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"Thus mightily grew the word of God, and prevailed," fulfilling the promises which Jesus had uttered, answering the expectations which he had raised. Even a large number of the priests perceived the truth; did not adhere to the types and shadows of the law, but became obedient to the faith which explained and realised them. There was much to hinder this, unless the Spirit of God had enlightened them. To hinder it, there was that prejudice which it is so hard to overcome: that attachment to the habits which they had followed, the sentiments in which they had been brought up: that course of thought which St. Paul remembered in himself, when he said, looking back upon former times—" I verily thought within myself that I ought to do many things contrary to the name of Jesus of Nazareth."1 On the other hand they might reason, that now they perceived the purport of the ordinances of the law: that all was now cleared up, which in the sacrifices which they had offered day by day and "year by year continually,"2 they had found it hard to understand. Thus "the Spirit of God might witness with their own spirit;" might work with their minds within, and open them to receive " the light which was come into the world." It did so. "God had not cast away his people." There was "a remnant according to the election of grace."3 A great company of the priests were obedient to the faith: but "the rest were blinded;"* as in the days of old, when they were but few—not few in themselves, nor few in the sight of God—but few in comparison of the whole nation—who had not bowed the knee to Baal.5
1 Acts xxvi. 9. 2 Heb. x. 1, &c.
3 Rom. xi. 1—5. * lb. 7.
8. And Stephen, full of faith and power, did great wonders and miracles among the people.
9. Then there arose certain of the synagogue, which is called the synagogue of the Libertines, and Cyrenians, and Alexandrians, and of them of Cilicia, and of Asia, disputing with Stephen.6
10. And they were not able to resist the wisdom and the spirit by which he spake.
11. Then they suborned men which said, We have heard him speak blasphemous words against Moses, and against God.
12. And they stirred up the people, and the elders, and the scribes, and came upon him, and caught him, and brought him to the council,
13. And set up false witnesses, which said, This man ceaseth not to speak blasphemous words against this holy place, and the law.
14. For we have heard him say, that this Jesus of Nazareth shall destroy this place, and shall change the customs which Moses delivered us.
15. And all that sat uin the council, looking stedfastly on him, saw his face as it had been the face of an angel.
5 1 Kings xix. 18.
6 The different foreign Jews residing at Jerusalem had separate synagogues, and schools attached to them. Such were the Grecians, Alexandrians, &c. The Libertines were the descendants of those who had once been slaves, and had obtained freedom. As far as is known, it is a Latin term. Libertus, a bondman made free: Libertinus, the son of a Libertus.
When Ahab's queen, Jezebel, suborned witnesses for the destruction of Naboth, they used direct falsehoods, affirming, Naboth " did blaspheme God and the king."7 The false witnesses who appeared against our Lord took another course: they misrepresented words actually spoken. "Two false witnesses came and said, This fellow said, I am able to destroy the temple of God, and to build it in three days." The same kind of falsehood is used against Stephen. The meaning of his words is perverted. For without doubt he would argue in a manner like that represented here: This Jesus shall destroy this place, and shall change the customs which Moses delivered us. He would show the people, that in rejecting the gospel, they were " fighting against God:" who would come, as this Jesus had foretold—would "destroy the wicked husbandmen" who had rejected his messengers, nay, had killed his own, his well-beloved Son, and would "burn up their city.'8 He would not deny, that the customs which Moses delivered were now changed. The days were come, when the Lord would " make a new and a better covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah."9 For the law was a preparation for the gospel: and now that was revealed for which preparation had been so long made. Moses was the forerunner of Christ; and Moses must now "decrease,"1 for one greater than Moses had appeared. There should be no more sacrifice for sin. God had accepted one
7 1 Kings xxi. 18. 8 See Matt. xxii. 2—7; xxi. 28—41. a See Heb. viii. 8, &c. 1 John iii. 30.
great sacrifice, by which they that believe "are justified from all things, from which they could not be justified by the law of Moses."2 Thus Stephen would argue: and therefore the leaders of the different synagogues setup false witnesses which said, This man ceaseth not to speak blasphemous words against this holy place, and the law.
We do not blame these people, because they did not lightly and hastily renounce the ordinances and change the customs which Moses had delivered. These had been their distinction; their " advantage great every way:" and it was their duty to make sure that the same authority which had established, had also superseded them. Their sin was, that they would not. receive the proofs of this, which God was giving. Their opposition to the gospel arose not from righteous zeal, but from enmity and self-interest. Stephen, full of faith and power, did great wonders among the people. Did they inquire by what means and in what name he did these things? We are told, that they disputed with him, and were not able to resist the wisdom and the spirit by which he spake. And then, instead of yielding to conviction, and acknowledging that "God had visited his people,"—they suborned men who should attribute a wrong. meaning to his words: they stirred up the people and set up false witnesses which said, This man ceaseth not to speak blasphemous words against this holy place, and the law.
2 Ch. xiii. 39.
Evidently, therefore, these were they, whose "minds the god of this world had blinded." There was a hindrance in themselves, why "the light of the glorious gospel of Christ should not shine upon them."3 "They loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil:" because they were seeking this world first, because their own interests were dearer to them than the glory of God.
STEPHEN COMMENCES HIS DEFENCE.—A. D. 33. Acts vii. 1—16.
1. Then said the high priest, Are these things so?
2. And he said, Men, brethren, and fathers, hearken; The God of glory appeared unto our father Abraham, when he was in Mesopotamia, before he dwelt in Charran,
3. And said unto him, Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and come into the land which I shall shew thee.
4. Then came he out of the land of the Chaldeans, and dwelt in Charran: and from thence, when his father was dead, he removed him into this land, wherein ye now dwell.
Stephen had been accused of speaking blasphemous
3 2 Cor. iv. 4.