William Arnot.

The church in the house: a series of lessons on the Acts of the Apostles online

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up their ministers as Timothy was trained, first at the feet
of godly parents, and then under the instruction of more
experienced teachers.



XLVII.
DORCAS.

•* Now there was at Joppa a certain disciple named Tabitha, which by in-
terpretation is called Dorcas : this woman was full of good works and
almsdeeds which she did. And it came to pass in those da3rs, that she
was sick, and died : whom when they had washed, they laid her in an
tipper chamber." &c. — Acts ix. 36—42.

AT this point Saul disappears for a time from the horizon
of our history. He is left unnoticed in his native city,
and Peter reappears upon the scene. In those days he



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Dorcas. 239

seems to have found a most appropriate field for the exer-
cise of his energy in making tours of inspection throughout
all Judaea. Here is the true work of a primitive bishop.
How welcome would the venerable form of the aged
apostle be in each of the small Christian communities
scattered through the towns and villages of the land.
Lydda was a small village westward from Jerusalem^ and
not far from the shore of the Mediterranean. In that
place Peter performed a miracle of healing. The mighty
work was first and last employed in the service of the
gospel. The formula employed was, ^^ Jesus Christ maketh
thee whole,'* These men now were full of the Holy Ghost,
and so had power to be witnesses to their Lord. The
result corresponded with the design : the miracle was eflect-
ual in winning souls. All that dwelt in Lydda and Saron
saw the restored paralytic, '' and turned to the Lord.*'

In the neighbouring sea-port of Joppa another miracle
was performed, greater in itself, and more interesting in its
circumstances. This work accordingly is more fully de-
tailed. A disciple, named Dorcas,* who had endeared her-
self by her skilful benevolence to the whole community,
grew sick, and died. The sorrowing neighbours thereupon
sent express to Lydda for Peter, and Peter came at their
call. It pleased the Lord, through means of Peter, to re-
store the dead to life. The fact became known to all the
citizens, and *' many believed in the Lord."

The character and special work of Dorcas are full of
interest and instruction for us. She was probably un-
married, for nothing is said of husband or of widowhood.
She probably lived alone, for nothing is said of father or
mother, sister or brother. She seems to have been one of
those '' honourable women,'* of whom not a few have
arisen in every country and every age, who, having no
femily to care for, adopt the poor as their children, and in



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240 The Church in the House.

this form devote their time, and skill, and resources to the
service of the Lord.

She was not a nun. In order to devote a life to the
service of the poor, it is not necessary to renounce, by an
irrevocable vow, the privileges, joys, and duties of family
life. The relations and affections of nature are God's
workmanship, and do not necessarily hinder any good
work.

Dorcas was a disciple full of good works. One phrase
indicates the well-spring, and the other indicates the re-
freshing stream that overflows. She was a ^^ disciple'* —
behold the root ! She was " full of good works '' — ^behold
the fruit-bearing branches ! God hath joined these two;
men should never and nowhere put them asunder. The
one is faith, and the other good works. These two are
beautiful in unity; but either wanting its mate "is dead,
being alone.''

People who have a smattering of religious knowledge,
but have not been taught of the Spirit, fall alternately into
two opposite errors in regard to the place and worth of good
works in the Christian system. In the first instance the
crude conception of self-righteousness springs up : Let me
crowd in as many good deeds as I can, in order that I may
thereby make my peace with God, and have a good case
against the great day. But when this man hears the
gospel, and especially the doctrine of justification by faith
alone, he begins to think that in this way of salvation there
is no place left for a good life — that the gospel is jealous,
not zealous of good works.

When the work of the Spirit advances another step in
his heart, when he is convinced of sin, and brought to the
blood of Christ for pardon, this man gets a new view-point,
and consequently a different view. Good works, as a justi-
fying righteousness, he not only does not value, but loathes



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Dorcas. 241

as filthy rags; yet, as fruit to his Redeemer's glory, he
lives and labours in them all his days.

Such was the place of works both in the profession and
the practice of this honourable woman. The branch was
full of grapes, sweet, and ripe, and beautiful ; but the
branch was in the vine, and that accounts both for its
beauty and its fertility.

