William Kelly Major Works Commentary
And Saul, yet breathing out threatenings and slaughter against the disciples of the Lord, went unto the high priest,Acts Chapter 9
The conversion of Saul of Tarsus follows in beautiful development of the ways of God. For on the one hand his murderous unflagging zeal against the Lord Jesus and His saints made him (arrested by sovereign grace and heavenly glory, in the person of Christ shining into his heart from on high) to be so much the more conspicuous witness of the gospel; on the other hand his call immediately thereon to go as His apostle to the Gentiles was a new and distinct departure of ministry to the praise of divine mercy. For the blood of Stephen, far from quenching the raging enthusiasm of the young zealot 'consenting to his death' had only stimulated him to dare unsparing violence against all men and women who called on the Lord's name; and now his unsatisfied zeal against 'the way' induced him to chase the fleeing scattered saints outside the land.
'But Saul, still breathing threatenings and slaughter against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest and asked of him letters unto Damascus to the synagogues; so that, if he found any belonging to the Way, both men and women, he might bring [them] bound unto Jerusalem. And as he was journeying, it came to pass that he drew near to Damascus, and suddenly there shone round him a light out of heaven, and faring upon the earth he heard a voice saying to him, Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou Me? And he said, Who art Thou, Lord? And He1 [said], I am Jesus, whom thou persecutest1, but arise and enter into the city, and it shall be told thee what thou must do. And the men that journeyed with him were standing speechless, hearing the sound but seeing no one. And Saul arose from the earth, and when his eyes were opened, he saw nothing2; but leading by the hand they brought him into Damascus; and he was three days without seeing, and did neither eat nor drink;' (vers. 1-9).
1 The Text. Rec. on inferior authority adds first 'Lord said', then an interpolation from Acts 26 '[it is] hard for thee to kick against goads', and an exaggerated form in the first half of ver. 6 of the first clause of Acts 22:10.
2 Or, 'no one', which is the reading of most authorities, some of them ancient and good, though Ap.m. B Vulg. Syrr. Sah., et al., give the broader sense of the neuter. It may help some to notice the objective or historical fact in this expression, as compared with the subjective state in the last clause of ver. 7 and the first of verse 9: objective again in the in latter part of 9.
Thus wonderfully was the chief persecutor called, not as saint only but as apostle also. The conversion of the dying robber was a signal display of suited though sovereign grace; that of the living pursuer of the saints to prison or death was higher far. And if Peter followed the rejected Christ from Galilee to His ascension and heavenly glory, Saul began with His call out of heaven till, himself ever afterwards a partaker of His sufferings, he finished his course in becoming conformed to His death. He was apostle, not through the living Messiah on earth, but through Him glorified after God the Father raised Him from the dead. He began his witness where Peter ended it on his part.
Saul's was an unprecedented starting-point, which gave another and heavenly character to his service. There was a complete breach with Israel after the flesh, no longer a question of the earth or earthly hopes. Man risen from among the dead and gone on high has no connection with one nation more than another. The cross broke off all possible claims of those who had the law; but therein also was laid the righteous ground for the forgiveness of all trespasses, for taking out of the way the hostile bond written in ordinances. Heavenly associations with Christ glorified were now revealed as a present fact for faith to apprehend, enjoy, and make manifest practically on earth; and of this, both individually and corporately, Saul was chosen to be a witness as none other had ever been before; and therein none followed, for the case admitted of no succession.
This was the man who, brimful of deadly hatred, desired the highest religious sanction for war unto death against all men or women that called on the Lord Jesus. Armed with the high priest's letter he approached Damascus, when suddenly light out of heaven flashed round him, and fallen to the earth he heard a voice charging him with persecuting Him Whom he could not own to be the Lord; and the astonished Saul learns to his utter confusion before God that it was Jesus, Jesus persecuted in His own, who were one with Him. Overwhelming discoveries for any soul! For the light, 'the glory of that light,' the power, the voice even to him were unmistakable altogether; and the more so, for one like Saul confidently and conscientiously embittered against His name, thinking he was doing good service if he captured or even killed His disciples: so stout certainly his will, so ardent his zeal, so unsuspecting his malice, through blinding religious prejudice.
Never was a conversion so stamped with heavenly glory (2 Corinthians 4:4) and this from the person of Christ speaking thence (Hebrews 12:25). It was emphatically the saving 'grace of God' that appeared to him, in total and manifest overthrow of the highest earthly tradition, though it was also the 'glad tidings (or gospel) of Christ's glory', as not another even of the apostles could say like himself. Hence he speaks of 'my' gospel, and when joining others of his companions, 'our' gospel. It was not as if there was any object or any saving means before the soul but the one Saviour and Lord; but so it was from heavenly character, as well as the fullness and sovereignty of grace, therein manifested beyond all.
Besides, in Christ's words, from that first revelation, lay the germ of the doctrine of the assembly as one with Himself, His body, which the apostle was called to expound and enforce by his Epistles, as by his ministerial work and life, in a way and measure that surpassed 'the twelve', however honoured in their place. And this peculiar manner, as well as heavenly development of the truth, of which the Lord makes him the pre-eminent witness, brought on him unparalleled trial and suffering, from not only without but even from within, as his own writings and others abundantly prove.
Saul was not disobedient to the heavenly vision. Judaism and the world were to his soul judged and abandoned for ever by the certainty of saving grace and heavenly glory in Christ on high Who now manifestly exercised divine power and authority, and at one glance pointed out the new and only true path of patient suffering for the witness, in word and deed, of grace and truth, according to His own matchless way on earth, till He come and take us to Himself where He is. On the one hand, not only the Gentiles (Romans, Greeks, and all others) were fighting against God, but yet more keenly the chosen nation, the Jews; on the other hand, the simplest disciple now is one with Christ on the throne of God, and to persecute them is to persecute Him.
This and far more such a mind as Saul's read in the revelation outside Damascus - a revelation to go forth in due time over all the earth, and have its power only in faith and love forming a Christlike life to Christ's glory, but not without notable effects even where it was ever so hollowly professed. It may be drowned in blood or obscured with clouds of creature error and presumption, Jewish or Gentile, or worse than either when both combine to deny the Father and the Son; but none the less in its objects it will rise in heaven with ever durable and unfading glory around Christ, ere He shall be revealed from heaven with angels of His might in flaming fire, taking vengeance on those that know not God and those that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ in that day, when He shall come to be glorified in His saints and wondered at in all that believed, as well as to be alike the Blesser and the Blessing to all the families of the earth according to promise (2 Thessalonians 1:7-10).
It will be noticed that the first effect on his believing and repentant soul was the spirit of obedience. Life was there through faith, and this as ever instantly shows its true character by obedience, which the Lord saw. It is assumed in the latter half of the Text. Rec. which forms the whole of verse 6, 'But rise up and enter into the city, and it shall be told thee what thou must do.' He lets us know in his own account to the Jews (Acts 22:10) that he had said, What shall I do, Lord? This the inspired historian does not cite here, though he gives it later where it was of importance. But in any case the Lord counts on obedience, even before Saul could be supposed to appreciate dogmatically, and to rest in peace on, the sprinkling of His blood. The new nature lives in obedience, such as Christ's, in the consciousness and affections of sonship, and that blood cleanses from every sin of which the old man was guilty. Even before the new-born soul knows clearance from all guilt, the heart is made up to obey, not through fear of penalty like a Jew with death before his eyes, but attracted by sovereign goodness and submission to God's word. Obedience is the only right place and attitude of the renewed mind, in contrast with the independence of God natural to man shapen in iniquity and conceived in sin. Power comes in the gift of the Holy Ghost, when the believer rests on redemption and knows all his evilness before God. But even an apostle must be told, not himself discover, what he must do.
'The men that journeyed with Saul were standing speechless, hearing the sound but beholding no one' (ver. 7). The word often means 'voice', as it is rightly translated in verse 4, where Saul clearly heard what the Lord said to him. Here his companions did not hear one word articulately, as we are distinctly told in Acts 22:9. Yet they did hear that something was being uttered. Hence 'sound' appears to be a more accurate representation of the fact intended by the expression. And this is confirmed by a nice difference in the form of the Greek phrase; for the genitive (expressive of partition) is used where the physical effect was incomplete, the accusative where the words were sent home in power. In spiritual reception the genitive is always used; for who among men could be said to have heard in full what the voice of the Son of God imports?
