The People's Bible by Joseph Parker
And Saul, yet breathing out threatenings and slaughter against the disciples of the Lord, went unto the high priest,Chapter 25
Almighty God, let our hunger be a cry unto heaven. We would hunger and thirst after righteousness, for in so doing we shall be blest with thine own fulness. Thou dost give unto all men liberally, and in thy voice there is no upbraiding tone. Giant unto us now, in the name of Jesus Christ, our Saviour and our Intercessor, grace upon grace. We would have fulness of blessing, yea, we would be filled with all the fulness of God. Our heart's desire is that we may be lifted up from the dust into the clear light which shines in the upper places of thy kingdom. We are tired of the earth. We feel that we are greater than our prison. We would break the bars and flee away to the place where the morning rises, and where the mid-day shines in full glory. This impatience comes of the ministry of thy grace. Once we were contented with the dust; once we needed but one little world; once we had no eyes but those of the body, and then we were satisfied with mean things. But we are new creatures in Christ Jesus; yea, we have been with Jesus, and have learned of him. We remember what he said about our Father's house, and the angels, and the sunlight hereafter, in which we are to conduct our study and our services. We have entered into a glorious liberty. It is not merely liberty enough, it is freedom upon freedom, world upon world, yea, an infinite inheritance of liberty. Whilst we are here, may we do thy will with all simplicity, obedience, and joyfulness of heart. May we take nothing away from thy law, nor impair in any degree thy righteousness. May we rather seek to do our utmost to make our calling and election sure. Enable us to bear the petty troubles of the day, and to take them as having some good meaning, if we could but find it. May we know our own divinity as sons of God through the Cross of Christ, and not allow ourselves to be fretted and chafed into spiritual meanness by the trifles of a moment. In thy Son, our Saviour, give us such a hold of other worlds as shall enable us to use the present without abusing it. In the night time, and in the hour of darkness, show us some of the other worlds in vision. Even in the quietness and silence of the night, come into our imagination and reveal what our senses are unable to comprehend. In the silence speak to us as thou only canst whisper to the heart. Recall our best days; the altar where our noblest prayers were uttered do thou ever set before our eyes. Gather together all our vows and oaths, and promises of better life, and enable us to repeat them, every one, by the grace of Christ, and in his strength to renew our early devotion to his Kingdom. Pity us in all our weariness, and littleness, and want of perception, and remember that we were born yesterday, and that we are here but until to-morrow. Spare thine anger; loose not against us the bolts of thy wrath, but take us into thy great compassion and sustain us daily by thy tender mercy.
For all the little joys that come to us on the road we bless thee. For the sweet spring time and the summer flowers, and the singing birds, for all the little surprises of love that make the day glad; for friendly letters, and loving messages, and graspings of the hand that mean trust and grace; for all encouragements that make us more hopeful in the time of difficulty, we would bless thee and we would regard them as hints of thine own inspiration and daily benediction.
We remember our loved ones who are not here. The father and mother at home, near at hand, or far away. The traveller who has left us, but in his leaving has also given promise of return. For all who are in sorrow, trouble, and difficulty, we pray thy guidance and thy sanctifying blessing. May the dying die without knowing it, because of the fulness of the triumph of grace in their hearts. Strengthen us during the few little days we have yet to live, and so cause the light of Christ to fall upon us that we may see the true littleness of earth, and the magnitude of the heaven to which we are hastening. Thus may we live in the power of an endless life. And being rooted in Christ's eternity, we cannot die. Amen.
1. And Saul, yet breathing out threatenings and slaughter against the disciples of the Lord, went unto the high priest,
2. 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.
3. And as he journeyed, he came near Damascus: and suddenly there shined round about him a light from heaven:
4. And he fell to the earth, and heard a voice saying unto him, Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me?
5. 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.
6. 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.
7. And the men which journeyed with him stood speechless, hearing a voice, but seeing no man.
8. 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.
9. And he was three days without sight, and neither did eat nor drink.
10. 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.
11. And the Lord said unto him, Arise, and go into the street which is called Straight, and enquire in the house of Judas for one called Saul, of Tarsus: for, behold, he prayeth.
12. And hath seen in a vision a man named Ananias coming in, and putting his hand on him, that he might receive his sight.
13. Then Ananias answered, Lord, I have heard by many of this man, how much evil he hath done to thy saints at Jerusalem:
14. And here he hath authority from the chief priests to bind all that call on thy name.
15. 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:
16. For I will shew him how great things he must suffer for my name's sake.
17. 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.
18. And immediately there fell from his eyes as it had been scales; and he received sight forthwith, and arose, and was baptized.
19. And when he had received meat, he was strengthened. Then was Saul certain days with the disciples which were at Damascus.
20. And straightway he preached Christ in the synagogues, that he is the Son of God.
21. 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?
22. But Saul increased the more in strength, and confounded the Jews which dwelt at Damascus, proving that this is very Christ.
The following exposition of Acts 9:1-22 is reprinted from The Cambridge Bible for Schools, and is here given as one of the clearest and most condensed with which I am acquainted:—
1. And [But] Saul, yet breathing out threatenings [threatening]. It is better to translate the conjunction adversatively here, as the new subject is not connected except with the first sentence of chap. viii. The verb in this clause should be rendered "breathing," not "breathing out." Threatening and slaughter was, as it were, the atmosphere in which Saul was living.
and slaughter against the disciples of the Lord]. We are not told of any other death, but Stephen's, in which Saul was a participator, but we can gather from his own words (Acts 26:10) "when they were put to death, I gave my voice [vote] against them," that the protomartyr was not the only one who was killed in the time of this persecution. It has been suggested that the zeal which Saul shewed at the time of Stephen's death led to his election into the Sanhedrin, and so he took a judicial part in the later stages of the persecution, and, it may be, from a desire to justify the choice of those who had placed him in authority, he sought to be appointed over the enquiry after the Christians in Damascus. We gather from Acts 26:10, that before this inquisitorial journey he had been armed with the authority of the chief priests in his search after the Christians in Jerusalem.
went unto the high priest] who would most likely be the authority through whom the power, which the Great Sanhedrin claimed to exercise, in religious matters, over Jews in foreign cities, would be put in motion.
2. and desired of him letters] These are the papers which constituted his "authority and commission" (Acts 26:12). From that passage we learn that the issuing of these papers was the act of the whole body, for Paul there says they were "from the chief priests."
to Damascus] Of the history of this most ancient (Genesis 14:15) city in the world, see the Dictionary of the Bible. It had from the earliest period been mixed up with the history of the Jews, and great numbers of Jews were living there at this time, as we can see from the subsequent notices of their conduct in this chapter. We are told by Josephus (B. J. 11. 20. 2) that ten thousand Jews were slaughtered in a massacre in Damascus in Nero's time, and that the wives of the Damascenes were almost all of them addicted to the Jewish religion.
to the synagogues] As at Jerusalem, so in Damascus the synagogues were numerous, and occupied by different classes and nationalities. Greek-Jews were sure to be found in so large a city.
that if he found any of this way] Better, "any that were of the Way." The name "the Way" soon became a distinctive appellation of the Christian religion. The fuller expression "the way of truth" is found 2Peter 2:2; and the brief term is common in the Acts. See Acts 19:9, Acts 19:23, Acts 22:4, Acts 24:14, Acts 24:22.
whether... men or women] We can mark the fury with which Saul raged against the Christians from this mention of the "women" as included among those whom he committed or desired to commit to prison. Cp. Acts 8:3 and Acts 22:4. The women played a more conspicuous part among the early Christians than they were allowed to do among the Jews. See note on Acts 1:14.
he might bring them bound unto Jerusalem] That the whole authority of the Great Sanhedrin might be employed for the extinction of the new teaching.
