A Sermon Delivered On Sunday Morning, May 24, 1874, By C. H. Spurgeon, At The Metropolitan Tabernacle, Newington. *1/23/2012
And they stoned Stephen, calling upon God, and saying, “Lord
Jesus, receive my spirit.” And he kneeled down, and cried with a loud
voice, “Lord, do not lay this sin to their charge.” And when he had
said this, he fell asleep. [Ac 7:59,60]
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1. It is of the greatest service to us all to be reminded that our life is only a vapour, which appears for a little while and then vanishes away. Through forgetfulness of this worldlings live at ease, and Christians walk carelessly. Unless we watch for the Lord’s coming, worldliness soon eats into our spirit like a canker. If you have this world’s riches, believer, remember that this is not your rest, and do not set too great a value on its comforts. If, on the other hand, you dwell in penury, and are burdened with poverty, do not be too much depressed by it, for these light afflictions are only for a moment, and are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us. Look upon the things that are as though they were not. Remember you are a part of a great procession which is always moving by; others come and go before your own eyes, you see them, and they disappear, and you yourself are moving onward to another and more real world. “It is very wise to talk about our last hours,” to give a rehearsal of our departure, and to be prepared to stand before the great tribunal of the judgment. Our duty is to trim our lamps for the time when the Bridegroom comes; we are called upon to stand always ready, waiting for the appearing of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, or else for the summons which shall tell us that the pitcher is broken at the fountain, and the wheel broken at the cistern, that the body must return to the earth as it was, and the spirit to God who gave it.
2. This death scene of Stephen’s may aid our meditations, while, by the help of the Holy Spirit, we think of the time when we also must fall asleep. This is the only martyrdom which is recorded in the New Testament in detail, the Holy Spirit foreseeing that there would be enough martyrdoms before the church’s history would end, and that we should never lack memorials such as those with which Foxe’s Martyrology and similar works supply us. It is equally remarkable that this is the only death scene in the New Testament which has been described at length, with the exception of our Lord’s. Of course we are told about the deaths of other saints, and facts relating to them are mentioned, but what they said when they died, and how they felt in passing out of the world, are left unrecorded, probably because the Holy Spirit knew that we should never lack for holy deathbeds and triumphant departures. These he well knew would be everyday facts to the people of God. Perhaps, moreover, the Holy Spirit would have us gather from his silence that he would not have us attach so much importance to the manner of men’s deaths as to the character of their lives. To live like Jesus most nearly concerns us; a triumphant death may be the crown, but a holy life is the head that must wear it. To obey our Lord’s commands during our life is our most pressing business; we may leave the testimony of death to be given to us in the very same hour. We shall have dying grace in dying moments, and at this present time our chief business is to obtain the grace which will enable us to adorn the doctrine of God our Saviour in all things. However, since we have this one case of Stephen given to us at full length, we should prize it all the more highly, and study it all the more carefully, because it is the only one. Let us do so this morning.
3. There are three things upon which I shall speak: — The general character of Stephen’s death; secondly, its most notable detail; and thirdly, things desirable in reference to death suggested to us by Stephen’s departure.
4. I. Let us look at Stephen’s death, and notice ITS GENERAL CHARACTER.
It strikes us at once that it happened in the very midst of his
service. He had been appointed an officer of the church at
Jerusalem, to see that the alms were distributed properly among the
poor, especially among the Greek widows. He discharged his duty to
the satisfaction of the whole church, and he did most useful service
by it, for it gave the apostles opportunity to give themselves wholly
to their true work, namely, that of preaching and prayer, and it is
no small matter to be able to bear a burden for another if he is set
free for more eminent service by it than we could ourselves perform.
If it is so that I cannot preach myself, yet if I can take away from
one who does preach certain cares which burden him, if I thus enable
him to preach all the more and all the better, I am virtually
preaching myself. The care which Stephen exercised over the poor
tended also to prevent anxiety and division, and this was a result of
great value. But, not content with being a deacon, Stephen began to
minister in holy things as a speaker of the word, and that with great
power, for he was full of faith and of the Holy Spirit. He stands out
on the page of the church’s history, for the time being, as quite a
leading spirit; so much so, indeed, that the enemies of the gospel
recognised his prominent usefulness, and made him the object of their
fiercest opposition, for they generally rage most against those who
are doing the most good. Stephen stood in the front rank of the
Lord’s host, and yet he was taken away! “A mystery,” some say; “A
great privilege,” I say. My brethren, who desires to be removed at
any other time? Is it not well to die in harness while you are still
useful? Who wants to linger until he becomes a burden rather than a
help? If we are called to depart in the middle of service we must
submit to it thankfully, and may even wish to have it said of us — he
His body with his charge lay down,
And ceased at once to work and live.
