صور الصفحة
PDF
النشر الإلكتروني
[ocr errors]

fants, or from some other cause, have no opportunity of exercising a willingness to suffer : whereof the first, that in will and in deed, as that of St. Stephen, is the highest.

And, surely, it is not without deep meaning that these festivals follow so close upon the great festival of Christmas: to chasten and sober our joy; to bid us rejoice as Christians, remembering that our profession calls us to be witnesses for Christ, in our lives, and (if need be) in our deaths; that trial and persecution have been, in all ages, the lot of God's saints, the portion of His true Church and people: and that, if we weigh things aright, “there should be no greater comfort to Christian persons than to be made like unto Christ, by suffering patiently adversities, troubles, and sicknesses. For He Himself went not up to joy, but first He suffered pain ; He entered not into His glory before He was crucified; so truly our way to eternal joy is to suffer here with Christ; and our door to enter into eternal life, is gladly to die with Christ : that we may rise again from death, and dwell with Him in everlasting life.”

St. Stephen was by birth a Jew, and is thought to have been one of the seventy disciples; at least, he is said to have been so by early writers;

a

a

and the fact, that he was chosen to be one of the seven deacons; and, chiefly, that he had attained unto such a full knowledge of Christ, would seem to make this very probable.

The origin of the office of deacons in the Church was as follows. At the first, we read, that in the Church, ** All that believed were together, and had all things common, and sold their possessions and goods, and parted them to all men, as every man had need.” After a time, “ when the number of the disciples was multiplied, there arose a murmuring of the Grecians against the Hebrews, (i. e. of the foreign Jews, against the native Jews) because their widows were neglected in the daily ministrations. “ Then the twelve (apostles) called the multitude of the disciples unto them, and said, It is not reason, that we should leave the word of God, and serve tables. Wherefore, brethren, look ye out among you seven men of honest report, full of the Holy Ghost and wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business. But we will give ourselves continually to prayer, and to the ministry of the word. And the saying pleased the whole multitude; and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Ghost, and Philip, and Prochorus, and Nicanor, and Timon and Parmenas, and Nicolas a proselyte of Antioch, whom they set before the apostles; and, when they had prayed, they laid their hands on them.” This was the origin of the order of deacons in the Church of Christ. They were ordained by the apostles, by prayer and laying on of hands, to minister to them, as the Levites under the law ministered to the priests. The immediate occasion of their ordination was, that they might assist to distribute the alms of the faithful among the needy brethren ; but this was not all, they had power also to baptize, as we read afterwards in the instance of Philip; and to preach, as we read in the instances, both of Philip and (in this very chapter) of St. Stephen. And such are still the chief duties in the Church of the order of deacons, to visit and relieve the poor out of the alms of the Church, to minister to the priest, and in the absence of the priest to preach and to baptize.

This is the first notice which we have in holy Scripture of St. Stephen. Afterwards we read, that “the word of God increased, and the number of the disciples multiplied ... greatly .... And Stephen, full of faith and

power, wonders and miracles among the people.” For the spread of the Gospel, and for the confirmation of them who believed, Almighty God was pleased

did great to grant unto St. Stephen the power to work miracles. Next we read, “ Then there arose certain .. .. disputing with Stephen, and they were not able to resist the wisdom and spirit by which he spake.” And so to him was fulfilled our Lord's promise to His disciples, “I will give you a mouth and wisdom, which all your adversaries shall not be able to gainsay nor resist.” The Spirit by which St. Stephen spake was no other than the Spirit of Jesus Christ, and so they were not able to resist it. Then his enemies, moved with hatred, brought false witnesses against St. Stephen, even as they had brought false witnesses against our Lord.

Then they suborned men, which said, we have heard him speak blasphemous words against Moses and against God.

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; and set up false witnesses, which said, This man ceaseth not to speak blasphemous words against this holy place, and the law : for we have heard him say, that this Jesus of Nazareth shall destroy this place, and shall change the customs which Moses delivered us." And here Almighty God was pleased to work a miracle, and to change the very countenance of

St. Stephen, (in some such way, perhaps, as the face of Moses had been glorified when he came down from the mount); “ And all that sat in the council, looking stedfastly on him, saw his face as it had been the face of an angel.” “ Then said the high priest, “Are these things so ?” And, upon this, St. Stephen entered upon his defence : teaching them, out of their own holy Scriptures, that Almighty God had loved their fathers; and had called them, and chosen them to be His people; and had delivered them from their enemies; before either the law had been given, or the temple had been builded : and warning them how their fathers had rejected God's prophets ; had refused to receive and to obey even Moses; had resisted the Holy Ghost; had persecuted and slain them which shewed before of the coming of the Just One, of whom they had been even the betrayers and murderers. But this discourse of St. Stephen, which should have moved them to repentance, did but provoke their malice yet further : they were set not to believe, and so they hated him who warned them of their sin and unbelief. “When they heard these things, they were cut to the heart, (with rage, not with repentance,) and they gnashed on him with their teeth.” And now Almighty God

« السابقةمتابعة »