From “A Sermon Preached Before the King on St. Stephen’s Day” (1675)
When some impostors endeavored to imitate the resolution of the apostles and martyrs, in exposing even their lives for the sake of their vain imaginations, they were not able to imitate them at all in the divine manner of their sufferings. It is excellently said by St. Gregory Nazianzen, in his funeral oration for his father, that this blessed martyr, St. Stephen, offered to God a greater thing than death, viz. long- suffering, meekness, and forgiving of his enemies (Oration IX). He opposed, as the other Gregory speaks, “to their anger a patient spirit,” to their threats silence, to their hatred ardent love, to their malignity good-will, to their false accusations preaching of the truth. If the false apostles and other pretenders could have appeared in this handsome dress, their delusion had been very dangerous; but here they halted, and knew not how to follow the genuine disciples of Christ Jesus.
Their hardiness, as St. Austin speaks of the surly sect before-mentioned [the Circumcellions] (many of which would kill themselves, and force others to kill them), was to be admired, for it was very great; but their patience was not to be admired, for it was none at all (On Heresies, 69.8.22). They suffered much evil that they might do the more. They cared not what others did to them; but also, they cared not what they did to others.
This was a remarkable difference, which is all the time will give me leave to mention, between the Christian martyrs and their counterfeits: the one were meek, the other angry and furious; the one humble, the other haughty; the one ready to do good to those by whom they suffered, the other desirous of revenge. The one loved their enemies, the other only condemned them. The one were forward to excuse their folly, the other to aggravate and upbraid them with it. The one smiled upon their persecutors and blessed them, the other looked as if they would pour out anathemas, and excommunicate them from all their charitable thoughts. Nothing was more peaceable and quiet than the one, while the others were tumultuous and violent. The martyrs were submissive and easily governed, but the others were boisterous and violent. It was proper to the former to appear with a modest cheerfulness and a humble confidence; but the other seemed to be surly rather than well satisfied, bold rather than well assured.
And therefore no wonder that these holy souls so mightily prevailed over all the powers of darkness, in what shape soever they appeared; and that they overcame, as St. John writes, “the dragon, that old serpent the devil, by the blood of the Lamb, and the word of their testimony, not loving their lives unto the death” (Rev. 12:11) And no wonder also they had such a lively hope in God, and could look up so steadfastly to Jesus, as this blessed martyr did, expecting that he would receive their spirits, with the kindest affection unto himself; for they had attained to the baptism wherewith he the King of glory was baptized: “ a baptism” (as St. Cyprian calls martyrdom), “in grace greater, in power more sublime, in honor more precious. A baptism in which the angels baptize, in which God and his Christ rejoice. A baptism after which no man sins; which consummates the increase of our faith ; and parting us from the world, straightway unites us to God. In the baptism of water is received remission of sins; but in this of blood, the crown of virtues” (Exhortation to Martyrdom, Pref.).
And a very noble crown sure it was, that such faithful followers might hope to receive from the hands of so gracious a Master. For being so much advanced above the world while they were in it, and having done him such eminent service, they could not doubt of his favor in lifting them up to live with himself in exceeding great bliss, when his enemies would not permit them to live here any longer. If there were any thrones higher than other, in those heavenly places, where St. Stephen saw our Savior, they might very well expect to be promoted to them; to reign with him there in endless glory, and to be honored here on earth with perpetual praises.
Simon Patrick (1626-1707) was Bishop of Chichester and then of Ely, and one of the most influential Anglican theologians of the Restoration period. He served as rector of St. Paul’s, Covent Garden, in London for several years in his early ministry, including with great heroism during the plague of 1665 and the Great Fire the next year. This sermon was preached before King Charles II during Patrick’s ministry in London.