6. He was removed in the very prime of his usefulness, just when many were being converted by his ministry, when, through his faith, miracles were being performed on all sides, when he seemed, indeed, to be necessary to the church. And is this not good? Good, first, that God should teach his people how much he can do by a man whom he chooses; good, next, that he should show them that he is not dependent upon any man, but can do his work even without the choicest labourer in his vineyard. If our life can teach one lesson, and when that is taught, if our death can teach another, it is good to live and good to die, and far more desirable than to tarry long and take one’s flight in the dreary winter of declining influence. Let me be reaped, if I may have the choice, when my ministry shall be like the wheat in Pharaoh’s dream, with seven ears full and good, and not in a time when the east wind has shrivelled me into barrenness. If God is glorified by our removal, is it not good? And may he not be more than ordinarily glorified when he lays us aside in order to show his church that he can do without his servants, or can raise up others in their place? Happy is that messenger whose absence as well as his presence fulfils his Master’s will.
7. But Stephen’s death was painful, and attended with much that flesh and blood would dread. He did not die surrounded by weeping friends, but by enemies who gnashed their teeth; no holy hymn made glad his death, but the shouts and outcries of a maddened throng rang in his ears. For him there was no downy pillow, but the hard and cruel rocks; battered and bruised by a whirlwind of stones he laid himself down to sleep, and woke up in the bosom of his Lord. Now, brethren, this is all the more for our comfort, because if he died in perfect peace, indeed, in joy and triumph, how much more may we hope to depart in peace! Since we shall not have these grim attendants upon our departing hours, may we not hope that we shall be sustained and buoyed up by the presence of our Lord and Master even as he was, and grace will be made perfect in our weakness? Every circumstance counts on our side by way of comfort. If he slept amidst a storm of stones, how may we hope to fall asleep very peacefully, in the same faith in Jesus, when the saints are gathered around our bed to bid us farewell!
8. More particularly, however, I want to call your attention to the fact that Stephen’s departing moments were calm, peaceful, confident, and joyous. He never flinched while he was addressing that infuriated audience. He told them the plain truth, with as much quiet deliberation as if he had been gratifying them with a pleasing discourse. When they grew angry he was not afraid; his lip did not quiver; he did not retract or soften down a single expression, but cut them to the heart with even more fidelity. With the courage of a man of God, his face was set as a flint. Knowing that he was now preaching his last sermon, he used the sharp twoedged sword of the word, piercing into their very souls. He cared little how they frowned; he was not abashed at all when they gnashed their teeth. He was as calm as the opened heaven above him, and continued so though they hurried him out of the city. When they had dragged him outside the gate, and stripped off their clothes to carry out his execution, he did not let fall a single timorous word or trembling cry; he stood up and committed his soul to God with calmness, and when the first murderous stones felled him to the earth he rose to his knees, still not to ask for pity, nor to utter a cowardly cry, but to plead with his Lord for mercy upon his assailants; then, closing his eyes like a child tired out with the sport of a long summer’s day, and drops asleep upon his mother’s lap, “he fell asleep.” Believe, then, oh Christian, that if you remain in Christ, the same will be the case with you. You shall be undisturbed at the premonitions of decay; when the physician shakes his head your heart shall not fail; when friends look sad you will not share their sorrow. We wept when we were born though all around us smiled; so shall we smile when we die while all around us weep. The dying Christian is often the only calm and composed person in all the group who fills the room from which he ascends to heaven. Speaking of what he enjoys and expects, he glides gently into glory. Why should we expect it to be otherwise? Stephen’s God is our God; we already possess Stephen’s faith in its germ, and we may have it in the same degree; the Holy Spirit dwells in us even as he did in Stephen, and if he does not exert the same energy, what hinders him except our unbelief? Getting more faith we shall enjoy the same tranquil repose of spirit when our appointed hour shall come. Brethren, do not let us fear death, but descend Jordan’s sloping bank without the slightest dismay.
