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“ upon him; and accordingly, after the example “ of his Master, he prayed for the pardon of his “ murderers, even while their hands were reeking “ with his blood. And the effectual fervent
prayer of the righteous man availeth much: “ heaven was not deaf to his petition, as appeared “ in the speedy conversion of St. Paul, whose o admiiable change we may reasonably suppose “ to have been the birth of the good man's dying
groans, the fruit of his prayer and interest in • heaven.
Having thus briefly stated the particulars of the sacred story on which our collect is founded, we proceed to consider, secondly, the petition which it contains.
Our collect is addressed to that Jesus whom St. Stephen saw " standing on the right hand of “ God.” That He is the proper object of Divine worship and confidence in prayer, appears from the solemn surrender which the protomartyr made of his departing soul into His hands, and that at a time when he is expressly declared to have been “ filled with the Holy Ghost." No other argument needs to be adduced for the purpose of proving that Jesus is Jehovah, “God manifest in is the flesh.” This our church deems to be sufficient authority for the invocation of His name, whose she is, and whom she serves. genuine member of her community will wish to die with St. Stephen's words on his quivering lips, “ Lord Jesus, receive my spirit !”
Our collect teaches us to believe, that “ all “ who will live Godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer
persecution.” It is taken for granted, that we
* Dr. Cave's Antiquitates Apostolicæ, where the reader may find the Life of St. Stephen more largely detailed.
shall meet with “ gufferings for the testimony of “ Divine truth.” And certain it is, that an honest profession of Christianity, accompanied with a corresponding practice, will expose us, in a greater or less degree, to a share of the reproach of Christ. Notwithstanding the general assumption of the Christian name, “the carnal mind is.” still - enmity against God;" and that enmity will disclose itself by an opposition to every thing that is truly evangelical, spiritual, and holy. The world and the little flock are still distinct societies which are opposed to each other, and must continue to be so, till the final separation takes place. “ The world will love its own; while those who are “ not of the world, but are chosen out of it, will “ be hated by it.” The genuine doctrines of the gospel are in direct contrariety to the pride of unsanctified reason, and the practice of its precepts runs counter to the corrupt bias of the human heart. Whoever therefore maintains these peculiarities, is sure to be treated with contempt by an ungodly world: the accusation of a weak intellect, or of corrupt intentions, is sure to follow him.
It will be no improper criterion of the legitimacy of our profession as Christians, if we ask ourselves whether it has exposed us to any sufferings for the testimony of the truth. Blessed be God, the Jewish Sanhedrim is deprived of its power, and the flames of Smithfield are extinguished! But still “ he that is after the flesh “ will persecute him that is after the Spirit;" though an opprobrious name, or a sneer of contempt, must supply the place of more hostile
The odium we incur must of course vary with the circumstances in which we are
red. But if we meet with none at all, we have
reason to fear lest that denunciation of our Lord should light on us, "Woe unto you, when all men speak well of you." We are not faithful to our profession, if the smile of the world be our portion. Our creed and our conduct must be identified with those of the world, or it would say of us as Ahab said of Micaiah, "I hate him, for " he doth not prophesy good concerning me but " evil."
Under the expectation of "suffering for the testimony of the truth," we are taught to pray that in all such seasons of suffering "we may "steadfastly look up to heaven." Thither St. Stephen looked, and thence he derived support. And nothing but a direction of the mind's eye to eternal things can enable the professor of Christianity to "hold fast his confidence unto "the end." If we "endure," it must be by seeing Him who is invisible." That "faith" which is the substance of things hoped for, "and the evidence of things not seen," must penetrate within the veil whither Jesus the "forerunner for us is entered." Without this, our courage will fail in the moment of trial, and we shall deny Christ before men," so as to be "denied by Him before His Father and the holy "angels." But if we are enabled to "look," with steadfastness of regard as at our scope and aim, "not at the things which are seen and are "temporal, but at the things which are not "seen and eternal," then the opinion of the world will be lightly esteemed by us, and we shall "fear, not them who can kill the body
only and then have no more that they can "do, but Him who, after he Hath killed, hath 66 power to cast into hell." Then we shall be enabled to "reckon the sufferings of this
"time not worthy to be compared with the glo'ry that shall be revealed in us.'
In order that we may be prepared for the hour of trial, it is necessary to cultivate an habitual regard to eternal realities. The eyes of our minds must be constantly turned towards heaven, and the glory to be revealed must be continually present to our view. The primitive Christians had "their conversation in heaven, from whence they looked for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus "Christ." And this prevailing tendency of soul not only raised them superior to the sneer of an ungodly world, and made them rejoice that they were counted "worthy to suffer shame "for the sake of Christ," but it armed them for the last conflict, and rendered them emulous to obtain the crown of martyrdom. With Christ in their heart and heaven in their eye, they * feared nothing that men or devils could do unto them. How proper is it, with this view, that we should take those who have spoken in the "name of the Lord for an example of suffering "affliction and patience," as our church directs us to take St. Stephen this day! And how necessary it is that we should pray for a portion of their grace and consolation, "that in all our "sufferings for the testimony of the truth we may "steadfastly look up to heaven, and by faith "behold the glory that shall be revealed!"
Having, in the first petition of our collect, implored grace, that we may be enabled, after the example of St. Stephen, to meet the sufferings which may befal us with comfort and constancy, we proceed to ask for the influence of
* Ignatius, before the heathen emperor who sentenced him to the beasts, styled himself Theophorus, one who carries God with him.
the Holy Ghost, that we may be furnished with the same spirit of charity by which he was influenced in his last moments; “that we may to learn to love and bless our persecutors by the
example of the first martyr St. Stephen, who “prayed for his murderers to Him who standeth " at the right hand of God to succour all those “ that suffer for Him, our only Mediator and “ Advocate.”
The duty, with a view to the performance of which we now implore Divine grace, is one of great difficulty; for the pride of human nature revolts against a patient submission to injuries. Yet this is required of us, and is a test of our conformity to Him who was “led as a lamb to “ the slaughter, and who, as a sheep before her “ shearers is dumb, opened not His mouth.” When hanging in excrutiating agony on the cross, to which he had been nailed by the most inveterate malice; he sought an excuse for His murderers and pleaded their cause, saying, “ Father, forgive them, for they know not what
they do.” O what love was this! What an example for us! Shall we say, It is inimitable,and in despair abandon ourselves to the governance of an opposite temper? In the full dimensions of its excellence it is certainly a copy that cannot be equalled; but by the influence of the Spirit of Jesus a resemblance is attainable. For St. Stephen, like his blessed Master, while showers of stones were dashing against him, prayed also for his implacable enemies, saying, is Lord, lay not this sin to their charge.” We must drink of the same Spirit, if we would prove our conformity to the same Lord and Master.
We are expressly commanded by onr blessed Lord to “ love our enemies, to bless them that VOL. I.