On the Acts of the Apostles.

Chapter 6:7-15.

Taken from The Bible Treasury Number 324 - May 1883


Chapter 6:7-15.

The measure taken by the apostles in appointing servants for the exterior duties of the assembly, leaving themselves free for prayer and the ministry of the word, was owned by the signal blessing of God. Administration of money is a delicate and difficult task, especially if it be undertaken by such as serve in the word. In a low condition it gives influence of the basest kind to those who otherwise could have little or none. But here we are in presence of the Holy Ghost working in energy, holiness, and love, and raising souls above the fleshly feelings that threatened danger to the church. None would be more struck by the unselfish wisdom of the apostles than the sacerdotal class, ordinarily apt to be greedy of power and influence, if not of worse still.

"And the word of God increased; and the number of the disciples in Jerusalem multiplied exceedingly; and a great crowd of the priests1 were obedient to the faith." (Ver. 7.)

It looked most promising surely, when the word of God grew as an object of faith and a distinct power among men; when the disciples so greatly multiplied in the city of solemnities itself; when the very priests were now flocking in, unwonted sight as this was, what could most think but that the scattered and peeled nation were at length learning divine wisdom? Would they not soon repent and be converted for the blotting out of their sins, so that seasons of refreshing might come from the presence of the Lord and He might send the Christ that had been fore-appointed for them, Jesus? Appearances gave a colour, if not currency, to the thought such as never after that could be claimed for it. The truth was, that God was but severing unto the name of Jesus from His ancient people such as should be saved, before He sent His armies, destroyed the murderers of His servants (and, we can add, of His Son), and burnt up their city according to the word of the Lord.

And so, if I err not, He is doing now i ń the active work of salvation He is carrying on throughout the earth, in Christendom especially. It is the sure sign, not of the world's surrender to Christ and the cross, but that the Lord is separating His own from the world which is hastening to inevitable, unsparing, and condign judgment. Never till then can them be universal or stable blessing for the earth as a whole, such as we are entitled to expect according to Pss. lxv.—lxviii., lxxii., xcii.—cvii. and the prophets generally. The heavens must receive Jesus till the times of the restoring (not the destruction) of all things of which God spoke by the mouth of His holy prophets since time began. It is the corrupt harlot, not the true bride, that wants to reign in the absence of the Bridegroom. If grace convert ever so many or ever so extraordinarily, as with the priests, they were but saving themselves from that crooked generation. Judgment personally inflicted by the Lord must precede His introduction of God's kingdom in power and glory; but this does not hinder the action of sovereign grace in changing His own and translating them to be with Himself on high before the day of His judgment dawns on the earth. For when that day comes, they are already with Him, and hence follow Him out of heaven, and appear with Him for the execution of that judgment.

Another element of moment is now introduced— the free action of God's Spirit even in Jerusalem, where all the twelve apostles were.

The ordination, if we call it ordination, of " the seven," was for a temporal service, expressly not for spiritual ministry by the word, but on the contrary, by handing over to them the exterior duty, to let the apostles be undistracted in their blessed work. Assuredly, if it be a ridiculous perversion in one part of Christendom to devise a modern answer in the charge of the paten and chalice, it is only a shade better to make it a sort of probationership to the office of a presbyter. Scripture is overlaid and ignored by human tradition. "The seven" were stewards for the poor, and not a formal noviciate for a full-blown minister. It was reserved for dissent to find a still lower deep, through money to constitute (what one of their own best men called) "the lords deacons," with power to conciliate or coerce, to pamper or starve out, the minister. How unlike are all these to the holy ways of God and His word!

Yet one of these is brought before us as used and honoured of God in a way quite outside the work for which they were appointed. "And Stephen, full of grace2 and power, wrought great wonders and signs among the people. And there arose certain of those that were of the synagogue called3 [that] of the freedmen [Libertines], and of Cyrenians, and of Alexandrians, and of those of Cilicia and Asia,4 disputing with Stephen. And they were not able to resist the wisdom and the Spirit by which he spoke. Then they suborned men, saying, We have heard him speak blasphemous words against Moses and God. And they stirred up the people and the elders and the scribes; and coning upon [him] they seized and brought him into the council, and set false witnesses, saying,5 This man ceaseth not speaking words against the holy place and the law; for we have heard him say that this Jesus of Nazareth shall destroy this place, and change the customs which Moses handed down to us. And all that sat in the council, gazing fixedly on him, saw his face as it were an angel's face. " (Ver. 8-15.)

Beyond a doubt the levelling spirit of democracy, the unwillingness to recognise those who are over, us in the Lord, is very far from the word of God. But even in those days when the church shone in order and beauty as never since, when the highest authorities that ever God set in the church were all there, we behold His sovereign grace acting in a man with no other title than what grace gave him. He was not even a bishop or presbyter; he had been set apart with others to a grave but lowly service. Yet we find him soon after described as full of "grace" (not faith merely) and power, working great marvels and signs among the people. There was no jealousy in that day of grace and power: for all who could and did glorify the Lord there was room and welcome. The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of liberty. Law and the world and the flesh gender bondage, and pride, and sin.

The fact is that scripture knows nothing of ordaining a man to preach or to teach, still less if possible for the administration, so-called, of baptism and the Lord's Supper. Superstition has entered, and the power of religious habits of thought founded on every-day routine; so that even pious men fail to see in the Bible what contradicts their theory and practice, and attach to Scriptural acts or words in defence of their own thoughts a meaning which is quite foreign to the truth.

