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Saul going towards Damascus, is struck down to the earth, is called to the apostleship, and is baptized by Ananias: he preacheth Christ boldly: the Jews lie in wait to kill him: so do the Grecians: but he escapeth both. The church having rest, Peter healeth Eneas of the palsy, and restoreth Tabitha to life.
Anno Domini 35.
Acts 9:1. And Saul, yet breathing out threatenings, &c.— This is a very emphatical expression, and shews the implacable hatred which Saul bore to the Christian profession; and it must have increased his rage to hear, that those whom he had been instrumental in driving from Jerusalem, were so successful in spreading that religion which he was so eager to root out. The person now in the office of high priest, seems to have been Caiaphas, the inveterate enemy of Christ: he would therefore gladly employ so active and bigotted a zealot as Saul; and it is well known, that the Sanhedrim, however its capital power might have been abridged by the Romans, was the supreme Jewish Court, and had great influence and authority among their synagogues abroad. There are several disputes concerning the time of this transaction. Spanheim advances several arguments to prove, that it happened six or seven years after Christ's death, about the fourth year of Caligula, in the year 40. Benson and others, agreeably to Pearson's Chronology, think it was sooner; but the exact time cannot be fixed by any circumstances transmitted to us.
Acts 9:2. And desired of him letters— These letters contained a mandate from the high-priest, empowering him to act, as appears from chap. Act 26:12 where they are explained by the words authority and commission; and Saul seems to have been a very proper person for executing those orders at that time, being a young man, warm in his temper, and possessed with a most intemperate zeal for Judaism. Damascus was the principal city of Syria, situated on the east sideof the mountain Antilibanus, about one hundred and twenty miles north-east from Jerusalem. How much it abounded with Jews, may partly appear from Josephus, who in one place takes notice of the inhabitants shutting up and destroying in the Gymnasium 10,000 Jewsin one hour. In another place he represents the Damascenes, as having murdered 18,000 Jews, with theirwives and children. A place which so much abounded with Jews, was very likely to have some Christians; and Saul most probably had heard that there were several converts at this place. But it may be inquired, by what authority Saul could execute at Damascus the commission given him by the high-priest? The letters were directed to the Synagogues at Damascus, and the Jews were generally indulged, in foreign states where they settled, with their synagogue worship, and the exercise of their church discipline. But can it be supposed that they were empowered to send persons, even those of their own nation, out of other countries, in order to their being punished at Jerusalem? This seems inconsistent with the laws of nations, and derogatory to the honour of states in general: but Herod, who beheaded John the Baptist, was at that time in possession of Damascus, and greater liberty was then granted the Jews than afterwards; for the year following, a war broke out between Herod and his father-in-law Aretas king of Arabia, in which Herod being defeated, Damascus came into the hands of Aretas, who placed a governor in it; and therefore not long after, when Saul returned thither, and preached Christ in the Synagogues, though the Jews designed to kill him, yet they did not attempt it without the governor's notice, who favoured them so far, as to place a garrison at the gates in order to apprehend him, 2Co 11:32 and this perhaps he might do, both to prevent disturbances, and the better to reconcile them to the government of their new prince. See the note on Isaiah 17:1.
Acts 9:3-6. Suddenly there shined round about him a light, &c.— It was about noon that Saul with his company came nigh the city of Damascus; when suddenly there appeared the Shechinah, or the glory of the Lord, far more bright and dazzling than the sun in its meridiansplendor: and this great light from heaven shone peculiarly round about them; upon which they all fell flat upon their faces, as the prophet Daniel had done upon like occasions. Daniel 8:17; Daniel 10:9. See also Acts 26:14. Saul, who had his head full of Jewish learning, was well acquainted with the notion of the Shechinah, and therefore he soon apprehended this to be the excellent glory. But, upon hearing a voice from it, which charged him with persecution, he was greatly surprised, and inquired, "Who art thou, Lord, that I should be charged with persecuting thee?" The voice out of the midst of the glory replied, "I am Jesus the Nazarene, whom thou persecutest; for the persecution of my disciples and members is the persecution of me: it is hard for thee to kick against the goads,— κεντρα, "—a proverbial expression of impotent rage, which hurts oneself and not those against whom it is levelled. See chap. Acts 22:8.
Acts 9:7. Stood speechless, hearing a voice— Stood perfectly astonished;—stood fixed and confounded. The original implies the attitude of a person who is so astonished as not to be able to stir. In chap. Act 22:9 it is said, that they did not hear the voice of him that spake: but this is easily reconciled with the present passage, by the double sense of the Greek word φωνη, which signifies either a human voice, or indistinct sound of words, in general; or a distinct voice or speech. In the passage before us, it is to be understood in the general sense, and in the other as denoting a distinct and articulate sound of words, intelligible to the hearers: so that the companions of Saul heard a voice, but not in so clear a manner as to understand what was said. And this seems to be further confirmed from hence, that we do not find that any of them embraced the Christian truths or dispensation, which probably would have been the case, had it been designed for the conviction of any but Saul himself. So Joh 12:29 those present when the voice from heaven came to Christ, heard the sound, so as to take it for thunder, without distinctly understanding what was said. From St. Paul's taking such particular notice that the voice spake unto him in the Hebrew tongue, chap. Acts 26:14. Dr. Benson thinks we may gather, that possiblyhis companions might be Hellenistic Jews, who, though theyheard the sound of the words, yet did not understand their meaning,—for not hearing is frequently put in scripture for not understanding; see particularly 1Co 14:2 in the original. And it does not appear, that Saul informed them who it was that made this glorious appearance unto him, or what the voice had said: very likely he kept it secret from every one, at least till he had received further directions in Damascus. It is said also, that they saw no man; and the case was the same with the men who were with Daniel when he saw the vision, Daniel 10:7.
Acts 9:8. And when his eyes were opened, he saw no man:— And though his eyes were open, he was incapable of discerning objects, and saw no one man of those who stood near him; forhis nerves were so affected with the glory of that light, which had shone from the body of Jesus, that he had lost the power of sight. The divine Glory had struck his bodily eyes quite blind; as the eyes of his understanding had hitherto been in the midst of the marvellous light of the gospel: see ch. Acts 22:11. But the judicious reader, desirous of enteringfully into this wonderful transaction, will not refer to single verses only, but will diligently compare the whole account, as given by St. Paul himself.
Acts 9:9. And he was three days without sight,— Scales grew over his eyes, not only to intimate to him the blindness of the state that he had been in, but to impress him also with the deeper sense of the almighty power of Christ, and to turn his thoughts inwards, while he was rendered less capable of conversing with external objects. This would also be a manifest token to others, of what had happened to him in his journey, and ought to have been very convincing and humbling to those bigoted Jews, to whom, as the most probable associates in the cruel work that he intended, the sanhedrim had directed those letters, which Saul would no doubt destroy as soon as possible. It is very doubtful, and cannot at present be determined, whether the fast of three days, here mentioned, was a voluntary one, undertaken by Saul, in consequence of his deep humiliation on account of his former persecutions, or whether it was the result of that bodily disorder, into which he was thrown by the vision, and of the attachment of his mind to those new and astonishing divine revelations, with which during this time he seems to have been favoured. See 2 Corinthians 12:1.Galatians 1:11; Galatians 1:11. If we compare the prophet Daniel's being affected by some of his visions, with this case of Saul, we shall find that they bear a great resemblance;only Daniel had not been guilty of such great crimes, and consequently did not pass through such bitter repentance, as Saul had. See the Reflections on this chapter.