3. And as he journeyed] There were two roads by which Saul could make his journey, one the caravan road which led from Egypt to Damascus, and kept near the coast line of the Holy Land till it struck eastward to cross the Jordan at the north of the Lake of Tiberias. To join this road Saul must have at first turned westward to the sea. The other way Led through Neapolis and crossed the Jordan south of the Sea of Tiberias, and passing through Gadara went north-eastward to Damascus. We have no means whereby to decide by which road Saul and his companions took their way. The caravan road was a distance of one hundred and thirty-six miles, and occupied six days for the journey.
he came near Damascus] The original is more full. Read, "it came to pass that he drew nigh unto Damascus." The party must have reached the near neighbourhood of the city, for his companions (Acts 9:8) "led him by the hand and brought him into Damascus" after the vision.
and suddenly there shined round about him a light from heaven] In Acts 22:6 we are told that the time of day was "about noon" when the vision was seen, and in Acts 26:13, Paul says that at "mid-day" the light was "above the brightness of the sun." The mid-day glare of an Eastern sun is of itself exceedingly bright, and the hour was chosen, we cannot doubt, in order that "the glory" of this heaven-sent light should not be confounded with any natural phenomenon. It was in the midst of this glory that Christ was seen by Saul (1Corinthians 15:8), so that he can enumerate himself among those who had beheld the Lord after His resurrection.
4. And he fell to the earth] Dazzled by the intense brightness. From Acts 26:14 we find that not only Saul but his companions were struck down by the light, though there was more in the vision which he beheld than was made evident to them, and by reason of the greater glory which was manifested to him, his natural sight was blinded.
and heard a voice] We cannot represent in English the different case of the noun in this verse, and in 7. The Greek puts here the accusative case and there the genitive, and thus indicates that there was a difference in the nature of the hearing of Saul and of his companions. And Paul in Acts 22:9 marks the distinction in his own narration, for he says "They heard not the voice (accusative) of him that spake to me." As this difference is made both in St. Luke's first account, and in the speech of St. Paul at Jerusalem, it seems reasonable to accept the explanation which has long ago been given of this grammatical variation, and to understand that Saul heard an articulate sound, a voice which spake to him, while his companions were only conscious of a sound from which they comprehended nothing. St. Paul then is precise when he says "they heard not the voice" which I heard, and St. Luke is correct when in Acts 22:7 he says "they heard a sound."
saying unto him, Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me?] It is very noteworthy that in all the three accounts of the vision the Greek text of Saul's name is a transliteration of the Hebrew, shewing that we have here a very close adherence to the words of Jesus. The Lord spake in the language of his people, and both the Evangelist and the Apostle have preserved for us this remarkable feature of the heavenly address. The only other place where the Hebrew form of Saul's name is retained is in the speech of Ananias when (ix. 17) he comes to see the convert in his blindness. As he also had received a communication from Jesus in connection with Saul's conversion, we can understand how the same form of the name would have been given to him. Moreover he was himself, to judge from his name, a Hebrew, and therefore that form would be most natural on his lips. Except in these cases St. Luke always employs the Greek form of the word.
5. And he said, Who art thou, Lord?] Saul is sensible of the Divine nature of the vision, and shews this by his address. The appearance of Christ, though in a glorified body, must have been like that which he wore in his humanity, and since Saul does not recognize Jesus, we may almost certainly conclude that he had not known him during his ministerial life.
And the Lord said] The best texts have only "And he," the verb "said" being understood.
I am Jesus whom thou persecutest] In Acts 22:8 St. Paul gives the fuller form of the sentence, "I am Jesus of Nazareth." By using this name, the being whose Divine nature Saul has already acknowledged by calling him "Lord," at once and for ever puts an end to Saul's persecuting rage, for he is made to see, what his master Gamaliel had before suggested (Acts 9:39), that to persecute Jesus was to "fight against God."
it is hard for thee to kick against the pricks. 6. And he trembling and astonished said, Lord, what wilt thou have me to do? And the Lord said unto him] These words have been inserted here in some MSS. for the sake of making in this place a complete narrative by the combination and adaptation of the additional particulars given in Acts 26:14 and Acts 22:10. It is easy to understand the desire which prompted such a combination. The best MSS. omit the words here, giving them where they more naturally find place, in the personal narratives of St. Paul himself.
6. Arise] The MSS. which omit the above words insert a conjunction here. Read, But arise. Saul had continued prostrate as he had fallen down at the first.
and go into the city] A proof that the party of travellers had arrived very nearly at Damascus. Tradition here, as in many other instances, has fixed on a spot as the scene of this Divine vision. It is placed outside the eastern gate, and about a mile from the city. Such a situation answers very well, but its fitness is the only ground for attaching any weight to the tradition.
and it shall be told thee what thou must do] In Acts 26:16-18 we have an abstract given by the Apostle of the labours for which Christ designed him, and the words in that passage are placed as a portion of the Divine communication made before Saul entered Damascus, but as in that narrative no mention is made of Ananias or his visit, we may conclude that we have instead a brief notice of the message which Ananias brought to him, and that therein is contained a declaration of what Jesus in the vision only spoke of as "what thou must do."
7. And the men which journeyed with him stood speechless] Cp. Daniel 10:7, "I Daniel alone saw the vision, for the men that were with me saw not the vision, but a great quaking fell upon them."
Saul was not only furnished with authority, but also with men who were to carry out his intentions and bring the prisoners to Jerusalem. Painters have represented the travellers as riding on horseback, but there is no warrant for this in any form of the narrative.
stood here means "remained fixed," "did not move." They had been stricken down as well as Saul (Acts 26:14).
hearing a [the] voice] On the variation of case here, and the probable difference of meaning, see note on Daniel 10:4.
but seeing [beholding] no man] The verb is the same that is used by Stephen (Acts 7:56). "Behold, I see the heavens opened." In their astonishment, and guided by the sound, Saul's companions lifted up their faces to the sky, but as with the words so with the appearance of Jesus; it was unseen by all but one, but to him was manifest enough to form a ground of his confidence in his Apostolic mission: "Have I not seen Jesus Christ our Lord?" (1Corinthians 11:1.)
8. and [but] when his eyes where opened, he saw no man [nothing] The vision had struck him blind. He opened his eyes, but their power had been taken away. Thus his physical condition becomes a fit representation of the mental blindness which he afterwards (Acts 26:9) deplores: "I verily thought with myself that I ought to do many things contrary to the name of Jesus of Nazareth."
but [and] they led him by the hand] His companions saw all things as before, and were able to guide him who had started forth as the leader in their mission of persecution.
