Acts 7:1

Abraham is well called "the father of the faithful;" nowhere, in the Old Testament or in the Newt do we meet with any one whose life was such an illustration of implicit trust and holy confidence in God as was his. If faith be not merely the acceptance of a creed, or the utterance of sacred phrases, or the patronage of religious institutions; if it be a living power in the soul, it will manifest itself in -

I. CHEERFUL OBEDIENCE. (Vers. 2-4.) God bade Abraham leave his home and kindred, and he left them. He did not know whither he was going (Hebrews 11:8), but at the call of God he set forth promptly and willingly. So Matthew at the summons of the Savior (Matthew 9:9). So many thousands since his day; men and women who have heard the Master say, "Go," and they have gone, relinquishing all that is most cherished by the human heart. When God distinctly speaks to us, whatever he may bid us do, at whatever cost we may be required to obey, it behooves us to comply instantly and cheerfully.

II. TRUST IN THE DARKNESS. (Ver. 5.) There is little faith in trusting God when everything is bright and hopeful. When we can see our way we can easily believe that it is the right one. Living faith shows itself when we "do not see and yet believe" (John 20:29). Abraham was promised the land of Canaan "for a possession," yet God "gave him none inheritance in it." "By faith he sojourned in the land of promise, as in a strange country" (Hebrews 11:9). This might have seemed to him as a "breach of promise" (Numbers 14:34) on the part of him who brought him out of Chaldaea, but he does not seem to have entertained any doubts or misgivings. Moreover, he believed that the land would be the property of his seed, though "as yet he had no child." "By faith also he offered up Isaac," etc. (Hebrews 11:17). Even in the thick darkness, when he could not see one step before him, Abraham trusted God. We profess to "walk by faith, not by sight" (2 Corinthians 5:7), but we are often fearful and doubtful when the way is clouded. But it is in the night of adversity that the star of faith must shine.

"When we in darkness walk,
Nor feel the heavenly flame,
Then is the time to trust our God
And rest upon his Name."

III. CONFIDENCE IN THE FUTURE. (Vers. 6, 7.) God told his servant that, after being in bondage four hundred years, his seed should serve him in that country. It was a long time to look forward to. But the believing patriarch rested in God and was satisfied. We are impatient if our schemes do not come to maturity in a very brief time; we cry "failure" when only a small fraction of four centuries is passed without the redemption of our hope. We are bound to remember that we "have to do" with the Eternal One. We must wait his time, whether it be a day or a thousand years. - C.

Then said the high priest, Are these things so? &&&
This functionary was probably Theophilus, son-in-law of Caiaphas. The ex-officio president of the council called for the defence against the charge of blasphemy (Acts 6:13, 14). The question, equivalent to guilty or not guilty, appears to have been put with great mildness, possibly under the influence of the angel-like aspect.

(Bp. Jacobson.)

And he said, Men, brethren, and fathers, hearken
In order to understand this wonderful and somewhat difficult speech, it will be well to bear in mind that a threefold element runs through it.

I. He shows APOLOGETICALLY that so far from dishonouring Moses or God, he believes and holds in mind God's dealings with Abraham and Moses, and grounds upon them his preaching; that so far from dishonouring the temple, he bears in mind its history and the sayings of the prophets respecting it; and he is proceeding, when interrupted by their murmurs or inattention, he bursts forth into a holy vehemence of invective against their rejection of God.

II. But simultaneously and parallel with this he also proceeds DIDACTICALLY, showing them that a future prophet was pointed out by Moses as the final lawgiver of God's people — that the Most High had revealed His spiritual and heavenly nature by the prophets, and did not dwell in temples made with hands.

III. Even more remarkably does the POLEMIC element run through the speech. "It is not I, but you, who from the first times till now have rejected and spoken against God." And this element just appearing (ver. 9), and again more plainly (vers. 25-28), and again more pointedly still in ver. 35, becomes dominant in vers. 39-44, and finally prevails to the exclusion of the others in vers. 51-53.

(Dean Alford.)

I. THE SOURCE OF HIS ARGUMENT. The sacred history of the Jews which accusers and accused alike revered. In doing this he secured their attention by giving them to understand —

1. That his faith in that history was as strong as theirs.

2. That he was thoroughly conversant with that history.

II. ITS POINT — that all God's dealings with His people pointed to those very changes which he was accused of advocating. This position he makes good by showing —

1. That the external condition of the Church had undergone repeated changes. There was a change under

(1)Abraham (vers. 2-8).

(2)Joseph (vers. 9-16).

(3)Moses (vers. 17-44).

(4)David (vers. 45, 46).

