Sermon 1175. Stephen's Death
A SERMON DELIVERED ON LORD'S-DAY MORNING, MAY 24, 1874,
BY C. H. SPURGEON,
AT THE METROPOLITAN TABERNACLE, NEWINGTON.
"And they stoned Stephen, calling upon God, and saying, Lord Jesus, receive my spirit. And he kneeled down, and cried witha loud voice, Lord, lay not this sin to their charge. And when he had said this, he fell asleep." Acts 7:59, 60.
IT is of the greatest service to us all to be reminded that our life is but a vapor which appears for a little while and thenvanishes away. Through forgetfulness of this, worldlings live at ease and Christians walk carelessly. Unless we watch forthe Lord's coming, worldliness soon eats into our spirit as does a canker. If you have this world's riches, Believer, rememberthat this is not your rest-set not too great a store by its comforts. If, on the other hand, you dwell in straitness and areburdened with poverty, be not too much depressed, for these light afflictions are but for a moment and are not worthy to becompared with the Glory which shall be revealed in us! Look upon the things that are as though they were not. Remember youare a part of a great procession which is always moving by-others come and go before your own eyes-you see them and they disappear.You, yourself, are moving onward to another and more real world.
"'Tis greatly wise to talk of our last hours," to give a rehearsal of our departure and to be prepared to stand before thegreat tribunal of the judgment. Our duty is to trim our lamps against the time when the Bridegroom comes. We are called uponto stand always ready, waiting for the appearing of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, or else for the summons which shalltell us that the pitcher is broken at the fountain and the wheel broken at the cistern-that the body must return to the earthas it was and the spirit unto God who gave it.
This death scene of Stephen's may aid our meditations while, by the help of the Holy Spirit, we cast our minds forward tothe time when we, also, must fall asleep. This is the only martyrdom which is recorded in the New Testament in detail-theHoly Spirit foreseeing that there would be martyrdoms enough before the Church's history would end- and that we should neverlack memorials such as those with which Foxe's Martyrology and works of the like order supply us. It is equally remarkablethat this is the only death scene in the New Testament which has been described at length, with the exception of our Lord's.Of course we are told of the deaths of other saints and facts relating to them are mentioned. But what they said when theydied and how they felt in passing out of the world are left unrecorded, probably because the Holy Spirit knew that we shouldnever lack for holy deathbeds and triumphant departures.
He well knew these would be everyday facts to the people of God. Perhaps, moreover, the Holy Spirit would have us gather fromHis silence that He would not have us attach so much importance to the manner of men's deaths as to the character of theirlives. To live like Jesus most nearly concerns us-a triumphant death may be the crown, but a holy life is the head that mustwear it. To obey our Lord's commands during our life is our most pressing business. We may leave the testimony of death tobe given us in the same hour. We shall have dying Grace in dying moments, but at the present time our chief business is toobtain the Grace which will enable us to adorn the doctrine of God our Savior in all things.
However, as we have this one case of Stephen given us at full length, we should prize it the more highly and study it themore carefully because it is the only one. Let us do so this morning. There are three things upon which I shall speak-Thegeneral character of Stephen's death. Secondly, its most notable peculiarity. And thirdly, things desirable in reference todeath suggested to us by Stephen's departure.
Let us look at Stephen's death, and notice ITS GENERAL CHARACTER. It strikes us at once that it happened in the very midstof his service. He had been appointed an officer of the Church at Jerusalem, to see that the alms were distributed properlyamong the poor, especially among the Grecian widows. He discharged his duty to the satisfaction of the whole Church and therebyhe did most useful service, for it gave the Apostles opportunity to give themselves wholly
to their true work, namely, that of preaching and prayer. It is no small matter to be able to bear a burden for another ifhe is thereby set free for more eminent service than we could, ourselves, perform.