9. And he was three days without sight] During this time we cannot but think the illumination of his mind was being perfected by the Spirit. He had been convinced by the vision that Jesus was risen from the dead and ascended into heaven. But more than this was needed for the preparation of this mighty missionary. He himself (Galatians 1:16) speaks of God revealing His Son not only to but in him, and that his conferences were not with flesh and blood, and we are told below (Acts 9:12) that the coming of Ananias had been made known unto him by vision. To this solemn time of darkness may also perhaps be referred those "visions and revelations of the Lord" which the Apostle speaks of to the Corinthians (2Corinthians 12:1-4). While his bodily powers were for a time in suspense, he may fitly describe himself as not knowing whether what he saw was revealed to him "in the body or out of the body," and it was the spiritual vision only which saw the third heaven and paradise, and the spirit heard those "unspeakable words which it is not lawful for a man to utter."
and neither did eat nor drink] The mental anguish for a time overpowered the natural craving for food. The newly called Apostle was contemplating in all its enormity his sin in persecuting the Church of Christ, and though there were times of comfort and refreshing before Ananias came, yet the great thought which filled Saul's mind would be sorrow for his late mad and misdirected zeal, and so the three days of blindness formed a period of deep penitence.
10-22. Saul's sight restored. He preaches in Damascus.
10. And [Now] there was a certain disciple at Damascus named Ananias] Of this disciple we have no further mention in Holy Writ except in chap. Acts 22:12, where St. Paul describes him as "a devout man according to the Law, having a good report of all the Jews which dwelt" at Damascus. Whether he had become a Christian during the life of Jesus or was among the Jewish converts on the day of Pentecost or at some subsequent time, and had been forced to flee from Jerusalem by the persecution which followed on the death of Stephen, we are not told, but we can gather, from the words which he employs in expressing his reluctance to visit Saul, that he had much and trustworthy communication still with the Holy City, for he knows both of the havoc which the persecutor has caused, and of the purpose of his mission to Damascus. On the name Ananias see Acts 22:1, note.
and to him said the Lord in a vision] As Saul had been prepared for the visit by a vision, so Ananias is by a vision instructed to go to him. Dean Howson's remarks (Life and Epistles of St. Paul, 1. 101) on this preparation and its similarity to the preparation of Peter and Cornelius deserve to be dwelt on. "The simultaneous preparation of the hearts of Ananias and Saul, and the simultaneous preparation of those of Peter and Cornelius—the questioning and hesitation of Peter and the questioning and hesitation of Ananias—the one doubting whether he might make friendship with the Gentiles, the other doubting whether he might approach the enemy of the Church—the unhesitating obedience of each when the Divine will was made clearly known—the state of mind in which both the Pharisee and the Centurion were found—each waiting to see what the Lord would say unto them—this close analogy will not be forgotten by those who reverently read the two consecutive chapters, in which the baptism of Saul and the baptism of Cornelius are narrated in the Acts of the Apostles." When so much criticism has been expended to shew that the Acts is a work of fiction written at a late period to minimize certain differences supposed to exist between the teaching of St. Paul and that of St. Peter, it is well to know that others have seen, in these undoubted analogies proofs of the working of a God who is ever the same, and who would have all men to be saved through Jesus Christ.
11. into the street which is called Straight] A long straight street still runs through Damascus, and is probably (so persistent is every feature of Oriental life) the same in which Ananias found Saul in the house of Judas.
12. and hath seen in a vision] The oldest MSS. omit "in a vision." It could only have been in this wise that Saul had been informed, and the words are merely a gloss.
13. I have heard by [from] many, etc.] These words seem to point to a longer residence of Ananias in Damascus than he could have made if he had only left Jerusalem after the death of Stephen; and so do the words (xxii. 12) which speak of his good report among all the Jews that dwelt at Damascus.
how much evil he hath done to thy saints, etc.] The Christian converts were probably called "saints," i.e., "holy persons," at a very early period after the death of Christ because of the marvellous outpourings of the Holy Spirit upon the first converts, cp. 1Peter 1:15. The word is of frequent occurrence in the greetings of St. Paul's Epistles.
14. all that call on thy name] To call on Christ is the same as to be a believer in Him. The expression is used as an apposition to "saints" in 1Corinthians 1:2, and thence we see what in the Pauline language was meant by the word "saints."
15. he is a chosen vessel unto me] Literally, "a vessel of election." This is a Hebrew form of expression, cp. Jeremiah 22:28, where King Coniah is called "a vessel wherein is no pleasure." So Jeremiah 51:34, "He hath made me [to be] an empty vessel," literally, "vessel of emptiness."
to bear my name] i.e., this shall be the load or duty which I will lay upon this my chosen instrument.
before the Gentiles] This was doubtless a revelation to Ananias, who as a devout Jew would not yet have contemplated the inclusion of the whole world in the Church of Christ. The Gentiles are placed first in the enumeration, because among them specially was Saul's field of labour to be. For the wide spirit in which the Apostle embraced his commission, see Romans 1:13-14, etc.
16. for I will shew him how great [many] things he must suffer] Cp. Paul's own words (Acts 20:23), "The Holy Ghost witnesseth in every city, saying that bonds and afflictions abide me." The truth of this is borne out by that long list of the Apostle's sufferings which he enumerates in his letter to the Corinthians (2Corinthians 11:23-28) and the less detailed list in the same Epistle (2Corinthians 6:4-5).
17. Brother Saul] The Hebrew form of the name, see Romans 1:4, note.
the Lord, even Jesus] Combining the name "Lord" used by Saul when the vision appeared, with that "Jesus" which Christ, speaking from His glory, uttered in answer to Saul's enquiry, Who art thou?
that appeared unto thee in the way] Thus was brought to Saul after his three days' blindness a confirmation from without of the reality of what he had seen on the road as he came. The words at the same time gave an earnest that here was the teacher who would explain to him what he was to do.
and be filled with the Holy Ghost] On this occasion the Holy Ghost was bestowed without the laying on of the hands of one of the twelve.
18. And immediately there fell from his eyes as it had been scales] The word rendered "scales" is used as a technical term for a disease of the eye by Hippocrates, and the verb derived from it is found (Tobit 11:13) used of the cure of a disease of similar character. "And the whiteness pilled away from the corners of his eyes." This "whiteness" is rendered in the margin (Tobit 2:10) "white films," and was clearly something like the "scales" which caused Saul's blindness, and a process for the cure thereof is called (Acts 3:17) "to scale away the whiteness of Tobit's eyes." St. Paul (Acts 22:11) ascribes his blindness to the glory of the heavenly light, and it may have been some secretion, caused by the intensity of that vision, which formed over them, and at his cure fell away. Some have thought that his constant employment of an amanuensis, and the mention of the large characters in which he wrote in his Epistle to the Galatians (Galatians 6:11), "Ye see in what large letters I have written to you," are indications that the Apostle suffered permanently in his eyesight from the heavenly vision.
and he received [recovered, and so in 17] sight forthwith] The oldest MSS. omit the last word.
and arose, and was baptized] In the fuller account (Acts 22:16) we learn that the exhortation to be baptized was part of the message with which Ananias was charged, and so was divinely commissioned to receive Saul thus into the Christian Church.
19. and when he had received [taken] meat, etc.] Needed after his three days' fast, but (says Calvin) "he refreshed not his body with meat until his soul had received strength."
Then was Saul certain days with the disciples which were at Damascus] The word Saul is not found in the oldest MSS. Read "And he was, etc." The expression rendered "certain days" is the same which in Acts 10:48, Acts 15:36, Acts 16:12, Acts 24:24, and Acts 25:13 is used by St. Luke, and in all cases the time indicated by them must have been brief. It was for this amount of time that Peter tarried with Cornelius, the words are applied to a short period spent by Paul and Barnabas at Antioch, to the time of St Paul's stay at Philippi, to the short time which Paul was detained at Cæsarea before his hearing by Felix, and to a like period between the arrival of Festus and the visit which Agrippa made to salute him as the new Governor. In most of these instances the time intended must have been very brief, and it is important to notice this here, because in Acts 25:23 we shall find another expression which is translated "many days" and seems designed by the writer to indicate a somewhat longer period. It is clear, from the way in which "disciples" are here mentioned, that there was a numerous body of Christians in Damascus at this early period. Saul dwelt with them now not as an enemy but as a brother, by which name Ananias had been directed to greet him.