2. That the present external state of the Church had no existence before Solomon; and that even this was intended from the beginning to be temporary (vers. 47-50).

III. ITS APPLICATION (vers. 51-53). Mark —

1. The vile character he gives them.

(1)"Stiffnecked" — contumacious, rebellious.

(2)"Uncircumcised" — unsacred, impure.

2. The crimes he charges upon them —

(1)Resistance to the Holy Ghost.

(2)An hereditary persecuting spirit.

(3)The betrayal and murder of the Son of God.

(D. Thomas, D. D.)

1. How does this speech happen to be here? It would be easy for the memory to carry a sentence or two; but who could record so long and highly-informed a speech? There was a young man listening with no friendly ear. His name was Saul. It is supposed that he related it to Luke. It is not a correct report. No man can report chain lightning. You may catch a little here and there, but the elements that lifted it up into historic importance, it was not in the power of memory to carry. You must not therefore hold Stephen responsible for this speech; they did not give him an opportunity of revising it. There is no statement here made that is not spiritually true, and yet there are a few sentences that may be challenged on some technical ground. Some persons imagine that they are inspired when they are only technical. They forget that you may not have a single text in support of what you are stating, and yet may have the whole Bible in defence of it. The Bible is not a text, it is a tone; it is not a piece of technical evidence, it is an inspiration.

2. The man who reported this speech to Luke made it the basis and the model of his own immortal apologies. Truly we sometimes borrow from unacknowledged sources, and are sometimes indebted to unknown influences for some of our best inspirations. That a man appointed with six others to serve tables should have become the first Christian martyr apologist, and should have given the model for the greatest speeches ever delivered by man, is surely a very miracle of Providence! How little Stephen knew what he was doing. Who really knows the issue and full effect of any action or speech? Life is not marked off in so many inches and done with; it may be the beginning of endless other acts nobler than itself.

I. IT IS FAIR CRITICISM TO INFER THE MAN FROM THE SPEECH. What kind of man was Stephen, judged by his speech? He was —

1. A man well versed in the Scriptures. From beginning to end his speech is scriptural; quotation follows quotation like shocks of thunder. Stephen was a man who had read his Bible; therein he separates himself from the most of modern people. I cannot call to mind one who ever read the Bible and disbelieved it. We all know many who abuse the Bible who have never read it. Not that such persons have not read parts of the Bible, which being perused without understanding are misquoted. Who really knows the Bible by heart? Some of us boast that we can recite five plays of Shakespeare. Who can recite the Book of Psalms? You call upon your little children to recite nonsense verses, which is well enough now and then; but which of your children can recite a chapter of St. John? Suppose some of us were called upon at a moment's notice to recite six verses of Romans? Only the men who know the Bible should quote it. Only those who are steeped in the Scriptures should undertake to express any opinion about it. This is the law in all other criticism, and in common justice it ought to be the law in relation to the inspired revelation of God.

2. A man who took a broad and practical view of history. It is as difficult to find a man who has read history as to find a man who has read the Bible. A man does not know history because he can repeat all the kings of England from the Conquest. You do not learn history from the books. From the books you learn the facts; but having ascertained the facts, you must make history. The novelist is a better historian than the mere annalist, because history is an atmosphere. It is not only a panorama of passing incidents; it is a spirit in which such men as Stephen lived. He was a member of a great and noble household, a link in a far-stretching chain, an element in a great composition. Why should we live the shallow life of men who have no history behind them? We are encompassed by a great cloud of witnesses. We have no right to disennoble ourselves and commit an act of dismembership which separates us from the agony, the responsibility, and the destiny of the race. In Christ we have all to be one.

3. A man who was forced into action by his deep convictions. That is a word which, has somehow slipped out of our vocabulary, because it has slipped out of our life. Who now has any convictions? Life is now a game, a series of expedients, a succession of experiments. It is not an embodied and sacrificial conviction. In those days men spoke because they believed. They had no necessity to get up a speech, to arrange it in words that would offend and be recollected by nobody. Without faith we cannot have eloquence. It is not enough to have information. If you believe Christianity, you will not need an exhortation to speak it. Speech about Christianity, where it is known and loved, is the best necessity of this life. The. fire burns, the heart muses, and the tongue speaks; hence in the fifty-first verse yon find that Stephen was a man whose information burned into religious earnestness. Having made his quotation he turned round as preachers dare not turn round now. It was an offensive speech, and it would be unpardonable now. Why? Because it was truth made pointed, and that no man will ever endure. The man who would listen all day with delight to an eloquent malediction upon the depravity of the. whole world would leave the church if you told him he was a drunkard or a thief. We live in generalities. So preaching is now dying, or it is becoming a trick in, eloquence, or it is offering a grand opportunity for saying nothing about nothing. It used to turn the world upside down.


