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7. Stephen's Speech to Sanhedrin
1And the high priest said, Are these things so? 2And he said, Brethren and fathers, hearken: The God of glory appeared unto our father Abraham, when he was in Mesopotamia, before he dwelt in Haran, 3and said unto him, Get thee out of thy land, and from thy kindred, and come into the land which I shall show thee. 4Then came he out of the land of the Chaldaeans, and dwelt in Haran: and from thence, when his father was dead, God removed him into this land, wherein ye now dwell: 5and he gave him none inheritance in it, no, not so much as to set his foot on: and he promised that he would give it to him in possession, and to his seed after him, when as yet he had no child. 6And God spake on this wise, that his seed should sojourn in a strange land, and that they should bring them into bondage, and treat them ill, four hundred years. 7And the nation to which they shall be in bondage will I judge, said God: and after that shall they come forth, and serve me in this place. 8And he gave him the covenant of circumcision: and so Abraham begat Isaac, and circumcised him the eighth day; and Isaac begat Jacob, and Jacob the twelve patriarchs. 9And the patriarchs, moved with jealousy against Joseph, sold him into Egypt: and God was with him, 10and delivered him out of all his afflictions, and gave him favor and wisdom before Pharaoh king of Egypt; and he made him governor over Egypt and all his house. 11Now there came a famine over all Egypt and Canaan, and great affliction: and our fathers found no sustenance. 12But when Jacob heard that there was grain in Egypt, he sent forth our fathers the first time. 13And at the second time Joseph was made known to his brethren; and Joseph's race became manifest unto Pharaoh. 14And Joseph sent, and called to him Jacob his father, and all his kindred, threescore and fifteen souls. 15And Jacob went down into Egypt; and he died, himself and our fathers; 16and they were carried over unto Shechem, and laid in the tomb that Abraham bought for a price in silver of the sons of Hamor in Shechem. 17But as the time of the promise drew nigh which God vouchsafed unto Abraham, the people grew and multiplied in Egypt, 18till there arose another king over Egypt, who knew not Joseph. 19The same dealt craftily with our race, and ill-treated our fathers, that they should cast out their babes to the end they might not live. 20At which season Moses was born, and was exceeding fair; and he was nourished three months in his father's house. 21and when he was cast out, Pharaoh's daughter took him up, and nourished him for her own son. 22And Moses was instructed in all the wisdom of the Egyptians; and he was mighty in his words and works. 23But when he was well-nigh forty years old, it came into his heart to visit his brethren the children of Israel. 24And seeing one of them suffer wrong, he defended him, and avenged him that was oppressed, smiting the Egyptian: 25and he supposed that his brethren understood that God by his hand was giving them deliverance; but they understood not. 26And the day following he appeared unto them as they strove, and would have set them at one again, saying, Sirs, ye are brethren; why do ye wrong one to another? 27But he that did his neighbor wrong thrust him away, saying, Who made thee a ruler and a judge over us? 28Wouldest thou kill me, as thou killedst the Egyptian yesterday? 29And Moses fled at this saying, and became a sojourner in the land of Midian, where he begat two sons. 30And when forty years were fulfilled, an angel appeared to him in the wilderness of Mount Sinai, in a flame of fire in a bush. 31And when Moses saw it, he wondered at the sight: and as he drew near to behold, there came a voice of the Lord, 32I am the God of thy fathers, the God of Abraham, and of Isaac, and of Jacob. And Moses trembled, and durst not behold. 33And the Lord said unto him, Loose the shoes from thy feet: for the place whereon thou standest is holy ground. 34I have surely seen the affliction of my people that is in Egypt, and have heard their groaning, and I am come down to deliver them: and now come, I will send thee into Egypt. 35This Moses whom they refused, saying, Who made thee a ruler and a judge? him hath God sent to be both a ruler and a deliverer with the hand of the angel that appeared to him in the bush. 36This man led them forth, having wrought wonders and signs in Egypt, and in the Red Sea, and in the wilderness forty years. 37This is that Moses, who said unto the children of Israel, A prophet shall God raise up unto you from among your brethren, like unto me. 38This is he that was in the church in the wilderness with the angel that spake to him in the Mount Sinai, and with our fathers: who received living oracles to give unto us: 39to whom our fathers would not be obedient, but thrust him from them, and turned back in their hearts unto Egypt, 40saying unto Aaron, Make us gods that shall go before us: for as for this Moses, who led us forth out of the land of Egypt, we know not what is become of him. 41And they made a calf in those days, and brought a sacrifice unto the idol, and rejoiced in the works of their hands. 42But God turned, and gave them up to serve the host of heaven; as it is written in the book of the prophets,
Did ye offer unto me slain beasts and sacrifices
Forty years in the wilderness, O house of Israel?
