Taken from The Bible Treasury Number 308 - January 1882
Outwardly also the death of Stephen was the epoch when the murderous spirit, provoked by his solemn and fearless testimony, burst out against all who bore the name of the Lord.
"And there arose on that day a great persecution against the assembly that was in Jerusalem; and1 they were all scattered abroad throughout the regions of Judaea and Samaria except the apostles. And devout men buried Stephen and made great wailing over him. But Saul was ravaging the assembly, entering throughout the houses, and dragging men and women was delivering [them] to prison. They therefore that were scattered abroad went about evangelizing the word."2 (Ver. i-4.)
Blinded by religious pride and jealousy the Jews were but sealing their guilt irrecoverably. Those who despised the Messiah in humiliation on earth were now rebelling against Him glorified in heaven, rejecting withal the Holy Spirit whom He had sent down to render a divine testimony to His glory. Man in his best estate is not only vanity but enmity against the God of love. They had sent, as one said, the spirit of the martyr and witness to Jesus on high with the message, We will not have this Man to reign over us. So had the Lord once figured the hatred of "the citizens" in the parable of the Pounds (or Minas)" and thus were His words punctually verified. That generation has not passed away; nor will it, as He has apprised us, till all things He predicted shall have taken place; and the most tremendous of these things await the end of the age which He terminates by His appearing in glory.
But the rage then in Jerusalem was so intense and widespread against the assembly there that they were all scattered abroad except the apostles. It was in accordance with the word of the Lord that the testimony of the gospel of grace did begin "at Jerusalem," and so it did. It was necessary that the word of God should first be spoken to the Jews; and so it was. This salvation of God must be sent unto the Gentiles, and they will also hear; but it must go fully to the Jews first, and this was now being done; and the Jews rejected it with a persecuting obstinacy as yet beyond all example on earth. It was reserved for Popery to outdo that day in unrelenting, opposition to the word of God and in sanguinary hatred of His saints. " They were all scattered abroad " throughout the neighbouring regions "except the apostles:" a persecution as remarkable for its success in dispersing the objects of its fury, as for the exception specified; for those who staid would naturally be the most obnoxious of all. It is the more striking because the charge in Matt. x. 23 ("when they persecute you in this city, flee into the next ".) was primarily to the twelve; so strange it seems, Canon Humphrey should take our chapter as a fulfilment of that command of our Lord, though the closing words point rather to a future testimony in the land before the end of the age. Nor is Calvin more happy who will have it that the apostles remained behind as good pastors for the safety of the flock; for it is evident that the sheep were all. gone. Still less tolerable is Bp. Ρearson's idea (Lect. in Acta App. iv. x. p. 62, Opera Posth. 4tο. Lond. 1688) that the tradition of the second century, mentioned by Clemens Alex. and Eusebius (H. E.), accounts for it; namely, that our Lord forbade the apostles leaving Jerusalem for twelve years! This very chapter later on disproves it. He bade them go and disciple all the nations, yea, go into the world and preach the gospel to all the creation. Remission of sins was to be preached in His name to all the nations, beginning with Jerusalem. They were to tarry in the city, but it was expressly till they were clothed with power from on high, without a thought of twelve years.
But for the present, in face of that great persecution, the apostles abide. Divine wisdom ordered all might. They remain there together unmoved by the storm which dispersed all others, for important purposes which afterwards appear; and the spread of the glad tidings falls under the good hand of the Lord to His scattered saints. No man beforehand could have foreseen such a result of such an ebullition, God rejected not alone in His unity as of old but also in His Son and now in His Spirit. His truth was counted a lie, His saints as sheep for the slaughter. But if the apostles abode, the dispersed brethren went in all directions announcing the glad tidings of the word. It is the just action of the Holy Spirit in the gospel which we see as God's answer to His people's full and final rejection of His grace; and this was secured in the best and most unmistakable way by the apostles remaining, while all the rest were scattered, with no other external impulse, and have the last degree of human evidence from unbelieving rebellious Israel in the city of solemnities itself.
Meanwhile "pious men buried Stephen, and made great wailing over him " (ver. 2). There is nothing in the epithet to necessitate our regarding these as disciples. They were rather God-fearing Jews whose conscience revolted against the lawless end of a trial that began with the form of Jewish law and was carried on with the corruption of suborned testimony which then characterized the chosen nation. Calvin has missed the point of the account by the assumption that it is for us a lesson of the faithful, even in the heat of persecution, not discouraged but zealous in the discharge of these duties which pertain to godliness. Still farther did he err in making Luke also commend their profession of godliness and faith in their lamentation, as if they identified themselves with Stephen's life and death, and testified withal what great loss the church of God had suffered by his decease. The force of this history lies in the raising up decent burial and exceeding lamentation on the part of Jews who were net of the assembly, when those on whom it should have devolved were not there to pay the last offices of love. There is no need with Meyer to render the particle which introduces the account as an adversative. The writer was inspired to give it us an addional feature of the scene, not without interest and profit to the believer who sees and values the gracious care of God even in such circumstances. A Gamaliel stands up for righteous wisdom at the right moment, and pious men bury the martyr with great wailing when it could be least expected.
