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These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Acts 17". The Biblical Illustrator. https://studylight.org/
commentaries/ eng/ tbi/ acts-17.html. 1905-1909. New York.
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Acts 17". The Biblical Illustrator. https://studylight.org/
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And when they had passed through Amphipolis and Apollonia.
From Amphipolis to Thessalonica
The beautiful town of Amphipolis lies to the south of a splendid lake under sheltering hills, three miles from the sea, and thirty three from Philippi, and on the edge of a plain of boundless fertility. The strength of its natural position, nearly encircled by a great bend of a river, the mines which were near it, and the neighbouring forests, made it position of high importance. If St. Paul had ever read Herodotus, he may have thought with horror of the sacrifice of Xerxes--the burial alive at this place of nine youths and nine maidens; and if he had read Thucydides, he would have gazed with peculiar interest on the sepulchral mound of Brasidas, and the hollowing of the stones in the wayworn city street, which showed the feet of men and horses under the gate, and warned Kleon that a sally was intended. If he could read Livy, he would recall the fact that in this town Paulus AEmilius--one of the family from which his own may have derived its name--had here proclaimed that Macedonia should be free. But all this was little or nothing to the Jewish missionaries. At Amphipolis there was no synagogue, and therefore no means of addressing Jews or Gentiles. They therefore proceeded the next day thirty miles further, through scenery of surpassing loveliness, along the Strymonic Gulf, through the wooded pass of Aulon, when St. Paul may have looked at the tomb of Euripides, and along the shores of Lake Bolbe to Apollonia. From thence they proceeded forty miles further to the far-famed Thessalonica, the capital of all Macedonia, whose position on the Egnatian road, commanding the entrance to two great inland districts, and at the head of the Thermaic Gulf, made it an important seat of commerce. Since the days when Cassander had refounded it, and changed its name from Therma to Thessalonica, in honour of his wife, the sister of Alexander, it had always been a flourishing city, with many historic associations. Here Cicero had spent his days of melancholy exile. Here a triumphal arch, still standing, commemorates the victory of Octavianus and Antony at Philippi. From hence, as with the blast of a trumpet, not only in St. Paul’s day (1 Thessalonians 1:8), but for centuries afterwards, the Word of God sounded forth among the neighbouring tribes. Here Theodosius was guilty of that cruel massacre for which Ambrose, with heroic faithfulness, kept him for eight months from the cathedral of Milan. Here its good and learned Bishop Eustathius wrote those scolia on Homer which place him in the front rank of ancient commentators. It received the title of “the orthodox city,” because it was for centuries a bulwark of Christendom; but it was taken by Amurath II in 1430. Saloniki is still a great commercial port of seventy thousand inhabitants, of whom nearly one-third are Jews. At this city, blighted now by the curse of Islam, but still beautiful on the slopes of its vine-clad hills, with Pelia and Olympus full in view, the missionaries rested; for here was the one Jewish synagogue which sufficed for the entire district. (Archdeacon Farrar.)
Paul’s preaching at Thessalonica
I. Was evangelic.
1. His grand theme was Christ.
(1) He showed the necessity of His suffering and His resurrection. He exhibited the Cross of Christ in all its high aspects.
(2) He showed that He was Messiah. “Is Christ.”
2. His grand authority was the Scriptures. He did not attempt to derive his arguments and illustrations from general literature or philosophy. He would, perhaps, quote the old prophecies (Genesis 49:10; Isaiah 40:1-10; Isaiah 53:1-12; Daniel 9:24-27; Micah 5:6, etc.), and show that in the life of Jesus those wonderful prophecies were fulfilled. Reasoning with the Jews, his authority was Scripture, and with the Gentiles, Nature, as at Athens.
3. His grand method was reasoning. He “reasoned with them.” “Opening” means to explain, to unfold. “Alleging” means laying down the proposition. He laid down his propositions, and he argued their truth from the Scriptures. This is model preaching. Let ministers give to men now the Christ of the Scriptures, not the Christ of their theology.
II. Won converts (verse 4). The “devout Greeks” were those who had become proselytes to the Jewish religion, “proselytes of the gate.” The “chief women” were members of families of high rank. The converts were--
1. Numerous. “A great multitude.”
2. Influential. “Chief women.” Some of the leading women of the city.
3. Thoroughly united. They “consorted with Paul and Silas.” Common beliefs awaken common sympathies. Christ gathers men of different types of character and grades of life together.
III. Awoke opposition (verse 5). In this we see--
1. The force of envy, This malignant passion of evil natures had been excited in the Jews by the moral conquest which the apostles had won in their synagogue. This passion has always been the inspiration of all persecutions. It shows itself now in a thousand forms.
2. The servility of mobs. These Jews took unto them certain lewd fellows of the baser sort, unprincipled idlers that are found lounging about places of public resort, the lazy rabble that fill workhouses with paupers and jails with prisoners, who are always ready instruments to the hands of evil men in power. The demagogue can cajole them, and the rich can purchase their services with cash.
3. The revolutionising power of the gospel (verse 6). These men spoke a truth, though unintentionally. The gospel does turn the world upside down, for the moral world is in the wrong position.
4. The falsehood of wickedness (verse 4). The charge they brought against them was that of sedition and rebellion against the Roman emperor, high treason against the crown. These men covered their envy under the garb of patriotism. (D. Thomas, D. D.)
Paul in Thessalonica
I. The manner of a primitive preacher (verse 2). What was the matter? On Sabbath days he entered the synagogue. In his last letter to these Thessalonians, he reminds them that he did not make himself chargeable to them (2 Thessalonians 2:9). So on weekdays he was earning his living--improving, no doubt, every opportunity for conversation with such as came in his way; but the Sabbath brought him leisure, and gave him an audience. How did he use these Sabbath opportunities? He “reasoned” with the people. The Christian’s faith should not be blind. It has its true home in both the intellect and the heart. The Church of today, and of all days, needs the help of thinking men, ready to give to every man that asketh a reason for the hope that is in them. Whence did Paul draw his arguments? “Out of the Scriptures”; because most of those he addressed were either Jews or proselytes, and accepted the Old Testament. It does not follow that in every case we should start just where he did. At Lystra and Athens he came in contact with heathen, who neither knew nor cared for the Jewish Scriptures. With them Paul himself began with the book of nature. Thus we learn how necessary it is to find some common ground on which we and those we would convince can stand together.
II. A good sign of true faith in a Christian convert (verse 4). Nothing could be more natural nor wise. Loving the same objects, cherishing the same hopes, why should they not delight in each other’s company? Those who are of one heart and aim need no precept to bring them together. Each is to the other as a magnet and a support. A common religious faith may be expected to lift above minor differences, and draw men into a common fold. In many things the educated and unlearned, the rich and poor, greatly differ in their tastes. But when Christ enters the heart, you see them forgetting differences and becoming a single spiritual family. Michael Faraday came to be honoured as “a prince in the aristocracy of intellect.” And yet he never lost his interest in a little group of obscure Christians. These believers at Thessalonica consorted with Paul and Silas also for spiritual support and safety. For both these reasons we expect to see modern converts seeking membership in the Church. This is a good sign, and a good rule.
III. The too common spirit and arts of opposers of the gospel. The Jews saw that Paul’s teaching and influence were undermining theirs. Whether the teaching was true and the influence good they did not consider. Very few keep in mind how malignant envy can be. It was for envy that the Jews delivered Jesus to be crucified, and that Joseph was sold into bondage. Then note the arts of these opposers of the apostle. They took to themselves “vile fellows of the rabble”--loungers, boys and men without occupation or sense of responsibility--and set them on. There are always ready tools of unscrupulous leaders. Just here is the greatest peril which now menaces society. Against them all good citizens should provide a safeguard, by pushing forward Christian work. In self-defence, if for no higher reason, we need to carry it to the homes and haunts and hearts of the lowest and worst.
IV. A marked effect always to be expected from successful gospel work (verse 6). The words were meant in a bad sense. But unwittingly they tittered a great truth; paid the very highest possible compliment to the gospel. The faithful utterance of the gospel does produce strife, and our Saviour predicted that it would; for the simple reason that men are neither willing to submit to its claims nor to suffer others to do it. The gospel was meant to turn the world upside down; for in the world there is much that needs to be overturned. It is to the praise of the gospel that it tends to effect this. Before it vice slinks away; virtue lifts up its head; joy supplants sorrow; society is purer and safer; heaven begins here and now. Old things pass away; more and more all things become new. (Sermons by the Monday Club.)
Paul at Thessalonica
1. 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. We wonder whether Paul will fight any more, or whether he will spend the remainder of his days in pious reflections; for a period is occupied in passing through Amphipolis and Apollonia, where nothing was attempted. The fight seems to be over, and the smitten warriors are going home to anoint their wounds and wash their stripes in secret. But they came to Thessalonica, and, in the synagogue, Paul saw a battlefield, and instantly he stripped to the fight! We see now what he was looking for at the other places, and why he did not pause there.
2. “And Paul, as his manner was, went in.” Paul was not an occasional attendant. Jesus Christ did not go now and then to the synagogue. It was a dull time to the early Christian when the Church was closed. Paul is here, as everywhere, the very model of a true Christian preacher. “He reasoned with them out of the Scriptures.” He did not talk something which he had invented; he had a Book, an authority, and he 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 vain. A sermon is great only as it begins, continues, and ends in the Scriptures. Then he crowns his ministry by enforcing a distinct personal appeal. “This Jesus, whom I preach unto you, is Christ.” This was a sword with a point, a sermon with an accent. The preacher must have an object in view. Whatever Paul did was contributory to this great end. The difficulty with the Christian preacher is that nobody wants to hear his doctrine, but his particular way of putting it. I sat with reverence before the foremost judge of his day. His voice was feeble and indistinct; at times I had great difficulty in hearing him; but, oh, the anxiety not to miss one word! It was dry, it was argumentative, there was not a single flower of speech in the whole. Every one was there to hear what the judge would say, not how he said it. When a mumbling speaker reads a will, does anyone 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 the will of God, and that men were wise, that they understood these things!
3. Note the opposition which Christianity awakens. You may form a tolerable judgment as to the merits of a controversy by observing the way in which it is conducted. 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. Look at the opposition. It was--
(1) Little-minded. Where is the noble challenge to discuss a great question upon equal terms? How is Paul moved? By love. How is the opposition moved? By envy.
(2) Unscrupulous. Any stick will do to beat a dog with. The Jews, who would not have spoken to those “lewd fellows,” made use of them to put down this religion of the Cross. If they had not been “lewd fellows,” etc., they would have seen that they were being made use of. How Envy can stoop to take up polluted weapons, and search in the mud for stones to throw at Goodness! There is nothing too despicable for it to use to express itself in denunciation and contempt and penalty.
(3) Lawless. Never mind the dignity of the city, or the politarchs who reign over it magistrates 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 prosecutes its mission to the end. This is true of all opposition to the Christian cause. 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 did not dare to call it “a flash in the pan,” “a nine days’ wonder.” They saw in it a world-exciting force, and we who are Christians become fearful just in proportion as we lose our conception of the grandeur of the cause which we have to handle. 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. We must not only speak the words of the gospel, we must speak them in gospel tones. Then the accusers proceeded to say, “one Jesus.” There they were right. The apostles, then, had left no false or vague impression. Amid all the tumult, and uproar, and opposition, they had got this word well into the public memory--“Jesus.”
4. Is this the end? It is hardly the beginning. The very first letter that Paul wrote was 1 Thessalonians What does he say to them? “For our gospel came not unto you in word only,” etc. 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! How are you to live--by writing begging letters? This is how Paul lived (1 Thessalonians 2:9). These were not the men to be put down: they did not live on patronage. We now live on “subscribers,” and therefore we do not live at all, and we breed a small race of men. Paul, Silvanus, Timotheus, fell to working, not eight hours a days and eight shillings for pay, but, according to the time bill, “night and day.” “Two hours longer, Silvanus,” said Paul, “and this tent will be done. If we sit up till three o’clock tomorrow 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!
5. When they said good-bye to Thessalonica, was it a final adieu? Read 1 Thessalonians 2:17. They wanted to go back to the old battlefield. 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,” etc. 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. (J. Parker, D. D.)
are types of those--
I. Who reject truths because they are novel and unpalatable. The propositions that Paul laid down (verse 2) were novel and unpalatable, and therefore the Jews rejected them. How many today consider it a sufficient reason for rejecting a doctrine (whether of religion, politics, science, etc.) because they have never heard of it before! How many reject truths because they do not like to believe them! But we cannot by unbelief make a truth vanish, any more than we can put out the sun by winking.
II. Who endeavour to silence opponents by force. The Jews could not confute Paul by argument, and therefore they stirred up a riot against him. This is still a popular method, though the force employed may be the more refined method of ostracism. A brickbat is not the only method that will break a head.
III. Who stoop to base alliances to ensure their triumph. The Jews did not storm Jason’s house, but “market loungers,” whom they would not, on ordinary occasions, have touched with a stick, were enlisted. Not the only occasion on which professed defenders of religion have condescended to use dirty tools.
IV. Who endeavour to overthrow opponents by misrepresentation (verses 6, 7). How clever was this misrepresentation, because there was so much truth in it.
V. Who pursue a controversy with embittered malignity. (R. A. Bertram.)
The Thessalonians and the Beroeans
I. Reasoning from the Scriptures. From the change in the personal pronouns, and from 1 Thessalonians 3:6, it is evident that Luke and Timothy remained at Philippi to comfort and strengthen the new converts in the faith. Let us look at--
1. Paul’s journey (verse 1). Their road lay through a region rich in historic associations. The birthplace of Aristotle and the tomb of Euripides were close to their route. At one point, Xerxes had offered to the river Strymon a sacrifice of white horses, and had buried alive nine youths and maidens. At another they had in view the peaks of Ossa and Pelion, often pointed to with trembling superstition as the home of the gods. But the Christian heroism of Paul has done more to make the land live in the memory than all of its connection with famous classical names.
2. Paul’s custom (verse 2). At Thessalonica he acted as though at Philippi he had received no treatment except that which was kind and encouraging. Paul counted his converts more than he did his stripes. All the effect was to make him “wax bold” in his God. “This one thing I do,” was Paul’s motto.
3. Paul’s reasoning (verse 3). After the crucifixion, the Saviour showed from the Scriptures that His sufferings and death were just what had been foretold. How did Paul show that it behoved Christ to suffer? Some of the passages must have been Psalms 22:1-31; Psalms 69:1-36 and Isaiah 53:1-12. Possibly he may have used the argument to be found in Hebrews 8:1-13; Hebrews 9:1-28; Hebrews 10:1-39. To a candid mind, the argument is convincing.
4. Paul’s success.
(1) With the Jews. Some became convinced that their conception of the Messiah has been wrong. They gave up their notion of a splendid temporal king to accept the lowly one of Nazareth and of Calvary. When anyone becomes a follower of the Saviour, he immediately begins to “consort” with those who are of the same faith. He will be found with them in all Christian efforts.
(2) With the Greeks. Those who had become worshippers of the true God were far more ready than the Jews. They did not have to give up the wrong conception of centuries.
II. Rejecting the Scriptures.
1. The assault (verse 5).
(1) The cause. The Jews were jealous when they saw women of rank joining the new way. They saw their own influence being undermined.
(2) The attack. Envy is a base passion, and does not hesitate to use base means. It was the same sort of crowd that now in a city can easily be gathered to smash in the windows of a mission church and maltreat its minister.
(3) The arrest (verse 6). If they could not have the principals, they would have their abettors.
(4) The complaint. What a testimony they incidentally bore to the work of Paul and Silas! The world had been wrong side up since sin had entered the garden of Eden, and now they were engaged in turning it once more right side up.
(5) The result (verse 9). Shadowy as was the support for the complaint, the accusers succeeded in troubling the multitude and the rulers. But, as at Philippi, the action came too late to be of any avail. The Church already was planted, and the Epistles to the Thessalonians show how deeply it had taken root.
III. Searching the Scriptures. At first it seems hard that the missionaries so soon should have been driven away. But that was God’s way for the wider and more expeditious spreading of the gospel.
1. Preaching the Word (verse 10). Scourged in Philippi, and nearly mobbed in Thessalonica, but just as ready to preach the Word in Beroea.
2. Searching the Word (verse 11). At Beroea the missionaries had a glimpse of sunshine. Here they found the Jews ready to receive the truth, but not without investigation. They took hold of the matter with zeal and thoroughness. The result was that many of them believed, not only Jews, but Greeks of rank and position.
3. Persecuted for the Word (verse 13). We see in this illustrations of--
(1) The intensity of the hatred of those who oppose the gospel.
(2) The way in which God continually is using His enemies. They thought that they were stamping out the gospel, whereas they only were spreading it. (M. C. Hazard.)
A tale of two cities
Thessalonica was a large and powerful town; Beroea was a little village. The inhabitants of the one place were wealthy and educated; of the other, comparatively illiterate and poor. But the contrast is altogether to the advantage of the latter.
I. The city that was upset. Philip of Macedon won a magnificent victory in Thessaly on the day he heard of the birth of his daughter, and instantly sent word that the child was to be called “Thessalonica.” By and by she was married to Cassandra, who rebuilt the old town Therma, and then named it after his bride.
1. (verse 1). A new opportunity creates a fresh duty. Right through Amphipolis and Apollonia went these preachers, and not a sermon did they try to preach. Why? Because there was no synagogue; the synagogue of that region was at Thessalonica. When Paul reached so influential a centre, he seemed again to rouse himself to combat like an old soldier.
