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repentance to Israel, and forgiveness of sins. And we are his witnesses of these things; and so is also the Holy Spirit, whom God hath given to them that obey him.”a Here it will be observed first that Jesus after His death was exalted to be a Prince and a Savior. Second, that the Holy Spirit is“ given to them that obey him.” “When they heard this they were cut to the heart, and took counsel to slay them.” But Gamaliel, a learned Pharisee, at whose feet Paul had been brought up, made a speech against this counsel. “And to him they agreed: and when they had called the apostles, and beaten them, they commanded that they should not speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go. And they departed from the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for his name. And daily in the temple, and in every house, they ceased not to teach and preach Jesus Christ.”b
a Acts v. 27-32
b Acts v. 40-42.
THE SEVEN CHOSEN
Seven Deacons Appointed. Stephen's Defense and Martyrdom.
Philip Preaching in Samaria. “In these days, when the number of the disciples was multiplied, there arose a murmuring of the Grecians against the Hebrews, because their widows were neglected in the daily ministration. Then the twelve 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 out among you seven men of good report, full of the Holy Spirit and of 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 Spirit.”a And six others, “whom they set before the apostles; and when they had prayed; they laid their hands on them,” thus setting them apart for this work. The most noted of them were Stephen and Philip. After this we are informed the "word of God increased, and the number of the disciples multiplied in Jerusalem greatly; and a great company of the priests were obedient to the faith.” The historian keeps constantly before us the rapid growth of the infant Church at Jerusalem. In the first place, he gives us an account of the conversion of about three thousand in a single day, and then we are informed “The Lord added to the church daily those that were being saved.” Again, “That the number of them was about five thousand.” Again, that the “believers were the more added to the Lord, multitudes both of men and women,” and finally, that “the number of the disciples multiplied in Jerusalem greatly, and a great company of priests were obedient to the faith.”
a Acts vi. 1-5.
The historian now proceeds to give an account of “the great wonders and miracles,” which Stephen did among the people, and his disputations with certain foreign Jews who had a synagogue in Jerusalem, but could not resist the wisdom and the spirit by which he spake," and caused his arrest and “set up false wit
” nesses 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 all that sat in the council, looking steadfastly on him, saw his face as it had been the face of an angel.”a Then said the Hebrews, "Are these things so ?” Stephen here proceeds to make his memorable defense from their own scriptures, beginning with Abraham and closing with the coming and betrayal of Jesus, and concludes his defense with this terrible rebuke: “Ye stiffnecked and uncircumcised in heart and ears, ye do always resist the Holy Spirit; as your fathers did, so do ye. Which of the prophets have not your fathers persecuted ? and they have slain them which showed before of the coming of the Just One; of whom ye have been now the betrayers and murderers. Who have received the law as it was ordained by angels and kept it not. When they heard these things, they were cut to the heart, and they gnashed on him with their teeth. But he, being full of the Holy Spirit, looked up steadfastly into heaven, and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing on the right hand of God. And he said, Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of man standing on the right hand of God. Then they cried out with a loud voice, and stopped their ears, and ran upon him with one accord, and they 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.
a Acts vi. 9-15
Thus died Stephen, looking into heaven and seeing the glory of God and Jesus standing, in token of deep sympathy for His suffering saint. Thus died Stephen like his Lord, praying for his enemies. Thus he died, the first Christian martyr. He headed the long list of martyrs whose suffering constitutes the darkest
a Acts vii. 51-60.
page of human history, but whose crowns are the brightest jewels of heaven. He fell asleep in Jesus, the first representative of the martyred millions now under the throne of God who died in living faith and rejoice in ruling glory. The story
of the death of Stephen brings before us for the first time Saul, who was afterward called Paul, and who became the great apostle to the Gentiles, and who is the author of more than one-third of the New Testament. The sacred record says: “And Saul was consenting unto his death. And on that day there arose a great persecution against the church which was at Jerusalem; and they were all scattered abroad throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles. . . . As for Saul, he made havoc of the church, entering house after house, and haling men and women, committed them to prison. They therefore that were scattered abroad went everywhere preaching the word.
Then Philip went down to the city of Samaria and preached Christ unto them. And the people with one accord gave heed unto those things which Philip spake, hearing and seeing the miracles which he did. . . . And there was great joy in that city.”a It will be remembered that Jesus, when He sent out the twelve apostles, said: “Go not into the way of the Gentiles, and into any city of the Samaritans enter ye not: but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” But now Philip preached at Samaria. This accords with the Savior's command a Acts viii. 1-8.
b Matt. X. 5, 6.