20. And straightway he preached Christ [proclaimed Jesus] in the synagogues, that he is the Son of God] The best MSS. read Jesus in this verse, and this naturally is correct. The preaching which was to be to the Jews a stumblingblock was that Jesus of Nazareth was the Christ, their long-expected Messiah.
He went, as was Christ's custom also, into the synagogues as the most likely places where to find an audience who would listen to his proclamation. His letters to the synagogues (Acts 9:2) were not delivered, but he came as the herald of one of higher authority than the chief priests. For St. Paul's constant practice of teaching in the Jewish synagogues, see Acts 13:5, Acts 14:1. Acts 17:1, Acts 17:10, Acts 18:4, Acts 18:19, Acts 19:8.
21. But all that heard him were amazed] Saul's fame as a persecutor of Christians was well known to the Jews of Damascus, and the authorities of the synagogues may have been instructed beforehand to welcome him as a zealous agent. If so their amazement is easy to understand. It is clear from what follows in this verse that they knew of his mission and the intention thereof, though Saul did not bring them his "commission and authority." We should gather also from the strong expression "destroyed," used to describe Saul's career in Jerusalem, that the slaughter of the Christians there had not been limited to the stoning or Stephen.
22. But Saul increased the more in strength] i.e., he became more and more energetic in his labours and the Holy Ghost gave him more power. His fitness for the labour on which he was entering was very great. He possessed all the Jewish learning of a zealous pupil of Gamaliel, and now that he had seen Jesus in the glory of the Godhead, he could use his stores of learning for the support of the new teaching in such wise as to commend it to those Jews who were looking for the consolation of Israel. But these would naturally be the smallest portion of his hearers. The rest of the Jews were confounded. They heard their Scripture applied by a trained mind, and shewn to be applicable to the life of Jesus. They could not at this time make an attack on Saul, for they were paralyzed by what they heard, and it was only when some time had elapsed that they resolved to continue in their rejection of Jesus and then, at a later time, their persecution of Saul began.
proving that this is very [the] Christ]. The word here rendered "proving" is used again in Acts 16:10, and translated "assuredly gathering." The idea conveyed by it is that of putting things side by side, and so making a comparison and forming a conclusion. Thus Saul, well equipped with a knowledge of the ancient Scriptures, set before his hearers a description of the Messiah as he is there portrayed, and relating the life history of Jesus, shewed them that in him the Scriptures of the prophets had been fulfilled.
The Conversion of Saul
THE third verse of this chapter has in it a statement which is in subtle harmony with all the necessities of the case. The verse reads thus:—"And as he journeyed, he came near Damascus: and suddenly there shined round about him a light from heaven." We have heard opinions about what we term sudden conversions. Some persons do not believe in them. They have conceptions regarding conversion which are not confirmed in their truthfulness by any sudden or violent change of mind and action. But here is the very word that is objected to! It is an Old Testament word. Suddenness was approved by the Lord of the Jewish Church; for He, Himself taught this prophet to say, "The Lord shall suddenly come to His temple." Mark the harmony of that particular feature of the incident, with the great purpose which was wrought out by the grace of God. A slow, deliberate, intellectual transformation would have been a moral violence under circumstances so peculiar. There are times when quietness itself is out of place. There are occasions which require the thunder and the lightning and all the instruments of surprise which are within the resources of God. It is, therefore, quite in keeping with the keynote of the story when we find that Saul was suddenly struck. It is in such coincidences and harmonies that we find the broadest and clearest proofs of Biblical inspiration. What could be more harmonious in all its particulars and relations than the story of the conversion of the Ethiopian eunuch? A man quietly reading in his chariot and filled with religious wonder as to the meaning of the mysterious Word which challenged his attention, what more seemly and beautiful, than that a teacher should sit beside him and show the meaning of the sacred mysteries? That was beautiful, that was an instance of historical and moral proportion; but here is a man "yet breathing out threatenings and slaughter," a word implying continuous and unsuspended action, yea, blast upon blast of hottest fury—with such a man you cannot reason, God therefore suddenly strikes him to the ground. In that action is one of the subtlest proofs and illustrations of what is meant by the inspiration of the Bible. Not only in great broad features, but in proportion, in colour, in the arrangement of the parts, in the subtle and complete harmony of the whole, I find the presence of God. You need not direct my eye to constellations and astronomic wonders, for when I consider the lilies, and behold the fowls of the air, I see Divinity. Let us, therefore, admire this Providence of arrangement, and this inspiration of incident, as well as fall down in religious wonder before the stupendous conversion itself. Do not reprove the suddenness of the conversion until you understand all the circumstances. That very suddenness may itself be part of the occasion.
Now, look at the incident as showing Saul's relation to Judaism, or, in other words, Saul's relation to his past life. Does Jesus Christ condemn Judaism? Certainly not. He Himself was a Jew. "Salvation is of the Jews." Saul was not called upon to renounce any one thing he believed as erroneous. Let us carefully weigh that remark, for all that is most sacred in ancient history seems to find its consummation in its few syllables. Jesus Christ did not say, "Saul, you are religiously wrong, you are intellectually mistaken, you are following a wrong course of life which had bad beginnings." There is not a word of religious chiding in all the speech. The only thing that was being done was that Saul was hurting Himself. "Why kick against the pricks? Why thrust thyself upon the sharp goads, to thy wounding, and bleeding, and death?" The persecutor only hurts himself. The bad man digs a hell for himself alone. Jesus Christ did not condemn the personal attitude of Saul. Saul was an Old Testament man. The Old Testament is a book of stoning and scourging—"an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth." The unfilial son must be stoned, the heretic must be stoned, the blasphemer must be stoned. Saul was therefore keeping strictly within historic lines and constitutional proprieties, when he said in effect, "This novel heresy must be stamped out with force." Christianity does not condemn Judaism. If any one were to ask me, "What is the relation of Christianity to Judaism?" I would say, "You find that relation in the very form of the book which we call the Bible." What have we in the Bible? Judaism and Christianity, the Old Testament and the New. In the very form and make-up of the book itself I have the best answer to the question—"What does Christianity say about Judaism?" Christianity does not oppose Judaism, it supersedes it. Christianity takes up Judaism, realizes all its types and symbols and ceremonies. Judaism is the dawn, Christianity is the full noontide. Christianity is the purple autumn bringing to maturity and sweetness all the roots and fruits of the Judaism which it followed and consummated. There seems to be a good deal of mistake about this matter. The Jew is simply a man who has not come on to the next point in history. His beginning is right. Not a word have I to say against any solitary ceremony of Judaism, kept within proper time, and restrained within the relations appointed by God. Christianity continues, completes, and glorifies what Judaism began. But for Judaism there could have been no Christianity. We are debtors to the Jew, and the Jew is, in my opinion, historically and typically the greatest man that lives. The Gentiles never converted themselves. No heathen country ever originated its own Christianity. The Jew was sent to the Gentile. The most stubborn prejudices were turned into the most anxious sympathies, and this is the crowning miracle of the grace of Christ.