When she was raised to life, they gave her back to the
saints and widows. She was their property, and their pro-
perty was restored. Such a working Christian belongs to
the neighbourhood, and is their richest treasure. The work
of Dorcas was personal. This is the most precious kind of
benevolence, both to the giver and receiver. She knew
each widow whom she clothed, each child whom she fed.
Possibly she had not much money to bestow ; but she con-
tributed visits of sympathy, looks of love, and works of
skill. There is no coin more welcome in the treasury of
the Lord.

The coats and garments made by her hands, and exhi-
bited by the poor after her death, were monuments to her
memory. Perishable monuments, you may think. Think
of an inscription to commemorate a great life sewed with
thread in garments for the poor ! — written, not in brass or
stone, but on the smooth sea-sand, ready to be blotted out
by to-morrow's tide ! Nay, but this woman's eulogy has,
in point of fact, been more securely preserved and more
widely published than the victories of Rome or the art of
Greece. All generations read her praises, and call her
blessed. She has been greatly honoured. In one point
she has been made like the Lord, she has left us an example
that we should follow her steps. Many are treading in. her
track to-day ; and the world is greener for us because of
the footsteps that she left imprinted on its sand.

Some monuments, such as that of Sir Walter Scott at

16



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^42 The Church in the House.

Edinburgh, when they have obtained a high place in the
judgment of educated men, are reduplicated in pictures,
and spread in many specimens throughout the civilized
world. The one original monument raised to Dorcas in
the sacred record has in like manner been many times
copied. Societies which are constituted for continuing
her work frequently adopt her name : and thus she lives
to-day in the world. Being dead, she yet speaketh through
the manifold energies of Christian women in all the
Christianized countries of the world.

This kind of charity was new in the world when Dorcas
began at Lydda to make with her own hands garments
for the poor of the neighbourhood. The seed of that
kind came from a far country, even an heavenly. It was
dropped from the lips of Jesus on the furrows of some
tender hearts, and it has propagated itself from genera-
tion to generation. The Lord will doubtless find some
fields of it growing ripe at his second coming.

Christian love is generic; it sends out many subor-
dinate species, all partaking of the same essential nature,
and each exhibiting particular features peculiar to itself.
The species which Peter found flourishing at Lydda is
not unfrequent in our own day and land. Where it is
genuine it is as beautiful as the violet growing under the
hedge ; and, like it, fills the air with fragrance. Female
love, working outward through female hands in making
garments to clothe the naked, is a well-known and comely
form of Christian benevolence. Behold, it is very good.
It is Scriptural, useful, safe. It is twice blessed — blessing
those that give and those who receive.

The resources at our disposal are much greater than
those which belonged to the primitive Christians. There
is a greater number of loving hearts, and thei^p is greater



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Dorcas. 243

power in the operator's hands. Cotton, the spinning-
jenny, the power-loom, the sewing-machine — who shall
calculate how many times these modern discoveries have
multiplied love's power of doing good wherever there is a
real living love ? Besides all these, we have more money
in our hands, easier means of transit, and greater facilities
for combination. The earth produces more, and the
powers of nature perform for us all the harder portions of
the labour. One Dorcas in our city to-day could do
more with her own hands than five in Lydda in the time
of Peter.

Yet with all these advantages we have not overtaken
the destitution. In some quarters it is increasing on our
hands. Widows and orphans are in want within sound
of our Sabbath-bells.

The state of the poor around us should put us to
shame — should hush our manifold divisions and disputes,
and bring us into one that we might be stronger for the
Lord's work in the world.

I could point to scenes of horrid cruelty which would
make the blood stand still in your veins if you saw them ;
and yet they are at our own doors. Children in our cities
are starved and killed by slow degrees for want of food
and clothing. Why should this be while there are so
many really benevolent hearts and so great resources at
the disposal of the community ?

