Friday, March 24th, 2023
the Fourth Week of Lent
the Fourth Week of Lent
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Parker's The People's Bible Parker's The People's Bible
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Parker, Joseph. "Commentary on Acts 17". Parker's The People's Bible. https://studylight.org/
commentaries/ eng/ jpb/ acts-17.html. 1885-95.
Parker, Joseph. "Commentary on Acts 17". Parker's The People's Bible. https://studylight.org/
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Almighty God, we come to thee in the name of Jesus Christ, and breathe our prayer through him who makes all prayer prevalent. We plead not our own case before thee; we stand beside the Cross of the Crucified, and through Christ the Lord our prayer is clothed with might. There is one Intercessor between God and man; there is a Days-Man who can lay his hand upon both and plead the human cause. All we can say is what he taught us "God, be merciful unto me a sinner." So are we plunged in darkness by our own guilt, and lifted up into light by thy great grace. We are gathered at the Cross. Every hand is touching it; every heart throbs with love towards it; every eye is fixed upon it; it is thy Cross; Lord, meet us at this sacred place. We are here because of sin; we are mourning because of self-accusation, and the only hope that is in us is a light lighted by thine own hand. Our hope is in the Saviour; our confidence is in the Cross; our expectation is from on high. Read Thy Word to us, O Spirit that wrote it. Let us hear, in the hearing of the soul, how it should be read, so that none of its music may be lost. May our ears be greedy to hear the melody of thy truth; may our hearts clamour with vehement love to hear it more perfectly in all its infinite sweetness and tenderness and passion. Thy Word giveth light; thy Word giveth life; thine is the only Word that is true. May all the syllables of our speech be drawn from it and return again to it, to find their completeness and their glory. Help us to live well because wisely. May our life be hidden with God in Christ a mystery to the world, so that time has no effect upon us but to make us young; and all energy employed in thy service is but so much sleep that renews the strength. The Lord take us wholly into his care we would not think for ourselves; we would have no planning or scheming that taxes our poor blind ingenuity, we would rest in the Lord. We are confident of this one thing: that he doeth all things well. We are not waiting, so much as longing; we are standing still, not as an effort, but we are standing still to catch the last phase of beauty, the lingering blessing of the light. Oh, that we might have no wish, or thought, or desire, or anxiety, but live in God and rest in the God of gods. This can be done only by the indwelling and continual ministry of God thy Spirit. Holy One, live in us. Thou knowest what we are, and what we need; thou knowest the trouble at home, the difficulty in the market-place, the sickness we cannot heal, the infirmity that becomes a burden, the joy that makes us laugh, the prosperity that now is a blessing and now a tempta-tion thou knowest us altogether. The strong man; the patient woman; the longsuffering heart; the dreamy spirit; the active soul behold, are not all these standing before thee like plain reading? Have mercy upon us through Christ Jesus, and give each a blessing and make each young again. Thou knowest our silent prayer, for which there are no words dainty and fit enough; prayers that words would debase; the cry of the heart; the yearning of the spirit; the groping of the soul in the dark, seeking for light, and yet almost afraid to find it. Lord, help us in all these passages from the known to the unknown, and from the youth to the maturity of the soul. The Lord look upon us, and we shall be well again. One glance of love, one smile of approbation, one touch of thine hand, and we shall be as the angels. If we may but touch the hem of thy garment, we shall be made whole. Amen.
1. Now when they had passed through Amphipolis [capital of the first of the four districts of Macedonia. On the Strymon; 33 miles S. W. of Philippi by the Egnatian road, which ran from Dyrrhachium to the Hellespont] and Apollonia [a town of the second Macedonian district, 30 miles S. W. again] they came to Thessalonica, where was a synagogue of the Jews [this was why they stopped there. Thessalonica, capital of the second district, afterwards of all Macedonia, lay 38 miles W. of Apollonia. Cassander, who rebuilt it, changed its name from Therma in honour of his wife, Alexander's sister. Was "the bulwark" of Greek Christendom in the Middle Ages, and the means of converting both Sclaves and Bulgarians]:
2. And Paul, as his custom was, went in unto them, and for three Sabbath days reasoned with [G. held dialogues with; the word Plato uses of Socrates] them from the Scriptures [O. T.],
3. Opening and alleging [Bengel paraphrases, "cracking the nut and bringing out the kernel "] that it behoved the Christ [Messiah] to suffer, and to rise again from the dead; and that this Jesus, whom, said he, I proclaim [G. announce], unto you, is the Christ.
4. And some of them were persuaded and consorted with Paul and Silas; and of the devout [G. "worshipping," i.e., in the synagogue] Greeks a great multitude [throng], and of the chief women not a few.
5. But the Jews, being moved with jealousy, took unto them certain vile fellows of the rabble ["market loungers"], and gathering a crowd, set the city on uproar; and assaulting the house of Jason [ Rom 16:21 ], they sought to bring them forth to the people [G. "demos"; Thessalonica was a "free city." The demos (commons) in its ecclesia, church, or duly summoned meeting was the head political power, and appointed the politarchs, here translated "rulers of the city"].
6. And when they found them not, they dragged Jason and certain brethren before the rulers of the city, crying, These that have turned the world upside down [G. "stirred up to sedition," as in Act 21:28 ] are come hither also;
7. Whom Jason hath received [ Joh 13:20 ]: and these all act contrary to the decrees of Cæsar [imperial edicts, Luke 2:1 , were binding upon the whole Roman world. But there is no mention in this "free city" of the Roman law and magistracy as at the "colony" Philippi], saying that there is another king, one Jesus.
8. And they troubled the multitude [G. demos, as we say, "The Commons"] and the rulers of the city [the politarchs], when they heard these things.
9. And when they had taken security [had satisfied themselves by examination that no sedition was meant] from Jason and the rest, they let them go.
LUKE was evidently left at Philippi, where he might have a good deal of doctor's work to do. Paul and Silvanus and Timotheus moved on from Philippi elsewhere. We wonder whether Paul will fight any more, or whether he will spend the remainder of his days in pious reflections? We have some little time for the consideration of that question, for a period is occupied in passing through Amphipolis, where nothing was done, and Apollonia, where nothing was attempted. Surely the fight is over, and the warriors are going home. The warriors travelled some thirty-three miles the first day, from Philippi to Amphipolis; thirty miles a day seemed to be about an apostolic journey. The next day they went some thirty miles, from Amphipolis to Apollonia, but there was not any preaching. The fight seems to be over, and the smitten warriors are going home to anoint their wounds and wash their stripes in secret. But, when they had passed through the cities that had no synagogue, they came to lovely Thessalonica a woman's name, so named because her great husband loved her. He took away the old name, and said he would call the city Thessalonica, the capital of all proud Macedonia. Then we read: "where was a synagogue of the Jews." Seeing the synagogue, Paul saw a battle-field, and instantly he stripped to the fight! We see now what he was looking for. We were a little troubled when he passed through Amphipolis and said nothing; and when, the next day, he went through Apollonia and never challenged public attention, we wondered what the matter was. But now that he has come into the lady-city, the capital, now that he sees a synagogue of the Jews, he begins again. The war-horse will paw when he can no longer stand; the war is in his blood. You cannot make war-horses of wood and paint; they are God's fires! Nor can you put fire into men when there is none. Their industry is but a strenuous idleness, and their walking about is only whirling around in a circle. Truly the Christian war spirit had entered the very soul of Paul! When this Marmion came to die, "he shook the fragment of a blade," and said, "I have fought a good fight," and none could deny it. Surely he had been a brave fighter! "I have finished my course," and finished it gloriously. When are we going to begin the fight the good fight, the battle that means victory? Let us assemble at the synagogue in Thessalonica, and watch events.
"And Paul, as his manner was, went in " It is difficult to do away with a "manner." Paul was not an occasional attendant. Jesus Christ did not go now and then to the synagogue. The first Christians lived in the Church, and only existed elsewhere. It was a dull time to the early Christian when the church was closed. Outside he was always waiting for the opening of the gate. They were brave days of old.
Paul is here, as everywhere, the very model of a true Christian preacher. What conditions does he fulfil as such? Here he stands, with a written revelation; "he reasoned with them out of the Scriptures." The preacher stands in a great tower. If he were standing within a paper castle, which his own fingers had fashioned, it might be burned down or blown away by the tempestuous wind. But the true preacher, who preaches with every drop of his blood, and every spark of his life's fire, utters the words of Another. So the true preacher is never stale in matter or dull in manner. The sunlight is never other than a quiet miracle; the common air is an uncommon blessing. Paul did not go up and down European or Palestinian cities talking something which he himself had invented; he had a Book, an authority, a written order, and he at least believed that every word he said was written for him by the pen and ink of Heaven. Once let that thought go, and preaching becomes loose and vain, without a centre and without one dominating thought or note, A sermon is nothing that is not a paraphrase of the Bible. It is great only in proportion as it begins, continues, and ends in the Scriptures. Paul is standing in the synagogue, or sitting there, as a man who constructs a historical and religious argument, "opening and alleging" opening words to find their inner secret; alleging, contending, demonstrating, proving, bringing one thing to bear upon another; connecting the golden links and making a chain of them; constructing an argument which should be at once a tower of protection and a home for the soul's security. Then he crowns his ministry by enforcing a distinct personal appeal. Hear him: "This Jesus, whom I preach unto you, is Christ." This was a sword with a point. This is a sermon with an accent. The preacher must have an object in view; he should say to himself every time he stands up, "What do I want to do?" Paul always had his answer ready, "I want to preach Jesus and the resurrection, and to get every man to say to Christ, 'My Lord, my God.' "So whatever Paul did was contributory to this great end. The difficulty with the Christian preacher is that nobody wants to hear his doctrine. Do not imagine, my young brethren preparing for the ministry, that the people care much to hear your doctrine. They want to hear your particular way of putting it. They could hear the doctrine next door to their own houses; they would never travel miles for the purpose of hearing your doctrine. They know your doctrine, your theology, your thought, but they want to hear your way of putting it. Babies! they want to see your toys! They like your manner, your gentleness, or your force, your voice or eloquence, or rhetorical way; but the doctrine they would listen to you with equal delight if you were uttering the other doctrine! This is the difficulty of the Christian preacher. There are those again who love the doctrine above all things, and they care not how it is spoken; but they are in the inner circle, and of them I am not speaking. My reference is to the great multitudes crowding around the Apostles, and crowding around all Christian ministers, and the question which I have to put is this: Do these people want to hear the thought, or only the happy words which for a moment endeavour to express it? I went the other day to hear the most illustrious judge in England. Every man who can afford the time ought to spend, I think, one hour a week in the law courts; it is an education and a stimulus. I sat with reverence of no common kind before the foremost judge of his day. His voice was feeble and indistinct; at times I had great difficulty, as had others, in hearing him; but, oh, the strain, the anxiety not to miss one word! It was dry, it was argumentative, there was not a single flower of speech in the whole, and yet no man coughed there; every man was silent. Why this anxiety? Because the people wanted to hear what he said. He is interpreting law, or making law, or settling an expensive controversy, and bringing practical questions to an issue. As to his manner no man cared for it; no man went to hear eloquence or poetry; every one was there to hear what the judge would say, not how he said it. You must not compare the judge and the Christian minister. Poor minister, he must please, persuade, pander to many a taste, for who wants to hear the truth? This is the difficulty we all have to contend with, and it will be a growing difficulty with the ages. When a mumbling speaker reads a will to persons probably interested in the disposition of the property, does any one say anything about his manner? Each wants to know what he in particular is to get. Oh, could I persuade my hearers that I am reading a WILL! for that I am surely doing; the will of God, the testament of Christ, the decree of heaven. Oh, that men were wise, that they understood these things!