If it is so that I cannot preach myself, yet if I can take away from one who does preach certain cares which burden him-ifI thus enable him to preach the more and the better-I am virtually preaching myself. The care which Stephen exercised overthe poor tended, also, to prevent division, and this was a result of no mean order. But, not content with being a deacon,Stephen began to minister in holy things as a speaker of the Word, and that with great power, for he was full of faith andof the Holy Spirit. He stands forth on the pages of Church history, for the time being, as quite a leading spirit. So muchso, indeed, that the enemies of the Gospel recognized his prominent usefulness and made him the object of their most fierceopposition, for they generally rage most against those who are doing most good.
Stephen stood in the front rank of the Lord's host and yet he was taken away! "A mystery," some say. "A great privilege,"say I. My Brothers and Sisters, who desires to be removed at any other time? Is it not well to die in harness while yet youare useful? Who wants to linger till he becomes a burden rather than a help? If we are called to depart in the middle of servicewe must submit to it thankfully and may even wish to have it said of us, he did-
"His body with his charge lay down, And ceased at once to work and live." He was removed in the very prime of his usefulness,just when many were being converted by his ministry. A time when, through his faith, miracles were being worked on all sides.A time when he seemed, indeed, to be necessary to the Church!
And is not this well? Well, first, that God should teach His people how much He can do by a man whom He chooses. Well, next,that He should show them that He is not dependent upon any man, but can do His work even without the most choice laborer inHis vineyard! If our life can teach one lesson-and when that is taught-if our death can teach another, it is well to liveand well to die! And it is far more desirable than to tarry long and take one's flight in the dreary winter of declining influence.Let me be reaped, if I may venture on a choice, when my ministry shall be like the wheat in Pharaoh's dream-with seven earsrank and good-and not in a time when the east wind has shriveled me into barrenness. If God is glorified by our removal, isit not well? And may He not be more than ordinarily glorified when He lays us aside in order to show His Church that He cando without His servants, or can raise up others in their place? Happy is that messenger whose absence as well as his presencefulfils his Master's will!
But Stephen's death was painful and attended with much that flesh and blood would dread. He died not surrounded by weepingfriends, but by enemies who gnashed their teeth! No holy hymn made glad his death chamber-the shouts and outcries of a maddenedthrong rang in his ears! No downy pillow for him, but the hard and cruel rocks. Battered and bruised by a whirlwind of stoneshe laid down to sleep and woke up in the bosom of his Lord! Now, Brothers and Sisters, this is all the more for our comfort,because if he died in perfect peace, no, in joy and triumph, how much more may we hope to depart in peace? Since we shallnot have these grim attendants upon our departing hours, may we not hope that we shall be sustained and buoyed up by the Presenceof our Lord and Master, even as Stephen was, and Divine Grace will be made perfect in our weakness?
Every circumstance tells on our side by way of comfort. If he slept amidst a storm of stones, how may we hope to fall asleepright peacefully, in the same faith in Jesus, when the saints are gathered around our bed to bid us farewell? More particularly,however, I want to call your attention to the fact that Stephen's departing moments were calm, peaceful, confident, joyous.He never flinched while he was addressing that infuriated audience! He told them the plain Truth of God, with as much quietdeliberation as if he had been gratifying them with a pleasing discourse. When they grew angry he was not afraid. His lipsdid not quiver. He did not retract or soften down a single expression, but cut them to the heart with even more fidelity!With the courage of a man of God, his face was set as a flint. Knowing that he was now preaching his last sermon, he usedthe sharp two-edged sword of the Word of God, piercing into their very bones.
He cared little how they frowned. He was not abashed when they gnashed their teeth. He was as calm as the opened Heaven abovehim and continued though they hurried him out of the city. When they had dragged him outside the gate and stripped off theirclothes to carry out his execution, he did not let fall a single timorous word or trembling cry. He stood up and committedhis soul to God with calmness. And when the first murderous stones felled him to the earth he rose to his knees, still notto ask for pity, nor to utter a cowardly cry, but to plead with his Lord for mercy upon his
assailants! Then, closing his eyes like a child tired out with the sport of a long summer's day, he drops asleep as on hismother's lap-"he fell asleep."