On rising up Saul proved to be without power to see, blinded, we may well say, with excessive light. So they led him by the hand into Damascus (ver. 8), and for three days without seeing he did neither eat nor drink (ver. 9). A deep work thus went on in a soul capable of feeling grace and truth as profoundly as he could judge himself according to the light of God, which had exposed the vain wickedness of formalism in its best shape, and brought down the zealous missionary, armed with inquisitorial power, where Job of old was brought - to abhor self in dust and ashes.
Thus was brought to pass a conversion of the highest character and the deepest interest, pregnant with widespread results never to pass away. The miracle found its justification, not only in the moral principles of the case or in the dispensational display at that point in God's ways, but especially in the all-importance of such a heavenly revelation of His Son. Nevertheless Saul, when converted, though designated to a ministry which transcends that of every other man, enters the sphere of Christian confession by the same lowly portal as any other.
'Now there was a certain disciple at Damascus, named Ananias; and the Lord said to him in a vision, Ananias. And he said, Behold, I [am here], Lord. And the Lord [said] unto him, Rise up, and go to the lane that is called Straight, and seek in Judas' house one of Tarsus named Saul; for behold, he prayeth and hath seen in a vision1 a man named Ananias coming in and laying his hands1 on him, so that he might receive his sight. And Ananias answered, Lord, I heard2 from many of this man, how much evil he did to Thy saints at Jerusalem, and here he hath authority from the high priests to bind all that call on Thy name. But the Lord said unto him, Go, for he is a vessel of election to Me, to bear My name before both3 Gentiles and kings and sons of Israel; for I will show him how many things he must suffer for My name's sake. And Ananias went and entered into the house; and laying his hands upon him he said, Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus that appeared to thee in the way which thou camest hath sent me, so that thou mightest receive sight and be filled with [the] Holy Spirit. And immediately there fell from his eyes as it were scales, and he received sight,' and rising up he was baptized; and he took food and was strengthened' (vers. 10-19).
1 ἐν ὁράματι 'in a vision', though given by most MSS. and Vv. finds no support in A61 Vulg. Sah. Memph. Aeth. There are also several changes of order in the words in these verses, and the oldest MSS. incline to the plural form of 'hands' where the Text. Rec. after most has the singular.
2 The perfect has most MSS., but the more ancient give the aorist.
3 τε 'both' ABCE, eight cursives, et al., but τῶν is wrongly added by B Cp.m.
There is much to learn from the connection of Ananias with the new convert, total strangers to each other as they had been, save that the former well knew by public rumour of the latter's fierce enmity to all who called on the name of the Lord. He was himself a devout man according to the law, of unimpeachably good report among the Israelites of Damascus (Acts 22:12). Such was the man who had a vision of the Lord about Saul, as Saul had about Ananias: both corroborative, in the most simple and important way, of the miracle put forth on the occasion of Saul's conversion. If we see sometimes an economy of divine power, here the dullest cannot but own a striking affluence; as indeed the end in view was most worthy. For in the testimony of the fresh witness were developed the displays of grace and truth, of the gospel and of the church, of individual Christianity and of corporate blessedness, of the deepest truth for man's soul, of the fullest vindication of divine righteousness, of past wisdom in God's ways manifested, of future counsels of glory for heaven and earth and eternity to the praise of God and His Son: the grounds of all this and more were first laid out, as they had never been before and never need to be again. Who, acquainted with God's ways in His word, can wonder at the special pains taken to furnish outward vouchers of unusual fullness and of unquestionable force, so as to preclude all reasonable imputation of delusion on the one hand or of collusion on the other? The Lord has here seen to this remarkably: let us not overlook it.
Ananias had communications from the Lord (vers. 10-12), which even in vision drew out the expression of his extreme surprise. Nor can there be conceived a more exquisite unfolding of the free intercourse which grace has now opened between the heart of the Master in heaven and that of the servant on earth. Ananias on one side ventures respectfully even to the verge of remonstrance (vers. 13, 14), after being told to seek Saul at Judas' house and recover his sight; as the Lord on the other overrules a]l reluctance by the assurance not only of His own abounding grace, but of Saul's genuine repentance fitting him for the wonderful work to which he was henceforth called (vers. 15, 16). How entirely then may we not pour out our exercises of heart into His bosom, how implicitly count on His loving interest, Who has all things at His disposal, and interests Himself in our history from first to last! For His eye of love is on the praying at such a house in such a street, no less than on the vast sweep of Christian life and service from Arabia to Damascus, from Jerusalem and round about to Illyricum, yea to Rome if not Spain, where His own name would be borne before both nations and kings and sons of Israel, when the many doings of Saul over the world of that day would be less than his many sufferings for Christ's name. Truly he was a vessel of election to the Lord, in labours of love most abundant, in sufferings for Christ yet more unparalleled.
1 'Forthwith' is here added in Text. Rec., but very high authority excludes the word, which is needless.
Ananias promptly obeys, goes to the house where Saul lodged, and, laying his hands on him, told out the errand on which he was sent, not only to restore Saul's sight but that he should be filled with the Spirit. The force of the message lay in this that the Lord Jesus, Who appeared to Saul in the way, now sent Ananias supernaturally to convey His blessing. How evident that God was at work, and that the Lord Jesus was the revealer of His mind and the medium of His mercy, as He is the effulgence of His glory and the expression of His subsistence; not more surely man than God, and now the Man glorified at His right hand Who searches the reins and hearts, and controlled Ananias no less than Saul! If the vanity of man in his best estate was manifest to Saul's conscience (and no man had such reason as he to know this experimentally), the grace of God in the Lord Jesus was equally evident. 'And immediately there fell from his eyes as it were scales, and he received sight, and rising up he was baptized, and he took food and was strengthened.' Saul submitted to baptism like any other. He was baptized by a simple disciple; and he himself subsequently taught others to lay no stress on his own baptizing anyone (1 Corinthians 1:14-17).
'I thank God I baptized none of you but Crispus and Gaius (he wrote to the vain Corinthians), 'lest any should say that I had baptized in my own name. And I baptized also the household of Stephanas; besides I know not whether I baptized any other. For Christ sent me not to baptize, but to preach the gospel.' The proclamation of the truth is far beyond the administration of its sign. So we shall see that Peter preached at Caesarea, but consigned to others the baptizing of Cornelius with his kinsmen and his near friends. Indeed the same thing appears here; for nothing would have been easier than to have employed an official, at least a 'deacon', if this had been desirable in God's sight, Who surely has no pleasure in breaking down His own order. A 'disciple' baptizes the great apostle of the Gentiles.
But the most striking fact in all the transaction is the gift of the Spirit through Ananias, so decidedly did the wisdom of God in Saul's case break through the ordinary method of conferring the Spirit through the hands of an apostle, if, for special reasons, hands were employed at all. Here the utmost care was taken to mark God laying all human pretensions in the dust. The employment of a disciple like Ananias lays the axe to the root of official pride; and this where the Lord was calling out the most honoured servant He ever deigned to use.
There is another remark to note of still more general importance, which the history of Saul's conversion brings into evidence. We must not confound, as popular preachers and teachers do, the reception of life and salvation. Life is always given immediately; not so salvation. Saul was quickened the moment he believed in the Lord Jesus. But this is quite distinct from what scripture calls 'salvation'; and hence we see, in the state of Saul, during the intermediate three days, a plain testimony to this important difference.
What searchings of heart!1 What deep questions were discussed in his soul during those days and nights, when he neither ate nor drank! Yet divine life was there all the while as truly as afterwards, faith too in the word of God, and in His glory Who had smitten him down and revealed Himself to him and in him. But was this peace with God? Was it rest? Was he delivered consciously from all condemnation? Salvation is found in believing the gospel which presents the work of Christ in all its fullness as God's answer to every difficulty of the conscience and heart. It is not therefore, a mere confiding in the Lord for ultimate safety, but present deliverance enjoyed by the soul. Into this Saul was now brought. It is a great mistake therefore to talk of 'salvation in a moment', 'deliverance on the spot', or any other of the stock phrases of superficial revivalism, which ignore the word of God and spring from the confusion of life with salvation. After truly looking to the person of Christ with its soul-subduing power, a deep process habitually goes on in renewed souls, who are not satisfied with 'life for a look', but face the overwhelming discovery of not only all they have done, but all they are in its evil and enmity against God and His Son. Self is thus judged in the light, and humiliation is produced, without which there can be no solid and settled peace. In the style of preaching referred to this is slurred over to the danger and injury of souls, quite as much as to the slighting of the full truth so due to Christ's glory.
