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especially, we perceive a rich assemblage 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 Jerusalem. That the Apostles might be relieved from the care of the poor, and give themselves entirely to the spiritual duties of their function, proper persons were chosen for the regular and impartial distribution of the public money, though, it is presumed, their attention was not confined merely to temporal concerns *, None, doubtless, were invested with this office, but such as were of known integrity, piety, and discretion. The direction of the Apoftles was, “Look ye out from among you feven men of honest report, full of the Holy Ghost and wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business.” Of this description was Saint Stephen. He stands the foremo't in the lift, and, probably, furpassed the rest in his gifts and attainments." They chose Stephen, a man full of faith, and of the Holy Ghoft.”
O how desirable it is, that all the departments in the Church were occupied by perfons of similar endowments! Those, who are not previously pole sessed of spiritual knowledge and experience, in private life, are not likely to discharge any public trust with credit and advantage. Preferment generally proves a snare and a curse to those, who do not fincerely devote themselves to the service of God, and exert their abilities, whatever they may be, for his glory: and such cases itamp reproach and infamy on our holy profeffion. Let us pray, that God would raise up among us faithful witncffes for his truth,
for their admission to those sacred functions, for which he is pleased 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, succeeded by real fervour of devotion.
At the period, to which we here refer, the Church appeared in a prosperous state. Its ministers were all diligent and vigorous, and the conduct of its various members consistent and honourable. Accord. ingly, as we might expect, " the word of God increased ; and the number of the disciples multiplied in Jerusalem greatly.” Their external circumstances, also, were favourable. Gamaliel's advice had stopped the rage of persecution for a season. But the amazing propagation of the faith, through the zealous exertions of some principal characters, again excited a furious opposition. Such a man as St. Stephen, so laborious and useful in the service, could not long remain unnoticed by the adversaries : and at him especially, as one standing 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 blessedness of the Gospel, he could the more earnestly recommend it to others. He preached with peculiar fervour, and confirmed his doctrines by the extraordinary gifts of the Spirit, which he possessed. Attempts were, therefore, made, to confound and silence this zealous advocate for Christ.
Certain persons, probably of distinguished abilities and learning, from the different fynagogues in Jeru. falem, pretended to oppose him by argument: and he was not backward to declare and maintain the truth before these subtle disputants. In this contest he received afiftance from above, and gained a decided victory. He spake by a wisdom superior to his own, which astonished and overpowered his antagonists with an irresistible force. They were baffled, and, though not driven from the field, obliged to change their mode of attack. When reafoning failed, they tried the eifect of flanderous and malicious
invectives. Men, in general, are disposed to misrepresent and revile, what they have in vain endeavoured to con'ute. Accusations were fought for, and perjured wretches hired to assert a base calumny. The minds of the people were inflamed, and even the principal persons of the city engaged in the opposition. Stephen was apprehended, and with rage and violence dragged before the grand council of the Sanhedrim. A fhew of justice was preserved : the prisoner was put upon his trial, and witnesses called, who declared, “We have heard hiin speak blasphemous words against Mofes, and against God.” This they explained further by saying, that Stephen had predicted the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple, and the total abolition of the law, by that Jesus whom he preached.
The charge was notoriously false, especially as conne sted with those inferences, which they had drawn, Yet, probably, he had used expressions concerning the vengeance, which God would execute upon them for their unbelief : and these they maliciously inifconstrued and perverted to their own purpose. In the same way the characters of religious persons most frequently suffer, by oblique insinuations, 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 mistaken, and «
our good be evil spoken of.” We owe it to the over-ruling influence of God's providence, wonderfully reftraining the malevolence of his enemies, that we are at any time preserved from the po.fonous attacks of false tongues. If we consider, how soon our reputation, subitance, liberty, or life itself might be taken away, only by á setting up false witnesses," as in the case of Stephen, we shall fee abundant reason to admire and praise the power and wisdom of God, by which he keeps the world in awe.
The prisoner stood 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 signs of guilt, any terror, or confufion discoverable in his countenance ? No: they saw him, not only composed and undaunted, but filled with lively joy, and ibining with a radiant brightness, like the luftre which appeared in the face of Moses, 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 assurance of his love; though these will afford support and comfort in extreme dangers. Here a miraculous, a divine fplendour was diffused, which was a singular honour conferred upon St. Stephen, and which his enemies ought to have acknowledged as an evident token, that God was with him. They “saw his face, as it had been the face of an Angel,” majestic and glorious. Were they not, then, so struck with the phenomenon, defist from the prosecution, “left they should be found even to fight against God ?”
Alas ! such is the blindness and obduracy of the human heart, that no external evidence will, of itself, produce any proper, religious convictions: not the vision of an Angel from heaven; nor the testimony of a miserable spirit, if released from its confinement in hell *.
Accordingly the court, disregarding this uncommon appearance, proceeded in the trial, and the high priest, as president of the couneito put the prisoner upon his defence t. Then Stephen fpake in his own vindication ; or rather, being more solicitous to save his audience, than procure his discharge, he solemnly warned them not to reject the gracious proposals of God by his faithful servants, as many their forefathers had done. We cannot here enlarge upon the different parts of this animated address,
Luke xvi. 31.
† Ads vii. 1, &c.
which bears the clearest marks of profound wisdom. He endeavoured to fix their attention by giving a short detail of their history; and, while he hewed the various dispensations of mercy to their nation, the tendency of his discourse was to deliver them from a blind attachment to their external privileges, their boasted forms and ceremonies. He observed, that the Lord had called and blessed their ancestors, before their law was publihed, or their temple built. Yet he expressed himself in such 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 base spirit of opposition 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 sermon is not to be considered 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 design, they began to shew marks of violent commotion, so that he might perceive, from their countenances, a purpose of interrupting his discourse.
He endeavoured, therefore, to draw towards a conclufion, by making 2. warm and pointed application to his audience. He boldly charged them with imitating the perverseness of the ancient Ifraelites, obstinately resisting the Holy Ghost, murdering the very Saviour, whoin their own prophets had foretold, and contemptuously violating that law, of which they boasted. more than they could bear : they were cut to the heart," not with godly sorrow, as the converts on the day of Pentecoft, but with indignation and rage. They could not preserve even an external decorum, through the violence of their resentment;