|<< Acts 9 >>|
Clarke's Commentary on the Bible
Saul, bent on the destruction of the Christians, obtains letters from the high priest, authorizing him to seize those whom he should find at Damascus, and bring them bound to Jerusalem, Acts 9:1, Acts 9:2. On his way to Damascus, he has a Divine vision, is convinced of his sin and folly, is struck blind, and remains three days without sight, and neither eats nor drinks, Acts 9:3-9. Ananias, a disciple, is commanded in a vision to go and speak to Saul, and restore his sight, Acts 9:10-16. Ananias goes and lays his hands on him, and he receives his sight, and is baptized, Acts 9:17-19. Saul, having spent a few days with the Christians at Damascus, goes to the synagogues, proclaims Christ, and confounds the Jews, Acts 9:20-22. The Jews lay wait to kill him, but the disciples let him down over the walls of the city in a basket, by night, and he escapes to Jerusalem, Acts 9:23-25. Having wished to associate with the disciples there, they avoid him; but Barnabas takes and brings him to the apostles, and declares his conversion, Acts 9:26, Acts 9:27. He continues in Jerusalem preaching Christ, and arguing with the Hellenistic Jews, who endeavor to slay him; but the disciples take him to Caesarea, and send him thence to his own city Tarsus, Acts 9:28-30. About this time, the Churches, being freed from persecution, are edified and multiplied, Acts 9:31. Peter heals Eneas at Lydda, who had been afflicted with the palsy eight years: in consequence of which miracle, all the people of Lydda and Saron are converted, Acts 9:32-35. Account of the sickness and death of a Christian woman named Tabitha, who dwelt at Joppa; and her miraculous restoration to life by the ministry of Peter, Acts 9:36-41. Gracious effects produced among the inhabitants of Lydda by this miracle, Acts 9:42, Acts 9:43.
1And Saul, yet breathing out threatenings and slaughter against the disciples of the Lord, went unto the high priest,
Saul, yet breathing out threatenings and slaughter - The original text is very emphatic, ετι εμπνεων απειλης και φονου, and points out how determinate Saul was to pursue and accomplish his fell purpose of totally destroying the infant Church of Christ. The mode of speech introduced above is very frequent in the Greek writers, who often express any vehement and hostile affection of the mind by the verb πνεειν, to breathe, to pant; so Theocritus, Idyll. xxii. ver. 82:
Ες μεσσον συναγον, φονον αλλαλοισι πνεοντες.
They came into the assembly, breathing mutual slaughter.
Euripides has the same form, πυρ πνεουσα και φονον, breathing out fire, and slaughter, Iphig. in Taur.
And Aristophanes more fully, referring to all the preparations for war: -
Αλλα πνεοντας δορυ και λογχας και λευκολοφους τρυφαλειας,
Και πηληκας, και κνημιδας, και θυμους ἑπταβοειους.
They breathed spears, and pikes, and helmets, and crests, and greaves, and the fury of redoubted heroes.
The figure is a favourite one with Homer: hence μενεα πνειοντες Αβαντες, the Abantes breathing strength. - Il. ii. 536. And how frequently he speaks of his fierce countrymen as, μενεα πνειοντες Αχαιοι, the Greeks breathing strength, see Il. iii. 8; xi. 508; xxiv. 364, which phrase an old Scholiast interprets, being filled with strength and fury. St. Luke, who was master of the Greek tongue, chose such terms as best expressed a heart desperately and incessantly bent on accomplishing the destruction of the objects of its resentment. Such at this time was the heart of Saul of Tarsus; and it had already given full proof of its malignity, not only in the martyrdom of Stephen, but also in making havoc of the Church, and in forcibly entering every house, and dragging men and women, whom he suspected of Christianity, and committing them to prison. See Acts 8:3.
Went unto the high priest - As the high priest was chief in all matters of an ecclesiastical nature, and the present business was pretendedly religious, he was the proper person to apply to for letters by which this virulent persecutor might be accredited. The letters must necessarily be granted in the name of the whole Sanhedrin, of which Gamaliel, Saul's master, was at that time the head; but the high priest was the proper organ through whom this business might be negotiated.
2And 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.
Letters to Damascus to the synagogues - Damascus, anciently called דמסק Damask, and דרמסק Darmask, was once the metropolis of all Syria. It was situated at fifty miles' distance from the sea; from which it is separated by lofty mountains. It is washed by two rivers, Amara or Abara, which ran through it, and Pharpar, called by the Greeks Chrysorrhoas, the golden stream, which ran on the outside of its walls. It is one of the most ancient cities in the world, for it existed in the time of Abraham, Genesis 14:15; and how long before is not known. The city of Damascus is at present a place of considerable trade, owing to its being the rendezvous for all the pilgrims from the north of Asia, on their road to and from the temple of Mecca. It is surrounded with pretty strong walls, which have nine gates, and is between four and five miles in circumference. It contains about 100,000 inhabitants, some say more, the principal part of whom are Arabs and Turks, with whom live, in a state of considerable degradation, about 15,000 Christians. Damascus, like other places of importance, has passed through the hands of many masters. It was captured and ruined by Tiglath Pileser, who carried away its inhabitants to Kin, beyond the Euphrates, about 740 years before the Christian era; and thus was fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah, Isaiah 17:1-3, and that of Amos, Amos 1:4, Amos 1:5. It was also taken by Sennacherib, and by the generals of Alexander the Great. Metellus and Laelius seized it, during the war of Pompey with Tigranes; before Christ 65. It continued under the dominion of the Romans till the Saracens took possession of it, in a.d. 634. It was besieged and taken by Teemour lenk, a.d. 1400, who put all the inhabitants to the sword. The Egyptian Mamelukes repaired Damascus when they took possession of Syria; but the Turkish Emperor Selim having defeated them at the battle of Aleppo in 1516, Damascus was brought under the government of the Turks, and in their hands it still remains. In the time of St. Paul it was governed by Aretas, whose father, Obodas, had been governor of it under Augustus. Damascus is 112 miles south of Antioch; 130 N.N.E. of Jerusalem; and 270 S.S.W; of Diarbek. Longitude 37 east: latitude 33 45' north. The fruit tree called the Damascene, vulgarly Damazon, and the flower called the Damask rose, were transplanted from Damascus to the gardens of Europe; and the silks and linens, known by the name of Damasks, were probably first manufactured by the inhabitants of this ancient city.
Any of this way - That is, this religion, for so דרך derec in Hebrew, and ὁδος, hodos, in Hellenistic Greek, are often to be understood. דרך יהוה derec Yehovah, the way of the Lord, implies the whole of the worship due to him, and prescribed by himself: the way or path in which he wills men to walk, that they may get safely through life, and finally attain everlasting felicity. The Jewish writers designate the whole doctrine and practice of Christianity by a similar expression, דרך הנוצרים derec hanotsarim, the way, doctrine, or sect of the Christians.
Whether they were men or women - Provided they were Jews; for no converts had as yet been made among the Gentiles; nor did the power of the high priest and Sanhedrin extend to any but those who belonged to the synagogues. Pearce.
In every country where there were Jews and synagogues, the power and authority of the Sanhedrin and high priest were acknowledged: just as papists in all countries acknowledge the authority of the pope. And as there can be but one pope, and one conclave, so there could be but one high priest, and one Sanhedrin; and this is the reason why the high priest and sanhedrin at Jerusalem had authority over all Jews, even in the most distant countries.