1 Calvin apparently sees only terror, and makes the abstinence part of the miracle. Can one conceive a stranger absence of spiritual perception?
And therein also is seen the practical importance of distinguishing the new birth of the Spirit from the gift of the Spirit, as we have repeatedly pointed out in expounding this Book. The one goes with our believing on the Lord, when first arrested by God's word in the midst of open sins or of proud self-righteousness; the other is, when the soul (ploughed up by the word and learning its hopeless evil before God, humbled as well as troubled, yet not without hope, for Christ is believed in) finds in His all-efficacious work Who for him died and rose, that his evil is all gone, root and branch and fruit, and that he is in Christ, a child of God and joint-heir with Christ, yea, dead and risen with Him, and so freed from all that can be against him that he might live unto God.
Of this, burial with Christ is the instituted symbol to which every Christian submits; salvation is the expression of its standing privilege. Hence in his First Epistle (1 Peter 3:21) Peter brings in the comparison with Noah's ark, and the passing through the waters of death as the way of salvation; so Christ died personally and efficaciously for our sins, as we in spirit when baptized. The apostle carefully distinguishes between the mere outward effect of the water, and points to the true power in Christ's death and resurrection, of which baptism is the figure. Expressly, however, it is a figure, not of life, but of salvation, present salvation of souls; as we await the coming of the Lord for the salvation of our bodies when we shall be like Him even outwardly, seeing Him as He is.
Calvin will have it that Ananias laid hands on Saul, partly to consecrate him to God [from the context one gathers, ministerially], partly to obtain for him the gifts of the Spirit. It would not be worth noticing in general, for both are absolutely wrong, but the errors of great and good men are proportionately dangerous. The blessed man says of himself, 'Paul, apostle not from men nor through man, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father Who raised Him up from among the dead' (Galatians 1:1). Nor can we too vigilantly reject the error that confounds the gift (δωρεὰ) of the Spirit, or, we may add, the being filled with the Holy Spirit, with 'the gifts' (χαρίσματα). Nor does it appear afterwards by the narrative that Ananias was also commanded to teach him, any more than this was implied in his subsequently baptizing him. How ready even the excellent of the earth to let slip, or add to, and so spoil, the holy deposit of the truth! It would rather appear that Ananias laid hands on Saul to cure his blindness, before he was baptized; after which he was filled with the Holy Spirit, without a hint of any such act subsequent to baptism.
Thus simply is brought before us the call and conversion of the great apostle, containing within the account itself the germ of that which was to be unfolded in his Epistles and called out by the demands of the work which mostly gave occasion to the Epistles.
It may be noticed that to bear Christ's name before Gentiles has the first place, the sons of Israel being put last, with 'kings' placed between them. He was to be 'apostle of Gentiles' (Romans 11:13). For this, the call of the Lord from heaven was most appropriate. On earth He had sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. When He sends from heaven, Israel ceases to have any such place. All mankind, before this, had joined and been lost in one common guilt. The Jews had even led the Gentiles to crucify Him. Israel's superiority after the flesh was therefore clean gone. Sovereign grace alone governs henceforth; and therefore, if any are to be prominently named, it is rather those who are most needy. Of such Saul was characteristically apostle.
'And he1 was certain days with the disciples which were at Damascus. And immediately in the synagogues he preached Jesus,2 that He is the Son of God. And all that heard [him] were amazed and said, Is not this he that in Jerusalem made havoc of those that called on this name, and had3 come hither for this thing, that he might bring them bound before the chief priests? But Saul increased the more in power and confounded the3 Jews that dwelt in Damascus, proving that this is the Christ' (vers. 19-22).
1 The Text. Rec. on inferior authority adds 'Saul'.
2 It is 'Jesus' in ABCE, sixteen cursives, Vulg. Syrr. Memph, et al. One of the Aeth, has 'Jesus' only, the other 'Jesus Christ'.
3 Most copies but not the best have the perfect in ver. 21. Only p.m. B omit the article in ver. 22. Other minute differences may be left.
Hence we have a new departure of at least equal importance. From the very first Saul proclaimed Jesus to be the Son of God. This gave a new and higher character to the preaching.
The other apostles knew it but are not said to have preached it. Peter had long ago confessed the great truth with singular strength, and the Lord had pronounced him thereon blessed; for flesh and blood had not revealed it to him but His Father, that is in heaven (Matthew 16:16-17). Yet do we never find Peter preaching or proclaiming the Lord thus at Pentecost and afterwards. He sets forth the crucified Jesus as having been made both Lord and Christ. He dwells on His death, resurrection, and ascension. He represents Him as from heaven pouring forth the Holy Ghost, having received of the Father that promised gift. The greatest prominence is given to Jesus as the now glorified Servant of the God of Israel, exalted by God's right hand as Leader and Saviour to give repentance to Israel and remission of sins. Peter preached Him thus fully, but only as the Messiah, Whom His people had rejected, Whom God had raised from the dead and would send from heaven in due time, to bring down all promised blessing. Beyond this he does not preach Christ, so far as the Book of Acts teaches.
Stephen went beyond this at any rate in his last discourse. 'Behold, I see the heavens opened and the Son of man standing at the right hand of God.' Anyone familiar with the Psalms and the Prophets ought to have discovered, at least by the light of the New Testament, the import of this new title. It opens out assuredly a far larger glory for the Lord than the realm of Israel. The Son of man is set over, not all mankind only, but all creation, He only being excepted (which shows its immense range) Who set all things under Him. In Psalm 8:5 it is intimated that His humiliation unto death was the ground and way whereby the Lord passed into this glorious supremacy, and that we Christians see Him already crowned with glory and honour in consequence, though not yet do we see all things subjected to Him. Daniel 7:13-14 shows Him coming with the clouds of heaven in this same glory to the Ancient of days, and receiving dominion, glory, and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages, should serve Him - an everlasting dominion withal, which shall not pass away neither shall His kingdom be destroyed, as that of all others had been. In this glory, however, before He comes to judge the quick and the dead, Stephen beholds Him through the opened heavens at the right hand of God. No doubt this was a sight miraculously vouchsafed to the proto-martyr, but what he then witnessed on high is revealed for us also to know and profit by even now in the Spirit.
Saul of Tarsus brings us an immense step beyond, for He proclaims Jesus in His proper and divine glory as the Son of God; whilst it was reserved for John, the apostle, to give his most admirable record of the Lord in this self-same way and to show how the intrinsic glory of His person superseded every object hitherto precious in the eyes of Israel, a divine glory, which could not be hid though veiled in flesh, and which manifested itself on departing by sending down from heaven the other Paraclete, though (not less than Himself) a divine person, the Spirit of truth, not only to glorify Him, but that we might have fellowship with those who most of all enjoyed His presence here below; 'and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ.'
It is well to notice that Saul thus preached Jesus 'immediately' and 'in the synagogues'. Hence we may see how powerfully, and the more so because indirectly, the account of Luke confirms his own explicit statement to the Galatians (Galatians 1:12) that he did not receive the gospel he preached from man, nor was he taught it but by revelation of Jesus Christ. How strikingly too all this, so different from what learned and pious men say or think about it, falls in with the character of his preaching so distinct from all before him: the same Jesus, but His glory viewed neither as connected with Israel, nor as conferred because of His sufferings, but higher up and divinely personal!
That he was formed in his peculiar line by Ananias is more worthy of a Corinthian than of a Reformer, though natural in those who lay exaggerated and unscriptural stress on human elements for the training of Christ's servants. God is sovereign in this as elsewhere. The Lord had His own aims in calling Saul and Luke, as in calling the differing cases of Peter and James. He can call from learning and science whether to pour contempt on human pride in such fields or to use them as He pleases; He can call from the land or sea those who have never known the schools to prove Himself superior to that which the vain world inordinately values. But Saul preached 'immediately', and 'in the synagogues'. What a testimony to conscience that he should preach Jesus, and preach Him as the Son of God!