43And ye took up the tabernacle of Moloch,
And the star of the god Rephan,
The figures which ye made to worship them:
And I will carry you away beyond Babylon.
44Our fathers had the tabernacle of the testimony in the wilderness, even as he appointed who spake unto Moses, that he should make it according to the figure that he had seen. 45Which also our fathers, in their turn, brought in with Joshua when they entered on the possession of the nations, that God thrust out before the face of our fathers, unto the days of David; 46who found favor in the sight of God, and asked to find a habitation for the God of Jacob. 47But Solomon built him a house. 48Howbeit the Most High dwelleth not in houses made with hands; as saith the prophet,
49The heaven is my throne,
And the earth the footstool of my feet:
What manner of house will ye build me? saith the Lord:
Or what is the place of my rest?
50Did not my hand make all these things?
51Ye stiffnecked and uncircumcised in heart and ears, ye do always resist the Holy Spirit: as your fathers did, so do ye. 52Which of the prophets did not your fathers persecute? and they killed them that showed before of the coming of the Righteous One; of whom ye have now become betrayers and murderers; 53ye who received the law as it was ordained by angels, and kept it not. 54Now when they heard these things, they were cut to the heart, and they gnashed on him with their teeth. 55But he, being full of the Holy Spirit, looked up stedfastly into heaven, and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing on the right hand of God, 56and said, Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of Man standing on the right hand of God. 57But they cried out with a loud voice, and stopped their ears, and rushed upon him with one accord; 58and they cast him out of the city, and stoned him: and the witnesses laid down their garments at the feet of a young man named Saul. 59And they stoned Stephen, calling upon the Lord, and saying, Lord Jesus, receive my spirit. 60And 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.
38. Stephen proceedeth to set forth the frowardness 440440 “Pravitate,” depravity. of the people, who though they were provoked [stirred up] with so many benefits of God, yet did they never cease maliciously to reject him. If they had been disobedient and unthankful to God before, yet this so wonderful a deliverance ought to have brought them into a better mind; but he declareth that they were always like themselves. It was meet that so many miracles should not only have stuck fast in their minds, but also have continued still before their eyes. But having forgotten all, they fly back suddenly unto the superstitions of Egypt. The memorial of their cruel servitude was yet fresh, which they had escaped by passing over the Red Sea; and yet they prefer those tyrants by whom they were more than cruelly handled, before their deliverer, This was, therefore, a heap of ungodliness most desperate, that their stubbornness could not be broken or overcome with so many benefits of God, but that they did always return unto their nature. This doth greatly augment the greatness of the offense, where Stephen saith that Moses was then with them in the wilderness. For besides that there appeareth here rare goodness and long-sufferance of the Lord, in bearing with them, they make themselves to be without all excuse, whilst that being beset on every side with so many straits, being brought into so great distress; having Moses to be their guide in their journey, and the faithful keeper of their life, they fall away nevertheless treacherously from God, Finally, it appeareth that they were like untamed beasts, whom God could not keep in obedience with so many bands. Therefore, inasmuch as Moses left not off to govern them even through the wilderness, under the conduct and aid of the angel, it is an easy matter to gather by this circumstance of time, how incurable and obstinate their frowardness was; as it was a point of monstrous rebellion, not to be humbled with miseries, 441441 “Tot malis,” so many miseries. and even with the very sight of death.
