Matthew Henry's Concise Commentary on the Whole Bible
back to: Acts
Book: Acts
Chapter: 7

Stephen's defence. (1-50) Stephen reproves the Jews for the
Death of Christ. (51-53) The martyrdom of Stephen. (54-60)

1-16 Stephen was charged as a blasphemer of God, and an
apostate from the Church; therefore he shows that he is a son of
Abraham, and values himself On it. The slow steps By which the
promise made to Abraham advanced toward performance, plainly
show that it had a spiritual meaning, and that the land intended
was the heavenly. God owned Joseph in his troubles, and was with
him By the power of his Spirit, both On his own mind By giving
him comfort, and On those he was concerned with, By giving him
favour in their eyes. Stephen reminds the Jews of their mean
beginning as a check to priding themselves in the glories of
that nation. Likewise of the wickedness of the patriarchs of
their tribes, in envying their Brother Joseph; and the same
Spirit was still working in them toward Christ and his
ministers. The Faith of the patriarchs, in desiring to be buried
in the land of Canaan, plainly showed they had regard to the
heavenly country. It is Well to recur to the first rise of
usages, or sentiments, which have been perverted. Would we know
the nature and effects of justifying Faith, we should study the
character of the Father of the Faithful. His Calling shows the
power and freeness of Divine Grace, and the nature of
Conversion. Here also we see that outward forms and distinctions
are as nothing, compared with separation from the world, and
devotedness to God.

17-29 Let us not be discouraged at the slowness of the
fulfilling of God's promises. Suffering times often are growing
times with the Church. God is preparing for his people's
deliverance, when their Day is darkest, and their distress
deepest. Moses was exceeding fair, "fair toward God;" it is the
beauty of Holiness which is in God's sight of great price. He
was wonderfully preserved in his infancy; for God will take
special care of those of whom he designs to make special use.
And did he thus protect the Child Moses? Much more will he
secure the interests of his holy Child Jesus, from the enemies
who are gathered together against him. They persecuted Stephen
for disputing in defence of Christ and his Gospel: in opposition
to these they set up Moses and his Law. They may understand, if
they do not wilfully shut their eyes against the Light, that God
will, By this Jesus, deliver them out of a worse slavery than
that of Egypt. Although men prolong their own miseries, yet the
Lord will take care of his servants, and effect his own designs
of Mercy.

30-41 Men deceive themselves, if they think God cannot do what
he sees to be good any where; he can bring his people into a
Wilderness, and there speak comfortably to them. He appeared to
Moses in a Flame of Fire, yet the Bush was not consumed; which
represented the state of Israel in Egypt, where, though they
were in the Fire of affliction, yet they were not consumed. It
may also be looked upon as a Type of Christ's taking upon him
the nature of Man, and the union between the Divine and human
nature. The Death of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, cannot break the
Covenant relation between God and them. Our Saviour By this
proves the future state, Mt 22:31. Abraham is dead, yet God is
still his God, therefore Abraham is still alive. Now, this is
that Life and Immortality which are brought to Light By the
Gospel. Stephen here shows that Moses was an eminent Type of
Christ, as he was Israel's deliverer. God has compassion for the
troubles of his Church, and the groans of his persecuted people;
and their deliverance takes rise from his pity. And that
deliverance was typical of what Christ did, when, for us men,
and for our Salvation, he came down from Heaven. This Jesus,
whom they now refused, as their fathers did Moses, even this
same has God advanced to be a Prince and Saviour. It does not at
all take from the just honour of Moses to say, that he was but
an instrument, and that he is infinitely outshone By Jesus. In
asserting that Jesus should change the customs of the ceremonial
Law, Stephen was So far from blaspheming Moses, that really he
honoured him, By showing how the Prophecy of Moses was come to
pass, which was So clear. God who gave them those customs By his
servant Moses, might, No doubt, change the Custom By his Son
Jesus. But Israel thrust Moses from them, and would have
returned to their Bondage; So men in general will not obey
Jesus, because they Love this present evil world, and rejoice in
their own Works and devices.

42-50 Stephen upbraids the Jews with the Idolatry of their
fathers, to which God gave them up as a Punishment for their
early forsaking him. It was No dishonour, but an honour to God,
that the Tabernacle gave way to the Temple; So it is now, that
the earthly Temple gives way to the spiritual one; and So it
will be when, at last, the spiritual shall give way to the
eternal one. The whole world is God's Temple, in which he is
every where present, and fills it with his Glory; what occasion
has he then for a Temple to manifest himself in? And these
things show his eternal power and Godhead. But as Heaven is his
Throne, and the Earth his Footstool, So none of our services can
profit Him who made all things. Next to the human nature of
Christ, the broken and spiritual Heart is his most valued

51-53 Stephen was going On, it seems, to show that the Temple
and the Temple service must come to an End, and it would be the
Glory of both to give way to the Worship of the Father in Spirit
and in Truth; but he perceived they would not Bear it. Therefore
he broke off, and By the Spirit of Wisdom, courage, and power,
sharply rebuked his persecutors. When Plain arguments and truths
provoke the opposers of the Gospel, they should be shown their
guilt and danger. They, like their fathers, were stubborn and
wilful. There is that in our sinful hearts, which always resists
the Holy Ghost, a Flesh that lusts against the Spirit, and wars
against his motions; but in the hearts of God's elect, when the
Fulness of time comes, this resistance is overcome. The Gospel
was offered now, not By angels, but from the Holy Ghost; yet
they did not embrace it, for they were resolved not to comply
with God, either in his Law or in his Gospel. Their guilt stung
them to the Heart, and they sought relief in murdering their
reprover, instead of sorrow and supplication for Mercy.

54-60 Nothing is So comfortable to dying saints, or So
encouraging to suffering saints, as to see Jesus at the right
Hand of God: blessed be God, By Faith we may see him there.
Stephen offered up two short prayers in his dying moments. Our
Lord Jesus is God, to whom we are to seek, and in whom we are to
trust and comfort ourselves, living and dying. And if this has
been our care while we live, it will be our comfort when we die.
Here is a Prayer for his persecutors. Though the Sin was very
great, yet if they would lay it to their hearts, God would not
lay it to their charge. Stephen died as much in a hurry as ever
any Man did, yet, when he died, the words used are, he fell
asleep; he applied himself to his dying work with as much
composure as if he had been going to sleep. He shall awake again
in the morning of the resurrection, to be received into the
presence of the Lord, where is Fulness of joy, and to share the
pleasures that are at his right Hand, for evermore.