These verses bring the cross pointedly before the soul. Many have read them and have never seen it; many read them still and do not see it. There are two new facts found here, which the cross and the cross alone can explain. The glory of God and the inability of man on earth even to look on it are old facts; a man in the glory of God, there too as alive out of death, the death by which He glorified God and made atonement for sin, and a man on earth having in consequence a title and a capacity to look at it steadfastly, are the new things found here.
If we turn to Isaiah 6, there the glory of God carried terror and conviction and self-judgment into the breast of a real prophet of God: verse 5, "Woe is me! for I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips." As if he said, prophet and people are exposed before Him, and I have no standing ground; and because of what he is, a provision is made as in verses 6-7. Again the same with Ezekiel, as he tells us in chapter 1 of his prophecy, and after describing it says in verse 28, "This was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord. And when I saw it, I fell upon my face, and I heard a voice of one that spake." There is no sense of a title whatever, he falls down on his face, he cannot stand, there is no place for him to stand on, therefore his falling on his face only expresses his moral standing or condition.
I turn to Daniel and I find the same with him, "a man greatly beloved" as he was, yet when he saw, he tells us, "there remained no strength in me: for my comeliness was turned in me into corruption, and I retained no strength. Yet heard I the voice of his words; and when I heard the voice of his words, then was I in a deep sleep on my face, and my face toward the ground. And behold an hand touched me, which set me upon my knees, and upon the palms of my hands" (Daniel 10:7-10).
Is not this all very striking? Each of these servants of God-Isaiah, Ezekiel, Daniel-in themselves declaring their unfitness, as well as their sense of it, when in the presence of the glory of God; and let me draw especial attention to this one point: with each and all of them, it is not a question for an instant of what they had done, but of what they were, and this as told out to themselves by the glory of God.
Now, in striking contrast with all this, I find in Acts 7 that Stephen, not overtaken or surprised by the glory of God, so that he falls on his face and says, "woe is me," but full of the Holy Ghost, he himself looks up steadfastly into heaven, and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God; there is no fear or terror, either with regard to what he sees in heaven, or to what is going on round about him on earth! What a wonderful sight, a poor weak lonely man as he is, able to look steadfastly at the glory of God, and able patiently to endure the murderous hatred of men.
Will you, my reader, say wherein Stephen’s power consists as compared with the inability of the prophets of old? One word will answer the question, namely, the CROSS-that Jesus whom Stephen saw in the glory of God, had on the cross borne all the wrath of God against sin, and had so fully and perfectly glorified God, that God had glorified Him; He Himself had said so, "If God be glorified in him, God shall glorify him in himself, and shall straightway glorify him" (John 13:32). And scripture now bears testimony to the fact, namely, "raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father" (Romans 6:4); "God that raised him up from the dead, and gave him glory" (1 Peter 1:21). Stephen sees in the glory of God then, his Savior; He, that same Blessed One, who had been on the cross bearing the judgment, and in that hour had been forsaken of God, is now seen by Stephen in the glory of God; the cross of the Lord Jesus Christ was that by which Stephen had a righteous title to look at what could but repel previous to the death of Christ; and it was from Jesus glorified that blessed Spirit came down, who now turned Stephen’s eye up. Such then is the divine fullness of the cross of the Lord Jesus Christ.
He who once was there crucified by man now lives in power, glorified out of the place He took as the substitute of His people, and they have in virtue of His death a righteous title, and through the Holy Ghost a power to look up steadfastly into heaven.
The Person of the Christ,
Enfolding every grace;
Once slain, but now alive again,
In heaven demands our praise.
Oh fix our earnest gaze,
So wholly, Lord, on Thee;
That with thy beauty occupied,
We elsewhere none may see.