Believe, then, O Christian, that if you abide in Christ, the same will be the case with you! You shall be undisturbed at thepremonitions of decay. When the physician shakes his head, your heart shall not fail! When friends look sad, you will notshare their sorrow! We wept when we were born though all around us smiled-so shall we smile when we die while all around usweep. The dying Christian is often the only calm and composed person in all the group which fills the chamber from which heascends to Heaven. Talking of what he enjoys and expects, he glides gently into Glory! Why should we expect it to be otherwise?Stephen's God is our God! Stephen's faith we already possess in its germ and we may have it in the same degree! The Holy Spiritdwells in us even as He did in Stephen-and if He puts not forth the same energy-what hinders Him but our unbelief? Gettingmore faith we shall enjoy the same tranquil repose of spirit when our appointed hour shall come. Brethren, let us not feardeath, but descend Jordan's shelving bank without the slightest dismay!
Some other points about Stephen's departure I beg you to notice-points relating to the state of his mind. His mind was ina very elevated condition. Here, let us first notice his intense sympathy with God. All through that long speech of his yousee that his soul is taken up with his God and the treatment which He had received from Israel. He does not speak againsthis countrymen from any ill will, but he seems to take them into very little consideration. His God absorbs all his thoughts.He tells how his God had sent Joseph, but his brothers persecuted him. His God had sent Moses, but they rebelled against him.His God had now sent Jesus and they had been His betrayers and murderers. He had pity upon them in his heart, that is clearlyseen in his dying prayer for them, but still, his main feeling is sympathy with God in the rebellions which He had enduredfrom the ungodly.
Surely this is the mind which possesses the saints in Heaven. I see, as I read Stephen's speech, that he regarded impenitentsinners from the standpoint of the saints above, who will be so taken up in sympathy with God and the righteousness of Hisgovernment, that the doom of the finally rebellious will cause them no pain. The triumph of right over willful wrong, of holinessover the foulest and most wanton sin, of justice over the ingratitude which made light of redeeming love, will clear the soulof all emotion but that which rejoices in every act of the Most High because it is and must be right. I know how easily thisremark may be misrepresented, still it is true, and let it stand.
Notice, too, how Stephen's mind clung only to that which is purely spiritual. All ritualism was clean gone from him. I daresay at one time Stephen felt a great reverence for the Temple. The first Jewish Christians still continued to feel a measureof that awe of the Temple which, as Jews, they had formerly indulged. But Stephen says, "How is it the Most High dwells notin temples made with hands? As says the Prophet, Heaven is My Throne and earth is My footstool: what house will you buildMe? says the Lord; or what is the place of My rest?" It is noteworthy how the saints, when they are near to die, make verylittle of what others make a great deal of.
What is ritual to a dying man?-a man with his eyes opened, looking into the future and about to meet his God? Sacraments arepoor supports in the dying hour. Priestcraft, what is it? The reed has snapped beneath the weight of a burdened conscienceand the tremendous realities of death and judgment. The peculiar form of worship which a man contended for in health-and thelittle specialties of doctrines which he made much of before-will seem little in comparison with the great spiritual essentials,when the soul is approaching the Presence Chamber of the Eternal! The saint in death is growingly spiritual, for he is nearingthe land of spirits and that City of which John said, "I saw no temple there." Brethren, it is a grand thing to grow in spiritualreligion till you break the eggshell of form and shake it off-for the outward fashion of ceremonies and even of simplicitiesis too often to men what the eggshell is to the living bird-but when the soul awakens into the highest forms of life, we chipand break that shell and leave our former bondage.