2. (verse 2). Every man can do good best after his own “manner.” What a fine thing it is to have a habit of teaching Christ so as to have a “manner.” How foolish it is to reproduce the method of others.
3. (verse 3). “Christ and His Cross is all our theme.” Paul invariably showed that the Messiah must be born at a particular time, of the line of Judah, at a place predicted beforehand; that He must die and be buried, and must rise again from the dead. Then he set out to prove that Jesus had met all these requirements, and therefore must necessarily be the true Hope of the nation, and the only-begotten Son of God. This was his “manner” (2 Corinthians 2:1-5).
4. (verse 4). Success in preaching must be estimated not by applause, but by conversions. On that day was founded the Church to which afterwards the two Epistles to the Thessalonians were written. Meantime Paul supported himself by working at his trade of tent making, preaching days, toiling nights (1 Thessalonians 2:9).
5. (verse 5). The wrath of man is often forced to praise God. Opposition intensified the friendship of adherents. It was easy to get up the nosiest crowd; but they only advertised them and strengthened their friends.
6. (verse 6). A wicked man’s lie frequently contains the Christian man’s motto. When infidels exclaimed, “Yours is only a book religion,” the brave Chillingworth answered, “The Bible is the religion of Protestants--the Bible only!” Thessalonica was upset from turret to foundation stone that day.
II. The city that was set up. Notice--
1. (verse 10). The indefatigable zeal of the early Christians.
2. (verse 11). The promising character of the fresh friends Paul and Silas made.
(1) These people listened to the Word attentively.
(2) They studied the Word assiduously.
(3) They accepted the Word intelligently.
(4) They believed the Word implicitly.
3. (verse 12). The excellent results of persistent study of the Scriptures. The word “therefore” is intensive; they were ennobled by their conversion, and they were converted because they studied and believed (John 5:39).
4. (verse 13). Satan betrays the secret of his special hate. His friends journeyed all this tiresome distance merely because they knew the Word of God was going to be preached by those indefatigable apostles. The devil hates nothing so much in this world as the pure word of Divine truth in the Bible. (C. S. Robinson, D. D.)
And Paul, as his manner was, went in unto them.
I. The chief object of Christian faith. “Jesus”--Saviour from sin, and fear, and hell, through the power of His sacrifice, and the prevalence of His intercession. “Christ,” anointed by the Eternal Spirit, and set apart to kingly, prophetic, priestly office forever. No redeemer for man can be imagined of a nobler type, of a fuller efficiency Granted that redemption is necessary, then we have no choice of persons. “There is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved.” When the gospel began, Jesus Christ was the one object of faith, and He is so now. By no rearrangement of the materials of revelation, can you have a system of Christianity without Him. The central attractive power gone, the forces will strive with each other, and the motions will be incalculable. There is a throne; someone must sit on it. There is a gate; someone must stand at it to keep it open into the way that leadeth unto life. There is a peril towering high above all other dangers; we need someone to break it and roll it away, and there is no one but Christ. Never was demand more reasonable than this, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ.”
II. The means used to produce faith are now the same. Our apostle met them on the Sabbath day--the day of rest, when they frequented the synagogue, and “he reasoned with them out of the Scriptures.” We, too, open the Scriptures as our book of authority. It is the duty of those who set forth God’s mind in the Scriptures, to “reason” with men. The Greek word originally means to carry on an argument by way of dialogue. That was the apostolic method of serving Christ; not at all like that of putting on and off clothes, turning the back to the people, going up and down altar stairs. Different, too, from that of the strong doctrinal dogmatist, who asserts and does not “reason.” To preach Christ is to “reason out of the Scriptures,” and, in a secondary degree, out of the great book of human life and experience, and also out of the great book of material nature; but in any case it is to “reason,” to lay out the matter as it seems to ourselves, to press it home upon all whom it concerns; to remonstrate, expostulate, entreat, and then to leave the issue with God.
III. Along what line the reasoning usually went towards proving that Jesus is Christ. Paul “opened” the Scriptures, that is, brought out the hidden yet real meanings concerning the promised Messiah, and then “alleged” that the real Messiah must be a sufferer, and not a splendid Monarch attended with all kinds of visible success. But also a risen Lord, having power over death and life; and from all this came the conclusion that Jesus of Nazareth is Christ. Each age has its own thoughts and doubts; and the real preachers for any age are those who deal with its thoughts fairly, and dispel its doubts by light of truth and breath of love--but all this with a view to the manifestation and exaltation of Him in whom God is “well pleased,” and to whom, in His “lifting up,” all men will at length be drawn.
IV. The faith is the same now as then. The faith as a feeling, the conviction that is rooted in knowledge, and yet goes deeper than knowledge, that is founded on evidence, but which is itself evidence; for “faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” “I know whom I have believed.” Faith is produced by different means, but the precious result is the same faith--faith in Christ, the Sufferer, the Death-destroyer, the Life-giver, the Redeemer of all trusting men. The same feeling. Is this an objection or an offence? It is a great commendation of it. This common faith of the common heart is the historic something that continues through the ages. Systems of government and thought have been forming and vanishing away; civilisations have arisen and have perished; but here is a secret something which has been running along the ages, the line of which has been human hearts, the power of which has appeared resurgent, after all calamities, and which seems destined to run on to the end of time. “May I share in this feeling?” “Yes.” “Then by God’s grace I will!”
V. The outward result of this faith is the same. “They were persuaded, and consorted with Paul and Silas,” and with the other Christian people who were all drawn together by their common faith. Yet now there is rather a largo escape from this. The fish are in the net and held securely there, but somehow they do not get landed. Relievers are made, but somehow a good many of them do not consort, rather take pains, some of them, to let it be known that they do not. Many who really are believers in Christ, do not enter any Christian Church. But--
1. It must always be good to “consort” with good men.
2. It must always be good to be associated as closely as possible with a good cause, and Christianity is unquestionably the greatest cause in the world.
3. It must always be good to escape from an equivocal position. To believe in One for life and death, who is not confessed, whatever excuses and explanations may be given, must be more or less equivocal.
4. It must always be good to remove a little farther from danger; and the shelter, the nourishment, the inspiration of a Church is, as far as it goes, a real safety; it helps in many ways, it ought to hinder in none.
5. It must always be good to obey Divine commandment, and as a Church is a Divine institution, connection with a Church must be the fulfilment of a Divine obligation. (A. Raleigh, D. D.)
An ancient pattern for modern times
This is quite an old world, and it is a long time since men and women began to try to find out how the great things in human life should be done, and how to make the best of everything. Many struggles, many failures, have no doubt, been experienced; but there has been, after all, a wonderful survival of the fittest, the best, on the whole. The result is, that there are very few really new things left for us to discover. For the most part, it is practically old things in a new dress--ancient patterns wrought out in modern forms. What wonder, then, if the modern Church of Christ should find her best example of work, and faith in the Church, ministers, and people, in the New Testament histories! I desire to call your attention now to Paul and his hearers, as giving to us a good example in these latter days.
I. We have an example of keeping the Sabbath and using it for Divine worship. “Paul, as his manner [custom] was, went in upon them,” and joined in their worship. This worship of God springs out of the religious wants and instincts of the human soul; develops, strengthens, and perfects the aspirations of the soul in its following hard after God, things unseen and eternal. This we all much need. For six days in the week, the rule is, that our time and energies are centred in the struggle for existence and well being, amid things material and transient. It is hard work, too, to rule over the earth, and all that is therein, and have some true dominion over it, as, indeed, we ought to have. But when we have done that for six days, and the seventh day comes, and we rest from world ruling and training, as God rested from His world making--when this Sabbath of the Lord, this Sabbath made for man, has come, what are we to do with it, how use it? Paul and Silas, and the Jews, give us an example. Go to the synagogue, the meeting house, where God meets with His people, and they meet with Him. Go to the synagogue, where God is, and is worshipped by song, by prayer, by all reverent speech and thought, and so shall we attain principles and inspirations for godly living, which will give high, noble meaning, and resolute purpose to our entire lives.
II. We have an example of the general object, on which our thoughts should be especially fixed in our seasons of worship. It is God in Christ. God as revealed in Christ. Paul opened and alleged certain things concerning Christ. To him, Jesus Christ was God--God manifest in the flesh, in the form of a servant, and the fashion of a man. In Christ God was revealed in a new and wonderful form, uniting Himself with man as man, and lifting men up to a blessed union and fellowship with Himself. As a name, “Jesus the Christ” is the best translation of what God is to man, and for man. “Jesus” means “the Saviour,” and there is an immensity of meaning in that when you consider the innumerable evils to body and soul for time, and in the far-off eternity, to which sinful men are deservedly and justly exposed. “The Christ” means “the anointed.” Christ was set apart as Prophet to interpret and reveal the thoughts and love, and eternal purposes of God in the forms of human speech, life, suffering, and death--the form of a man, intelligible to all men everywhere. He was anointed--set apart as Priest--to appear in the presence of God for us, the sinful; and in the form of a man, through the Eternal Spirit, offer Himself in sacrifice for us, and obtain eternal redemption for us by His own blood. He was the anointed King, to rule over the new kingdom of grace and righteousness, to rule till all enemies to Him and to us shall be put under His foot.
III. We have an example of the best means of fixing our thoughts on Christ; securing clear conceptions concerning Him, and certitude of faith in Him. Paul “reasoned with them out of the Scriptures.” Reason in man is the apex of his spiritual nature--the point at which he touches the infinite in God, and the infinite in God touches and enters into finite man. Man is rational, because he is spiritual in living relation to God, who is a Spirit. He reasoned with them; he appealed to them by facts, by illustrations, by arguments, by principles, that they might know, understand, and believe the truth which he had to proclaim as a rational message from Jesus Christ to them and to all men. He “reasoned with them out of the Scriptures.” When we reason, we commence from things which are admitted as true in fact, or in principle, on both sides, and then proceed to show that something else must also be true, on the ground of what has been already admitted. Paul and his hearers had things believed in common. Gods Moses, the prophets, the Scriptures as the veracious history of God’s thought and purpose in the past ages. He got the premises, grounds, foundations of his arguments, his syllogisms, in the records of God’s thoughts and deeds, as he reasoned with them to prove that Jesus is the Christ, and that their instant duty was to believe on Him and obey Him as their Saviour King. So it must be still, from the sacred Scriptures, from human experience, that the true preacher must reason, and by reason and reasoning convince the gainsayers, convert the careless, and lead the inquirer to faith in the Lord Jesus.
IV. We have an example of what the result should be in those who are hearers of the gospel testimony. “Some of them believed and consorted with Paul and Silas.” They believed, that is, they were persuaded by Paul’s reasonings from Scriptures, and from facts well known and supported by reasonable evidence. In faith their minds looked out and up and saw the real Christ--the Saviour, King--and began, like Paul, to “count all things but loss for Him.” Precious faith! for it sees Christ, embraces Christ, and, as such, is the root principle of the new life. But having believed, you see, they consorted with Paul and Silas. Man is social. Our very nature compels us to consort with one another. The means of this are doubtless very various. But, this sorting out and consorting of different classes for different purposes, are the strongest, most lasting, when the assortment arises from one faith, one love, one hope, one final end. But those are all found in Christian men and women whose one master faith is God in Christ; whose one controlling master love is God; whose one master inspiration in the darkest hour is the eternal hope of glory; and whose final end is “to glorify God, and to enjoy Him forever.” (Prof. Wm. Taylor.)
The force of habit
Our outward deportment becomes a matter of habit. When a man has become accustomed to any particular course, he cannot avoid acting upon it. Paul could no more have stayed away from the synagogue than he could have given up his food. So there ought to be a principle, made our own by custom, which shall absolutely lead us in the right way with a force which cannot be resisted. And this fact should especially remind us of the duty which we owe to those whom we have in charge. Habits imbibed in youth may affect the happiness and eternal welfare of the child. Observe the importance of--
I. The habit of personal devotion.
II. The habit of practical almsgiving.
III. The habit of contemplative observation.
IV. The habit of self-examination.
V. The habit of looking to the future rather than the present--that is, of weighing every circumstance, every event, every trial, every sorrow, every prosperity, in the light of eternity. (Homilist.)
It was Paul’s custom--
I. To go to church. He didn’t drop in now and then “to hear the new minister,” or remain away because it was “too pleasant to stay at home.”
II. To do his part when he went to church. There is no record of his declining to take a class in Sunday school because it interfered with the hour of his Sunday dinner.
III. When he went to church to talk and think about Christ--and he probably found something more practical to do between services than to stand around the church doors and talk about the state of the crops.
IV. To speak out--and he didn’t wait until he could find exactly what style of preaching would best suit the Church at Thessalonica, and shape his sermons accordingly.
V. To speak everywhere of a suffering Saviour. It was Paul’s custom to suffer anything for that Saviour; it was Paul’s custom to make his creed and his deeds correspond. (S. S. Times.)
Reasoned with them out of the Scriptures.--
The use of reason in religion
There hath been an opinion too hastily taken up, and too warmly maintained by some, that reason is very little to be hearkened to in matters of religion; that we are to believe nothing but what is expressly taught us in the Word of God, and that we are not to draw consequences from Scripture, and to make them the articles of our faith, but most strictly confine ourselves to the very language of Holy Writ, and admit of no doctrines but what are there in so many words and syllables delivered. Now, true it is that the Scriptures are the adequate rule of our faith; but then it is not also true, nor by us confessed, that nothing is to be looked upon as taught us in Scripture but what is there in so many words delivered. It is the doctrine of our Church that “the Holy Scripture containeth all things necessary to our salvation; so that nothing is to be required of any man to be believed as an article of faith, which is not read therein, or which may not be proved thereby.” This disjunction would be unnecessary if there were not some things which, though they are not read therein, may yet be proved thereby. What is rightly inferred from the Scriptures doth as much challenge our assent as what is literally delivered in the Scriptures.
I. I am to prove this doctrine from the authority and example of Christ and his apostles. Christ and His apostles often make use of reasoning, both for the establishment of those truths which they taught, and for the confutation of those errors which they opposed. When the tempter took up our Saviour “into an exceeding high mountain and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world, and the glory of them,” etc. (Matthew 4:8-9; Deuteronomy 6:13; Deuteronomy 5:16). Now these reasonings of our Saviour against His worshipping Satan, and throwing Himself down, are inconclusive if we may not argue from Scripture, and if we must admit of nothing as taught therein which is not there set down in express words, since neither is it said in the former of these texts, that Satan is not to be worshipped, nor in the latter that Christ might not throw Himself down from the pinnacle of the temple. When the Sadducees put captious questions to our Saviour about the resurrection of the dead, He showed the weakness of their objections against it by proving to them that the doctrine by them opposed was taught by Moses, whose authority they did not, and could not, dispute (Matthew 22:31-32). But if those who are against all reasoning from Scripture, who will admit of nothing but what is directly therein contained, had been in the place of the Sadducees, they would not so easily have yielded to our Saviour’s argument; they would have rejected this testimony from Moses as not direct, and would have required a more formal and plain proof. The apostles, in their writings, follow the steps of their Lord and Master, and prove the truths of the gospel against the Jews, who gainsayed them, not from any passages in the Old Testament in which the gospel truths are expressly and in so many words laid down, but by arguments and reasons drawn from the writings of Moses and the prophets. Thus St. Peter (Acts 3:22) proves the coming of Christ from those words of Moses (Deuteronomy 18:15), and His resurrection (Acts 2:27) from that place of the Psalms (Psalms 10:10). After the same manner St. Paul (Romans 4:7) proves that we are justified, not by the law, but by grace, from those words of the Psalmist (Psalms 32:1). He proves (Romans 9:33) the rejection of the Jews from the prophecy of Isaiah. (Isaiah 28:16), and the vocation of the Gentiles (Romans 9:25), from Hosea’s having brought in God, saying (Hosea 2:23). This way of arguing he at all times, and in all parts of his writings, makes use of; from those truths which are expressly read in Scripture, by the laws of reasoning he infers other doctrines which are not there formerly read, but which do from them follow, and are therefore in them virtually contained. Now it is evident, and on all hands acknowledged, that this assertion, “Jesus is the Christ,” is nowhere laid down in these very words throughout the writings of the Old Testament. Moses and the Prophets do indeed bear witness to Him, but in the testimony they give they nowhere formally declare that Jesus is the Christ. How, then, could the apostles demonstrate this proposition from their writings? Do they not refer us to such passages in the prophets from whence this doctrine, which is not in express words asserted, is by right reasoning regularly deduced? From the several parts of the Old Testament, compared one with another, they form the character of the Messiah, and then they prove that this character did truly belong to that Jesus whom they affirmed to be the Messiah. This method of proving St. Luke has expressed in very proper and apposite words, when he tells us that St. Paul “reasoned out of the Scriptures, opening and alleging.” The apostle first opened to them the sense of the prophets, explained their words, and when he had thus shown what their scope was, he did then apply the prophesies thus explained to the person, doctrine, and works of Jesus; he compared the predictions with the events, the shadows with the bodies, the figures with the things prefigured; so that by this method the truth of the gospel which they preached was irrefragably demonstrated. Since, therefore, this way of arguing was made use of by Christ and His apostles, we must acknowledge that those things are rightly proved out of Scripture which do evidently follow from the doctrines taught in Scripture, though they are not in so many words anywhere to be found in the Word of God. And as we have the example of Christ and His apostles warranting us, so we have their commands enjoining us to make use of this method of reasoning. Our Saviour bids the Jews (John 5:39) to search the Scriptures, not barely to consult them, but to compare them; not only to find what they expressly, but what they implicitly taught; not only to read what was plainly said in them, but to discover what might manifestly be deduced from them. The Holy Scriptures would not be so perfect a rule of faith or manners, of what we ought to believe and do, as they are if we were left to judge of either only by what we are there in so many words expressly taught, and might not use our own reasons to infer from them some necessary truths, and some important duties which are there, though not in terms delivered. He would be thought very ridiculous who should plead his being under no obligation from the Scripture to obey the lawful commands of a sovereign princess, because, though he is there required to honour the king, he nowhere reads that he is to honour the queen, and that man is equally absurd who hath no better reason for the denial of a Trinity than that he nowhere finds She word “Trinity” in the Scriptures, though the doctrine by that word signified is therein contained.