3And as he journeyed, he came near Damascus: and suddenly there shined round about him a light from heaven:
Suddenly there shined round about him - This might have been an extraordinary flash of the electric fluid, accompanied with thunder, with which God chose to astonish and confound Saul and his company; but so modified it as to prevent it from striking them dead. Thunder would naturally follow such a large quantity of this fluid as appears to have been disengaged at this time; and out of this thunder, or immediately after it, Christ spoke in an awful and distinct voice, which appears to have been understood by Saul only.
4And he fell to the earth, and heard a voice saying unto him, Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me?
And he fell to the earth - Being struck down with the lightning: many persons suppose he was on horseback, and painters thus represent him; but this is utterly without foundation. Painters are, in almost every case, wretched commentators.
5And 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.
Who art thou, Lord? - Τις ει, Κυριε; Who art thou, Sir? He had no knowledge who it was that addressed him, and would only use the term Κυριε, as any Roman or Greek would, merely as a term of civil respect.
I am Jesus whom thou persecutest - "Thy enmity is against me and my religion; and the injuries which thou dost to my followers I consider as done to myself." The following words, making twenty in the original, and thirty in our version, are found in no Greek MS. The words are, It is hard for thee to kick against the pricks: and he trembling and astonished said, Lord, what wilt thou have me to do? and the Lord said unto him. It is not very easy to account for such a large addition, which is not only not found in any Greek MS. yet discovered, but is wanting in the Itala, Erpen's Arabic, the Syriac, Coptic, Sahidic, and most of the Slavonian. It is found in the Vulgate, one of the Arabic, the Ethiopic, and Armenian; and was probably borrowed from Acts 26:14, and some marginal notes. It is wanting also in the Complutensian edition, and in that of Bengel. Griesbach also leaves it out of the text.
It is hard for thee, etc. - Σκληρον σοι προς κεντρα λακτιζειν. This is a proverbial expression, which exists, not only in substance, but even in so many words, both in the Greek and Latin writers. Κεντρον, kentron, signifies an ox goad, a piece of pointed iron stuck in the end of a stick, with which the ox is urged on when drawing the plough. The origin of the proverb seems to have been this: sometimes it happens that a restive or stubborn ox kicks back against the goad, and thus wounds himself more deeply: hence it has become a proverb to signify the fruitlessness and absurdity of rebelling against lawful authority, and the getting into greater difficulties by endeavoring to avoid trifling sufferings. So the proverb, Incidit in Scyllam qui vult vitare Charybdim. Out of the cauldron into the fire. "Out of bad into worse." The saying exists, almost in the apostolic form, in the following writers. Euripides, in Bacch. ver. 793: -
Θυοιμ' αν αυτῳ μαλλον, η θυμουμενος
Προς κεντρα λακτιζοιμι, θνητος ων, Θεῳ.
"I, who am a frail mortal, should rather sacrifice to him who is a God, than, by giving place to anger, kick against the goads."
And Aeschylus, in Agamemnon, ver. 1633: -
Προς κεντρα μη λακτιζε.
Kick not against the goads.
And again in Prometh. Vinct. ver. 323: -
Προς κεντρα κωλον εκτενεις, ὁρων ὁτι
Τραχυς μοναρχος ουδ' ὑπευθυνος κρατει.
"Thou stretchest out thy foot against goads, seeing the fierce monarch governs according to his own will."
Resistance is of no use: the more thou dost rebel, the more keenly thou shalt suffer. See the Scholiast here.
Pindar has a similar expression, Pyth. ii. ver. 171-5: -
Φερειν δ' ελαφρως
Ζυγον γ' αρηγει. Ποτι κεντρον δε τοι
"It is profitable to bear willingly the assumed yoke.
To kick against the goad is pernicious conduct."
Where see the Scholiast, who shows that "it is ridiculous for a man to fight with fortune: for if the unruly ox, from whom the metaphor is taken, kick against the goad, he shall suffer still more grievously." Terence uses the same figure. Phorm. Act i. scen. 2, ver. 27: -
Venere in mentem mihi istaec: nam inscitia est,
Adversum stimulum calces. - "
These things have come to my recollection, for it is foolishness for thee to kick against a goad."
Ovid has the same idea in other words, Trist. lib. ii. ver. 15: -
At nunc (tanta meo comes est insania morbo)
Saxa malum refero rursus ad icta pedem.
Scilicet et victus repetit gladiator arenam;
Et redit in tumidas naufraga puppis aquas.
But madly now I wound myself alone,
Dashing my injured foot against the stone:
So to the wide arena, wild with pain,
The vanquish'd gladiator hastes again;
So the poor shatter'd bark the tempest braves,
Launching once more into the swelling waves.
Intelligent men, in all countries and in all ages of the world, have seen and acknowledged the folly and wickedness of fighting against God; of murmuring at the dispensations of his providence; of being impatient under affliction; and of opposing the purposes of his justice and mercy. The words contain a universal lesson, and teach us patience under affliction, and subjection to the sovereign will of God; and they especially show the desperate wickedness of endeavoring, by persecution, to hinder the dissemination of the truth of God in the earth. He that kicks against this goad does it at the risk of his final salvation. The fable of the viper and the file is another illustration of this proverb: it gnawed and licked the file, till it destroyed its teeth and wasted away its tongue. The maxim in the proverb should be early inculcated on the minds of children and scholars; when chastised for their faults, resistance and stubbornness produce increased coercion and chastisement. And let parents and masters learn that the oft-repeated use of the goad and ferula seldom tend to reclaim, but beget obduracy and desperation. The advice of Columella to the ploughman, having some relation to the proverb in the text, and a strong bearing on this latter part of the subject, is worthy of the most serious regard: "Voce potius quam verberibus terreat: ultimaque sint opus recusantibus remedia plagae. Nunquam stimulo lacessat juvencum, quod retrectantem calcitrosumque eum reddit: nonnunquam tamen admoneat flagello." Columella, De Re Rustica, lib. ii. cap. 2, in fine. "Let the husbandman intimidate his oxen more by his voice than by blows, to which he should never have recourse but in extreme cases. A young steer should never be goaded, for this will induce him to kick and run back; but on proper occasions the whip, as an incentive to activity, may be profitably used." In reference to the same subject, which all concerned should feel to be of the greatest importance I shall close with the advice of one greater than the Roman agriculturist: Fathers, provoke not your children to anger, lest they be discouraged, Colossians 3:21; but bring them up (εν παιδειᾳ και νουθεσιᾳ Κυριου) in the discipline and admonition of the Lord, Ephesians 6:4, using the authority that God has given you with a steady hand, actuated by a tender and feeling heart.
6And 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.
Trembling - Under a strong apprehension of meeting the judgment he deserved.
And astonished - At the light, the thunder, and the voice.
Lord, what wilt thou have me to do? - The word Κυριε, Lord, is here to be understood in its proper sense, as expressing authority and dominion: in the 5th verse it appears to be equivalent to our word sir.
The pride of the Pharisee is now brought down to the dust; and the fury of the persecutor is not only restrained, but the lion becomes a lamb. What wilt thou have me to do? Wilt thou condescend to employ me among thy meanest servants?
