Stephen

 •  11 min. read  •  grade level: 7
There are two grand facts which characterize Christianity, and mark it off from all that had gone before; and these are, first, man glorified in heaven; and secondly, God dwelling in man on the earth. These are, unquestionably, stupendous facts, divinely glorious, and fitted to produce the most powerful effect upon the heart and life of the Christian.
But they are peculiar to Christianity. They were never known until redemption was fully accomplished, and the Redeemer took His seat at the right hand of the Majesty in the heavens. Then was seen, for the first time in the annals of eternity, a Man on the throne of God. "Wondrous sight! Magnificent result of accomplished redemption! The enemy seemed to have triumphed when the first man was expelled from Eden; but 10! the second Man has made His victorious way into heaven, and taken His seat on the eternal throne of God.
This, we repeat, is a fact of transcendent glory, and the counterpart—the companion fact thereof is God the Holy Ghost dwelling with and in man on the! earth. These things were unknown in Old Testament times. What did Abraham know of a glorified man in heaven? What did any of the ancient worthies know of it? Nothing; how could they? There was no man on the throne of heaven until Jesus took His seat there; and, until He was glorified in heaven, the Holy Ghost could not take up His abode in man on the earth. "He that believeth on me, as the scripture hath said, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water. But this spake he of the Spirit, which they that believe on him should receive: for the Holy Ghost was not yet; because that Jesus was not yet glorified." (John 7:38, 3938He that believeth on me, as the scripture hath said, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water. 39(But this spake he of the Spirit, which they that believe on him should receive: for the Holy Ghost was not yet given; because that Jesus was not yet glorified.) (John 7:38‑39).) " Nevertheless I tell you the truth; it is expedient for you that I go away: for if I go not away, the Comforter will not come unto you; but if I depart, I will send him unto you." John 16:77Nevertheless I tell you the truth; It is expedient for you that I go away: for if I go not away, the Comforter will not come unto you; but if I depart, I will send him unto you. (John 16:7).
Here we have our two facts linked together in the most direct and positive manner: Christ glorified above; and the Holy Ghost dwelling in man below. The two arc inseparably connected; the latter is entirely dependent upon the former; and both together form the two great distinguishing features of that glorious Christianity revealed in the gospel of God.
The principal part of this chapter is occupied with a most powerful unfolding of the history of the nation of Israel—a history stretching from the call of Abraham to the death of Christ. At the close of his address, Stephen made a pungent application to the consciences of his hearers, which drew forth all their most bitter animosity and deadly rage. " When they heard these things they were cut to the heart, and they gnashed on him with their teeth." Here we see the effect of religiousness without Christ. These men were the professed guardians of religion, and the guides of the people; but it proved to be religion versus Christianity. In them we have the terrible exponent of a godless, Christless religion; just as in Stephen, we have the lovely exhibition of true Christianity. They were full of religious animosity and rage: he was full of the Holy Ghost. They gnashed their teeth: his face was like that of an angel. What a contrast!
But we must quote the passage for the reader.
" But he, being full of the Holy Ghost, looked up steadfastly 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."
Here are our two great facts, again, displayed in a man of like passions with ourselves. Stephen was full of the Holy Ghost, and his earnest gaze was fixed on a glorified Man in heaven. This is Christianity. This is the true, the normal idea of a Christian. He is a man full of the Holy Ghost, looking up, with the steady gaze of faith, into heaven, and occupied with a glorified Christ. We cannot accept any lower standard than this, short as we may come of it practically. No doubt it is very high and very holy; and, moreover, we have to confess how very little we are up to it. Still it is the divine standard, and every devoted heart will aspire to it and nothing less. It is the happy privilege of every Christian to be full of the Holy Ghost, and to have the eye of faith fixed on the glorified Man in heaven. There is no divine reason why it should not be so. Redemption is accomplished; sin is put away; grace reigns through righteousness; there is a Man on the throne of God; the Holy Ghost has come down to this earth and taken up His abode in the believer individually, and in the Church corporately.