II. But against what hath been delivered it may be urged that if we thus give a firm assent to any truths which are not plainly and expressly taught in Scripture, but are only inferred from thence by our own reason, then we make our faith to depend, not upon the word of God, but upon our own reason. But it might as well be urged that when St. Paul sayeth (Romans 10:17) that “faith cometh by hearing,” we make our faith to depend, not upon the testimony of God, but upon the sense of hearing. The ear is that organ or instrument by which we perceive the Word of God preached to us; but the authority of God is that ground or reason upon which we believe the Word of God which we hear. So our reason, or our understanding, is that faculty by which we perceive and know what things are taught us in Scripture: by that we understand the sense and meaning of what is there revealed; but it is the authority of God, who inspired the penmen of Holy Writ, and who by the guidance of this Holy Spirit secured them from error, upon which we found our belief of what, by the use of our reason, we discover to be by them taught. Those who ascribe thus much and no more than this to reason demand only the liberty of opening their own eyes, and of seeing the wonderful things of God’s law; they do not pretend that it is given to them to reveal any new truths to mankind, nor do they usurp an unwarrantable power of framing new articles of faith. All that they demand or ask is, that the right of making use of their own faculties, which is given to everyone by nature, and by the God of nature, may not be denied to them. There is no need that a man should be a prophet, or that he should have any extraordinary capacities of mind, or illuminations of the Spirit, to understand that the same Scriptures which teach him that all men have sinned do consequentially teach him that he is a sinner, or that the Word of God, which doth expressly deny that any “shall perish who believe in Christ,” doth at the same time virtually pronounce that if he believes he shall not perish. But those who are against all reasoning from Scripture will again ask how can we be sure that the consequences which we draw from Scripture are just and regular? For may not our reason misguide us? And may we not, through mistake, infer such doctrines from Scripture which do by no means follow from it? And if we may be mistaken, why should we venture to believe anything which we think follows from Scripture, but which after all perhaps does not follow? Now, if this reasoning is good, there is an end of all certainty, not only in those inferences which are made from Scripture, and which are levelled against by this sort of arguing, but also in those things which are plainly and expressly taught in Scripture. Men have been mistaken in their judgments concerning things formally delivered in the Word of God. But will it not be said that, if there is any occasion for our drawing inferences from Scripture, then it is plain that the Scriptures are not so easy and clear as they are by the Protestants generally said to be? If we must not only believe what we read in Scripture, but what can be proved from thence, then none will be able to know what is taught in Scripture but such as have skill in drawing consequences; and at this rate we must be skilled in logic before we can pretend to “understand the Scriptures.” To this I answer that those are very much mistaken who think that we, who maintain the perspicuity of the Scriptures, do assert them to be so easy, as that there should be no use of our rational faculties rightly to understand them. What St. Peter (2 Peter 3:16) saith of the Epistles of St. Paul, we believe of other parts of Holy Writ, that “there are some things in them hard to be understood,” and we do not contend that everything therein delivered is suited to the apprehensions of all readers, but only that those things, which all are indispensably bound to know for their soul’s health, are by all, upon the use of due diligence, intelligible. And even as to those truths which are necessarily to be known in order to our everlasting salvation, we do not affirm that wherever they are delivered in Scripture they are expressed in such terms as to leave no room for a mistake; but that somewhere or other in Holy Writ, they are so expressed that it must be our own fault if we do not rightly apprehend them. We believe, for instance, that the incarnation of Christ, His passion, and resurrection are taught by the prophets as well as by the apostles; but we do not believe that they are so explicitly and fully revealed by the prophets as by the apostles. What is obscurely hinted in the Old Testament is manifestly explained in the New. And when we affirm that the Scriptures are in some points thus intelligible by all Christians, we do not pretend that they may be understood without attention, diligence, and inquiry; but that we may be capable of knowing their sense with the use of these, and other proper methods of gaining instruction. Some truths indeed are written in so large characters that he that runs may read them; but for the discovery of other truths revealed in Scripture, the words by which they are conveyed to our understandings are to be carefully weighed, the sense of them to be nicely and accurately inquired into; all passions and prejudices that may any ways bias our judgments are to be laid aside. In the understanding of such truths as these, there being more room for mistake, there is more occasion for our caution, and the way which we are to go being more intricate, it will be proper for us to take in the assistance of a guide. What of ourselves we could not discover, we may be able to perceive when discovered to us by others, in which case we do not implicitly follow the judgment of those whom we consult, but have our own judgments informed by theirs; we do not see with other men’s eyes, but those truths which before were obscure to us, are by others, of greater penetration than ourselves, placed in so clear a light that we may now plainly perceive them with our own eyes; we do not in such a ease follow our instructors, as blind men do their guides, trusting to their guidance without seeing which way they go; but we make such use of them as persons in the dark do of those who carry a light before them to show them the way and to direct their paths. (Bp. Smalridge.)
I. Paul usually proved the truth of the doctrines which he taught. He did not desire his hearers to believe without evidence. He commended the Bereans, for searching the Scriptures, to see whether his doctrines were agreeable to that standard. In order to reason clearly upon the truth of a proposition, it is often necessary to explain it, to produce arguments in support of it, to answer objections against it. By Paul’s proving the doctrines which he taught, we are to understand his reasoning upon them in this manner. This will appear in respect to a variety of subjects upon which he preached. He reasoned plainly and forcibly upon--
1. The existence of God (verses 23-29; Romans 1:20).
2. The Divine sovereignty (Romans 9:1-33).
3. Total depravity (Romans 2:3).
4. Here it was Christ’s sufferings, death, and resurrection.
5. The resurrection and future state (1 Corinthians 15:1-58).
When Paul preached before Felix, “he reasoned” so that “Felix trembled.” Immediately after he was converted he preached Christ, and reasoned so that he confounded the Jews. After he came to Corinth he “reasoned in the synagogue every Sabbath, and persuaded the Jews and the Greeks.” At length he came to Ephesus, where he reasoned with the Jews, “disputing and persuading the things concerning the kingdom of God.”
II. Why he made this his common practice.
1. Because he meant to preach the gospel intelligibly to persons of all characters and capacities, and he knew that in order to do this it was necessary to explain its doctrines, to prove them to be true, that they might be believed; and to answer objections, that the mouths of gainsayers might be stopped.
2. Because he meant to preach profitably, as well as plainly. It is only through the medium of the understanding and the conscience that preachers can affect the hearts of the hearers.
1. It appears from Paul’s usual mode of preaching that he was a metaphysical preacher. For, in the first place, he usually preached upon metaphysical subjects, which required the exercise of the highest reasoning powers of man--the existence, the perfections, the sovereignty of God, the free agency of man under a Divine agency, the divinity and atonement of Christ, the nature of holiness, etc., etc.; and he preached upon them metaphysically, that is, he reasoned upon them. He did not merely declaim upon them; but he explained them, proved them, and refuted the most plausible objections ever made against them. Let any minister, at this day, commonly preach upon the same subjects, and in the same manner that Paul did, and he will be called a metaphysical preacher, by those who are pleased with such a different mode of preaching. And we must allow that they are perfectly correct.
2. If Paul preached in such a manner, then none have any good reason to speak reproachfully of his manner of preaching.
(1) Some may say that Christ did not preach metaphysically, but only taught plain, practical doctrines, without reasoning upon them; and therefore ministers should follow his example. Answer: There is reason to think that Paul felt his obligation to follow the example of Christ, as much as any preacher ever did. And so far as he deviated from Christ’s example in preaching, he acted from pure and proper motives. And it is easy to see a good reason why Christ did not undertake to prove the doctrines He taught, for He taught as one having authority that none ought to dispute. But neither Paul nor any other human preacher is clothed with such authority.
(2) Some may say that those who preach upon the same subjects in the same manner that Paul did, do not preach plainly and practically; and therefore are unprofitable preachers. But if Paul was a plain and profitable preacher, why should not those be? And who indeed, generally preach the most plainly and successfully? No man ever preached like metaphysical Paul.
3. If Paul, for good reasons, adopted the very best mode, then no other reason can be assigned for disliking it, but a dislike to the doctrines, which his mode of preaching exhibits in the clearest and strongest light.
4. If Paul preached plainly, in order to preach profitably, then other ministers ought to preach plainly, for the same purpose. Paul’s plain preaching offended and disaffected many of his hearers. But this did not prevent his preaching plainly; for his design in preaching was not to please men, but to profit them, and please God (Galatians 1:6-10).
5. If ministers ought to preach plainly and profitably, as Paul did, then people ought to approve of their preaching in such a manner, though it be not pleasing to their natural hearts. People have no right to desire preachers to seek to please them simply, but they ought to desire them to seek to save them. (N. Emmons, D. D.)
Opening and alleging.
Paul’s treatment of the Old Testament
He treated it as a nut. He broke the shell, opened out the kernel, and presented it as food to the hungry. The Jews were like little children who had a fruit tree in their garden, their father’s legacy. The children had gathered the nuts as they grew, and laid them up with reverence in a storehouse; but they knew not how to break open the shell, and so reach the kernel for food. Paul acts the part of elder brother to their little ones. He skilfully pierces the crust and extracts the fruit, and divides it among them. The passage, e.g., that Philip found the Ethiopian reading on the road, or the second psalm, he opened, and from it brought Christ. (W. Arnot, D. D.)
Devout Greeks,…chief women,…Jews which believed not.--
Why Gentiles and women became converts more easily than Jews
The inveterate obstinacy of the Jews contrasted sadly with the ready conversion of the Gentiles, and especially of women, who in all ages have been more remarkable than men for religious earnestness, is a phenomenon which constantly recurs in the early history of Christianity. Nor is this wholly to be wondered at. The Jew was at least in possession of a religion which raised him to a height of moral superiority above his Gentile contemporaries; but the Gentile of this day had no religion at all worth speaking of. If the Jew had more and more mistaken the shell of ceremonialism for the precious truths of which that ceremonialism was but the integument, he was at least conscious that there were deep truths which lay enshrined behind the observances which he so fanatically cherished. But on what deep truths could the Greek woman rest, if her life were pure, and her thoughts elevated above the ignorant domesticism which was the only recognised virtue of her sex? What comfort was there for her in the cold grey eyes of Athene, or the stereotyped smile of the voluptuous Aphrodite? And when the Thessalonian Greek raised his eyes to the dispeopled heaven of the Olympus, which towered over the blue gulf on which his city stood--when his imagination could no longer place the throne of Zeus, and the session of his mighty deities, on that dazzling summit where Cicero had remarked with pathetic irony that he saw nothing but snow and ice--what compensation could he find for the void left in his heart by a dead religion? By adopting circumcision he might become, as it were, a Helot of Judaism; and to such a sacrifice he was not tempted. But the gospel which Paul preached had no esoteric doctrines, and no supercilious exclusions, and no repellent ceremonials; it came with a Divine Example, and a free gift to all, and that free gift involved all that was most precious to the troubled and despondent soul. No wonder, then, that the Church at Thessalonica was mainly Gentile, as is proved by 1Th 1:9; 1 Thessalonians 2:14, and by the total absence of any Old Testament allusion in both Epistles. (Archdeacon Farrar.)
But the Jews which believed not, moved with envy.--
The spirit of envy
Alas! for this spirit of envy and jealousy coming down through the ages. Cain and Abel, Esau and Jacob, Saul and David, Haman and Mordecai, Othello and Iago, Orlando and Angelica, Caligula and Torquatus, Caesar and Pompey, Columbus and the Spanish courtiers, Cambyses and the brother he slew because he was a better marksman, Dionysius and Philoxenius whom he slew because he was a better singer. Jealousy among painters. Closterman and Geoffrey Kneller, Hudson and Reynolds. Francis anxious to see a picture of Raphael, Raphael sends him a picture. Francis, seeing it, falls in a fit of jealousy, from which he dies. Jealousy among authors. How seldom contemporaries speak of each other! Xenophon and Plato living at the same time, but from their writings you would never suppose they had heard of each other. Religious jealousies. The Mohammedans praying for rain during a drought, no rain coming. Then the Christians began to pray for rain, and the rain comes. Then the Mohammedans met together to account for this, and they resolved that God was so well pleased with their prayers He kept the drought on so as to keep them praying; but that the Christians began to pray, and the Lord was so disgusted with their prayer that He sent rain right away, so He would not hear any more of their supplication! Oh! this accursed spirit of envy and jealousy. Let us stamp it out from all our hearts. A wrestler was so envious of Theagenes, the prince of wrestlers, that he could not be consoled in any way, and after Theagenes died and a statue was lifted to him in a public place, his envious antagonist went out every night and wrestled with the statue, until, one night, he threw it, and it fell on him and crushed him to death. So jealousy is not only absurd, but it is killing to the body, and it is killing to the soul. (T. De Witt Talmage.)
These that have turned the world upside down are come hither also.
The world turned upside down
This is just an old version of an oft-repeated story. It was laid to the charge of our Master that He was a stirrer of sedition, whereas He had refused to be a king, for He said, “My kingdom is not of this world”; yet was He crucified under the two false charges of sedition and blasphemy. The same thing occurred with the apostles. This plan was followed afterwards. There was never a calamity befell Rome but the multitude cried, “The Christians to the lions! The Christians have done this.” And to this day the world still lays its ills at the door of the Christians. Was it not the foolish cry that the great massacre and mutiny in India was caused by the missionaries? But the calumny is too idle to need a refutation. Can it be true, that He whose gospel is love should be the fomenter of disturbance? Did He not Himself pay tribute, and have not His followers at all times been a peaceful generation?--save only and except where the liberty of their conscience was touched. But still, as there is many a true word spoken in jest, so there is many a true word spoken in malice. Christ’s gospel does turn the world upside down. It was the wrong way upwards before, and now that the gospel is preached, and when it shall prevail, it will just set the world right by turning it upside down. See this--
I. In the world at large. As regards--
1. Character. In the esteem of men, the kingdom of heaven is something like this. High there on the summit sits the great philosopher, the immensely intellectual man. Just below him there is a class--not quite so skilled, but still exceeding wise--who look down at those who stand at the base as the ignoble multitude who know nothing at all. A little lower down, we come to those who seldom will be taught, because they in their own opinion know all there is to be learned. Then after them come a still larger number, who are exceeding wise in worldly wisdom. Lower still are those who have just a respectable amount of knowledge; and then at the very basement are the fool and the babe. How wide the distinction between the simpleton who forms the base, and the wise man who stands resplendent at the apex of the pyramid! Now, see how Christ turns the world upside down. “Except ye be converted, and become as little children,” etc. “God hath chosen the poor of this world,” etc. If you wish to see the world turned upside down to perfection, turn to Matthew 5:1-48.
(1) “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Now, we like a man who has an ambitious spirit, and also a man who has a very fair opinion of himself. But Christ just turns that upside down. The men who have no strength of their own, but look for all to Christ; who seek not to lift their heads above their fellows; who, if they be great, have greatness thrust upon them, but never seek it the world says they are soft; but Christ puts those on the top whom the world puts at the bottom.
(2) There is another lot who are always mourning. They do not let you see it often, but they mourn for their own sin, and then for the sin of the times. The world says they are a moping, melancholy set; but Christ turns the world upside down, and those whom you think to be sorrowful, are the very ones who are to rejoice. Yes, worldling, your joy is like the crackling of thorns under a pot. It blazeth a little, and maketh a great noise: it is soon done with. But “light is sown for the righteous, and gladness for the upright in heart.” You cannot see the light now, because it is sown. But when Christ comes to turn the world upside down, they shall be comforted.
(3) Then there is another race called “the meek.” I know a man who never feels happy unless he has a lawsuit. A slight affront he would not easily forget. Now the meek are of a very different disposition. They do not put themselves into a passion on a slight affront, for they know that all men are imperfect, and therefore think that perhaps their brother made a mistake. They are quite content to bear and forbear, and put up with a thousand injuries rather than inflict one, though people say, “Such a man as that will never get on; he will always be taken in; he has no strength of mind.” Ay, but Christ turns it upside down, and He says, “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.” Is not that provoking to you graspers, you high-spirited people? you do it in order that you may inherit the earth: see how Christ spites you, and treads your wisdom under feet. After all, the best way to get our rights is to let them alone. The safest way to defend your character is never to say a word about it. Our enemies cannot hurt us, unless we hurt ourselves.
(4) Do you see that gentleman who attends church, reads his Bible, and has family prayers? It is true that he is hard upon his labourers, and exacting at times in his payments; but does justice to all men. This man is on very good terms with himself; and compliments himself on being a very excellent person. If you speak to him about his state before God, he says, that if he does not go to heaven nobody will; for he pays twenty shillings in the pound, and no one can find any fault with his character. Don’t you envy him? Well, now, do you see Standing at the back of the church there a poor woman? She dares not speak in the presence of respectable persons; but we gather thus much from her: She has lately found out that she is full of sin, and she desires to know what she must do to be saved. The man stands at the top of the ladder, and this poor woman at the bottom. Now just see the gospel process--the world turned upside down. “Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled.”