Stephen came right away from those superstitious reverences which still cast their blight over many Christians and worshippedGod, who is a Spirit, in spirit and in truth! It is most clear that he rose beyond all fear of men. They grin at him, theyhowl at him, but what matters that to him? He will be put to a blasphemer's death outside the city by the hands of cruel men-butthat daunts him not. His face glows with unspeakable joy! He looks not like a man hurried to his execution, but as one onthe way to a wedding! He looks like an immortal angel rather than a man condemned to die! Ah, Brothers and Sisters-so willit be with all the faithful!
Today we fear man, who is but a worm. Today we are so weak as to he swayed by the estimation of our fellows and we listento kindly voices which counsel us to speak with bated breath upon certain points, lest we grieve this one or that. But thefitter we are for Heaven the more we scorn all compromise and feel that for Truth, for God, for Christ, we must speak outeven if we die-for who are we that we should be afraid of a man that shall die and the son of man that is but a worm? It isa blessed thing if this shall be growingly our condition! At the same time Stephen was free from all cares. He was a deacon,but he does not say, "What will those poor people do? How will the widows fare? Who will care for the orphans?" He does noteven say, "What will the Apostles do, now that I can no longer take the labor from off their shoulders?" Not a word of it!
He sees Heaven opened and thinks little of the Church below, love it though he does with all his heart! He trusts the ChurchMilitant with her Captain-he is called to the Church Triumphant! He hears the trumpet sound, "Up and away," and lo, he answersto the summons! Happy men who can thus cast off their cares and enter into rest! Why should it not be thus with us? Why, likeMartha, do we allow our much serving to encumber us? Our Lord managed His Church well enough before we were born! He willnot be at a loss because He has called us Home and, therefore, we need not trouble ourselves as though we were all-importantand the Church would pine for lack of us!
At the same time, Stephen had no resentments. That was a sweet prayer of his, "Lay not this sin to their charge." Just asDaniel before Belshazzar saw the scale and saw Belshazzar weighed in it and found wanting, so Stephen saw the balances ofjustice, and this murder of his, like a great weight, about to be placed in the scale against the raging Jews. And he cried,"Lord, cast not this sin into the balance." He could not say, as the Savior did, "They know not what they do," for they didknow and had been so angered by his speech that they stopped their ears to hear no more. But he pleads for them as far astruth would permit him while breathing out his soul. Every child of God ought to lay aside all resentments at once, or ratherhe should never have any! We are to carry in our hearts no remembrance of ills, but to live everyday freely forgiving, aswe are everyday freely forgiven. And as we get nearer to Heaven there must be growing love to those who hate us, for so shallwe prove that we have been made ready for the skies.
To close up this description of his death, Stephen died like a conqueror. His name was Stephanos, or crown, and truly thatday he not only received a crown, but he became the crown of the Church as her first martyr. He was the conqueror, not hisenemies! They stoned his body, but his soul had vanquished them. It was not in their power to move him. His quiet look defiedtheir fury. He went home to his God to hear it said, "Servant of God, well done," and in nothing had his foes despoiled himon the way there! He was more than a conqueror through Him that loved Him. These are some of the characteristics of Stephen'sdeparture. I trust that in our measure they may be ours. God grant them to us and we will give Him all the Glory.
II. I Now call your attention to a very interesting point-THE MOST NOTABLE PECULIARITY OF
STEPHEN'S DEATH. It was notable for this one point-that it was full of Jesus-and full of Jesus in four ways. Jesus was seen,invoked, trusted and imitated. First, the Lord Jesus was seen. The martyr looked up steadfastly into Heaven and saw the Gloryof God-and Jesus standing on the right hand of God! At first he was probably in the council hall of the Sanhedrim, but thevision seemed to divide the roof, to roll away the firmament-and set open the gates of Heaven so that into its innermost chambersthe anointed eye was able to gaze.