Thus it stands. And, be it carefully noted, that these things are not mere speculations, or cold, uninfluential theories. Alas! they may be held as such, but in themselves they are not such; but, on the contrary, immensely practical, divinely formative, powerfully influential, as we can distinctly sec in the case of the blessed martyr Stephen. It is impossible to read the closing verses of Acts 7 and not see the powerful effect produced upon Stephen by the object which filled the vision of his soul. There we behold a man surrounded by the most terrible circumstances, malignant enemies rushing upon him, death staring him in the face; but, instead of being hi any wise affected or governed by those circumstances, he is entirely governed by heavenly objects. He looked up steadfastly into heaven, and there he saw Jesus. Earth was rejecting him, as it had already rejected his Lord; but heaven was opened to him, and, looking up into that open heaven, he caught some of the rays of glory shining in the face of his risen Lord; and, not only caught them, but reflected them back upon the moral gloom which surrounded him.
Now, is not all this most deeply practical? Assuredly it is. Stephen was not only lifted above his surroundings in the most wonderful manner, but he was enabled to exhibit to his persecutors the meekness and grace of Christ. In him we see a most striking illustration of 2 Cor. 3:1818But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord. (2 Corinthians 3:18)—a passage of singular depth and fullness. "But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, as by the Lord the Spirit."1
Only see how all this is livingly unfolded in the scene before us. The very highest expression of heavenly Christianity is met by the deepest, darkest, and most deadly display of religious rancor. ΛΥ0 can see the two culminating in the death of the first christian martyr. " 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."
Here, then, is genuine practical Christianity—living conformity to the image of Christ. Here we see a man so lifted above circumstances, so lifted out of himself, as to be able—after the pattern of his Lord—to pray for his murderers. Instead of being occupied with himself, or thinking of his own sufferings, he thinks of others and pleads for them. So far as he was concerned all was settled. His eye was fixed on the glory—so fixed as to catch its concentrated beams, and reflect them back upon the very faces of his murderers. His countenance was radiant with the light of that glory into which he was about to enter, and he was enabled, by the power of the Holy Ghost, to imitate his blessed Master, and to spend Ids last breath in praying for his murderers: " Lord, lay not this sin to their charge." And what then? Why then he had nothing more to do but fall asleep—to close his eyes upon a scene of death, and open them upon a scene of deathless glory—or rather to enter upon that scene which already filled the vision of Ins enraptured soul.
Reader, let us remember that this is true Christianity. It is the happy privilege of a Christian to be full of the Holy Ghost, looking off from himself and up from his surroundings, whatever they may be, gazing steadfastly into heaven, and occupied with the glorified man Christ Jesus. The necessary result of being thus occupied is practical living conformity to that blessed One on whom the eye is fixed. We become like Him in spirit, in ways, in our entire character. It must be so. " We all, with open face mirroring the glory, are changed into the same image."
It is of the very last possible importance to see and know that nothing short of this is up to the mark of the Christianity presented in the New Testament. This is the divine standard; nor should we be satisfied with anything less. We see in Stephen a man reflecting the glory of Christ, in a very positive practical way. He was not merely talking about glory, but actually reflecting it. We may talk largely about heavenly glory, while our practical ways are anything but heavenly. It was not so with Stephen. He was a living mirror, in which men could see the glory reflected. And should it not be so with us? Unquestionably. But is it so? Are we so absorbed with our risen Lord—so fixed on Him, so centered in Him—as that our fellow men—those with whom we meet, from day to day, can see the traits, the features, the lineaments of His image reflected in our character, our habits, our spirit, our style? Alas! alas! we cannot say much on this score. But then, dearly beloved christian reader, can we not, at least, say, "It is our heart's deep and earnest desire to be so occupied and filled with Christ as that His lovely grace may shine out in us to the praise of His name?" God, in his rich mercy, grant that our eye may be so fixed on Jesus as that we too may, in some degree, mirror the glory, and thus shed some tiny ray of that glory upon the darkness around!
When the pangs of trial seize us,
When the waves of sorrow roll,
I will lay my head on Jesus -
Pillow of the troubled soul:
Surely none can feel like thee,
Weeping One of Bethany!
"Jesus wept!"—that tear of sorrow
Is a legacy of love.
Yesterday, to-day, to-morrow,
He the same doth ever prove.
Thou art all in all to me,
Living One of Bethany!