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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.

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51. Forasmuch as Stephen doth not expressly answer the points of the accusation, I am of their mind who think that he would have said more, if his oration had not been broken off with some uproar. For we know what a session of judges he had; therefore, no marvel if they enforced him to hold his peace with noise and outcries. And we see, also, that he did use long insinuation of set purpose, that he might tame and appease them who were like brute beasts most cruel; but it is likely that their madness was then incensed, when he proved that they had most wickedly corrupted the law, that the temple was polluted with their superstitions, and that there is nothing sincere amongst them; because, whilst they did stick in bare figures, they did not worship God spiritually, because they did not refer the ceremonies unto the heavenly figure; but though Stephen did not enter the cause straightway, but essayed to make their fierce minds somewhat more gentle by little and little, yet did he reason very fitly, to purge himself of the crime laid to his charge.

These two things, as we have said, were the principal points of the question, that Stephen had blasphemed God and his temple; that he went about to disannul the law. That Stephen might clear himself of both these false slanders, he began at the calling of Abraham, and declareth that the Jews excelled the Gentiles, not of their own nature, not by any right of their own, not by any merits of works, but by a free privilege, because God had adopted them in the person of Abraham. This is also very pertinent to the cause, that the covenant of salvation was made with Abraham before any temple or ceremonies were, yea, before circumcision was appointed. Of which things the Jews did so boast, that they said there was no worship of God without them, neither any holiness. After that he set down how wonderful and manifold the goodness of God was towards Abraham’s stock, and again how wickedly and frowardly they had refused, so much as in them lay, the grace of God; whereby it appeareth that it cannot be ascribed to their own merits that they are counted God’s people, but because God did choose them of his own accord, being unworthy, and did not cease to do them good, though they were most unthankful. Their lofty and proud spirits might by this means have been subdued, tamed, and humbled, that being emptied of that wind of foolish glory they might come unto the Mediator. Thirdly, he declared that the Angel was the governor and chief, in giving the law and delivering the people, and that Moses did so serve in his function, that he taught that there should come other prophets hereafter, who should, notwithstanding, have one which should be the chief of them, that he might make an end of all prophecies, and that he might bring the perfect accomplishment of them all. Whereby it is gathered that those are nothing less than Moses’ disciples, who reject that kind of doctrine which was promised and commended in the law, together with the author thereof.

Last of all, he showeth that all the old worship which was prescribed by Moses is not to be esteemed of itself, but that it ought rather to be referred to another end, because it was made according to the heavenly pattern; and that the Jews have always been wicked interpreters of the law, because they conceived nothing but that which was earthly. Hereby is it proved that there is no injury done to the temple and the law when Christ is made, as it were, the end and truth of both, But because the state of the cause did consist chiefly in this, that the worship of God doth not properly consist in sacrifices and other things, and that all ceremonies did nothing else but shadow Christ, Stephen was purposed to stand upon this point if the Jews would have permitted him; but because, when he was come to the pith of the matter, they cannot abide to hear any more, (they were so incensed with fury,) the application of those things which he had said, unto this cause which he had in hand, is wanting. And he is enforced to use a sharp reprehension for a conclusion, Ye of an hard neck, saith he, (Exodus 32:9; 33:3,5.) We see how soon he is offended with them with an holy zeal, but because he saw that he spake many things to small end, especially before deaf men, he breaketh off his doctrine. This is a metaphor taken from horses or oxen, which Moses useth often, when he will say that his people is a rebellious people, and disobedient to God, and also unruly.

The upbraiding which followeth was of greater force with them. Circumcision was unto them a vail and covering to cover all vices. Therefore, when he calleth them uncircumcised in heart, he doth not only mean that they are rebellious against God and stubborn, but that they were found treacherous and covenant-breakers, even in that sign whereof they did so greatly boast; and so he turneth that back most fitly to their shame, whereof they made boast to their glory. For this is all one, as if he should have said that they had broken the covenant of the Lord, so that their circumcision was void and profane. This speech is taken out of the law and the prophets. For as God hath appointed the sign, so he would have the Jews know to what end they were circumcised; to wit, that they might circumcise their hearts and all their corrupt affections to the Lord, as we read, “And now circumcise your hearts to the Lord,” Wherefore, the letter of circumcision, as Paul calleth it, is a vain visor with God, (Romans 2:28.) So, forasmuch as at this day the spiritual washing is the truth of our baptism, it is to be feared, lest that may well be objected to us, that we are not partakers of baptism, because our souls and flesh are polluted with filthiness.

Ye have always resisted. At the first Stephen vouchsafed to call these men fathers and brethren, against whom he inveigheth thus sharply, Therefore, so long as there remained any hope that they might be made more gentle, he dealt not only friendly with them, but he spake honorably unto them. Now, so soon as he espieth their desperate stubbornness, he doth not only take from them all honor, but lest he should have any fellowship with them, he speaketh unto them as unto men of another kindred. You, saith he, are like to your fathers, who have always rebelled against the Spirit of God. But he himself came of the same fathers; and yet that he may couple himself to Christ, he forgetteth his kindred, inasmuch as it was wicked. And yet for all this, he bindeth them not all in one bundle, as they say, but he speaketh unto the multitude.

And those are said to resist the Spirit who reject 466466     “Contumaciter rejicient,” contumaciously reject. him when he speaketh in the prophets. Neither doth he speak in this place of secret revelations, wherewith God inspireth every one, but of the external ministry; which we must note diligently. He purposeth to take from the Jews all color of excuse; and, therefore, he upbraideth unto them, that they had purposely, and not of ignorance, resisted God. Whereby it appeareth what great account the Lord maketh of his word, and how reverently he will have us to receive the same. Therefore, lest, like giants, we make war against God, let us learn to hearken to the ministers by whose mouth he teacheth us.




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