GOD has chosen his people in a furnace of affliction, and it is his pleasure that the faith which he has given to his saints shall be tried. In the world he has ordained that they shall have tribulation, but in him they shall have peace. In the case of Stephen, as recorded in Acts vii., we have a clear and striking illustration of the depravity of poor, fallen man, and the violent opposition of the human heart in its unsubdued state to the religion of our Lord Jesus Christ, and a pleasing exemplification of the power of that faith of which Jesus Christ is the author and finisher, in its triumph over persecution, pain and death. It may be profitable for us who are so prone to brood over our real or imaginary troubles, to carefully review the faithful record of the sufferings of the primitive disciples of our Lord, and among the long catalogue given in the Scriptures we may pause a moment and consider the case of Stephen.
This man of God was, in himself considered, compassed with the same infirmities which are common to all men, he was equally as dependent on God for that grace which made him to differ from those who madly sought to take his life. But in proportion to the amount of grace manifested to the children of God, and the development of the faith of Jesus Christ in them, they have always, from the days of Cain to the present time, had to encounter the rage and fury of their enemies. This opposition and persecution has in all ages been chiefly from those who have stood high in religious profession, and those who were so much enraged against Stephen were exceedingly zealous in the defense of their religion against what they regarded as heresy in the preaching of Stephen. Even Saul, who was soon to become an apostle of Jesus, was at this time engaged with the multitude in their murderous designs; for he had not yet breathed out all the slaughter that rankled in his heart against the followers of the Lamb. But Stephen, being filled with the Holy Ghost, was well qualified for the emergency, both to testify with boldness, and patiently to suffer all the violence they could heap upon him. He evinced no disposition to yield to the popular clamor of the Jews, nor was he intimidated by their cruelty.
To all those who are in this day reproached and persecuted for the testimony of the truth, there is much instruction and comfort in the subject under consideration. When the exasperated multitude and the counsel were cut to the heart, and gnashed upon Stephen with their teeth, for having faithfully declared to them the truth, he looked steadfastly into heaven, and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing on the right hand of God. This heavenly vision of God and the Lamb was enough to fill his heart with rapture, while a shower of stones were pelting his poor, dying body. In the ecstacy of that vision he exclaimed, Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of man standing on the right hand of God. The coast was clear, the heavenly portals wide displayed, the glory of that heavenly world drew forth his ardent spirit for its immortal flight. “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit!” he cried, and kneeled down and prayed that the sin of his murderers might not be laid to their charge, and then he fell asleep. Though it may not be our privilege in our afflictions, trials and persecutions, to see the heavens opened, and the glory of God and the Lamb, as Stephen saw it at that time, yet the faith of Jesus Christ in us looks within the veil; and by it we are enabled to look upon the things which are not seen, and, in our measure, we are permitted to realize the same consolation. Not with our mortal eyes, but by the light of the knowledge of the glory of God which shines in the face of Jesus Christ, do we behold the blissful regions of unclouded day, and with the happy martyr, expand our pinions for the immortal flight.
May we who are called by grace, to be engaged in the same cause, to experience in measure the same conflicts, to suffer the same opposition from the world, the flesh and the devil, and at times to experience the same victories, may we bear in mind the case of the devoted servant of our Lord and Master. It will be profitable for us to remember that in the hour of his severest sufferings he looked steadfastly into heaven. The eye of his faith rested on the glory of God, and he saw Jesus standing on the right hand of God. Where else can we look when all earthly comforts fail, when nature sinks, and the earthly house of our tabernacle is dissolving? Earth has no comforts for such an hour. How blessed then to be like Stephen, so filled with the Holy Spirit that we may look on the things which are not seen, the things which are eternal; and not only to look, but like him, to look steadfastly. Not even the violence of the infuriated mob, nor the cruel beating of a shower of stones, could divert his eyes from the mark of the prize of his high calling. The glory of God appears through the dim vista of intervening sufferings, his overruling providence, his all-sustaining grace and the trial of the faith, patience and hope of his children shall result in the declarative glory of God and the Lamb.
When the man of God saw Jesus, as the Son of man, standing on the right hand of God, he saw him in his mediatorial character, as having once endured the cross, once suffered in the flesh, once endured the contradiction of sinners against himself; and as having in the time of his incarnation, endured even the hiding of his Father’s presence, for a season, but now he is seen as the risen and the glorified Redeemer, on the right hand of God, the representative of all his children. As the first fruits of them that slept, he has risen and gone up with a shout, and his position at the right hand of God as the representative and embodiment of all his spiritual members, is the certain pledge that where he is, there they shall also be.
This view of the complete triumph of the dear Redeemer, and his exaltation far above all heavens, not only inspires the suffering saints with the assurance that they shall shortly reign with him in glory, but seeing him as he is, has a transforming power on them; they are made more fully to display his image, and display that humility, meekness, patience and long-suffering, as well as that firmness and unshaken confidence in God, which was so gloriously exemplified in him in the days of his flesh. Thus Stephen, instead of fretting, murmuring or despairing exulted in the glory that was to follow his sufferings; but like his divine Lord and Master, his last prayer was that the sin of his enemies in stoning him to death, might not be laid to their charge. O that we, who at the present age profess to be the disciples of the crucified, risen and exalted Jesus, may be so filled with the Spirit of our God, and so sustained by his abounding grace, that we may give the same evidence that we have learned of him who was meek and lowly; that we may endure hardness as good soldiers of the cross; looking unto Jesus, (as Stephen did), the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him, endured the cross, despised the shame, and is now on the right hand of God. May we consider him that endured such contradiction of sinners against himself lest we be wearied and faint in our minds. May patience have its perfect work, and when we have suffered awhile, according to the will of God, may we lay off our armor and fall asleep as Stephen did, with heaven, and God, and Christ in full view.
July 1, 1854.
Elder Gilbert Beebe
Editorials Volume 3
Pages 89 - 93