In the conversion of Saul we see the greatest triumph which Christianity has accomplished. This was the master-miracle. Who is this man? A Jew, of an ancient and honourable pedigree; a student, a scholar, a man of high and influential station. Shrewder than Iscariot, more ardent than Peter—a very volcano of a man. There lay within him capacity to do anything that mortals ever did. When his teeth once took hold, they could only be opened by an Almighty power. His hand once upon the prey, the prey was dead, unless the fingers be unloosed by Almightiness. Jesus Christ himself directly undertakes his conversion, and works thus his supreme spiritual miracle. When Saul was converted there was more than one man changed. There are those who say "count hands," as if one hand were equal to another. There is a conversion of quality as well as a conversion of quantity. Some conversions are to be weighed, and some are to be merely numbered. Statistics cannot help you in this matter. Let a Saul of Tarsus be converted, and you convert an army terrible with banners! He will not let the Church fall asleep. He will not let the world allow him to travel through all its plains and cities incog. Many of us will manage that little task. We can go through the house, the place of business, the market, and the exchange, and come out at the other end without anybody identifying us! Saul of Tarsus will presently show us how to go through the world. He will never pass without recognition, and no town will he be in without setting up his holy testimony.
The Lord uses a remarkable expression concerning this man in the eleventh verse, "Behold he prayeth." Had he not been praying all his lifetime? In a certain sense he certainly had been praying. Why then say now, "Behold he prayeth"? Old words acquire new meanings. Language is not a fixed quantity, and definition is something more than a technicality. Different words have different meanings in different men, and the same man attaches different meanings to words at different times of life. You were once rich upon a time which you would now count poverty. Once you were proud of a house which now you ignore. So whilst saying prayers, reciting prayerful terms punctilious in ritual, exemplary in all the outward observances of his Church, Saul had yet in a Christian sense never prayed. Prayer is a Christian acquisition. Prayer is a battering ram which only a Christian arm can work. When the Church prays, the Church wins. If you could pray—not merely say your prayers—your trouble would be forgotten in the glorious interview with heaven. Prayer is not an attitude, a mere decency, a posture of the body, or an exercise of the tongue, it is the supreme effort of the heart to throw, in friendly wrestling, the Almighty God. "Ye have not because ye ask not, or because ye ask amiss." You are yourself often not there when you pray, your soul is otherwhere. If you were present in the fulness, intensity, completeness, and determination of energy with Christ's Cross as the medium through which your prayers went up to heaven, you would arise from your knees more than conquerors.
Another remarkable expression we find in the sixteenth verse, "I will show him how great things he must suffer for my name's sake." Mark the harmony of this arrangement also. God knows what we are doing, and he pays to the uttermost. "Be not deceived, God is not mocked; whatsoever a man soweth that shall he also reap." Adonibezek said, "As I have done, so God hath requited me." Samuel said to Agag, "As thy sword hath made women childless, so shall thy mother be childless among women." Saul was in this succession. "He shall have judgment without mercy that showed no mercy." Saul was a student in that school of compensation. "Whoso shutteth his ears at the cry of the poor, he also shall cry himself, but shall not be heard." Be not deceived. Saul was now made to feel how exactly true these terms were. "Saul made havoc of the Church" (Acts 8:3). Next, "Having stoned Paul, they drew him out of the city, supposing him to be dead" (Acts 14:9). "Saul yet breathing out threaten ings and slaughter against the disciples of the Lord" (Acts 9:1). Turn now to the twenty-third chapter: "Certain of the Jews banded together, and bound themselves under a curse, saying that they would neither eat nor drink till they had killed Paul." "I will show him what great things he must suffer for my name's sake." I will test his conversion (Galatians 1:13). "Beyond measure I persecuted the Church of God and wasted it." Blow for blow, stroke for stroke! "Of the Jews five times received I forty stripes save one, twice was I beaten with rods, once was I stoned, thrice I suffered shipwreck, a night and a day I have been in the deep." "I will show him what great things he must suffer for my name's sake." A man lays up what he will one day have to meet face to face (Acts 26:10). "Many of the saints did I shut up in prison" (Acts 16:26). "And when they had lain many stripes upon Paul they cast him into prison." "I will show him how great things he must suffer for my name's sake." Do not suppose you can escape God. He will let us for a time suppose that we have escaped, but suddenly He will strike us to the root with light, may it not be with lightning! And He will show us that life is not a series of unconnected accidents, but a great and solemn stewardship leading up to judgment, to penalty, or reward.
Chapter 26 Prayer
Almighty God, make for us, through Jesus Christ our Saviour, entrances into the upper places, where the light is brighter than it is down here. We desire to mount as upon the wings of eagles. Thou hast created in our hearts a passion for better things. Our souls yearn for loftier skies than those which now shelter us. Thou art always calling us away to higher heights and more splendid scenes. In Christ Jesus we know not the rest of mean contentment, but the peace of noble ambition. We would therefore "press toward the mark for the prize of our high calling in Christ Jesus." We have not attained, neither are we already perfect, but knowing this and knowing the fulness of the grace that is in Christ Jesus, we would run with patience the race that is set before us.
Thou dost continually surprise us with some new comfort and some unexpected revelation. Thou dost keep the best wine; thou dost not give it unto us; thou hast ever something more behind. Thou art from everlasting to everlasting, and there is no searching of thine understanding. We have heard that power belongeth unto thee; unto thee also, O Lord, belongeth mercy. In thy mercy alone can we live; thy mercy as revealed unto us in thy Son, Son of man, Son of God, God the Son. Help us to see it in all its purity and fulness, and may it be applied to us in the depth of our humiliation. Our help is in God. In no other can help be found but in our infinite Redeemer. Comfort us every day with his grace, and stablish us in his truth. Accept the thanks we bring thee for all pity, and love, and care; and if any before thee wish to offer special thanksgiving for special mercies, the Lord hear the utterance of thankfulness, and return continual blessing.
Be with those who have new prospects opening before them, and new work on hand, hardly knowing how to do it. The Lord give wisdom to those who desire to walk in the way of understanding, and grant unto those who are looking on a confidence in what is coming, and the steadfastness that comes of faith in a living Providence. Deliver us from all fear, and inspire us with that noble trust in thyself which gives us peace even in the very sanctuary of the storm.
The Lord's blessing be upon this assembly. The Lord light the fire at the altar, and send us light from the upper Sanctuary. Amen.
WHAT wonderful contrasts there are in this narrative in reference to the character of Saul of Tarsus! He is not the same man throughout, and yet he is the same. The contrasts are so sharp, and, indeed, so violent, as almost to make him into another man altogether. For example, take the first of these contrasts, and you will find that Saul, who went out to persecute, remained to pray. The first verse reads, "And Saul, yet breathing out threatenings and slaughter!" and in the eleventh verse occurs the remarkable expression, "Behold, he prayeth!" He breathed hotly. The breath of his nostrils was a fierce blast that burned the air. How changed in a little time! for his face is turned upward to heaven, and its very look is a pleading supplication. What has occurred? These effects must be accounted for. Have they any counterpart in our own observation and experience? Have any of us passed from fierceness to gentleness, from drunkenness to sobriety, from darkness to light, from blasphemy to worship? Then we understand what is meant by this most startling contrast. There may be others who have advanced so quietly and gradually as to find no such contrast in their own consciousness and experience; but we must not judge the experience of the whole by the experience of the part. This is precisely the work which Christianity undertakes to do. It undertakes to cool your breath, to take the fire out of your blood, to subdue your rancour and your malignity, and to clasp your hands in childlike plea and prayer at your Father's feet. Such is the continual miracle of Christianity. The religion of Jesus Christ would have nothing to do if this were not to be accomplished. Jesus makes the lion lie down with the lamb, and he causes the child to hold the fierce beast, and to put its hand with impunity on the cockatrice den. Other miracles he has ceased to perform, but this continual and infinite surprise is the standing miracle and the standing testimony of Christ.