The true opposition is in what is next told us of his fanatical and bitter zeal who was afterwards to be the most devoted servant of our Lord, who had also to experience what it is in the church to be less loved, the more abundantly he loved, spending and spent out most gladly for the souls of men. "But Saul was ravaging the assembly, entering the houses throughout, and, dragging both men and women, delivered [them] to prison" (ver. 3). Religious rage is of all the most unrelenting; and fresh victims do not satiate but whet its cruel appetite, sex and age being alike disregarded.
It may be well here to remark that εὐαγγλίζεσθαι. to denounce the glad tidings is ministry of the gospel no less than κηρύσσειν to proclaim, or preach, in ver. 5. Mr. Brewster in his Lectures en this book after Dr. Hammond gives no valid reason for laying stress on the difference, in order to support what he calls "regular commission." First the former word is used of our Lord Himself (Matt. xi. 5; Luke iv. 18, 43" vii. 22" viii. 1; xx. 1), as it is of the apostles (Luke ix. 6" Acts v. 42" xiii. 32" xiv. 7, 15, 21; xv. 35" xvi. 10; xvii.18; Rom. i.15; x. 20; 1 Cor. i. 17; ix. 16, 18" xvi. 2; 2 Cor. x. 16" xi. 7: Gal. i. 8, 11, 16, 23" iv. 13" Eph. iii. 8), which is more than enough to refute the mean or vague use to which he would confine it. Secondly, the latter word is so little restricted to an official class, that it is applied to the healed leper and demoniac in their proclaiming what the Lord had done for each of them (Mark i. 45" v. 20), and so to those who published the cure of the deaf and dumb (Mark vii. 36). Again it stands side by side with the former word in Luke iv. 18, 19, 44; viii. 1; ix. 2; Rom. x. 15" 1 Cor. i. ix. xv; 2 Cor. xi. Further, the latter, not the former word is used of those at Rome who during the apostle's imprisonment preached Christ, some even of envy and strife, thinking to raise up affliction for him in his bonds. Were there an atom of truth in the alleged distinction, there would be just the occasion to employ this supposed expression for mere speaking or irregular work. But it is not so; the Apostle describes the preaching of the heartless as well as the true workmen by the term (κηρ.) which Mr. B. will have to be distinctive of the truly commissioned official. The notion is therefore wholly unscriptural. Difference of course no one denies, for the one means to announce glad tidings, the other to proclaim or publish; but this is wholly independent of the desired confinement of preaching to those ordained for the purpose, an idea purely imaginary and opposed to all the evidence of scripture. Those who had the gift were not free but bound to exercise it in responsibility to Christ the Lord. Elders were chosen by apostles or apostolic envoys, and deacons by the multitude but for other objects; nor did they ever preach in virtue of their proper office: they might be evangelists like Philip. Otherwise they were no more authorised than the rest of them, like the dispersed before us. Rules and order even in earthly things are of moment, but quite distinct from preaching or teaching for which ordination is unknown to God's word.
But Dr. Guyse represents another class which limit "all" scattered abroad to "preachers!" This he does by misinterpreting ver. 2 of "Stephen's religious friends," and those ravaged by Saul in ver. 3, so as to deny the general preaching by the turning it into "the remainder of the 120 that was called the Apostles' own company" (Acts iv. 23), and perhaps including several other later converts that had received the gift of the Holy Ghost and went about as evangelists to preach the gospel! How sad these evasions of the truth on the part of godly men. Power makes itself felt" and gifted men should be the last to silence any christian who can evangelize. For it is a question, not of divine qualification, but of human sanction; which is really a restraint on the Holy Spirit, a slight. of Christ's grace, and a hindrance, so far as man can be a hindrance, of sinners' salvation. How blessed the grace of God, who, without design on the apostles' part or even a hint from any, turned the world's dispersion of the assembly into scattering far and wide the seeds of gospel truth.
1) The first hand of the Sinitic leaves out the copula with two cursive., which Tisch. singularly adopts. It is just as necessary as in ver. 2.
2) Laud's MS., E., gives the aomist here and adds "of God" at the end of 4, in both faultily, in the latter with several Vv.