9. I ask you to notice some other points about Stephen’s departure, — points relating to the state of his mind. His mind was in a very elevated condition. Here let us first notice his intense sympathy with God. All through that long speech of his you see that his soul is taken up with his God, and the treatment which he had received from Israel. He does not speak against his countrymen from any ill will, but he seems to take them very little into consideration. His God absorbs all his thoughts; and he tells how his God had sent Joseph, but his brothers persecuted him; his God had sent Moses, but they rebelled against him; his God had now sent Jesus, and they had been his betrayers and murderers. He had pity upon them in his heart, that is clearly seen in his dying prayer for them, but still his main feeling is sympathy with God in the rebellions which he had endured from the ungodly. Surely this is the mind which possesses the saints in heaven. I see, as I read Stephen’s speech, that he regarded impenitent sinners from the standpoint of the saints above, who will be so taken up in sympathy with God, and the righteousness of his government, that the doom of the finally rebellious will cause them no pain. The triumph of right over wilful wrong, of holiness over the foulest and most wanton sin, of justice over the ingratitude which made light of redeeming love, will clear the soul of all emotion except what rejoices in every act of the Most High, because it is and must be right. I know how easily this remark may be misrepresented, still it is true, and let it stand.
10. Notice, too, how Stephen’s mind clung only to what is purely spiritual. All ritualism was completely gone from him. I dare say at one time Stephen felt a great reverence for the temple; the first Jewish Christians still continued to feel a measure of that awe of the temple which, as Jews, they had formerly indulged; but Stephen says, “However the Most High does not dwell in temples made with hands; as the prophet says, ‘Heaven is my throne and earth is my footstool: what house will you build for me?’ says the Lord; or ‘What is the place of my rest?’ ” It is noteworthy how the saints, when they are near to die, make very little of what others make a great deal of. What is ritual to a dying man? — a man with his eyes opened, looking into the future, and about to meet his God? Sacraments are poor supports in the dying hour. Priestcraft, where is it? The reed has snapped beneath the weight of a burdened conscience, and the tremendous realities of death and judgment. The particular form of worship which a man contended for in health, and the little specialities of doctrines which he made much of previously, will seem little in comparison with the great spiritual essentials, when the soul is approaching the presence chamber of the Eternal. The saint in death is growingly spiritual, for he is nearing the land of spirits, and that city of which John said, “I saw no temple in it.” Brethren, it is a grand thing to grow in spiritual religion until you break the eggshell of form, and shake it off, for the outward fashion of ceremonies, and even of simplicities, is too often to men what the eggshell is to the living bird; and when the soul awakens into the highest forms of life we chip and break that shell, and leave our former bondage. Stephen came right away from those superstitious reverences which still cast their blight over many Christians, and worshipped God, who is a spirit, in spirit and in truth.
11. It is most clear that he rose beyond all fear of men. They grin at him, they howl at him, but what does that matter to him? He will be put to a blasphemer’s death outside the city by the hands of cruel men; but that does not daunt him. His face glows with unspeakable joy, he does not look like a man hurried to his execution, but as one on the way to a wedding. He looks like an immortal angel rather than a man condemned to die. Ah, brethren, and so will it be with all the faithful! Today we fear man, who is only a worm; today we are so weak as to be swayed by the opinion of our fellows, and we listen to kindly voices, which counsel us to speak with bated breath upon certain points, lest we grieve this one or that; but the more fit we are for heaven the more we scorn all compromise, and feel that for truth, for God, for Christ, we must speak out, even if we die, for who are we that we should be afraid of a man that shall die, and the son of man that is only a worm? It is a blessed thing if this shall be increasingly our condition.