It is said he saw the Son of Man. Now this is the only place in Scripture where Jesus is called the Son of Man by any onebut Himself. He frequently called Himself the Son of Man. That was, indeed, a common name for Himself, but His disciples didnot call Him so. Perhaps the Glory of the rejected Messiah as Man was the peculiar thought which was to be conveyed to Stephen'smind, to assure him that as the despised Lord had, at length, triumphed, so, also, should His persecuted servant. At all timesit is a gladsome sight to see the representative Man exalted to the Throne of God, but it was peculiarly suitable for thisoccasion, for the Lord Himself had warned His enemies, "Hereafter shall you see the Son of Man sitting on the right hand ofpower." He had spoken those words to the very men who now heard Stephen bear witness that it was even so!
Stephen saw his Lord standing. Now our Lord is generally described as sitting, but it was as if the sympathizing Lord hadrisen up to draw near to His suffering servant, eager both to sustain him and to receive him when the conflict was over. Jesusrose from the Throne to gaze upon Himself suffering, again, in the person of one of His beloved members. The place occupiedby the Lord was at the "right hand of God." Stephen distinctly saw the ineffable brightness of Eternal
Glory which no human eye can see until strengthened by superior Grace-and amid that Glory he saw the Son of Man in the placeof love, power and honor, worshipped and adored!
Now, when we come to die, dear Friends, we may not, perhaps, expect with these eyes to see what Stephen saw-but faith hasa grand realizing power. The fact that Jesus is enthroned is always the same and as long as we are sure that He is at theright hand of God, it little matters whether we see Him with our natural eyes, for faith is the substance of things hopedfor and the evidence of things not seen. Brothers and Sisters, if your faith shall be strong when you come to die, as doubtlessit will be, you will have a sight and sense of Jesus in His Manhood at the right hand of God-and this will effectually takeaway from you all fear of death-for you will feel, "If the Man, Christ is there, I, being already represented by Him, shallalso be there! I shall rise from the dead! I shall sit at the right hand of the Father! His eternal power and Godhead willraise me up to be where He is, for has He not said-"I will that they, also, whom You have given Me be with Me where I am"?
I will, however, venture further. I am convinced, from my own observation, that not to a few, but to many dying saints, somethingmore is given than the realizations of faith. Much more frequently than we suppose, supernatural glimpses of the Divine Splendorare vouchsafed to the saints in the hour of their departure. I have heard persons comparatively uninstructed, and certainlyunimaginative, speak of what they have seen in their last hour in such a way that I am certain they never borrowed the expressionsfrom books, but must have seen what they described. There has been a freshness about their descriptions which has convincedme they did see what they assured me they beheld. And, moreover, the joy which has resulted from it-the acquiescence in theDivine will, the patience with which they have borne suffering-have gone far to prove that they were not under the influenceof an idle imagination, but were really enabled to look within the veil!
The flesh in its weakness becomes, if I may so say, a rarefied medium! The mists are blown away, the obscuring veil growsthinner, disease makes tears in it and through the thin places and the tears the heavenly Glory shines! Oh, how little willa man fear death, or care about pain, if he expects to breathe out his soul on a better Pisgah than Moses ever climbed! Welldid we sing just now-I am sure I sang it with all my heart-
"Oh, if my Lord would come and meet, My soul would stretch her wings in haste, Fly fearless through Death's iron gate, Norfear the terror as she passed." Now this model departure, which is given in Scripture as a type of Christian deaths, has thisfor its ensign, that Christ was visible. And such shall be the character of our departure, if through faith we are one withJesus. Therefore, let us not fear.
Next, notice that Jesus was invoked, for that is the meaning of the text. "They stoned Stephen, calling upon God," or invoking,"and saying, Lord Jesus, receive my spirit." Dying Christians are not troubled with questions as to the Deity of Christ. DearFriends, Unitarianism may do to live with, but it will not do to die with, at least not for us. At such a time we need analmighty and Divine Savior! We need, "God over all, blessed forever" to come to our rescue in the solemn article. So Stephencalled upon Jesus and worshipped Him. He makes no mention of any other intercessor. O martyr of Christ, why did you not cry,"Ave Maria! Blessed Virgin, succor me!"? Why did you not pray to St. Michael and all angels? Ah, no! The abomination of saintand angel worship had not been invented in his day-and if it had been he would have scorned it as one of the foul devicesof Hell! There is one Mediator between God and man, the Man Christ Jesus. He invoked Christ and no one else. Neither do wefind him saying a word as to his good works, alms deeds, sermons and miracles. No, he invoked the Lord Jesus and leaned whollyon Him!