(5) “Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy.” The merciful are not much respected in this world; the man who forgives too much, or who is too generous, is not considered to be wise. But Christ declares that he who has been merciful shall obtain mercy.
(6) “Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God.” The world says, “Blessed is the man who indulges in a gay life.”
(7) And now look at the ninth verse. You walk through London, and there, in another place, a duke, a mighty man of war. But Christ says, “Blessed are the peacemakers; for they shall be called the children of God.” Here is the world turned upside down. The warrior with his garment stained in blood is put into the ignoble earth, to die and rot; but the peacemaker is lifted up, and God’s crown of blessing is put round about his head.
(8) We find a race who have always been hated, about whom He says, “Blessed are they who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” The whole of these beatitudes are just in conflict with the world’s opinion.
2. Maxims. “It was said by them of old time, eye for eye and tooth for tooth; but I say unto you, resist not evil.” “Whosoever would sue thee at the law and take thy cloak, let him take thy coat also.” “If any man smite thee on the one cheek, turn unto him the other also.” “It has been said by them of old time, love thy neighbour and hate thine enemy”; but Jesus Christ said, “Let love be unto all men.” We are told that it is good to a man to make himself rich, but Christ called a certain rich man “Thou fool!” You would have made an Alderman of him or a Lord Mayor.
3. Religious notions. The world’s religion is--“Do, and thou shalt live”; Christ’s religion is--“Believe and live.” We will have it, that if a man be righteous, sober, upright, he shall enter the kingdom of heaven; but Christ says--This thou oughtest to have done; but still, not this can ever cleanse thee.
II. In the heart. Man is a little world, and what God does in the outer world, He does in the inner. If any of you would be saved, your hearts must be turned upside down.
1. Your judgment. Cannot many of you say that which you now believe to be the truth of God is very far opposed to your former carnal notions?
2. Your hopes. They used to be all for this world. If you could but get rich, he great and honoured, you would be happy! Now your hopes are not on earth; for where your treasure is, there must your heart be also.
3. Your pleasures. You loved the tavern once; you hate it now. You hated God’s house once; it is now your much-loved habitation. The song, the Sunday newspaper, the lewd novel--all these were sweet to your taste; but you have burned the books that once enchanted you, and now the Bible is read and delighted in. The Sabbath was once the dullest day of the week. There are some of you who once loved nothing better than the theatre. You seek now the gathering of the righteous.
4. Your house. Look over the mantelpiece. There is a vile daub of a picture there, and the subject is worse than the style of the thing. But when the man follows Jesus he takes that down, and gets a print of some good old subject representing something Biblical. There is a pack of cards and a cribbage board in the cupboard; he turns them out, and instead he puts there good literature. The children say, “Father is so altered.” He used to come home drunk, and the children used to run upstairs; and now little John and little Sarah sit at the window and watch till he comes home, He used to teach them to sing “Begone, dull care,” or something worse; now he tells them of “Gentle Jesus, meek and mild.” A jolly set of companions he used to have come to see him on a Sunday afternoon; but that is all done with. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The world is wrong-side up, and it needs to be turned upside-down in order that it may be right-side up. The time was when men wrote “Apologies for Christianity.” I hope that day has passed. We want no more apologies for Christianity. We do not mean to make any compromise in the matter. We do not wish to hide the fact that Christianity is revolutionary, and that its tendency is to turn the world upside-down. Our religion has often been misrepresented as though it were a refined imbecility; a spiritual chloroform. The Bible, so far from this, represents it as ransacking and upsetting ten thousand things that now seem to be settled on firm foundations. I hear some man say: “I thought religion was peace.” That is the final result. A man’s arm is out of place. Two men come, and with great effort put it back in the socket. It goes back with great pain. Then it gets well. Our world is horribly disordered and out of joint. It must come under an omnipotent surgery, beneath which there will be pain and anguish before there can come perfect health and quiet. The religion of the Bible will make a revolution--
I. In the family. Those things that are wrong will be overthrown by it, while justice and harmony will take their place. The husband will be head of the household only when he is fit to be. If the wife have more of all that is right, she shall have the supremacy. There is no human or Divine law that makes a woman subordinate to a man unworthy of her. As religion comes in at the front door, mirth and laughter will not go out at the back door. John will laugh just as loud; and George will jump higher than he ever did before. It will establish a family altar. Hannah will rear her Samuel for the temple; a Mary and Martha, and Lazarus will gather in fraternal and sisterly affection in a home in which Jesus dwells. The religion of Jesus will overthrow all jealousies, all janglings; and peace, and order, and holiness will take possession of the home.
II. In commercial. Circles. Find fifty merchants, and you find fifty standards of what is right and wrong. You say to someone about a merchant, “Is he honest? Oh yes, but he grinds the faces of his clerks; or he exaggerates the value of his goods,” etc. Ah! there is but one standard of the everlastingly right and wrong, and that is the Bible; and when that principle shall get its pry under our commercial houses, one half of them will go over. “What is the matter? Has there been a fall in gold?” “No.” “Has there been a new tariff?” “No.” “Has there been a failure in crops?” “No.” “Has there been an unaccountable panic?” “No.” The Lord has set up His throne of judgment in the exchange. What was 1837? What was 1857? What was 1869? A day of judgment. Do you think that God is going to wait until He has burned the world up before He rights these wrongs? The fraudulent man piles up his gains until his property has become a great pyramid; and as he stands looking at it he thinks it can never be destroyed; but the Lord pushes it all over. You build a house, and you put into it a rotten beam. The house is completed. Soon it begins to rock. You call in the mechanics and ask, “What is the matter?” Says the mechanic, “You put a rotten beam into that structure, and the whole thing has got to come down.” Here is an estate that seems to be all right now. It has been building a great many years. But fifteen years ago there was a dishonest transaction, and that will keep on working ruin until down the estate will come in wreck and ruin about the possessor’s ears. I have seen it again and again. The time will come when, through the revolutionary power of this gospel, a falsehood, instead of being called exaggeration, equivocation, or evasion, will be branded a lie! And stealings, that now sometimes go under the head of percentages, and commissions, and bonuses, will be put into the catalogue of state prison offences. Society will be turned upside down, until business dishonesties shall come to an end.
III. In our churches. The non-committal, do-nothing policy will give way to a spirit of bravest conquest. Fiery in this day is salted down just so as to keep. The Church is chiefly anxious to take care of itself; and if we hear of want, and squalour, and heathenism outside, we say, “What a pity!” and we put our hands in our pockets, and we feel around for a two-cent piece, and with a great flourish we put it upon the plate, and are amazed that the world is not converted in six weeks. Suppose there were a great war; and there were three hundred thousand soldiers, but all except ten men were in their tents, or scouring their muskets, or cooking rations. You would say, “Of course, defeat must come in that case.” Millions of the professed soldiers of Jesus Christ are cooking rations, or asleep in their tents, while only one man here and there goes out to do battle for the Lord. “But,” says someone, “we are establishing a great many missions.” Yes, and they are doing a magnificent work; but every mission chapel is a confession of the disease and weakness of the Church. It is saying to the rich, “If you can pay pew rents, come to the main audience room.” It is saying to the poor, “Your coat is too bad, and your shoes are not good enough. You will have to go by the way of the mission chapel.” The mission chapel has become the kitchen, where the Church does its sloppy work. There are hundreds of churches--gorgeously built and supported--that, even on bright days, are not half full; and yet they are building mission chapels, because the great masses of the people are kept out of the main audience room. Now I say that any place of worship which is appropriate for one class is appropriate for all classes. Let the rich and the poor meet together the Lord, the Maker of them all. Revolution! The pride, the exclusiveness, the financial boastings of the Church must come down! It may be that, before the Church learns its duty to the masses, God will scourge it and drive out the money changers. It may be that there is to be a great day of upsetting before that time shall come. In that future day of the reconstructed Church of Christ, the church building will be the most cheerful of all buildings. The pure atmosphere of heaven will sweep out the fetid atmosphere that has been kept in many of our churches boxed up from Sunday to Sunday. The day of which I speak will be a day of great revivals. (T. De Witt Talmage, D. D.)
The charge of sedition and faction against good men, especially faithful ministers, considered and accounted for
In discoursing upon this subject, it is proposed, through the assistance of Divine grace--
I. By a short historical deduction to show that the character of seditious, troublesome, and disorderly, hath been constantly given by wicked men to the servants of God. It would not be difficult to point out something of this spirit prevailing in the world, from the life of almost every good man whose name stands upon record, however short and general the account be that is given of many of them in Scripture. I shall content myself with some leading instances, in very different ages, from the earliest to the latest times. The first I shall mention is 1 Kings 18:17. Another instance may be found in Jehoshaphat and Ahab’s consultation before going out to battle (1 Kings 22:7-8). Here, you see, Micaiah was the object of aversion because he denounced the judgment of God against the king’s wickedness. See an instance of a general accusation of this kind against all the worshippers of the true God by Haman (Esther 3:8). The prophet Jeremiah met with the same treatment at different times. Neither prince, nor priests, nor prophets, were able to bear without resentment the threatenings which he denounced in the name of God (Jeremiah 26:8-9; Jeremiah 26:11; Jeremiah 37:13; Jeremiah 38:4). The prophet Amos is another instance, precisely parallel to the last. Because of his fidelity to God he was invidiously represented as an enemy to the king (Amos 7:10). Our Lord fell under the same accusation. However plain and artless His carriage, He is called a deceiver of the people (John 7:12). His enemies endeavoured to embroil Him with the civil government by this insidious question, “Is it lawful to give tribute to Caesar or not?” And that which brought Him at last to the Cross was the same pretended crime (John 19:12). I shall close this view of the Scripture history with the passage of which my text is a part. The whole crime of the Apostle Paul and his companion was preaching the doctrine of the cross of Christ, his great and darling theme. Having produced these instances from Scripture, which is liable to no exception, I shall say but little on the subsequent periods of the Church. Whoever will take the pains to look into the history of the Church before the Reformation, cannot fail to observe, that when anyone, either among the clergy or laity, was bold enough to reprove the errors in doctrine, or the ambition, luxury, and worldly lives of his contemporaries, he was immediately branded as a factious and disorderly person, and often severely punished as an enemy to the peace of the Church.
II. We proceed now to inquire, what it is in true religion that gives occasion to this charge, and makes the world prone to believe it.
1. The example of the servants of God is a continual and sensible reproach to the contrary conduct of the men of the world. As a deceived heart turns the wicked aside, so the continuance of self-deceit is necessary to his tasting those pleasures of sin in which his mistaken happiness is placed. To reproach his conduct, therefore, is to disturb his dream, and to wound his peace. And as pride, however finely disguised, has the dominion in every unrenewed heart, bow offensive must every species of reproof be to men of this character? Now, is not the example of every good man a severe though silent reproof to the wicked? And, as every worldly man’s own conscience is thus made troublesome to him by the example of the children of God, so it tends to set sinners at variance with one another, and exposes the conduct of each to the censure of the rest. Sin, however universally practised, is yet generally shameful. Conscience though bribed, and comparatively blind in a man’s own case, is often just and impartial, at least under far less bias in the case of others. It is in this way, and in this way alone, that the public honour and credit of religion is preserved amidst so great a majority who are enemies to it in their hearts. Must not, then, the example of a strict and conscientious person, set in the strongest light the faults of those who act a contrary part, so often as they happen to fall under observation together. Nay, does it not open the eyes of the world upon many lesser blemishes which would otherwise escape its notice?
2. Another reason why the servants of God are represented as troublesome is, because they will not, and dare not, comply with the sinful commandments of men. In matters merely civil, good men are the most regular citizens and the most obedient subjects. But, as they have a Master in heaven, no earthly power can constrain them to deny His name or desert His cause (chap. 4:19). With what invincible constancy did Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego refuse to bow before Nebuchadnezzar’s golden image? The case of Daniel was perfectly similar, whom even the king’s commandment could not restrain from prayer to God. There is a love of dominion natural to all men, which is under no control or restraint in those who are void of religion. This must naturally dispose them to carry on their schemes, and to insist on having them universally complied with. It frets and provokes them, therefore, to find any who will not be subservient to their pleasures. How few are able to bear this with patience, the history of the world in every age is one continued proof. Such refusals, also, do always reflect some dishonour upon the measures to which they stand in opposition. Whatever any person refuses to do, he, as far as in him lies, represents as wrong and sinful; and, in some respects, unworthy or unfit to be done. Thus it comes to be considered, not only as withdrawing his own allegiance, but as corrupting and seducing others.
3. One other reason why the servants of God are accused as troublesome is, because they are, in many instances, obliged to bear testimony against the sins of others, and openly to reprove them (Leviticus 19:17). Some sins are so flagrant in their nature, that even to witness them with silence would imply some participation of the guilt. In such cases it is the glory of the poorest and meanest servant of God to resent the dishonour that is done to His name, and reprove the most exalted sinner. But this duty, and the odium arising from it, falls most frequently to the share of the prophets and ministers of God, who have received a commission to speak in His name and to plead His cause. How offensive this to human pride! It must certainly either convince or provoke, reform or inflame. How many martyrs to truth have there been since the world began! But there cannot be a better example, or indeed a more lively and well-drawn picture of the effect of plain and just reproof, than in the case of Stephen when pleading his cause before the Jewish rulers (Acts 7:51-52; Acts 7:54). It is plainly for this reason that the apostles, in their prayers for assistance, do almost constantly ask that they may be endued with a proper degree of boldness and resolution (Acts 4:29; Eph 7:19; 2 Thessalonians 3:2). It is very natural for everyone, at this distance, to imagine that he could have been in no danger of making such an obstinate resistance to the truth, or persecuting, with such implacable enmity, those who espoused it. But all worldly men, in every age, have still the same abhorrence of the faithful servants of God; the same impatience of reproof when it touches themselves. I have taken notice above that in every period of the Church, the most faithful of the servants and ministers of God have, in fact, been counted troublesome by corrupt and worldly men. The same passages of history constantly show that this has arisen chiefly from their attempts to stem the tide of prevailing vice; from their boldness and faithfulness in reproving fashionable crimes. In the twelfth century, Arnulphus, a devout man and excellent preacher, speaks thus to the clergy: “I know that you seek my life, and will shortly kill me. But why? I speak the truth to you, I reprehend your pride and haughtiness, avarice and luxury; therefore I please you not.”
III. Practical improvement.
1. You may learn from what has been said upon this subject the just and proper answer to an objection against the gospel, much insisted on by its enemies, viz., That it has introduced persecution for conscience’ sake, with which the world was in a great measure unacquainted before. There are few subjects on which infidels enlarge with greater pleasure, than the cruel animosity that has prevailed, the savage and inhuman massacres that have been perpetrated on a religious account since the publication of the gospel, I think this objection is but seldom answered as it might be. It is usually observed that whatever may have been done by those professing the gospel, there is no countenance given in it to such a spirit and practice. But the objection is not wholly removed while infidels are allowed still to contend that persecution has been its constant attendant and inseparable effect. We ought, therefore, to wrest this argument out of their hands, and first to produce this fact as an accomplishment of our Saviour’s prediction (Matthew 10:34-36). Having gone thus far, we have reason to contend that the disciples of Christ have always suffered, and never inflicted the injury, though they have often been obliged to bear the blame. The multitude of heathen religions, though not always, yet did generally agree together: and well they might, for they were all from the same author. None of them, however, could agree with the gospel, for this plain reason, that “no lie is of the truth.” But from what quarter did the violence proceed? Did not the dreadful persecutions against the Christians, in the three first centuries, proceed from the heathens? Did the Christians commit any other crime against them, than pointing out the sin and danger of their idolatrous worship and immoral practices? Was not this alone sufficient to raise a cry against them, as turning the world upside down? And in all the subsequent persecutions among professing Christians, was it anything else than the proud, violent, and worldly spirit of those who made a gain of godliness, oppressing the few real believers of every denomination?
2. From what hath been said you may see the guilt and danger of those who falsely accuse the children of God. Nay, our present state as a Church and nation, seems to render such a warning peculiarly seasonable. We have long enjoyed outward peace. In every other country this has introduced a worldly spirit, ambition, luxury, and sloth. And is there no vestige of these characters among us now? Are there not some who cannot endure such strictness as is inconsistent with conformity to the gay and fashionable world? Do not all such incline to charge every profession of piety with hypocrisy? Do they not consider every faithful reprover as an enemy to their peace? Do they not hear with secret pleasure, and spread with apparent triumph, every report to the prejudice of such troublers of Israel? This, then, is the character, and as many of you as conscience charges with the guilt may see your danger. You may see whose cause you plead, and whose reward you shall share.
3. If this has been the constant lot of all the servants of God, to be accused as seditious and troublesome, let every cautious person beware of being misled by the persecuting cry.
4. Since the world is so prone to receive the accusation of faction against the children of God, let them be careful to give no real ground for it.
(1) Let all our zeal for the glory of God be conducted, not only with steadiness but with meekness.
(2) Let ministers take care to avoid officiously intermeddling in civil matters.
5. Since the charge of faction and sedition has been always brought against faithful ministers, let us learn to bear it with patience and never dissemble the truth, or depart in any measure from our duty in order to avoid it. (J. Witherspoon, D. D.)
The world turned upside down
We may regard the words in three points of view.