12. At the same time Stephen was free from all cares. He was a deacon, but he does not say, “What will those poor people do? How will the widows fare? Who will care for the orphans?” He does not even say, “What will the apostles do now that I can no longer take the labour from off their shoulders?” Not a word of it. He sees heaven opened, and thinks little of the church below, love it though he does with all his heart. He trusts the church militant with her Captain: he is called to the church triumphant. He hears the trumpet sound, “Up and away,” and lo, he answers to the summons. Happy men who can so cast off their cares, and enter into rest. Why should it not be so with us? Why, like Martha, do we allow our much serving to encumber us? Our Lord managed his church well enough before we were born; he will not be at a loss because he has called us home, and therefore we need not trouble ourselves as though we were all important, and the church would pine for lack of us.
13. At the same time, Stephen had no resentments. That was a sweet prayer of his, “Do not lay this sin to their charge.” Just as Daniel before Belshazzar saw the scale and saw Belshazzar weighed in it and found wanting, so Stephen saw the balances of justice, and this murder of his, like a great weight, about to be placed in the scale against the raging Jews, and he cried, “Lord, do not cast this sin into the balance.” He could not say, as the Saviour did, “They do not know what they do,” for they did know it, and had been troubled by his speech, so that they plugged their ears to hear no more; but he pleads for them as far as truth would permit him, while breathing out his soul. Every child of God ought to lay aside all resentments at once, or rather he should never have any. We are to carry in our hearts no remembrance of ills, but to live every day freely forgiving, as we are every day freely forgiven; but as we get nearer to heaven there must be growing love towards those who hate us, for so we shall prove that we have been made ready for the skies.
14. To conclude this description of his death, Stephen died like a conqueror. His name was Stephanos, or crown, and truly that day he not only received a crown, but he became the crown of the church as her first martyr. He was the conqueror, not his enemies. They stoned his body, but his soul had vanquished them. It was not in their power to move him; his quiet look defied their fury. He went home to his God to hear it said, “Servant of God, well done,” and in nothing did his foes despoil him on the way there. He was more than a conqueror through him who loved him.
15. These are some of the characteristics of Stephen’s departure, and I trust that in our measure they may be ours. May God grant them to us, and we will give him all the glory.
16. II. Now I call your attention to a very interesting point, — THE MOST NOTABLE DETAIL OF STEPHEN’S DEATH. It was notable for this one point, that it was full of Jesus — and full of Jesus in four ways; Jesus was seen, invoked, trusted, and imitated.
First, the Lord Jesus was seen. The martyr looked up steadfastly
into heaven, and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing on the
right hand of God. At first he was probably in the council hall of
the Sanhedrin, but the vision seemed to divide the roof, to roll away
the firmament, and throw open the gates of heaven, so that the
anointed eye was able to gaze into its innermost chambers. It is said
he saw the Son of Man. Now this is the only place in Scripture
where Jesus is called the Son of Man by anyone except himself. He
frequently called himself the Son of Man, that was indeed a common
name for himself, but his disciples did not call him that. Perhaps
the glory of the rejected Messiah as man was the particular thought
which was to be conveyed to Stephen’s mind, to assure him that as the
despised Lord had at length triumphed, so also should his persecuted
servant. At all times it is a glad sight to see the representative
man exalted to the throne of God, but it was particularly suitable
for this occasion, for the Lord himself had warned his enemies,
“Hereafter you shall see the Son of Man sitting on the right hand of
power.” He had spoken those words to the very men who now heard
Stephen bear witness that it was even so. Stephen saw his Lord
standing; now our Lord is generally described as sitting, but it
was as if the sympathising Lord had risen up to draw near to his
suffering servant, eager both to sustain him and to receive him when
the conflict was over. Jesus rose from the throne to gaze upon
himself suffering again in the person of one of his beloved members.
The place occupied by the Lord was “at the right hand of God.”
Stephen distinctly saw the ineffable brightness of eternal glory,
which no human eye can see until strengthened by superior grace, and
amid that glory he saw the Son of Man in the place of love, power,
and honour, worshipped and adored. Now, when we come to die, dear
friends, we may not, perhaps, expect with these eyes to see what
Stephen saw, but faith has a grand realising power. The fact that
Jesus is enthroned is always the same, and as long as we are sure
that he is at the right hand of God, it matters little whether we see
him with our natural eyes, for faith is the substance of things hoped
for, and the evidence of things not seen. Brethren, if your faith
shall be strong when you come to die, as doubtless it will be, you
will have a sight and sense of Jesus in his manhood at the right hand
of God, and this will effectively take away from you all fear of
death; for you will feel, “If the man Christ is there, I, being
already represented by him, shall also be there; I shall rise from
the dead; I shall sit at the right hand of the Father; his eternal
power and Godhead will raise me up to be where he is, for has he
not said — ‘I will that they also whom you have given to me be with me
where I am.’ ” I will, however, venture further. I am convinced, from
my own observation, that not to a few, but to many dying saints,
something more is given than the realisations of faith. Much more
frequently than we suppose, supernatural glimpses of the divine
splendour are bestowed to the saints in the hour of their departure.