Take the second contrast, which is quite as remarkable. When Saul was a Pharisee he persecuted; when Saul became a Christian we read in the twenty-second verse that he "proved." How many miles of the moral kind lie between the word "persecuted" and the word "proved"? Yet this is distinctly in the line of Christian purpose and heavenly intent. As a Pharisee he said, "Destroy Christianity, by destroying Christians. Bind them; put an end to this pestilence. Do not stand it any longer. Open your prison doors, and I will fill your dungeons, and we will bring this new and mischievous heresy to a speedy termination." Such was his first policy. Having seen Jesus, and felt his touch, and entered into his Spirit, what does he say? Does he now say, "The persecution must be turned in the other direction; I have been persecuting the wrong parties; now I find it is you Jews, Pharisees, Sadducees, that must be manacled and fettered and put an end to. I change my policy, and I persecute you, every man and woman of you"? Nothing of the kind. Observe this miracle, admire it, and let it stand before you as an argument invincible and complete. What is Saul's tone now? Standing with the scrolls open before him, he reasons and mightily contends; he becomes a vehement and luminous speaker of Christian truth. He increases the more in strength, proving that this is the Christ. Has all the persecuting temper gone? Yes, every whit of it. Why did he not prove to the Christians, in his unconverted state, that they were mistaken? When he was not a converted man, he never thought of "proving" anything. He had a rough, short, and easy method with heretics—stab them, burn them, drown them, bind them in darkness, and let them die of hunger! Now that he is a converted man, he becomes a reasoner. He stands up with an argument as his only weapon; persuasion as his only iron; entreaty and supplication as the only chains with which he would bind his opponents. What has happened? Something vital must have occurred. Is there not a counterpart of all this in our own individual experience, and in civilized history? Do not men always begin vulgarly, and end with refinement? Is not the first rough argument a thrust with cold iron, or a blow with clenched fist? Does not history teach us that such methods are utterly unavailing in the extinction or the final arrest of erroneous teaching? Christianity is a moral plea. Christianity burns no man. Wherein professing Christians have resorted to the block and the stake, and to evil instruments, they have proved disloyal to their Master, and they have forgotten the spirit of his cross. Christianity is a plea, a persuasion, an appeal, an address to reason, conscience, heart, and to everything that makes a man a Man. Christianity-uses no force, and asks for no force to be used on its behalf. You cannot make men pray by force of arms. You cannot drive your children to church, except in the narrowest and shallowest sense of the term. You may convince men of their error, and lead men to the sanctuary, and, through the confidence of their reason and their higher sentiments, you may conduct them to your own noblest conclusions. How far is it from persecuting to praying? From threatening and slaughter to proving? That distance Christ took Saul, who only meant to go from Jerusalem to Damascus, some hundred and thirty-six miles. Christ took him a longer journey; he swept him round the whole circle of possibility. He made him accomplish the entire journey which lies between persecution and prayer, slaughter and argument. It is thus that Jesus Christ makes us do more than we intended to do. He meets us on the way of our own choice, and graciously takes us on a way of his own.
Look at the third contrast, which is as notable as the other two. In the opening of the narrative Saul was a strong man, the strongest of the band; the chief, without whose presence the band would dissolve. His nostrils are dilated with anger: his eye burns with a fire that expresses the supreme purpose of his heart. Nothing stands between him and the accomplishment of his purpose. The caravan road from Jerusalem to Damascus, supposing that he took that road, required some six days to traverse it. Saul knew not the lapse of time, so high-strung was his energy, and so resolute his purpose. And in this same narrative, not further on than the eighth verse, we read of the great persecutor that "they led him by the hand." What has happened? We thought he would have gone into the city like a storm; and he went in like a blind beggar! We thought he would have been met at the city gate as the great destroyer of heresy; and he was led by the hand like a helpless cripple! Woe unto the strength that is not heaven-born! Such so-called power will wither away. When we are weak then are we strong. Saul will one day teach us that very doctrine. Really understood, Saul was a stronger man when he was being led by the hand than when he breathed out threatenings and slaughter against the disciples of the Lord. You are mightier when you pray than when you persecute. You are stronger men when you prove your argument than when you seek to smite your opponent. Something will come of this. Such violences have high moral issues.
Saul led by the hand; then why need we be ashamed of the same process? Saul began feebly; why should we hesitate to begin our Church service on a very small scale? Saul led by the hand; then who will despise the day of small things? Presently he will increase in strength, the right strength, the power that has deep roots; not the power of transient fury, but the solid and tranquil strength of complete repose. "Grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ;" and remember that the mightiest chief under Christ that ever led the Christian hosts was conducted by friendly and compassionate men into the city which he intended to devastate.
Turning to another aspect of the case, we see two or three most beautiful and pathetic glimpses of Jesus Christ Himself. He ascended, yet he said, "I am with you alway, even unto the end of the age." There we find him leaving, yet not leaving; not visible, yet watchful; looking upon Saul every day, and looking at the same time upon his redeemed Church night and day, the whole year round. Events are not happening without his knowledge; the story of all the ages is written in heaven. He knows your persecuting purpose; he understands well enough what you are doing to interrupt the cause of truth and the progress of Christian knowledge. Jesus Christ knows all your antagonistic plans, thoughts, purposes, and devices. His eye is upon you. As for you Christians, he knows your sufferings, your oppositions, your daily contentions, your painful striving; he knows exactly through how much tribulation you are moving onward to the kingdom.
Not only is he living and watchful, but, in the case of Saul himself, Jesus Christ was compassionate. Listen to the words which he addressed to Saul: "It is hard for thee to kick against the pricks." He pitied the poor ox that struck its limbs against the sharp and piercing goads. There is nothing destructive in this criticism. There is the spirit of Christ in this remark, Yea, this expostulation repeats the prayer of his dying breath, and shows him to be "the same yesterday, today, and for ever." He does not bind Saul with his own chain; he throws upon him the happy spell of victorious love.
Not only is he living, watchful, and compassionate, he is consistent. He said to Ananias, "I will show him what great things he must suffer for my name's sake. When Jesus called his disciples to him, and ordained them to go out into the world, he laid before them a black picture; he kept back nothing of the darkness. He told his disciples that they would be persecuted, dragged up before the authorities and cruelly treated; and now, when he comes to add another to the number, he repeats the ordination charge which he addressed to the first band.
