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“ So sinks the day-star in the ocean bed,
And yet anon repairs his drooping head,
Butif Stephen's continuance was not necessary for the interests of the church, it was still less necessary for his own. Though short, his course was glorious. He has lived long who has lived so well. Never could he have died more happily for himself, whether we consider the time or the manner of his removal. No stones in the monarch’s diadem were so precious as those with which bis enemies stoned him. From such glory, Jesus loved him too well to have wished to rescue bim. When He rose, it was as the judge in the ancient games standing at the goal to receive and to crown the victor. “ Well done, good and faithful servant, enter thou into the joys of thy Lord.”
IV. Let us consider his open acknowledgment of the honour conferred on him. “I see the heavens opened, and the Son of Man standing on the right hand of God.”
In what way the scene now described was made visible to Stephen, who was standing before the Sanhedrim, in a covered room, where the sky probably was not seen, it is impossible to determine. The Scriptures, in such cases, do not, by the materials they afford, encourage such speculative investigations. “How can these things be?" is a question which is oftener put than satisfactorily answered, even with reference to the works of nature. After all his inquiries, the profoundest investigater is forced to confess, that this only is certain,--that such things are. Emanating from the same hand, it is not wonderful that the works of Providence should be stamped with the same character. It matters not, in as far as any practical purpose is concerned, whether you suppose that a representation of the divine glory was made to his senses, in the same manner that objects not really present were shown to the prophets in vision, or that his eyes were supernaturally strengthened to penetrate through the space which separates beaven from earth. Either mode was equally easy to omnipotence, nor was a greater energy necessary than is required to enable me to see the auditory wbom I address. It seems clear, however, that the vision was confined to Stepben. The conviction of bis enemies was not its object. Sufficient evidence for this purpose had been already given. It was designed only for strengthening the fortitude of the sufferer; nor did it fail in producing this effect. His spirit seems to have risen with the occasion. A backwardness to confess Cbrist would, in any case, have been regarded by Stephen as deeply criminal; but in his present circumstances he would have felt the criminality unspeakably increased. Though he must have known that he was thereby adding to a hostility which had already risen to no common pitch, he had too much honesty and firmness to suppress what he felt, or to conceal wbat he witnessed. He told them, therefore, that their opposition could far less now than formerly alter his conviction; that the facts to which they were so unwilling to listen, were to bim no longer a matter only of faith, that he asserted only what at the moment he bebeld, wben be expressed his persuasion that the same Jesus whom they had crucified, now lived and reigned. “I see the heavens opened, and the Son of Man standing on the right hand of God.” The whole conduct of Stephen shows, that the love of vain glory had no share in this confession. For him human approbation, in itself considered, had no charms. It was the homage of a heart overpowered with a grateful sense of this act of divine condescension. It was the language of one who felt himself at the termination of his course, and hailed the day and the hour in which he was to cease to be mortal, and to mingle with the spirits of the just. There was but one character stamped on his countenance, on his actions, and on his words. All and each had the visible impress of glory.
1st, See the principle which can support you in the hour of dissolution.
To death in the form in which it was met by Stephen, the Christian is not in these days exposed. Devout men do not now require to carry out to burial, or utter their deep-toned lamentations over the mangled corpse, or cindered remains of a martyred brother. Theirs is the less painful office of renewing the simple memorials which mark out the spot of bis venerated dust. Exemption, however, from the power of the persecuter, is not an exemption from the power of death. The period is approaching, and may not be far removed, when you will be laid on that bed from which you will never rise. If not otherwise, from the looks and illsuppressed agonies of your attendants, you will learn that medical skill has performed its utmost—that you must now “tread the wine-press alone,” and that of your friends and relatives there can be none to belp you. But not alone, if God be with you; not alone, if you can raise an unpresumptuous eye to heaven, and behold Jesus as your advocate, at the right hand of God. Let the infidel and scoffer enter “ the chamber where the good man meets his fate," and let them see in what peace a Christian can die. Though in that chamber there are no longer to be found the implements of martyrdom, there are a martyr's faith, and fortitude, and triumphs. “O death! where is thy sting? O grave! where is thy victory?"
It would be a perilous misapprehension of the bearing of these remarks, and of the lessons which this narrative was designed to inculcate, did you conclude, that a man when he comes to die, bas only, with Stephen, to turn his eyes upwards, in order to be a recipient of his consolations ; or were you to derive from this an encouragement to careless living. This was not the first time that Stephen had “ looked steadfastly to heaven." His confidence was intimately connected with the testimony of an approving conscience. He looked up to a Saviour whom he bad honoured by a consistent, godly, self-denied life; and, faithful to the death, he was now ready to be immolated in his cause. Live the life of the righteous, if you would wish that
last end may be like bis.
2d, See the principle which can support you amidst the difficulties of your Christian course.
I do not here refer to the evils which are alike incident to the good and the bad, but to those which every Christian will still experience, who makes the Word of God the rule of his Christian profession and practice. A religion which has no wicket-gate to pass, and no cross to bear, and no warfare to sustain, is not the religion which the Redeemer prescribed, and which Stephen exemplified. An obedience moulded by God's word, and which aspires at the length and breadth of the divine requirement, is as obligatory on you, as on those who lived in the apostolical times ; nor are the circumstances of your probation essentially different. There are thousands with whom you may have occasion to mix in the intercourse of life, whose hostility, though not expressed in the same way, is quite as decided as that of the persons who surrounded Stephen. There may be times, therefore, when an open and ingenuous acknowledgment is as necessary in your case as it was in his. These circumstances are the test of religious courage. It is easy to act religiously in the company of Christian professors; but it is very
different when you are surrounded by those only to whom an unequivocal expression of scriptural sentiment would be an object of scorn. It is not a sufficient reason for withholding such an expression, to say that it would be useless. If Stephen had listened to such suggestions, we should never have heard of his testimony. Let the narrative which describes his conduct instruct you in the secret of his fortitude. He looked up steadfastly to heaven. No principle short of the realising faith which this action
indicated, could have supported him in the trying circumstances in which he was placed. And though your circumstances may be less difficult, no principle short of this can support you. The man who looks downwards will never be a martyr. He will sacrifice conscience to interest, and make mammon his God. To have Stephen's fortitude, you must have Stephen's faith. All your trials and temptations must be met with your eyes directed “ steadfastly to heaven," as at once the source of your strength, and the place of your reward. Not resting in a slight and transitory exercise of these devout aspirations, it must be with fixed and affectionate regards.
3d. See the principle which should influence you in the exercises of a communion Sabbath.
There is, in one respect, a conformity between the ordinance of the Supper and the other parts of the plan of redemption. In the appearance and outward circumstances of our Lord, during his ministry on earth, there was nothing that indicated the Divine origin which he claimed, nor the important blessings of which he was the author. No eye but that of faith could have recognised, under the humble exterior of the “son of the carpenter,” him who was
66 the consolation of Israel.” A stable was his birth-placeNazareth was his residence-fishermen were his companions. Of the same unimposing character was the ordinance by which he was to be remembered. To the Jew, to whom wine was in more common use than among us, it suggested no other images than those which are suggested by ordinary sustenance. But it is not necessary, in order to exalt your ideas in the exercises in which you are now to be engaged, that you should adopt either the transubstantiation of the Romanist, or the consubstantiation of the Lutheran. You have only to view the ordinance in connection with the blessings which it represents, and with the love, faithfulness, and power of Him who appointed it. Even in common life, it is from