Go into the city, and it shall be told thee, etc. - Jesus could have informed him at once what was his will concerning him; but he chose to make one of those very disciples whom he was going to bring in bonds to Jerusalem the means of his salvation:
1. To show that God will help man by man, that they may learn to love and respect each other.
2. That in the benevolence of Ananias he might see the spirit and tendency of that religion which he was persecuting, and of which he was shortly to become an apostle.
7And the men which journeyed with him stood speechless, hearing a voice, but seeing no man.
Stood speechless, hearing a voice, but seeing no man - The men were εννεοι, stupified, hearing της φωνης, the voice or thunder, but not distinguishing the words, which were addressed to Saul alone; and which were spoken out of the thunder, or in a small, still voice, after the peal had ceased. The remarkable case, 1 Kings 19:11-13, may serve to illustrate that before us. And he said, Go forth, and stand upon the mount before the Lord; and the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind rent the mountains, and brake in pieces the rocks before the Lard; and after the wind an earthquake; and after the earthquake a fire; and after the fire a still small voice; and when Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his mantle, and went out, and stood in the entering in of the cave, and behold, there came a voice unto him, and said, What Dost Thou Here, Elijah! The thunder must have been heard by all; the small, still voice by Saul alone. This consideration amply reconciles the passage in the text with that in Acts 22:9, where Paul says, They that were with me saw the light and were afraid, but they heard not the voice of him that spoke with one. They had heard the thunder which followed the escape of the lightning, but they heard not the voice of him that spake to Saul; they did not hear the words, I am Jesus whom thou persecutest, etc.; but they saw and heard enough to convince them that the whole was supernatural; for they were all struck down to the earth with the splendor of the light, and the sound of the thunder, which I suppose took place on this occasion. It has been a question among divines, whether Jesus Christ did really appear to Saul on this occasion. The arguments against the real appearance are not strong. St. Luke tells us that those who were with him heard the voice, but they saw no man; which is a strong intimation that he saw what they did not. Ananias, it seems, was informed that there had been a real appearance, for, in addressing Saul, Acts 9:17, he says, The Lord Jesus that Appeared unto Thee in the way as thou camest, etc. And Barnabas intimates thus much, when he brought him before the apostles at Jerusalem, for he declared unto them how he had Seen the Lord in the way, and that he had spoken unto him; and, Acts 22:14, where the discourse of Ananias is given more at large, he says, The God of our fathers hath chosen thee that thou shouldest know his will, and See that Just One, and shouldest Hear the voice of his mouth; so we find that hearing the voice, or words of his mouth, was not what is called the appearance; for, besides this, there was an actual manifestation of the person of Christ. But St. Paul's own words, 1 Corinthians 9:1, put the subject out of dispute: Am I not an apostle? Am I not free? Have I Not Seen Jesus Christ Our Lord? To which may be added, 1 Corinthians 15:8, And last of all, He Was Seen of Me Also, as of one born out of due time.
8And 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.
When his eyes were opened, he saw no man - Instead of ουδενα, no man, the Codex Alexandrinus, the Syriac, Vulgate, and some others, have ουδεν nothing. He not only saw no man, but he saw nothing, being quite blind; and therefore was led by the hand to Damascus, μη βλεπων, being without sight.
9And he was three days without sight, and neither did eat nor drink.
Neither did eat nor drink - The anxiety of his mind and the anguish of his heart were so great that he had no appetite for food; and he continued in total darkness and without food for three days, till Ananias proclaimed salvation to him in the name of the Lord Jesus.
10And 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.
A certain disciple - named Ananias - A general opinion has prevailed in the Greek Church that this Ananias was one of the seventy-two disciples, and that he was martyred; and they celebrate his martyrdom on the first of October. It has been farther stated that his house was turned into a church, which remains to the present day, though now occupied as a Turkish mosque; but even the Mohammedans have the tradition, and treat his memory with great respect. However this may be, from Acts 22:12, we learn, what is of more importance, that he was a devout man according to the law, having a good report of all the Jews that dwelt there. See on Acts 9:17 (note).
To him said the Lord in a vision - Εν ὁραματι, In a strong impression made upon his mind, which left no doubt concerning its heavenly origin, nor of the truth of the things represented by it. It is very probable that the whole took place in a dream.
11And the Lord said unto him, Arise, and go into the street which is called Straight, and inquire in the house of Judas for one called Saul, of Tarsus: for, behold, he prayeth,
Arise, and go into the street which is called Straight - How very particular is this direction! And it was necessary that it should be so, that he might see the whole to be a Divine communication; the house was probably one in which Saul was accustomed to reside when at Damascus; and where he was known as a native of Tarsus.
Tarsus was a city of Cilicia, seated on the Cydnus, and now called Tarasso. It was, at one period, the capital of all Cilicia, and became a rival to Alexandria and Athens in the arts and sciences. The inhabitants, in the time of Julius Caesar, having shown themselves friendly to the Romans, were endowed with all the privileges of Roman citizens; and it was on this account that St. Paul claimed the rights of a Roman citizen; a circumstance which, on different occasions, was to him, and the cause in which he was engaged, of considerable service.
Behold, he prayeth - He is earnestly seeking to know my will, and to find the salvation of his soul; therefore, go speedily, and direct him. Some have laid needless stress on these words, as if they intimated, that "though Saul as a Pharisee had often said his prayers, yet he had never prayed them till now." This is not correct: he could himself testify that, while he was a Pharisee, he had lived in all good conscience towards God; and consequently, in that time, made many faithful and fervent prayers; but he was praying now for instruction, and his prayers were speedily answered.
12And hath seen in a vision a man named Ananias coming in, and putting his hand on him, that he might receive his sight.
Hath seen in a vision - While God prepares Ananias, by a vision, to go and minister to Saul, he at the same time prepares Saul, by another vision, to profit by this ministry.
13Then Ananias answered, Lord, I have heard by many of this man, how much evil he hath done to thy saints at Jerusalem:
Lord, I have heard by many of this man - This was all done in a dream, else this sort of reasoning with his Maker would have been intolerable in Ananias. Saul had been a notorious persecutor; many could testify of his outrageous acts against the poor followers of Christ.
Thy saints - That is, the Christians, or followers of Christ. Ἁγιοι signifies not only holy persons, but also consecrated persons; from α, negative, and γη, the earth; persons who are separated from all earthly uses, and consecrated to the service of God alone.
14And here he hath authority from the chief priests to bind all that call on thy name.
And here he hath authority, etc. - Ananias had undoubtedly heard of Saul's coming, and the commission he had received from the chief priests; and he was about to urge this as a reason why he should have no connection with so dangerous a man.
15But 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:
Go thy way - He was thus prevented from going farther in his reasoning on this subject.
He is a chosen vessel unto me - The word σκευος in Greek, and כלי Keley in Hebrew, though they literally signify a vessel, yet they are both used to signify any kind of instrument, or the means by which an act is done. In the Tract. Sohar Exod. fol. 87, on these words of Boaz to Ruth, Ruth 2:9, When thou art athirst, go unto the vessels and drink, etc., there are these remarkable words. "כלי keley, vessels; that is, the righteous, who are called the vessels or instruments of Jehovah; for it is decreed that the whole world shall bring gifts to the King Messiah; and these are the vessels of the Lord: vessels, I say, which the holy and blessed God uses, although they be brittle; but they are brittle only in this world, that they may establish the law and the worship with which the holy and blessed God is worshipped in this world; neither can this ministry be exercised but by vessels or instruments."