1. Its literary form. We need no book of rhetoric beyond this great apology. Called upon, he addresses his auditors with courtesy as "Men, brethren, and fathers." He begins calmly, with the serenity of conscious power. He quotes from undisputed authority. Every step he takes is a step in advance. There is not in all his narration one circular movement. Having accumulated his facts and put them in the most vivid manner, he suddenly, like the out-bursting of a volcano, applies the subject, saying, "Ye stiff-necked," etc. This is the law of argumentative progress. Begin courteously, and beg the confidence and respectful attention of your hearers; but your speech will be their responsibility. They will not be the same at the end of the speech a they were at the beginning. A preacher may begin as courteously as he pleases, but having shown what God is and has done, and wants to be done, his conclusion should be a judgment as well as a gospel.

2. Its probable source. How did Stephen know all about the case? Suppose that Stephen was the second disciple who, on the road to Emmaus, heard Christ expound in all Scripture the things concerning himself. What if Saul reported Stephen, and Stephen reported Christ, and so the great gospel goes on from man to. man, from tongue to tongue, till the last man hears it, and his heart burns within him!

3. Its main purpose — to disclose the method of Divine revelation and providence. Let us see whether what is related here agrees with our own observation and experience.(1) God has from the beginning made Himself known to individuals. Stephen relates the great names of history. Some names are as mountains on the landscape. We start our journeys from them, we reckon our distances by them, we measure our progress according to their height. God does not reveal Himself to crowds. It is not only in theology, but in science, politics, commerce, literature, family life, that God speaks to the individual and entrusts him with some great gospel or spiritual mystery. Why talk about election as if it were exclusively a religious word? How is it that one man in the family has all the sense? How is it that one man is a poet and another a mathematician? How is it that one boy can never be got to stay at home and his own brother can never be got to leave home? How is it that one man speaks out the word that expresses the inarticulate thought of a generation, though all other men would have been wise enough to discover it?(2) God has constantly come along the line of surprise. Revelation has never been a commonplace. Wherever God has revealed Himself Me has surprised the person on whom the light has fallen. The power of surprise is one of the greatest powers at the disposal of any teacher. How to put the old as if it were the new! How to set fire to common sense so that it shall burn up into genius! How to reveal to a man his bigger and better self! How has God proceeded according to the historical narration of Stephen? To Abram he said, "Get thee out from thy country and from thy kindred." We cannot conceive the shock of surprise with which these words would be received. Travelling then was not what travelling is now. No man could receive a call of that kind as a mere commonplace! Called to give up a reality in the hope of realising a dream! Joseph's life was a surprise — a greater surprise to himself than to anybody. How was it that he always had the key of the gate? Why did men turn to him? How was it that he only could tell the meaning of the king's dream? Then pass on to Moses. A bush flamed at the mountain base, and a voice said to the wanderer, Stop! Nothing but fire can stop some men! There are those to whom the dew is a gospel, there are others who require the very fire that lights the eternal throne to stop them and rouse their full attention. God knows what kind of ministry you need, so He has set in His Church a thousand ministries. It is not for us to compare the one with the other, but to see in such a distribution of power God's purpose to touch every creature in the whole world.(3) God has all the time been over-ruling improbabilities and disasters. We should say that when God has called a man to service the road would be wide, clear of all obstructions, filled with sunshine, lined with flowers, that the man leaning on God's arm will be accompanied by the singing of birds and of angels. Nothing of the kind is true to fact. Stephen recognises this in very distinct terms. God said that Abram's seed should sojourn in a strange land, and that they should bring them into bondage, and evil entreat them four hundred years! In the face of such an arrangement can there be an Almighty providence? Yes. And Joseph was sold into Egypt. "God-forsaken" we should say, looking at the outside only. And there were those who evilly entreated our fathers, so that they cast out their young children to the end they might not live. Moses himself was "cast out." Stephen does not cover these things up or make less of them. Nay, he masses them into great black groups, and says — Still the great thought went on and on! There is the majesty of the Divine Providence. Its movement is not lost in pits, and caves, and wildernesses, and rivers, and seas. The disasters are many, the sufferings are severe, the disappointments are innumerable and unendurable; still the thought goes on. Judge nothing before the time. So it is with our own life.Conclusion: Mark how exactly this whole history of Stephen's corresponds with Christ's method of revelation and providence.