Contrast with that scene the opposition which it awakens. Sometimes you cannot enter into the merits of a controversy, but you may form a tolerable judgment as to its quality by observing the way in which it is conducted. Let that thought rule our construction of these incidents. Opposition arose again, as it always arose; however quiet the town when the Apostles entered it, they left it in a serious uproar. They came not to send peace on the earth, but a sword. They kindled a fire among the dry wood, and how it burned, how it flamed, how it went up as with a will! Look at the opposition, "moved with envy"; then it was a little-minded opposition. Where is majesty? There is none. Where is the noble challenge to discuss a great question upon equal terms? There is none. How is Paul moved? By love. How is the opposition moved? By envy. The Jews will not have it that a felon so deemed by the law shall be King. The Jew will never kiss the Cross in homage; he hates it; it smites his pride; it blows witheringly upon his national and personal vanity, and he will not accept it.
"Moved with envy, they took unto them certain lewd fellows of the baser sort"; then it was an unscrupulous opposition. Any stick will do with which to beat a dog. The Jews, who would not have spoken to those "lewd fellows" on any account on common ground, will make use of them to put down this religion of the Cross. If they had not been "lewd fellows," and in very deed "of the baser sort," they would have seen that they were being made use of. On legal, political, social questions they never would have been consulted for a moment. How Envy can stoop to take up polluted weapons! How Envy can search in the mud for stones to throw at Goodness! Is there anything so lasting as hatred? We are told that Love will outlive it, but it is hard to believe in that survival. We do believe it, or we could not live; but Hate is long-lived; unscrupulous; will say anything, do anything; pervert, twist, corrupt, and poison. There is nothing too despicable for it to use to express itself in denunciation and contempt and penalty.
"Moved with envy, they took unto them certain lewd fellows of the baser sort, and gathered a company, and set all the city on an uproar"; then it was a lawless opposition. Never mind the dignity of the city. Never mind the politarchs who reign over it; they can easily be alarmed, and they will take part with the opposition. Magistrates are bound to be timid; politarchs cannot stand against an uprising city; they will either dismiss the case, or take bail, or do something to get out of it. So the opposition little-minded, unscrupulous, lawless prosecutes its mission to the end. This is true of all opposition to the Christian cause. Do not let us suppose that this was a Thessalonian incident with local beginnings and local endings. Wherever you find opposition to Christianity you find an opposition that is little-minded, unscrupulous, lawless, and dishonest. There can be no honest opposition to Christianity. There may be an honest opposition to some special ways of representing it, but to its purity, its self-sacrifice, its nobleness, its purpose, there can be no honest opposition. Yet how the Lord makes the wrath of man to praise him! What said the enemy? "These that have turned the world upside down." There! that is a tribute to their power. Even the Jews, "moved with envy," dare not make a little cause of this Christian mission. They did not dare to call it "a bubble on the water," "a flash in the pan," "a nine days' wonder." They saw in it a world-exciting force, and we who are Christians will become fearful and timid and self-protecting just in proportion as we lose our conception of the grandeur of the cause which we have to handle. This is a case that touches the world. It is not a parochial accident. This is not an affair you can confine within local boundaries; this is not an incident to be read off in a hurried line and then forgotten. It is a force that causes the whole world to thrill and vibrate with new life.
Then they become themselves again, "saying that there is another king." That is a lie! The Apostles never said so, in the sense now put upon that word by their accusers. You can use the right words with a wrong meaning. It is not enough to tell me the words a man employed; I must see the man himself; I must hear his own voice; I must get into the music of his utterance before I can tell you what the words really mean. When the Jews said to the Thessalonian politarchs, "These men say there is another king," they told a lie. But the Apostles did say there was another king. Yes, but not in that treasonable sense; not in the sense of opposing Cæsar, in the sense of sedition, in the sense of throwing down political constitutions. So you must know the man before you can tell the value of the word. You may report words correctly, so far as they are mere words; you may relate a conversation line for line and word for word, and yet make a lie of it. A conversation is not an affair of words; it is an affair of looks, tones, touches, accents, subtle undertones, and emphases that are full of colour. You are right when you say, "These are the very words he said," and yet by your telling of them you have created a false impression. We must not only speak the words of the Gospel, we must speak them in Gospel tones. True eloquence is true love; true preaching is true feeling. If you have sympathy with Christ and with his Gospel, you will speak it in words that are more than words; part of an atmosphere; syllables that must be measured in their native air, and must be viewed in relation to all the appointments of the universe.
Then the accusers proceeded to say, "one Jesus." There they were right. The Apostles, then, had left no false impression as to the Man they were preaching. The Apostles had not left a vague impression that they were preaching about some one who had come, or was coming, or might come. Amid all the tumult and uproar and opposition, they had got this word well into the public memory "Jesus." They were skilled speakers. They did not lodge in the memory an indefinite article, or an auxiliary verb, or some part of speech that was of no consequence; but whenever there was a lull in the storm they said "Jesus." Then came the uproar, then another lull, then "Jesus." So that at the end, whatever word had been unheard or misheard, this word "Jesus" was instamped on the public recollection.
Is this the end? Why, this is not only not the end, it is hardly the beginning. The very first letter that Paul wrote to any of the churches was probably the First Epistle to the Thessalonians. What does he say to them? "For our gospel came not unto you in word only, but also in power, and in the Holy Ghost, and in much assurance, for ye know what manner of men we were among you for your sake. And ye became followers of us, and of the Lord, having received the word in much affliction, with joy of the Holy Ghost; so that ye were ensamples to all that believe in Macedonia and Achaia. For from you sounded out the word of the Lord, not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but also in every place your faith to Godward is spread abroad; so that we need not to speak anything. For they themselves show of us what manner of entering in we had unto you, and how ye turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God; and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, even Jesus, which delivered us from the wrath to come. For yourselves, brethren, know our entrance in unto you, that it was not in vain: but even after that we had suffered before, and were shamefully entreated, as ye know, at Philippi, we were bold in our God to speak unto you the gospel of God with much contention." This is confirmatory evidence; this is a happy corroboration of Luke's narrative.
Paul spent at least three weeks in Thessalonica; how did he live during that time? He had no money; how did he live? How we ought to live by working! That is the only true way of living. Why ask so foolish a question? If you go into a village without any money, with only one coat for your back, and one staff for your hand, how are you to live? By breaking stones, by sweeping floors, by cleaning boots. How are you to live by writing begging letters to London? This is how Paul lived: "For ye remember, brethren, our labour and travail, for labouring night and day, because we would not be chargeable unto any of you, we preached unto you the Gospel of God." These were not the men to be put down; they did not live on patronage; they did not consider whether they would offend the "subscribers," for there were none. We now live on "subscribers," and therefore we do not live at all, and therefore we breed a small race of men, whose height is to be measured in inches and whose weight is to be announced in ounces. Paul, Silvanus, Timotheus fell to working not eight hours a day and eight shillings for pay, but why, if I read the time-bill aright, their hours were long: "For labouring night and day." "Two hours longer, Silvanus," said Paul, "and this tent will be done. If we sit up till three o'clock to-morrow morning, we shall just get bread enough to keep us going until the synagogue is open again." These were not the men to be put down!
When they said good-bye to Thessalonica, was it a final adieu? Read Paul's First Epistle to the Thessalonians, second chapter, seventeenth verse: "But we, brethren, being taken from you for a short time in presence, not in heart, endeavoured the more abundantly to see your face with great desire." They wanted to go back to the old battle-field; they were not afraid of the uproar. When anything occurs nowadays, we become suddenly "not very well, and must go down to the seaside over Sunday." We think it better to be out of the way. How did Paul view the people whom he had won there? Said he: "For what is our hope, or joy, or crown of rejoicing? Are not even ye in the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ at his coming? For ye are our glory and our joy." They valued the prey which they took in fight; they saved the souls of men. These are the relations which Christianity would establish amongst us if we would allow it. Christianity would make a compact society of us not living under formal rules, but under gracious inspiration. If Christianity had its own way in the world, it would never rest until it had united all hearts, driven out all unforgiveness, expelled every evil spirit It would unite heart to heart, life to life. It would take away every evil memory and every ungenerous thought, and make men, strong men, love one another, hope the best concerning one another. It would lift up the whole level of our life to the plane of Christ's own character.
Almighty God, this is resurrection-day; a time of upspringing and coming clear out into the light; a widening of the sky; a driving away of all rain-clouds from our joy; and the banner is full out upon the wind, and all the heaven and the earth are glad. Jesus Christ is risen today; he has consecrated the time; it is the Lord's day; day of light, day of victory, day of heaven; the day of the Son of man upon the earth, which makes all other days sacred by its holy fire. We have come to see the place where the Lord lay. He is not there. He is risen; but the place is dear to us; we love it because he who is our Lord once lay there. He has made all graves sacred; he has made every grave a door into heaven. So now we say to Death: "Where is thy sting?" and to the grave: "Where is thy victory?" and to all fear we address the challenge of almightiness. We are glad today. The church-gates are not wide enough for our entrance, and their opening is long delayed, for our hearts are in the haste of eager love to speak well of the name of the Lord, and to laud the Most High with noble psalm and anthem. We worship thee, O Son of God! Thou art Alpha and Omega the First and the Last. Thou didst die, but thou hast risen again, and thou wilt die no more. Jesus Christ ever liveth to make intercession for us. In thy death we die; in thy life we live; in thy prayer we pray. We are crucified with Christ: nevertheless we live; yet not we, but Christ liveth in us: and the life we now live in the flesh we live by faith of the Son of God, who loved us, and gave himself for us. Old things are passed away, all things have become new. No longer is there darkness or possibility of death. Life has sprung up and death is dead. These are thy great sweet words to us in Christ. They are words of strength and beauty; they fall upon us like the dew, yet sometimes they ring in our ears like trumpets telling of triumph wondrous words! beautiful syllables! messages from the hills of light! May we receive them every one and answer them with love. May our faith prove itself by our obedience, and may the joy of our heart lighten the toil of our life. We are come together again for sweet, bright Eastertide. The flowers are around about us; the earth is just forgetting winter and putting on its youth again for one more struggle, one more adorning, one more bright summer day. Help the earth, thou clement Heaven! shine upon her. She is guilty in very deed, and she has given herself up to be dug into graves and pits of death. Shame be on her! But thou dost love the earth, O Christ, and thou hast redeemed it; the earth is precious to thee amid the whole estate of the stars. May the families now before thee feel the joy of reunion; with the boys at home and the girls back again; with the old voices in the house and the old gladnesses all around about the buzz of gladness, the excitement of gratitude, the uproar that is harmonious. The Lord look upon our houses and make them dwelling-places of light, homes, indeed, where love lights every room, and where security binds every door in fastness. As for those who are heavy-laden still, whose hearts are being eaten by hungry care, and whose lives are being driven by unsleeping anxiety, surely for them also there is comfort this resurrection-day. The bereaved have forgotten their bereavement in the conscious immortality of those whom they have loved and lost. The graves are gardens today; there is a sound from heaven that tells of immortality, but the feast is waiting for the prodigal; we are all delayed because he has not arrived. O bring him swiftly home! The old man is here, and the white-haired mother, and all the children but one, and he is in a far country. Would God he might come home just now, quite suddenly, and break in upon us and take the vacant seat and make the circle of gladness whole. Lord, if thou canst not bring him, it is not in us to win a victory where thou dost sustain defeat. Be with the dear sick ones yonder in the great house and in the little cottage on the lonely hill-side and everywhere. Be with the widow and the orphan and the sad, with the sailor on the sea and the soldier, with the traveller, with our loved ones far away, and give us to feel that though separate in the body, we are one in the soul, bound together in the eternal union of common love to a common Saviour. Amen.