This mode of speech was common also among the Greek and Roman writers. So Polybius, speaking of Damocles, Excerpta, vol. iii. lib. 13, [Edit. Ernesti], says, Ην ὑπηρετικον σκευος, και πολλας εχων εφορμας εις πραγματων οικονομιαν. "He was a useful instrument, and fit for the management of affairs." We find Paul, in 1 Thessalonians 4:4, using the same word, σκευος, for the body, agreeable to the expression of Lucretius, iii. 441, Corpus, quod Vas quasi constitit ejus. "The Body, which is the Vessel or instrument of the soul." See Bp. Pearce on this passage.
Chosen vessel. - Σκευος εκλογης is properly a Hebraism, for an excellent or well-adapted instrument. Every reader of the Bible must have noticed how often the word chosen is used there to signify excelling or eminent: so we use the word choice, "choice men," eminent persons; "choice things," excellent articles. So in Jeremiah 22:7 : They shall cut down the choice cedars, וכרתו מבחר ארזיך vecaretu Mibchar arazeyca; και εκκοψουσι τας εκλεκτας κεδρους σου, Sept. They shall cut the most Excellent of thy cedars; or thy cedar trees, which are the most excellent of their kind, they will cut down. Whoever considers the character of St. Paul, his education, attainments in natural knowledge, the distinguished part he took - first against Christianity, and afterwards, on the fullest conviction, the part he took in its favor - will at once perceive how well he was every way qualified for the great work to which God had called him.
To bear my name before the Gentiles - To carry the ensign of the cross among the Greeks and Romans; and, by the demonstration of the Spirit, to confound their wisdom and learning, and prove that neither salvation nor happiness could be found in any other. Hence he was emphatically called, the apostle of the Gentiles, 1 Timothy 2:7; 2 Timothy 1:11. See also Galatians 2:7, Galatians 2:8, and Ephesians 3:8.
16For I will shew him how great things he must suffer for my name's sake.
How great things he must suffer - Instead of proceeding as a persecutor, and inflicting sufferings on others, I will show him how many things he himself must suffer for preaching that very doctrine which he has been hitherto employed in persecuting. Strange change indeed! And with great show of reason, as with incontrovertible strength of argument, has a noble writer, Lord Lyttleton, adduced the conversion of Saul of Tarsus, and his subsequent conduct, as an irrefragable proof of the truth of Christianity.
Some think that the words, I will show him, etc., refer to a visionary representation, which Christ was immediately to give Saul, of the trials and difficulties which he should have to encounter; as also of that death by which he should seal his testimony to the truth. If so, what a most thorough conviction must Saul have had of the truth of Christianity, cheerfully and deliberately to give up all worldly honors and profits, and go forward in a work which he knew a violent death was to terminate!
17And 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.
Brother Saul - As he found that the Head of the Church had adopted Saul into the heavenly family, he made no scruple to give him the right hand of fellowship, and therefore said, Brother Saul.
The Lord, even Jesus - Of what use is this intrusive word even here? It injures the sense. St. Luke never wrote it; and our translators should not have inserted it. The Lord Jesus, the sovereign Jesus who appeared unto thee in the way, hath sent me, that thou mightest receive thy sight, and be filled with the Holy Ghost. Christ could have cured him so miraculously by his own power, without human means, as he had enlightened his heart without them; but he will honor man by making him his agent, even in working miracles.
And be filled with the Holy Ghost - So it appears that the Holy Spirit was given to him at this time, and probably by the imposition of the hands of Ananias. To say that it would be degrading to an apostle to receive the Holy Ghost by means of one who was not an apostle is a very flimsy argument against the evidence which the text affords that Saul did receive this Spirit by the ministry of Ananias: besides, Saul was not an apostle at this time; he was not even a Christian; and the Holy Ghost, which he received now, was given more to make him a thorough Christian convert than to make him an apostle. No person will deny that he was baptized by Ananias; and certainly there was as strong an objection against an apostle receiving baptism from one who was not an apostle as there could be in receiving the Holy Spirit from such a person. It is very likely that Ananias was either one of the seventy disciples commissioned by Jesus Christ himself, or one of those who had been converted on the day of pentecost. If he were the former, any authority that man could have he had. But who was the instrument is a matter of little importance; as the apostleship, and the grace by which it was to be fulfilled, came immediately from Jesus Christ himself. Nor has there ever been an apostle, nor a legitimate successor of an apostle, that was not made such by Christ himself. If we consider the authority as coming by man, or through any description of men, we should be arrested and confounded by the difficult question, Who baptized the apostles? Jesus Christ baptized no man, John 4:2. Who then baptized Peter! Can the Roman conclave answer this question? I trow not. It would be as difficult to answer it as to prove Peter's supremacy. We have no evidence who baptized the apostles, who themselves baptized so many others. The truth is, none but Christ ever made an apostle; and none but himself can make and qualify a Christian minister.
18And immediately there fell from his eyes as it had been scales: and he received sight forthwith, and arose, and was baptized.
There fell from his eyes as it had been scales - This was real: he had been so dazzled with the brightness of the light that we may suppose the globe of the eye, and particularly the cornea, had suffered considerable injury. The structure of the cornea was doubtless much disturbed, and the whole of that humor would be rendered opaque, and incapable of permitting the rays of light to pass through the different humours to the retina, where all the images of things transmitted through the lenses, or humours, are distinctly painted. In the miraculous cure the membrane was restored to its primitive state, and the opaque matter separated from the cornea, in the form of thin laminae or scales. This being done, the light would have as free a passage as formerly, and the result would be distinct vision.
And arose, and was baptized - That he was baptized by Ananias there is every reason to believe; as he appears to have been the chief Christian at Damascus. As baptism implied, in an adult, the public profession of that faith into which he was baptized, this baptism of Saul proved, at once, his own sincerity, and the deep and thorough conviction he had of the truth of Christianity.
19And when he had received meat, he was strengthened. Then was Saul certain days with the disciples which were at Damascus.
When he had received meat, he was strengthened - His mind must have been greatly worn down under his three days' conviction of sin, and the awful uncertainty he was in concerning his state; but when he was baptized, and had received the Holy Ghost, his soul was Divinely invigorated; and now, by taking food, his bodily strength, greatly exhausted by three days' fasting, was renewed also. The body is not supported by the bread of life, nor the soul by the bread that perisheth: each must have its proper aliment, that the whole man may be invigorated, and be enabled to perform all the functions of the animal and spiritual life with propriety and effect.
Then was Saul certain days with the disciples - Doubtless under instructions, relative to the doctrines of Christianity; which he must learn particularly, in order to preach them successfully. His miraculous conversion did not imply that he must then have a consummate knowledge of every Christian doctrine. To this day we find that even the genuine Christian convert has a thousand things to learn; and for his instruction he is placed in the Church of Christ, where he is built up on his most holy faith by the ministry and experience of the disciples. Without the communion of saints, who is likely to make a steady and consistent Christian; even though his conversion should have been the most sincere and the most remarkable?