Acts 9:10. Ananias;— As we read of Ananias only in this history, it is difficult to determine who he was. Some suppose him to have been a native of Jerusalem, and to have first planted the gospel at Damascus. Some of the ancients say, that he was one of the seventy disciples; others, from his being called a devout man according to the law, ch. Act 22:12 have thought that he was a proselyte of righteousness. Perhaps he was a native of Damascus, converted at the first Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit descended, and afterwards honoured him with this embassy to Saul, as a Christian of the oldest standing in that place, and so very probably an officer of the church there; which the commission to baptize him may further intimate. We may remark that God himself appoints a man to teach Saul, as an angel did in the case of Cornelius, ch. Act 10:5 in admirable condescension dealing with us by men like ourselves.
Acts 9:15. He is a chosen vessel, &c.— Beza observes, that an instrument of building, agriculture, &c. is often expressed in Greek by the word σκευος ; and the word may very probably have that signification here. For he is my chosen instrument to bear my name, &c. Polybius uses this same word personally, in order to denote one extremely proper for a particular design. Ananias could not infer from these words of our Lord, that the gospel was to be preached to the Gentiles while they continued uncircumcised,—a mystery which St. Peter did not yet know; for Christ might have used theseexpressions, had St. Paul been brought before Heathen kings for preaching him as a Messiah to the Jews and proselytes.
Acts 9:16. I will shew him how great things he must suffer— If this intimates, as some very learned commentators seem to think, that Saul should presently have a revelation, and perhaps a visionary representation of all his sufferings, it must appear a most heroic instance of courage and zeal, under the power of grace, that with such a view he should offer himself to baptism, and go on so steadily in his ministerial work. Never surely was there, on that supposition, a more lively image of that adorable Lord, who so resolutely persevered in his work, though he knew all things that were to come upon him.
Acts 9:17. Ananias went his way, &c.— Had St. Paul been an impostor, he could not have acted his part but in confederacy. He was to be instructed by one at Damascus; Act 9:6 that instructor therefore must have been his accomplice, though they appeared to be absolute strangers to each other, and though he was a man of an excellent character, and so was very unlikely to have engaged in such a business. Notwithstanding these improbabilities, this man must have been his confident and accomplice in carrying on this fraud, and the whole matter must havebeen previously agreed on between them. But here this objection occurs:—How could this man venture to act so dangerous a part, without the consent of the other disciples, especiallyof the apostles? Or by what means could he obtain their consent? And how absurdly did they contrive their business, to make the conversion of Saul the effect of a miracle, which all those who were with him must certify did never happen?—How much easier would it have been to have made him be present at some pretended miracle wrought by the disciples, or by Ananias himself, when none were able to discover the fraud, and then have imputed his conversion to that, or to the arguments used by some of his prisoners, whom he might have discoursed with and questioned about their faith, and the grounds of it, in order to colour his intended conversion? Besides, is it not strange, if the account had been an imposture, and Ananias had been joined with Saul in carrying it on, that, after their meeting at Damascus, we should never hear of their consorting together, or acting in concert, or that the former drew any benefit from the friendship of the latter, when he became so considerable among the Christians?—Did Ananias engage and continue in such a dangerous fraud without any hope or desire of private advantage? Or was it safe for Saul to shake him off, and risk his resentment?—We will suppose then, in order to account for this vision without a miracle, that, as Saul and his company were journeying to Damascus, an extraordinary meteor did really appear, which cast a great light, at which they being affrighted, fell to the ground; see ch. Acts 26:14. This might be possible, and fear, grounded on ignorance of such a phaenomenon, might make them imagine it to be a vision from God; nay, even the voice or sound which they heard in the air, might be an explosion attending this meteor;—or, at least, there are those who would rather recur to such a supposition as this, however incredible, than acknowledge the miracle; but how will this account for the distinct words heard by Saul, to which he made answer?—How will it account for what followed when he came to Damascus agreeably to the sense of those words which he heard? How came Ananias to go to him there, and say "He was chosen by God to know his will, &c." ch. Act 22:14 Acts 26:16.? Or why did he propose to him to be baptized? what connection was there between the meteor which Saul had seen, and those words of Ananias? Will it be said, that Ananias was skilful enough to take advantage of the fright that he was in at the appearance, in order to make him a Christian? But could Ananias inspire him with the vision, in which he saw him before he came, Acts 9:12.? If that vision was the effect of imagination, how came it to be verified so exactly in fact?—But allowing that he dreamed by chance of Ananias's coming, and that came by chance too; or, if you please, that, having heard of his dream, he came to take advantage of that, as well as of the meteor which Saul had seen; will this get over the difficulty? Certainly, not: for there was more to be done. Saul was struck blind, and had been so, for three days. Now, had this blindness been natural, from the effects of the meteor or lightning upon him, it would not have been possible for Ananias to heal it, as we find that he did, merelyby putting his hands upon him, and speaking a few words.—This undoubtedly surpassed the power of nature; and if it was a miracle, it proves the other to have been a miracle too, and a miracle done by the same Jesus Christ.
Acts 9:18. There fell from his eyes as it had been scales:— Perhaps the outward coats of his eyes might have been scorched by the heat of that splendid light which he had seen; and what fell from them, might have had some resemblance to the small scales of fishes. His being thus restored to sight was, however, a most lively emblem of the veil's being done away from his heart. Immediately Saul rose up and was baptized, and, as appears by the event, was then also filled with the Holy Spirit; that is, as that phrase commonly signifies, the Holy Spirit was poured down upon him immediately from heaven, and not conveyed by the laying on of the hands of any man; and very probably that effusion upon Saul was accompanied with a glory, cloven tongues, or pointed flames, like as of fire, which was always the external symbol when the Spirit was given in the most honourable manner, as well as in the highest measure; and if that symbol attended his receiving the Holy Spirit, it was proper that his eyes should be first opened, that he himself might see the glory, and so be convinced, both byexternal signs and internal gifts, that he who had formerly been a persecutor, was now graciously accepted as a Christian, a prophet, and an apostle.
Acts 9:20. He preached Christ, &c.— He preached in the synagogues, maintaining that Jesus is the Son of God. So the Vulgate, and several manuscripts. The Jews knew that Christ, or the Messiah, is the Son of God.
Acts 9:21. And came hither for that intent,— And came hither on purpose to carry them prisoners to the chief priests. See 1 Samuel 10:11-12. Heylin.