Ah, Brothers and Sisters, it is well to live and to die resting wholly upon Jesus! If you lie down tonight and quietly thinkof your departure and inquire whether you are ready to die, you will not feel at your ease till your heart stands at the footof the Cross, looking up and viewing the flowing of the Savior's precious blood, believing humbly that He made your peacewith God. There is no right living, or joyful dying, except in invoking Christ. What did Stephen do next? He trusted Jesusand confided in Him only, for we find him saying, "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit." He felt that his spirit was about to leavethe body to fly into the unknown world. Perhaps a shiver came over him of natural awe at the great mystery, even as it comesover us when we think of being disrobed of the familiar garment of our body. But he placed his unclothed spirit in the handsof Jesus and his fear and care were over.
Look, he has quite done with it, now! He prays no more for himself, but intercedes for his enemies! And then he closes hiseyes and falls asleep. This is the simple and sublime art of dying. Once more we take our guilty soul and place it in thedear pierced hands of Him who is able to keep it. And then we feel assured that all is safe. The day's work is done, the doorsare fastened, the watchman guards the streets. Come, let us fall asleep. With Jesus seen, invoked and trusted, it is sweetto die. Notice, once again, that in Stephen we see Jesus imitated. The death of Stephen is a reproduction of the death ofJesus. Let us hope that ours will be the same.
It was so, even in little circumstances. Jesus died outside the gate, so did Stephen. Jesus died praying, so did Stephen.Jesus died saying, "Father, into Your hands I commit My spirit." Stephen cannot approach God absolutely, but he approachesHim through the Mediator, and he says, "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit." Christ dies pleading for His murderers, so does Stephen-"Lord,lay not this sin to their charge." Now, if our death shall be a reproduction of the death of Jesus, why need we fear? It has,up to now, been sweet to be made like He and it will still be sweet. Even to suffer with Him has been delightful-surely itwill be joyful to die with Him! We are willing to sleep in Jesus' bed and lie as He did in the bosom of the earth, to arisein His likeness at the Resurrection.
Thus you see, dear Brethren, that Stephen's death was radiant with the glow of his Lord's brightness. Christ was glorifiedand reflected in him. None could question whose image and superscription he bore. If our lives shall be of that order, ourdeaths, also, shall be of the like character. Let your life be looking unto Jesus, pleading with Jesus, trusting in Jesus,copying Jesus-and then your departing moments will be attended by visions of Jesus and reproductions of His dying behavior!As you have been with Him in the trials of life, He will be with you in the closing scenes of death. Happy are they whosedeathbed Jesus makes, and who sleep in Jesus, to be brought with Him when He returns to take the kingdom!
III. From Stephen's departure we gather something as to THE KIND OF DEATH WHICH WE MAY WISELY
DESIRE. First, it is very desirable that our death should be of the same sort of our life. Stephen was full of faith and ofthe Holy Spirit in life-and so was he full of the Holy Spirit in death. Stephen was bold, brave, calm and composed in life-he is the same amid the falling stones. It is very sad when the reported account of a man's death does not fit in with hislife. I am afraid that many funeral sermons have done great mischief by their flattery, for persons have very naturally said,"This is very strange. I never knew that the departed person was a saint until I heard this account of his end. Really, whenI hear these wonderful things about him-well, I should not have thought it."