All these things were seen in a vision. Say some of you, "We have no visions now. Have we not? How can we? We may eat and drink all visions away. The glutton and the drunkard can have nothing but nightmare. A materialistic age can only have a materialistic religion. If men will satisfy every appetite, indulge every desire to satiety, turn the day into night, and the night into a long revel, they cannot wonder if the vision should have departed from their life. We may grieve the Spirit, we may quench the Spirit; we may so eat, and drink, and live as to divest the mind of its wings, and becloud the whole horizon of the fancy. But is it true that the vision has ceased? It may be so within a narrow sense, but not in its true spiritual intent and thought. Even now we speak about strong impressions, impulses we cannot account for, movements, desires of the mind which lie beyond our control. Even now we are startled by unexpected combinations of events. Even now we have a mysterious side to life, as well as an obvious and patent side. What if the religious mind should see in such realities the continued Presence and the continued Vision which gladdened the early Church? If you would see the spiritual, you must keep down the material. If you would have visions, you must banish the basely substantial. If you would have high dreamings and noble revelations, you must mortify the flesh.
See from this conversion how true it is that Christianity does not merely alter a man's intellectual views or modify a man's moral prejudices. Christianity never makes a little alteration in a man's thinking and action. Christianity makes new hearts, new creatures, and not new plans and new habits only. Other reformers may change a habit now and again, may modify a prejudice, attemper a purpose with some benign and gracious intent; but this Redeemer, who gave himself the Just for the unjust, who bought with the blood of his own heart, does not make a little difference in our intellectual attitude and our moral purpose. He wants us to be born again. "If any man be in Christ Jesus he is a new creature; old things have passed away, and all things have become new." There drop from his eyes "as it were scales," and, with a pure heart, he sees a pure God.
And it came to pass, as Peter passed throughout all quarters, he came down also to the saints which dwelt at Lydda.Chapter 27
Almighty God, we have come through rugged places that we might enter into thy house. The week has been as a wilderness, and all its days have been stony places, yet all the while we have been set in the direction of God's house, and today we feel its holy peace. Give us rest in thy house, thou God of saints. Here may we know the mystery of completeness, which is the mystery of peace. Make us whole in Christ; complete in him; wanting in nothing, so that we may stand before thee perfect men in Christ Jesus. Thou knowest us altogether; where we are strong, and where we are weak, the door which the devil cannot open, and the gate through which he comes with infinite familiarity. Our prayer is that we may put on the whole armour of God. The helmet and the shield, the sword and the girdle, the breast-plate and the sandals, so that we may be able to stand in the evil day, and having done all to stand. Thy purpose concerning us is our salvation, complete and everlasting. May we be co-workers with thee, labourers together with God. In our souls may thou find sweet consent to thy purposes and a ready obedience to all thy will. We would that we might in Christ Jesus receive our sight. We are blind and cannot see afar off by reason of our sin. Our desire is that as it were scales might fall from our eyes that we may see the beauty of holiness and the glory of thy kingdom. Charmed and fascinated by this beauty we shall be blind to all other attractions, and our life shall be absorbed in the worship of thy Cross and Crown, O Christ of God! We walk before thee because of thy grace. It is of thy mercy that we are not consumed. We live in thy compassion. Without thy mercy we cannot live. Thy tender mercies are over all thy works. Behold, are they not the light and the beauty of everything; yea, in thy compassion the whole creation glistens as with the dew of the morning. Reveal thyself to us every day; in some new vision of glory, or with some new hint of beauty. And thus draw us every one towards thyself in an upward line, in the ascent of which our strength shall grow. Beautiful is the life baptized of heaven. Sweet the service inspired by thy love and comforted by thy grace. Lead us into the mystery of more faithful homage, and in the rendering of our worship may we see heaven opened.
Thou knowest what we would say if we could. Thou understandest well that it is not in speech to tell the secret of the heart. We bless thee for words, yet are we chafed by them. For through them we cannot tell what we want to say, and we are shocked by their rudeness when they shape themselves in articulate prayers. Read the heart, search the spirit. Hold thy candle over the deepest abysses of our nature, and hear each when he says, "Lord, thou knowest all things, thou knowest that I love thee." Regard us as pastor and people, heads of houses and families, men engaged in merchandize and women in all the silent heroisms of the house, and the Lord send his blessing upon the whole company like an impartial rain. May every soul be blessed, may morn arise upon every life, may the saddest see the returning angel of joy, and may the weakest know that the Deliverer is near at hand. Be the physician of every family, the visitor from heaven of every household, the comforter of all disconsolateness, and speak a word in season to him that is weary. Regard the land in which we live, and the lands from which we come. Remember the whole earth, we beseech thee, in tender compassion and love. Son of God, come forth! Prince of all princes, and Saviour of all men, delay not, but come to the world for which thou didst die, Even so, Lord Jesus, come quickly. Amen.
32. And it came to pass, as Peter [from this point to chapter Acts 12:18 the narrative is occupied exclusively with the personal work of Peter] passed throughout all quarters [may have included Galilee], he came down also to the saints which dwelt at Lydda [now Ludd].
33. And there he found a certain man named Æneas, which had kept his bed eight years, and was sick of the palsy.
34. And Peter said unto him, Æneas, Jesus Christ maketh thee whole: arise, and make thy bed. [Do for thyself what others have so long done for thee.] And he arose immediately.
35. And all that dwelt at Lydda and Saron [a district rather than a town] saw him, and turned to the Lord.
36. Now there was at Joppa [famous in Greek legends as the spot where Andromeda had been bound when she was delivered by Perseus] a certain disciple [no distinction between male and female] named Tabitha [the two names suggesting points of connection with both the Hebrew and the Hellenistic section of the Church], which by interpretation is called Dorcas: this woman was full of good works [a favorite formula of Luke, meaning "given up to"] and alms deeds which she did.
37. 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.
38. And forasmuch as Lydda was nigh to Joppa [nine miles off], 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.
39. Then [and] 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 ["the coats were the close-fitting tunics, worn next to the body, the garments the looser outer cloaks that were worn over them"] which Dorcas made, while she was with them.
40. But Peter put them all forth [Matthew 9:23-24], 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.
41. And he gave her his hand, and lifted her up, and when he had called the saints and widows, presented her alive.
42. And it was known throughout all Joppa; and many believed in the Lord.
43. And it came to pass, that he tarried many days in Joppa with one Simon a tanner.
HOW did there happen to be any saints at Lydda? That place has not come under our attention in our perusal of these apostolic annals. There are saints in unexpected places. Yet, perhaps, not so unexpected if we had read attentively the portions which have already engaged our interest. In the last verse of the preceding chapter we read, "But Philip was found at Azotus; and passing through he preached in all the cities till he came to Cæsarea." Lydda lay between Azotus and Cæsarea, and Philip no doubt had called there and preached the word and founded a Christian Society. How summarily our work is occasionally mentioned. We put a whole history into a single verse. In one broken sentence we sum up a lifetime! There is a cruel condensation which often does not give justice to those who are its subjects. How easily and fluently we read, "But Philip was found at Azotus; and passing through he preached in all the cities till he came to Cæsarea." These are epitomes which God himself must break up into detail. And thus in many a hurried phrase we shall find service and suffering, trial and triumph, which only God can recognise. We hear it said of the minister that he "called at the house and offered prayer." And probably the announcement is accompanied by the annotation that he was there but a few minutes. By the clock it was but a handful of minutes the man was there, but into those minutes he condensed the experience and the pathos of a lifetime, and in that one brief prayer he spared not the blood of his very heart. Beware of a ruthless condensation. Suspect any epitome which counts but as small dust the details which makes up the energetic service and the patient suffering of the Christian toiler.