I have heard people comparatively uninstructed, and certainly
unimaginative, speak of what they have seen in their last hour, in
such a way, that I am certain they never borrowed the expressions
from books, but must have seen what they described. There has been a
freshness about their descriptions which has convinced me they did
see what they assured me they beheld; and, moreover, the joy which
has resulted from it, the acquiescence in the divine will, the
patience with which they have borne suffering, have gone far to prove
that they were not under the influence of an idle imagination, but
were really enabled to look within the veil. The flesh in its
weakness becomes, if I may say so, a rarefied medium; the mists are
blown away, the obscuring veil grows thinner, disease makes rips in
it, and through the thin places and the holes the heavenly glory
shines. Oh, how little will a man fear death, or care about pain, if
he expects to breathe out his soul on a better Pisgah than Moses ever
climbed! Well did we sing just now — I am sure I sang it with all my
Oh, if my Lord would come and meet,
My soul would stretch her wings in haste,
Fly fearless through death’s iron gate,
Nor fear the terror as she passed.
Now this model departure, which is given in Scripture as a type of Christian deaths, has this for its ensign, that Christ was visible; and such shall be the character of our departure, if through faith we are one with Jesus; therefore, let us not fear.
18. Next, notice that Jesus was invoked, for that is the meaning of the text. “They stoned Stephen, calling upon,” or invoking, “and saying, ‘Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.’ ” Dying Christians are not troubled with questions concerning the deity of Christ. Dear friends, Unitarianism may do to live with, but it will not do to die with, at least for us. At such a time we need an almighty and divine Saviour; we want “God over all, blessed for ever” to come to our rescue in the solemn article of death. So Stephen called upon Jesus, and worshipped him. He makes no mention of any other intercessor. Oh martyr of Christ, why did you not cry, “Ave Maria! Blessed Virgin, help me?” Why did you not pray to St. Michael and all the angels? Ah, no! The abomination of saint and angel worship had not been invented in his day, and if it had been he would have scorned it as one of the foul devices of hell. There is one Mediator between God and man, the man Christ Jesus. He invoked Christ, and no one else.
19. Neither do we find him saying a word concerning his good works, and almsdeeds, and sermons, and miracles. No, he invoked the Lord Jesus and leaned on him entirely. Ah, brethren, it is well to live and to die resting entirely upon Jesus. If you lie down tonight and quietly think of your departure, and enquire whether you are ready to die, you will not feel at your ease until your heart stands at the foot of the cross, looking up and viewing the flowing of the Saviour’s precious blood, believing humbly that he made your peace with God. There is no right living, or joyful dying, except in invoking Christ.
20. What did Stephen do next? He trusted Jesus, and confided in him only; for we find him saying, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” He felt that his spirit was about to leave the body to fly into the unknown world. Perhaps a shiver came over him of natural awe at the great mystery, even as it comes over us when we think of being disrobed of the familiar garment of our body; but he placed his unclothed spirit in the hands of Jesus, and his fear and care were over. See, he has quite finished with it now! He no longer prays for himself, but intercedes for his enemies; and then closes his eyes and falls asleep. This is the simple and sublime art of dying. Once more we take our guilty soul and place it in the dear pierced hand of him who is able to keep it; and then we feel assured that all is safe. The day’s work is done, the doors are locked, the watchman guards the streets; come, let us fall asleep. With Jesus seen, invoked, and trusted, it is sweet to die.