Acts 9:22. Proving that this is very Christ.— Evincing that he [Jesus] is the Christ. As Saul had blasphemed Christ and persecuted the Christians through ignorance, and while he really disbelieved the gospel, he obtained mercy at the hands of our Lord Jesus Christ through faith in him. But, though our Lord forgave him, he could hardly forgive himself, and thought he could not sufficiently testify his love and affection, without the greatest study and diligence to convert others; and indeed, by shewing mercy to him, who had been, as he calls himself, a blasphemer and a persecutor, our Lord gave a most remarkable instance of his long-suffering and abundant mercy. For what could be a greater encouragement to others to hope for mercy, upon their repentance and sincerely believing the gospel? to the Jews,—for instance, who had procured the murder of the Messiah, the Lord of life and glory: to the Samaritans,—who had formerly been so odious to the Jews, and corrupters of the Old Testament: to the devout Gentiles,—with whom the Jews would not eat, nor freely converse, as long as they remained uncircumcised: and, above all, to the idolatrous Gentiles, who had a long time lived without the true God in the world, and as aliens to his church and covenant; and to whom more particularly this Saul, this singular monument of mercy, was to be an apostle.
Acts 9:23. And after—many days— After an interval of about three years; during which period Saul went into Arabia, and preached the gospel there. See Galatians 1:17-18. Though St. Luke has not given us a particular account of this part of St. Paul's travels, yet it appears sufficiently from the expression before us that he was not ignorant of it. St. Paul himself has led us to conclude, that the Jews at Damascus did not plot his death till after he returned thither from Arabia, just before he went up to Jerusalem. As St. Paul's abode at Damascus, both upon his conversion and at his return from Arabia, appears to have been very short, he must, according to his own account, have spent almost three years in Arabia. His going so soon from Damascus, and preaching the gospel so long in a remote country, where there were no Christians before his coming, is a proof, as he himself very justly alleges, that he receivednot the knowledge of the gospel doctrine from any other of the apostles or Christians, but immediately from our Lord Jesus Christ, or by the illumination of the Spirit. Returning from Arabia, he came again to Damascus, and going into one of the synagogues there, he preached the Christian doctrine to the Jews, as he had done before. But they, not content with barely rejecting his doctrine, consulted how they might take away his life; for they looked upon him as a grand apostate, whose conversion greatly strengthened the interests of Christianity. But a stronger proof can scarce be produced of the malignity of these people: that when so great a persecutor was in so wonderful a manner converted to Christianity, they should be so far from following his example, as to attempt his life.
Acts 9:24-25. And they watched the gates, &c.— This shews that there were great numbers engaged in this bloody design; forDamascus was a large city, and had many gates. Damascus now belonged to Aretas, king of Arabia, (see on Acts 9:2.) who governed it by an ethnarch, or deputy governor; compare 2 Corinthians 11:32-33. After Aretas had broken with his son-in-law Herod, very probably the Jews in general would have less interest in his dominions, and rather be watched and suspected by him. This might be the reason, perhaps, why they could not apprehend St. Paul in the synagogue, as he himself thought to have apprehended the Christians three years before; see Acts 9:2. However, though the Jews could not by their own power compass their design, nor would Aretas himself, perhaps, have granted them such a favour, yet theymade interest with his governor, that the garrison might have orders to apprehend St. Paul, and deliver him into their hands. Possibly the Jews might incense the governor against him, by pretending that though they were loyal subjects, Saul was a spy for Herod, or for the Romans, and an enemy to the Arabians, and so might draw him into their quarrel: for what will not persecuting and malicious men say or do, in the current of their blind zeal, and when hotly engaged to oppose truth and goodness? However, their zeal and rage were ineffectual; for St. Paul, having knowledge of their designs, was let down by the Christians as soon as they could do it with safety, by night, in a large basket suspended to a rope through the window of a house which joined to the walls of the city.
Acts 9:26-27. And when Saul was come to Jerusalem— Upon his escaping from Damascus, St. Paul went up to Jerusalem, where he had never been since his conversion to Christianity; and thither he went chiefly to visit the great apostle of the circumcision, Gal 1:18 who, as some of the Christians had informed him, then resided at that city. He had very probably heard much of St. Peter, which made him long for the sight and acquaintance of one so eminent in the Christian church.
Great souls by instinct to each other turn, Demand alliance, and in friendship burn.
And indeed there was something similar in their cases; for the one had been recovered to the dignity of one of the first ministers of the circumcision, after a threefold denial of his Lord and Master; the other, from a persecutor of the Christians, was already converted, and made an eminent prophet, and was commissioned to be the apostle of the Gentile world. But, though St. Paul went as a friend, to visit St. Peter and the Christian church, yet, as he had been so zealous and distinguished a persecutor, and had been since his conversion chiefly in Arabia Deserta, a country with which Jerusalem had but little correspondence, the Christians were still afraid of him. They knew how he had heretofore persecuted their brethren in Jerusalem, and gone to Damascus in pursuit of them; but they very probably had received no certain intelligence of his conversion. Though it may seem strange, that so remarkable an event should have been so long hid from them, yet some very probable reasons have been urged why they had not a full and satisfactory account of the affair; such as, 1. Thewar between Herod and Aretas, which might greatly interrupt the communication between Jerusalem and Damascus. 2. As the Christians in Judea were under a violent persecution, those of Damascus might be afraid of going to Jerusalem, and the Christians of Jerusalem might not be able to carry on their correspondence so regularly with the Christians at a distance; besides, it should be remembered, that there were not then such conveniences of correspondence as now. 3. Perhaps, the persecuting Jews, to prevent the argument which might be drawn from St. Paul's conversion, might affect to give themselves mysterious airs, as if he was only acting a concerted part; sure to find their account in such a pretence, by mortifying the disciples, and bringing St. Paul under suspicion.—But whatever was the cause, the Christians at Jerusalemstill doubted his integrity, till Barnabas convinced them to the contrary. Some affirm, that Barnabas had been his old acquaintance, and had sat with him at the feet of Gamaliel; and therefore might know him to be a man of too much veracity to act an insincere part; but this account is to be questioned. Barnabas, however, was some way or other fully satisfied of the truth and reality of St. Paul's conversion; he therefore, with great propriety, introduced him to the apostles, namely, to St. Peter, who went with St. John to Samaria, and was now returned; and to St. James, the kinsman of our Lord, Galatians 1:18-19. For these were the only apostles whom St. Paul now saw at Jerusalem: the rest had dispersed themselves to plant or water the Christian religion in different places, and especially to confirm and establish such converts as the Christianshad made in their several dispersions, by the laying on of their hands, and imparting unto them the gift of the Holy Spirit.
Acts 9:29. Against the Grecians:— The Hellenists; or those foreign Jews who used the Greek language, and came out of other parts to worship at Jerusalem, St. Paul being earnestly desirous that they might carry along with them the knowledge of Christ into their own lands. See the note on ch. Acts 6:1.
Acts 9:30. To Cesarea,— This must have been Caesarea Philippi, near the borders of Syria; as it may be collected from St. Paul's own words, that he went by land through the regions of Syria and Cilicia; see Gal 1:21 otherwise he might easily have gone from the celebrated Caesarea on the Mediterranean sea, by ship, to Tarsus, his own native city; whither the brethren sent him, no doubt, that he might find protection among his friends and relations, and plant the gospelamong them. They possibly might not have heard of his former bigotry against the Christians; or, as the spiritual harvest of the Jews was not yet gathered in at Tarsus, as it had been some time ago at Jerusalem, there were hopes of better treatment and more success there. See on chap. Acts 8:40.
