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The Stoning of Stephen
54 When they heard these things, they became enraged and ground their teeth at Stephen.
54. When they heard. The beginning of the action had in it some color of judgment; but at length the judges cannot bridle their fury. First, they interrupt him with murmuring and noise, now they break out into envious and deadly cryings, 472472 “Infestis clamoribus,” hostile clamor. lest they should hear any one word. Afterward they hale the holy man (out of the city,) that they may put him to death. And Luke expresseth properly what force Satan hath to drive forward the adversaries of the word. When he saith that they burst asunder inwardly, he noteth that they were not only angry, but they were also stricken with madness. Which fury breaketh out into the gnashing of the teeth, as a violent fire into flame. The reprobate, who are at Satan’s commandment, must needs be thus moved with the hearing of the word of God; and this is the state of the gospel, it driveth hypocrites into madness who might seem before to be modest, as if a drunken man who is desirous of sleep be suddenly awakened. Therefore, Simeon assigneth this to Christ, as proper to him, to disclose the thoughts of many hearts, (Luke 2:35.) Yet, notwithstanding, this ought not to be ascribed to the doctrine of salvation, whose end is rather this, to tame men’s minds to obey God after that it hath subdued them. But so soon as Satan hath possessed their minds, if they be urged, their ungodliness will break out. Therefore, this is an accidentary [accidental] evil; yet we are taught by these examples, that we must not look that the word of God should draw all men unto a sound mind.
Which doctrine is very requisite for us unto constancy. Those which are teachers cannot do their duty as they ought, but they must set themselves against the contemners of God. And forasmuch as there are always some wicked men, which set light by the majesty of God, they must ever now and then have recourse unto this vehemency of Stephen. For they may not wink when God’s honor is taken from him. And what shall be the end thereof? Their ungodliness shall be the more incensed, so that we shall seem to pour oil into the fire, (as they say.) But whatsoever come of it, yet must we not spare the wicked, but we must keep them down mightily, although they could pour out all the furies of hell. And it is certain that those which will flatter the wicked do not respect the fruit, 473473 “Qui impiorum aures deliciis mulceri volunt, non tam respicere profectum,” who would pour soothing wrods into the ears of the wicked, look not so much to their profit. but are faint-hearted through fear of danger. But as for us, howsoever we have no such success as we could wish, let us know that courage in defending the doctrine of godliness is a sweet-smelling sacrifice to God.