21. Notice, once again, that in Stephen we see Jesus imitated, the death of Stephen is a reproduction of the death of Jesus; let us hope that ours will be the same. It was so, even in little circumstances. Jesus died outside the gate, so did Stephen; Jesus died praying, so did Stephen; Jesus died saying, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit”; Stephen cannot approach God absolutely, but he approaches him through the Mediator, and he says, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” Christ dies pleading for his murderers, so does Stephen — “Lord, do not lay this sin to their charge.” Now, if our death shall be a reproduction of the death of Jesus, why do we need to fear? It has so far been sweet to be made like him, and it will still be sweet: even to suffer with him has been delightful, surely it will be joyful to die with him. We are willing to sleep in Jesus’ bed, and lie as he did in the bosom of the earth, to arise in his likeness at the resurrection.
22. So you see, dear brethren, that Stephen’s death was radiant with the glow of his Lord’s brightness. Christ was glorified and reflected in him. No one could question whose image and superscription he bore. If our lives shall be of that order, our deaths also shall be of the same character. Let your life be looking to Jesus, pleading with Jesus, trusting in Jesus, copying Jesus, and then your departing moments will be attended by visions of Jesus, and reproductions of his dying behaviour. As you have been with him in the trials of life, he will be with you in the closing scenes of death. Happy are those whose deathbed Jesus makes, and who sleep in Jesus, to be brought with him when he returns to take the kingdom.
23. III. From Stephen’s departure we gather something concerning THE KIND OF DEATH WHICH WE MAY WISELY DESIRE.
24. First, it is very desirable that our death should be similar to our life. Stephen was full of faith and of the Holy Spirit in life, and so he was full of the Holy Spirit in death; Stephen was bold, brave, calm, and composed in life, he is the same amid the falling stones. It is very sad when the reported account of a man’s death does not comport with his life. I am afraid that many funeral sermons have done great mischief by their flattery, for people have very naturally said, “This is very strange, I never knew that the departed person was a saint until I heard this account of his end. Really, when I hear these wonderful things about him, — well, I should not have thought of it.” No, it will not do to have no character for piety except what is hurriedly run up in a few days of sickness and death. It is bad to die with a jerk, getting as it were upon another line of rails all of a sudden. It is better to glide from one degree of grace to another, and so to glory. We ought to die daily, die every morning before we go down to breakfast, that is to say, we should rehearse it all, so that when we come to die it will be no new thing for us. Death may be the fringe or border of life, but it should be made out of the same material. A life of clay is not to be joined to a death of gold. We cannot hope to dine with the world and sup with God. We ought to dwell in the house of the Lord every day.
25. Again, it is most desirable that death should be the perfecting of our whole career, the placing of the cornerstone upon the edifice, so that when nothing else is needed to complete the man’s labours he falls asleep. Dear brethren, is it so with you? Suppose you were to die this morning in the pew, would your life be a complete life, or would it be like a broken column snapped off in the centre? Why, there are some who even in their business lives have left many necessary things undone, for example, they have not made their wills yet, and will cause much sorrow to wife and children through their neglect. Some Christian people do not keep their worldly affairs in proper order, but are lax, disorderly, and slovenly, so that if they were to die, there would be many things because of which they would feel loathe to die. Mr. Whitfield used to say when he went to bed at night, “I have not left even a pair of gloves out of their place: if I die tonight, all my affairs, for time and eternity, are in order.” That is the best way to live; so that, let death come when it may, at midnight, daybreak, or midday, it will be a desirable finis to a book of which we have written the last line; we have finished our course, and served our generation, and our falling asleep is the appropriate conclusion of the matter.