The reader will observe that for 'Christ' in the Authorized Version after the Text. Rec. of verse 20 is here substituted 'Jesus', as it stands in the best authorities, followed by the Revised Version and by others founded on carefully collated authorities. It is not improbable that the later copies which introduced the error may have been swayed by ignorant considerations of a quasi-Christian sort, unless it were a mere slip of memory which crept in and got perpetuated among those who understood not the difficulties and wants of such Jews as were addressed. To preach to them 'the Christ' or Messiah as the Son of God would have served no adequate purpose and have met with little, if any, opposition. They would have all allowed it in terms, even if none really entered into its full import. But the momentous truth Saul affirmed was as to Jesus, Jesus of Nazareth: and that He is the Son of God. What could be graver to a Jew? To accept it as of God was to condemn the people, and especially the religious, and to find himself in the dust before the Crucified (now risen and on high) for Whom this divine title was claimed in the highest and most exclusive sense. It became the turning-point not for time only but for eternity.
The signal change in the preacher also told powerfully. 'All that heard were astonished and said, Is not this he that in Jerusalem made havoc of those that called on this name, and had come hither for this thing, that he might bring them bound before the chief priests?' Such a conversion, coupled with his actual zeal for the truth, could not but be most impressive as grace which had wrought intended it to be. 'But Saul kept growing more in power and confounding the Jews that dwelt in Damascus, proving that this is the Christ.' Here 'Jesus' would be quite out of place, and the Messiah is the truth meant; for advance in truth received and learnt from God does not cast a slight on a lower level which is equally of God.
But breadth of mind in taking into consideration an immense sweep of varied truth and harmonizing all in the Lord Jesus to God's glory is one of the marked traits of His most remarkable servant. The Messiahship of Jesus must ever be a capital matter in dealing with Jews. Higher glories there are, as we have seen, of surpassing interest and importance, and none ever rose higher, in principle at least, than Saul did from his first testimony as we are told. But the lowest point of view had for its urgent and indefatigable advocate the same devoted man who was the earliest to proclaim the highest. None of Christ's servants has ever shown equal largeness of heart. We may perhaps say of him, in a deeper as well as more heavenly sphere, what God says of king Solomon to whom He gave wisdom and understanding exceeding much, so that God distinguishes him by 'largeness of heart, even as the sand that is on the sea shore' (1 Kings 4:29). The question of a Christian woman's wearing her hair long, or her head duly covered, was to him connected with and answered by the vast scope of creation, the theatre of God's purpose in Christ, which put the man and woman in their true relative place, and brought in the very angels as spectators meant to act on the spirit of such as walk by faith, not by sight (1 Corinthians 11:3-16). But who, save Saul of Tarsus, to settle a detail in conduct apparently so small, would ever have thought of such a scope in application of God's order and ways to maintain His moral glory?
The waxing powerful of Saul does not mean that he overcame his adversaries in disputation, but that the Spirit so strengthened him by the deepening of his soul in the divine word, which no doubt did bear down more and more the puny arms of such as opposed themselves. Whatever might have been his vast natural ability, whatever his providential training under Gamaliel, it was in practical dealing with souls in the synagogues or individually that the new nature in the Spirit's power found its true field of unremitting exercise.
So sudden, surprising, and profound, a conversion as that of Saul (by nature, character, attainments, and position, the most zealous of Jewish adversaries), could not but make the deepest impression on all observers especially those of the circumcision. How confirmatory to the disciples at Damascus! How impressive in the synagogues to hear him proclaim Jesus as the Son of God! How suited to confound those who denied Jesus to be the Christ! God's grace displayed in it was such as to amaze all that heard. The very opposition of the restless enemy was for the moment paralysed.
'And when many days were fulfilled, the Jews consulted together to kill him; but their plot became known to Saul. And they were watching the gates also1 day and night that they might kill him; but the2 disciples took him by night and let him down through the wall, lowering him in a basket.
1 The Text. Rec. has παρετήρουν τε, but the best witnesses give παρετηροῦντο δὲ καί, and so the chief modern editors.
2 The oldest copies, with ancient Latin copies, have the strange reading 'his' disciples, which appears to be as easy a slip as out of keeping with the account.
'And when he arrived at Jerusalem, he essayed to join himself to the disciples, and all were afraid of him, not believing that he was a disciple. But Barnabas took and brought him unto the apostles, and declared to them how he saw the Lord in the way and that He spoke to him, and how in Damascus he preached boldly in the name of Jesus' (vers. 23-27).
The Spirit of God appears to comprehend in the first verses the space of three years which the apostle spent in Arabia, a fact of great significance as following on his conversion and used powerfully in the Epistle to the Galatians (Galatians 1:17) to prove how little man, even the twelve, had to do with it. His call was in no way from men nor through man, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father that raised Him from among the dead; even as the gospel he preached was not according to man, nor yet did he receive it from man, nor was he taught it but by revelation of Jesus Christ. It was expressly meant of God to be independent of Jerusalem and the twelve but derived (call, apostolate, and gospel he preached) immediately from the prime source of grace, truth, and authority, the risen Head and God Himself. Thus was secured what was all-important, not only for the Gentile saints then and indeed thenceforward for the due intelligence of Christianity, but for our special profit now so menaced at the end of the age with the revival of the early Judaizing which opposed the full gospel at the beginning, as well as the heavenly independent character of Paul's office and testimony.
Otherwise it seemed even more extraordinary for Saul than for Moses to go to Arabia. But as there was of old divine wisdom in the long shelter there given to the future leader of Israel, so the break with the flesh was complete in the briefer sojourn of the apostle of the Gentiles, where none on earth could imagine he was winning for himself a good degree either in the humanities or in divinity. Such was God's ordering manifestly and wholly distinct from man's ways. He took no counsel with flesh and blood. He went not up to Jerusalem to those that were apostles before him, as all else would have thought most proper if not absolutely requisite. It was designedly on God's part death to the Jewish system in its best shape and to all successional order that Saul should go to Arabia, and again return to Damascus, and then after three years should go up to Jerusalem, not to receive office at apostolic hands, but to make acquaintance with Peter there remaining but fifteen days, and seeing none other of the apostles save James the brother of the Lord. For his ministry was to be the true and fullest pattern of that which according to the will of God was to follow when the temporary Jerusalem order should pass away, and the Holy Spirit would bring out all the blessed and governing principles of a heavenly Christ for the church His one body on earth, as well as for His servants individually; a ministry of holy liberty, the expression of God's grace in the full communication of His truth, centring in the divine and glorified person of Christ, to the utter denial of man's will and of the world's pride.
But the world, as the Lord had previously warned His disciples, hates those identified with Christ as it had hated Himself, and according to His word would persecute them as it had Him. And so Saul now proves at the hand of his old co-religionists, ever the most bitter. The Jews were plotting to make away with him. 'Yea, the time cometh, that whosoever killeth you will think that he doeth God service. And these things will they do because they have not known the Father nor Me' (John 16:2-3). How evidently and deeply true! Nor did any more strikingly and continually verify their truth than Saul of Tarsus. The sword of the Spirit was too incisive in his hands, no matter how great his love and lowliness, not to rouse the unquenchable resentment and deadly enmity of Satan. And when the Jews went so far as even to watch the gates of Damascus both night and day that they might dispatch him, the disciples, much as they appreciated his ardent love of Christ and zeal for man's blessing, took him by night and let him down through the wall, lowering him in a basket. Miracle there was none, but an escape ordinary enough, if not ignominious for those who would surround the great apostle with a perpetual halo. How little they know of the cross, of God, and of His ways!
This escape from murderous hands at Damascus he relates in the wonder-sketch of his devoted labours and sufferings which he recounts to the ease-loving Corinthians when set against the blessed apostle by the deceitful workers there fashioning themselves into apostles of Christ (2 Corinthians 11:23-28). How admirably suited only to shame those who took care to work and suffer the least possible, but to kindle into burning love the feeblest spark in the true servants of Christ from that day to this! At the close of the list of trials which he gives us as 'foolishness' in his confidence of glorying, if others gloried after the flesh, before he says a word of the man in Christ he knows - himself of course, but purposely so put - caught up even to the third heaven, he winds all up with this very incident, in a singularly isolated way, so as to bring into juxtaposition his being let down through a window in a basket by the wall with his being caught up into paradise for exceedingly great revelations (2 Corinthians 11:32-33; 2Co 12:1-4). Strange conjunction, but how instructive withal, the same man lowered from a window in a city wall, and caught up to heaven to hear unspeakable words! Who but Paul had even thought of thus glorying in the things that concerned his weakness? For, if he did mention his most singular honour as a living man, he took care to tell us how, to counteract all self-exaltation, there was given him thenceforth a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to buffet him.