No, it will not do to have no character for piety but that which is hurriedly run up in a few days of sickness and death.It is ill to die with a jerk, getting, as it were, upon another line of rails all on a sudden. It is better to glide fromone degree of Divine Grace to another-and so to Glory. We ought to die daily-die every morning before we go down to breakfast-thatis to say, we should rehearse it all so that when we come to die it will be no new thing to us. Death may be the fringe orborder of life, but it should be made out of the same piece. A life of clay is not to be joined to a death of gold. We cannothope to dine with the world and sup with God. We ought to dwell in the house of the Lord every day.
Again, it is most desirable that death should be the perfecting of our whole career, the putting of the cornerstone upon theedifice, so that when nothing else is needed to complete the man's labors, he falls asleep. Dear Brothers and Sisters, isit so with you? Suppose you were to die this morning in the pew would your life be a complete life, or would it be like abroken column snapped off in the center? Why, there are some, who even in their business lives, have left many necessary thingsundone. For instance, they have not made their wills, yet, and will cause much sorrow to wife and children through their neglect.Some Christian people do not keep their worldly affairs in proper order, but are lax, disorderly and slovenly, so that ifthey were to die, there would be many things of which they would feel loathe to die.
Mr. Whitfield used to say when he went to bed at night, "I have not left even a pair of gloves out of their place: if I dietonight, all my affairs, for time and eternity, are in order." That is the best way to live-so that, let death come when itmay, at midnight, cockcrowing, or midday-it will be a desirable finis to a book of which we have written the last line. Wewill have finished our course and served our generation-our falling asleep is the fit conclusion of the matter. May our deathnot be one of a kind which needs flurry and hot haste to make the man ready. There are people in the world who, if they weregoing off by train and knew of it a month beforehand, would be all in a fever an hour before they started! Though they knowthe time the train leaves, they cannot arrive a few minutes before by any means, but rush in just as the bell rings and leapinto a carriage just at the time the train leaves.
Some die in that fashion, as if they had so much to do and were in such a hurry-and besides, had so little Grace that theycould be only saved so as by fire. When worldly Christians die, there is a deal to be done to pack up and get ready for departing.But a true Christian stands with his loins girded. He knows he has to travel. He does not know exactly when, but he standswith his staff in his hand! He knows the Bridegroom is soon coming and he, therefore, keeps his lamp well trimmed. That isthe way to live and the way to die! May the Holy Spirit put us in such a condition that the Angel of Death may not summonus unawares, or catch us by surprise! Then will going home be nothing out of the common way, but a simple matter.
Bengel, the famous commentator, did not wish to die in a spiritual parade, with a sensational scene, but to pass away likea person called out to the street door from the midst of business. His prayer was granted. He was revising the proof sheetsof his works almost to the moment when he felt the death stroke. Is not this well? Equally desirable was the end of the VenerableBede, who died as he completed his translation of the Gospel of John. "Write quickly," he said, "for it is time for me toreturn to Him who made me." "Dear master," said the pupil, "one sentence is still lacking." "Write quickly," said the venerableman. The young man soon added, "It is finished," and Bede replied, "You have well said, all is now finished," and he fellasleep.
So would I desire to depart! So might every Christian desire! We would make no stir from our daily holiness. We would changeour place but not our service-having waited on our Lord at this end of the room-we are called up higher and we go! It mustbe a dreadful thing for a professing Christian to die full of regrets for work neglected and opportunities wasted. It is sadto have to say, "I must leave my Sunday school class before I have earnestly warned those dear children to flee from the wrathto come." It would be wretched for me to go home, today, and say, "I have preached my last sermon, but it was not earnest,nor calculated either to glorify God or benefit my fellow men." Can the end of a wasted life be other than unhappy? Will itnot be sorrowful to be called away with work undone and purposes
O my Brothers and Sisters, do not live so as to make it hard to die! It must also be a sad thing to be taken away unwillingly,plucked like an unripe fruit from the tree. The unripe apple holds fast to its place and so do many hold hard to their richesand cleave so fondly to worldly things that it needs a sharp pull to separate them from the world. The ripe fruit adheresbut lightly-and when a gentle hand comes to take it, it yields itself freely, as if willing to be gathered- like an appleof gold into a basket of silver. God make you unworldly and forbid that you should cleave so resolutely to things below asto make death a violence and departure a terror! Brethren, we would not wish to die so that it should be a matter of question,especially to ourselves, to which place we are going-and yet you will die in that way if you live in that way.