26. May our death not be one of a kind which needs flurry and hot haste to make the man ready. There are people in the world who, if they were going off by train and knew about it a month beforehand, would be all in a fever an hour before they started; though they know the time the train starts, they cannot arrive a few minutes before by any means, but rush in just as the bell rings, and leap into a carriage only in time to make it to the train. Some die in that fashion, as if they had so much to do and were in such a hurry; and besides, had so little grace that they could be only saved so as by fire. When worldly Christians die, there is a great deal to be done to pack up, and get ready for departing; but a true Christian stands with his loins girded; he knows he has to travel; he does not know exactly when, but he stands with his staff in his hand. He knows the Bridegroom is coming soon and therefore he keeps his lamp well trimmed. That is the way to live and the way to die. May the Holy Spirit put us in such a condition, so that the angel of death may not summon us unawares, or catch us by surprise; then going home will be nothing out of the common way, but a simple matter. Bengel, the famous commentator, did not wish to die in spiritual parade, with a sensational scene, but to pass away like a person called out to the street door from the midst of business. His prayer was granted. He was revising the proof sheets of his works almost to the moment when he felt the death stroke. Is this not good? Equally desirable was the end of the Venerable Bede, who died as he completed his translation of the gospel of John. “Write quickly,” he said, “for it is time for me to return to him who made me.” “Dear master,” said the pupil, “one sentence is still lacking.” “Write quickly,” said the venerable man. The young man soon added, “It is finished”; and Bede replied, “You have well said, all is now finished,” and he fell asleep. So I would desire to depart, so might every Christian desire; we would make no stir from our daily holiness, we would change our place but not our service; having waited on our Lord at this end of the room, we are called up higher, and we go.
27. It must be a dreadful thing for a professing Christian to die full of regrets for work neglected and opportunities wasted. It is sad to have to say, “I must leave my Sunday School class before I have earnestly warned those dear children to flee from the wrath to come.” It would be wretched for me to go home today and say, “I have preached my last sermon, but it was not earnest, nor calculated either to glorify God or benefit my fellow men.” Can the end of a wasted life be anything but unhappy? Will it not be sorrowful to be called away with work undone and purposes unfulfilled? Oh my brethren, do not live in order to make it hard to die.
28. It must also be a sad thing to be taken away unwillingly, plucked like an unripe fruit from the tree. The unripe apple holds firmly to its place, and so do many hold tightly to their riches, and cleave so fondly to worldly things that it needs a sharp pull to separate them from the world. The ripe fruit adheres very lightly, and when a gentle hand comes to take it, it yields itself freely, as if willing to be gathered, like an apple of gold into a basket of silver. May God make you unworldly, and forbid that you should cleave so resolutely to things below as to make death a violence and departure a terror.
29. Brethren, we would not wish to die so that it should be a matter of question, especially to ourselves, to which place we are going, and yet you will die in that way if you live in that way. If you have no assurance of salvation, do you expect it to come to you on your deathbed? Why, my dear friend, when the pain increases and the brain becomes weary, you are very likely to suffer depression, and therefore you need strong faith to begin with for your own comfort then. Would you like friends to go out of your death room saying, “We hope he is saved, but we stand in doubt concerning him?” Your life should prevent that. Holy Mr. Whitfield, when someone observed, “I should like to hear your dying testimony,” said, “No, I shall, in all probability bear no dying testimony.” “Why not?” said the other. “Because I am bearing testimony every day while I live, and there will be the less need of it when I die.” That seraphic apostle preached up to the last afternoon, and then went upstairs to bed, and died. There was no need for anyone to ask, “What did he say when he was dying?” Ah, no; they knew what he said when he was living, and that was a great deal better. Let your testimony in life be such that, whether you speak or not in your last moments, there shall be no question about whose you were nor whom you served.
30. In conclusion, one would desire to die so that even our death should be useful. I feel persuaded that Stephen’s death had a great deal to do with Saul’s conversion. Have you ever observed the evident influence of Stephen upon Paul? Augustine says, “If Stephen had never prayed, Saul would never have preached.” I do not say that the death of Stephen converted Saul; far from it; that change was accomplished by a divine interposition when Saul was on the road to Damascus; but what he saw in Stephen’s martyrdom had made the soil ready to receive the good seed. Saul, in later life, seems to me to be always taking his text from Stephen’s sermon. Read that sermon through at home, and see if it is not so. Stephen spoke about the covenant of circumcision, and that was a very favourite topic with Paul. When Paul stood at Athens on Mars’ Hill and addressed the Areopagites, he said to them, “God who made heaven and earth does not live in temples made with hands,” — almost the identical words which Stephen had quoted, and surely the remembrance of Stephen before the Sanhedrin must have rushed over the apostle’s mind at the time. There is still another passage — and indeed I might carry on the parallel a very long way — where Stephen used the expression, “They received the law by the disposition of angels,” an idea particular to Paul. Paul is the child of Stephen; Stephen dying is the seed out of which Paul springs up. What a privilege so to die that a phoenix may rise out of our ashes! If we have been useful ourselves up to the measure of a moderate ability, we may, as we die, call out greater workers than ourselves; our expiring spark may kindle the divine light in some flaming beacon, which far across the seas shall scatter the beams of gospel light. And why not? May God grant that we may, both in life and in death, serve him well. I would that even in our ashes might live our former fires, that being dead we yet may speak.
