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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, did great wonders and miracles among the people." For the spread of the Gospel, and for the confirmation. of them who believed, Almighty God was pleased
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 they were not able to resist it.
Christ, and so
Then his ene
mies, 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
was pleased to reveal unto His martyr St. Stephen the very form and presence of His Saviour. in heaven. “And he, being full of the Holy Ghost, looked up stedfastly into heaven, and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God, and said, Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of Man standing on the right hand of God." These words did but further increase their rage against him, and make them more eager to put St. Stephen to death as a blasphemer. "Then they cried out with a loud voice, and stopped their ears, and ran upon him with one accord, and cast him out of the city, and stoned him; and the witnesses laid down their clothes at a young man's feet, whose name was Saul. And they stoned Stephen, calling upon God, and saying, Lord Jesus, receive my spirit. And he kneeled down, and cried with a loud voice, Lord, lay not this sin to their charge. And when he had said this, he fell asleep." Such was the peaceful, and blessed, and glorious death of St. Stephen, the first martyr: the first in the Church of Jesus Christ, who was called to seal with his blood his witness to the Gospel which he preached. Almighty God revealed to him at his dying hour the vision of his Saviour in heaven.
Into that Saviour's hands he com
mended his spirit; and, after that Saviour's example, his last prayer was for his enemies and murderers. "Lord, lay not this charge."
sin to their
Blessed are the dead, which (thus) die in the Lord from henceforth: yea, saith the Spirit, that they may rest from their labours; and their works do follow them."
Blessed are "the souls of them that were slain for the word of God, and for the testimony which they held."
And, surely, we have a practical lesson to learn from the sufferings and deaths of the martyrs. There have been times, when they who would be true and faithful to God, had to suffer sharp and cruel persecutions. In the early Church of Jesus Christ, for a period of three hundred years, the disciples of our Lord had no other choice than either to deny Christ, and offer sacrifice unto idols, or to suffer, at the hands of the heathen, all that the malice of man and of Satan could devise; many died at the stake, many on the rack, many were cast to the wild beasts; and, of them who died not, many were scourged and tortured, many were imprisoned in loathsome dungeons, or sentenced to labour in the mines; many again were banished from their homes, and