal advantages they might be obliged to resign on account of it, became obedient unto the faith of CHRIST. And Stephen having for some time discharged the duty of a deacon with great fidelity, was raised to superior honours.
The men who opposed this pious decree belonged to a particular synagogue, called that of the Libertines, which consisted of the children of men who had been
carried into captivity, and afterwards set at liberty. The surprising radiancy of Stephen's countenance was a sign from the Almighty, that he approved the benignity and sweetness of his disposition, in which he resembled the celestial spirits. When called upon to make his defence, he began a large discourse, in which, in the softest and most inoffensive manner, he solemnly declared his firm persuasion of the divine authority of that law, which he was accused of blaspheming; and proved to them, from their own Scriptures, that God's gracious regard to his people was not limited within the boundaries of that land, nor appropriated to those only who were subject to the Mosaic ritual; at the same time reminding them of some instances in which they had ungratefully rejected those whom God had appointed for their deliverers, that they might be cautioned against repeating the fault in this instance to their final ruin. Stephen's whole discourse is worthy of particular consideration, but it would break in too much on the thread of the history to examine it at present. It is sufficient for our purpose to observe, that he concluded with reproaching the Jews for having despised so many advantages, and given such amazing proofs of obstinacy and hardness of heart; telling them, that as they did not keep up to the law of Moses, that was given them with such awful pomp on Mount Sinai, when the LORD shined forth with ten thousands of his holy attendants*; it was the less to be wondered at, that they now rejected the milder and more gracious dispensation of the Gospel, and thus added sin to sin.
Stephen, favoured with a glorious vision of his divine LORD, met his fate not only with resignation but joy; and having, in imitation of his divine Master, prayed
for his enemies, he calmly resigned his soul into his SAVIOUR's hands, and died with as much composure as if he was only falling into a gentle sleep.
Saul, the young man who took charge of the witnesses' clothes whilst they threw the first stones, as the law required, was afterwards converted.
By Stephen's address to the Jewish rulers we learn from what motives persecution usually arises. It begins in mistake, is carried on by pride, and ends in cruelty.
From the mildness with which Stephen suffered martyrdom, and the charity he shewed to his enemies, we are instructed in what manner to endure persecution, should it ever fall to our lot. We also understand, that there are no sufferings so great, but GoD can enable his faithful servants to bear them with fortitude and composure; and that in very extraordinary trials, extraordinary comfort and support will be granted.
From his calling on the LORD JESUS to receive his spirit, we are assured, that it is proper to pray to CHRIST; for Stephen did so, in consequence of seeing him as he appeared to Ezekiel and Daniel in prophetic visions, and as the Evangelist John afterwards beheld him, sitting on the throne of heaven as the LORD, the only Mediator between GOD and Man; through whom alone we have access to the FATHER. When CHRIST yielded
his SPIRIT, it was into the hands of the FATHER; but we must commit ours into the hands of the Son, for he hath purchased them with his own blood, and by him they will be preserved till the resurrection of the body*.
As the chapters in the Acts contain such a number of verses, that they alone would occupy a considerable part of a volume, I am under the necessity of relating the substance of some of themin the Annotations, instead of giving them at length. In doing this I shall borrow from Dr. Doddridge's Family Expositor.