It was a happy thought of an earnest divine, who asked that when he
was dead he might be placed in his coffin where all his congregation
might come and see him, and that on his bosom should be placed a
paper bearing this exhortation, “Remember the words which I have
spoken to you, being yet present with you.” Yes, we will go on
telling about Jesus and winning souls in life and death, if God so
helps us. Beloved believers, love the souls of men, and pray to God
to save them. As for you who are not saved yourselves, I implore you
to think of what your condition will be when you come to die; or,
if a seared conscience should cause you to die in peace, think what
you will do at the judgment, when that conscience will become tender.
What will you do when the lips of the dear Redeemer shall say,
“Depart, you cursed, into everlasting fire in hell?”
Ye sinners, seek his grace,
Whose wrath ye cannot bear;
Look to the dying Saviour’s face,
And find salvation there.
[Portion Of Scripture Read Before Sermon — Ac 5:9-15 Ac 7]
[See Spurgeon_Hymnal “The Christian, Aspirations for Heaven — The Sight Of God And Christ In Heaven” 855]
[See Spurgeon_Hymnal “The Christian, Death — Christ’s Presence Makes Death Easy” 829]
[See Spurgeon_Hymnal “The Christian, Aspirations for Heaven — Longing To Worship In Heaven” 853]
The Christian, Aspirations for Heaven
855 — The Sight Of God And Christ In Heaven
1 Descend from heaven, Immortal Dove,
Stoop down and take us on thy wings,
And mount and bear us far above
The reach of these inferior things!
2 Beyond, beyond this lower sky,
Up where eternal ages roll,
Where solid pleasures never die,
And fruits immortal feast the soul!
3 Oh for a sight, a pleasing sight,
Of our Almighty Father’s throne!
There sits our Saviour crown’d with light,
Clothed in a body like our own.
4 Adoring saints around him stand,
And thrones and powers before him fall;
The God shines gracious through the Man,
And sheds sweet glories on them all.
5 Oh what amazing joys they feel
While to their golden harps they sing,
And sit on every heavenly hill,
And spread the triumphs of their King!
6 When shall the day, dear Lord, appear,
That I shall mount to dwell above,
And stand and bow amongst them there,
And view thy face, and sing, and love?
Isaac Watts, 1709.
The Christian, Death
829 — Christ’s Presence Makes Death Easy
1 Why should we start, or fear to die?
What timorous worms we mortals are!
Death is the gate of endless joy,
And yet we dread to enter there.
2 The pains, the groans, the dying strife,]
Fright our approaching souls away;
Still we shrink back again to life,
Fond of our prison and our clay.
3 Oh, if my Lord would come and meet,
My soul should stretch her wings in haste,
Fly fearless through death’s iron gate,
Nor feel the terrors as she pass’d.
4 Jesus can make a dying bed
Feel soft as downy pillows are,
While on his breast I lean my head,
And breathe my life out sweetly there.
Isaac Watts, 1709.
The Christian, Aspirations for Heaven
853 — Longing To Worship In Heaven
1 Father, I long, I faint to see
The place of thine abode;
I’d leave thy earthly courts, and flee
Up to thy seat, my God!
2 Here I behold thy distant face,
And ‘tis a pleasing sight;
But to abide in thine embrace
Is infinite delight.
3 I’d part with all the joys of sense
To gaze upon thy throne:
Pleasures spring fresh for ever thence,
4 There all the heavenly hosts art seen,
In shining ranks they move:
And drink immortal vigour in,
With wonder and with love.
5 Then at thy feet with awful fear
The adoring armies fall;
With joy they shrink to nothing there,
Before thewy’ Eternal ALL.
6 There I would vie with all the host
In duty and in bliss;
While less than nothing, I could boast,
And vanity confess.
7 The more thy glories strike mine eyes,
The humbler I shall lie;
Thus, while I sink, my joys shall rise
Isaac Watts, 1709.