There is a deeper thing than the hunger and nakedness
of the children. There is a root which bears these bitter
fruits. It is the drunkenness of the parents. This is
the gulf which we are unable to fill. There it yawns, as
represented by public-houses and pawn-shops, between
the warm hearts of Christians and the starving children.
There it yawns — a bottomless pit. You may throw into



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244 "^^ Church in the House.

it all the wealth of the kingdom : the mighty contribution
will sink out of sight in the quagmire, and you will be as
far from the naked children as before.
' Dorcas sits at home with a burning heart, for she has
seen ragged, barefooted children on the street in the
winter's cold. She sits and sews. Stitch, stitch, stitch ;
love makes the needle go until the garment is completed.
With light feet she trips down on the morrow to the
place where the naked child dwells. She clothes it, and
departs. Next day she will visit her charge and see how
it fares. The child is naked again; the mother is drunk,
and the house is cold. The garment that Dorcas made
lies on the shelf of the pawn-shop, and the money in the
till of the nearest public-house. Thus the mill goes
round — the mill that grinds little children to feed the real
giants, more terrible than all the pictured monsters that
terrified the nurserj'.

This process is conducted on a great scale, crushing
the little ones into premature graves. If the geologists
of a future era should dig into the strata of our cemeteries,
they will be amazed to find so large a proportion of the
remains to be infants' bones. They will judge it contrary
to nature. What can be the cause of the phenomenon ?
If the history of our time shall then be extant, they will
learn from it what their philosophy could not tell them —
that the vice of the parents slaughtered the children !
Yet the nation looks on helpless !

It is certain, and easily proved, that the poverty which
is true and natural, caused by providential circumstances,
is small in quantity, and of a kind that is easily cured.
We could relieve it and not be burdened by the effort.
The exercise would be pleasant and healthful to the com-
munity. Instead of being a punishment it might be
realized as the fulfilment of a promise, " The poor ye have



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Dorcas. 245

always with you/' that we might never lack an object to
draw forth our charity, and so might never miss the
larger blessing — the blessing which belongs to those who
give. But the pauperism which springs from vice is not
only so great that to relieve it becomes a burden — it is of
such a kind that to relieve it is impossible.

There is need of two things : first y a perennial spring of
charity in Christian hearts, finding or forcing a way into
every home of misery in the land ; and, second, an effort by
a united people, acting through the legislature and the
government, to deal effectively with the material feeders of
vice, and so abate the nuisance.

There is some advance in public opinion at the present
day; but, alas, great bodies move slowly, especially against
the stream. In some of our colonies vigorous experiments
have been made. In one of the Australian governments,
for example, a law has been enacted under which, when a
man or woman has been convicted of being a habitual
drunkard, society has a claim for damages against those
who supply the drink. Proposals pointing to a restraint
of the traffic have been earnestly advocated in our own
community, and formally submitted to the legislature.
I cannot predict whether this method will be successful, or
that; but the attempts are most interesting to all philan-
thropists, as symptoms that society is awakening to a sense
of danger, and beginning to cast about for remedies. It
is especially cheering to the heart of Dorcas, as she toils
to roll her stone up-hill, only to see it rolling down again,
to observe that the commonwealth is bestirring itself to
put some check on the huge machinery, driven by greed of
gain, which revolves night and day, summer and winter,
to manufacture a wholesale pauperism.

Meanwhile individual disciples of Christ, whilst they
are permitted and even bound in their capacity as citizens



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246 The Church in the House.

to lend their influence to beneficent legislative measures,
should not wait on the slow movements of a nation.
They should, from love to the Lord and pity for men, put
their own hand to the work wherever they can descry an
opening. Dorcas enjoyed the blessed privilege of clothing
the naked who were within her reach. It was her meat to
do her Redeemer's will, and her appetite was abundantly
gratified. It is a beautiful feature of the Christian Church
at the present day, and a symptom that the Spirit has not
forsaken us, that '^ honourable women not a few '^ both
lay out their means and labour with their hands to feed
the hungry and clothe the naked, in loving obedience to
the Word of the Lord.



XLVIII.
A LIGHT TO LIGHTEN THE GENTILES.

" There was a certain man in Caesarea called Cornelius, a centurion of the
band called the Italian band," &c. — ^Acrs x.