It may be well to note that in 2 Corinthians 11:32-33, there is the additional information that the hostility be encountered was not confined to the synagogue but shared by the ethnarch of the then king, no doubt to do the Jews a favour, as others in somewhat the like position did afterwards: 'In Damascus, the governor under Aretas the king was guarding the city of Damascus, wishing to take me, and through a window in a basket was I let down by the wall, and escaped his hands.' This is cited, not to confirm the truth of Luke's account as if the divinely inspired word could be inaccurate or as if it needed support for a believer, but to give a fresh instance of the moral purpose which reigns in all scripture, the true key to that peculiar method of God, which is as perfect for His own glory and the growth of His children, as it furnishes occasion to the unbelief of man who judges all in the self-confidence of his own intellectual powers, at the utmost very limited, great as they may be. Information, important as it is in its place, is one of the least objects in the word of God which lets the faithful into the communion of His mind and love.
But a new and very different lesson now opens in the city of solemnities where not long since great grace was upon all, and the word of God increased, and the number of the disciples multiplied exceedingly, and a great crowd of even the priests were obedient to the faith. For Saul, having arrived at Jerusalem, essayed to join himself to the disciples, and all were afraid of him, not believing that he was a disciple. How painful on the one hand for that vessel full of divine affections, that channel even then overflowing with a testimony of Christ beyond these doubting brethren whose grace was really so small as to question the largest measure that had ever crossed their eyes! But how helpful on the other hand for us and all saints who have to learn that no one is to be received on his own responsibility, but on adequate testimony from others! A man unknown, or only known by circumstances somewhat dubious, must ordinarily have a wonderful opinion of himself, or be surprisingly blind to the duties of others, if he expect to be welcomed within the holy bounds of Christ on the good account he gives of himself. And God's children must be exceedingly rash or be indifferent to His glory who hold the door open without a commendatory letter, or (if this through circumstances failed) its equivalent in some satisfactory degree. He who cannot present something of the kind ought rather to praise the care for the Lord's glory in His own, even if it call for a little patience or delay on his part, and never was there a time when such vigilance was more due in the interests of Christ and the church than in its present state. Let the saints only bear in mind that here too as everywhere it is a question not of letter but of spirit. Proof of reality Christward is and ought to be all that is wanted, while indifference to Him, and yielding all to the mere profession of His name, when nothing is so cheap, is the most offensive and guilty looseness. Legality is not well, where all should be grace, but it is at least far less indecent than laxity. A letter of commendation too could be, as we should not forget, most readily forged by an unscrupulous person.
Even if saints be ignorant or prejudiced the Lord never fails and soon raises up an instrument to remove the difficulty. For Barnabas 'took him and brought him to the apostles,' (no more, we have seen, than Peter and James) 'and declared to them how he saw the Lord in the way, and that He spoke to him, and how at Damascus he preached boldly in the name of Jesus' (ver. 27).
That this course on the part of Barnabas was owing to previous acquaintance with Saul! that they two had studied together at Tarsus! where both knew nothing of the Lord Jesus, and that either, even if true, could be a ground to satisfy the disciples, is just a sample of human guesswork - not to say of false principle - which disgraces those who cultivate such a style in the interpretation of scripture. But Christendom's hunger after all that tends to exalt the first Adam, as it demands such pabulum, is sure to find the supply where truth is neither trusted nor valued as displayed in Christ to God's glory. Is not the real key furnished by the sacred historian in a subsequent glimpse at Barnabas in Acts 11:23-24? When he saw the grace of God, he was glad, and he exhorted accordingly; for he was a good man, and full of the Holy Ghost and of faith. Nor was it in Antioch only or first that grace wrought mightily in him; for in far earlier days than either he had been singled out for what God had produced in him, in contrast with Ananias and Sapphira who had agreed together to tempt the Spirit of the Lord (Acts 4:36-37, Acts 5:1-2).
How much one gracious heart can effect, and how little it matters what the circumstances may be through which it seeks to please the Lord and help those that are tried! Yet how often, when such a character is formed and proved, a crisis arises too strong for all but the present guidance of the Lord above all that is of man, and grace in all its fullness must control graciousness quite breaking down! And so Barnabas proved at a later day. How little any then could have anticipated that Saul would be the one to reprove Peter as well as Barnabas (Galatians 2:13) for the allowance of flesh or law to the jeopardy of the truth of the gospel! Yet so we know it was, and scripture has set it out in glowing and imperishable words to preserve us in our weakness from like error. How thankful should we be for the condescending mercy of our God Who would thus turn to our account the mistakes even of the most honoured, instead of hiding any or palliating all in the genuine spirit of party to the dishonour of the Lord and the irreparable injury of our own souls.
It may be well to note that this visit to Jerusalem (ver. 26 et seq.) is not to be regarded as immediately consequent, being named here in order to complete the history of Saul thus far by the account of his first introduction to the saints there.
Adequate testimony then to the call of divine grace is the true ground of reception: and the peculiar antecedents of Saul brought it out in high relief. There are very different circumstances now where the world in these lands calls itself Christian. But the principle abides, though profession in an easy-going estate where corruptions (moral, ecclesiastical, and doctrinal) abound is as far as possible from calling on the name of the Lord in the face of opposed nature and persecution private or public. It is of the deepest moment that all for each soul should turn on His name, the only passport which ought to be demanded as thus directly magnifying Him, the best of all safeguards against the world, the flesh, and the devil; for His name is the death-knell of all evil, whatever its varying form. To that Name the highest of earth must bow and be indebted for recognition when every tongue confesses Him Lord to the glory of God the Father but the same Name introduces the most down-trodden slave into the fullness of grace now with living hope of heavenly and everlasting glory. And though His name solemnly summons every one that names it to stand aloof from unrighteousness, against none here and at once does it threaten such scathing judgment as when men (no matter what their fame, credit, or pretensions) bring not the doctrine of Christ.
But the assembly, profoundly engaged to care for the common interests of that Name, looks for trustworthy testimony as to each soul that names it. This gives the fullest scope to faith and love in the saints already within who, seeking the glory of the Lord in those that confess Him, are, according to their measure, reliable witnesses, whether for receiving a Saul of Tarsus, or for rejecting a Simon Magus. For if all have communion as saints in what is done, and are free, yea bound, to satisfy themselves, the evidence on which they judge practically rests with such as, enjoying the confidence of all, have love enough to ascertain the truth. The church acts on witnesses it believes. So it is shown in the striking instance before us that we might be guided aright in our own duty, even where the outward features are as unlike as possible. But, the church being a divine institution and not a mere voluntary society even of saints, there is a holy and wise principle which governs (or at least it ought, and will if done rightly), bringing out the Lord's glory, as in Saul's case. Active love, animated by a single eye to Christ, will see clearly and judge aright.
'And he was with them going in and going out at1 Jerusalem,2 preaching boldly in the name of the Lord3, and he was speaking and discussing with the Hellenists4, but they had in hand to kill him. And when the brethren knew, they brought him down to Caesarea, and sent him off unto Tarsus' (vers. 28-30).
1 εἰς ABCELP, et al., ἐν H., Syrr. Pst. & Hcl., Arm. Æthiop.
2 ABC Fuld, Arm., et al., omit the copulative: EHLP Vulg. Syrr. Cop., et al, insert.
3 T.R. with p.m. HLP, et al., add Ἰησοῦ, but p.m ABE and Versions omit; Ἰησοῦ only, is read by C, Syr. Pst.
4 A is alone of the uncials in reading Ἔλληνας, all others giving Ἓλληνιστάς.
Liberty was thus enjoyed whether for fellowship or for testimony. It is indeed essential to Christianity and in contrast with the law which genders bondage. 'Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty'; or, as He Himself testified, 'I am the door, by Me if any one enter in, he shall be saved, and shall go in and go out, and shall find pasture.' Salvation, liberty, and food are assured by His grace: and so Saul was proving at this time even in Jerusalem. What could be sweeter than to taste it for his soul, where tradition had so lately blinded his eyes, and zeal for the law led him to persecute the way of divine grace unto death, binding and delivering into prison both men and women?