Whereas he saith, that Moses was with the angel and the fathers, there is a contrary respect. 442442 “Longe diversa est ratio,” the explanation (of the two things) is very different. He was present with the fathers, that he might be their guide according to the commandment of the Lord; he was with the angel as a minister. Whereupon it followeth that he was no private person to whom this injury was done, but it was done to the governance of God, when the people could be kept back, with the reverence of neither, from running headlong into wicked rebellion. We have already spoken of the angel. But the participle [λαλουντος] or which spake, hath a double meaning. For it may be understood either of the first vision, whereby Moses was called to redeem the people, or of that speech which God had with Moses, after they were come over the Red Sea. And because Christ declared both ways, that he was the author of their deliverance, it is no great matter whether we choose; yea, there is no let but that it may be extended unto both. For he which began to speak to Moses from the beginning, that he might send him into Egypt, did continue the tenor of his speech afterward, until the work was finished.
Which received lively oracles. Erasmus translated it lively speech; but those which are expert in the Greek tongue, they shall know that I have more truly translated the words of Stephen. For there is greater majesty in Oracles than in Speech, I speak only of the word; for I know that whatsoever proceedeth out of the mouth of God, the same is an oracle. Moreover, he purchaseth authority for the doctrine of Moses in these words, because he uttereth nothing but that which proceeded from God, Whereupon it followeth, that they did not so much rebel against Moses as against God; whereby their stubbornness 443443 “Ferrea improbitas,” their stubborn wickedness. is more discovered, And this is a general way to establish doctrine, when men teach nothing but that which is commanded them by God. For what man dare make Moses inferior to him, who (as the Spirit affirmeth) ought only to be believed for this cause, because he faithfully unfolded and delivered the doctrine which he had received of God? But some men may ask this question, Why he called the law a living speech? For this title seemeth to disagree much with the words of Paul, where he saith that the law is the ministry of death, and that it worketh death, and that it is the strength of sin, (1 Corinthians 3:7.) If you take lively speech for that which is effectual, and cannot be made frustrate by the contempt of men, there shall be no contrariety; but I interpret it as spoken actively, for that which maketh to live. 444444 “Vivifica,” vivifying. For seeing that the law is the perfect rule of godly and holy life, and it showeth the righteousness of God, it is counted, for good causes, the doctrine of life and salvation. And to this purpose serveth that solemn protestation of Moses, when he calleth heaven and earth to witness, that he hath set before them the way of death and life. In which sense the Lord himself complaineth, that his good law is broken, and his good commandments, whereof he had said, “He which shall do these things shall live in them,” (Ezekiel 20) Therefore the law hath life in itself. Yet if any man had liefer take living for that which is full of efficacy and strength, I will not greatly stand in contention.
And whereas it is called the ministry of death, that is accidental to it, because of the corrupt nature of man; for it doth not engender sin, but it findeth it in us. It offered life, but we, which are altogether corrupt, can have nothing but death by it. Therefore, it is deadly in respect of men alone. Though Stephen had respect unto a farther thing in this place; for he doth not only speak of the bare commandments, but comprehendeth all Moses’ doctrine, wherein the free promises are included, and so consequently, Christ himself, who is the only life and health of men. We must remember with what men Stephen had to do. They were such as were preposterously zealous of the law, who stayed only in the dead and deadly letter of the law; and, in the mean season, they raged against Stephen, because he sought Christ in the law, who is, indeed, the soul thereof. Therefore, by touching their perverse ignorance glancingly, he giveth them to understand that there is some greater and some more excellent thing hidden in the law than they have hitherto known. For as they were carnal, and content with an outward show, they sought no spiritual thing in it, yea, they would not so much as suffer the same to be showed them.
That he might give them to us. This serveth to refute the false accusation wherewith he was falsely burthened. For seeing he submitteth his neck to the yoke of the law, and professeth that he is one of Moses’ scholars, he is far from discrediting him amongst others. Yea, rather he turneth back the fault which was laid to his charge upon those which were the authors of the slander. That was, as it were, a common reproach for all the people, because the fathers would not obey the law. And therewithal he telleth them that Moses was appointed to be a prophet, not only for his time, but that his authority might be in force with the posterity, even when he was dead. For it is not meet that the doctrine of God should be extinguished together with ministers, or that it should be taken away. For what is more unlikely 445445 “Minus consentaneum,” less befitting. than that that should die whereby we have immortality? So must we think at this day. As the prophets and apostles spake unto the men of their time, so did they write unto us, and (that) the force of their doctrine is continual, because it hath rather God to be the author thereof than men. In the mean season, he teacheth that if any reject the word appointed for them, they reject the counsel of God.