10. And [G. "but," or "now"] the brethren immediately sent away Paul and Silas by night unto Berœa [27 miles west again along the Egnatian road to Pella, capital of the third Macedonian district; then south by branch route to Berœa]: who, when they were come thither, went into the synagogue of the Jews.
11. Now [as Act 17:10 ] these were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, examining the Scriptures [O. T., Isa. 5:39] daily, whether these things were so.
12. Many of them [Jews], therefore, believed: also of the Greek women of honourable estate, and of men [Greeks] not a few.
13. But [as Act 17:10 ] when the Jews of Thessalonica had knowledge that the word of God was proclaimed [announced] of Paul at Berœa also, they came thither likewise, stirring up and troubling the multitudes [this the right word here. Berœa was not a "free city," having no demos ].
14. And then immediately the brethren sent forth Paul to go as far as to [G. "as (where he could embark) upon" ] the sea; and Silas and Timothy abode there still.
15. But they that conducted Paul brought him as far as Athens; and receiving a commandment unto Silas and Timothy that they should come to him with all speed [see Act 18:5 and 1 Thessalonians 3:1 . Luke seems not to have been aware of Paul's change of plan mentioned in this second text. Paul may have sent a second message from Athens, or may even now have instructed Timothy to revisit Thessalonica and then rejoin him "with all speed." Or, Paul may have sent Timothy back by sea to Thessalonica from Athens. For Luke's seven years at Philippi, see Act 18:1 and Act 20:5 ], they departed.
From Thessalonica to Berea
PAUL and Silas were sent away "by night." That is the way to make the most of time. Travel by night and preach by day if you would live industriously and make the best of your opportunities. We sleep by night, and hardly get over the slumber all day. The Apostles found that there were four-and-twenty hours in a day, and he would have been a vigilant critic who noticed the neglect of any one of them by the zealous messengers of the Cross. It was a fifty miles' journey. Last week we saw the Apostles taking two journeys of about thirty miles each today we see Paul taking a fifty-mile walk, to get out of the road of the fury which had been excited in the lady metropolis. The enemy would say they had driven Paul off the ground Paul himself would say that he was going to make new ground, and that he would certainly come back again to the old place. There is a going away that means a coming back again with a stronger force than ev. Christ and his Apostles never left a place with the intention of visiting it no more. We have seen the tide go out, but we have seen it also return, and in the returning it seems to play at going back again; but the refluent wave increases in volume, and returns with enhanced force and grandeur. Paul will come back again personally, or by letter to Thessalonica, and we shall have, in c6nnection with his personal or written ministry, some of the boldest of his speculations and some of the noblest and tenderest of his pastoral appeals. He is fifty miles away, and yet he is not one inch off. He has taken with him in his heart all that he won at Thessalonica. To the Philippians he wrote: "I have you in my heart." Paul kept his friends in that safe house. When they are there they are no burden; the heart is omnipotent in strength. If our Christianity were in our heart, rather than in our head, we should be as bushes that burn and are not consumed.
When Paul came to Berea, he went into the synagogue of the Jews. How irrepressible he was! He seemed to look about eagerly for the synagogue. There are men who have a genius for closing their eyes when they come within visible distance of the church. If I rightly follow in my imagination the course of the Apostle Paul, I think I see him, weak-eyed, as he was, looking around anxiously for the synagogue. How was that? Surely he had suffered enough in connection with synagogues? Yet wherever he goes he looks out for the synagogue as a man might look out for home. It is one of two things with us all: either the inward conquers, or the outward the soul or the body, love of God or love of ease. Which is the greater quantity in your nature, your faith or your self-indulgence, your love or your fear? Human life is a continual battle between two forces, which we may term the Inward and the Outward. Man holds a dialogue with himself. In every one of us there are two. So it is not a monologue, but a dialogue converse between two speakers running thus: "Shall I go to the synagogue today and risk my life amongst those vagabonds? I think I will not go today; I will rest a while and get my breath again." Second speaker: "Go; time is short; this may be the last opportunity. Follow the Captain of thy salvation, O soul; he was made perfect through suffering, and if any man will not take up his cross and follow Christ, he is not worthy of him. Up, thou coward, and fear not!" First speaker: "I do not fear, I only rest; I will go to-morrow; I have no idea of abandoning the work. Give me forty-eight hours' rest, and you will find me back again." "No; in forty-eight hours you may be half-way across the universe. You cannot tell what will occur in two days' time NOW, instantly! 'Faint, yet pursuing' be that thy motto; start at once." "Well, I I will go!" The Inward has won; the soul has mastered the body. Had the dialogue gone otherwise, then the body would have been master; the soul would have been snubbed and humbled; the mind, which ought to be the regnant force in every nature, would have been ordered off; the body would have been at the front with its meanness, its self-seek-ing, and its self-idolatry. That is a fight which every man must fight out for himself.
"These were more noble than those in Thessalonica." The word "noble" means well-born in Paul's Epistle to the Corinthians; but in this verse it has a wider meaning. No reference is here made to mere birth or ancestry. The paraphrase might read: "These were nobler-natured people; freer from prejudice; more willing to receive new impressions; much more prepared to hear what men have to say upon difficult and perplexing subjects." How could they be more noble than those in Thessalonica? Thessalonica was a capital, a metropolis not of Macedonia prima, but of Macedonia secunda; still it was a capital; and Berea was an out-of-the-way place. It was not Pella, the beautiful city where was gaiety, where was well-dressed fashion, where was continual rioting and noise and self-glorying. Paul might have been taken to Pella, but they were wise men in apostolic days, so they took Paul to Berea, an out-of-the-way place; and of the Bereans we read, that they were "more noble" than metropolitans. That often happens. London is the largest place in England; it is not, therefore, the greatest. It is quite possible that there may be more reading of a solid and instructive kind in a little country town a western Berea than in the immeasurable Babylon. The metropolitan of course feels that he is entitled by some subtle and inexpressible authority to sneer at people who live in the "country." He has a gift of small sneering. But the Bereans were "more noble" than the metropolitans. When men do give themselves to reading in the country they have more time for it; their minds are not distracted and vexed by competing claims. They have not to get over the initial difficulty of being supremely proud of a city which is unaware of their existence. There can, however, be great ignorance even in Berea. Probably there is hardly a more ignorant man to be found on the face of the earth than an agricultural labourer who is determined not to read. You ought to turn your obscurity into an ally of your education. Coming from a little village or an obscure town where you say with a tone that has in it a good deal of dissatisfaction, "There is nothing to do" why, you ought to make such a town a very school of the prophets; no noise, no uproar, no call-off from prolonged and arduous inquiry into profound and useful subjects! Every locality has its advantage. In the metropolis we. have friction, continual motion, man sharpening man by daily collision, and in the country we have the opportunity of profound cultivation, because of the time which is at our disposal. Let us not complain of our circumstances, but rule them, sanctify them; and every sphere of life will afford an opportunity for intellectual and spiritual advancement.
What is the test of "nobleness" according to the eleventh verse? Good listening is one trait of nobleness. The Bereans wanted to hear. The hearer makes the preacher. When congregations fasten their attention on the preacher he must preach. Expectation becomes inspiration. The Bereans drew out of the Apostle all that was in him, and thus gave him more. Such was the double action in continual process as between great Paul and the listening Bereans. They heard every word who does that now? They wanted to hear every syllable; they were hushed in silence till the last cadence died upon the air. Paul calls that nobleness loyalty to truth, freedom from prejudice, mental excellence, spiritual aristocracy.
To good listening was added patient examination. The Bereans "searched the Scriptures daily, whether those things were so." What is the model congregation? A congregation well provided with Bibles; with large-print Bibles; with Bibles with ample margins; with Bibles that open easily; a congregation that has the text before it, and that looks from the sermon to the text; from the text to the sermon; from the text to the context; and that binds the speaking man to keep within the sacred brief which God has given to him. That would be a congregation that would compel sublime preaching! The Bereans "searched the Scriptures." Paul was not talking about something which he had himself cunningly invented. Paul did not say: "I have had a dream, and I will relate it to you, and you can pass your opinion upon it." Paul only told the Bereans what God had told him. You must not look upon the preacher as a man who has found out something, made a wonderful discovery, or performed a juggler's trick with his mother tongue. The preacher preaches what he has been told to preach "Go, stand and preach the preaching that I bid thee." You have lost your status as hearers! Where are your Bibles? The preacher could quote fifty things that are not in the Bible, and if he quoted them in old English, he could make many people believe that they really were in the Bible. If he said "saith" instead of "says," there is hardly a man in the congregation that would be able to affirm that what he said was not in the Bible. There is a Bible-tone, an old-English way of uttering words, and if words so uttered are uttered as if they were in the Bible, the Bible is not at hand whereby either to confirm or contradict the amazing statement How much Bible did you read last week? Some can answer that they read a great deal to them I am not addressing my inquiry; but to others I think I may fairly say, How much Bible did you read? How much Bible can you quote? Do not shirk the question; do not suppose that you could quote a good deal if you had time to collect your wits. Do not let yourself easily off; always be terrifically hard upon yourself, and then you will be gentle to other people. I will therefore probe myself with the inquiry, "How much of Paul's writing could you replace if the Pauline Epistles were lost?" If we would be "noble" in the estimation of Heaven, we must acquaint ourselves deeply and accurately with Heaven's own Word. One thing would follow from the Biblical examination we should destroy the priest. The priest is a curse wherever he is. The priest is a magician who lives upon the credulity of the simple. The priest is at the bottom of nearly all the unrest of nations. He can dry his lips and say, "Behold, I knew it not"; but the priest is a liar. How is his influence to be broken? By the Bible; by the people knowing the Bible; by the people committing it to memory not the memory of the intellect, but the memory of the heart, and letting the word of Christ dwell in them richly. It is not by wit, by genius, by skill, or learning, but by deep and sympathetic acquaintance with the Word of God, that all priestism is to be put down and destroyed. The sermon ought only to be a paraphrase of the text. If it is not a collection of Bible phrases, it ought to be a poem instinct with the Bible spirit. Call for Bible preaching; value most the preaching that has most Bible in it, and you, as hearers, will revolutionize the whole scheme of human preaching.
There is a logical term in the twelfth verse "Therefore." With that logical form comes the happy announcement, "Many of them believed." That is the true rationalism. Why did you believe? "Because the speaker fascinated me; because he laid a spell upon my imagination; because he charmed me with subtle music; because he got around about me in a completely overmastering manner." You will one day escape from those poor chains they are not chains of iron, they are little bands of straw. Why did you believe? "Because it was shown to me by the Living Word that this is the only conclusion that can be established; because beginning at Moses and the prophets and the Psalms, I was shown in all the Scriptures the things concerning Christ, and I found that if I accepted any one page in the Bible, I must accept the whole volume. I wanted to be an eclectic, and to take a page here and a page there; but I was shown that the Book was one, and that if I accepted the first chapter of Genesis and the first verse, I was bound to accept the entire apocalypse away to its last grand Amen!" You will stand like a rock amid troubled waves!
