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efpecially, we perceive a rich affemblage of graces, which we should keep in view for our own imitation.
He is introduced to our notice, as one of the feven first deacons at Jerufalem. That the Apoftles might be relieved from the care of the poor, and give themselves entirely to the spiritual duties of their function, proper perfons were chofen for the regular and impartial diftribution of the public money, though, it is prefumed, their attention was not confined merely to temporal concerns *. None, doubtless, were invefted with this office, but fuch as were of known integrity, piety, and difcretion.. 'The direction of the Apoftles was, "Look ye out from among you feven men of honeft report, full of the Holy Ghoft and wifdom, whom we may appoint over this bufinefs." Of this defcription was Saint Stephen. He ftands the foremost in the lift, and, probably, furpaffed the reft in his gifts and attainments. "They chofe Stephen, a man full of faith, and of the Holy Ghoft."
O how defirable it is, that all the departments in the Church were occupied by perfons of fimilar endowments! Thofe, who are not previously poffeffed of fpiritual knowledge and experience, in private life, are not likely to discharge any public trust with credit and advantage. Preferment generally proves a fnare and a curfe to thofe, who do not fin cerely devote themselves to the fervice of God, and exert their abilities, whatever they may be, for his glory and fuch cafes ftamp reproach and infamy on our holy profeffion. Let us pray, that God would raife up among us faithful witncffes for his truth, and open the way for their admiffion to thofe facred functions, for which he is pleafed to qualify them by his Spirit. Thus we may hope, that his work
• Acts ví. 1, &c..
will be revived, and the general languor, which we now lament, fucceeded by real fervour of devotion.
At the period, to which we here refer, the Church appeared in a profperous ftate. Its ministers were ail diligent and vigorous, and the conduct of its various members confiftent and honourable. Accord ingly, as we might expect," the word of God increafed; and the number of the difciples multiplied in Jerufalem greatly." Their external circumstances, alfo, were favourable. Gamaliel's advice had ftopped the rage of perfecution for a season. But the amazing propagation of the faith, through the zealous exertions of fome principal characters, again excited a furious oppofition. Such a man as St. Stephen, fo laborious and useful in the fervice, could not long remain unnoticed by the adverfaries: and at him efpecially, as one ftanding in the front of the battle, their envenomed darts were levelled. "Stephen, full of faith and power, did great wonders and miracles among the people." Having felt in himself the bleffedness of the Gofpel, he could the more earnestly recommend it to others.
preached with peculiar fervour, and confirmed his doctrines by the extraordinary gifts of the Spirit, which he poffeffed. Attempts were, therefore, made, to confound and filence this zealous advocate for Chrift.
Certain perfons, probably of diftinguished abilities and learning, from the different fynagogues in Jerufalem, pretended to oppofe him by argument and he was not backward to declare and maintain the truth before thefe fubtle difputants. In this conteft he received affiftance from above, and gained a decided victory. He fpake by a wifdom fuperior to his own, which aftonished and overpowered his antago nifts with an irrefiftible force. They were baffled, and, though not driven from the field, obliged to change their mode of attack. When reafoning failed, they tried the effect of flanderous and malicious invectives.
invectives. Men, in general, are difpofed to mifwhat they have in vain enAccufations were fought for,
represent and revile, deavoured to confute. and perjured wretches hired to affert a bafe calumny. The minds of the people were inflamed, and even the principal perfons of the city engaged in the oppofition. Stephen was apprehended, and with rage and violence dragged before the grand council of the Sanhedrim. A fhew of justice was preferved: the prisoner was put upon his trial, and witneffes called, who declared, "We have heard him speak blafphemous words against Mofes, and against God.” This they explained further by faying, that Stephen had predicted the deftruction of Jerufalem and the temple, and the total abolition of the law, by that Jefus whom he preached.