Acts 9:31. Then had the churches rest— This rest is by no means to be ascribed merelyor chiefly to St. Paul's conversion; who, though a great zealot, was but a young man, of no immediate or supreme authority, and whose personal danger proves the persecution in some measure to have been continued at least three years after it. The period here spoken of, appears to be that which commenced at or quickly after St. Paul's setting out for Cilicia; and the best commentators seem agreed, that this repose of the Christians was occasioned by the general alarm which was given to the Jews, then the sole persecutors of the Christians, about the year 40; when Petronius, by the order of Caligula, incensed by some affront said to have been offered him by the Alexandrian Jews, attempted to bring the statue of that emperor among them, and to set it up in the holy of holies—a horrid profanation, which the whole people deprecated with the greatest concern in the most solicitous and affectionate manner, and by which they were so much taken up, that they had not leisure to look after or persecute the Christians. How long this rest continued, we do not certainly know; probably till Herod interrupted it, chap. 12: Acts 9:1. Dr. Doddridge, following Beza's construction of this intricate verse, renders it as follows: Then the churches through all Judea, and Galilee, and Samaria, being edified, had rest; and walking in the fear of the Lord and the consolation of the Holy Spirit were multiplied. Dr. Heylin reads it, At that time the churches, &c. had peace; being edified, and advancing in the fear of the Lord; and they became more numerous by the assistance of the Holy Ghost. The word οικοδμουμεναι, edified, is figurative, and properly a term of architecture, signifying the erecting or constructing the whole superstructure upon a foundation. In this place, it must signify by analogy, that the churches were properly instructed in all the fundamental doctrines of the gosp
Acts 9:32. And it came to pass, &c.— And as Peter was making a general visitation; Heylin. Now it came to pass that Peter making a progress, &c. As St. Peter had gone formerly through the metropolis and other towns of Samaria to plant or water Christianity, so during this peaceful interval he revisited theseveral churches in Judea and Galilee, to rectify their disorders, to instruct them further, and to impart the Holy Spirit to the new converts. Among other places he went down to Lod or Lydda, a town of Phoenicia, situated in the tribe of Ephraim, lying between Azotus and Caesarea. It was afterwards called Diospolis, and was about one day's journey distant from Jerusalem. There were several celebrated Jewish schools there, and the great Sanhedrim sometimes met near it. Saron or Sharon, which is connected with it, Act 9:35 was not a town, but a large, fruitful, and well inhabited valley, which lay near Lydda, and is said to have extended from mount Tabor to the lake of Tiberius, and from Caesarea to Joppa. Compare 1 Chronicles 27:29. Isaiah 33:9; Isaiah 35:2; Isaiah 65:10.
Acts 9:34. Eneas, Jesus Christ maketh thee whole— It is worth our while to observe the great difference there is between the manner in which this miracle is wrought by Peter, and that in which Christ performed his works of divine power and goodness. The different characters of the servant and the son, the creature and the God, are every where apparent. In working this miracle, however, St. Peter seems to have imitated our Lord, partly as to the manner of expression, but principally as to the sign and evidence of the perfection of the miracle; (Mark 2:9. John 5:8.) only with this remarkable difference and decorum; namely, that the two men whomour Lord cured, were not at their own home, and therefore they were ordered to take up their bed, or the couch on which they had lain, and walk away. But Eneas, whom St. Peter cured, was at home, and kept his bed there, and therefore he was ordered to arise, and make his bed; στρωσον σεαυτω, shake up and smooth your own bed, as an evidence of the certainty and perfection of your cure. We may observe, that no faith on the part of the person to be healed was here required; and the like is observable in many other cases, where persons, perhaps ignorant of Christ, were surprised with an unexpected cure. But where persons petitioned themselves for a cure, a declaration of their faith was often required, that none might be encouraged to try experiments out of curiosity, in a manner which would have been very indecent, and have tended to many bad consequences.
Acts 9:36. At Joppa— Another city of Phoenicia, lying upon the Mediterranean, and the nearest maritime town to Jerusalem, more than a day's journey distant from it,—about 40 miles; though some have said that Jerusalem might be seen from thence. We find it mentioned in the Old Testament by the name of Japho, as belonging to the tribe of Dan, Joshua 19:46. It was the place to which the materials for building Solomon's temple were brought in floats by sea, and carried thence by land to Jerusalem; 2 Chronicles 2:16. Jonah took ship from hence to Tarshish; Jon 1:3 and as it lay between Azotus and Caesarea, it was probably one of the cities where Philip preached the gospel in his progress, chap. Acts 8:40. Simon, son of Matthias, and brother to Judas Maccabeus, repaired and fortified Joppa, and made it a seaport to Jerusalem and all Judea, it being the fittest place on all that coast for the carrying on their trade to the isles and countries in the Mediterranean; for which purpose it served them many ages after the Maccabees, as it still serves the inhabitants of that country to this very day, being called by the same name, though vulgar pronunciation has changed it to Jaffa. It was at Jabneb or Jannia, nigh this place, that the great Sanhedrim sometimes sat; and yet for all their consultations, authority, and learning, Christianity there took root and flourished. Among the Christians at Joppa, there was a woman, whose Hebrew name was Tabitha, which in Greek is Dorcas, that is, a roe or wild-goat; for it was common among the Heathens to call men or women by the names of some inferior animals. Thus Rachel signifies a sheep, and Eglah, a calf. Dr. Shaw in the supplement to his Travels, p. 74 takes the word Δορκας to be the Gazel or Antelope, which Aristotle describes to be the smallest of the horned animals, being even smaller than the roe. The (Δορκας ) Dorcas is described to have fine eyes; and in the Eastern countries, those of the Gazel are so to a proverb. Thus the damsel whose name was Tabitha, which is by interpretation Dorcas, might be so called from this peculiar feature and circumstance. See Deu 15:22. 2 Samuel 2:18. Cantic. Act 2:9 Acts 4:5. &c.
Acts 9:37. Whom when they had washed,— This custom prevailed both among the Hebrews, Greeks, and Latins, and is still in use among us. See Mark 14:8. John 12:7; John 19:38-40.
Acts 9:38. Desiring him that he would not delay, &c.— We can hardly imagine that they urged his coming merely to comfort them under this loss: but if they had any view to what followed, it was a remarkable instance of faith, as it does not appear that the apostles before this had raised any one from the dead. Were we to have been judges, perhaps we should have thought it better that Stephen should have been raised than Dorcas; but it is our happiness and duty to submit our reasonings on what we think fittest and best, to the infinitely wiser determinations of God.
Acts 9:39. Shewing the coats and garments; &c.— "Shewing some of the under and upper garments, which she, with her own hands, had made, to clothe the naked and relieve the poor." The Vulgate reads, which she had made for them.