I. As an expression of the deep-seated hostility of the human heart against the gospel. The love of God--the service of God--the glory of God--the actual intercourse of the soul with God, are all in complete repugnance to the emotions and tastes of general society: therefore such a religion must be opposed and decried. But how shall this be done? It is too palpable a thing to say that we ought not to love God, or serve Him sincerely; but rather to be satisfied with a mere dead form of religion. Such language were too palpable an insult to the rights of Deity. To what delusion, then, must they have recourse in this perplexity? The difficulty has been met in this way. They affix a reproachful term to true religion, and then they proceed to decry it, under the shelter of that term. Thus they soothe their conscience under the sophistical delusion that it is error, rather than truth, which they oppose.
II. As a verification of the truth of Christianity. “The time will come,” are the words of its great Author to His little band of brethren, “when he that killeth you will think that he doeth God service.” “Ye shall be hated of all men for My name’s sake,” is another of His predictions. “All that will live godly in Christ Jesus, must suffer persecution.”
III. As the unwitting testimony of enemies to the power and design of the gospel. They said that the apostles were revolutionists, disturbers of the peace, preachers of another king--“one Jesus.” Politically, this was a gross falsehood: evangelically, it was, and still is, true. Sin has turned away the heart of man, his face, and feet, and hands, from God; and the gospel is the power of God unto salvation, by which the entire moral nature of man is to be changed and converted from darkness to light--from sin to holiness--from alienation to friendship--and from the vassalage of Satan unto liberty and life. (American National Preacher.)
The gospel a revolution
I. The gospel creates a disturbance.
1. Internally--in men’s hearts.
2. Externally--in their social relations.
II. The object of this disturbance.
1. Not the subversion, but the conversion of the world.
2. Not its destruction, but its salvation. (W. W. Wythe.)
Christianity a revolution
I. The broadest the world has ever seen.
1. By its breadth, it aims at the whole world.
2. By its depth, the territory of the spirit.
II. The most legitimate.
1. By its aim, the salvation of the world.
2. By the means employed, the weapons of the Spirit. (K. Gerok.)
The revolutionary spirit of Christianity
I. The world is wrong side up.
II. It wants turning upside down.
III. We are the men to do it. (Early Methodist Sermon.)
These do all contrary to the decrees of Caesar, saying that there is another King, one Jesus.
Christ versus Caesar
Thessalonica, though a free city, was yet under imperial government, and the Jews therefore appeal to the emperor’s decree, probably to the edict of Claudius (Acts 18:2), as at least showing the drift of the emperor’s policy, even though it was not strictly binding except in Rome and the coloniae. This, however, might prove an insufficient weapon of attack, and therefore they add another charge, to which no magistrate throughout the empire could be indifferent (Luke 23:2; John 19:12). The preachers were not only bringing in a relligio illicita, but were guilty of treason against the majesty of the empire; they said there was “another King.” It is clear from the Epistle to the Thessalonians that the kingdom of Christ, and specially His second coming as King, had been very prominent in the apostle’s teaching (1Th 4:14; 1 Thessalonians 5:2; 1Th 5:23; 2 Thessalonians 1:7-8; 2 Thessalonians 2:1-12, and this may have furnished materials for the accusation. (Dean Plumptre.)
The King of kings
I. His Personal attractions. “There is another King, one Jesus,” who is “fairer than the children of men.” Oh, how great is His beauty!
II. His regal grandeur. He is Lord of both the dead and the living.
III. The blessedness of his subjects.
IV. His duration. “His name shall be continued as long as the sun.” (R. C. Dillon, D. D.)
The King of kings, contrasted with the kings of the earth
I. The dignity of His person.
II. The extent of His empire. All created things are His.
III. The blessedness and security of His subjects. Who are so--
IV. The duration of His reign. “He shall reign forever and ever.” (W. Jay.)
Jesus a king
1. What a blank would be produced if all we know about kings and queens were destroyed! We are not to suppose that all have been like our own good Queen Victoria. What we know of kings and queens ought to make us very grateful that we live under such a reign.
2. Do not suppose that there are not any kings or queens but such as wear crowns. If a boy does what is right, serves and loves God, he is a king. If a girl is gentle, wise, pure, dutiful, she has graces which make her queenly. Kingly qualities have often been developed by the ordinary trades of life. The walks of literature also have produced many. So that in the history of the world we have had more monarchs without crowns than with. The Lord Jesus is King--
I. On the ground of right. He had the right of the Father’s appointment. We do not question the right of Moses to the leadership, or of David to kingship, or of St. Paul to the apostleship, because they received their offices from God. And it is quite as certain that Jesus received kingship from the same power. “Yet have I set My King upon My holy hill of Zion.”
II. Because of His perfect qualifications for the regal position. This is a great deal more than can be said about all kings. If experience and knowledge, if tenderness and power, if majesty and condescension, if dignity and humility, if wisdom and wealth, and if royal lineage and great personal virtues, can show qualification for government, then Jesus has such qualification without limit. “It pleased the Father that in Him should all fulness dwell.”
III. Because he has the hearty approval of his subjects. No king ever yet had the free, intelligent goodwill of his people so fully accorded him. Convene a meeting of all His subjects, not any of the crowned heads of Europe would secure one vote from the subjects of Jesus, in opposition to His monarchy. Every voter would say, “Jesus only, our King.”
IV. Because He issues law to His people and maintains respect for and obedience to the law He issues. What mighty contrasts exist between the laws of earthly sovereigns and those of Jesus! Human laws affect nations; Divine laws are for and affect everybody. Human laws have to be altered to suit altered circumstances, but “one jot or one tittle of His word shall not fail.” Laws here have been founded in error; Christ’s are founded in eternal truth. Laws are frequently hard to interpret correctly, and men of plain, simple minds, as well as astute lawyers, have made mistakes. Christ’s laws are all easy, simple, and plain.
V. Because He has power to enforce His will. No king, however large his army, or however great his power, ever had the might that Jesus has.
VI. Because He has a large retinue of illustrious persons. The retinue King Jesus has, and will have, will far surpass anything of the sort ever seen upon our earth--Abel, Noah, Abraham, David, etc. Yes, patriarchs looked forward to His day; prophets gladly announced His coming; kings and poets wrote of Him, and angels ministered unto Him. And now, as His chariot appears, they all say, “There is another King, one Jesus.” Look at the chariot. It is called the gospel. Its wheels are capable of travelling over any sort of roads, rough or smooth, hard or soft; through woods, across seas, or over deserts. The chariot itself is so strong that not all the powers of men and devils can break it. No time can cause it to decay, nor can any element impair its beauty. It is lined within and without with promises. It is so full of provisions that not the supply of all the wants of all men can possibly produce deficiency. And then this chariot is so large that there is room for all: and all who ride do so free of charge. Then, what steeds are drawing this chariot! The one is called “Love abounding,” and the other “Zeal undying”; and they never tire. But neither chariot nor horses are half so wonderful as King Jesus, the occupant of this chariot (Revelation 1:13). On the procession moves; and the illustrious ones following are as grand and even more numerous than such as preceded. Here come the apostles, martyrs, reformers, etc., etc. There is no wisdom so wise, no goodness so great, nor any act so becoming, as to join whilst we are yoking the retinue of King Jesus. This is done by giving our hearts to Him. Joseph joined when but a boy. Samuel also, and David, and Timothy.
VII. Because He takes a deep personal interest in the elevation and good of all His subjects. All kings have not done so. Some have asked only how they could increase their possessions or dignity. Note the marks of the interest monarchs take in their subjects.
1. The sacrifices they make in their behalf. Look then at the sacrifices made by Jesus for all His people.
2. Their gladness when the people are contented and prosperous; and their tenderness and sympathy when calamity comes upon them. A king should he the reflex, or counterpart, of his people. This, I am sure, is what Jesus is; when His subjects are in suffering, He says, “Fear not, I will uphold thee”; and when He has turned their sorrow into joy, He says, “Let the children of Zion be joyful in their King.”
VIII. Because he gives access to His people. The power of an earthly king to do this is limited; and those who approach earthly thrones can only do so at great cost. But Jesus allows all His subjects to approach Him at all times, and without expense.
IX. Because He has a large revenue. “As rich as a king” is quite a proverb. Boys and girls may well wonder where the king gets all his money from. It is from taxes! Jesus is by far the richest king that ever occupied a throne. “The earth is the Lord’s, and the fulness thereof.” But He is not dependent upon gold for the progress of His kingdom. In His treasury there are contributions of greater value. Prayer, praise, holy living, zeal.
X. Because He protects the rights and liberties of His subjects. Does He not say to all, “Touch not Mine anointed, and do My prophets no harm”? I know that sometimes it looks as though He gave them up to the power of their enemies. It looked as though He had forgotten Joseph, Daniel, etc.; but the issue showed how well they were cared for.
XI. Because He has royal favours to bestow. In all countries kings have been noted for this. Warriors, legislators, poets, philanthropists, the great, the wealthy, and the learned, are they who carry off royal honours; and should royal favours come down to the poor and indigent in any great measure, what a stir and to-do would be made about it! Jesus carries off the palm in this department. He restricts not His favours to any privileged class; like the sunlight, they fall with equal beauty and energy upon the brow of the poor and of the wealthy; like the dew, they descend with equal power upon the cottage and the palace home. What are the favours of King Jesus?
1. Pardon for all sin. “He is exalted a Prince and a Saviour,” etc.
2. Purity of heart and life.
3. Grace, according to the wants of His people.
4. A valid title to heaven, and its possession at death.
For these gifts the world’s gold, valour, industry, wisdom, are all in vain; and so for each one we must say, “Now, thanks be unto God for His unspeakable gift.” (J. Goodacre.)
Jesus, “another King”
As compared with earthly sovereigns, Jesus is another King; for He is one--
I. Contemplating exclusively spiritual dominion. Earthly monarchs aspire after territorial dominion, and are accounted monarchs because they possess it. Christ’s kingdom has its seat in the soul.
II. Claiming rightfully unqualified obedience. Of what earthly sovereign can it be said that he rightfully claims unqualified obedience? He justly demands unqualified obedience--
1. In right of His position. He is King of kings: obedience cannot he withheld from Him on the plea that there is a higher power we must first consult.
2. In right of the equity of His government. His service is always “reasonable,” His honour and our interests never really clash.
3. In right of His grace. He is the Saviour. Obedience cannot be withheld from Him on the plea that we owe Him but little.
III. Securing infallibly heartfelt homage. If admission be granted to the presence of an earthly sovereign, how often is the homage rendered to him nothing more than compliance with a state ceremony! Jesus is “another King.” He rules by love, He wins the heart.
IV. Expecting confidently universal empire. (J. T. Poulter, B. A.)
The risen Christ as King
1. “There is another King.” Alas! for the world, alas! for us all, if there be not. The hope of the world is a Christendom in which Christ shall reign. A Christendom in which He does not reign we see, and have seen enough of. Men are getting weary of the preaching of Jesus and His gospel, while Christian races are wasted by vice, poverty, and war. Along with all our Christianity we still need men to preach “another King, one Jesus”; to whom all the selfishness of our politics, the craft of our diplomacy, the fierce contention of our industry, are hateful; a King who has left “A new commandment, That ye love one another,” and in one aspiration, “That they all may be one,” the key to His hope and effort for mankind. The world has yet to try what Jesus can do for it.
2. Christ foretold that His method would try the patience and weary the hope of man. There is nothing in England or in Europe which is sadder than the picture which He Himself draws of the development of His kingdom in Matthew 24:1-51. But He saw beyond that which moved Him to pour out His soul unto death. “And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto Me.” And this is the rebuke of all our faithless doubts and dreads. Mark the patience with which through unnumbered ages the Lord of the world has been elaborating the chirping apparatus of a cricket, the feather of the pinion of a bird, or the spots on the gay plumage of a butterfly’s wing--and yet we faint and lose heart because in a few centuries this great world is not converted to Jesus, and the harvest, for the sake of which the whole creation has been groaning and travailing through well-nigh infinite ages, is not yet reaped and garnered on high.
3. The fundamental question is, Why should man want another king? Why should we not leave the secular spirit to take charge of the interests and to guide the progress of human society? and I answer--
(1) That something like the form of Christ’s kingdom is implied in and prophesied by the very structure of human society. When we say that man is a social being, we mean something differing entirely in kind, and not only in degree, from what we mean when we speak of the social instincts and habits of the ants or the bees. The key to man’s life is to be sought in heaven and not in the dust. In entering the sphere of human society we come under a higher law and enter a higher world. Consider the fact that all man’s most exquisite pleasures and griefs arise out of his relations with others, out of his social habits and affections, of which the richest elements connect themselves with his duties and ministries to the poor, the weak, the helpless; can we believe with all this before us, that man’s life as a social being is still to be but the struggle for existence in another form, of which self-seeking and not self-devotion must be the law? I can see no possible beauty, joy, or hope in human society, except “bear ye one another’s burdens” be the law. And I can see no basis for that law, and no assurance of its supremacy, but in the contemplation of His life and His living energy who came from heaven “not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give His life a ransom for many.” Just as a skilled naturalist, looking at the structure of an animal, can forecast its habit and habitation, even so, as we look at the structure of man as a social being, we can affirm with certainty that the habit of his life was meant to be obedience to the law of Christ, and the home of his life and theatre of its development is the kingdom of heaven.
(2) And what seems implied in man’s constitution is exemplified in his history. Among all peoples there are visions of which this is the substance. Man’s ideal of society everywhere takes this form; he seems to feel instinctively that only in such a world as the kingdom of heaven can he truly and nobly live. All the world’s great thinkers lead on its thoughts to a time when that reign of truth, righteousness, and love, which the Bible associates with Messiah’s kingdom, shall be realised, and all the woe and waste and wrong of the world shall be stayed.
4. But then, it may be said, if men are dreaming about this and are aiming at this, why not leave them alone to work out their idea? The answer to this is that God did leave man in the Gentile world alone, that he might discover whither the course of things would drift him, and might be prepared through disappointment and suffering to accept at length the helping Hand which would be held out to him from on high. Caesar was the result of man’s development as a social being. The world’s work for itself ends in ruin. The march of the ages resulted in a condition of the Roman Empire which, but for the restoring power brought to bear upon it by Christianity, nothing but a second deluge could have cured. Let the state of India before the English came to it, let the state of China and Africa at this moment, exhibit the result which comes inevitably to peoples when they try--or do not try, for this is what it ends in--to work out their own salvation for themselves. We need only look round us at this moment in Europe to form some just estimate of Caesar and his work. We have had modern Caesars in our day, enthroned in the centres of civilisation; and the end of their sway has everywhere been wreck. Blessed be God that there is another King, “one Jesus”; for man’s experiments in government are failures, and must be failures. But is it not a stain on God’s righteous government, does it not reveal a flaw in His will or in His power, that things in human society, thus left to themselves, tend to dissolution? Surely not: it was never intended in the scheme of Providence that man should work out his own salvation or the salvation of society.
5. What is the relation of this other King to the kingdoms of this world? The officers of Caesar were naturally alarmed. This is what perplexed and alarmed Pilate. There was little that was kinglike in Jesus, in Pilate’s sense of kingship. And yet he was anxious and afraid, though why he could not tell. Men are slow to believe in a kingship which makes no sign before the world. The true kingdom is a kingdom which penetrates and purifies all other kingdoms, just as the electric force pervades creation, everywhere felt, never touched and seen. We do nothing contrary to the decrees of Caesar in preaching that there is “another King, one Jesus.” He works entirely from within; what of blessing can come to the world by making men wiser, purer, more unselfish, more brotherly, that He bestows. But this breaks up nothing which the progress of humanity, however realised, would not break up; it consolidates everything on earth which stands square with truth, righteousness, and God.
6. Christ has one way of working out the regeneration of human society; Caesar, under all the various shapes and forms of government, has another. The one works purely from the inward outward, and heals and cleanses at the spring. The other cleanses for awhile the outside, but finding itself powerless to cleanse the inward, finally gives up its work in despair. How many times through the ages has society been broken up, reconstructed, reformed, redressed, only to fall back again more hopelessly into the darkness. Guilt is oppressing, sin is corrupting, and selfishness is wasting humanity everywhere. The King whom we preach cares nothing for His Royalty, save in so far as it can lift that burden, heal that corruption, stay that waste. (J. Baldwin Brown, B. A.)
Christ our deathless King
Christ is our King, King of Zion, King of glory, King of earth, King of heaven. He is a King that always lives. Where is Louis XIV? Dead. Where is Richard III? Dead. Where is Henry VIII? Dead. Where is Peter the Great? Dead. There is a whole sheaf of sceptres at the door of the tomb. Death is an old monarch, and his palace is a sepulchre, and the kings of the earth are his cup bearers; and the old blind monarch, walking around in the palace of sepulchres, ever and anon stumbles over a newly-fallen coronet. Charlemagne after death sat on a throne, and a crown was put upon his pulseless temples and a sceptre was put in his lifeless hand; but these things did not bring back his kingdom. But our King always lives. He lived before the world was made. He will live after the world is burned. King immortal! (T. De Witt Talmage.)
Jesus a sympathetic King
The Sultan of Turkey arranged that whenever he rode out on horseback his subjects might come up to him and tell their sorrows and tell their wrongs; and when the Sultan rode the crowd came up, and after a while his progress was impossible. But more merciful is our King, for at any hour of the day or night we may come up to Him and tell all our wants and all our sorrows and get relief. To come to other courts, we must have a court dress rightly cut and rightly adorned; but to come into the presence, into the court of our King, we need no such preparation, and the beggar may come with his rags, and the prodigal from the filth of the swine trough, and be without introduction immediately ushered. Merciful King! Pardoning King! Sympathetic King! Oh, Jesus, live for ever! (T. De Witt Talmage.)