The charge was notoriously false, especially as conneted with thofe inferences, which they had drawn, Yet, probably, he had used expreffions concerning the vengeance, which God would execute upon them for their unbelief: and these they maliciously inifconftrued and perverted to their own purpofe. In the fame way the characters of religious perfons most frequently fuffer, by oblique infinuations, unfair deductions, and wrong interpretations, rather than by direct lies. We need not be surprised, if, in our defence of the truth, our words be wilfully miftaken, and "our good be evil spoken of.” We owe it to the over-ruling influence of God's providence, wonderfully restraining the malevolence of his enemies, that we are at any time preserved from the po.fonous attacks of false tongues. If we confider, how foɔn our reputation, fubftance, liberty, or life itself might be taken away, only by "fetting up falfe witneffes," as in the cafe of Stephen, we fhall fee abundant reafon to admire and praise the power and wisdom of God, by which he keeps the world in awe.
The prifoner ftood at the bar, and, the charge being brought, the eyes of the court were fixed upon him. And what did they behold? Were there any figns of guilt, any terror, or confufion difcoverable in his countenance? No: they faw him, not only compofed and undaunted, but filled with lively joy, and thining with a radiant brightnefs, like the luftre which appeared in the face of Mofes, when he came down from the mount of God. This was more than the natural effect of a good conscience, of a pure zeal for God, or an affurance of his love; though thefe will afford fupport and comfort in extreme dangers. Here a miraculous, a divine fplendour was diffufed, which was a fingular honour conferred upon St. Stephen, and which his enemies ought to have acknowledged as an evident token, that God was with him. They "faw his face, as it had been the face of an Angel," majeftic and glorious. Were they not, then, fo ftruck with the phenomenon, as to defift from the profecution, "left they should be found even to fight against God?" Alas! fuch is the blindness and obduracy of the human heart, that no external evidence will, of itfelf, produce any proper, religious convictions: not the vifion of an Angel from heaven; nor the teftimony of a miferable fpirit, if released from its confinement in hell *.
Accordingly the court, difregarding this uncom mon appearance, proceeded in the trial, and the high prieft, as prefident of the council, put the prifoner upon his defence f. Then Stephen spake in his own vindication; or rather, being more folicitous to fave his audience, than procure his discharge, he folemnly warned them not to reject the gracious propofals of God by his faithful fervants, as many of their forefathers had done. We cannot here enlarge upon the different parts of this animated addrefs,
Luke xvi. 31. † A&s vii. 1, &c.
which bears the clearest marks of profound wisdom. He endeavoured to fix their attention by giving a fhort detail of their hiftory; and, while he fhewed the various difpenfations of mercy to their nation, the tendency of his difcourfe was to deliver them from a blind attachment to their external privileges, their boasted forms and ceremonies. He obferved, that the Lord had called and bleffed their ancestors, before their law was published, or their temple built. Yet he expreffed himself in fuch terms both, of their ritual and place of worship, as evinced his high veneration for them, and refuted the charge of blasphemy, for which he had been arraigned. He proved, that the bafe fpirit of oppofition to God and his plans, which they then discovered, had appeared at different times among their progenitors, and intimated their danger of incurring a tremendous condemnation.
The fermon is not to be confidered as complete: it is only a part of what he seems to have intended, if they would have given him a patient hearing. But, probably, as he opened his defign, they began to fhew marks of violent commotion, fo that he might perceive, from their countenances, a purpofe of interrupting his difcourfe. He endeavoured, therefore, to draw towards a conclufion, by making a warm and pointed application to his audience. He boldly charged them with imitating the perverfenefs of the ancient Ifraelites, obftinately refifting the Holy Ghoft, murdering the very Saviour, whom their own prophets had foretold, and contemptuously violating that law, of which they boafted. This was more than they could bear: they were cut to the heart," not with godly forrow, as the converts on the day of Pentecoft, but with indignation and rage. They could not preferve even an external decorum, through the violence of their refentment;
*Acts ii. 37.