The Witness of the Spirit in Stephen.

In Acts 6, we are introduced to Stephen as chosen and ordained by the apostles to serve tables; but as one who was full of faith and of the Holy Spirit, he had purchased for himself a good degree and great boldness in the faith which is in Christ Jesus (1 Tim. 3:13). So that when we find him preaching the word, none were able to resist the wisdom and the Spirit with which he spoke. Coming out in the Spirit of His Master, Stephen is seen "full of grace and power," working wonders and great signs among the people. With such a ministry, it is no wonder that he becomes the object of the enemy's assault, and that like his Master, evil men are suborned to bring false accusations against him, saying that he had spoken blasphemous words against Moses and against God. When he is brought before the council to answer to the false charges, we read, "And all who sat in the council, looking fixedly on him, saw his face as the face of an angel." No doubt the rays of the heavenly glory of Christ were shining upon Stephen, and ministering grace to his heart, to sustain him in his faithful and devoted witness to Him, in the face of all that religious evil and bitter enmity and hatred against Him whom he served. But to the onlookers, his face appeared as the face of an angel. This was God's testimony against those who accused His servant of speaking against Moses and against Him. Had not the law of Moses been given by a dispensation of angels? And where now is the angelic witness? Is it with the false witnesses; with the council; or in Stephen? This should surely have come home with conviction to the leaders of the people; but no, they have the veil over their hearts.

Answering for himself, Stephen begins with the wonderful moment, when God, the God of glory appeared to Abraham, calling him from the land of idols into the land of His purpose, where he was to walk as a stranger. Isaac and Jacob are mentioned, then the twelve patriarchs, who, envying Joseph, sold him into Egypt. But God was with Joseph, and delivered him from his afflictions, giving him favour and wisdom in the sight of Pharaoh; and exalting him into the place, where, in the ways of God, he typified Jesus as the Son of Man over all the world. The rejected one is known as the Saviour of the world, and his brethren and all the men of the world, must bow before him: beautiful type indeed, of Jesus. Moses, too who was "exceedingly lovely," and "mighty in his words and deeds," is rejected by his brethren; and spite of their rejection of him, God sends him to be a ruler and deliverer; the great leader of His earthly people. And it was Moses who had foretold of the coming of Jesus, the coming of a Prophet raised up of God, like himself.

Having brought home to them their rejection of Joseph and Moses, Stephen recalls the unfaithfulness of the people, but the faithfulness of God. But their continued history is one of rebellion and persecution of the servants of God culminating in their slaying of the Just One, of whom the prophets had spoken. They had been highly privileged in receiving the law by a ministry of angels, but how great their guilt: they had not kept it.

Had not Stephen just charged them with resisting the Holy Spirit? Now they deliberately refuse the Spirit's testimony in Stephen. Hearing his witness against them, they do not repent, but being cut to the heart they gnash their teeth against him. The spirit manifested against the Son of God is manifested against His servant who witnesses to Him by the Spirit. But man's hatred turns Stephen to heaven, and being full of the Holy Spirit, he sees there the glory of God and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. What a contemplation for him! what glory, what joy fills his heart, as his eye rests complacently, and with the deepest delight, on that blessed One. Lost in the wonderment of it, he gives his closing testimony, the Spirit's testimony, to that rebellious nation, saying, "I behold the heavens opened, and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God." He tells them of Him who will bring in universal blessing for men, and cause all that hath breath to praise the Lord.

See how Israel treats the testimony of the Spirit to a glorified Christ. Crying with a loud voice, they stopped their ears, and rushed upon him with one accord; and having cast him out of the city, they stoned him. Their thoughts towards the glorified Christ were just the same as when He was among them in lowliness and meekness. They have no desire to hear of Christ's glory: they stop their ears; and loud in their protests against the witness of His glory, they are thoroughly united in their wicked desire to be rid of him. How clearly had they made their mind known, "We will not have this man to reign over us."

Stephen, in the Spirit of Christ, prays for his enemies and murderers, saying "Lord, lay not this sin to their charge." His heart is filled with love, deep compassion for Israel, so that like the Son of God on the cross, he intercedes. For himself, Stephen's request is "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit." What a marvellous triumph of grace over all the power of religious hate and wickedness: what a joy for the Lord Jesus to receive the spirit of His faithful and devoted servant. May the contemplation of Stephen speak to our hearts and consciences, so that in this evil day we may seek to be marked by the same spirit; and be lost in adoration and worship in His presence of whom the hymn writer speaks:
'Tis Jesus fills that holy place
Where glory dwells, and Thy deep love
In its own fulness (known through grace)
Rests where He lives, in heaven above.
R. Duncanson.