Jesus a helpful King
On the first elevation of the ancient amphitheatre, on the day of a celebration, sat Tiberius, or Augustus, or the reigning king. So in the great arena of spectators that watch our struggles, and in the first Divine gallery, as I shall call it, sits our King, one Jesus. The Roman emperor sat, with folded arms, indifferent as to whether the swordsman or the lion beat; but our King’s sympathies are all with us. Nay, unheard of condescension! I see Him come down from the gallery into the arena to help us in the fight, shouting, until all up and down His voice is heard: “Fear not! I will help thee!” (Ibid.)
And the brethren immediately sent away Paul and Silas unto Berea … These were more noble than those in Thessalonica.
From Thessalonica to Berea
1. 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 make the best of your opportunities. We sleep by night, and hardly get over the slumber all day. 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. 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. 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.
2. When Paul came to Berea he went into the synagogue of the Jews. How was that? Surely he had suffered enough in connection with synagogues! 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.
3. “These were more noble than those in Thessalonica.” Thessalonica was a capital, a metropolis, and Berea was an out-of-the-way place. Yet the Bereans 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. Every locality has its advantage. In the metropolis we have 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.
4. What is the test of “nobleness”? Good listening is one trait. The hearer makes the preacher. Expectation becomes inspiration. To good listening was added patient examination. The model congregation is a congregation well provided with Bibles; 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! 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 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 magician who lives upon the credulity of the simple. How is his influence to be broken? By the Bible; by the people knowing the Bible.
5. There is a logical term in the twelfth verse--“Therefore.” That is the true rationalism. Why did you believe? “Because the speaker fascinated me; because he laid a spell upon my imagination.” 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.” You will stand like a rock amid troubled waves! (J. Parker, D. D.)
The Thessalonians and the Bereans
We have here--
1. Points of resemblance.
(1) The mode of the preaching, and
(2) its two-fold result: “some believed the things that were spoken, and some believed not.”
2. Points of contrast; a difference in their way of hearing and in their manner of inquiring into truth. It is deeply interesting to be able thus to individualise some of Paul’s congregations. We all know that there are such differences now. There are varieties of character and locality. Between one country and another, between one part of one country and another part, there are many noticeable differences, the result of many various and long-working influences. Often the ministry has to be blamed or praised for them. A place in which a faithful pastor has long been at work bears the impress of his hand for the next generation or two. And the absence of such a ministry will leave an opposite stamp. Who that reads the Epistles of St. Paul could for one moment confuse or interchange the spiritual characteristics of the churches of Corinth, of Philippi, of Galatia, of Thessalonica? Take that of--
I. Thessalonica. Berea was more noble, because it received the Word frankly, and searched the Scriptures. Thessalonica was less noble in this respect. But there were those even in Thessalonica who had all the nobleness of Berea. Look at St. Paul’s Epistles to them. Observe--
1. How St. Paul had treated them.
(1) Like a father, “we exhorted and comforted and charged you, as a father does his children”; and like a mother also, “we were gentle among you, even as a nursing mother cherisheth her own children.” What a picture of the true pastor! not a “lord over God’s heritage,” not one “having dominion over their faith, but a helper of their joy.”
(2) “Ye remember our labour and travail; for labouring night and day, because we would not be chargeable to any of you, we preached unto you the gospel of God.” If we, by changes of times, and by God’s overruling goodness, are exempted from the necessity of working for our bread, let us take heed that that toil saved from the one be given to the other.
2. His teaching. First of all, it was a gospel, a message of comfort and joy to fallen man. It told him that his sins are forgiven. But it did not leave him even there. What is it to me to be told that God forgives, if you cannot add that God will give me His Holy Spirit to live in me and to work in me effectually? In the strength of this he was not afraid to preach to them of duty. “This is the will of God, even your sanctification”; and if it is His will that we should be holy, certainly He will give His Holy Spirit to them that ask Him. But St. Paul knew that, if you would inspirit a man for duty, you must inspire a man with hope. Therefore he fixed their eyes upon an Advent of the Lord and Saviour in which “blessed and holy is he who shall have part.”
3. The rapidity of the work of God there. A few weeks at the very utmost must have comprised it, and yet what a work was already wrought (1 Thessalonians 1:3-10). It is our own fault if the gospel works in any of us slowly or indecisively. A few short weeks are enough, in God’s hand, for a complete transformation of the heart and life. Yet let us not lose the force of that solemn admonition, that he who thinketh he standeth must always take heed lest he fall. Scarcely had St. Paul left Thessalonica than he sends back Timotheus to see “lest by any means the tempter had tempted them, and so his labour should be in vain.” We are still in an enemy’s country, however armed; in the region of death, however full of life. Even from our Lord Himself, after His great temptation, the devil departed but for a season: let us take heed lest confidence breed presumption, presumption sin, and sin death!
1. In speaking of Thessalonica, we have spoken of the Church gathered out of the world. The nobleness of the Bereans was shown not in their way of acting upon a gospel already believed, but in their way of trying the credentials of a gospel first heard. They did not refuse the gospel because it contradicted their previous opinions; neither did they, in an excess of credulity, receive it because it was presented to them. They listened to it with the readiness of a candid spirit, and they daily examined their Scriptures to see whether its language and theirs were the same. “Many therefore of them believed.”
2. If our teaching were carried back by you to your Bible; if, when we urge upon you any particular duty, or any side of the truth, you would readily examine your Scriptures to see whether what you have heard has God’s sanction to it or no, how interesting would become the work of hearing and the work of teaching! You would feel that you were engaged in a pursuit of truth; that it was not a question of pleasure or interest, but a question of right and wrong, of life and death; you would come hither not to criticise, but to learn, and you would go hence not to discuss, but to digest. And we on our part should feel that we were aiding you in settling the most momentous questions, and that out of such inquiries would spring forth a full-flowing stream of satisfaction, strength, and peace. The word denotes the examination of a witness, or the trial of a challenged life. Let us thus put the Word of God upon its trial. Let us not treat it as a dead, unmeaning, monotonous thing, to be carried in the hand, read at church, or suffered on the table; but rather as a living person, to be questioned, to be listened to and judged. So treated, the Bible will become to us a voice, not a page only. So treated, we shall at last be able to say, “Thy Word is tried to the uttermost, and Thy servant loveth it.” (Dean Vaughan.)
The reception of the gospel at Berea
I. The conduct of the bereans in reference to the preached word. Note--
1. A spirit of earnest inquiry after religious truth. The gospel offered them no secular advantages (Acts 14:22; 2 Timothy 3:2). In the total absence, therefore, of all worldly attractions, what could induce them to receive the Word with all readiness of mind but a deeply serious concern about religious truth? The origin of this state of mind may probably be referred to that spiritual influence which went forth a little before this period--“to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.”
2. A remarkable superiority to the power of prejudice. They did not refuse to listen to these strangers, although they were either unknown, or had been preceded by unfavourable rumours (Acts 17:6-7).
3. An exercise of cautious investigation before they proceeded to make up their minds. The Bereans received the Word in a widely different manner to those in Matthew 13:5; Matthew 13:20-21, and, there is reason to believe, abode in it with far greater stability.
4. As the result of the whole, note--their professed faith in the gospel, and their union with the Church. The Church thus founded appears to have been numerous: at Thessalonica some believed, at Berea many. And where the good precedent of the Bereans has been followed, a solid work of God has been perpetuated; but where people have rushed into religious profession under the influence of novelty or angry sectarianism, the consequence has too often been the erection of an airy castle, soon scattered to all the winds of heaven. It farther appears, that many of the Berean believers were highly respectable in their station and circumstances; literally, persons of figure, and the addition of such to the Church is a very desirable occurrence; for, to say nothing of subordinate and extrinsic advantages, their piety, found in connection with knowledge and refinement, is likely to be instrumental of great good in giving a tone to the whole community.
II. The just distinction which attaches to them in consequence of their conduct. In Luke’s opinion they possessed nobler souls, or had a more generous nature than the people of Thessalonica. Possibly the term may advert to the genealogical pride so deeply rooted amongst the Jews (John 8:31-33). This nobleness of mind is strikingly apparent.
1. In the candour with which they received the Word with all readiness of mind. Candour is that quality of mind which leads us not exclusively to look upon our “own things, but also on the things of others.” How many advantages may we have lost, and to how many inconveniences may we have been subjected, in consequence of blindly yielding to the suggestions of prejudice!
2. In the reasonableness of their proceedings on hearing the gospel. The course they pursued was equally removed from the extremes of a hasty adoption of the new system, and a prejudiced closing of their understandings against evidence, The preaching of Paul and Silas related to the Messiah, and the conformity of their announcements with the Scriptures of the prophets was the great subject in the investigation of which the Bereans employed their nobler powers. Yet it is to be feared that the great mass of modern hearers never properly bend the energies of their minds to the clear apprehension of Christian truth, or the just appreciation of scriptural evidence.
3. In the noble resolution which they conceived and executed on having made up their minds on the great subject of Christianity. They formed themselves into a Christian Church under the direction of Paul and Silas, and resolved to encounter all the evils then connected with profession of faith in Christ. (T. Galland, M. A.)
are types of those--
I. Whose kinds are open to receive new truths. To the Berean Jews Paul’s propositions were as novel and naturally unpalatable as they were to the Thessalonians, but they did not refuse to examine them. Such openness of mind is equally removed from the ignorant bigotry that assumes acquaintance with all truth, and the vacillating uncertainty which is “always learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth,” and consequently is “tossed about with every wind of doctrine.”
II. Who are in no haste to conclude that what is new is true. The Bereans did not rashly and impulsively embrace Paul’s teaching; they carefully considered it--prepared to accept or reject it, according as it stood the test of examination.
III. Who try all human teaching by the declarations of God’s word. Lessons:
1. Doctrines are not to be rejected merely because they are unpalatable. God’s Word must be unpalatable to sinful hearts, just as sunlight is to diseased eyes.
2. In studying Scripture we must carefully guard against prepossessions and prejudices.
3. We must steadily reject the idea that we have learned all that the Scriptures teach. It is possible to pass an object ten thousand times without really seeing it. God has yet more light to break forth from His Holy Word.
4. A diligent and candid study of the Scriptures will lead to faith in Jesus as the Christ. (R. A. Bertram.)
The noble Bereans
I. The high honour by which the Bereans are distinguished. This distinction is to be valued because of--
1. The source whence it proceeds.
2. The great dignity it implies.
II. The reason why this dignity is assigned to them.
1. Their conduct.
(1) Their favourable impression as to the gospel.
(2) Their diligent inquiry into its truth.
(3) Their truly rational faith.
2. The principles which this conduct involved.
(1) God’s Word is the only standard of faith.
(2) We should not reject truth whoever might proclaim it.
(3) The truth when discovered is to be professed.
1. See wherein true dignity consists.
2. The means of acquiring solid faith. (Evangelical Preacher.)
There is a heraldry in the kingdom of God. Our King’s throne is encircled by a high-born nobility. In the Scriptures you will find the record of their deeds and the patent of their rank. If we could obtain a view of this earth from the heavens the mountains would not be very high, nor the valleys very deep. The same law rules in the spiritual sphere. When anyone obtains, spiritually, a great elevation, the differences of social condition almost disappear. All are low until grace raise them up. But distinctions there are, notwithstanding. Some are slaves, and some are free; some are rich in grace, while others are poor. The Bereans were noble, high born. Two things go to constitute nobility--first the sovereign’s choice in its origin; second, the actual birthright of each noble in successive generations. It is the same in the heavenly kingdom. Abraham was of plebeian blood, and received the patent of his nobility in the specific promise of the King Eternal, and large possessions were bestowed upon him for the support of his dignity. At a later period, when the King’s Son was sojourning in this province, He called other plebeians, fishermen, etc., and conferred upon them the patent of nobility. In Rome they call Peter a prince: the title is not amiss, although they apply it falsely. Further, each noble is born to his title and estate. Nicodemus, though a son of Abraham by his first birth, must himself be born again ere he could enjoy the privileges of a peer. Two characteristic features of Berean nobility are recorded in order that we may be able to distinguish between the genuine and the spurious.
I. Their hearts were receptive. In this matter the Bereans were favourably distinguished from the Thessalonians. The distinction is similar to that which the parable makes between the good ground and the wayside. As more depends on the condition of the soil than on the skill of the sower, so more depends on a receptive spirit in the hearers than on the peculiar ability of the preacher.
II. They exercised their private judgment. This short, simple intimation puts to shame the sophistry with which Rome has for ages striven to conceal the Word of God from the people. For this noble act the Romish hierarchy has persecuted even unto death. The term “searched” indicates that they pored over the page; and after having read a sentence, returned to traverse the lines again, in order that the track of the sense might be more deeply graven on their minds. They avoided the two extremes of easy credulity and hard unbelief. It is a general law of human nature that what comes lightly goes lightly. What we gain by a hard struggle we retain with a firmer grasp, whether it be our fortune or our faith. (W. Arnot, D. D.)
I. The deportment of these noble Bereans. They manifested--
1. A laudable spirit of inquiry in reference to the truths of religion. All inquiry is not laudable; we may be busybodies in other men’s matters, but inquiry is laudable here. Human investigation is extended to every other subject; why should it be excluded from this?
2. A peculiar deference to the authority of the sacred writings; they were convinced of the inspiration of the Holy Scriptures, and it was in them they expected to find the principles of true religion.
3. A candid and ingenuous temper: “readiness of mind.” They did not examine the Scriptures for the purpose of finding objections against the doctrines of the apostles, or to establish their own previous opinions, but for the purpose of ascertaining “whether those things were so.”
II. The reasons we should imitate this noble deportment.
1. We are endowed with powers and capabilities of engaging in this important investigation.
2. The Scriptures are addressed to all men; all men are commanded to read and examine them. “Search the Scriptures,” said our Lord. “Let the Word of Christ dwell in you richly,” said the apostle.
3. All men are deeply concerned in the important truths which the Scriptures contain--as men, as sinners, as inhabitants of this world, as heirs of immortality.
III. The advantages which will result from an imitation of this noble deportment.
1. We shall obtain accurate information respecting the doctrines of revealed truth.
2. We shall derive strong consolation under the difficulties and afflictions of life.
3. We shall receive ample instruction as to the performance of all personal, social, and religious duties. If you ask in what way should we examine the sacred writings, in order that we may obtain these advantages, I reply, examine them with impartiality, with humility, with self-application, and with prayer. It is greatly to be regretted that any portion of the Christian Church should ever have interdicted the use of the Holy Scriptures, and for this purpose have prohibited their translation into the vernacular tongue. But we have not so learned Christ. Go, imitate the example of the noble Bereans--search the Scriptures. (G. Collinson.)
Nobility is a grand word, but does not always represent a noble thing. It is often applied to physical prowess and ancestral lineage; but the word in such applications is more or less degraded. There is a mental and moral nobility. The latter is the greatest of all; it is Godlike. The Bereans--
I. Rendered a candid attention to new doctrines. They did not allow prejudice to seal their ears and close their souls; they were prepared to listen. This conduct is--
1. Ever befitting. As there must always be to the highest finite intelligences universes of truth of which they know nothing, it becomes even a seraph to be docile. How much more man, who knows so little, and that little so imperfectly!
2. Very rare. Somehow or other men for the most part grow up with preconceptions that close the soul to all that does not blend with them. Their preformed ideas they treat as absolute truths, and recoil with a jealousy from all that is new. Nothing is more repugnant to these men than a teaching pulpit.
II. Gave a proper examination to new doctrines. They were not mere passive listeners, receiving impressions which led to no effort, and which passed away in the hour. They examined--
1. Independently. They searched the Scriptures for themselves. They were not swayed by the authority of others, nor did they accept the statement of the apostles on their own credit. There is much talk about the right of private judgment; we want more of the duty. Men are blockheads in theology, and priest ridden in religion, because they search not the Scriptures for themselves.
2. Perseveringly, “daily.” So vast the area and so deep the mines of Scripture, that you can know but little of it by a glance or two. Desultory, occasional and unsystematic efforts will be useless. You must be at it daily--walk some new field, scale some new mountain, penetrate some new depth daily.
III. Yielded to the evidence of new doctrines: “believed.” They bowed to the force of evidence. It is childish to believe without evidence. It is wicked to resist evidence. It is noble to surrender to its force. Their faith was--
1. Intelligent. It came as the result of investigation. It was not a blind prejudice, a traditional idea; it was a living conviction. This is the faith that is wanted, the only faith of any worth.
2. General: “Many believed.” Influential women and men not a few. (D. Thomas, D. D.)
The nobility of the Bereans
In this account of the conduct and conversion of the Bereans we are struck with--
I. The willing permission they gave to the apostles to declare their errand. For we must remember how different were their circumstances from those in which we ever have been, or can possibly be found. They were Jews, who had never, until this moment when Paul and Silas entered their synagogue, heard of any other system than the law of Moses. They were men in whose minds the avenues of conviction lay open; they were willing to give a hearing to the arguments of reason. Scarcely any sacrifice is so costly to flesh and blood to make, as that of long-established and deeply-rooted prejudice. But the Berean Jews were prepared to make even this surrender. But their respect was shown to the commission of the apostles, not to their persons only. Is not the subject of the gospel of supreme importance? With how many has the gospel had no better fate than those unhappy persons find whose lot it is to wait upon some proud patron or dilatory judge, who has promised to grant an audience, but has never yet done it, and still promises, and still postpones?