Acts 9:40. But Peter put them all forth,— Herein the servant followed not only the path, but the very steps of his Lord, in dismissing all witnesses, that nothing might look like vain-glory, that nothing might interrupt the fervour of that address which he was to pour out before God. First, he bends his knees in prayer to the Lord of life; and knowing certainly by a divine impulse that his prayer was heard, he directs his voice with a divine efficacy to the dead: but who can fully conceive the surprize of Dorcas when thus called back again to life, or of her pious friends when they saw her alive! for their own sake, and the sake of the indigent and distressed, there was cause of rejoicing, and much more in the view of such a confirmation given to the gospel, and such a token of Christ's presence with his servants. Yet to herself it must have been matter of resignation and submission, rather than exultation, that she was called back to these scenes of vanity, which surely would have been scarce tolerable, had not a veil of oblivion been drawn over those glories which her separate spirit had enjoyed. But we please ourselves with the charitable and reasonable hope, that the remainder of her days were yet more zealously and vigorously spent in the service of her Saviour and her God; yielding herself to him as in a double sense alive from the dead. Thus would a richer treasure be laid up for her in heaven, and she would afterwards return to a far more exceeding weight of glory, than that from which so astonishing a Providence had for a short interval recalled her.
Acts 9:42-43. And it was known throughout all Joppa;— The report of this miracle swiftly spread throughout all Joppa: upon which Simon, the son of Jonas, became more famous there than Jonas himself had been; for the ancient prophet Jonas, after he had taken ship at Joppa, was raised only from the belly of the fish; but Simon, the son of Jonas, raised the pious and charitable Tabitha from the dead, and thereby promoted a religion of greater and more extensive usefulness, than even the beneficent work of reducing Nineveh to repentance. After this, St. Peter tarried several days at Joppa, lodging in the house of one Simon a tanner, or currier, as some render the word βυρσει . His business perhaps is mentioned, that it might appear the apostle was not elevated by the dignity of the late miracle above low persons and thin
Thus ends the first grand period of the history of the first planting of the Christian religion, in which the gospel was preached to the Jews only. This period began at the day of Pentecost, ch. 2: and is computed to have lasted till the year of Christ 41 that is, about the space of eight years. Till such of the Jews as would embrace Christianity were brought in, especially the Jews in Palestine, God, in his great wisdom and goodness, would not suffer the gospel to be offered to one Gentile. But when such great numbers were gathered in, and the apostles had gone a second time to visit and settle the churches; when Christianity had taken root among them, and they were sufficiently instructed and established; and when, at the same time, the providence of God had so ordered things, that the persecution was ceased, then, but not till then, the same divine Wisdom and Goodness prepared the way for the spreading of the gospel among the Gentiles; the more particular account whereof will be read in the following chapters.
Inferences.—The conversion and apostleship of St. Paul are in themselves a full and undeniable proof of the truth of the Christian religion; and of consequence our faith in it and its divine Author is well and wisely founded on this, as well as on a thousand other arguments drawn from reason and experience.
If the facts laid before us in the present chapter, and the various other circumstances related of St. Paul, and by him in other parts of the sacred writings, are true, the religion of Christ must also be true, whose divine Author so wonderfully converted him, and afterwards enabled him to work so many miracles, and to plant his divine religion in so many places: and that these facts are true, according to the relation made of them by St. Luke in the Acts, and by St. Paul in his own Epistles, will clearly follow from hence; namely, that either they are true, or that St. Luke and St. Paul related them with an intent to deceive, or that they were themselves deceived, which is equally incredible. The facts recorded of St. Paul are true, or else he was either an impostor, or an enthusiast. Now it shall be the business of the following reflections to shew, that St. Paul cannot be supposed either to have said what he did with an intent to deceive others, or that it was possible for him to have been deceived himself; and consequently that what is related of and by him is true.
1. St. Paul could not have been an impostor, or have said what he did with an intent to deceive others; for, if he had done so, he must have had some reason for such conduct. But it is impossible to shew any rational motives which he could have, to undertake such an imposture; and it is as easy to shew, that he could never have carried it on with any success by the means which we know he used.
Now, for the first: the only inducement to such an imposture must have been one of these two; either the hope of advancing himself by it in his temporal interest, or the gratification of some of his passions under the authority of it, and by the means that it afforded. But a review of his life abundantly shews us, that so far from taking a method to advance his temporal interest, he took the only method to destroy it; leaving the party with whom were wealth, power, and credit, and joining himself to those who had neither worldly power nor esteem, and whose principles led them to give up all earthly blessings. His singular humility, purity, and labour, as undeniably shew, that the gratification of no other passion under the authority of the gospel could be the motive of his actions; and the treatment that he met with, and the sufferings he endured, for a long course of years, and in propagating a faith, the rewards of which were confined to another world, demonstrate beyond all controversy that he could be actuated by no spirit of imposture, but by that divine hope only, which led him to took beyond the grave for the fruition of his toils.
But as no rational motive can be assigned for St. Paul's conduct, supposing him an impostor; so was there no possibility, that he could ever have met with any success, had he really been such; for he had no sword, or temporal power (like Mahomet), no interest, or friends, or money to assist him in the undertaking. The weapons of his warfare were not carnal; only the foolishness of preaching; and yet with this, by the power of God, he made his way against all the opposition of his own country, as well as of all the Gentile world.
Again, had he been an impostor, all the apostles must have been the same, and he must have conferred with them to have been duly instructed in his story; the great difficulty, or rather the impossibility, of which will appear to every one who considers the situation that he was in before his conversion, and the part he acted through life after it.
And as thus, if he had been an impostor, it was impossible he could have carried on his fraud in Judea; so was it much more impossible he could have had any success in the Gentile world. At Rome, Corinth, Athens, Ephesus, in all which places he preached, he had obstacles to remove, the most insurmountable by human power; and which, without the divine assistance, we may as well suppose he could have removed, as that he could have made a world. He had the policy and power of the civil magistrates to combat; for is well known, that in all Heathen countries the established religion was interwoven with the civil constitution. He had the interest, credit, and craft of the priests, the prejudices and passions of the people, and (which perhaps was a greater obstacle than all,) the wisdom and the pride of the philosophers, to obviate and subdue: and yet, spite of all these, he established churches in every place; and, by the power of God, he spread the gospel of Christ, and him crucified, in every realm through which he travelled. The event therefore sufficiently proves that God was with him, and that his mission was divine.
2. As a proof that St. Paul was not himself deceived, either by his own warmth of fancy, or by the cunning of others, we need only consider briefly the circumstances of his conversion, and the consequences attending it.
It is well known, that the mere power of imagination always acts in conformity to the opinions imprinted on it at the time of its working. Now nothing can be more certain, than that when St. Paul set out for Damascus, (Acts 9:3.) his mind was strongly possessed against Christ and his followers. If, in such a disposition of mind, an enthusiastical man had imagined he saw a vision from heaven denouncing the anger of God against the Christians, and commanding him to persecute them without mercy, it might be accounted for by the natural power of enthusiasm. But that in the very instant of his being engaged in the fiercest and hottest persecution against them,—no circumstance having happened to change his opinions, or alter the bent of his disposition, but rather to foment and inflame it,—that he should at once imagine himself to be called by a heavenly vision to be an apostle of that Jesus whom he persecuted, is in itself wholly incredible; is so far from being a natural or probable effect of enthusiasm, that just the contrary effect must have been produced by such a cause.