Almighty God, thou hast set us in a dream of mystery, and we have no answer to the mocking voice; nor can we tell how to follow the luring hand. Thou hast made us, and not we ourselves, for surely we would not have made ourselves as we are. Behold! we know nothing as it really is; whilst we are looking the meaning escapes us. Even in the act of saying "We live," behold we die. Eternity is nearer than time. Thou art nearer to us than we can ever be to ourselves. These are the mysteries which make us glad with morning light, and which sometimes burden us with all the darkness of midnight. We are in joy and yet in sorrow. We live and die in the same moment. We are slaves on the one side, and yet have the liberty of the skies on the other. So hast thou made us, and we are in great trouble. We do not touch things, or see them, or know them in their reality. We are mocked, and laughed at, and put down and scorned yet are we applauded and hailed and crowned. This is the infinite mystery, and in our heart there is no answer. We come to thy Book, and read its large letters, and there the light shines. We see in thy Book that we are made in God's image and likeness; charged with responsibilities of the sublimest range and quality; called to high action and to heroic sacrifice and to patient suffering; promised that the day will soon dawn, and the shadows flee away, and the great answer of love cover all the mystery of pain. It is a noble voice, it is music from heaven; hearing it, the chains drop from our limbs, and sweet, glad liberty calls us into its noble companionship. We therefore will live in Christ; we will study his heart and will; we will watch his footprints and put our feet into them; we will give ourselves up to his guidance, and go as he may lead. "Jesus, still lead on." We would escape the dark valley, and the deep river, and the thick wood, where the beast of prey lies in wait. We would like to walk on velvet grass, along summer paths, to watch the cloudless blue and hear the birds which are all song; but be it as thou wilt, not as we will; only be thou thyself there, and the valley shall be as the hill, and the great hill shall be part of heaven. Thy love in time past is our surety for the future. We have been girded by thee, even when we knew it not; invisible hands have held us up; kind ministries, not of earth, have nourished and sustained us. We have had bread in the wilderness, and flowers have been found for us among the rocks. So we will not fear, nor tremble, nor die; but stand surely in the love of the Cross, and find our victory in the Son of God. Come to us as we need thee, thou healing One. Breathe upon us the breath of sweet summer. Come with early flowers, and tell us that they are promises of fuller beauty. Speak to us some word of tender comfort, and our heart shall grow quite young again, and all our strength shall come back in full current, and we shall forget our trouble in our joy. Thou wilt not disappoint us; thou delightest to satisfy the soul, and not to mock it. Feed us with the bread sent down from heaven. Comfort us with the grace that is in Christ Jesus, and fill us with the inspiration of his love and Cross. May we live as he lived, and being crucified with him, may we rise again in his glory.
Bless the strangers within our gates, and give them to feel a sense of home and rest and security. Regard the stranger who is not often in thy house, but who has looked in today to see what is here and what is being done. May he see great sights and hear voices not of earth. Heal those whom we cannot heal, and speak comfortably to such as lie beyond the reach of our poor voice. As for the dying, carry them straight through the deep, black river, and set their weary feet on the other side, and in heaven's light they will forget the gloom of earth. The Lord's light be our day; the Lord's kind smile our heaven; the Lord's great voice our continual inspiration. Amen.
16. Now while Paul waited for them at Athens, his spirit was provoked [1 Corinthians 13:5 . This argues not Paul's lack of charity, but the heinous-ness of idolatry, which can "provoke the Lord to jealousy," 1Co 10:22 ] within him, as he beheld the city full of idols [ritual show; covering Athens' moral and political decay ].
17. So he reasoned [see note on Act 17:2 ] in the synagogue with the Jews and the devout persons, and in the market-place every day with them that met with him.
18. And certain also of the Epicurean [Materialist] and Stoic [Pantheistic] philosophers encountered him. And some said, What would this babbler [Ar. Av. 232, used of the chattering crows who pick up seeds; then of parasites and of brain pilferers ] say? other some, He seemeth to be a setter forth of strange gods: because he preached Jesus and the resurrection [A.D. 474 Justinian suppressed the chairs of the successors of these philosophers on the ground that Christianity had rendered them obsolete].
19. And they took hold of him and brought him unto the Areopagus [the council of the Areopagus, the 600, and the demos were the three political powers in Athens, still left by Roman courtesy a "free city." The Areopagus had gained, as the others had lost, by the conquest; it now concerned itself more with education and religion, and many inscriptions attest its jurisdiction in the matter of the erection of altars and statues], saying, May we know what this new teaching is, which is spoken by thee?
20. For thou bringest certain strange things to our ears: we would know therefore what these things mean.
21. (Now all the Athenians and the strangers sojourning there spent their time in nothing else but either to tell or to hear some new [G. " newer " later than the previous news; Luke's order of the words hints they sometimes "told" before they had "heard" this "newer"] thing.)
22. And Paul stood in the midst of the Areopagus [not upon his trial, but invited, as a foreign savant is sometimes invited to address the French Institute], and said, Ye men of Athens, in all things I perceive that ye are somewhat [are in character] superstitious [G. "God-fearing" or religious. To begin the speech with this gross blunder, "superstitious," was as impossible for the inspired orator as it has been easy for the Vulgate and its English transcribers].
23. For as I passed along and observed the objects of your worship, I found also an altar, with this inscription, To an unknown God [Pausanias, i. 1, 4, and Philostratus, Fit. Ap. vi. 2, inform us that there were several altars " of unknown gods"; Diogenes Laertes, Ephesians 3:0 , that sheep were sacrificed on the occasion of a plague " to the God concerned " and that therefore " anonymous altars" are found in Athens]. What therefore ye worship in ignorance [" as agonistics" ], this set I forth unto you.
Paul At Athens
THIS was Paul's method of "waiting"! The "waiting" of some men is infinitely more energetic than the toil of others. Paul might be said not to be doing anything just now. He was in Athens alone, "waiting" for Silas and Timotheus. He needs rest; he will now sit down and be quiet, and recover himself after recent experiences. It is interesting to note that Paul was waiting. But how could Paul wait? The two words do not go happily together. Paul waiting! He cannot wait. Life is short; the enemy is at hand; the opportunity enlarges around him; and he who was left by the brethren in an attitude of waiting begins to burn. A paroxysm (for that is the literal word) seizes his heart. His soul is stirred within him; a paroxysm of agony seizes his whole nature when he sees such a sight as he had never beheld before a city wholly given to idolatry. One historian tells us that in ancient Athens it was easier to find a god than a man that is to say, the idols were so numerous as almost entirely to fill the whole city. Wherever a marble god could be put up, there he was set. Paul was a Jew, and had not been trained in schools of images; he was not an artist any more than he was a classical scholar. To him images were forbidden. "Thou shalt not make to thyself the likeness of anything that is in heaven, or that is on the earth," was ringing in Paul's ears; and when he was made to understand that the people actually worshipped, or in some sense religiously reverenced, those idols, his spirit was thrown into a paroxysm. He was not simply moved, superficially agitated; he was not the subject of a new and transient sensation: he was writhing in an unfelt and unknown agony. Religion does not destroy Art, but it destroys its superstitious uses. Christianity says to beauty, "Stand there; I will look at thee, I love thee; come to me with new suggestions of dawning light and broader glory than I have yet realized; but do not expect me to pray to thee. "In Athens the human form was worshipped. To be perfect in form was to be Divine. Paul never cared for form, for its own sake. He saw the religious intent of everything, and if the religious intent was not healthy, holy, and real, he broke the image. He was an ardent Christian. We are Christians, but not ardent Athens was wholly given to idolatry. You cannot stop at one idol. One idol brings another. There is no stopping-place in idolatry until the very last little niche is filled with such god as it will hold. This law has also its force and sweep in higher directions. You cannot stop with one virtue one singular and isolated excellence. It is not excellence if you so use it. If the supposed excellence be figured as an angel, then you are unjust to the heavenly spirit. You deprive the celestial visitant of companionship; your piety is cruel. The law is impartial; vices go in groups; piety is a whole excellence and not a partial virtue. The Athenians covered their irreligious lives by these religious forms. "Fill the city with gods, and let us live as we like," was the Athenian philosophy it is ours too! Do not stand up in Christian pride, boasting over Athenian paganism. We play the same trick; we are caught in the same intoxication. "Found another society, and let us live at home as we please." "Start another mission, and let us play what pranks we like under the darkness." "Build five hundred more churches and set them all in a row, and let the city know that we are not afraid of church-building, but let us drink the devil's cup right down to its last hot drop." We vainly suppose we have made advances upon Athenian idolatry, whereas we may but have changed the outward and visible form. There are more idols in London, in Paris, or in New York, than ever there were in Athens; not marble idols, but idols we can hide, expensive idols, ruinous idols, idols that will make us worship them, idols that infuse their poison into the blood, and taint the inner life of the heart. Athens was quite a godly, clean little city compared to either of the cities I have named. Were Paul to come to London, Paris, or New York, he would see fashion, fortune, ease, ambition, self-seeking; yet a census could be taken even of these idols; but we scorn little Athens in mighty, measureless London, for every man is his own idol! When Christianity undertakes a man's education it never rests until it shows him that every heart is its own idol; and Christianity alone can take away a man's self out of himself, and associate him with the larger life which is called Divine. Man is not a mere unit, a single and detached individual, but he sustains responsibilities to the sum total of life in all the universe, and must give an account to every creature below him and above him; for he may have stopped Divine currents, or interposed in the on-rush of Divine influence in the universe. That is the worst kind of idolatry. Stone idols may be so many marble steps up to the highest altar; but when the heart is its own idol, and its own idolater, nothing can break up the deadly paganism but God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost. The break-up does not come through schooling, through book-reading, and through crafty devices in language; the break-up comes through crucifixion, so that idol and idolater are nailed to Christ's grim Cross, and there they die amid the sevenfold night of Divine wrath, and out of that death there comes the resurrection, which is immortality. The Athenian pagan might be led away argumentatively from stone deities to higher intellectual conceptions of deific being and force; but the pagan heart never listens to logic, and never cares for intellectual appeals. Only one thing can break the heart-idol "the hammer of the Lord," that could grind to powder the stoniest heart that ever shut out the clemency and love of Heaven. To that "hammer" we must look, in that hammer we must trust. "Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, saith the Lord."
Paul did a little introductory work. Paul, as we have often seen, always began just where the opportunity permitted him to begin. "He disputed in the synagogue with the Jews and with the devout persons," and he found a custom in Athens of meeting in the market-place, which was the general school-house of the city; and there learned men were talking upon learned subjects, and Paul listened. Having listened, he spoke, as he had a right to do according to Athenian custom, but he so spoke as to bring upon himself the contemptuous name of "babbler" literally "seed-pecker"; one who took little seeds to pieces; who separated one little seed from another. "What will this seed-pecker say? He is evidently nibbling at something, poor little, small-minded, weak-eyed man with Jewish cast of face what will he say?" "He seemeth to be a setter forth of strange gods." The word "strange "in this reference to Paul's doctrine in the twentieth verse "Thou bringest certain strange things to our ears" means startling things. The Gospel startles; it never comes easily and smoothly into any civilization it flames, it throbs like thunder, flashes like lightning, plashes like deluges of water from infinite heights; so that men say, "What is this?" Jesus did not come to send peace on the earth, but a sword, not quietness, but fire! The Gospel is not to be received slumberingly. Tf you can receive it slumberingly, you do not really hear it; if you can preach it slumberingly, you do not really preach it. The Gospel is not a sleep, it is a resurrection; it is the trumpet of immortality!
The Athenians were interested in the matter from an intellectual point of view. Some said, "He seemeth to be a setter forth of strange gods; let us hear what he has to say about them." That is not religious inquiry; that is mere speculative excitement. If you want to know what religious inquiry is, recall an instance which has just passed under our review. The jailer at Philippi said: What must I do to be saved?" The Athenians said: "May we know what this new doctrine whereof thou speakest is?" Mark the difference between the one question and the other. The Philippian jailer was in earnest; the Athenian philosophers were simply speculative, willing to turn the conversation into a new channel, and not unwilling to hear a strange speaker discourse with strange eloquence upon strange subjects. Are we typified by the Philippian jailer or by the Athenian stoic? Why are we in church? How many of us are in fiery earnest to know God's will and do it? How many of us are inclined to a little philosophical dispute, and to a little intellectual debate? And how many of us are not unwilling to experience a new spiritual sensation? Only let it be as short and trenchant as possible, but we are not unwilling just to hear what some seed-pecker may have to say. Let us be honest with ourselves in this matter. If we are in God's house for the purpose of really ascertaining and obeying God's word, all heaven will be aflame with sacred light, and every guest at God's table will be satisfied and refreshed; but if we are here in the Athenian spirit, we may be disappointed and mocked; great questions will go with little answers, or little questions will be mocked by irrelevant replies.