20And straightway he preached Christ in the synagogues, that he is the Son of God.
Preached Christ in the synagogues - Instead of ΧριϚον, Christ, Ιησουν, Jesus, is the reading of ABCE, several others of high importance, together with the Syriac, Coptic, Ethiopic, Armenian, Slavonic, and Vulgate.
The great question to be determined, for the conviction of the Jews, was that Jesus was the Son of God. That the Christ, or Messiah, was to be the Son of God, they all believed. Saul was now convinced that Jesus, whom they had crucified, and who had appeared to him on the way, was the Son of God, or Messiah; and therefore as such he proclaimed him. The word Christ should be changed for Jesus, as the latter is, without doubt, the genuine reading.
The first offers of the grace of the Gospel were uniformly made to the Jews. Saul did not at first offer Jesus to the heathens at Damascus; but to the synagogues of the Jews.
21But 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?
Is not this he that destroyed them - Ὁ πορθησας. The verb πορθειν has three acceptations in the Greek writers:
1. To treat one as an enemy, to spoil him of his goods.
2. To lead away captive, to imprison.
3. To slay.
Paul was properly πορθων, a destroyer, in all these senses.
1. He acted as the most determined enemy of the Christians: Being exceedingly mad against them, he persecuted them to strange cities, Acts 26:11.
2. He shut up many of the saints in prison, Acts 8:3; Acts 9:14; Acts 26:10.
3. He persecuted them unto death - gave his voice against them that they might be destroyed, and was a principal instrument in the martyrdom of Stephen. He breathed threatenings and slaughter. See Acts 7:58; Acts 8:1; Acts 9:1; Acts 26:10, Acts 26:11.
Therefore these three meanings of the original word are all exemplified in the conduct of Saul.
22But Saul increased the more in strength, and confounded the Jews which dwelt at Damascus, proving that this is very Christ.
Confounded the Jews - Συνεχυνε, Overwhelmed them so with his arguments that they were obliged to blush for the weakness of their own cause.
Proving that this - Οὑτος, This person, viz. Jesus, is very Christ; εϚιν ὁ ΧριϚος, Is the Christ, or Messiah. See on Acts 9:21 (note).
23And after that many days were fulfilled, the Jews took counsel to kill him:
And after that many days were fulfilled - What follows relates to transactions which took place about three years after his conversion, when he had come a second time to Damascus, after having been in Arabia. See Galatians 1:17, Galatians 1:18. What he did in Arabia we know not; he probably preached Christ in different Jewish synagogues; but with what fruit we are not told. St. Luke, who could not have been ignorant of this part of his history, passes it over in silence; and any assertion, at this distance of time, Relative to his employment in Arabia for those three years, must be both foolish and impertinent.
24But their laying await was known of Saul. And they watched the gates day and night to kill him.
They watched the gates day and night to kill him - At this time Damascus was under the government of Aretas, king of Arabia, who was now at war with Herod, his son-in-law, who had put away his daughter in order to marry Herodias, his brother Philip's wife. As Herod was supported by the Romans, Saul's enemies might intimate that he was in league with them or Herod; and, as the gates of the city were constantly watched and shut, that no spy might enter, and no fugitive get away, they thought it would be easy to apprehend him; and doubtless got orders for the different officers at the gates to be on the look-out that he might not be permitted to escape.
25Then the disciples took him by night, and let him down by the wall in a basket.
Let him down, by the wall - Favoured, probably, by a house built against or upon the wall, through the window of which they could lower him in a basket; and by this means he made his escape. His escape was something similar to that of the spies at Jericho, Joshua 2:15.
26And when Saul was come to Jerusalem, he assayed to join himself to the disciples: but they were all afraid of him, and believed not that he was a disciple.
He assayed to join himself to the disciples - Επειρατο κολλασθαι, He endeavored to get closely united to them, to be in religious fellowship with them.
Believed not that he was a disciple - They did not suppose it possible that such a person could be converted to the faith of Christ. The full power of Divine grace, in the conversion of the soul, was not yet completely known.
27But Barnabas took him, and brought him to the apostles, and declared unto them how he had seen the Lord in the way, and that he had spoken to him, and how he had preached boldly at Damascus in the name of Jesus.
Barnabas - brought him to the apostles - That is, to Peter and James; for others of the apostles he saw none, Galatians 1:19. It appears that he went up at this time to Jerusalem merely to see Peter, with whom he abode fifteen days, Galatians 1:18. How it came that the apostles and Church at Jerusalem had not heard of Saul's conversion, which had taken place three years before, is not easy to be accounted for. The following considerations may help;
1. It is certain that intelligence did not travel speedily in those primitive times; there were few open roads, and no regular posts, except those between military stations.
2. Though there were many Jews in Damascus, and several Christians, yet the city was heathen, and under a heathen king, with whom the Jews at Jerusalem could have little commerce.
3. Though Herod had married the daughter of Aretas, yet, as he had put her away, there were great animosities between the two courts, which at last broke out into an open war; this must have prevented all social and commercial intercourse.
4. The Christians were at that time greatly persecuted by the Jews, and therefore the few that dwelt at Damascus could have little connection, if any, with their brethren at Jerusalem.
5. It might be the interest of the Jews at Jerusalem, supposing they had heard of it, to keep the fact of Saul's conversion as quiet as possible, that the Christian cause might not gain credit by it.
6. They might have heard of his conversion; but either did not fully credit what they had heard, or were not satisfied that the person who now presented himself was the man; for it is not likely that all the Christians at Jerusalem had been personally acquainted with Saul.
28And he was with them coming in and going out at Jerusalem.
He was with them coming in and going out - Freely conversing and associating with them; but this seems to have continued only fifteen days. See Galatians 1:18.
29And he spake boldly in the name of the Lord Jesus, and disputed against the Grecians: but they went about to slay him.
Disputed against the Grecians - That is, the Hellenistic Jews, viz. those who lived in Grecian cities, spoke the Greek language, and used the Septuagint version for their scriptures. And thus the Syriac version has interpreted this place. See the note on Acts 6:1, where this subject is largely explained.
30Which when the brethren knew, they brought him down to Caesarea, and sent him forth to Tarsus.
They brought him down to Caesarea - Calmet contends that this was Caesarea of Palestine, and not Caesarea Philippi; it being his opinion, and indeed that of others, that where this word occurs without any addition, in the New Testament, Caesarea of Palestine is meant, and not Caesarea Philippi. See on Acts 8:40 (note).
Sent him forth to Tarsus - This was his own city; and it was right that he should proclaim to his own countrymen and relatives that Gospel through which he was become wise to salvation.
31Then had the churches rest throughout all Judaea and Galilee and Samaria, and were edified; and walking in the fear of the Lord, and in the comfort of the Holy Ghost, were multiplied.