But there was more than this - bold utterance in the name of the Lord, which well becomes the object of grace. If 'this day is a day of good tidings', and assuredly it is, beyond all that ever dawned, how hold our peace? Not so did the four leprous men, when famine pressed the city of Samaria, and they found the deserted camp of the Syrians full of every good thing for those that were otherwise perishing with hunger (2 Kings 7:9). And who in Jerusalem more than Saul, its late emissary of bonds or death for all that called on the name of the Lord, could with godly assurance proclaim His name by faith in it to strengthen the weak and release the captives, to give life to the dead and liberty to the oppressed, or (as he said in a later day) to open their eyes, that they might turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, receiving remission of sins and inheritance among those that are sanctified by faith in Christ? For free and bold testimony in His name is the fruit of His grace, no less than liberty for one's own soul; and in this order too. We need to be set free from every hindrance and weight and doubt and question, we need the liberty wherewith Christ sets free, before the mouth can open boldly to make known His grace and glory to others. It is not to angels that God subjected the habitable earth to come but to Christ Who will give His saints to reign with Him. It is not to angels that He gives the gospel commission but to His servants who were once children of wrath even as others. How soon even Christians forgot His ways and returned to the yoke of bondage and to fleshly successional order, to the rudiments of the world which played their fatal part in crucifying the Lord, now to find themselves, if God be believed, set aside and condemned to death in His cross!
But Saul, as he lets us know, when called by grace to have God's Son revealed in him that he might preach Him among the Gentiles, immediately conferred not with flesh and blood, but went into Arabia and returned again to Damascus. Even when he did go up to Jerusalem, it was 'to see (or visit) Peter', not to take holy orders, any more than to go through a theological curriculum, for 'he abode with him fifteen days' seeing none other of the apostles save James the Lord's brother (Galatians 1:15-19). And on this he speaks with impressive urgency, as a matter of the deepest moment for God's glory that the truth of his independent mission should be established for ever and beyond question, bound up as it is with the gospel revealed by him in a fullness and height beyond all others. In Jerusalem too we see his full liberty and his bold testimony to the Lord's name.
All was ordered that the truth of the gospel might continue with the Gentiles; but with the Jews also he maintains the same principle and conduct. Alas! it was ill appreciated. For on the one hand, the Gentiles have not continued in God's goodness but throughout Christendom have turned back, like a dog to its own vomit; judaizing so egregiously as to give people the impression that the gospel is a sort of half-improved, half-mitigated, law, instead of being the perfect expression of God's grace in justifying ungodly sinners by the faith of Christ in virtue of His death and resurrection. On the other hand, when Saul turned in the name of the Lord to the Hellenists, or Greek-speaking Jews, with the loving zeal of a hater of party, to impart the truth which had set himself free, seeking not theirs but them, they betrayed how little those are subject to God's law who despise and refuse His gospel, for they went about to kill him. They were but Abraham's seed, not his children (John 8: 33 44): if they had been his children, they would have done the works of Abraham. They had really the devil for their father, a murderer and a liar from the beginning; and his works they did.
It is needless to dwell on the error whether of old MS. or of ancient version, which makes the apostle speak and dispute at this early day with the 'Greeks' in Jerusalem. In fact it was with the same class which furnished 'the seven' who had been set over the daily ministration; of whom Stephen and Philip had been so highly honoured also in the word (Acts 6:1-5). Saul was drawn out the more toward them, as no longer a bigot, but one who sought out the Hellenists the more as he had been the prime energetic leader in the persecution that followed Stephen's death. Now he himself is exposed to their deadly hatred; 'and when the brethren knew, they brought him down to Caesarea, and sent him off to Tarsus.' It seems clear that this was not Caesarea Philippi, but rather the seat of the Roman governor, whence he readily went by sea. Nor is Galatians 1:21 any real difficulty; for it only informs us that he then came to the regions of Syria and Cilicia, which was easy by ship; and the following verse intimates that he was still unknown by face to the churches of Judea which were in Christ.
'The assembly1 then, throughout the whole of Judea and Galilee and Samaria, had1 peace, being edified1; and walking1 in the fear of the2 Lord and the comfort of the Holy Spirit, was multiplied' (ver. 31).
1 The singular is read by ABC Vulg. Syr. Pst., Sah. Cop. Arm. Æthiop, Erp Arab., et al., as against the plural of the Text. Rec. HLP Syr. Hcl (and E, ἐκκλησίαι πᾶσαι).
2 The article is omitted by A, though read by all others.
There seems no good ground to make this verse the concluding sentence of the paragraph, as the state of the church throughout these districts is not meant to be connected with Saul one way or another. It is rather, while attending to their past trial, an introduction to the account of Peter's visit which immediately succeeds, and it can thereon well stand by itself.
Having given us the peaceful and prosperous condition of the church throughout Palestine, the Spirit of God now turns to speak of Peter. He that wrought effectually in him, the great apostle of the circumcision, had just shown us the mighty vessel of His grace called to do work among the Gentiles. But Saul of Tarsus is dropped for the present, and we have the familiar figure of Peter brought before us, not in Jerusalem, nor yet in Samaria as once with John, but alone on a visitation of Judea. If there was peace for the church, there was no less power than at the first in him who was behind none since Pentecost.
'Now it came to pass that Peter going through all [parts] came down also to the saints inhabiting Lydda. And there he found a certain man named Æneas, for eight years lying on a couch, who was paralysed. And Peter said to him, Æneas, Jesus [the]3 Christ heareth thee: rise up and make thy couch. And immediately he rose up. And all that inhabited Lydda and the4 Sharon saw him, who also turned to the Lord' (vers. 32-35).
3 Bp.m. C with half a dozen cursives, et al. omit the article which is supported by the great mass of copies.
4 I presume the Revisers meant to distinguish between the town and the district by 'at Lydda and in Sharon'.
Grace thus used the apostle, not merely for the edification of the saints but for winning fresh souls to God. Lydda or Lod was at this time a considerable town - as Josephus informs us, not behind a city in size. And there God wrought a miracle, to arrest unbelievers, in the person of Æneas. It does not appear that he was a believer, being described as 'a certain man'. Indeed, as the rule, believers were not objects of miraculous power, however often they may have been its instruments. Timothy is exhorted by the apostle to use ordinary means: 'Be no longer a water-drinker, but use a little wine for thy stomach's sake and thine often infirmities.' Epaphroditus drew out in his sickness deep exercises in Paul's heart; and Trophimus, the apostle left at Miletus, sick, instead of healing him. The Lord has His special dealings with such: not even an apostle would interfere. But as tongues were for a sign to unbelievers, so, on such, power was free to act to God's glory, and the cure of the long-palsied Æneas became a striking testimony to all the dwellers around.
The manner of Peter's action and his words are remarkable: 'Æneas, Jesus [the] Christ heareth thee: rise up and make thy couch.' And so it was straightway: power to help himself as well as to rise up. The power of God was exercised in this serious case of one palsied for eight years through the true but rejected Christ. Jehovah-Jesus was the healer of disease. It was but a testimony now. What He did on a small scale during this present evil age is only a sample of the world or age to come. Then He will prove Himself the Forgiver of all Israel's iniquities and the Healer of all their diseases, according to Psalm 103:3, when His kingdom rules over all.
Meanwhile the word of God acts; the gospel is blessed, for 'all who inhabited Lydda and the Sharon saw him, who also turned to the Lord.' Their souls were impressed, so that they gave heed to the truth and turned to the Lord. It was a real work of the Spirit of God, and not simple astonishment at a miracle. But it had also the peculiarity of being very extensive and all-embracing. Whole communities were brought in. Nor was it only that they professed, or were baptised: of this the Holy Spirit says nothing. All in those parts saw the paralyzed man who was on the spot healed in the name of Jesus; and they turned to the Lord. Some who seem disposed to doubt the work of grace in 'households', and anxious to reduce it to a merely intellectual recognition of the Lord, if even so much as this, might profitably consider the great work done at Lydda, consequent on the healing of Æneas. The language here is wholly inconsistent with a sponsorial profession, it was a wide but real action of divine grace, the external sign, which no doubt followed as a conferred privilege, being not even named.