II. As they allowed the apostles to declare their errand, so we find that they gave a glad reception to the message itself. An ingenuous spirit opens the fairest door to the entrance of truth. Candour opened their ears to what Paul and Silas had to urge; and by that opening conviction entered. Such were the earliest disciples, and as such they are described: “they that gladly received the Word.” A spirit this, differing altogether from that of Herod, who heard the Word gladly, having a curiosity to know what kind of matters it treated about, but having no desire to enlarge his acquaintance with it, when he found that it laid the axe to the root of his sins; but a gladness, going the whole length of the gospel itself, the glad receiving, as well as hearing of it. Who amongst us desires to know whether we are inheritors of this Berean “readiness of mind” towards the gospel of God? We are so, if we yield ourselves to the fair influence of truth.
III. There is yet one more point of excellence in the conduct of the Bereans: they seriously examined the claims of the gospel. The doctrine of Christ fears not a scrutiny. And now, after this review of the conduct of the Bereans, shall we hesitate to award to them the title given in our text, “These were more noble than those in Thessalonica”? True nobility, then, is not the spurious expansiveness of infidelity, but the reverence of Scripture as the test of truth. (R. Eden, M. A.)
Searching the Scriptures
Let us mark--
I. The attention shown by the Bereans to the ministry of St. Paul.
1. They “received the Word with all readiness of mind,” which argued a simple teachable disposition. Hence their attention was prompt, cordial, and submissive. They felt their helplessness and were willing to be led. The mind of the hearer was as soil prepared for the word of the preacher. Doubtless St. Paul adduced his favourite themes--“Jesus and the resurrection.” Paul might state many things which would be new to the Bereans, opposed to their sentiments and ordinary habits and pursuits; but such was their docility that they were cheerfully contented to be hearers, not teachers.
2. Ought not this to be the disposition of modern hearers? But is not rather the ministry of the gospel usually attended with little or no readiness of mind to receive it? We preach the fall of man, but who feel themselves to be fallen? We declare the nature and the consequence of sin, but who feels its “exceeding sinfulness,” and “flees from the wrath to come”? We publish “glad tidings,” but “who hath believed our report?” And why is this? Because our hearers have so little readiness of mind to receive it. The hearts of the generality are either as soft as water, or as hard as rock. If you dip your finger into water an impression will easily be made; the moment you withdraw your finger the impression vanishes. You may, too, pour water upon a rock, but it all runs off; it never penetrates and fructifies the stone.
3. Now it is this disposition which we wish to correct. As the preaching of the Word is a weighty and important charge, so surely does the hearing of it involve a very solemn responsibility. People too commonly imagine the delivery of a sermon to be a matter of course. “Judge your own selves.” Do as these noble-minded persons did: hear impartially, teachably; with readiness to receive; for your edification in the faith of Christ, for eternity; as those who must one day account to the Master of our Assemblies for the means of instruction so graciously vouchsafed.
II. The conduct they were induced to adopt.
1. They “searched the Scriptures daily,” etc. The Scriptures which the Bereans possessed were merely the Old Testament. From that, however, they had learned that “the seed of the woman should bruise the serpent’s head”; that God would raise up unto them a Prophet that should, like Moses, promulgate a new dispensation of grace and mercy; that “in His love and in His pity He would redeem them,” and reign as King of Zion, etc., etc. These things the Bereans knew, and therefore they “searched the Scriptures” to see how far the statements of St. Paul accorded with the Word of God. Nor did they indolently do so: so cautious were they about receiving what they heard, and so desirous that whatever they received should be strictly analogous to the truth, that they searched the Scriptures “daily.” Using, with lowliness and sincerity, the only infallible means of information, the promise was fulfilled to them--“The meek will He guide in judgment, the meek will He teach His way.” So true it is, “They that will do the will of God shall know of the doctrine,” etc.
2. Now here I cannot but say, “Go ye and do likewise.” Here is an example of earnest and devout inquiry worthy of our closest imitation. We can boast no extraordinary inspiration, and therefore we may err. Bring, then, what you hear from us to your Bible. In addition to the Old Testament you have the New. When we insist on the necessity of repentance, look and see if He in whose name we speak requires it. When we tell you that Christ is “all in all”--a sinner’s justification and salvation--take not our word for it: search the Scriptures. Do not so reluctantly, as though it were a labour, but diligently, and that “daily,” and as if your everlasting all depended on your right apprehension and belief of the truth. If you received a letter from a dear friend, would it lie long unopened by you? Say not, “We have no time.” Have you no time to read other books? Remember, that alone is truth which will endure a Scriptural test. It is Scripture, too, that will try our principles and conduct in the judgment of the great day. “The words which I have spoken, the same shall judge you.” (W. Mudge, B. A.)
Searching the Scriptures
1. Because it contains the statutes and judgments of God (Deuteronomy 4:14).
2. It is the Word of God (Jeremiah 36:6).
3. Christ taught out of it (Luke 24:27).
4. It testifies of Christ (John 20:3 l).
5. If rightly studied it will lead to salvation (James 1:21).
6. It is profitable both for doctrine and practice (2 Timothy 3:16).
7. Christ enjoins its study (John 5:39).
8. Without a knowledge of it we go astray (Matthew 22:29; Acts 13:27).
1. Thinking of it continually (Deuteronomy 6:7).
2. Receiving it as the Word of God, not of man (1 Thessalonians 2:13).
3. Receiving it with meekness (James 1:21).
4. Meditating upon it in the night watches (Psalms 119:148).
5. Hiding it in the heart (Psalms 119:11).
6. Making it the standard of teaching (1 Peter 4:11).
7. With prayer that its truths may be understood (Psalms 119:12; Psalms 119:18).
8. Teaching it to the children (2 Timothy 3:15). (S. S. Times.)
Searching the Scriptures
“You interpret the Scriptures in one way,” said Mary to Knox, “and the Pope and the cardinals in another; whom shall I believe, and who shall be judge?” “You shall believe,” replied Knox, “God who speaketh plainly in His Word; and further than the Word teacheth you, you shall believe neither the one nor the other--neither the Pope nor the Reformers, neither the Papists nor the Protestants. The Word of God is plain in itself; if there be any obscurity in one place, the Holy Ghost, who is never contrary to Himself, explains it more clearly in other places, so that there can remain no doubt but unto such as are obstinately ignorant.” (Stewart’s Collections.)
Delight in the Scriptures
I use the Scriptures not as an arsenal to be resorted to only for arms and weapons, but as a matchless temple, where I delight to contemplate the beauty, the symmetry, and the magnificence of the structure, and to increase my awe and excite my devotion to the Deity there preached and adored. (Hon. R. Boyle.)
Searching the Scriptures as a chart
There is a ship at sea. A heavy fog has come on: there is nothing to be seen all round about; the very stars are shut out of view, and no longer serve to guide the vessel’s course; and as the man at the masthead hoarsely cries out, “Breakers ahead!” and the crew furl the sails, and the helmsman turns the wheel, what is the captain about, old sailor as he is, now poring over his charts, and now glancing at the compass, and now loudly giving his orders? What can he mean by looking so often and so eagerly at that map-looking thing of his? That is his chart by which his course is guided; and he is searching it to find where he is, and how he may steer his ship in safety, to keep clear of a rock here, and a shallow there, and make a good passage through the channel, and save his crew and his cargo, and at length gain the harbour. So says the Great Teacher, “Search the Scriptures.” (J. H. Wilson.)
Searching She Scriptures, Love the motive for
A blind girl had been in the habit of reading her Bible by means of raised letters such as are prepared for the use of the blind; but after a while, by working in a factory, the tips of her fingers became so calloused that she could no more by her hands read the precious promises. She cut off the tips of her fingers that her touch might be more sensitive; but still she failed with her hands to read the raised letters. In her sorrow she took the Bible and said, “Farewell, my dear Bible. You have been the joy of my heart!” Then she pressed the open page to her lips and kissed it, and as she did so she felt with her mouth the letters, “The Gospel according to St. Mark.” “Thank God!” she said; “if I cannot read the Bible with my fingers, I can read it with my lips.” (T. De Witt Talmage, D. D.)
Delving for the treasures of the Word
The Bible is a book which requires working into, in order to get out of it that which is most precious and profound. Some Christians do not know anything like what the Bible is really worth, because they are not willing to work hard enough to find out. When they read it, it is in such a prayerless, lifeless sort of a way that they receive but very little benefit from it. Perhaps this is true of the great majority of Christians. Very likely if all of the most precious truths lay on the mere surface of the Bible, and could be as easily picked up as one does the common pebbles which lie about the streets, there are many who would possess more than they now do. But then would the great and precious gems of Divine truth seem so precious if they could be had with so little effort? We think not. If gold were lying on the surface of the earth as plentifully as the stones do in many places, and could be gathered as easily, its value would not be so highly esteemed as it is, nor would it be regarded as so precious. We see God’s wisdom in putting many of His richest and brightest gems of truth and promise down into the depths of His Word, so that, if we would get hold of them, we must work our way down into the profound recesses of the vast reservoirs of inspired thought and revelation. A certain writer says: “It is only when our energies are roused and our attention awake when we are acquiring, or correcting, or improving, our knowledge--that knowledge makes the requisite impression upon us. God has not made Scripture like a garden, where the fruits are ripe, and the flowers bloom, and all things are fully exposed to our view; but like a field, where we have the ground, and seed of all precious things, and where nothing can be brought to view without our industry--nor then, without the dews of heavenly grace.” If you would increase the value of the Bible to you, work in its depths! Equip your energy by God’s Spirit, and make a profitable task of delving for the pearly treasures of the Word!
Stored up gold in the Scriptures
When I was in California an old Scotchman brought me a piece of quartz in which was imbedded a small piece of gold, saying, “Mr. Scott, I would like you to see how our heavenly Father stores up the gold for our use.” There it was sparkling in the midst of a bit of useless rock. (J. Scott.)
Searching Bible reading
There is a great deal of listless, careless reading. Coleridge divided readers into four classes. The first class he compares to an hour glass, their reading being as the sand; it runs in and runs out, and leaves not a vestige behind. A second class resembles a sponge, which imbibes everything, and returns it in nearly the same state. A third class is like a jelly bag, which allows all that is pure to pass away, and retains only the refuse and the dregs. The fourth class, like the slave of Golconda, east aside all that is worthless, preserving only the pure gems. Or perhaps we might compare this fourth class to the gold pan, used for retaining the pure metal, while the refuse is washed out. The only profitable reading of God’s Word is a searching reading. The word translated “search” is emphatic and intense, and literally means to “look carefully,” as a wild animal searches the sands to find the footsteps of a stray cub. The Bible is full of hidden treasures, to be sought as the merchant man sought goodly pearls. They are not revealed to indifferent and superficial readers. (A. T. Pierson, D. D.)
The Bible invaluable
Do you love to turn the pages of old books? None can be found that are older than the earliest books of our Bible. Do you find special delights in history? Here are records than which none are more ancient, more trustworthy, or more important. Are you fond of biography? Here are the lives of Moses, the lawgiver and leader of the Hebrew race; of David the shepherd boy, poet and king; and of Jesus Christ, the incarnate Son of God. Is poetry, to you, a feast of beauty, an intoxicant of the emotions? Here are sublimest songs and sweetest consolations; the oldest of all poems, the epic that recites the fidelity of Job in unprecedented trials; the seraphic psalms of David; and the lofty imagery and panoramic prophecies of the unsurpassed Isaiah. Yet idle people tell us the Old Testament is dry! Is the ocean dry? Is the sunlight black? Is ambrosia bitter to the taste? Then is the Bible an unattractive book. Shallow sceptics may scoff at it; but the profoundest scholars know its worth. For many years John Quincy Adams, by reading one hour each morning, read the whole Bible once a year. He said that in whatever light he viewed it, whether with reference to revelation, to history, or to morality, it was to him “an invaluable and inexhaustible mine of knowledge and virtue.” Daniel Webster said that from the time when, at his mother’s feet or on his father’s knee, he first learned to lisp verses from the sacred writings, they had been his daily study and vigilant contemplation--and that if there was anything in his style or thoughts to be commended, the credit was due to his kind parents, who instilled into his minds an early love of the Scriptures. Sir William Jones declared it to be his opinion that “the Bible contains more true sensibility, more exquisite beauty, more pure morality, more important history, and finer strains of poetry and eloquence than can be collected from all other books, in whatever language they may be written.” Rousseau confessed that “the majesty” of the Scriptures astonished him, and that the holiness of the Evangelists spoke to his heart. Paul said, “The Scriptures are able to make men wise unto salvation.” In proof of the professions of no other book or collection of books can testimony so abundant, so clear, and so weighty be adduced. (T. De Witt Talmage, D. D.)
Practice in the study of the Scriptures
Have set times, from which you will allow nothing to divert you, for reading and prayer. Always keep a promise in mind, and try to find a new one each day--not in a book made to hand, with a promise for every day in the year (a sort of crutch such a book is for those who expect to remain spiritual cripples), but in your own reading. We know a person who can find flowers enough in the woods every time she goes out to make a beautiful bouquet; and she does this when most would see nothing but leaves. Practice will enable you to learn the art of finding a flower of promise in every chapter. (Christian Age.)
The Bible lit up
A little while ago I was in the noble cathedral at Cologne. Going in the early morning, I saw the eastern windows lit up by the sun. Far away in the great church the other windows were all obscure and dusky. We strolled in about noonday, and then these windows in the depths were lit up with ruby, purple, gold--prophets, apostles, saints, martyrs. And then, when the sun was going down, we looked in to find that the great western window was magnificently kindled, like a window that opened into heaven. As the hours of the day went on, first one window was illuminated, then another, until in the end there was not a painted pane but had added some splendour to the temple. It is a great deal like treat with your Bible. There is many a dark page in the Bible today, but in the process of the suns they are lit up one after another. Successive generations will find in that Book the specific doctrine that is necessary to them, their complexities, their perplexities, their interests, their perils. Chrysostom, Bernard, Luther, Wesley, found in the Bible the truth for their day, and the great original preachers of today are giving to that Book interpretations that are necessary to our enlightenment and discipline, and before the world finishes there will not be a dark passage left. (W. L. Watkinson.)
The right of private judgment in religion
The primitive preachers considered their hearers as capable of judging of the truth of what they heard. They not only taught the truth, but exhibited evidence to support what they taught, and encouraged their hearers to examine this evidence. This conduct of the Bereans was agreeable to common sense, and sanctioned by Divine authority. Let us consider--
I. What it is to exercise the right of private judgment. It is the right which every man has of seeing with his own eyes, hearing with his own ears, and of exercising his own reason. But this implies--
1. A right to hear what may be said upon the subject. The Bereans had a right to hear the apostle’s reasons in favour of Christianity before they received it or rejected it. We have a right to collect evidence upon any subject, from any who are able to give us information about it. And the more information men can collect, the better they are prepared to judge correctly.
2. A right to examine every subject for ourselves. Though many things may have been said and written upon any religious doctrine, yet we have a right to reason upon it, and to search the Scriptures to see whether it be there revealed or not. When we come to think seriously upon a subject which others have treated, we may find good reasons to differ from them. They may have overlooked, and we may have found the real truth in the case.
3. The right of forming our opinions according to the best light we can obtain. We have no more right to judge without evidence than we have to judge contrary to evidence. We have no right to keep ourselves in doubt when we have sufficient evidence to come to a decision. “Prove all things,” i.e., examine all things; and after examination, decide what is right.
II. Men ought to exercise it is forming their religious sentiments.
1. God has made men capable of judging for themselves in matters of religion. He has made them wiser than the beasts. He has endued them with the highest powers of reason and conscience, by which they are capable of judging what is right and wrong, true and false. As they are capable of judging for themselves, so it is their duty. Their capacity creates their obligation. As they are rational creatures, they are bound to act rationally. This, indeed, is the only power which they have no right ever to resign. They may, when necessary, give up their property or liberty; but they may never give up their right of forming their own religious sentiments, and of serving God according to the dictates of their conscience. They have no right to let their own depraved hearts, or the false reasonings of others, warp their understanding, and obscure the real evidence of Divine truth.
2. God has given men not only the proper powers, but the proper means of forming their religious sentiments. The Bible contains sufficient information in regard to all the doctrines and duties of religion. The Scriptures are level to everyone’s capacity, so that wayfaring men though fools cannot err therein, unless by prejudice, partiality, or blindness of heart. And since men have this ample source of information in their hands, they cannot, without great impropriety and danger, neglect to search the Scriptures.
3. God has appointed none to judge for any man in respect to his religious opinions. It is true God has appointed teachers, but not judges; and after all they have done to exhibit and support the truth, the hearers are to judge for themselves whether those things they have heard be the truth. The Pope and all his hierarchy are usurpers, whose pretensions to infallibility are to be treated with disdain, as vile impositions. Christian churches have a right to form their own creeds and exercise their own discipline, independently of any superior ecclesiastical power on earth.
4. God has forbidden men to take their religious sentiments from others upon trust. His direction to His ancient people was to “the law and to the testimony; if they speak not according to this Word, it is because there is no light in them.” And we are commanded to prove all things, and to hold fast that which is good. And Paul tells the Galatians to reject any false doctrines, though brought to them by men or angels.
5. Every man must feel the effects of his own religious opinions, and consequently ought to exercise his own judgment in forming them. This is a matter of too much consequence to put out of his own hands. We must give an account of our faith as well as of our conduct.
