Francis Bourdillon, 1864
"At Joppa there was a certain disciple named Tabitha, which is translated Dorcas. This woman was full of good works and charitable deeds which she did. But it happened in those days that she became sick and died. When they had washed her, they laid her in an upper room. And since Lydda was near Joppa, and the disciples had heard that Peter was there, they sent two men to him, imploring him not to delay in coming to them. Then Peter arose and went with them. When he had come, they brought him to the upper room. And all the widows stood by him weeping, showing the tunics and garments which Dorcas had made while she was with them. But Peter put them all out, and knelt down and prayed. And turning to the body he said, 'Tabitha, arise!' And she opened her eyes, and when she saw Peter she sat up. Then he gave her his hand and lifted her up; and when he had called the saints and widows, he presented her alive. And it became known throughout all Joppa, and many believed on the Lord." Acts 9:36-42
Here was a death-bed. A death-bed must be sad to those who stand by it, whatever it may be to the dead themselves. And so there was weeping around this death-bed. But oh! What a difference there is in the feelings of those who stand round a death-bed, according to what the life of the departed has been! How peaceful and bright are some death-beds — and how gloomy are others! What comfort do surviving friends feel in some cases — and what deep pain of heart in others!
What kind of person had this been, who was now lying dead in the upper chamber at Joppa?
She had been "a disciple" — that is, a disciple of the Lord Jesus; a true disciple, a real Christian, one who loved her Savior. But she had been especially remarkable for her kindness to the poor. Whether she was rich or not, we do not know — probably not, but certainly she had done a great deal of good. She "was full of good works and charitable deeds which she did." She used to make clothes for the poor widows of the place. It is plain that she was a true friend to the poor — kind, charitable, active, and self-denying; not merely doing a kind action now and then — but spending her life in helping others.
But was it this, that gave her peace while she lay on her death-bed? Did she rest her hopes on her "good works"? We may be sure she did not — for she was "a disciple"; and no true disciple of the Lord Jesus does that. Tabitha, or Dorcas, had a better hope. Jesus was her hope. Her faith was built upon Him — and her good works were the fruits of her faith. They proved her faith to be real — but they were not what she trusted in. Jesus, and Jesus alone — was her Savior. Ah! There is no other. Our own works are poor comfort for a dying-bed. None but Jesus can bear up the soul then!
The poor widows felt what a friend they had lost, so they stood around the corpse, "weeping, and showing the garments which Dorcas made while she was with them." The aged poor had nothing to look to, but the help of friends and the charity of the kind-hearted, though the Christian Church seems always to have provided for its own poor; so that such a friend as Dorcas must have been missed indeed.
In the same way, we ought to live in such a way as to be missed when we die. It is sad when any lead so useless a life, that no loss is felt when death calls them away. Every Christian, rich or poor, ought to be a worker for God — and if he is, then his loss must be felt. A selfish, useless life — is not a happy life. How sad it must be for a dying person to look back upon his life and to be able to think of no good done to any, of no mourner comforted, of no poor relieved, of none helped onward in their spiritual course.
There can be no doubt that Dorcas had helped the poor, out of love to her Savior. Those who love Him find different things to do, according to their different means and opportunities. Yet it is the same motive which influences them, "the love of Christ constrains" them. And whatever is done from that motive, is accepted, as done to Christ Himself.
"Then the King will say to those on his right, 'Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.'
"Then the righteous will answer him, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?'
"The King will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine — you did for me.'" Matthew 25:34-40
Will not Dorcas appear among those blessed ones? She clothed the naked while she lived — and the King will own it as done to Him.
Of all the things we can do in our Master's service, none are so clearly shown in Scripture to be accepted and approved by Him — as what we do for the poor. And this is what all may do in a measure — the poor as well as the rich. Nay, that which one poor person can do for another, often brings more real help and comfort than what a rich neighbor can do, though that poor person may not have a penny to give.
Dorcas's life had been useful — and her death was happy. But is there no hope or comfort for the dying when their life has not been useful? Yes, for God is "rich in mercy." "He is rich unto all who call upon Him" (Romans 10:12). Jesus said, "Him who comes to Me — I will never cast out" (John 7:37). And what did He say to one who, after a life of sin, was just about to die, with no opportunity left him of serving God, but who had been led at the last to repent and seek mercy? "Truly I say unto you: Today shall you be with Me in Paradise!" (Luke 23:43).
Yes, there is mercy even to the last for all who will seek it in Christ Jesus. The poor conscience-stricken sinner, earnestly seeking Christ from a bed of death, brought at length to a true sorrow for sin, bewailing with tears a misspent life, pleading for pardon through the precious blood of Jesus — can it be that that poor sinner will plead in vain? Never! God will see those tears and hear that cry — and the sheep that has long wandered lost, shall even then be saved and brought home by the Good Shepherd.
The case of Dorcas was quite peculiar. It pleased God, in answer to prayer, to restore her to life. She, whom all had thought quite gone from among them — lived again, to continue awhile her care of the poor, still to clothe the naked and relieve the widow, and still to love and serve her God and Savior — until it would seem good to Him to take her to Himself forever.
Often, when the servant of God lies on a bed of sickness and prayer is made to God on his behalf, the prayer of faith is heard, and the sick person is restored to love and serve God still upon earth. But it is not always so. God hears all our prayers — yet answers them in His own way. He does not always see fit to restore the sick in answer to prayer. He knows the best time to call His servants to their rest — and to Him we must humbly submit. Whether they live or die, they are the Lord's. And when once they fall asleep in Jesus — then they are gone from among us.
It does not please God now, to do such works as He did by Peter in the case of Dorcas. Believers die — and we see them alive no more. But they will rise again! There will be a joyful meeting of friends long parted, when the Lord Jesus Christ shall come; for "those who sleep in Jesus — God will bring with Him" (1 Thessalonians 4:14). And then all who shall have died in the Lord and all who shall be alive at His coming — will be happy together forever with Him.
There will be Dorcas, the friend of the poor — and there the "saints" who stood by her bed; there will be all who have loved and served their Savior; there the pardoned thief; there all who have sought and found mercy in Christ Jesus. No more need then, no more weeping, no more pain, no more death. No more naked to be clothed or hungry to be fed or sick to be visited. All will be happy — every need will be supplied, and every tear wiped away.
Dorcas, though raised from her bed of death by the prayer of Peter — doubtless met death again at no distant time, and then perhaps the widows once more stood by weeping, and this time she was not restored to them. But in the great resurrection, the dead in Christ will rise and die no more! No more parting again after that meeting — no more death after that rising. "So shall we be forever with the Lord!" (1 Thessalonians 4:17).