The Pulpit Commentary

Acts 9:42 (Acts 9:42)

It became known for it was known, A.V.; on for in, A.V. As in Acts 9:35 , the result of the healing of the palsied man at Lydda was that very many "turned to the Lord," so here the like effect was produced at Joppa by the restoration of Dorcas to life. Many believed on the Lord . And St. John tells us ( John 20:31 ) that the very purpose of the record which he wrote of the miracles of Christ is "that we may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing we may have life in his Name."

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Acts 9:32-43 (Acts 9:32-43)

The fisher of men.

"The Church had rest," we read in Acts 9:31 , "throughout all Judaea and Galilee." Not so the primate of the Church. The Church's rest from persecution was his season of work. A brief glimpse of his work may be edifying to us. We saw something of his ministry at Jerusalem in the earlier chapters of this book—preaching, praying, praising, healing, protesting, resisting, suffering, perplexing his enemies, exhorting and comforting the saints. We saw him carefully building up the Church—baptizing, breaking the bread of life, appointing fresh ministries, repairing the walls of the new Jerusalem with his weapons of war in his hand. We saw him the faithful administrator of the Church's discipline, her courageous confessor, breasting the storm of persecution at his post, and maintaining the center of Christian unity with his brother apostles at Jerusalem. Then we saw him preaching the gospel in the villages of Samaria, confirming the baptized, rebuking the hypocrite, and returning to the post of danger at Jerusalem. And now again we see him actively at work. We see his care for all the Churches, his tender anxiety for all the disciples who had been folded in Christ's fold in those days of danger and alarm, test the hour of rest and prosperity should bring greater dangers to them than the day of persecution had done. He goes forth into all quarters where any disciples were, and, not content with former conquests, he so wrought by word and deed that many more were added to the Lord. Now he speaks to AE neas the word of healing at Lydda; now he passes on to the chamber of death at Joppa. Always ready with outstretched hand, or speaking mouth, or words of prayer, to fulfill his ministry and be a fisher of men for Christ. Blessed Peter! glorious apostle! great primate of the Church! opener of the door to Jews and Gentiles! we praise God for thy mighty works wrought in the Name of Jesus Christ. We pray him to give more such pastors to his feeble flock, to bind up that which is broken, to bring again that which is driven away, to seek out that which is lost, that there may be once again "one fold under one Shepherd," and that all they who do confess the Name of Jesus Christ may be united in one communion and fellowship to the glory of his great Name.

- The Pulpit Commentary

Acts 9:32-43 (Acts 9:32-43)

The miraculous and the supernatural.

In these verses we have two instances of the miraculous; and we may consider what was the worth of that element then, and why it has passed away; we may also consider the truth that the supernatural—the directly though not visibly Divine—still abides and will continually endure.

I. THE RATIONALE OF THE CHRISTIAN MIRACLE , wrought in the apostolic age. Then it was (or seems to us to have been) necessary.

1. It was regarded as of the very essence of a new Divine system. Any doctrine which was to supersede the Law, and which did not carry with it the credentials of "wonderful works," would have had no prospect or possibility of success.

2. It was a power of great potency in the age in which it was granted. Witness the text, among many others: "All that dwelt at Lydda and Saron … turned to the Lord" ( Acts 9:35 ); "It was known throughout all Joppa; and many believed in the Lord" ( Acts 9:42 ).

3. The early Church had to struggle against fearful odds, and might well be strengthened with a special and exceptional force. It had to contend with inveterate and all but impregnable prejudices, with powerful material interests, with worldly wisdom, with crushing political powers arrayed against it with drawn sword; it was a handful of weak men and women, destitute of resources, "unlearned and ignorant," against a world in arms, against many millions inflamed with passionate hatred or filled with supercilious contempt. At such a stage it might well be reinforced with such help as the miraculous would yield it.

II. THE EXPLANATION OF ITS DISCONTINUANCE . It was a power, very valuable when wisely used, but liable to great abuse. The time might soon come when its presence would be harmful rather than helpful, when Christian men would be disposed to rely on the marvelous rather than the spiritual. That time did come, and it came earlier than we might have thought (see 1 Corinthians). Therefore it was mercifully withdrawn. Its continuance would only have been to leave in the Church's hand a weapon by which it would have wounded itself.