It may be added that KÂ?hnÂ?l has as utterly failed in the grammar as in the exegesis, when he would have this last passage to mean merely that all the Christians (i.e., all those who had turned to the Lord) saw Æneas restored to health. For though the aorist may occasionally bear or require a pluperfect force in English, in the sentence before us such a rendering is not only uncalled for but destroys the power and dignity of the narrative; whereas the ordinary meaning in the simplest way maintains all that could be desired, crowning the miracle wrought, with a worthy and blessed spiritual result, instead of a close so frigid and feeble as to sink below not scripture only but any writing whatever. Grammatically too the indefinite relative is just the word proper to introduce the statement of a moral nature or character.
But it may interest some to know that Lydda in the New Testament is no other than the Lod of 1 Chronicles 8:12; Ezra 2:33; Nehemiah 7:37, Nehemiah 11:35, called Ludd or Lidi to this day, scarcely so 'miserable a village' as Messrs. Webster and Wilkinson think, if we are to credit the popular report of Dr. Thomson, who represents it as a flourishing community of some two thousand persons, evidently thriving and industrious, 'embosomed in noble orchards of olive, fig, pomegranate, mulberry, sycamore and other trees, and surrounded every way by a very fertile neighbourhood.' Ono, Hadid, and Neballat, of old associated with Lod, have still their representatives distinctly enough under their modern disguise.
Further, though Calvin lays it down confidently that the Sharon (or Assaron,1 as he calls it) was a city hard by, and slights Jerome's thought that thereby is meant the plain lying between Caesarea and Joppa, there is no good reason to doubt that the early translator is right, not the reformer. And the minute accuracy of the Greek text affords a striking evidence to the reader in the article prefixed to 'Sharon', not to Lydda. So invariably is it in the Hebrew, where the same district is referred to (1 Chronicles 27:29; Song of Solomon 2:1, Isaiah 33:9, Isaiah 35:2, Isaiah 65:10), whereas the article is dropped where the same name is applied to a different locality on the other side of Jordan and not improbably a town of the Gadites. 'The Sharon' lay north of another district, 'the Sephelah', which in our Version has fared worse than 'the Sharon' in having been quite stripped of its character as a proper name and reduced to 'the vale' and other vague terms.
l So HLP and many cursives, manuscripts which probably point to the Hebrew article. Cf. Joshua 12:18 (Lasharon). The Sinaitic indeed erroneously omits the article before the word, but it is added as a correction.
Here then it was that the energy of the Spirit was pleased to win glory to the Lord Jesus and to bless souls by Peter at the very time when sovereign grace was preparing another and yet more favoured servant of Christ, not only to proclaim the gospel in the whole creation, but to complete the word of God, the mystery that had been hid from ages and from generations. Yet another and greater exertion of divine power was soon to follow, and a more distinct testimony of grace to the Gentiles through Peter himself, as we shall see in the immediate sequel, and according to a wisdom that never failed. But one may not anticipate more at this time. Grace would ere long work more profoundly as well as indiscriminately; the heavenly side of the gospel must shine out more distinctly and suitably to Him Who sits the glorified Man, at the right hand of God. But it was from no lack of zealous testimony on Peter's part; nor was it that power from above failed in his ministry to put honour on the name of Jesus, or to shed blessing on the souls that believed. But all the divine counsels must be duly revealed as well as accomplished in their season; and God has His fitting ways no less than His counsels. And we do well to take heed to His word which reveals all this and more, that we may be completely furnished to every good work.
Another circumstance of like kind at a different place gave occasion for the power of God to display itself by Peter still more wonderfully.
'Now, in Joppa there was a certain disciple named Tabitha, which, being interpreted is called Dorcas (Gazelle). She was full of good works and alms-deeds which she did. And it came to pass in those days that she fell sick and died: and, having washed, they laid her in an upper1 room. And as Lydda was near to Joppa, the disciples hearing that Peter was there sent two men unto him, beseeching, Delay2 not to come on to us. And Peter rose up and went with them, whom, on his arrival, they brought up into the upper room; and all the widows stood by him weeping and showing the coats and cloaks which Dorcas used to make while she was with them. But Peter, putting them all forth and kneeling down, prayed, and, turning unto the body, he said, Tabitha, arise. And she opened her eyes, and seeing Peter, she sat up. And, giving her a hand, he raised her up, and calling the saints and the widows, he presented her alive. And it became known throughout the whole of Joppa, and many believed on the Lord; and it came to pass that he remained many days in Joppa with one Simon a tanner' (vers. 36-43).
1 Lachmann, following ACE (and many cursives), reads 'the', but the best and most ancient copies confirm the common reading with all other editors.
2 The ancient copies give the entreaty more graphically than the Text. Rec.
Will it be believed that a professed and not unlearned translator of the New Testament dared thus to render the opening verse: 'Moreover, there was among the disciples at Joppa a woman named Tabitha, who was always doing good works and giving alms'? I cite from Gilbert Wakefield's second edition ii. 27, though I cannot say (not having its predecessor) whether this is one of its alleged 'improvements' or a mere reproduction of the first. It is the note (on page 375) which is so offensive: - 'I have left out the impertinent explanation in this verse, because, even if no interpolation it must be either ridiculous or unintelligible in a translation.' It is the more shameless from one who allows himself no such audacity in his rendering (as among many like passages) of John 1:38; Joh 1:41-42, with all three of which he deals fairly. Now what is the fact in our case? It is the true Aramaic form of that time and country; so Gamaliel's maid was called; and Josephus (B.J. iv. iii. 5) gives as Luke does the same corresponding Greek name to the mother of a certain truculent John, as the English reader can see in Dr. Traill's Tr. ii. 64. The Hebrew word that answers to it means 'beauty'; but it is commonly used of a 'gazelle', 'hart', or 'roe', as in Deut.; 2 Sam.; Song of Solomon. So in our own tongue men and women are called Buck, Doe, Roe, Stag, and the like. In Lucret. iv. 1154 it occurs as a term of endearment. Where is the 'impertinence' of such an explanation? Only in the empty, presumptuous, and profane mind of Mr. Wakefield. I take the trouble of refuting it, as a caution to the misinformed not to be imposed on by the unconscious impiety of such as believe not the inspired character of Holy Writ. Whenever they assail that word, it would be easy to expose their self-sufficient folly.
Tabitha, or Dorcas, then, is described as a disciple at Joppa, who was a doer of the word and not a hearer only; for her pure and undefiled service before her God and Father was to remember the widows in their affliction, keeping herself unspotted from the world. $he was as full of good works and alms-deeds as of faith. In those days then she sickened and died. Now if washed in the usual way, she was laid in an upper room, a suitable place to await the arrival of the apostle. For it seems not obscurely implied that the disciples looked for more than consolation in sending messengers for the apostle just at that moment and admitting of no delay;1 as he on his part promptly met their entreaty. As usual the scene is livingly before us, though it is with Peter for the central figure, not Paul of whom Luke was the cherished companion. But what mattered this or that if the Spirit inspired him to give us the truth to Christ's praise? He certainly had it all before Him as it was, though Luke was not there: and no jealousy for his leader tarnished one word of Luke's narrative. There they were in the upper chamber, and all the widows stood by Peter, not in tears only but displaying the work of Dorcas' loving hands, the clothes inner and outer which she used to make while she was with them.
1 The marginal reading (ver. 38) of the Authorized Version ('be grieved') is in no way suitable as a rendering here, though habitually used in classical authors for the hesitation of shame, pity, or alarm. They were led to retain it in the margin through their respect for Tyndale, followed by Cranmer. The Geneva V. discarded it rightly. The Rhemites give 'Be not loth', though Wiclif had translated correctly, as they adhered servilely to the Vulgate. Numbers 22:16; Jdg 18:9 are unquestionable precedents in the LXX., and so Josephus, Ant. ii. 7.