1. Did not Christ reveal Himself to individuals? Did He not say to the Abram of His time, "Follow Me"?

2. Did He not also use the power of surprise? When was He ever received into any town as an ordinary visitor? Who did not wait for Him to speak and look, and act? Who was not impatient with all the multitude lest they should interrupt any sentence of this marvellous eloquence?

3. Did He not also take His Church through improbabilities, disasters, and dark places? Has not His Church been evil entreated? Have not our Christian fathers been cast out? Have we not also our heroes, and sufferers, and martyrs, and crowned ones? Was not Christ always master of the occasion? Without a place whereon to lay His head, He was still the Lord. We remember our disasters; but the Church is the Lamb's Bride, and He will marry her at the altar of the universe!

(J. Parker, D. D.)

How was Stephen's speech preserved? The notaries, shorthand writers, and clerks attendant upon a Roman court were accessible to the gifts of the richer Christians when they wished to obtain a correct narrative of a martyr's last trial. Secret Christians among the officials also effected something, and there were numerous other methods by which the Roman judicial records became the property of the Church. Probably St. Paul gave his disciple, St. Luke, report of what Stephen said on this occasion.

I. THE DEFENCE OF ST. STEPHEN WAS A SPEECH DELIVERED BY A JEW, AND ADDRESSED TO A JEWISH AUDIENCE. Orientals argued then, and argue still, not according to the rules of logic taught by Aristotle, nor by the methods of eloquence derived from the traditions of Cicero and Quinctilian, but by methods and rules essentially different. What would satisfy Westerns would seem to them utterly worthless, just as an argument which now seems pointless appeared to them absolutely conclusive. Parallels, analogies, parables, mystical interpretations were then favourite methods of argument. St. Stephen was accused of irreverence towards Moses, and hostility towards the temple, and towards all the Jewish institutions. He begins his address to the Sanhedrin at the earliest period of their national history, and shows how the chosen people had passed through many changes and developments without interfering with their essential identity. There was a chosen people before the customs introduced by Moses. There may therefore be a chosen people still when these customs cease, having fulfilled their purpose. He was accused also of speaking blasphemous words against the national sanctuary. His argument now takes a different turn, and runs thus: This building is now the centre of Jewish thoughts and affections. But it is a mere modern thing as compared with the original choice and promise of God. Even when it was built, and in all its original glory, its temporal character was clearly recognised by Isaiah (Isaiah 66:1. 2). The same truth had been anticipated by Solomon (1 Kings 8:27). Then there occurs a break in St. Stephen's address. Possibly the Sadducean portion of his audience had got quite enough. Their countenances and gestures bespoke their horror of his doctrines. Isaiah's opinion carried no weight with them as contrasted with the institutions of Moses; and so, borne along by the force of his oratory, Stephen finished with that vigorous denunciation which led to his death (vers. 51-53).

II. WHAT A LESSON STEPHEN'S SPEECH HAS FOR THE CHURCH OF EVERY AGE! His forecast swept away at once all the privileges and profits connected with the religious position of Jerusalem, and thus destroyed the political prospects of the Jewish people. Men never listen patiently when their pockets are being touched, their dearest hopes annihilated. Take the political world alone. look back and view with horror the deeds wrought in the name of authority, and in opposition to the principles of change and innovation. We read the stories of Alva, and the massacres in the Netherlands, the bloody deeds of the seventeenth century in England and all over Europe, the miseries and bloodshed of the American War of Independence, the fierce opposition with which the spirit of liberty has been resisted throughout this century; and our sympathies are altogether ranged on the side of the sufferers — the losers and defeated, it may have been, for the time, but the triumphant in the long run. The true student, however, of history, or of human nature, will not content himself with any one-sided view, and he will have Some sympathy to spare for those who adopted the stern measures: He will not judge them too harshly. They reverenced the past as the Jews of Jerusalem did, and reverence is a feeling that is right and blessed. The opponents of political change are sometimes denounced in the fiercest language, as if they were morally wicked. The late Dr. Arnold seems a grievous offender in this respect. No one can read his charming biography by Dean Stanley without recognising how intolerant he was towards his political opponents; how blind he was to those good motives which inspire the timorous, the ignorant, and the aged, when brought face to face with changes which appear to them thickly charged with the most dangerous results. Charity towards opponents is sadly needed in the political as well as in the religious world. And as it has been in politics, so has it been in religion. Men reverence the past, and that reverence easily glides into an idolatry, blind to its defects and hostile to any improvement. It is in religion too as in politics; a thousand other interests — money, office, expectations, memories of the loved and lost — are bound up with religious forms, and then when the prophet arises with his Divine message, as Stephen arose before the Sanhedrin, the ancient proverb is fulfilled, the corruption of the best becomes the worst, the good motives mingle with the evil, and are used by the poor human heart to justify the hardest, most unchristian, deeds done in defence of what men believe to be the cause of truth and righteousness.

