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WILLIAM ARNOT " And he kneeled down, and cried with a loud voice, Lord, lay not this sin to their cliarge. And when he had said this, he fell asleep."ACTS vii. 60. I THINK the young man Saul was an attentive listener, both to the martyr s sermon and the prayer that fol lowed it. I think that he obtained the germs of his systematic theology that day. Sometimes in our Di vinity halls a young man receives instruction in the great things of the covenant as he learns languages and mathematics, without having for the time any spe cific use for his acquisition. The truth is stored in an unrenewed heart, and lies there dormant until the quick ening Spirit come. The seed of the Word has been dropped into frozen furrows; and when the melting comes it is there ready to spring. Thus the word from Stephen s lips dropped into Saul s memory. I like to entertain the conception that in Stephen s speech Paul found the idea of the Epistle to the Hebrews. Another stage of the martyrdom: " He kneeled down." The stones were overcoming overwhelming him. He is fainting from loss of blood. Stephen will not remain on his feet till he fall. While he has strength left he will bow down to pray; and he prays aloud for his enemies: "Lord, lay not this sin to their charge." A se cret sigh might have reached the throne as well; but the loud voice made known, both to friends and to foes, the latest exercise of the martyr s spirit. The expres sion of that prayer maybe the means of winning souls, and therefore it is articulately expressed. That prayer may have remained like a barb in the conscience of some of his murderers, which would not let them go until it led them to the blood of the covenant.
" When he had said this, he fell asleep." All things are yours, when you are Christ s, and death among them. This dreaded name is an article in the inven tory of a Christian s possessions. When death becomes
StepJieris DeatJi. 145 the property of a disciple, it is baptized and gets a new name. It has many different Christian names. For Paul, it was a departing to be with Christ; for Stephen, it was to fall asleep. When the earthly house of this tabernacle is dissolved, we have a building of God, an house not made with hands. A relative of my own lately gave a new name to this messenger, which I had not heard before, and which I rather like. Leaving her own home, to pay a visit of some weeks in the neighboring city, she said to a friend, with reference to the possibility of not returning, "I am like a pas senger, with my ticket in my hand, waiting at the sta tion till the train come up." According to her secret anticipation the train did come up, ere the visit was over, and she was carried gently away. Sleep is a very impressive and appropriate Christian name for death. If we were not made indifferent by familiarity, with it, natural sleep would seem a very solemn and mysterious experience. We might well be familiar with death, for we have a symbol and re hearsal of it every night. We might be familiar with the resurrection, for we have a symbol and rehearsal of it every morning. If faith were lively, we might lie down every night as an infant lies down to sleep in a mother s arms: we might be comforted in the morning when we awaked by remembering that this same Jesus stands yet at the right hand of the throne, girt for mighty work, as our protector, and alert to receive all his own, when life is over, into the joy of the Lord.
It is remarkable, that of all the Christian names of death, this one should be employed here. It might seem an appropriate epithet, when an aged Christian, on his chair or his bed, after a gradual decay of strength, with a gentle smile on a wan countenance, speaks this moment of his hope in Christ, and the next moment glides away. When death in such circumstances is called a sleep, the analogy is easily apprehended, and at once accepted as true. But a cruel death by ston ing, amid the yells and curses of infuriated execution ers, stripped like gladiators for their bloody work death in such a tumult called a sleep ! Yes; and there is a design in the choice of the name. God sits Kin g
146 The Church in the House. on these floods. Jesus stands up and speaks again to the sea; and at his word there is a great calm. At sight of him "standing" over the waves, the weary voyager is instantly at the land where he desired to be. Sweeter to the martyr would be the glory of Em manuel s land when he touched its shore, because of the storm through which he had passed. The executioners, engaged and paid, and held in readiness, to do the work quickly, lest the sentence, lacking the due authority, might be recalled, " laid down their clothes at a young man s feet, whose name was Saul." Such is the first introduction of this man to the readers of the Bible. The Apostle of the Gentiles steps upon the stage, the acknowledged head of a ruf fian band, in the very act of shedding the first martyr s blood. What hath God wrought ! How unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out ! "When he had said this, he fell asleep; but Saul was consenting unto his death. We should not over
look the connection and the contrast, which the divis ion of the chapters here rather tends to obscure. These two men met for one day, and then went on their sev eral paths; the one, right on to the joy of the Lord; the other, to the work of wasting the Church. The intimation at the beginning of chapter viii. means that Saul approved of the policy adopted in taking Stephen off. It would be an error to impute to him any inhuman cruelty. Saul was never a man of low tastes and brutal passions. From early years he was a man of most acute intellect, earnest opinions, and lofty aims. At this time his belief was that Stephen s doctrines were subversive of the true religion; and that the best way of checking a heresy was to put the heretics to death. These prin ciples did not die out with the conversion of Saul. They survived, and deluged Europe with blood down to a very recent period. It is only now, in our own gener ation, that religious toleration has been established. The position of Saul at the death of Stephen was due, not to natural cruelty, but to a perverted judgment. He thought he did God service by slaying the disciples of Christ. His own description is clear and true: "I verily thought I ought to do many things contrary to the name of Jesus of Nazareth; which thing I also did."
Stephens Death. 147 He held the opinion that it was just and right to take Stephen off, as a subverter of the law. I have often tried to conceive the scene at the next meeting of these two men, when Saul also became a martyr, and joined the general assembly and church of the first-born. When they met in the presence of the Lord, there would be no upbraiding on the one side, and no shame on the other. Saul s guilt was indeed very great. The young Pharisee who conducted the case against Stephen with skill and vigor, and plunged
into another as soon as the dark deed was done that young Pharisee was a chief sinner; but the blood of Je sus Christ, God s Son, cleansed him from all sin. Ste phen would be so much occupied remembering his own guilt, and praising the grace that had blotted it out, that he would have no time and no inclination to cast up the sins of other men. We have not the means of determining whether Stephen or Saul owed most to the Lord. By looking on the surface of the sea we cannot tell what place is deepest; but we know that all places, alike the deepest and the shallowest, are filled, and all present one level surface to the sky. In like manner, as far as we can perceive, all the forgiven are alike. It is only He who bore their sins who can distinguish the aggravations of every case. Certain it is that the first martyr and the man who kept the clothes of the exe cutioners at his death are now at peace. They are one in Christ. 1. 68 FREE BOOKS http://www.scribd.com/doc/21800308/Free-Christian-Books 2. ALL WRITINGS http://www.scribd.com/glennpease/documents?page=1000
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