III. ITS NEEDLESSNESS NOW . Now we should be able to dispense with such adventitious aid.

1. The wealth, the culture, the political power, the resources which give strength to human societies, are now on the side of Christian truth.

2. We are equipped with one weapon in particular which serves us instead of the miraculous—scientific knowledge and skill. The principal wonders which the apostles wrought were works of healing or restoring, like that of healing AE neas ( Acts 9:34 ) and that of restoring Dorcas ( Acts 9:40 , Acts 9:41 ). Now we are able to go to the heathen, with the Bible in one hand and the pharmacopoeia in the other, and thus we can impress, heal, and win them. The medical missionary of the nineteenth century is as well furnished for his beneficent work as the Corinthian Christian of the first.

IV. THE ABIDING PRESENCE OF THE DIVINE .

1. A power, distinctively Divine, still brings the dead to life. A more wonderful and far more blessed work is wrought when, to a soul "dead in trespasses and sins," Christ now says, "Arise," and it "opens its eyes" ( Acts 9:40 ) to see light in God's light, to behold the truth in its excellency and power. More wonderful, because it is a greater work to revive a dead spirit than to resuscitate a dead body—the one act is in the kingdom of the moral, the other of the mechanical; more blessed, for eternal life is an inestimably greater boon to impart than the prolongation for a few years of earthly existence. Dorcas had to die again and be again bewailed.

2. A power, directly and positively Divine, still confers spiritual health on those who have been spiritually paralyzed. By his renewing power, by the touch of his own reviving hand, "Jesus Christ makes whole" ( Acts 9:34 ) those who have been lethargic, indifferent, worldly, idle; and they arise.—C.

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Acts 9:31-43 (Acts 9:31-43)

Works of peace.

It is a bright picture of happy and prosperous Church life that here opens. Peace "lay like a shaft of light athwart the land" of Judaea, Galilee, and Samaria. The work of edification, ever silent and sure like the growth of the tall palm, went on. There was the spirit of reverence and the sense of comfort and of joy in the presence of the Holy Spirit. That nation is happy whose life contributes few incidents that startle, changes that dismay, revolutions and wars that attract attention. Who can calculate the value of a day's sunshine to the earth? Who can tabulate the results of a year's peaceful intercourse? Quiet Church life is not resultless; and to obtain it demands and implies more of prayer and effort than that which is spasmodic and sensational.

I. THE VISIT OF PETER TO LYDDA . He finds there the paralytic AE neas. The bedridden sufferer may be viewed as a type of all prostration, physical and moral, which Christ comes to heal. "Jesus Christ is healing thee!" such is the abiding word of the Christian apostle and minister, further reaching in its application to the inward than to the outward life. And if it be a fact that healing energy is ever flowing from Christ, a moral hope and a moral energy is derivable from the fact. "Rise and act for thyself" is the command which the Christian minister may give, founded on the fact that the energy is imparted to the will in trust on Divine power. "And straightway he arose." The rise of any soul out of weakness into strength, out of self-despair into confidence and freedom, implies two things—

II. THE RAISING OF DORCAS .

1. The sketch of a useful life. Dorcas is full of good works and aims. The "eye for pity, and the hand open as day for melting charity," was hers. Pity, compassion, the feeling for those who are less happy than ourselves, is the habit which above all the gospel teaches and cultivates in the soul. The loving simple heart has a place not less important to fill in ministry to others than the clear intellect and the powerful will. The tears and gratitude of the widows were a noble testimony to Dorcas and her character. She was a center of the true "sweetness and light" in the community, a fountain of pure Christian love. "In the possession of one such example a Church has a great spiritual capital. When such a one dies, God will raise up followers, for love never dies."

