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.
I. EVERY MAN IS BOUND TO DO SOMETHING BEFORE HE DIE.
1. Every man is bound to be something, to take some calling upon him. We begin with our beginning, our birth. "Man is born to labour" (Job 5:7; Hebrews). Howsoever honourable his station is, he is bound to do his day's work in the day, the duties of the place in the place. How far is he from doing so who never so much as considers why he was sent into this world, and in spite of all that God has done for him, and taught him in creation and redemption! Such a man passes through life as an ignis fatuus, which gives no light, and signifies nothing. He passes out of the world as a body out of a bath, when the water may be the fouler, but otherwise retains no impression; so the world may be the worse for his having lived in it, or else retains no mark of his having been here. When God placed Adam in the world He enjoined him to fill, subdue, and rule it; when God placed His children in the land of promise He enjoined them to fight against idolatry — to everybody some task for His glory. God made every man something, but many make the best of things, man, nothing. He that qualifies himself for nothing does so; he whom we can call nothing is nothing. God's own name is "I am" — Being, and nothing is so contrary to God as to be nothing. Be something or else thou canst do nothing, and till thou hast done something thou canst not sleep Stephan's sleep.
2. Every man is bound to do seriously, sedulously, and sincerely the duties of his calling. He that stands in a place and does not the duties of that place is a statue, and a statue without an inscription. The duty in the text is speaking, "When he had said," a duty devolving upon ministers and magistrates, and unless they speak, and speak to purpose, they cannot sleep Stephen's sleep. But as in creation God does as well as says, so we must not only speak, but act. Therefore do not complain that God exacts the duties of thy place, and say not of it that it is good for nothing, for it is good for this that when thou hast discharged its duties thou mayest sleep Stephen's sleep.
3. The better to perform those duties every one shall do well to propose to himself some example to imitate in that calling, It was the counsel of that great little philosopher, Epictetus, whensoever thou undertakest any action to consider what a Socrates or a Plato would do in that case, and to do conformably to that. Here is an example which suits everybody.
(1) Note this name, Stephen, a crown — the reward of faithfulness. Our names are debts; every man owes the world the signification of his name, and every additional name of honour or office lays a new obligation on him; and his first name, his Christian name above all. The duties of a Christianity must weigh down the duties of all other plans.
(2) He became a disciple early, and therefore takes rank even before Paul.
(3) He made his ambition only to serve Christ, and not in a high place, but as a deacon.
(4) But Stephen's exemplariness consists not so much in what he did as in what he suffered. He cheerfully laid down his life for Christ's sake. To suffer for God is the greatest thing in the world, except God's sufferings for man. The latter was the nadir of God's humiliation, the former is the zenith of man's exaltation. Nor is it needful to suffer death to imitate Stephen. Every man who suffers injuries without resentment, who resists temptations from power or pleasure, who cheerfully bears God's crosses, is a true copy of Stephen.
(5) Christ was his and our supreme pattern, as we see conspicuously here.
II. TO THAT MAN WHO HATH DONE THOSE THINGS WHICH THE DUTIES OF HIS CALLING BIND HIM TO, DEATH IS BUT A SLEEP. There are two classes of men, those who die in the bath of a peaceable, and those who die upon the wreck of a distracted conscience — and the lives of each are correspondent to, and lead up to their death.
1. The death of the wicked is not a sleep.
(1) It is bloody conflict and no victory.
(2) It is a tempestuous sea and no harbour.
(3) A slippery height and no footing.
(4) a desperate fall and no bottom.
2. The death of the righteous is a sleep. They do not only go to heaven by death, but heaven comes to them in death; their very manner of dying is an inchoative act of their glorified state: therefore it is not called a dying, but a sleeping, which intimates two blessings —
(1) Present rest. Now men sleep not well fasting; nor does a fasting conscience, a conscience that is not nourished with a testimony of having done well, come to this sleep. "The sleep of a labouring man is sweet," and to him that laboureth in his calling this sleep of death is welcome (Proverbs 3:24; Psalm 4:8).
(2) Future waking is the resurrection (1 Thessalonians 4:14). They shall awake as Jacob did, and say as he said, "Surely the Lord is in this place, and this is none other than the house of God and the gate of heaven."
(J. Donne, D. D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: 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.