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Expositions of Holy Scripture: The Acts
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COPIES OF CHRIST’S MANNER

‘And Peter said unto him, Aeneas, Jesus Christ maketh thee whole: arise, and make thy bed. . . . 40. But Peter put them all forth, and kneeled down and prayed; and, turning him to the body, said, Tabitha, arise.’—ACTS ix. 34, 40.

I have put these two miracles together, not only because they were closely connected in time and place, but because they have a very remarkable and instructive feature in common. They are both evidently moulded upon Christ’s miracles; are distinct imitations of what Peter had seen Him do. And their likenesses to and differences from our Lord’s manner of working are equally noteworthy. It is to the lessons from these two aspects, common to both miracles, that I desire to turn now.

I. First, notice the similarities and the lesson which they teach.

The two cases before us are alike, in that both of them find parallels in our Lord’s miracles. The one is the cure of a paralytic, which pairs off with the well-known story in the Gospels concerning the man that was borne by four, and let down through the roof into Christ’s presence. The other of them, the raising of Dorcas, or Tabitha, of course corresponds with the three resurrections of dead people which are recorded in the Gospels.

And now, note the likenesses. Jesus Christ said to the paralysed man, ‘Arise, take up thy bed.’ Peter says to Aeneas, ‘Arise, and make thy bed.’ The one command was appropriate to the circumstances of a man who was not in his own house, and whose control over his long-disused muscles in obeying Christ’s word was a confirmation to himself of the reality and completeness of his cure. The other was appropriate to a man bedridden in his own house; and it had precisely the same purpose as the analogous injunction from our Lord, ‘Take up thy bed and walk.’ Aeneas was lying at home, and so Peter, remembering how Jesus Christ had demonstrated to others, and affirmed to the man himself, the reality of the miraculous blessing given to him, copies his Master’s method, ‘Aeneas, make thy bed.’ It is an echo and resemblance of the former incident, and is a distinct piece of imitation of it.

And then, if we turn to the other narrative, the intentional moulding of the manner of the miracle, consecrated in the eyes of the loving disciple, because it was Christ’s manner, is still more obvious. When Jesus Christ went into the house of Jairus there was the usual hubbub, the noise of the loud Eastern mourning, and He put them all forth, taking with Him only the father and mother of the damsel, and Peter with James and John. When Peter goes into the upper room, where Tabitha is lying, there are the usual noise of lamentation and the clack of many tongues, extolling the virtues of the dead woman. He remembers how Christ had gone about His miracle, and he, in his turn, ‘put them all forth.’ Mark, who was Peter’s mouthpiece in his Gospel, gives us the very Aramaic words which our Lord employed when He raised the little girl, Talitha, the Aramaic word for ‘a damsel,’ or young girl; cumi, which means in that language ‘arise.’ Is it not singular and beautiful that Peter’s word by the bedside of the dead Dorcas is, with the exception of one letter, absolutely identical? Christ says, Talitha cumi. Peter remembered the formula by which the blessing was conveyed, and he copied it. ‘Tabitha cumi!’ Is it not clear that he is posing after his Master’s attitude; that he is, consciously or unconsciously, doing what he remembered so well had been done in that other upper room, and that the miracles are both of them shaped after the pattern of the miraculous working of Jesus Christ?

Well, now, although we are no miracle-workers, the very same principle which underlay these two works of supernatural power is to be applied to all our work, and to our lives as Christian people. I do not know whether Peter meant to do like Jesus Christ or not; I think rather that he was unconsciously and instinctively dropping into the fashion that to him was so sacred. Love always delights in imitation; and the disciples of a great teacher will unconsciously catch the trick of his intonation, even the awkwardness of his attitudes or the peculiarities of his way of looking at things—only, unfortunately, outsides are a good deal more easily imitated than insides. And many a disciple copies such external trifles, and talks in the tones that have, first of all, brought blessed truths to him, whose resemblance to his teacher goes very little further. The principle that underlies these miracles is just this—get near Jesus Christ, and you will catch His manner. Dwell in fellowship with Him, and whether you are thinking about it or not, there will come some faint resemblance to that Lord into your characters and your way of doing things, so that men will ‘take knowledge of you that you have been with Jesus.’ The poor bit of cloth which has held some precious piece of solid perfume will retain fragrance for many a day afterwards, and will bless the scentless air by giving it forth. The man who keeps close to Christ, and has folded Him in his heart, will, like the poor cloth, give forth a sweetness not his own that will gladden and refresh many nostrils. Live in the light, and you will become light. Keep near Christ, and you will be Christlike. Love Him, and love will do to you what it does to many a wedded pair, and to many kindred hearts: it will transfuse into you something of the characteristics of the object of your love. It is impossible to trust Christ, to obey Christ, to hold communion with Him, and to live beside Him, without becoming like Him. And if such be our inward experience, so will be our outward appearance.