Paul will speak; he was always ready to speak. But they were learned men he, too, was learned, but not in their sense. He was learned in the one subject that he cared for. So many men are burdened with unavailable learning. Paul was learned in his Gospel. He asked for no time to prepare in; he would not return and dispute with refined disputants when he had had sufficient time to make preparation of an intellectual and rhetorical kind. Instantly he stood up, and to stand up was to establish himself in the confidence of all who heard him, as an extraordinary man at the least. What came afterwards would be seen; no man could despise him who listened to his revelations. To begin his statement he said, "Ye men of Athens." That was Demosthenic; the great orator always began his appeal in those very words. Paul often began, "Men, brethren, and fathers." Alas! he was in a city where there were no "brethren." He must begin upon the broad human relation. There the 'true preacher can always begin. He cannot always say "Dear friends," for there may be none; "brethren," for that may be an unknown term. Had Paul begun by calling the Athenians "brethren," they would have accosted his salutation with unanimous and contemptuous laughter. There is genius even here. There is a gift of God in these little matters, as well as in matters that are greater. Paul was never wanting in tact; he knew how to open the door and how to enter in. Mark the simple dignity of the salutatory form. They were "men;" they met upon a common platform; there could be no dispute as to the character in which they stood as to one another. "I am a man speaking to men." In salutation there should be no controversy. Then the next: "I perceive that in all things ye are too superstitious," or too "religiously-minded." Mark the broad and generous recognition. Do not affront the people you intend afterwards to persuade. Do not mock the idols you are about to sweep away. There are two methods of delivering a country from idolatry. The one is to override the country, so to say, by military force, taking away all brazen gods, and marble deities, and figured divinities, and so, Jehu-like, destroying Baal out of Israel. That is not destruction. The other way is to reason, to persuade, to displace, to expel the false by the introduction of the true not to deride an idol, but to preach a Saviour. So Paul recognizes what he sees; he says, "You seem to be excessively religious." He did not scorn them as idolaters, but credited them with a superabounding religious spirit and activity. "For as I passed by and beheld your devotions, I found an altar with this inscription: TO THE UNKNOWN GOD. I will begin where you end. Whom, therefore, ye ignorantly worship, him I declare unto you." What infinite tact! What sublime adaptation of means to ends! "You yourselves," said Paul in effect, "will supply me with the text on the marble slab. You declare yourselves to be agnostics, or to have an unknown or unknowable God. So far you have come along the line of religious education; I will take up the matter where you have left it, and now you must listen to my appeal." That is the true method of preaching today. You must interpret to men what they do not interpret to themselves. It would be possible to go into some assemblies not called Christian and to say to them, "Men, you who think yourselves not religious are actually too religious." That would be a startling declaration to make to a number of atheists, secularists, or positivists; but it would be true in proportion as they were earnestly pursuing the subjects with which their labours are identified. Endeavour to make the most of a man. Every man has upon him this inscription who is out of Christ: "To the Unknown," and the Christian teacher has to say, "Then I will make it known to you. Do you ever yearn and long and desire and wish?" The reply would be, "Certainly I do; my whole life is one continual aspiration." Then as a Christian teacher I tell you that such aspiration is the beginning of prayer. What you ignorantly do, I declare unto you, in its broadest interpretations. You cannot exclude prayer from life. I hear you say, "I wish "; "I would "; "I long for"; "I yearn for "; "I desire ." Why, these are the negative terms which are equivalent, in Christian language, to "I pray." You are praying in some sort of dumb, uncertain, troubled way. I am not going to mock you as an atheist, or tell you that you are an agnostic, or fasten upon you some stigmatizing term. I heard you just now sighing, desiring, yearning; I saw you lift up your poor head in an attitude of expectation and hope, and I said, "Behold, he prayeth, and did not know it." I will not have you called "infidel," and "unbeliever," "outsider," and "Philistine." Have I not seen your fingers laced as if you wanted to say something for which there are no words? That is prayer. Call it negative prayer, call it dumb prayer, call it inarticulate prayer, I hardly care for the epithet by which you qualify it; it is my business to tell you that you are not atheistic, or godless, or prayer-less, or lost; but in you there is the beginning of the kingdom of heaven.
Or take it from another point. Do you suffer for others? Do you say you will endure hunger that others may be satisfied; you will sit up all night that others may sleep; you will take upon you the full burst of the storm that others may be quiet at home? Is it in that noble language you speak? If so, that is the beginning of sacrifice. The Cross is in those sacred words. You are not a worldling; you are not a scoffer; you are not an atheist. You do not know it, but I tell you that by every act of heroic suffering, that others may escape pain, you represent the mystery of the Cross; you show forth in human form the transcendent glory of the work of Christ. Do not let men come and rub out the inscription, "To the Unknown God," as if you had committed an insult to high Heaven. You have come along the philanthropic line, the educational line, and you have got right up to that point, saying, "I am willing to suffer that some other man may not suffer. I would I could take half the pain which my friend endures and so divide the agony with him, that there might be two of us to carry the burden instead of one." Thou art not far from the kingdom of God! If some Paul should meet you some great, heroic, inspired Paul he would tell you that such an offer, such a feeling or impulse, on your part, meant, being fully interpreted, the very Cross and agony of Christ. Or, take it from another point. Are you dissatisfied with earth and time? Are you filled with discontentment? Do you say, "I have drunk every goblet, and still my thirst remains; I have tried every medicine, but my disease is untouched; I have hunted over every field for pleasure, and have never found it"? That is the beginning of immortality; it is "the divinity that stirs within you." See the greatness of man in his very discontentment with earth and time and sense. He takes it up, says he will absorb it, does absorb it, and then says, "Vanity of vanities, all is vanity." What is the meaning of that? You are not a secularist; you are not a dust-worshipper; you are not oh, believe me! a base groundling. You have got down to those experiences to learn that it is not in matter, time, space, sense, to satisfy the infinite faculty which makes you akin with God. Why not start from that point? Why not give broad interpretations to human instincts and human experiences?
This text of Paul's is in every man; every life furnishes a Mars' Hill from the top of which Christian preachers may preach. The sun does not plant the root, but warms it into fulness of life. The witness of God is in every one of us, and answers to the claim of the written Book. Here is the grand appeal of the Cross. It comes to something that is already in us. It is one revelation speaking to another, and in proportion as the two revelations harmonize, supplement, and complete one another, is the inspiration of the Scripture proved, and the grandeur of human capacity established.
Almighty God, thou art the God of gods and the Lord of lords, yea the King of kings; the root of all life; the glory of all light. We know thee not except by our love. We know thee through our holiness, and that holiness is thine own work; for in us that is in our flesh there is no good thing. We are saved, not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to thy mercy, by the washing of regeneration, and the renewing of the Holy Ghost. So, what we have of pureness in our hearts is the snow and the wool which thou hast made out of the crimson sin and the scarlet transgression. The blood of Jesus Christ, thy Son, hath wrought this miracle in us. We do not understand it, nor do we ask for it to be explained. We open our hearts and receive the great gospel which we need. We feel our need of it, and when it comes, it fills the heart with a strange glowing of love unfelt before, the very warmth and tenderness of God's own grace. Sweet is the day thou hast set among the days that are common. It has a light of its own; it dawns upon the weary world like no other day. We are glad of its peacefulness; we are thankful for its rest may we enter into it as of right Divine, and enjoy the calm, and be healed and soothed by the heavenly serenity. This is the day the Lord hath made: we will rejoice and be glad in it. We would have all days touched by its glory; we would that into every other day some breath of its peace might quietly steal; so that the tumult of the week might be checked as by a presence from heaven. We thank thee for strength and health and spirit, with which to do our daily work; it is no more a toil to us if thy strength be in our soul. Then we stand upon it, and speak to it, and lift it up, and set it down, and keep it at arm's length; it is no longer our master, because of the kingdom of heaven which rules in our hearts. Thou art bringing us onward a day at a time. We bless thee for the black night when we can see nothing: it is good for us to have no eyes. We bless thee for letting down a great curtain we cannot see through, though our curiosity would peer into the secret so near as to-morrow. This is thy way of teaching us, and behold, we know it to be good. Thou hast brought us to this acquiescence in thy method. Once we chafed as Ephraim, like a bullock unaccustomed to the yoke; but now we have become used to God's light burden. Thou dost also lead us forward into truth a day at a time; thou wilt not allow us to read two lessons at once. We bless thee for this care of our sanity; thou hast many things to say unto us, but we could not bear them now. So we may not turn over one leaf until we have read it well. Thou dost turn the pages not we. Help us to read every syllable, and to print the whole lesson upon our heart, so that we may be able to say it over to ourselves when we walk the earth or travel on the sea; when we are alone in the night-time, or when we are hurried by the crowd. We would that thy truth might be in us part of us; so that we shall feel it to be no burden to carry, but a source of new life and new hope day by day, till the winter of earth is quite gone, its last snowflake melted, and the great warm summer of the eternal heavens is upon us, with infinite beauty and fragrance. By thy good hand upon us, we have conquered another week and set it up amongst our victories. If we feared it, our fear is now forgotten. We have slain every giant not with our own arm, but with thy strength; we have wrestled with the foe and flung him in the encounter, so that he cannot rise again; and this we have done, not by our own skill or power, but by the indwelling strength of God. We come to thee in the sweet spring-time, when the earth is young, and every living thing is going back to its early childhood, and showing all the beauty of its heart. May we, too, feel the vernal breeze in our inmost life and root of thought; and about us may there be an upspringing of things beautiful and good! The winter is past, the rain is over and gone, the voice of the turtle is heard in the land. May our hearts welcome thy descending kingdom, as the earth welcomes the growing light and warmth of the sun! Be with those for whom we ought to pray who are not here to join the common speech at thy throne; the sick ones; the weary toilers who are almost stealing unconsecrated rest today; men who are bringing earth's weariness to be refreshed by Heaven's bounty. Be with our loved ones far away in the little house at home, in the quiet village, in the middle of the wood, in the new country, in the colony unformed, in missionary lands speaking unknown speeches, on the sea, torn between two continents, leaving love and coming to love. Do thou bind up the divided heart, and grant safe landing to those now on the deep. As for those who are beyond our reach, slipping over the brink, dear old friends, who have only now to say good-bye, may they be stronger than those who watch them! In death may there be more than there is in life, and through the closing eyes may the light Divine stream into the waking heart! And when all is over, the battle and the feast, the dark night and the bright day, may we meet through the blood of the everlasting covenant and the washing of regeneration "no wanderer lost" a congregation in the skies! Amen.
24. The God [comp. Romans 1:18 ff.] that made the world and all things therein, he being Lord of heaven and earth, dwelleth not in temples made with hands.
25. Neither is he served by men's hands, as though he needed anything [any additional thing], seeing he himself giveth to all life and breath and all things.
26. And he made of one? ["blood" had offended these autochthonous Greeks] every nation of men for to dwell on all the face of the earth, having determined their appointed seasons, and the bounds of their habitation;
27. That they should seek God, if haply they might feel after him, and find him, though he is not far from each one of us.
28. For in him we live, and move, and have our being; as certain even of your own poets have said [ Ovid said of the Cilician Oratus that his astronomical poems would make him immortal "as the sun." But to this half-line from Phœn. 5, quoted by his countryman on this occasion, he owes his rescue from oblivion. The Stoic poet Cleanthes in Jov. 5, and a number of other Greeks, had expressed the thought]. For we are also his offspring.
