And the witnesses laid down their clothes at a young man's feet, named Saul.59. And they stoned Stephen, calling on, and saying, Lord Jesus, receive my spirit. 60. And he kneeled down, and cried with a loud voice, Lord, lay not this sin to their charge. And when he had said thus, he fell on sleep. 61. And Saul consented [was consenting] to his death.
And Luke expresseth again how furious mad they were, because their cruelty was not assuaged even when they saw the servant of Christ praying humbly. Furthermore, here is set down a prayer of Stephen having two members. In the former member, where he commendeth his spirit to Christ, he showeth the constancy of his faith. In the other, where he prayeth for his enemies, he testifieth his love towards men. Forasmuch as the whole perfection of godliness consisteth upon [of] these two parts, we have in the death of Stephen a rare example of a godly and holy death. It is to be thought that he used many more words, but the sum tendeth to this end.
Therefore, casting off all care of the body, he is content to commit his soul into the hands of Christ. For he could not pray thus from his heart, unless, having forgotten this life, he had cast off all care of the same.
It behoveth us with David (Psalm 31:6) to commit our souls into the hands of God daily so long as we are in the world, because we are environed with a thousand deaths, that God may deliver our life from all dangers; but when we must die indeed, and we are called thereunto, we must fly unto this prayer, that Christ will receive our spirit. For he commended his own spirit into the hands of his Father, to this end, that he may keep ours for ever. This is an inestimable comfort, in that we know our souls do not wander up and down 6 when they flit out of our bodies, but that Christ receiveth them, that he may keep them faithfully, if we commend them into his hands. This hope ought to encourage us to suffer death patiently. Yea, whosoever commendeth his soul to Christ with an earnest affection of faith, he must needs resign himself wholly to his pleasure and will. And this place doth plainly testify that the soul of man is no vain blast which vanisheth away, as some frantic fellows imagine dotingly, 7 but that it is an essential spirit which liveth after this life. Furthermore, we are taught hereby that we call upon Christ rightly and lawfully, because all power is given him of the Father, for this cause, that all men may commit themselves to his tuition. 8
And we know that we are all commanded 9 to do the same which Stephen did; 10 but because there is nothing more hard than so to forgive injuries, that we will wish well to those who would have us undone, (Matthew 5:43, 44;) therefore we must always set Stephen before our eyes for an example. He crieth indeed with a loud voice, but he maketh show of nothing before men which was not spoken sincerely and from the heart, as God himself doth witness. Yet he crieth aloud, that he may omit nothing which might serve to assuage the cruelty of the enemies. The fruit appeared not forthwith, yet undoubtedly he prayed not in vain; and Paul is unto us a sufficient testimony 11 that this sin was not laid to all their charges. I will not say as Augustine, that unless Stephen had prayed the Church should not have had Paul; for this is somewhat hard; only I say this, that whereas God pardoned Paul, it appeareth thereby that Stephen's prayer was not in vain. Here ariseth a question, how Stephen prayeth for those which he said of late did resist the Holy Ghost; but this seemeth to be the sin against the Spirit which shall never be forgiven? We may easily answer, that that is pronounced generally of all which belongeth to many everywhere; therefore, he called not the body of the people rebellious in such sort that he exempted none. Again, I have declared before what manner of resisting he condemned in that place; for it followeth not by and by, that they sin against the Holy Ghost who resist him for a time. When he prayeth that God will not lay the sin to their charge, his meaning is, that the guiltiness may not remain in them.
1 "Per eum non stetisse quominus in sensum reprobum conjectus, cum aliis periret," that it was not owing to himself that he did not fall into a reprobate mind, and perish with the rest (of the Jews.)
2 "Tirocenio," training.
3 "Animi magnitudo," magnanimity.
4 "Secure," securely.
5 "Non carnis nostrae sensu," not by our carnal senses.
6 "Fortuito," fortuitously.
7 "Ut quidam phrenetici delirant," as some phrenzied persons rave.
8 "Un ejus fidem," to his faith.
9 "A Christo," by Christ, omitted.
10 "Quod autem Stephanum fecisse narrat Lucas," which Luke relates that Stephen did.
11 . "Illustre documentum," an illustrious proof.