But Peter had not come for condolence only or chiefly, but for the glory of God that Jesus the Son of God might be glorified in her who was gone. So, putting them all out and kneeling down, he prayed. He sought not to display the great work about to be done; he sought the Lord only, and with that grave reverence which became one who walked in presence of the Unseen Who alone could avail. Here again how vividly graphic is the recital! yet no eye of man was on Peter and the body of the disciple. He Who wrought in power through one servant has told us it through another. Some of old in east and west and south have ventured to add 'In the name of [our Lord] Jesus Christ'.2 If they meant honour, they were guilty of a heinous wrong. 'Add thou not unto His words.' The inspiring Spirit has given us the truth perfectly. Enough to know that Peter knelt down and prayed, and turning to the body, said, Tabitha, arise. Spoil not the word of God, O man, unworthy of the name of a believer, unworthy of the task of a translator, or of an expositor, by thy unhallowed glosses. His prayer proved to Whom He looked and on Whom He leaned; but we may not take from His words in Acts 3:6, nor add to them in Acts 9:40, nor assimilate either one or other to Acts 9:34. Let us be assured that each is as God wrote it, and therefore as each should be: our place is to receive humbly, believe confidingly, and enjoy to the uttermost.
2 So in the Thebaic, Armenian, Philox. Syriac; Cyprian, et al.
The power of the Lord was there, according to His servant's prayer, not to heal as before, but to raise the dead. 'And she opened her eyes; and seeing Peter, sat up. And, giving her a hand, he raised her up; and calling the saints [who had the deepest and least interested feeling] and the widows, he presented her alive. And it became known throughout the whole of Joppa.'
Yet it is to be remarked that the moral or spiritual effect is not to be measured by the comparative character or measure of the power displayed. When the paralysed Æneas was healed, all who inhabited Lydda turned to the Lord, when the far greater wonder was wrought of raising up the deceased Dorcas in Joppa, no such wide or large effect followed, but 'many believed on the Lord'; a blessed result for these souls, and to His glory assuredly, but, as far as we may gather from scripture, by no means so comprehensive now as then. After all it is the word which is the true and right means of conversion to Him, whatever may be the means used to draw attention to His word. For His grace is sovereign, and refuses the plausible reasoning of men.
There is another word which the Spirit adds at the close, and not without its importance: 'And it came to pass that he remained many days in Joppa with one Simon a tanner.' The veil drops over the recollections of Dorcas if she had any about her recent experience, as in the case of Lazarus and all others raised from the dead. But of the great apostle of the circumcision, through whom pseudo-apostles claimed succession over the uncircumcision! as well as a monarch's patrimony, we are told that he stayed a good many days in Joppa at the house of a certain tanner who bore his own name of Simon. Has this no voice to those who easily believe that they too stand 'first' in the church of God in our day? No true apostle according to scripture ever possessed, ever sought, wealth or rank in virtue of his office. Alas! it is not only power that is departed, but, what is far more serious, the spirit of obedience and the simplicity of faith, which last invests the least thing on earth, that Christ gives or sanctions, with the halo of heaven.
But there is also consistency with Christ to be maintained; and Christ was crucified on earth no less than glorified in heaven. Is the portion we seek, cherish, and defend, in real harmony? It is here and now we are put to the test. Are we allowing the corruption of Christendom to sully our faith or degrade our practice? Do we value, look for, or accept present earthly honour as the fruit of gospel service, and of position in the church? If it be so, let us learn from God's word that this is not fellowship with Christ's sufferings, nor are we in this respect at least in the communion of His apostles. Are we doing well in God's sight if we take conformity to the world so quietly? Christ deserves a better return at our hands. How sad that fidelity to Christ and the cross in our walk of every day should be counted a 'peculiar view'! 'Already are ye filled, already ye became rich, ye reigned without us: yea, and I would that ye did reign, that we also might reign with you. For, I think, God set forth us the apostles last, as men doomed to death: for we are made a spectacle to the world and angels and men. We are fools for Christ but ye wise in Christ; we weak but ye strong, ye glorious but we without honour' (1 Corinthians 4:8-10).
And desired of him letters to Damascus to the synagogues, that if he found any of this way, whether they were men or women, he might bring them bound unto Jerusalem.
And as he journeyed, he came near Damascus: and suddenly there shined round about him a light from heaven:
And he fell to the earth, and heard a voice saying unto him, Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me?
And he said, Who art thou, Lord? And the Lord said, I am Jesus whom thou persecutest: it is hard for thee to kick against the pricks.
And he trembling and astonished said, Lord, what wilt thou have me to do? And the Lord said unto him, Arise, and go into the city, and it shall be told thee what thou must do.
And the men which journeyed with him stood speechless, hearing a voice, but seeing no man.
And Saul arose from the earth; and when his eyes were opened, he saw no man: but they led him by the hand, and brought him into Damascus.
And he was three days without sight, and neither did eat nor drink.
And there was a certain disciple at Damascus, named Ananias; and to him said the Lord in a vision, Ananias. And he said, Behold, I am here, Lord.
And the Lord said unto him, Arise, and go into the street which is called Straight, and inquire in the house of Judas for one called Saul, of Tarsus: for, behold, he prayeth,
And hath seen in a vision a man named Ananias coming in, and putting his hand on him, that he might receive his sight.
Then Ananias answered, Lord, I have heard by many of this man, how much evil he hath done to thy saints at Jerusalem:
And here he hath authority from the chief priests to bind all that call on thy name.
But the Lord said unto him, Go thy way: for he is a chosen vessel unto me, to bear my name before the Gentiles, and kings, and the children of Israel:
For I will shew him how great things he must suffer for my name's sake.
And Ananias went his way, and entered into the house; and putting his hands on him said, Brother Saul, the Lord, even Jesus, that appeared unto thee in the way as thou camest, hath sent me, that thou mightest receive thy sight, and be filled with the Holy Ghost.
And immediately there fell from his eyes as it had been scales: and he received sight forthwith, and arose, and was baptized.
And when he had received meat, he was strengthened. Then was Saul certain days with the disciples which were at Damascus.
And straightway he preached Christ in the synagogues, that he is the Son of God.
But all that heard him were amazed, and said; Is not this he that destroyed them which called on this name in Jerusalem, and came hither for that intent, that he might bring them bound unto the chief priests?
But Saul increased the more in strength, and confounded the Jews which dwelt at Damascus, proving that this is very Christ.
And after that many days were fulfilled, the Jews took counsel to kill him:
But their laying await was known of Saul. And they watched the gates day and night to kill him.
Then the disciples took him by night, and let him down by the wall in a basket.
And when Saul was come to Jerusalem, he assayed to join himself to the disciples: but they were all afraid of him, and believed not that he was a disciple.
But Barnabas took him, and brought him to the apostles, and declared unto them how he had seen the Lord in the way, and that he had spoken to him, and how he had preached boldly at Damascus in the name of Jesus.
And he was with them coming in and going out at Jerusalem.
And he spake boldly in the name of the Lord Jesus, and disputed against the Grecians: but they went about to slay him.
Which when the brethren knew, they brought him down to Caesarea, and sent him forth to Tarsus.
Then had the churches rest throughout all Judaea and Galilee and Samaria, and were edified; and walking in the fear of the Lord, and in the comfort of the Holy Ghost, were multiplied.
And it came to pass, as Peter passed throughout all quarters, he came down also to the saints which dwelt at Lydda.
And there he found a certain man named AEneas, which had kept his bed eight years, and was sick of the palsy.
And Peter said unto him, AEneas, Jesus Christ maketh thee whole: arise, and make thy bed. And he arose immediately.
And all that dwelt at Lydda and Saron saw him, and turned to the Lord.
Now there was at Joppa a certain disciple named Tabitha, which by interpretation is called Dorcas: this woman was full of good works and almsdeeds which she did.
And it came to pass in those days, that she was sick, and died: whom when they had washed, they laid her in an upper chamber.
And forasmuch as Lydda was nigh to Joppa, and the disciples had heard that Peter was there, they sent unto him two men, desiring him that he would not delay to come to them.
Then Peter arose and went with them. When he was come, they brought him into the upper chamber: and all the widows stood by him weeping, and shewing the coats and garments which Dorcas made, while she was with them.
But Peter put them all forth, and kneeled down, and prayed; and turning him to the body said, Tabitha, arise. And she opened her eyes: and when she saw Peter, she sat up.
And he gave her his hand, and lifted her up, and when he had called the saints and widows, presented her alive.
And it was known throughout all Joppa; and many believed in the Lord.
And it came to pass, that he tarried many days in Joppa with one Simon a tanner.