Paul's Theistic Argument
HOW to address a reluctant assembly; how to conduct a difficult case in the presence of men who are filled with unbelief? This was Paul's task. He is now in comparatively new circumstances. He could fight with Jews; he could bear opposition; he had an answer to the tempest of antagonism how will he deport himself under the pressure of indifference? This will try his mettle, and he will fail! Indifference will kill him antagonism never! Athens will be too many for Paul, because Athens will not fight. Athens will go home to its dining and refining and speculation. Indifference has killed many a noble soul. It is killing many of you, mayhap, at home. You do not feel it because you are not public characters as Paul felt it, but you may have some idea of it in the domestic sphere. You could get through a controversy, but the indifference that never looks at you, never caresses you, never speaks one gentle word to you, the Athenian coldness that never appears to live, except when it sneers, will kill the youngest, freshest heart amongst you.
How does Paul begin his work? Like a master builder. He lays before himself one clear, distinct purpose which is to be accomplished. He takes the text from his congregation and says: "Whom, therefore, ye ignorantly worship, him declare I unto you." Jesus Christ always found his texts in the congregation. When a man looked at him, he saw in that look the beginning of a new discourse. Paul did not open a scroll which had no relation whatever to Athenian tradition and Athenian education; he read the marble slab, and said, in effect: "You shall be your own Bible; I begin where you have ended; I will supersede that inscription, 'To the Unknown God,' by revealing him to every one of you." Find in the man himself the beginning of your speech. Find in the little child, in home or school, the text. The child will then follow you with interest. Do not lay a heavy volume upon its young head and say: "You must carry all this." No. The child will smile, or cry, or sigh, or look, or lay its little hand upon you. In every one of these actions find your initial Bible, and bring the other Bible in now and again as you go along; but begin with natural instinct, inborn reason, conscious necessity, dumb prayer, sighing that has in it the beginning of supreme religious desire. Paul said, "You are in search of a God, and I have brought you one." Instantly attention was arrested. Had Paul begun at the Christian end of the argument, the people would have turned away from him with unbelief; but Paul was a workman not needing to be ashamed, handling the word skilfully; so he began where Socrates himself might have begun, he joined the great speculation just where the door happened to open. Christianity identifies itself wherever it can with ancient thinking, and current systems, and traditional practices; and from these starting-points, supplied by others, it works its way up to its own Cross and its own heaven! We should be crafty in this business; herein men should be wise as serpents and harmless as doves. This was Paul's purpose. Paul announced his text and kept to it. Let us hear him.
The twenty-fourth verse is the first chapter of Genesis and the first verse over again. How often in our teaching have we seen that there is but one verse in the Bible, and that the very first! The other verses are all "Amen." Away they pass like many-coloured and many-toned anthems; but they come back again to the original note, and constitute in relation to the opening verse in the Bible one all-reconciling and all-contentful Amen. Listen to Paul's retranslation of the Bible's opening words: "God that made the world and all things therein, seeing that he is Lord of heaven and earth." That is Moses. All complete preaching must begin with Moses and go on to the Lamb. What other names are there in heaven or on earth but "Moses and the Lamb"? law and grace, stern beginnings; tender endings, foundations of granite, pinnacles tipped with light. This is ideal, because Divine, completeness.
Paul revealed the spirituality of God, saying, "He dwelleth not in temples made with hands." No explanation was attempted. To explain is to lose. Religion is not a thing of explanations, a riddle with an answer; but the Divine angel has been debased into a church conundrum with a clever answer! On the contrary, we should have said, "God is a Spirit." What is the meaning of "Spirit"? It has none to us in our present fleshly condition. What is God? No man can tell. It is the Mystery of being; the Glory of light; the Secret of all things. There is no explanation. He who attempts to explain God blasphemes the God whom he explains. The best explanation is silence. The noblest prayer is a speechless look. How far you have realized the true spirituality of God will appear in your life. The proof is not intellectual but practical. By noble character, by charity of soul, by love that would die for its object, you will know whether your God is a nightmare or an inspiration. This is not an affair of words. You have none other than an Athenian marble god if you have a marble heart. If you can forgive till seventy times seven a thousand multiplied, then you have the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ glowing in your heart like an infinite fire which burns but does not consume. The marble heart always means a marble god. The proof of your deity is in your spirit. Some doctrines are not to be explained as some spaces are not to be used. How little even of the universe that is about us do we use! Whatever we have to set down we are obliged to set down on the ground. Yes, now I think of it, that is true. I wanted to hang something upon the horizon, and I could not reach it! What a magnificent ring for hanging things on is the horizon! And yet we, who can see it and talk about it, are obliged to set down everything on the cold ground! The flying bird dear little self-deceiver! thinks it is suspending the law of gravitation when it goes up to sing in the air. It says, as it flaps its tiny wings, "You talk about things seeking the centre of the earth; I know nothing about your centripetal force see! I am going away from the centre of the earth all the time." Sweet rationalist! Watch it. It is coming down again why come down? Because the centre of the earth is stronger than any wing that ever attempted to compete with its infinite pressure. At night the bird will be glad to rest in the earth which in the morning it avoided with a song! There will be a good deal of coming back again amongst many flying minds; let us not object to their flying in the meantime. Learn that the air is but a larger earth.
This nobility of expression on the part of Paul does not interfere with the solemn roll of his logic. "Seeing that he is Lord of heaven and earth, dwelleth not in temples made with hands; neither is worshipped with men's hands, as though he needed anything." A spiritual God requires spiritual worship. That is the philosophy of the whole case. You determine your worship by the nature of the object which is worshipped. Do you worship a marble slab? You will be as cold as the marble. Do you follow a God that answereth by fire? Then there will be fire in your prayer, and there will be fire in your pure and purifying life. Men like a god they can patronize. To be able to "do something" for God pleases the little vanity of little minds. But we cannot do anything for the God of the Bible except obey, and we cannot obey unless we love. You cannot keep the law in the letter; he who keeps the letter of the law breaks the law itself. The law can only be kept by love. You may do it all, and do nothing of it. A regulation-life is a life of self-idolatry.
Another view of God is given in these wondrous words: "Seeing he giveth to all life and breath and all things." How infinitely Paul has gone beyond the point which he found in the text! The Athenians had wrought their way up to Unknown; Paul makes the dumb speak; he turns the store into a living revelation. Read the words again, for in their repetition you find their best explanation: "God that made the world and all things therein, seeing that he is Lord of heaven and earth, dwelleth not in temples made with hands." And this was said on Mars' Hill! This was said in the presence of the Parthenon! This was said in presence of pillared temples and majestic edifices, raised to deities fancied and unknown. "Neither is worshipped with men's hands, as though he needed anything, seeing he giveth to all life and breath and all things; and hath made of one blood all nations of men to dwell on all the face of the earth." Who could read these words without feeling that they carry with them their own proof? This is the peculiarity of the Gospel. It brings with it its own fire; it carries along with it its own eloquence. The Gospel only asks to be stated or preached that it may be heard in its own tongue. In Paul's speech there is no uncertainty of speculation; there is no hesitancy of doubt, as if the speaker ventured to make a mere suggestion in elucidation of another scheme of cosmogony.
Paul stands on Mars' Hill in another sense than that which is indicated in the mere letter of the text: he stands above it, and looking from the heavens down upon Areopagus, the Acropolis shrinks into a handful of dust, and is viewed by the inspired and heaven-illuminated eyes with contempt and disdain. Athens had to climb its Mount Zion foot by foot, yard by yard, up to its top; but the Christian revelationist came down upon it from the clouds, stood upon it for a moment, and reduced it to contempt by the eloquence of an infinite contrast. Your god will determine your prayer; your god will be the measure and force of your preaching. If you have come to pit one little god against another, then you will be but jostling a whole crowd of godmongers, and you will be poor preachers, not deserving sleep when night comes, for you have toiled in a bad cause; but if upon every infidel Areopagus, every speculative rock, you come down from immediate face-to-face talk with God, your face will burn and your voice will be charged with a tone which will throw all other tones into grating discord. The Church will be worsted through not knowing God. If the Church has been patronizing God, she has not been living in the heavens. If the Church betake herself to the revelation of God, rather than to his explanation, she shall always have a hearing in the world.
I hold God because I need him. I do not explain him, because I cannot; I do not defend him, because he needs no defence. I prove him by reasoning higher than formal logic: by the reasoning of a life that goes upward in daily prayer, and outward in continual sacrifice. This may give peace perhaps to some disquieted minds who have imagined that mechanical theology was to be mastered before Divine communion could be realized. Have nothing to do with mechanical theology. You can make nothing of it, neither can any man. Theology-making is an attempt to serve God with hands, and God is not worshipped with men's hands, as though he needed anything. All mechanical theology is untrue, because it is incomplete. What you have to struggle after is to feel God a rebuke to all evil, a judgment of all crookedness, an inspiration to all nobleness, the fountain of purity, the pavilion of defence. Do you so feel your need of God? Then the only explanation you can now have of him is to be found in Jesus Christ. He that hath seen Christ hath seen the Father; no man hath seen the Father but the Son, and he to whom the Son will reveal him. So we must go to Christ's words, Christ's life, Christ's whole priesthood; and there we see the beginning of a light which the universe is too small to contain or express in all its intensity and fulness. A little ray comes down to gild the disc of time, but for the whole glory we shall want the immeasurable fields of eternal duration.
Almighty God, in Jesus Christ thy Son we thank thee for everything that hints at the great home-going. We love to think of going home; we are stirred by the happy reflection that we are even now on the road stony, uphill, often hard to climb, but still on the home-road, with many a tree on the wayside under whose shadow we can rest a while, and many a rill of pure water of which we may drink, and so become fitter for the next stage of the journey. We love to think that we are only on the road, and not yet quite home. This world could never be home, because it is so small, and in it there is such uncertainty and trouble, and behold men are digging pits under our feet which they call graves; and at home there must be no death. We bless thee that we are lifted up sometimes quite above all cloud and wind and high noise, and are brought into the stillness, the peace, the security of a very near sight of thy shining face. This enjoyment we have only in thy Son never out of him. It is in Christ that we see thee, through Christ that we come to thee, and through the Cross of Christ that we see Righteousness and Mercy embracing each other in infinite and eternal reconciliation. These are visions the prophets-did not see; these are the revelations which make our Sabbath-days and our rest-days; yea, it is no ox that rests, or beast of the field, or plough that stands still in the furrow; it is the troubled heart, the sin-riven spirit, the disobedient soul that is caught up into the movement of thine own righteousness and love, and in the harmony of the Godhead we find the harmony of humanity. We bless thee for great doors in heaven. Once it was a curtain without break or tear; we could not see through it; but now there are open doors and windows larger than the constellations, and we see the Son of man standing on the right hand of God. Our hearts need no telescope; they are far-sighted because much-loving. Blessed be the vision of love, the eyesight of the heart, for unto it shall be granted vision upon vision, until the whole sky shall be one flame of glory. We bless thee that as sinners saved we can say all this, and love thee for the larger life, the ever-increasing liberty, the perfect freedom of Divine sonship. What wait we for but to forget the earth, and to escape from time as from a cage that bounds our liberty? We want to be consciously swallowed up of love absorbed in God. We would have no feeling of foot or hand, of earth or air, but would live the ineffable life and breathe eternity itself. To this end withhold not the Holy Ghost, the Spirit of life, the Spirit of fire, the Spirit of God. May he dwell in us, and be with us, and lead our every thought, and lift up our every impulse, and move our whole being with the energy which is infinite and gracious. The week is behind us the spoiled, blurred week. It came from heaven, white as snow, and we have sent it back scarred and ill-treated, and into thy heaven it is taken only because thy grace is greater than our sin. Thou hast begun to send us another week, another bright chance, another gracious opportunity. May we make better use of this than of the last. We are sure to spoil it, for our snow is blackness, and our beauty is a blot; there is in us that is, in our flesh no good thing, no perfect power, no faculty that can please thee if thou dost judge by thy holiness and not by thy compassion. Write thy word for us everywhere, on every opening flower, on every dawning morning, on ever)' brightening, lengthening day. On all the events of our life may we see thy Gospel traced, thy meaning made clear, and thy purpose surely established. We thank thee that old friends are with us to day. In these reunions we have a pledge of a larger fellowship. For all travelling mercies, for all home enjoyments, for every element that makes life pure and glad, we bless thee with a full heart. We thank thee that the father is here, and the child, that the mother has come back again, that the old man has come to look upon young life, that young life has come to be blessed by paternal graciousness. For all these reunions and fellowships how temporary soever we bless thee, because they bring with them glowing love, and hints of longer, brighter days. As for those who are under the sod, they are not forgotten, they are still with us; they cannot die. We bless thee for all that was brave in their lives, and for all that was sacred in their death. We commend one another with tenderest love to thy great keeping, Father-Mother of us all. Spare us every one. Make the blackest the whitest; make the worst the best. Give the heathen for an inheritance to thy Christ, and this day, in this house, may he see of the travail of his soul. In our preaching touch us with the music of heaven; in our hearing bless us with the attention of earnestness; and when the day closes and the cold stars come out to replace the sunshine, may we feel as if we had touched the heavens and seen somewhat of the glory that is beyond. Amen.