If you have no assurance of salvation, do you expect it to come to you on your dying bed? Why, my dear Friend, when the painincreases and the brain becomes weary, you are very likely to suffer depression and, therefore, you need strong faith to beginwith for your own comfort! Would you like friends to go out of your death chamber saying, "We hope he is saved, but we standin doubt concerning him"? Your life should prevent that! Holy Mr. Whitfield, when someone observed, "I should like to hearyour dying testimony," said, "No, I shall, in all probability bear no dying testimony." "Why not?" said the other. "BecauseI am bearing testimony everyday while I live and there will be the less need of it when I die." That seraphic saint preachedup to the last afternoon and then went upstairs to bed, and died. There was no need for anyone to ask, "What did he say whenhe was dying?" Ah, no! They knew what he said when he was living-and that was a great deal better! Let your testimony in lifebe such that, whether you speak or not in your last moments, there shall be no question about whose you were nor whom youserved.
In conclusion, one would desire to die so that even our death should be useful. I feel persuaded that Stephen's death hada great deal to do with Saul's conversion. Have you ever observed the evident influence of Stephen upon Paul? Augustine says,"If Stephen had never prayed, Saul had never preached." I do not say that the death of Stephen converted Saul-far from it-thatchange was worked by a Divine interposition when Saul was on the road to Damascus. But what he saw in Stephen's martyrdomhad made the soil ready to receive the good seed. Saul, in later life, seems to me to be always taking his text from Stephen'ssermon.
Read that sermon through at home and see if it is not so. Stephen spoke about the Covenant of Circumcision and that was avery favorite topic with Paul. When Paul stood at Athens on Mars' Hill and addressed the Areopagites he said
to them, "God that made Heaven and earth dwells not in temples made with hands"-almost the identical words which Stephen hadquoted-and surely the remembrance of Stephen before the Sanhedrim must have rushed over the Apostle's mind at the time. Thereis yet another passage-and indeed I might carry on the parallel a very long way-where Stephen used the expression, "They receivedthe Law by the disposition of angels," an idea peculiar to Paul. Paul is the child of Stephen. Stephen dying is the seed outof which Paul springs up. What a privilege so to die that a phoenix may rise out of our ashes!
If we have been useful, ourselves, up to the measure of a moderate ability, we may, as we die, call forth greater workersthan ourselves. Our expiring spark may kindle the Divine light in some flaming beacon which, far across the seas, shall scatterthe beams of Gospel light! And why not? God grant that we may, both in life and in death, serve Him well. I would that evenin our ashes might live our former lives-that being dead we yet may speak! It was a happy thought of an earnest Divine whoasked that when he was dead he might be placed in his coffin where all his congregation might come and see him-and that onhis bosom should be placed a paper bearing this exhortation, "Remember the words which I have spoken to you, being yet presentwith you." Yes, we will go on telling of Jesus and winning souls in life and death, if God so helps us! Beloved Believers,love the souls of men and pray God to save them!
As for you who are not saved yourselves, I implore you think of what your condition will be when you come to die. Or, if aseared conscience should cause you to die in peace, think what you will do at the Judgment, when that conscience will becometender. What will you do when the lips of the dear Redeemer shall say, "Depart, you cursed, into everlasting
fire in Hell"?-
"You Sinners, seek His Grace,
Whose wrath you cannot bear! Look to the dying Savior's face, And find salvation there."
PORTION OF SCRIPTURE READ BEFORE SERMON-Acts 5:9-15; 7. HYMNS FROM "OUR OWN HYMN BOOK"-855, 829, 853.