But there may be a specific point given to this lesson in regard to Christian people’s ways of doing their work in the world and helping and blessing other folk. Although, as I say, we have no miraculous power at our disposal, we do not need it in order to manifest Jesus Christ and His way of working in our work. And if we dwell beside Him, then, depend upon it, all the characteristics—far more precious than the accidents of manner, or tone, or attitude in working a miracle—all the characteristics so deeply and blessedly stamped upon His life of self-sacrifice and man-helping devotion will be reproduced in us. Jesus Christ, when He went through the wards of the hospital of the world, was overflowing with quick sympathy for every sorrow that met His eye. If you and I are living near Him, we shall never steel our hearts nor lock up our sensibilities against any suffering that it is within our power to stanch or to alleviate. Jesus Christ never grudged trouble, never thought of Himself, never was impatient of interruption, never repelled importunity, never sent away empty any outstretched hand. And if we live near Him, self-oblivious willingness to spend and be spent will mark our lives, and we shall not consider that we have the right of possession or of sole enjoyment of any of the blessings that are given to us. Jesus Christ, according to the beautiful and significant words of one of the Gospels, ‘healed them that had need of healing.’ Why that singular designation for the people that were standing around Him but to teach us that wide as men’s necessity was His sympathy, and that broad as the sympathy of Christ were the help and healing which He brought? And so, with like width of compassion, with like perfectness of self-oblivion, with equal remoteness from consciousness of superiority or display of condescension, Christian men should go amongst the sorrowful and the sad and the outcast and do their miracles—‘greater works’ than those which Christ did, as He Himself has told us—after the manner in which He did His. If they did, the world would be a different place, and the Church would be a different Church, and you would not have people writing in the newspapers to demonstrate that Christianity was ‘played out.’

II. Further, note the differences and the lessons from them.

Take the first of the two miracles. ‘Aeneas, Jesus Christ maketh thee whole: arise, and make thy bed.’ That first clause points to the great difference. Take the second miracle, ‘Jesus Christ put them all forth, and stretched out His hand, and said, Damsel, arise!’ ‘Peter put them all forth, . . . and said, Tabitha, arise!’ but between the putting forth and the miracle he did something which Christ did not do, and he did not do something which Christ did do. ‘He kneeled down and prayed.’ Jesus Christ did not do that. ‘And Jesus put forth His hand, and said, Arise!’ Peter did not do that. But he put forth his hand after the miracle was wrought; not to communicate life, but to help the living woman to get to her feet; and so, both by what he did in his prayer and by what he did not do after Christ’s pattern, the extension of the hand that was the channel of the vitality, he drew a broad distinction between the servant’s copy and the Master’s original.

The lessons from the differences are such as the following.

Christ works miracles by His inherent power; His servants do their works only as His instruments and organs. I need not dwell upon the former thought; but it is the latter at which I wish to look for a moment. The lesson, then, of the difference is that Christian men, in all their work for the Master and for the world, are ever to keep clear before themselves, and to make very obvious to other people, that they are nothing more than channels and instruments. The less the preacher, the teacher, the Christian benefactor of any sort puts himself in the foreground, or in evidence at all, the more likely are his words and works to be successful. If you hear a man, for instance, preaching a sermon, and you see that he is thinking about himself, he may talk with the tongues of men and of angels, but he will do no good to anybody. The first condition of work for the Lord is—hide yourself behind your message, behind your Master, and make it very plain that His is the power, and that you are but a tool in the Workman’s hand.

And then, further, another lesson is, Be very sure of the power that will work in you. What a piece of audacity it was for Peter to go and stand by the paralytic man’s couch and say, ‘Aeneas, Jesus Christ maketh thee whole.’ Yes, audacity; unless he had been in such constant and close touch with his Master that he was sure that his Master was working through him. And is it not beautiful to see how absolutely confident he is that Jesus Christ’s work was not ended when He went up into heaven; but that there, in that little stuffy room, where the man had lain motionless for eight long years, Jesus Christ was present, and working? O brethren, the Christian Church does not half enough believe in the actual presence and operation of Jesus Christ, here and now, in and through all His servants! We are ready enough to believe that He worked when He was in the world long ago, that He is going to work when He comes back to the world, at some far-off future period. But do we believe that He is verily putting forth His power, in no metaphor, but in simple reality, at present and here, and, if we will, through us?

‘Jesus Christ maketh thee whole.’ Be sure that if you keep near Christ, if you will try to mould yourselves after His likeness, if you expect Him to work through you, and do not hinder His work by self-conceit and self-consciousness of any sort, then it will be no presumption, but simple faith which He delights in and will vindicate, if you, too, go and stand by a paralytic and say, ‘Jesus Christ maketh thee whole,’ or go and stand by people dead in trespasses and sins and say, after you have prayed, ‘Arise.’

We are here for the very purpose for which Peter was in Lydda and Joppa—to carry on and copy the healing and the quickening work of Christ, by His present power, and after His blessed example.

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