2. The office of raising from the dead. Was not this entrusted to Peter, that it might be a parable to all times of this truth—that God gives to chosen men in the Church the power to raise others out of death into life, that is, instrumentally? The Resurrection is spiritually repeated whenever the word of power reaches the conscience. Peter puts all the mourners out of the room, kneels down and prays. This was after the example of the Master. Solitude, silence, and prayer prepare for all exertion of spiritual activity. However great the power entrusted to the minister of God, he must still use it in dependence upon him. However urgent the call from men, the Divine will must first be consulted before it is obeyed. From dependence on God comes all independence of other conditions. To use the imperative mood with others, we must have learned the submissive mood before him. The word, "Tabitha, arise!" and the stretching out of the hand to the prostrate one,—these acts had their antecedents in the spiritual sphere. We cannot comprehend a miracle; but we may be well assured that it follows a Divine though hidden law. God has reason in all his acts. In the giving of the lost but restored one again to her friends we have a prophecy of future restoration of those whom we have loved and lost. There arc moments when the power of God is put forth to realize our most loving wishes and to satisfy the unquenchable aspirations of the heart. Our friends "live in God" as Dorcas and Lazarus lived in him, and death is but a semblance for pious souls. Would that we had that profound knowledge of the power and love of God which should enable us to see the wondrous in the common! Faith will be produced and will be increased wherever our passage through the world, our visits and our words, are followed by a joy like that reflected on the Church at Joplin by the visit and ministry of Peter.—J.

- The Pulpit Commentary

Acts 9:36-43 (Acts 9:36-43)

The raising of Dorcas.

The contrast between the ancient and modern world, changing somewhat the relation of almsdeeds to the rest of Christian life; but the poor always with us. The special province of woman in the Church. The individuality of the charity, not a society, but Dorcas the woman.

I. FAITH WORKING BY LOVE .

1. Show that Dorcas was not a mere philanthropic worker, but a true believer.

2. The disciples at once sent for Peter, believing that he represented a Divine power at work, hoping that something might be accomplished, at all events believing that the Spirit of the Lord would cast out the gloom of their sorrow.

3. It was an atmosphere of true faith in which such a miracle could be wrought.

4. The character and work of Dorcas typical of the influence of Christianity in the world; distinguishing it from all other religions; caring for the weak, lifting up women, sanctifying sorrow.

II. THE THRESHOLD OF THE GENTILE WORLD . Peter many days-at Joppa. A place where a vast and mingled population. The raising of the dead a great sign both to the world and to Peter himself. The loving character of the new doctrine set forth; a special appeal to the heathen. The rapid spread of the gospel an immense encouragement and elevation of the apostle's mind. All preparing him for the revelation about to be made. Peter and Dorcas hand-in-hand at the gate of the Gentiles, full of significance. We shall lay hold of the outlying masses of the population by Dorcas-like activity. Women will wonderfully help in the spread of Christianity. The true power of Christ is that which ministers.—R.

- The Pulpit Commentary

Acts 9:36-43 (Acts 9:36-43)

The emphatic mark of Divine approbation which Christianity puts upon womanly kindness, in what may seem an humble sphere, and upon genuinely felt gratitude for it.

The narrative is the more interesting as being the first subsequent to the Ascension, and among the Acts of the Apostles, which brings the deeds, the character, and the fame of a Christian woman into prominence. The share that Christianity has contributed in honoring women, and in raising them to occupy their own proper place, has been often acknowledged. Omitting what Christ's own word and deed helped to this end, the narrative now before us may be said to be the beginning of a long stream of illustration of it. Let us notice—

I. THE DECISIVE MARK OF RESPECT HERE PUT ON HUMBLE BUT PRACTICAL FEMININE GOODNESS . The mark, in few words, consisted in a miracle wrought to restore to life a woman "full of good works and almsdeeds," who was cut off in the midst of her usefulness. But what are the things that may be remarked in more detail of this miracle?

1. It was wrought, not for a ease of long suffering, or for some agonized form of suffering that might necessarily touch any heart with a deep compassion.

2. It was not wrought to restore to the service of this world one who had already largely figured in its high places. It is not position, wealth, great natural power and endowment, distinguished character, philanthropy of renown, nor even great learning, that is the object of honour. We do not at all take the idea that the heaven will fall if this gap which death has made be not somehow or other rapidly filled up.

3. It was not touching youth, fashion, beauty, accomplishment, nor oven the mourned mother of a family—that dethroned queen of the domestic heaven, whose vacant throne dashes dismay into so many true hearts, and fills all the house with darkness and a sense of desertion. It was no such pensive, pathetic, importunate, natural sadness that begged the mercy of miracle.