3. This is so clear a proposition, that the whole argument might be safely rested upon it. But still further to shew that this vision could not be a phantom of St. Paul's own creating, we must remember, that he was not alone when he saw it. There were others in company, whose minds were no better disposed than his to the Christian faith. Could it then be possible that the imaginations of all those men should at the same time be so strongly infatuated, as to make them believe, that they saw a great light shining about them, above the brightness of the sun at noon-day, and heard the sound of a voice from heaven, though not the words which it spake,—when in reality they neither heard nor saw any such thing? Could they be so infatuated with this conceit of their fancy, as to fall down to the earth together with St. Paul, and be speechless through astonishment and fear, when nothing extraordinary had happened either to them or to him? especially considering that this vision did not happen in the night, when the senses are more easily imposed upon; but at midday? If a sudden frenzy had seized upon St. Paul from any distemper of body or mind, can we suppose his whole company, men of different constitutions and understanding, to have been at once affected in the same manner, so that not the distemper alone, but the effects of it should exactly agree? And if all had gone mad together, would not the frenzy of some have taken a different turn, and presented to them different objects? This supposition is so contrary to natural reason and all possibility, that unbelief must find out some other solution, or give up the point.
But if to this consideration we add the consequences of this marvellous appearance, it will no longer admit of dispute. Could Paul have been so deceived, as to imagine himself three days blind,—as to have scales fall from his eyes, just before he was baptized by Ananias? Could he be so deceived as to abandon his own profession, and to embrace Christianity, with the loss of all that he had and hoped in this world? Could he be deceived in the full knowledge he had gained of that religion from Christ himself?—For as he had never conversed with the apostles, how should he have been so perfectly instructed in the deepest mysteries of the Christian faith, unless he had received them by the immediate revelation of Christ?—And, to say no more, could he have been deceived in the miraculous gifts that he possessed, and the miracles he wrought;—or, if he could, was it possible that others also should be as mad as himself, and imagine that they saw him struck blind, or another restore him to sight, when no such events happened?
These are things so impossible to be reconciled with any self-delusion, that they abundantly prove the truth of St. Paul's conversion and mission; to which if we add the purity of his doctrines, as well as his imparting spiritual gifts to the churches which he planted, we shall have the fullest testimony of the fact; the highest proof that he spoke the words of truth and soberness, and that God was with him.
4. And as it was impossible that St. Paul should have deceived himself, so was it much more incredible that he should have been deceived by others. We need say little to shew the absurdity of this supposition. It was morally impossible for the disciples of Christ, considered as impostors, to conceive such a thought as that of turning his persecutor into his apostle, and of doing this by a fraud, in the very instant of his greatest fury against them and their Lord. But could they have been so extravagant as to conceive such a thought, it was naturally impossible for them to execute it in the manner that we find his conversion to have been effected. Could they produce a light in the air, which at mid-day was brighter than the sun? Could they make Saul hear words from out of that light, which were not heard by the rest of the company? Could they make him blind for three days after that vision, and then make scales fall from his eyes, and restore him to his sight by a word? Beyond dispute no fraud could effect these things; but much less could the fraud of others produce those miracles subsequent to his conversion, in which he was not passive, but active; which he did himself, and which he appeals to in his epistles, as proofs of his divine mission. So that it clearly follows, that he was not, could not be deceived by the fraud of others: that what is said of him, and what he has said of himself, cannot be imputed to the power of that deceit, no more than to wilful imposture, or to enthusiasm. From all which the plain conclusion is, that what is here and elsewhere related to have been the cause of St. Paul's conversion, and to have happened in consequence of it, did all really happen; is all certainly and infallibly true, as we have it related; and therefore, that the Christian religion is true; is a divine revelation from God; and blessed are all they who so believe and embrace it.
REFLECTIONS.—1st, Saul, the bloody persecutor of the church, again appears, but henceforward to support a very different character. His Hebrew name Saul, signifies desired; his Roman name, Paul, little. He was by birth a Cilician, of the city of Tarsus; sprung from the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; deeply skilled in Grecian literature, as well as Jewish theology; brought up under the greatest masters of the time; a fiery zealot for the law; a man of rank, though a tent-maker (it being a custom with the Jews to instruct all those, who were bred scholars, in some handicraft trade); and a Roman, born a freeman of Tarsus, and consequently of Rome. We are in this chapter told, in conformity with the former account given of him:
1. With what rage he persecuted the disciples of Jesus. He yet breathed out threatenings and slaughter; not satiated with the blood of the martyrs which he had shed, his fury grasped at the utter extirpation of the Christian name; determined either to intimidate them from their profession, and drive them to blaspheme; or to murder the obstinately faithful. For this end, not content with the mischief he had done at Jerusalem, he pursued them to other cities; and desired, and obtained, letters from the high-priest, and the whole estate of the elders, Act 22:5 empowering him to act in their name at Damascus; and if in the synagogue there, he found any of this way, favourers of this new religion, Christianity, whether they were men or women, he might bring them bound unto Jerusalem, to be tried and punished by their spiritual court, the sanhedrim. Thus was Saul employed, when the Lord stopped him in his mad career. Let us admire the wonders of grace, and never despair of the chief of sinners.
2. God marvellously arrests him in the midst of his mad career. He was now arrived near the place of his destination, and already, in imagination, triumphed in the havoc he should make: but how far are God's ways above our ways, and his thoughts above our thoughts! When sinners are driving to the height of wickedness, he is sometimes pleased to magnify his power and grace, in bending their iron necks to his yoke, and affording them an astonishing offer of grace. As he journeyed, he came near Damascus: and suddenly there shined round about him a light from heaven, brighter than the meridian sun, the dazzling lustre of which quite overpowered him; and the presence of Jesus in his glory filled him with such amazement and confusion, that he fell to the earth, unable to stand on his feet; or, being more probably on horseback, he fell down, astonished and overcome by the splendor of the light. Note; Those whom God designs for eminent usefulness, he sometimes exercises with the deepest terrors and distress, and lays them in the lowest pit of humiliation.
3. Christ, having seized him as his prisoner, addresses him out of the glorious light which shone around him. He heard a voice, saying unto him, Saul, Saul; Christ speaks with vehemence, as to one who stood on the precipice of ruin, insensible of his danger; and with fervent compassion, as desirous to snatch him from instant ruin; why persecutest thou me? with daring impiety lifting thy rebel arm against the Almighty; with black ingratitude thus returning the love of him who died to redeem thee; with cruel enmity persecuting those who never injured thee; and in them, my believing people, striking at me their Lord and Master? Note; (1.) When Christ comes with his Spirit, convincing the soul of sin, he brings the matter home to the conscience, and the sinner hears him say, Thou art the man. (2.) The Lord resents the insults shewn to his people, as injuries done to himself.