Then had the Churches rest - Instead of ἱα εκκλησιαι, the Churches, ABC, several others, the Syriac, Coptic, Ethiopic, Armenian, and Vulgate, have ἡεκκλησια, the Church. Every assembly of God's people was a Church; the aggregate of these assemblies was The Church. The wordειρηνην, which we translate rest, and which literally signifies peace, evidently means, in this place, prosperity; and in this sense both it and the Hebrew שלום shalom are repeatedly used. But what was the cause of this rest or success? Some say, the conversion of Saul, who before made havoc of the Church; but this is not likely, as he could not be a universal cause of persecution and distress, however active and virulent he might have been during the time of his enmity to the Christian Church. Besides his own persecution, related above, shows that the opposition to the Gospel continued with considerable virulence three years after his conversion; therefore it was not Saul's ceasing to be a persecutor that gave this rest to the Churches. Dr. Lardner, with a greater show of probability, maintains that this rest was owing to the following circumstance: Soon after Caligula's accession to the imperial dignity, the Jews at Alexandria suffered very much from the Egyptians in that city; and at length their oratories were all destroyed. In the third year of Caligula, a.d. 39, Petronius, who was made president of Syria in the place of Vitellius, was sent by the emperor to set up his statue in the temple at Jerusalem. This was a thunder-stroke to the Jews, and so occupied them that they had no time to think of any thing else; apprehending that their temple must be defiled, and the national religion destroyed, or themselves run the risk of being exterminated if they rebelled against the imperial decree.
The account given by Josephus will set this in a clear point of view. "Caligula sent Petronius to go with an army to Jerusalem, to set up his statues in the temple, enjoining him if the Jews opposed it, to put to death all that made resistance, and to make all the rest of the nation slaves. Petronius therefore marched from Antioch into Judea, with three legions, and a large body of auxiliaries raised in Syria. All were hereupon filled with consternation, the army being come as far as Ptolemais. The Jews, then, gathering together, went to the plain near Ptolemais, and entreated Petronius in the first place for their laws, in the next place for themselves. Petronius was moved with their solicitations, and, leaving his army and the statues, went into Galilee, and called an assembly of the heads of the Jews at Tiberias; and, having exhorted them without effect to submit to the emperor's orders, said, 'Will ye then fight against Caesar?' They answered that they offered up sacrifices twice every day for the emperor and the Roman people; but that if he would set up the images, he ought first of all to sacrifice the whole Jewish nation; and that they were ready to submit themselves, their wives and children, to the slaughter." Philo gives a similar account of this transaction. See Lardner's Credibility, Works, vol. i. p. 97, etc.
It appears, therefore, that, as these transactions took place about the time mentioned in the text, their persecution from the Romans diverted them from persecuting the Christians; and Then had the Churches rest throughout all Judea and Galilee, and Samaria; the terror occasioned by the imperial decree having spread itself through all those places.
Were edified - Οικοδομουμεναι, A metaphor taken from a building.
1. The ground is marked out;
2. the ichnograph, or dimensions of the building, ascertained;
3. the foundation is digged;
4. the foundation stone laid;
5. the walls builded up with course upon course;
6. the top-stone brought on;
7. the roof raised, and the whole covered in; and,
8. the interior part fitted up and adorned, and rendered convenient for the intended inhabitant.
This figure frequently occurs in the sacred writings, especially in the New Testament. It has its reason in the original creation of man: God made the first human being as a shrine or temple, in which himself might dwell. Sin entered, and the heavenly building was destroyed. The materials, however, though all dislocated, and covered with rubbish and every way defiled, yet exist; no essential power or faculty of the soul having been lost. The work of redemption consists in building up this house as it was in the beginning, and rendering it a proper habitation for God. The various powers, faculties, and passions, are all to be purified and refined by the power of the Holy Spirit, and order and harmony restored to the whole soul. All this is beautifully pointed out by St. Peter, 1 Peter 2:4, 1 Peter 2:5 : To whom (Jesus Christ) coming as unto a Living Stone, chosen of God and precious, ye also, as Living Stones, are Built Up a spiritual House, a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices to God by Jesus Christ. And St. Paul, who, from his own profession as a tent-maker, could best seize on the metaphor, and press it into this spiritual service, goes through the whole figure at large, in the following inimitable words: Ye are the Household of God, and are Built upon the Foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief Cornerstone, in whom all the Building, Fitly Framed together, groweth unto a Holy Temple in the Lord: in whom ye also are Builded together for a Habitation of God, through the Spirit, Ephesians 2:19-22. Edification signifies, therefore, an increase in the light, life, and power of God; being founded on the doctrine of Christ crucified; having the soul purified from all unrighteousness, and fitted, by increasing holiness, to be a permanent residence for the ever-blessed God.
Walking in the fear of the Lord - Keeping a continually tender conscience; abhorring all sin; having respect to every Divine precept; dreading to offend him from whom the soul has derived its being and its blessings. Without this salutary fear of God there never can be any circumspect walking.
In the comfort of the Holy Ghost - In a consciousness of their acceptance and union with God, through his Spirit, by which solid peace and happiness are brought into the soul; the truly religious man knowing and feeling that he is of God, by the Spirit which is given him: nothing less can be implied in the comfort of the Holy Ghost.
Were multiplied - No wonder that the Church of God increased, when such lights as these shone among men. This is a short, but full and forcible description of the righteousness, purity, and happiness of the primitive Church.
32And it came to pass, as Peter passed throughout all quarters, he came down also to the saints which dwelt at Lydda.
As Peter passed throughout all quarters - Δια παντων, Bp. Pearce thinks, should be translated, not through all quarters, but through all the saints. The Churches having rest, the apostles made use of this interval of quiet to visit the different congregations, in order to build them up on their most holy faith. Of Saul we hear no more till Acts 11:30, which is supposed to be about five years after this time; eight in all from his conversion. Peter, it seems, had continued in Jerusalem all the time that the Churches were in a state of persecution throughout the whole land. Great as he was, he never evidenced that steady determinate courage by which St. Paul was so eminently distinguished; nor did he ever suffer half so much for God and his truth.
To the saints - The Jews, who had been converted to Christianity.
Which dwelt at Lydda - A town in the tribe of Ephraim, almost on the border of Judea, and nigh unto Joppa: it was about ten leagues from Jerusalem, and was afterwards known by the name of Diospolis, or the city of Jupiter.
33And there he found a certain man named AEneas, which had kept his bed eight years, and was sick of the palsy.
A certain man named Eneas - This name has been celebrated in the annals of heathen poetry, in that beautiful work of the poet Virgil, called the Aeneid; which gives an account of the misfortunes, travels, wars, etc., of a Trojan prince of this name, after the destruction of his native city, Troy. On the difference of names which so frequently occurs in some pasts of the Scriptures, Calmet makes the following judicious remarks: As both Greek and Hebrew, or Syriac, were commonly spoken in Palestine, most persons had two names, one Greek and the other Hebrew. Thus Peter was called Cephas in Hebrew, and Petros in Greek. Paul was called Saul in Hebrew, and Paulos in Greek. The person in Acts 9:36, Tabitha in Hebrew, and Dorcas in Greek. And the paralytic person cured by Peter, Hananiah in Hebrew, and Aineas in Greek. So Thomas was the Hebrew name of the apostle who in Greek was called Didymus.
Had kept his bed eight years - This was occasioned by a palsy; and now inveterate and hopeless, through its long standing.
34And Peter said unto him, AEneas, Jesus Christ maketh thee whole: arise, and make thy bed. And he arose immediately.
Jesus Christ maketh thee whole - Not Peter, for he had no power but what was given him from above. And, as an instrument, any man could heal with this power as well as Peter; but God chose to put honor upon those primitive preachers of his word, that men might see that they were commissioned from heaven.