III. THE MISTAKES AND VARIATIONS WHICH OCCUR IN STEPHEN'S SPEECH. They are mistakes such as a speaker, filled with his subject and speaking to an excited and hostile audience, might naturally make; mistakes such as truthful speakers every day make in their ordinary efforts.

(G. T. Sokes, D. D.)

1. "Mark the perfect man." That object is worthy of regard anywhere; but here it is in a position peculiarly fitted to display its grandeur. Everything about the faith of Christians is interesting; but "the trial of their faith is found unto praise," etc. (1 Peter 1:7). The flame may live through the day, but it is by night that it is seen. "Mark the perfect man," but choose the time for marking him — towards the close: "the end of that man is peace."

2. Stephen stands before the Sanhedrin, not to be tried but to be condemned. When he distributed alms his face was pleasant; but when he stands before his murderers it is like the face of an angel. The sun is most beautiful at its setting, and if dark clouds cluster round they serve to receive and reflect his light, and so to increase the loveliness of the departing moment.

2. The specific charge against Stephen was that he spoke blasphemous words, etc; but the first portion of his speech must have gone far to refute it, for in the spirit of a devout believer he traces the course of Hebrew history. This is no reviler of the temple and the law, a renegade Jew who abjures Moses. His elegant apologetic essay by itself would have pleased his judges, as the story of the ewe lamb did the guilty king, and perhaps they may have begun to think "this man doeth nothing worthy of death or of bonds."

4. Stephen, I suppose, had a well-defined plan. He wished to win their attention and soften their hearts. When at last he saw the gates open he made a sudden rush, in the hope of taking the city by assault, and leading its defenders captive to Christ. And the plan was in the first instance successful. The Word proved quick and powerful. The sword ran into their joints and marrow. The immediate object is gained: there is conviction — "they were cut to the heart." But for those who try to win souls, as for those who try to win fortunes, there is many a slip betwixt the cup and the lip. Conversion does not always follow conviction. When such a home thrust takes effect a great fire of anger is kindled which will either turn inward and consume sin, or outward to persecute the preacher. In this case anger went the wrong way.

5. As the fury of the persecutors increased, so did the ecstasy of the martyr. The blast of their wrath against him, like the wind against a kite, carried him higher toward heaven. He saw "the glory of God and Jesus." The two lie close together, to Stephen they blended in one. If the glory of God were to appear without Jesus the spirit would fail. "The Lamb is the light " of heaven. An uproar ensued. The peace and triumph of the martyrs has always had an effect upon the persecutors. The drums were beaten to drown the last words of the Scottish covenanters. "Argyle's sleep" on the night before his execution made his enemies' blood run cold.

(W. Arnot, D. D.)

The God of Glory
There was good reason for commencing his speech in the name of God. He thus in opposition to the current slander that he blasphemed God not only testifies his deep respect for God, and gives to Him the honour which is His due; but he has a positive reason for asserting the glory of God. Here, as in the subsequent part of his speech, he keeps in view the unlimited greatness, authority and sovereignty of God, according to which God is bound to nothing and no one, and can manifest Himself to whom, and how, and when He pleases. The expression in connection with "appeared" brings to their remembrance the sublime and elevating glory in which the self-manifestations of God were wont to take place.

(G. V. Lechler, D. D.)

Appeared unto our father Abraham when he was in Mesopotamia. —
Of this particular appearance there is no account in Genesis 11:31. But a Divine command, which had already been given at that time, is implied in Genesis 15:7, and reference is made to this in Joshua 24:2, 3; Nehemiah 9:7; Judith 5:7-9. Philo and Josephus agree in representing the Patriarch as having been called twice, first from his kindred and country in Ur, secondly from his father's house in Haran, Terah having accompanied him in the former migration, and being dead before the second. This is one of several instances in which New Testament supplies facts supplementary to Old Testament — e.g., the prophecy of Enoch (Jude 1:14); the names of the Egyptian magicians (2 Timothy 3:8); the hope that sustained Abraham in offering Isaac (Hebrews 11:19); the acknowledgment of Moses (Hebrews 12:21); the motive which strengthened him to leave the court of Pharaoh (Hebrews 11:24), and Egypt (Hebrews 11:27); and the prayer of Elijah (James 5:17).

(Bp. Jacobsen.)

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