4. The affrighted criminal, now cited to answer at the bar of this justly-offended Redeemer, with terror replies, Who art thou, Lord? desirous to be acquainted with him, whose heavenly voice he heard: And the Lord said, I am Jesus, whom thou persecutest; he against whom thou hast so often blasphemed, and against whom thou art now acting with such envenomed malice and enmity; it is hard for thee to kick against the pricks; as absurd and self-destructive must these attempts against my church and people prove, as with the naked foot to kick against a sharp iron goad. Trembling and astonished, Saul inquires, Lord, what wilt thou have me to do? A flood of light now broke in upon his soul; his sins, in all their aggravations, rose up to his view; the dreadful consequences that he had justly to apprehend from the wrath of an offended Saviour stared him in the face, and made him willing now to do and suffer any thing, if he may escape the vengeance which he has provoked: he earnestly begs information, if yet there may be hope of mercy, pardon, and salvation. And the Lord said unto him, Arise, and go into the city, and it shall be told thee what thou must do; he leaves him for a while to ruminate in darkness on the past, yet with some gracious hope of hearing farther from him; for he might well conclude, that had Christ intended to destroy him, he would not thus have spared and spoken to him. Note; (1.) They who rebel against the convictions of their conscience, the warnings of God's word, and the calls of God's ministers, will pierce themselves through with many, and, if they repent not, with eternal sorrows. (2.) When God's Spirit sets a man's sins in array before him, and opens his eyes to see the flaming gulph on the brink of which he stands, no wonder if horror and a terrible dread seize upon him; and, like Belshazzar, his knees smite against each other. (3.) Our terrors of conscience must not drive us from Christ, but to him, inquiring into his will, and what hope of salvation remains for us. Let not the greatest sinner add despair to all his crimes. (4.) Though the Lord may not give present ease or relief to the troubled conscience, yet we must wait his leisure, and be found at his feet, where never miserable soul yet perished.
5. Saul's fellow-travellers or guards, sent to assist him in executing the high-priest's and sanhedrim's commission, stood speechless, when risen from the ground to which they had been struck down; hearing a voice, some tremendous sound, like thunder; or words, the meaning of which they did not understand; but, though they heard Paul speak, seeing no man, to whom he addressed himself.
6. Saul himself arose from the earth at Christ's bidding; and now opening his eyelids, his sightless eye-balls no longer met the light of day; he is taken off from the view of outward objects, that he may turn his thoughts more intensely to what appears within. Thus blind, his companions led him by the hand, and brought him into Damascus, a spectacle of wretchedness; where he purposed, a few moments before, to make his entry in pomp: so soon can God change the sinner's mirth into mourning, and humble his pride in the dust. Three days and nights he continued dark in his body, and probably under deeper distress and darkness in his soul; and he neither did eat nor drink: his troubled mind destroyed all relish for food, and, in fasting and prayer, he spent these three melancholy days, the most fearful hours that he ever knew.
2nd, The Lord now returns to visit the distressed, afflicted Saul.
1. The Lord in a vision speaks to a disciple at Damascus, named Ananias, who, with attention and obedience, attends his orders. He bids him, Arise, and go into the street which is called Straight, and inquire in the house of Judas for one called Saul of Tarsus, a person of distinguished name: for behold, an astonishing change is passed upon him; humbled in the dust he prayeth, and hath, in answer to his prayer, seen in a vision a man named Ananias coming in, and putting his hand on him, that he might receive his sight: he being therefore the person pointed out for this service, must go without delay. Note; (1.) God sees the distresses of the afflicted; he also will hear their cry, and will help them. (2.) The moment a soul in true penitence turns to God, this evidence of spiritual life will immediately appear, behold, he prayeth. Those who are prayerless, are evidently yet dead in trespasses and sins. (3.) When Christ calls us to his service, we should with delight and readiness answer, Here Amos 1:0.
2. Ananias at first objects to go, but is quickly satisfied. The well-known character of Saul made him apprehensive of danger, should he put himself within the reach of such a bigoted persecutor, who had not only done so much evil at Jerusalem, but had come to Damascus, armed with the chief priest's commission, to bind all that called on the name of Jesus, and carry them as criminals to Jerusalem. But Christ silences his objections; the Lord said unto him, Go thy way, there is no danger; for he is a chosen vessel unto me, appointed to distinguished honour and eminent usefulness; to bear my name before the Gentiles, and kings, and the children of Israel, preaching that faith which he once destroyed: For I will shew him how great things he must suffer for my name's sake, and will enable him to endure the most severe persecutions; and at last, in testimony of the truth of his mission, to seal it with his blood. Note; They who embark in Christ's cause, especially as ministers of his gospel, must prepare for the cross, and learn to endure hardness as good soldiers.
3. Ananias hereupon immediately obeys; and entering the house where Saul lodged, and putting his hands on him, said, Brother Saul, now adopted into the family of Christ, and a child of God, with us, and henceforward associated with us in the ministry of the gospel, the Lord, even Jesus that appeared to thee in the way as thou camest, and struck thee with blindness, hath sent me, that thou mightest receive thy bodily sight, the emblem of the happier illumination of thy soul with the light of truth; and that thou mightest be filled with the Holy Ghost, with his miraculous gifts, as well as with the most abundant measure of his grace, in order to qualify thee for the great and glorious service to which thou art appointed. Note; When God is pleased to work a change on the vilest, we must, with open arms, receive them as our brethren.
4. No sooner had Ananias spoken, than the cure was wrought. The scales fell from his eyes, and he received sight forthwith, and arose, and was baptized; openly making profession of that faith which he now most heartily embraced,—no longer the blind Pharisee, but the enlightened Christian; delivered from the horrible darkness of terrifying guilt; and rejoicing in the Sun of righteousness arisen upon him with healing in his wings.
5. Behold the fierce persecutor instantly commencing a zealous preacher. Having refreshed himself with proper food after so long fasting, he was strengthened in body, as well as soul; then he joined the faithful disciples of Jesus at Damascus; and instead of the threatenings he lately breathed against them, he was united with them in the closest bonds of Christian communion; appeared openly among them, and straightway preached Christ in the synagogues, that he is the Son of God, the true Messiah, to the astonishment of all who heard him; for knowing his past conduct, and the intention of his journey thither, they could not but stand amazed at this wonderous change. But far from being ashamed of the apostacy with which some reproached him, or dubious about the merits of that cause which his former Jewish friends so decried, and still with bitterness opposed, Saul increased the more in strength, super-naturally taught and strengthened, and daily growing more bold and zealous in defence of that faith which he had embraced, pleading the cause of Jesus against every gain-sayer; and he confounded the Jews which dwelt at Damascus, proving that this is very Christ, by such irrefragable arguments as left them nothing to reply. Note; (1.) Christ is the glorious subject, on which his faithful ministers delight to dwell. (2.) It justly excites astonishment, and serves for a fresh confirmation of the truth of the gospel, when bitter opposers, by the power of divine grace, appear advocates for the cause which they once decried.