According to Scripture, if a man has a spiritual gift from the Lord, he is not only free as regards others but bound before the Lord to use it. Otherwise let him beware of the condemnation in the parable of the unprofitable servant, who counted his lord hard and was afraid and went away and hid his talent in the earth. It is no question of a Christian's rights but of the grace of Christ, as well as of the obligation on him who has received the gift to use it according to His will to whom the church belongs and for His glory. So says the apostle Peter; and it were well that men who misuse should hear and weigh his words:—"According as each hath received a gift, ministering it among yourselves, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God: if any man speak, as oracles of God; if any man minister, as of strength which God supplieth; that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ, whose is the glory and the dominion for ever and ever. Amen."

I purposely press this scripture which is in perfect keeping with all others that treat of the same subject. It seems the more apposite as he was there with the eleven when God put forward Stephen to act on it. The free energy pf the Holy Spirit in gift is therefore in no way a Pauline peculiarity as some affect to believe. In the Epistles οf the great apostle of the Gentiles no doubt we have the truth on this head as on so many others dependent on Christ's headship of the Church, developed more profoundly and comprehensively than the Lord was pleased to do by any others. But the principle is the same in all. Thus we find James warning the brethren not to be many teachers, knowing that we shall receive greater judgment, not because they were not. ordained. And as the second epistle of John thunders against receiving a man (ordained or not) who did not bring the doctrine of Christ, so does his third encourage Gaius (however Diotrephes might oppose) in all loving reception of such as went about preaching the truth. John had authority, if any one on earth then had, to act for Christ; but he takes no other ground than the character of the doctrine they preached for rejecting, or receiving, them. It was a question for him (is it for us?) simply of Christ—of the truth. This we must have if we are to love in truth. Love is of God, and God is love but we must have the truth in order to love in truth. Otherwise it is the most illusive and fatal of snares.

Nor can one hesitate to say, that whatever might be the great marvels and signs that Stephen was doing (8) to the glory of the rejected but exalted Christ the Second man .in heaven, the wisdom and the Spirit by which he was enabled to speak (10) were a reality yet deeper and more blessed. The one might arrest any one; but no adversary could withstand the other. And there were many adversaries, here of course all of the circumcision. Who were the Libertines? It would seem, according to the oldest interpretation on record, Jewish freedmen banished A. n. 19 from Rome, whither Pompey had carried many taken prisoners in war, but afterwards emancipated by their masters and allowed to adhere to their religion. It is natural, as another has suggested, that men such as these should show strong feeling if they conceived that the religion for which they had suffered abroad was insulted or endangered at. home. They are at any rate put into the foremost rank of Stephen's adversaries by the inspired historian. If it be so, it is a Grecized Latin word. This too would account for the expression "called," as due to the connected,"Libertines." Some have tried to make out a city Libertum in Africa; and it is known that there was a bishop of Libertum at the synod of Carthage in A.D. 411. But if such a town existed in the days of Stephen, it was too small to be noticed, and could never take precedence of Cyrene and Alexandria.

Doubt has been felt whether two synagogues were meant or five. It appears to me that Winer is not justified in the former supposition, that the τῶν first used would have sufficed to have united the five classes, and that the second is not to indicate only two parties, each possessing a common synagogue, but the difference of such as came out of cities like Cyrene and Alexandria with the freedmen first named from those of provinces like Cilicia and Asia. When we are told that there were then some 480 synagogues in Jerusalem, it seems very unlikely that there should not be a separate place for each, as the Jews were notoriously numerous in most if not all. It is of solemn interest how unbelieving men can find a show of reason to fasten the most odious charges on the truth which they hate and those who proclaim it. Yet why suborn men to inform, if they honestly felt indignation at alleged wickedness? One can understand that to claim for Jesus the title of the Christ, the Anointed, was to imply His superiority to Moses; and to hint at the transitory nature of the temple, which the Lord had said was to have not a stone left on another, might be regarded as blaspheming the God whose house it was.

However this may have been, they thereby roused the people and the elders and the scribes. Here the Pharisees would be as furious as the Sadducees or more so. It was a general outburst of proper Jewish resentment; and so Stephen was seized and brought into the council. If the words had been said, the witnesses were none the less false. Nothing could be more wickedly untrue than that he said one word disrespectful to God or Moses, to the law or the temple. But wicked men hear with a wicked feeling, and the Spirit pronounces them false witnesses, though, Stephen's words might sound as they reported. "For we have heard him say, that this Jesus of Nazareth shall destroy this place, and change the customs which Moses handed down to us."

I know not why commentators should question the singular mark of divine favour vouchsafed to his person, unless they abjure faith and deny the yet more wondrous privilege at the close of his discourse. It was striking that he who was accused of reviling Moses and God should receive from God a sign like that which his servant Moses enjoyed. The Jews at any rate ought to have felt it as a solemn appeal to them above all mankind.



1) It is painful how prone men of learning ere to parry and pare down the marvels of God's grace. Thus Beza, Casaubon, and Valckenaer would change the text—Elsner, Heinsius, Kuhnol, and Wolf, the only legitimate use of the last clause—to get rid of this great work among the priests. Is aught too hard for the Lord? Were priests alone a hopeless class? The Peschito (not the Philoxenian) Syriac had already yielded to similar unbelief, and the Arabic also, both omitting all notice of the priests.

2) Such is the reading of א Α Β D, more than twenty cursives, and the best ancient versions.

3) If we might safely adopt the reading of Tichendorf's last edition (א A, eight cursive; Sah. Memph. &c.) with the cοnstruction would be easier, "of those called L." But the mass of Uncials, cursives, versions, &c., is adverse.

4) Lachmann was bold enough to omit "and of Asia," because of its absence in A. D.

5) The best authorities omit "blasphemous" which the Received Text adds with "this" against the mass.