ALREADY Christ had come, the glory of his own
people Israel ; and now he must be set forth as a light
also to the Gentiles. The second half of the promise must
be fulfilled as well as the first. Shiloh has come to hold
the sceptre in Judah ; but to him must the gathering of
the peoples also be. It is not enough that the law of the
new kingdom should be established in Zion ; the word" of
the kingdom must go forth from Jerusalem. The king
hath prepared his sacrifice, — he hath bidden his guests.
All things are now ready; the servants must now go out
into the highways and the hedges, and compel the out«



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A Light to Lighten the Gentiles. 247

casts to come in. North, give up; south, keep not back;
bring my sons from far, and my daughters from the ends
of the earth.

The outflow of the gospel upon the Gentile world is a
great turning-point in the history of the primitive Church.

That the Gentiles should be fellow-heirs, and of the
same body, and partakers of his promise in Christ by the
gospel, was not at first known to the followers of Jesus : it
was part of the mystery of godliness specially revealed to
the apostles after the ascension of Christ. '* Other sheep
I have,'' said the Master, '' which are not of this fold :
them also I must bring; and they shall hear my voice;
and there shall be one flock* and one Shepherd'' (John
X. 16). This chapter narrates the accomplishment of the
promise. Here we learn how the door was opened ; or,
rather, how the middle wall of partition was broken
down, so that henceforth there should be for the Church
neither Jew nor Greek.

Although individuals here and there had already been
admitted into the fellowship of the Church, it needed yet
a revelation to show the believing Jews that the way into
the gospel was as open and free to the nations as to them-
selves. Those who had entered hitherto, entered first into
the Jewish communion, and thence were introduced into
the Christian Church. Now it is made evident that the
Gentiles may come direct to Christ, without passing
through Judaism on their way. God's own hand had hung
up the separating veil to serve important purposes for a
time ; but now, when it has fulfilled its purpose, his own
h&d will rend it.

Peter and Cornelius are chosen as the two points at

• " Not ONE FOLD, but ONE FLOCK ; no one exclusive enclosure of an
outward Church,— but one flock, all knowing the one Shepherd and
known of him/'— Dean Alford.



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248 The Church in the House.

which the two bodies shall come into contact, so that they
may be joined in one.

Cornelius was a favourite name among the noblest
families of Rome. He was an officer of the Italian band.
The body-guard of the governor was composed of native
Italians. Levies raised in the provinces were not trusted
near the ruler's person. This circumstance makes it sure
that Cornelius was a Gentile. He belongs to the Roman
Empire, the representative at that day of the world's power.

He was a devout man. Whether he was a proselyte of
the gate cannot be certainly ascertained ; but, at all events,
he was not further initiated into Judaism. He worshipped
God, but did not conform to the Jewish ceremonial.

He worshipped God with all his house. This is a feature
in family life that is always mentioned in the Scriptures
with honour. Jesus is pleased when parents bring the
little ones and place them in his arms. Grace not only
flows down like water, so that from the head of the house
it reaches the youngest ; it also, by a cognate law, rises up
like vapour, so that it may find its way from a godly child
to a worldly father. Parents, bring your house to the
Church ; and bring the Church to your house.

"Thy prayers and thine alms are come up for a memo-
rial before God.'' Prayers and pains were equally yoked in
the life of Cornelius. Body and soul together constituted
the religion of this devout Roman. It is not that the
giving of alms makes the giver just with God. It is rather
that the gifts accompanying the prayer serve to embody
his desires. The charity was not a dead work, for it
ascended to heaven ; the gifts were the outgoings of-^an
earnest but unenlightened soul groping after God.

" Now send men to Joppa and call for Simon." The
Lord puts honour on the gospel in that he sends an angel
from heaven to set a train in motion for conveying it to an



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A Light to Lighten the Gentiles. 249

anxious soul; but he also puts honour on the human
ministry in that he does not entrust an angel with the
work. The angel is employed to nm an errand — to call
the preacher to the spot. The matter is so great that an
angel must be sent in order to get it accomplished ; but
the matter lies so exclusively between sinful man and his
Divine Redeemer that the angel is not further employed,
after he has told where a minister of the gospel may be
found.