3rdly, The transactions which are recorded in this chapter immediately after the account of St. Paul's conversion, happened three years afterwards; during which interval the apostle went into Arabia, preaching to the Jews who were settled in that country; and then returned again to Damascus, Galatians 1:15-18, where we find,
1. The narrow escape that he had out of the jaws of his envenomed persecutors. Enraged at his apostacy from them, as they regarded it, and unable to bear the powerful energy of his discourses, inculcating the glorious truths of the gospel, they resolved to murder him; and, having gained the governor to their side, they watched the gates day and night in order to destroy him: but impotent is the malice of the wicked against those whom the Lord protects; their scheme was discovered, either by some friend, or by revelation; and the brethren, in order to elude the vigilance of these bloody-minded persecutors, let the apostle down by the wall in a basket by night, and so he escaped. Note; If we are for the Lord's sake brought into the greatest straits and temptations, he is still able and willing to make a way for us to escape.
2. He proceeded to Jerusalem, and there he met new difficulties. See Galatians 1:18-19.
[1.] From the brethren themselves. He immediately assayed to join himself to the disciples; his former noble friends he had now forsaken, and wished to be admitted among the poor and persecuted disciples of Jesus: but they were at first afraid of him, not having heard ought about him probably during the three years he was in Arabia, or even perhaps of his wonderful conversion at Damascus, and believed not that he was a disciple: knowing his past enmity, they suspected that his present conversion might be feigned. Caution is needful; we should be well acquainted with those whom we admit into our communion, lest they be wolves in sheep's clothing: believe not every spirit. But Barnabas, who had received full information concerning Paul's case, soon satisfied the minds of the disciples; and bringing Paul to the apostles James and Peter, who alone were then at Jerusalem, he told them all the circumstances of his extraordinary conversion, and his approved fidelity and zealous labours ever since, particularly at Damascus. Hereupon they gladly gave him the right hand of fellowship, and he appeared publicly among the disciples, going in and out with them, joining in their worshipping assemblies, and spake boldly in the name of the Lord Jesus. They who have so good a cause, may well courageously appear in defence of it; Christ's service will bear us out.
[2.] From the Jews. The Hellenists, who were most bigoted to Judaism, encountered him; and he disputed with them with such evidence, power, and demonstration, that, unable to stand before the force of his arguments, they determined to silence him by the sword. Therefore, after a short abode of fifteen days at Jerusalem, having received a revelation from God, directing him in his labours, Act 22:17-18 and the brethren being solicitous for his safety, he was brought by them as far as Caesarea, and thence was sent to Tarsus his native city, where he continued preaching the gospel, till Barnabas joined him, chap. Acts 11:25. Note; (1.) It is a sure sign of a bad cause, when recourse is had to violence instead of argument. (2.) Whatever plots the wicked contrive against the faithful ministers of truth, the Lord will take care of them, till they have finished their testimony.
[3.] Then had the churches rest throughout all Judea, and Galilee, and Samaria. The flames of persecution abated: and a little respite was a great mercy to them, after they had been so harassed by their foes; nor did they fail to improve it; they were edified in knowledge and faith, enjoying more quietly the means of grace, and assembling more undisturbed; and walking in the fear of the Lord, a filial, reverential fear, which made them circumspect and holy in all manner of conversation, and in the comfort of the Holy Ghost; enjoying much of his light, love, and consolations, they were multiplied; increasing in numbers and growing in grace. Note; They who walk most nearly and humbly with God, will enjoy most of the comforts of his Spirit.
4thly, The historian for a while leaves St. Paul to his labours, and returns to relate the ministry of St. Peter.
1. He travelled about to visit the churches which had been planted, to confirm the disciples, and ordain ministers among them: and among other places, he came down also to the saints which dwelt at Lydda. Note; They who are called to be Christians, are by their very profession saints, separated from the world, and devoted to God.
2. St. Peter there performed a notable miracle. A man, whose name was Eneas, had lain bed-ridden eight years, through the palsy; and all possibility of a cure by human means was despaired of; but when the apostle saw him, he said, Eneas, Jesus Christ maketh thee whole: arise, and make thy bed: instantly the cure was wrought, and the man arose restored to perfect health and strength. Note; (1.) By mere nature we are impotent to all good, and no man can of himself afford us the least relief. (2.) Christ is the great physician; he can cure those whose state is the most deplorable and desperate. (3.) When he speaks to the penitent soul, power accompanies his word, and the believer is enabled to rise from the bed of spiritual weakness and impotence by the mighty power of his grace.
3. Great was the effect produced by this miracle. The people of Lydda and Saron in general, convinced of the divine power evident in the cure, turned to the Lord, and made profession of Christianity; and then was the scripture eminently fulfilled, which said, They should see the glory of the Lord, and become a fold of flocks, Isaiah 35:2; Isaiah 65:10.
5thly, Another, and a still greater miracle is wrought, in confirmation of the divine authority, under which St. Peter acted. We have,
1. The sickness and death of an excellent woman, whose name was Tabitha; in Greek, Dorcas, or a doe; she was an inhabitant of Joppa, and adorned the profession of Christianity which she made; being full of good works, the genuine proofs of the truth of the faith that she possessed, and of almsdeeds which she did; not only bestowing her substance liberally to the necessitous, but labouring with her hands, that she might be more extensive in her beneficence; for real Christians will shew the fruits of grace; their works will speak their praise. In the midst of her useful life, it pleased God to cut her off; she fell sick and died. From the ravages of mortality the best have no exemption; and, according to their custom, they had now washed the body, and laid it out for interment.
2. The disciples at Joppa, who heard of St. Peter's being so near as Lydda, and of the miracle that he had there wrought, sent two of their number to him, informing him of the present afflictive providence, and entreating him to come to them, to comfort them under their grief; and probably with some expectations, that he might yet restore to life their departed sister.
3. St. Peter, without delay, complied with their request; and, when he came, found the body laid out in the upper chamber, and the widows lamenting their loss of such a bountiful friend; shewing the coats and garments which perhaps they then wore, the tokens of her charity, diligence, and pity to the poor, while she was with them. Note; (1.) The fatherless and widows are peculiar objects of compassion; to them the hand of charity should be liberally stretched forth. (2.) Though they who are truly charitable, will ever be silent, and desire no commendation or return; yet those who reap the blessings of their bounty, ought not to be so: gratitude, at least, is the tribute which they owe.
4. St. Peter, who, following his Master's example, Mat 9:25 declined all appearance of vain-glory, put forth the company; and, after kneeling down and praying, he turned to the body, and said, Tabitha, arise, in the full confidence of the power which accompanied his word; and immediately opening her eyes, which had been closed in death, when she saw Peter, she sat up; and Peter giving her his hand, assisted her to rise from the bier, or place where she lay; and, calling the saints and widows, presented her alive, to their great astonishment and joy.
5. The same of the miracle quickly spread through Joppa, and was in every body's mouth; and many, struck with the evidence of God's approbation of the doctrine which St. Peter preached, believed in the Lord, and made public profession of his gospel. Encouraged by such a prospect of success, the apostle made some considerable abode in that place, lodging in the house of one Simon a tanner; satisfied with any accommodations, and only intent upon preaching the gospel of his adored Lord and Master.
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Coke, Thomas. "Commentary on Acts 9". Thomas Coke Commentary on the Holy Bible. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29