29. Being then the offspring of God, we ought not to think that the God. head is like unto gold, or silver, or stone, graven by art and device of man [this iconoclast spoke facing the Acropolis and Parthenon, in full view of Phidias' colossal Minerva].
30. The times of ignorance [ Act 17:23 ] therefore God overlooked; but now he commandeth men that they should all everywhere repent:
31. Inasmuch as he hath appointed a day in the which he will judge the world in righteousness by the Man whom he hath ordained; whereof he hath given assurance ["afforded faith"] unto all men, in that he hath raised him [the Lord Jesus, who is not named, but upon Whom the whole argument here concentrates itself. The orator's art here supplies the demand of the evangelist's zeal] from the dead.
Paul's Cumulative Argument
UP to the twenty-ninth verse Paul has made a general statement respecting God. In the twenty-ninth verse he lays down the ground-work of a true and abiding Christian philosophy. If the Church could fully understand the meaning of the first word in that verse, and would fearlessly apply it, there would be no infidelity worthy of a moment's notice. What the Church has not yet mastered, so as to be able to use it with perfect ease and fearlessness, is this word "Forasmuch." The armoury of the Church is in that word. The weapons of our warfare are all kept within the sacred custody of that most simple, but most inexhaustible, term. We have hurried over it as if it were an antiquated phrase a piece of very old, quaint English, whereas it is a theological armoury. It contains all that is necessary for the completest and sublimest revelations of God. That word throws man back upon himself, and says, "If you want to know what God is, know yourself." That is the mystery of reason. That is the transcendent rationalism the sublimest faith. Find your way to the Unknown through the known; to the Invisible through the visible; to the Infinite through the finite.
"Forasmuch then" as we ourselves are not" like unto gold, or silver, or stone, graven by art and man's device, we ought not to think that the Godhead is like unto them." We ourselves are limited expressions of God we are made in the image and likeness of the Creator. God has left his witness within ourselves, and if we would but fairly and honestly and continually study ourselves, we should have no difficulty about the Godhead. This is what the Church dare not say, except with great guarding and reservation and parenthetic subtraction from the essential meaning. The Apostle's words are sublime: "Forasmuch then as we are the offspring of God, we ought not to think that the Godhead is like unto gold, or silver, or stone, graven by art and man's device." We are not so made; we are not carved images; we are not straight lines; we are not empty vessels. If we would study ourselves, we should know the mystery of the Trinity. Men have abandoned the self-study, and have taken to book-reading and word-fighting, instead of dwelling within themselves until the quietness was deeper than the stillness of death, and until the movement of the Ghost could be heard. They have gone out to fight one another with long words, and arguments long and cunning and mischievous as serpents. If you want to know what God is, enter into you closet, shut the door, sit down, and listen to your own heart-beat. You have all the mystery there. This is not an argument of my invention; it is the expansion of Paul's own statement. To the Athenians he said: "You do not know one God, you have openly called him Unknown; whom, therefore, ye ignorantly worship, him declare I unto you. He made us; as certain also of your own poets have said, For we are also his offspring." Then judge the Father by the child; judge the Creator by the creature not by the creature of his hand, but by the creature made in his own image and likeness, and rise from the human to the Divine the ascent of reason and the way of faith. I see heaven opened; now I know of a surety that the Bible representation of God is true, because it is true of myself. My reasoning is now invincible, because it takes this turn, namely: Forasmuch, then, as we are not entirely comprehended, even by those who know us best and love us most, even so is God a mystery, even to those who linger longest at his altar and honour him with most zealous fidelity and the incense of sacrificial lives. How strong I feel when I rest upon that ground! Your child does not know you fully; there is always some other word you could say if so minded; there is always some deeper depth of being, some inner secret of mystery; the father is always in advance of the child. That is so amongst ourselves, and is so, not arbitrarily or whimsically, as if we had invented the process, but is so necessarily, essentially, unchangeably. Forasmuch, then, as this is the case between man and man, friend and friend, heart and heart, we ought not to think that it is otherwise with the Godhead. You must reason upwards, and your reason will soon take fire and go up as a burning sacrifice before the eternal throne.
Take it from another point, and the reason is equally valid, because equally Pauline and inspired. Forasmuch, then, as we have not been seen by our dearest admirers, we ought not to think that the Godhead can be seen by angel or archangel or seraph that first saw the light of his face. You have never seen your friend; you have never seen let me say again and again your own SELF. No man can see himself and live. What wonder I have not seen you when I have not seen myself? Forasmuch, then, as we have not seen ourselves, we ought not to think that God is a plain surface, which every eye may look upon in its entirety. The mystery is in ourselves. Any mystery that we find in God we find initially and typically in our own nature. We must first settle the mystery of man before we attempt to deal with the mystery of God.
Or take it thus, and see how the Pauline reasoning clears its way through all difficulties: As we express our thought and feeling through body and form, so does God. We proceed by incarnation. We have supposed that incarnation was a theological term, and belonged wholly to the Church; we must now learn that incarnation is the necessity of love. Indifference need not incarnate itself; but love that thinks about us by day and dreams about us by night love that would give its very heart for our salvation must come in visible form, must be borne in some Bethlehem in inn or manger somewhere, and must show its radiant self simply because it is love. Forasmuch, then, as our love must incarnate, enflesh, and embody itself, so as to touch us, we ought not to think that the Godhead is independent of the method which amongst ourselves he has made essential to union and happiness. If we have come upon the doctrine of incarnation through some long and weary process merely intellectual and verbal, I do not wonder that men should stumble at it and endeavour to argue it down; but if we have come upon it through the deep study of our own nature and ways of self-revelation, when we come to the historical Bethlehem of Judaea we feel we have only come home. That Bethlehem has been in our hearts; that Bethlehem is the inner circle of our sacred home; that Bethlehem is the secret of our union and fellowship and hope.
Take it from another point. Forasmuch, then, as we forgive our children who repent of their sins with broken-heartedness and honest confession, we ought not to think that the Godhead is unwilling to forgive. How is it with you when the child comes home and says, "Father, I have sinned, and am no more worthy to be called thy son"? Did you fall upon his neck and clothe him and jewel his fingers and kiss him back into sonship? Forasmuch, then, as that man did so to that sinning son, we ought not to think that the Godhead is made of iron or is a carved statue in the sky. This is the Biblical reasoning leading up to the Biblical faith. "Like as a father pitieth his children, so the Lord pitieth them that fear him." "If ye, then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your Father which is in heaven give good things to them that ask him!" You note the reasoning, the mysterious, gracious balance of the sentences "As so," "If ye how much more! He." The lines are the same, they only grow in height and width and burn into purer splendour; but you must find in yourselves the root-thought of God.
Now the speaker rises to a higher moral tone in Acts 17:30 . "And the times of this ignorance God winked at; but now commandeth all men everywhere to repent." God saw as if he did not see. The Gracious One made allowances which would not enter into a narrow calculation. God gave the world wide chances for a long space; but now we date from Christ; all our epistles, and bookkeepings, and commercial transactions, all our nativities and festivities, and bonds and covenants, must be dated at Bethlehem that is where you sign! That little Child, with eyes that see not, divides the old from the new, and you dip your pen in the inkhorn of his revelation when you date your commonest letter or sign your meanest bond of merchandise. But now a new bell has rung, a new day has dawned; from this time forth there is a "command to repent." We have now the responsibility of ignoring the revelation. That is a tremendous responsibility. You have to stand up and say to Moses and the prophets, to the minstrels of Israel and the evangelists of the Church, to Christ in Bethlehem and Christ on Calvary "We do not believe!" We thus come into a great inheritance of responsibility. No man is the same at the end of a religious service that he was at the beginning; if he has not gone up, he has gone down. We cannot take up the position of uninstructed inquirers and sit down with ancient Greeks and say, "We know no more than they did." That opportunity has been destroyed. We do not go up from ancient Greece, but from modern Christendom, and acccording to the line along which we have walked to the judgment seat will the judgment itself be conducted in every case. You who were born in Christian houses you who were sung to sleep with snatches of Christian hymns when you were irresponsible infants, you who were carried to Christ's house and nurtured in the fear and love of God, cannot go up to the judgment seat as if you had been born in some barbarous country and had never heard of the name of Christ. Thus our responsibilities are increased apart from our own control. No man can draw the line and say, "My responsibility begins here and ends there." Civilization every day adds some new weight to the obligation which rests upon every human soul. Our responsibilities are oftentimes created for us, as well as created in us. Now that the sun shines we must not be striking lights of our own. No man will be held to be irresponsible if he has not availed himself of the light which lay within his use. Believe me, you cannot act as if you had never heard of the Bible. You have now to thrust your way past the Bible and to say, "I will not believe one word you utter; I resent and denounce every appeal you make." Are you prepared to make that violent reply? O, answer, No!