Peter found his way to the saints. By what magnetism? Do we not all find out our other selves in every city to which we go? When the surveyor would find out whether there are metallic strata in the district which he surveys, he takes in his right hand the enclosed magnet, and watching that magnet he sees as he carries it over the surface of the ground how it dips, and says in the dipping, "Here you will find what you are in quest of." He does not need to rip up the sod, and to dig far down. The magnet knows where the metal is, and instantly points to the secret place. It is so in going through the city. One sentence will tell you what company you are in. A look will warn you from that locality, as from a plague-swept district. A tone will open up communication with the soul, and a sigh may reveal the masonry of the heart. Living constantly in Christian society we may become unhappily too familiar with its advantages. Could we live for a time with those who do not know Christ, who therefore do not worship Christ, or honour him as the standard of morals and the ultimate appeal, how we should love even the most imperfect Christian we have ever known! "He that is least in the kingdom of God" is greater than the greatest outside that sacred circle. We pine for our own, we like to hear our own language; there is music in the familiar tongue. We fall with easy grace and second naturalness into the ways of the company of which we form a part. Christian brotherhood is the salvation of society. Inside your social constitutions you find the saving factor, the souls that believe, the hearts that pray, the lives that live in sacrifice. It would do some of us good in the very soul if we could be shut up with Bedouins and savages for a few days. How we should then yearn for the Old Church, the customary society, the most defective Christian we ever knew! We have become dainty in our appetites because we have lived upon luxuries up to the point of satiety.
No names are given in Acts 9:32. There is something better than a name. There is character. There you find no personal renown, no individuality running up into a flashing pinnacle and throwing its superior glory over the commonplace in the midst of which it stands, but you find a high level of character, a solid quantity of moral and spiritual being, and supreme and effective reality. It is towards that estate we should constantly be moving, to the great republic of common holiness.
When Peter was in Lydda he found the man who is to be found in every city. Locally called Æneas, but everywhere called the sick man. Peter "found a certain man named Æneas, which had kept his bed eight years, and was sick of the palsy. That man is in every city and is never healed, except in the individual instance. The genus remains unhealed—a continual appeal to the Petrine spirit, the apostolic love, the redeemed compassion of the Church. Whom we cannot heal we may at least carry to the gate of the temple. We have read of the lame man who was carried daily. These are the secondary services of life. We are not all in the front rank of the ministry, it is not given to every one of us to speak miracles, but to every one is given the sweet grace of helpfulness in this matter of carrying those we cannot heal. Because we cannot do the first and supreme class of work, it does not follow that we are to sit idle all the day. You can bring to Æneas the Christian friend, the Christian suppliant, the Christian sympathizer. Aye, there is no grief but one that cannot be mitigated by Christian love. And even that surely may be in the distance touched with somewhat of redemptiveness, of solicitude and pity, even insanity itself may have its bed made in its affliction. We hear nothing of Peter's doings at Lydda except this miracle; but as Philip had done much at Lydda without any record having been made of it, so Peter may have done much beside this miracle. The miracle itself was a sermon. For "all that dwelt at Lydda and Saron saw him, and turned to the Lord."
Now we come to another city. In Joppa there dwelt a woman who "was full of good works and alms deeds which she did," and she died! How was that? There are some people whom we almost wish would die, and die they will not; nights of frost cannot freeze them, rivers cannot drown them, they have a kind of earthly immortality in their evil doing and in their pestilent mischief, and others whom we want to live always wither and die. They die in the act of giving bread to the hungry. Dorcas may have died with her industrious needle in her fingers—the garment for the poor child half done! There seems to be such a waste of nobility and service in this mysterious Providence. We may be wrong in that outlook as we are in others. Why should not the good ship land? Why should we shed tears when the noble life-vessel touches the shore? Why not throw up our arms and exclaim, "Hallelujah, glory be to God!" So foolish are we and ignorant. Yet not unnaturally so. Who cannot recall people whom we wish to have with us every day? Without whom the house is no home, apart from whom life is only a daily tarrying for death. It is so that God trains us, prunes us, and prepares us for the wider revelation and the higher service. Peter was sent for. He came the nine miles to see what could be done. How natural was this. Who does not send for the strong brother? To hear that a strong man is not far away is to hear a kind of angel singing in the skies again, saying, "Peace on earth and good will toward men." There are times when the strong man is sent for, and these are times of darkness, trouble, personal, and social despair. But there is always a strong man to send for. Always some other man is stronger than you are, and in Christ his strength belongs to you. In that sense we must have "all things common," and none must say that aught that he has belongs to himself alone. It is in this spirit of Christian communism that we must keep Society from putrefaction and souls from sudden despair. There is a hint of the One who "sticketh closer than a brother." When your house is very dark, send for Jesus. He can walk upon the darkness as upon solid rocks. When your life gives way in sudden weakness, or in painful fear, send in double prayer for Jesus. He can make "a dying bed feel soft as downy pillows are." But you are not the people to wait for such crises in which to invite the Lord's anointed to your house. Send for him today, when the table is laden with flowers and every corner of the dwelling is ablaze with His own sunlight. Beautiful was the scene in that house at Joppa. "When he was come they brought him into the upper chamber: and all the widows stood by him weeping, and showing the coats and garments which Dorcas made, while she was with them." How did these widows come to be thus associated? Who took any interest in their welfare? If you read again the sixth chapter of this book you will find that special arrangements were made for the ministration of the common stock for the needy widows of the Hebrews and the Grecians, and you will find amongst the seven men appointed to administer that fund the name of Philip. So this man lives in his works. At Lydda he founded a Christian Society, at Joppa he organized the widows into a society that should receive help from those who were able to give it. Philip does not appear before us in name, but he leaves behind him memorials of his wisdom and his beneficence.
How is it that we like the coats and the garments even better when the seamstress is dead than we did when she was actually making them? That is a tender mystery in life. It is a fact everywhere. The little child's little toy becomes infinitely precious when the tiny player can no longer handle it. And the two little shoes are the most precious property in the house when the little feet that wore them are set away in God's acre. Let us love one another whilst we live! Not a word do I say against the sentiment, which enlarges the actions of the dead, but I would speak for a kind word on behalf of those who are sitting next you and making your own house glad by their deft fingers and their loving hearts.
Now we come to the first miracle of the kind to which apostolic strength was summoned. Up to this time the Apostles had been healing ankle-bones, healing the palsy and divers diseases, and casting out unclean spirits, but now a mightier tyrant looks them in the face. For the first time must the Apostles grapple without the visible Christ with actual DEATH. We may well pause here in the excitement of a great anxiety. Memory rushes upon the heart like a gracious flood as we read these words, "but Peter put them all forth." That was what Christ did! There is the true imitation of the Lord. Some battles may be fought in public, others have to be fought in solitude, so "Peter put them all forth." "Thou when thou prayest enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut the door pray to thy Father which is in secret, and thy Father which is in secret, shall reward thee openly." So "Peter put them all forth," and kneeled down and prayed. Have you ever prayed in the death chamber with none there but the dead friend? How eloquent has been your dumbness, how mighty a rhetoric slumber in your blinding tears! When you were weak then were you strong. "And,"—oh, conjunctive that makes one tremble—"turning to the body," now is the critical moment, "said, Tabitha, arise." "And she opened her eyes, and when she saw Peter she sat up." Let your miracles come through your prayers. Let your prayers always end in the amen of a miracle. What is the use of your solitude and your prayer, your long, intense, mighty communion with God, if when you turn round you cannot work some miracle of love?