Arise, and make thy bed - Give now full proof that Jesus Christ Has made thee whole, by arising, and by making thy bed. He was at home, and therefore was not commanded, as the paralytic person, to take up his bed; but he was ordered to make it - strew it afresh, that all might see that the cure was perfect.
35And all that dwelt at Lydda and Saron saw him, and turned to the Lord.
All that dwelt in Lydda and Saron saw him - Saron was that champaign country that lay between Joppa and Lydda. The long affliction of this man had been well known; and his cure, consequently, became a subject of general examination: it was found to be real. It was known to have been performed by the grace and mercy of Christ; and the consequence of all this conviction was that all these people became Christians.
36Now there was at Joppa a certain disciple named Tabitha, which by interpretation is called Dorcas: this woman was full of good works and almsdeeds which she did.
Now there was at Joppa - This was a sea-port town on the coast of the Mediterranean Sea, about a day's journey from Jerusalem. It is supposed to be the same which is called in the Old Testament Japho, which belonged to the tribe of Dan, Joshua 19:46. It is at present called Jaffa, and is still a place of considerable note.
A certain disciple named Tabitha - This word is more properly Syriac than Hebrew. Tebitho is the word in the Syriac version, and is their manner of writing the Hebrew צבי tsebi, the ט teth being changed for the צ tsaddi. The word tabio, and the feminine tabitho, have the same meaning as the Hebrew צבי tsebi and the Greek Δορκας, Dorcas, and signify the gazel or antelope; and it is still customary in the east to give the names of beautiful animals to young women. The comparison of fine eyes to those of the antelope is continually occurring in the writings of the Arabic and Persian poets. The person in the text probably had her name in the same way. She was very beautiful, and was therefore called Tabitha and Dorcas.
This woman was full of good works - She spent her life in acts of kindness and charity. Her soul was full of love to God and man; and her whole time was filled up with works of piety and mercy.
37And 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.
She was sick, and died - Even her holiness and usefulness could not prevent her from sickness and death. Dust thou art, and to dust thou shalt return, is a decree that must be fulfilled, even on the saints; for the body is dead, sentenced to death, because of sin, though the spirit be life because of righteousness.
Whom when they had washed - Having the fullest proof that she was dead, they prepared for her interment. In most nations of the world it was customary to wash their dead before they buried them, and before they laid them out to lie in state, as Homer tells us was the case with the body of Patroclus: -
Ὡς εἱπων, ἑταροισιν εκεκλετο διος Αχιλλευς,
Αμφι πυρι Ϛησαι τριποδα μεγαν, οφρα ταχιϚα
Πατροκλον λουσειαν -
Και τοτε δη λουσαν τε, και ηλειψαν λιπ' ελαιῳ
- Iliad xviii. 343.
"So saying, he bade his train surround with fire
A tripod huge, that they might quickly cleanse
Patroclus from all stains of clotted gore.
They on the blazing hearth a tripod placed,
Infused the water, thrust dry wood beneath,
And soon the flames, encompassing around
Its ample belly, warm'd the flood within.
Soon as the water in the singing brass
Simmer'd, they bathed him, and with limpid oil Anointed.
They stretch'd him on his bed, then cover'd him
From head to feet with linen texture light,
And with a wide unsullied mantle last."
The waking or watching of the dead was also practised among the ancient Greeks, as we learn from a preceding paragraph, where Achilles, addressing his dead friend Patroclus, tells him: -
Τοφρα δε μοι παρα νηυσι κορωνισι κεισεαι αὑτως·
Αμφι δε σε Τρωαι και Δαρδανιδες βαθυκολποι
Κλαυσονται, νυκτας τε και ηματα δακρυχεουσαι
Il. xviii. 338.
- "Mean time, among
My lofty galleys thou shalt lie, with tears
Mourn'd day and night, by Trojan captives fair
And Dardan, compassing thy bier around."
A similar description is given by Virgil of the funeral obsequies of Misenus, Aeneid vi. ver. 212.
Nec minus interea Misenum in littore Teucri
Flebant, et cineri ingrato suprema ferebant.
Pars calidos latices et aena undantia flammis
Expediunt, corpusque lavant frigentis et ungunt
Fit gemitus: tum membra toro defleta reponunt,
Purpureasque super vestes, velamina nota,
"Meanwhile, the Trojan troops, with weeping eyes,
To dead Misenus pay his obsequies.
First from the ground a lofty pile they rear
Of pitch-trees, oaks, and pines, and unctuous fir:
The fabric's front with cypress twigs they strew;
And stick the sides with boughs of baleful yew;
The topmost part his glitt'ring arms adorn:
Warm waters then, in brazen cauldrons borne,
Are pour'd to wash his body, joint by joint;
And fragrant oils the stiffen'd limbs anoint.
With groans and cries Misenus they deplore.
Then on a bier with purple cover'd o'er
The breathless body, thus bewail'd, they lay."
These rites, in many respects, resemble those still used among the native Irish. See the account of the funeral ceremonies of the Egyptians, in the notes on Genesis 50:2 (note). The primitive Christians washed the bodies of their dead not only out of decency and affectionate respect to them, but as a token of their firm belief in the resurrection of the dead.
38And forasmuch as Lydda was nigh to Joppa, and the disciples had heard that Peter was there, they sent unto him two men, desiring him that he would not delay to come to them.
Sent unto him - desiring - that he would not delay to come - Tabitha died at Joppa, and Peter was at Lydda, about four leagues distant. But why did they send for Peter? We cannot tell. It is not likely that they had any expectation that he should raise her from the dead; for none of the apostles had as yet raised any; and if God did not choose to restore Stephen to life, this favor could not be reasonably expected in behalf of inferior persons. However, they might hope that he who cured Eneas at Lydda might cure Dorcas; for it is probable that they had sent for Peter before she died; and in this sense we might understand the απεϚειλαν of the text.
39Then Peter arose and went with them. When he was come, they brought him into the upper chamber: and all the widows stood by him weeping, and shewing the coats and garments which Dorcas made, while she was with them.
Showing the coats and garments - Χιτωνας και ἱματια, the outer and inner garments. These, it appears, she had made for the poor, and more particularly for poor widows, in whose behalf she had incessantly labored.
40But Peter put them all forth, and kneeled down, and prayed; and turning him to the body said, Tabitha, arise. And she opened her eyes: and when she saw Peter, she sat up.
Peter put them all forth, and kneeled down and prayed - It was not even known to Peter that God would work this miracle: therefore he put all the people out, that he might seek the will of God by fervent prayer, and during his supplications be liable neither to distraction nor interruption, which he must have experienced had he permitted this company of weeping widows to remain in the chamber.
And turning - to the body - Σωμα, The lifeless body, for the spirit had already departed.
Said, Tabitha, arise - During his wrestling with God, he had, undoubtedly, received confidence that she would be raised at his word.
And when she saw Peter, she sat up - As Dorcas was a woman so eminently holy, her happy soul had doubtless gone to the paradise of God. Must she not therefore be filled with regret to find herself thus called back to earth again? And must not the remembrance of the glories she had now lost fill her with dislike to all the goods of earth? No: for,
1. As a saint of God, her Maker's will must be hers; because she knew that this will must be ever best.
2. It is very likely that, in the case of the revivescence of saint or sinner, God mercifully draws a veil over all they have seen or known, so that they have no recollection of what they have either seen or heard. Even St. Paul found it impossible to tell what he had heard in the third heaven, though he was probably not in the state of the dead. Of the economy of the invisible world God will reveal nothing. We walk here by faith, and not by sight.