4. The object of the miracle was a woman, "full of good works and almsdeeds. " We are kept a brief while in suspense as to the nature of her "good works," but are at once apprised that her " alms " are not almsgivings, but "almsdeeds." So it is not an instance of a wealthy woman lamented from a very superficial sorrow of survivors. And then it proves that her "good works" (though we are not by any means constrained to suppose that they were literally all comprehended under this description) were such as to be sufficiently typified by the humble handiwork of scissors and needle and thimble, "coats and garments," and these, not for the "rising generation" and " the hope of the nation," but forsooth for "widows." Yet it is such a person and such a woman who is restored to life, and no doubt to the humble but beneficent round of such a life again. And to this woman alone of women is given the space in all Scripture to tell the record in full of miraculous restoring of life. These are some of her ever-memorable characteristics.

II. THE DECISIVE MARKS OF RESPECT HERE PUT ON SIMPLE GRATITUDE , THOUGH IT WERE BUT GRATITUDE TO A FELLOW - BEING . The miracle, humanly speaking, owed its working to the deep feeling, so genuine and so earnest, which pervaded all who had known Dorcas. The feeling was the right kind of feeling, not wastefully overwhelming, but quickening to thought and action. Perhaps the illness was sharp and short. She is dead before they know how dangerously ill she is. But "the disciples" have their memory about them. They remember that they have heard of Peter at Lydda and of what he has been doing there for AE neas. It is eight miles off, but some of them soon clear the ground. And Peter does not feel affronted at being begged " not to delay. " And he comes and sees how grieved all were. Evidently it little entered into the mind of the many that it was a case for a miracle of restoring to life. But love and gratitude and grief, without "anticipation of favors to come," made the widows come with their impromptu exhibition of garments, and with their grateful reminiscences uttered forth. Well, that Peter was on the. spot was the result of a real feeling and gratitude; and come, he does not find himself come to a dead or a dead-alive Church and congregation. Far otherwise; and it was the very crisis and point of the occasion. Peter couldn't help but recall the dear Master's words and action, so far as they were apropos to the occasion—and it was only in a degree that they were apropos to this occasion— "Why make ye this ado and weep? the woman—" ( Mark 5:39 ). But no, he says no more at present, but he does just the same thing as Jesus did; he puts them all out, and goes and prays, and pleads and wins his instructions and his force alone. If dying should be a quiet scene, nor harsh sound of earthly life disturb its solemn experiences, who knows what the coming to life may be, and what it may require, and what may best suit it? Ah! perhaps in reality, not in merely the recovered life of this present, but in the real, perhaps there the waking life may open its eye to see "Jesus only" (as it was once on the Transfiguration Mount), and its ear to hear in newborn exquisite sense the whispering of Jesus. And that will ask peace and silence and the banishment of early life, its crowd of sight and of sound. But as the Lord appeared to Zacharias in the holy place, while the expectant people were shut without, so did the mighty Lord appear to Peter in that holy chamber, and from the upper chamber of death didn't it become the antechamber of heavenly life indeed? And all this was condescending honor put upon human gratitude. It entered into "the ears of the Lord God of sabaoth," and he descended with power to reward it.

III. THE DECISIVE MARKS OF HEAVEN 'S MOST KINDLY SYMPATHY WITH HUMAN LIFE - WANTS . The scene would seem almost unmatched in Scripture, in just this one respect. Here is no question of love direct to God, to Christ, to their work on earth as such. But it is an occasion of innocent feeling, yet earth's sort of feeling; innocent excitement, yet caused, not by the loss of a great spiritual benefactor like the Master or like Stephen, but by the loss of a kindly, good-hearted, and most homely and neighborly benefactor. Yet the power of the Divine Spirit owns it. And as Jesus in the days of his flesh condescended to the genial atmosphere of the marriage feast, and made them yet more wine there, so does he in his perhaps yet mightier power, but certainly mightier majesty and glory, condescend to the sympathies and regrets of this widow group and disciples' gathering. He reminds us surely of his constant, gentle, faithful care for us. "What we shall eat, and what we shall drink, and wherewithal we shall be clothed,"—he shows us that he has not forgotten his early words hereupon, nor those other words, in which he has taught us that he will accept our works for his "little ones," and for his poor and needy ones, as works done personally to himself.—B.

- The Pulpit Commentary