Almighty God, thou art our Shepherd in Jesus Christ thy Son, through whose sweet name we now come to thee, as through an open gate on which thou hast written all the welcome of thy love. We love to be thought of as a flock. Thou makest thy flock to lie down at noon; thou leadest thy flock by the still waters and the green pastures; thou carriest the lambs in thy bosom; thou art merciful as well as mighty. We need the shepherdliness of heaven amid all the bleakness and sore travail and labour of earth. It is sweet to think of the descending heavens and of their warmth and comfort and tenderness, and to know that they come down to take us up as into strong arms, which will hold us lovingly in eternal security. We bless thee for this vision in Christ. He said we would see heaven opened and the Son of man descending upon us. Our hearts long to see no other figure; they love the Saviour. They would see Jesus only all beautiful sights in one the glory of God, the Light of heaven, the Jewel of eternity. We bless thee for a Word that touches our life's necessity and pain; a Word that is no burden, but a morning light, a summer hope, a gladness that has no comparison. May that Word enter into our life and make us young again! May that sweet Word sing in us like an angel sent down from God to comfort and cheer the heart! We know thy Word; there is none like it, there is no counterfeit. It comes to us with its own authority of sweetness and power and joy in the Holy Ghost. We have come to hear it, to believe it, yea, to devour it, as hungering men devour bread. May we now know that the festival is spread for our soul's delight, and may thy banner over us be Love! We want to live as thou wouldst have us to live. Thou didst make us, and not we ourselves, and thou wilt account to us as to thyself for our individuality. Thou hast a set purpose in each life; we are all thine, jewels thou wilt number, and not one of us in Christ Jesus thy Son our Saviour can ever be lost. Thou hast made our life into night and day. Thou hast set the one against the other. Thou hast made the day partly ours and the night mostly thine own. Thou dost set us up in the presence of light, and thou dost lay us down to sleep that we may get back our youth and strength and hope and begin another day's work with yesterday's experience. Thou hast also given us the bright day, so full of light, so full of joy, a gleam of heaven, a hint of the world in which there is no darkness at all. Help us to understand this variety of night and day, and to feel that it is a parable full of Gospel meaning to those who have the pure heart. We commend one another and all our interests and relations to thy tender care. Be unto us all in all; bind us together in the bond of eternity. Save us from despair, from sin, from death. Fill our hearts with life that shall say, "O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?" May the life of thy Son be in us abundantly, and more abundantly, like wave upon wave of waters that cannot be measured! Regard the traveller and the stranger, the friendly visitor, and those who would enlarge our prayers by the addition of their own. Regard the dear young ones and save them from the cold wind, the cruel tempter, and the snare cunningly laid; and help the old to believe that onward ness in age is progress towards youth. Be with the dying, and grant unto them the power to wave the banner of triumph and to speak the fearless and hopeful word. Help every good man to be better, every faithful servant to be more industrious, every sufferer to be more patient, and every waiter for the kingdom of heaven to stand still with a deeper and happier contentment. Our sins thou wilt deal with, for we cannot; they will not baffle thee. Thou hast opened a fountain of blood. Where sin aboundeth grace doth much more abound. Thou dost magnify thyself against our enemy, and show thyself to be greater than all that can be against us. We fall into thy hands in this great sweet faith. We are quite strong; no cloud is before our eyes, the earth is a solid rock, and the heaven an eternal security, whilst this faith that is in Christ Jesus reigns and rules in our souls. The Lord's love be our Sabbath blessing and the Lord's light our Sabbath glory. Amen.
32. Now when they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some mocked; but others said, We will here thee concerning this yet again [expression incompatible with the view of some Evangelical commentators, who argue from the name of Jesus not having been spoken that Paul was interrupted before his intended close].
33, 34. Thus Paul went out from among them. But certain men clave unto him, and believed: among whom also was Dionysius the Areopagite [one of the council], and a woman called Damaris. and others with them.
The Point of Departure
WE have heard of Paul's great sermon, and yet that sermon would be called by very hard names if it were preached today. Consider that Paul was never at Athens before, and that Paul never went back to Athens any more; and consider that this is his deliverance to Athenian hearers on a great and historical occasion. Having put these points before your mind, tell me where is what we too narrowly call the Gospel? There is a theory popular with those who have never considered it that in every discourse there ought to be a clear and complete view of the way of personal salvation. The theorist founds his theory upon the probability, or at least the possibility, that some hearer may hear only once and nevermore. That theory found no respect in the Sermon on the Mount, or in the sermon preached by Paul on Mars' Hill. Life must be taken in averages; life must be taken in breadths of time. We can only address ourselves with intelligence and effect to the broader possibilities and probabilities of the case, and not to exceptional circumstances, which are of a kind that would, ii attended to exclusively, upset the whole policy and scheme of civilized life.
Paul began adroitly by beginning where the Athenians themselves were prepared to begin. They wanted a god he said he could declare or reveal the very god they were seeking after. That is sublime preaching! sitting down beside a man and asking him where he, poor groping soul, can begin. Christianity goes about asking men themselves for the starting-point. The religion of benevolence, the religion of love, the religion of the heart of Christ, is willing to give us a chance by saying to us, with tender graciousness, "What is your uppermost question?" or "What is your special and most urgent desire? Tell me all about it, and let us sit down on this green hillock and talk it all ov. Tell me what is in your troubled heart? for I have with me balm and light and true wisdom and grace, sympathy and help. Now, poor heart, begin." That is not a ruthless religion, forcing itself upon reluctant attention, but taking up our poor weaving and completing the web, or disentangling the piece that has been woven, and saying, "Now let us both begin together and see if we cannot do something better." These are the traits of the religion of the Cross which lift it above the necessity of all patronage and all vindication.
Paul addressed at Athens the very congregation which every preacher addresses today. The congregation never changes. If it is "The king is dead Long live the king!" it is also the same with the congregation. There is but one assembly, for there is but one blood among all the nations of the earth. Paul's assembly was divided sharply into Epicureans and Stoics the very men who are here today! Do not let us put off the Epicureans and Stoics on account of their peculiar names, and think of them as Grecian antiquities. Nothing of the kind. We are the Epicureans and Stoics, though mayhap we did not know it. The Epicureans glorified lust ; the Stoics glorified suicide so do we! Any protest you may lodge against the suggestion is an affair of weak words. Centrally, substantially, protoplastically, we do precisely what was done by Epicurean and Stoic. The Epicurean would have what he liked not this dish, but that. He would tarry long at his pleasures; he would pay any price for a new sensation. He awoke in the morning to find a new delight; he lay down in the darkness to dream of a novel pleasure. He lived in his palate, he lived in his taste; and his posterity is with us unto this day. The Stoic was a fatalist His great ambition was to suppress all feeling, to retire within an impervious shell, to regard all the events of life with equal indifference, and to put an end to intolerable agony, concealed and suppressed, by suicide. He took matters into his own hands; and are not we committing suicide every day? An etymological definition of suicide would be a childish answer to that tremendous impeachment. Do not play off against this terrific indictment some little knowledge of the Latin language. Suicide is not one act. Self-murder we perpetrate every day. We say we will "put an end to this"; in higher anger we say "this shall not go any farther"; in madness we declare that a line shall be drawn, and the affair shall be determined, cost what it may. What if we escape the charge of etymological suicide, and yet be convicted of having committed self-slaughter in the deepest sense of that term every day in the revolving year?
Christianity creates a third class. Whatever the third class may be in any congregation, it is the specific creation of Christian teaching. Christianity says, "Do not live in your pleasures." Christianity says, "Do not take cases into your own hands as if you had no Father in heaven. Sacrifice is better than indulgence, and resignation is better than suicide." So, though it is true that humanity, and substantially the congregation, is made up of Epicureans and Stoics, it is true doctrinally and spiritually that there is a third quantity the Christian life, the Christian hope, the Christian victory, for which God's name and Christ's Cross be praised!
If Paul began adroitly, he proceeded, as the subject unrolled itself before his spiritual vision, to touch upon distinctively Christian points. He came to the Man not named. That was a touch of happy and permissible cunning of a rhetorical kind. The anonymous is often more influential in the case of the ignorant than the avowed and duly-testified declaration. Paul refers to his Master as "that Man whom God hath ordained." Paul will touch attention; he will excite wonder; he will compel those people to listen to him. Had he begun by thrusting a Jew's name upon their attention, they would have turned away from him and left him to address the empty air. He kept his bolt to the last. If he did fail, he would fail as only a great general can do. He will get his men well in order; he will watch his opportunity; with that wonderful eye which saw behind and beyond the near and the tangible, he watched the working and beating of every heart, and when the moment came he launched the grand appeal. He failed, but he failed magnificently. There was no blundering in the generalship; there was no flaw in the inspiration; he failed, but he failed as only a great soul can fail. Some failures are better than some victories. Sometimes weakness is strength.
"When they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some mocked: and others said, We will hear thee again of this matter." But they never did! That is precisely what we are doing today. Were I to give an account of any Christian congregation, I should give it in the very words of the thirty-second verse. Congregations now listen as long as their fancy is pleased, and no longer. If a preacher can dominate by intellectual lordship, or moral supremacy, the public crowd, he will hold his position. The public do not listen to him longer than fancy is titillated or some selfish desire is gratified. The poor deluded preacher sometimes imagines that the public I am not now speaking of the inner circle of friendship and love, but the promiscuous public care something for him personally. They would leave him to-morrow if his throat failed! Some of them would not mind taking up their hats in the middle of his feeble discourse and going out to seek some other man to kill! Why will preachers delude themselves by such folly? Do not preach on that ground, young aspiring brother, but preach for Christ's sake and in Christ's name, and find your compensation, not in pecuniary wages, but in your Lord's "Well done!"
The Athenians left the discourse at the point of moral pressure. So long as Paul played the part of a Jewish Socrates they were willing to hear him. They said, with Athenian contemptuous-ness, "This seed-pecker seems to have picked up some new and strange god I wonder what it is." But the moment Paul flamed into moral earnestness, left the intellectual plane and came down to struggle with the heart and question it with hard interrogation, then the Athenians mocked, or with partial civility nodded to him a promise that they might come again to-morrow. Is it not exactly at that point that the congregations leave the preacher now? After the beautiful anecdotes; after the exquisite language, so pearly, so translucent, so charming; after the strong smell of scrap-book, then comes the moral appeal, and the people say they will not be lectured! They will devour any amount of rhetoric, and they will listen to any number of anecdotes, but the moment the preacher becomes the messenger of God with immediate charges from heaven the people go out not physically, that would be vulgar; not uproariously, that would be discourteous and indecent; but sympathetically, attentively the soul seals up its hearing and will listen no more. That is the cause of failure on the part of Christ's Gospel today. We do not want to hear its essence. It was the same with Jesus Christ himself. We are told that "the common people heard him gladly," but that was not so. Many a minister's heart has been made sore by the misquotation of that passage. The common people do nothing of the kind. The common people then were like the common people now, and like the common people of every age. The passage has been used to show that if we would speak as Christ spoke, in parables and and in images, and in sweet, beautiful sentences, "the common people" would understand words of one syllable. The common people do not care for words of one syllable or ten syllables. Do not suppose that the common people of any great city are lying outside the Church this day, fretting and sighing for some man who will come and talk in words of one syllable. It is preposterous! The common people heard him gladly so long as He had anything to give away, and on one occasion he said, "Let us be frank now. You have come, not because of the words, but because of the loaves and fishes. Do not imagine that you are taking me in. I will still go on doing you good, but do not suppose that I give you credit for a good motive." How terrible he was! What rebuke was that! How they might have withered up! For a man to tell you to your face the exact motive which moves you, and for you to know that he has found you out! The common people! the moment he began to be spiritual they turned away in crowds. The moment he began to say, "You must eat my flesh and drink my blood," they said, "This is a hard saying; who can hear it?" They had come to eat and drink, but not to eat and drink his flesh and his blood. He had lured them, as Paul afterwards lured the Athenians, on from point to point. He healed their sick, gave bread to their hungry, and was kind to them in what they would term a practical manner. But all the time he was leading them up to its application, and when he said, "You must eat my flesh and drink my blood. If a man eat not my flesh and drink not my blood, he hath no life in him," the common people, whom you thought to be worshippers of the god-monosyllable, turned right round to seek some other giver of loaves and fishes. Do not torment the preacher's heart by telling him that if he would speak words of one syllable, his church would be too small to contain the great crowds that would thrust down the most substantial walls.
The Athenians mocked and procrastinated. It is easy to mock. We mock the preacher's manner, and think that that excuses us from attending to the preacher's doctrine. We say, We will come again to-morrow. So we may, but Paul may not be there! I dare not say that the Epicureans and Stoics did not return to Areopagus, but if they did, they would wait in vain for the man they had called "babbler" or "seed-pecker." "So Paul departed from among them." If they had beaten him, he would have been there to-morrow. If they had been angry with him, he would have invited their attention a second time, or he would have returned some distant day. He never was afraid to go back to a city where he had been beaten or stoned or imprisoned; but to be mocked, to be treated with indifference that kills the heart! To pour out one's blood for the people, and then for their very next remark to be one about the weather that kills a man, though he be mailed with great strength and have a lion's heart within him. To suffer, to live, to die for your hearers, and then simply to be mocked that is DEATH!