41And he gave her his hand, and lifted her up, and when he had called the saints and widows, presented her alive.
Saints and widows - In primitive times the widows formed a distinct part of the Christian Church.
42And it was known throughout all Joppa; and many believed in the Lord.
Many believed in the Lord - That is, in Christ Jesus, in whose name and through whose power they understood this miracle to be wrought. This miracle, as well as that at Lydda, was not only the means of strengthening the faith of the disciples, and gaining credit to the cause of Christianity, but also of bringing many sincere converts to the Lord, so that the Church was thereby both builded up and multiplied.
43And it came to pass, that he tarried many days in Joppa with one Simon a tanner.
He tarried many days in Joppa - Taking advantage of the good impression made on the people's minds by the miracle, he preached to them the great truths of Christianity, and thus established them in the faith.
Simon a tanner - Whether the original word βυρσευς signifies a tanner or a currier, is of little consequence. The person who dealt in the hides, whether of clean or unclean animals, could not be in high repute among the Jews. Even in Joppa, the trade appears to have been reputed unclean; and therefore this Simon had his house by the sea side. See Acts 10:6. Of the trade itself the Talmudists speak with great contempt; they reckon it among blemishes. See proofs in Schoettgen.
1. Thus terminates what has not been improperly called the first period of the Christian Church, which began at the day of pentecost, Acts 2:1, and continued to the resurrection of Dorcas; a period of about eight years. During the whole of this time the Gospel was preached to the Jews only, no Gentile being called before Cornelius, the account of whose conversion, and the Divine vision that led to it, are detailed in the following chapter. Salvation was of the Jews: theirs were the fathers, the covenants, and the promises, and from them came Christ Jesus; and it was right that they should have the first offer of a salvation which, while it was a light to lighten the Gentiles, was to be the glory of the Israelitish people. When they utterly rejected it, then the apostles turned unto the Gentiles. Among them the Christian Church was founded, and thus the reprobates became the elect, and the elect became reprobates. Reader! behold the goodness and severity of God! Towards them that fell, severity; but towards thee, goodness, if thou continue in his goodness; otherwise thou also shalt be cut off, Romans 11:22. Thou canst only stand by faith; and be not high-minded, but fear. Nothing less than Christ dwelling in thy heart by faith can save thy soul unto eternal life.
2. The conversion of Saul of Tarsus is one of the most remarkable facts recorded in the history of the Christian Church. When we consider the man; the manner in which he was brought to the knowledge of the truth; the impression made on his own mind and heart by the vision he had on his way to Damascus, and the effect produced in all his subsequent life, we have a series of the most convincing evidences of the truth of the Christian religion. In this light he ever viewed the subject himself; the manner of his conversion he ever appealed to, as the most proper apology for his conduct; and, on several most important occasions, he not only refers to it, but enters into a detail of its circumstances, that his hearers might see that the excellency of the power was of God and not of man.
Saul of Tarsus was not a man of a light, fickle, and uncultivated mind. His natural powers were vast, his character the most decided, and his education, as we learn from his historian, and from his writings, was at once both liberal and profound. He was born and brought up in a city which enjoyed every privilege of which Rome itself could boast, and was a successful rival both of Rome and Athens in arts and science. Though a Jew, it is evident that his education was not confined to matters that concerned his own people and country alone. He had read the best Greek writers, as his style, allusions, and quotations sufficiently prove; and, an matters which concern his own religion, he was instructed by Gamaliel, one of the most celebrated doctors the synagogue had ever produced. He was evidently master of the three great languages which were spoken among the only people who deserved the name of nations - the Hebrew, and its prevailing dialect, the Chaldio-Syriac; the Greek, and the Latin; languages which, notwithstanding all the cultivation through which the earth has passed, maintain their rank, which is a most decisive superiority over all the languages of the universe. Was it likely that such a man, possessing such a mind, cultivated to such an extent, could have been imposed on or deceived? The circumstances of his conversion forbid the supposition: they do more; they render it impossible. One consideration on this subject will prove that imposture in this case was impossible: he had no communication with Christians; the men that accompanied him to Damascus were of his own mind - virulent, determined enemies to the very name of Christ; and his conversion took place in the open day, on the open road, in company only with such men as the persecuting high priest and Sanhedrin thought proper to be employed in the extermination of Christianity. In such circumstances, and in such company, no cheat could be practised. But was not he the deceiver? The supposition is absurd and monstrous, for this simple reason, that there was no motive that could prompt him to feign what he was not; and no end that could be answered by assuming the profession of Christianity. Christianity had in it such principles as must expose it to the hatred of Greece, Rome, and Judea. It exposed the absurdity and folly of Grecian and Roman superstition and idolatry, and asserted itself to be the completion, end, and perfection of the whole Mosaic economy. It was therefore hated by all those nations, and its followers despised, detested, and persecuted. From the profession of such a religion, so circumstanced, could any man, who possessed even the most moderate share of common sense, expect secular emolument or advantage? No! Had not this apostle of the Gentiles the fullest conviction of the truth of Christianity, the fullest proof of its heavenly influence on his own soul, the brightest prospect of the reality and blessedness of the spiritual world, he could not have taken one step in the path which the doctrine of Christ pointed out. Add to this, that he lived long after his conversion, saw Christianity and its influence in every point of view, and tried it in all circumstances. What was the result? The deepest conviction of its truth; so that he counted all things dross and dung in comparison of the excellency of its knowledge. Had he continued a Jew he would have infallibly risen to the first dignities and honors of his nation; but he willingly forfeited all his secular privileges and well grounded expectations of secular honor and emolument, and espoused a cause from which he could not only have no expectation of worldly advantage, but which, most evidently and necessarily, exposed him to all sorts of privations, sufferings, hardships, dangers, and death itself! These were not only the unavoidable consequences of the cause he espoused; but he had them fully in his apprehension and constantly in his eye. He predicted them, and knew that every step he took was a progressive advance in additional sufferings, and the issue of his journey must be a violent death!
The whole history of St. Paul proves him to be one of the greatest of men; and his conduct after he became a Christian, had it not sprung from a Divine motive, of the truth of which he had the fullest conviction, would have shown him to be one of the weakest of men. The conclusion therefore is self-evident, that in St. Paul's call there could be no imposture, that in his own mind there could be no deception, that his conversion was from heaven, and the religion he professed and taught, the infallible and eternal truth of Jehovah. In this full conviction he counted not his life dear unto him, but finished his rugged race with joy, cheerfully giving up his life for the testimony of Jesus; and thus his luminous sun set in blood, to rise again in glory. The conversion of St. Paul is the triumph of Christianity; his writings, the fullest exhibition and defense of its doctrines; and his life and death, a glorious illustration of its principles. Armed with this history of Paul's conversion and life, the feeblest believer needs not fear the most powerful infidel. The ninth chapter of the Acts of the Apostles will ever remain an inexpugnable fortress to defend Christianity and defeat its enemies. Reader, hath not God so done his marvellous works that they may be had in everlasting remembrance?