When there is great illness in a family, a loving neigh-
bour comes in ; but he does not presume to prescribe. He
will run for the physician. So do angels minister to ''the
heirs of salvation.'^

This arrangement is wise and good. When Paul was
constrained in faithfulness to tell certain men of Philippi
that they were " enemies of the cross of Christ/' he told
the stern truth " weeping.^' He who has himself been
taken by free grace out of the pit, knows how to pity those
who are left. The words that win souls run thus : —
'' Come with us and we will do thee good.'' '' We have
found him of whom Moses in the law and the prophets
did speak ; is not this the Christ ? " " The blood of Jesus
Christ cleanseth us from all sin.'' This is preaching ; and
therefore angels cannot preach. They seem to say — '' We
can but desire to look into this mystery; send for one who
has passed through it." Send for the man who denied his
Lord, and thereafter melted under his look of pitying love.
Send for Peter, who has himself been saved, and he will
tell you what you must do to be saved.

We know by the answer sent what the centurion's
prayer had been. The answer is an echo of the request ;
and the answer is to show him the way of life.

There were many strong barriers between this man and
Christ. He was a Gentile, a Roman, a soldier, a centu-



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250 The Church in the House.

rion : each word indicates a fence within a fence to keep
grace at bay; but grace burst through all, and led him
captive.

Peter went to the house-top about noon to pray. The
house-top was the place of retirement. Peter^s closet was
large and lofty. Its roof was the dome of heaven ; yet it
served his purpose well, for it was secluded. The closet,
in the sense of our Lord^s instructions on prayer, is any
place where you may be shut out from earth below, and
open upwards to heaven. That is the best closet which
does for the spirit what the house-top did for the body, —
which veils off the earth, and leaves all heaven open above
the suppliant.

It is good to have associations of special communion
with God connected with particular spots. The sight
of these Bethels may revive sweet memories in later years.
The tree, more hoary now, in the rural haunts of your
youth, under whose shade, in the long summer twilight,
you were wont to kneel and lift your soul to God, when
the life of faith was young; the avenue along which you
were wont to walk communing with a present Saviour,
when the sense of his presence was new ; — sweet spots !
beautiful rays of light from above seem still to linger over
them ! This world is sweeter to a Christian than to other
men. It contains for him many spots of holy ground on
which he loves, even unto old age, to dwell; and even
if some places call up sad memories of evil, they remind
him also of his Saviour's love in blotting out all his sin.

The vision of Peter marked a great crisis of the Church.
The apostles must have experienced at this time much
difficulty in reconciling the Lord's command. Go ye into
all the world, with their adherence to the Mosaic or-
dinances, which they still considered binding. On the
general principle that you may discover in the answer sent



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Saved by the Word. 25 1

to prayer what the suppliant pleaded for, we have good
ground to assume that Peter, on the house-top that day,
cried to the Lord, O send out thy light and thy truth, let
them guide me on this very thing. The vision that fol-
lowed was the opening of the gates, that the kingdom
long pent-up in Israel might flow out upon the world.
It is the bursting of the chrysalis, in which the life has
been preserved indeed, but confined. The life that now
issues forth is the same; and yet it is so much more
glorious, that to observers the Church of the New Testa-
ment seems a new creature.



XLIX.
SAVED BY THE WORD.



"Who shall teU thee words, whereby thoa and all thy house shall be
savoi."— Acts xi. 14.

CONVINCED by the concurrence of the vision and
the arrival of the ambassadors, Peter at once con-
sented to go to CsBsarea. When he arrived, and found
that Cornelius had been directed by a Divine message to
send for him, he consented to preach the gospel freely to
the Gentiles, and to receive them into the fellowship of
faith, without imposing on them any part of the Jewish
ceremonial.

When the Church at Jerusalem, which consisted of
converted Jews, heard what Peter had done, they found
fault. "They that were of the circumcision contended
with him.'' Placed upon his defence, Peter narrated the
whole case, and obtained from the assembled council a



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252 The Church in the House.

favourable judgment on his conduct. There is certainly
no Popery here. Yet this is subsequent to the time
when the Lord had said to him, ^*Thou art Peter/^ &c.
Either he was pope at this time, or he was never pope.



Online LibraryWilliam ArnotThe church in the house: a series of lessons on the Acts of the Apostles → online text (page 19 of 41)