III. Improvement. If it be the duty of men to exercise their private judgment in the manner that has been mentioned, then--
1. They may always know what they ought to believe and practise. God never places mankind in a situation in which they cannot know and do their duty; for then they would not be moral agents, nor proper subjects of moral government. Though God does not require a heathen to search the Scriptures to know his duty, yet he is morally obliged to consult his reason and conscience to learn his duty, and to act agreeably to the dictates of these intellectual powers, which he knows he ought to obey. It is absurd for Christians, who have the Bible in their hands, to plead in excuse for believing and doing wrong that they could not know what to believe, or what to do; for they always may have evidence which makes it their duty to believe or not to believe, and to act or not to act.
2. They may not only know that they have acted right in forming their religious sentiments, but know that they have formed them according to truth. Many imagine because men may err in forming their religious sentiments that they never can know whether they have formed them right in any case whatever. But they have no right to draw this consequence from human fallibility; for though men may judge wrong in some cases, yet they may judge right in others. Paul first formed a wrong opinion of Christ, and verily thought it was a true opinion; but after he had formed another and true opinion of Christ, he knew that his present opinion was right, and his former opinion was wrong.
3. It may be greatly abused. Under the pretext of this right, men may take the liberty of judging very erroneously, unreasonably, and wickedly, as did the Jews at Thessalonica, under the influence of tradition, education, and prejudice. Wherever the gospel has been preached it has been opposed, rejected, or perverted by hearers, under the pretext of the right of private judgment. But though the right of private judgment has been, and still is so extensively and grossly abused, it is far better to tolerate it than to restrain it by any other means than those which are rational and spiritual.
4. We may easily see how those who judge for themselves on religious subjects, and with the same degree of light before them, may judge very differently. One may pay more attention to the arguments on one side of the question, and another may pay more attention to the arguments on the opposite side; or one may wish to find the truth in the case, and another, for some sinister motive, may wish not to find it. (N. Emmons, D. D.)
Stages of a true use of Scripture
I. Willing reception, as opposed to frivolous contempt (verse 11).
II. Diligent searching, as opposed to blind imitation (verse 11). Living faith, as opposed to dead knowledge (verse 12). (K. Gerok.)
Docility of temper in relation to the truth
The self-evidencing power of Christian truth depends on the moral condition of the man. A flash of lightning reveals nothing to him whose eyes are closed. Two classes of people, both Jews, hear the same gospel, from the same lips, under the same circumstances; and they reach opposite results. For every kind of truth a special capacity is needed. The eye sees only what it brings with it the power of seeing. We shall see how this faculty was trained in the Bereans. Note--
I. The teaching, the recognition of which the writer commends.
1. The “Word” is more fully expounded in verse 3. The Messiah of ancient promise had come. The great photographic shadows thrown forward upon the sensitive page of prophecy had taken substance. This was a position which he only would take who was sure of his ground; for it was an arraignment of the verdict of both the Jewish and Roman tribunals. “This Jesus is neither a blasphemer nor a seditious intriguer, but the Son, and the Sent of God.” And not only so. If this Jesus were the Messiah, then the death knell of their national, religious preeminence had been sounded. “The sceptre shall not depart … until Shiloh come”--then it was to depart. And then, in his insistence on the mission of Christ, the apostle drew two conclusions, both of which warred against the prejudices of his hearers--the one against the creed of the Jew, who believed his race exclusively the people of God, and the other against the pride of the Greek, to whom the doctrine of the Cross was an intolerable offence.
2. Having taken up his main position, the apostle proceeds to establish it by an appeal to the highest authority. “He reasoned with them out of the Scriptures.”
(1) There were prophecies announcing the coming, character, and work of the Messiah. “To Him gave all the prophets witness.”
(2) There were supernatural occurrences in the birth and ministry of Christ, each connecting His appearance and Person with these prophetic foreshadowings--particularly the resurrection. But he is not satisfied with demonstrating the historical validity of this latter fact. “If Christ be not raised ye are yet in your sins.” It requires for its doctrinal antecedent a sacrificial death, which postulates a Divine Person.
II. The spirit in which this teaching was received. “They received the Word with all readiness of mind.” Here is--
1. The docility of temper which belongs to a right conception of the truth. They were in that balanced equipoise of mind which, equally removed from listless indifference and haughty presumption, left them at liberty to listen to the apostle’s reasoning, to think dispassionately on it, and to draw their own conclusions. They did not surrender their honest convictions at the bidding of any man, however important his message or high his authority. That is a poor faith which neither asks nor requires a reason for its believing; and it is an equally poor scepticism which contents itself with thoughtlessly denying. The Thessalonian Jews rejected the Word, because they refused to examine its evidences. The Bereans more wisely received the Word, and then examined its evidences. The open eye went in quest of the teaching light. And as the healthy body through its myriad open pores drinks in the air and sunshine, and turns them into a ministry of life, so did the ingenuous candour of these Bereans. The one question was, What is the truth? not What do we wish to be true?
2. The course of inquiry marks--
(1) Their fearless honesty. They were not afraid to examine either their old opinions or the new. The great question was whether Paul’s statements were founded on fact and accessible to the ordinary methods of moral conviction. To test this question they searched the Scriptures to which the apostle had appealed as justifying the departure he had sought to establish between Judaism and Christianity. They searched them, not the apostle’s argument, but the great spring and reason of all that he had affirmed. They searched with keen, inquisitive eye, looking beneath, and over, and all around. The question was too grave for delay, too personal to be honestly evaded. They were bound to face the crisis. So they “searched the Scriptures.”
(2) Their manly independence of spirit. The child has safeguard from perplexity in its ignorance. Where it does not know, it as careless to inquire. With no sense of danger there is no fear. But the man must interrogate. To know the truth and to build upon it, whether it throw up a basement of rock or open into abysses of despair, that is the only satisfaction for a man.
(3) Their rationality. The argument for Christianity, if it be true, must be in its facts. The “reason for the hope that is in us” implies a reasonableness of the evidences without us. The realism of Christianity asks to be examined with the keenest critical research, whether as to its documents, authorship, spirit, or effects.
(4) Their reverence. They went directly to the “Scriptures.” The problem was outside the schools: why then go to these? It was a supernatural question; why then go to nature? If I want to map out a diagram of the stars, I do not go to geology.
3. What followed on this procedure.
(1) Note the logical consequence. “Therefore many of them believed.” Faith waiting on the light of evidence is met by the evidence of light, and following that is led into the liberty of truth. “If any man will do His will, he shall know,” etc. Obedience is the spirit in which to seek, knowledge its after product. The old philosophy sought first to construct a science of nature, and then to bend nature to its science, and it failed. Now, we begin with what is known and advance to the unknown, and end with a science of things. It is just so in dealing with the secrets of revelation. A childlike docility, putting the mind into sympathy with the truth, will get into fellowship with God. “Then shall we know, if we follow on to know the Lord”; but a self-constructed scheme of interpretation, which assumes the negative of revelation, or makes its teachings follow its own sceptical preconceptions, is sure to flounder into confusion and hopeless doubt. To the man whose senses are all that, Omnipotence itself is a waste of power. Now what the telescope does for our knowledge of the stars, revelation does for our knowledge of God; it manifests what before was unknown, and in both cases the value of the instrument is in its use. If a man will reverently use the one as he does the other, “he shall know.” If he will not, he “cannot know the things of God, for they are spiritually discerned.”
(2) The word “therefore” is a marked one. There was, first, a clear presentation of the truth to the mind; then the actual contact of the mind with the truth, and reflection upon it. There was a readiness to surrender old convictions to the authority of evidence, and then the light came: “they believed.” And this belief was not a solitary or a miraculous act; it was an ordinary result. It was something more than a vague conviction, a mere sentiment of wonder. The foundation of their religious beliefs had been torn away; but they were no longer adrift on a sea of doubt. “They believed”; and faith is trust, calmness, certainty. It is the eye of the soul looking through and with the eye of reason, and resting on the reality of things. And this effect will, in all ordinary cases, be produced wherever the same process of inquiry is pursued.
(3) Besides this satisfying conviction that comes from conscious experience of the power of truth, there are the facts without.
(a) There are the Jews--a standing witness of the fulfilment of prophetic Scripture.
(b) The existence, history, and standing of the Christian Church.
(c) The Christ of Christianity--the miracle of miracles.
1. The fitness of the gospel to deal with dissimilar classes of men. Jews, Greeks, “honourable” men and women.
2. The great impediment in the way of any man’s salvation is not in the gospel, nor in the ministration of the gospel, but in the indifference or pride with which men deal with its transcendent statements. (John Burton.)
Ignorance of the Scriptures the cause of infidelity
The most prominent and invariable cause of infidelity is found in the fact that men will not investigate the Scriptures. Many infidels have confessed that they had never carefully read the New Testament. Thomas Paine confessed that he wrote the first part of the “Age of Reason” without having a Bible at hand, and without its being possible to procure one where he then was (in Paris). “I had,” says he, “neither Bible nor Testament to refer to, though I was writing against both; nor could I procure any.” (A. Barnes, D. D.)
Therefore many of them believed.
The gospel and the classes
1. They “believed”--a little word, but a great thing--the step by which they passed from condemnation to peace; from the house on the sand before it fell, to the rock. The moment before they were without Christ and hope; the moment after they were in Christ, and heirs of eternal life. How could interests so vast turn on a point so small? All decisive turnings are made on points. The poles are mathematical points, yet how huge the mass that spins round them!
2. “Many believed.” A swelling of spiritual life sometimes comes over a city or country, as the tidal wave over the ocean--lifted and led in both cases by a power in the heavens. The symptoms which portended this revival were a bent of mind towards the Word, and a daily searching of it. When we see the same symptoms we may expect the same enlargement.
3. Note the classes who were won to the Lord.
I. Greeks. There is no respect of persons with God: “neither Jew nor Greek.” Yet the conversion of a Greek may give an apostle greater reason for joy, inasmuch as while of no more value intrinsically than a Jew, a Greek could open a door into a wider field. Those successes were sweetest which were promises of more.
II. Men and women. God made both in marvellous wisdom for each other; together they have gone from Him; it is a glad sight when they return in company. How sad when the sexes are divided by that partition which divides the Church from the world! As there is neither Jew nor Greek, so there is neither male nor female in the kingdom of Christ. Sometimes the husband or brother believes, while wife or sister smothers the spiritual life by the cares of this world. Sometimes the women of the family are devoted to Christ, while the men are too philosophic or self-indulgent. Husbands and wives, etc., be heirs together of the grace of life.
III. People of high standing. Are the upper ten, then, more precious? No. But there are times and circumstances in which their conversion is more noteworthy.
1. If for nothing else, the early disciples valued it as men value certain gems, on account of its rarity. The common people heard the Master gladly, but the rulers held aloof. On that account Jesus looked fondly on the rich young man who came to Him.
2. Their influence is greater.
3. Great temptations bind them.
IV. Not a few. There is a strange appetite in the Christian’s heart; it continually cries, Give an appetite inherited from Christ. When many came He invited the rest as eagerly. (W. Arnot, D. D.)
Also of honourable women.--
Women and the Church
Women are first named, implying that they were first to believe. This is still no common occurrence.
I. Women receive the gospel more readily than do men. Lydia’s case is repeated in all quarters of Christendom. The sisters of Bethany, the women who ministered unto Christ, prophesy the faith of their sex.
II. Upon the basis of this fact it is not flattery to say that women are more noble than men. There are qualities belonging to their sex fitting women above men to appreciate the gospel. Though first in the fall, also first in relations, qualifications, and promise to bring deliverance.
III. Women have special reasons for becoming Christians. Their aptness to receive it is evidence of their need of it--
1. To satisfy their finer, quicker sense of right, truth, beauty.
2. To fulfil their mission in life not by power, but by influence. Their want of Christian character is a want of qualification for their life work.
IV. Woman’s obligation to Christianity. Outside of the religion of revelation they were burdened and enslaved. Their elevation they owe to Christianity. (S. Mease, D. D.)
And of men not a few.--
Men and the Church
Of the men in Berea, not a few received the gospel. The same is true wherever the gospel has been carried. The inference, however, is that the number of men was not equal to the number of women. This inference is confirmed by observation of modern churches. This unfortunate phenomenon is deserving of discussion.
I. Men’s need of the gospel is as absolute as that of women.
1. Depravity is as deep and real, effecting an equal estrangement from God, and producing the same evil fruits--disobedience, perversion of life, unrest, apprehension of evil, and death, both in body and soul.
2. Their manly courage, strength, and capacity leave them helpless as women; for spiritual ends God’s help alone will avail.
3. They must find the same one remedy--the blood of Christ.
4. To men the gospel is as much and all that it is to women--the power of God unto salvation to them that believe.
II. The allegiance and service of men are as unconditionally required as those of women.
1. The gospel is the one instrumentality for the world’s redemption. Against it are arrayed all the forces of sin and Satan. Will men, strong and courageous, refuse to enlist, while women contend with readier will and in greater numbers?
2. The work of the gospel is great above every other, securing human happiness here and hereafter. Wherever men are, there is a call to labour. Sin, crime, poverty, and suffering are devouring multitudes by reason of gospel work undone, whilst men are idling in the market place. Will men, with stronger endowments and better advantages, look on, leaving the burden to weaker but better women?
III. The evil resulting from men’s greater reluctance than women to accept and promote the gospel. Were the men as ready to believe as are women, the latter in still greater numbers would be at the feet of Jesus--our daughters, wives, and mothers. An increasing host of both sexes would flock to the standard of the Cross. Men out of the Church are hindrances to women who would enter, and often difficulties to such as have entered. The men are in the front ranks of the world’s battle: why should they not be in the front as to numbers and activity in the battle for truth, salvation, and God? (S. Mease, D. D.)
And they that conducted Paul brought him unto Athena
Paul at Athens
The place which the apostle visited. Athens.
II. The feelings of which he was the subject. Not of admiration at the masterpieces of art by which he was surrounded, but of--
1. Holy indignation. He saw how God was dishonoured; how He was robbed of the homage which was His due.
2. Christian compassion. He felt deeply at the contemplation of such moral debasement--a city wholly given to idolatry.
3. Zeal. It is well to feel; but what need have we to guard against a mere fruitless sentimentality.
III. The characters with whom he came in contact.
1. Jews. With them he disputed daily.
2. Certain philosophers.
IV. The address he delivered. His text was the inscriptions he witnessed on one of the altars: “To the Unknown God.” He at once proceeded with his subject, saying, “Whom, therefore, ye ignorantly worship, Him declare I unto you.” He is declared--
1. In reference to His nature. In what he says on this subject, we are reminded--
(1) Of the apostle’s boldness. It is said that the laws of the city denounced death upon those who should introduce a foreign deity.
(2) His decision. The philosophers in speaking of God had nothing but mere guesses and peradventures; but in no hesitating tone does Paul speak.
(3) His skill. This was unlike his discourses to the Jews, where he mainly appealed to the Old Testament.
2. In reference to the Divine dispensations.
(1) The past dispensation of forbearance.
(2) The present dispensation of grace.
(3) The coming dispensation of judgment.
V. The effects produced by his labours. They were threefold.
1. Ridicule. “Some mocked.”
2. Procrastination. “We will hear thee again of this matter.”
3. Faith. “Howbeit certain men clave unto him, and believed.” (Expository Outlines.)
Paul at Athens
1. No moment in the annals of the Church has larger significance than that in which the gospel of the living Christ comes to its first contact with the worn faiths of paganism,--its philosophy and its science.
2. The very inequalities in social position of this meeting between the Jewish tent maker--“whose bodily presence is weak, and whose speech is of no account”--and the classic and proud city of the ancient world, and the contrasted weapons of the debate--in the warm personal faith of the one, and the lifeless but cultivated ignorance of the other--all conspire to make this apostolic visit of historic significance, and this address a model in the missionary records of the Church.
I. The pulpit.
1. The apostle was in that “Holy Land of the Ideal,” to which the ancient world of art and letters made pilgrimage. Here was the shrine at which “the fair humanities” of the pagan faith were worshipped--here the gymnasium, in which the human form came to its most perfect development in grace and beauty. Here, also, the human mind, the laws of thought, and that language which became the chosen medium of God’s truth, attained an almost ideal acuteness and expansion, while in the age of Pericles art, poetry, and philosophy reached such consummate excellence as to become classic models of form and style to all the generations. It was in the market place at Athens that Socrates, “the wisest of men,” asked his immortal questions; and yonder in the olive groves by the brook Plato founded the academy; to the east, under the shadow of the mountain, was the lyceum of Aristotle, while near at hand, in the agora, were the garden of Epicurus and the painted porch of the Stoics. Here was the home of the drama, and the scholar speaks with pride the names of AEschylus and Sophocles. Here spoke the orators of Greece, not only to the civil issues of that time, but also to the listening ears of the future, and here wrote historians like Thucydides and Xenophon; while in her temples was deified the national spirit in the marble images of her heroes and soldiers, in the trophies of her victories, and the memory of her defeats, until we may say with truth that no city of like limits ever gathered to itself so much of history, so many objects of interest, and such prestige as Athens.
2. In the midst of such surroundings Paul was waiting for the coming of Silas and Timothy from Berea. As his eyes rested upon the images of gods and goddesses which filled the temples and lined the avenues of the city--where, the historian says, it was easier to find a god than a man--“his spirit was stirred within him as he beheld the city full of idols.” The apostle was not destitute of that fine sense of the beautiful which belongs to all great souls, nor did the mind of the Jewish scholar fail in quick response to real culture; but the beautiful in art or letters was subordinate to the truth in Jesus, which filled his soul.
3. He was not of choice nor as a student in this university city, but in the providence of God he was a delayed messenger of the Cross; and, true to the great mission which possessed him, he engages the loiterers of the market place in religious debate. For such street colloquies the Athenians had particular liking. It was through such that their great philosophers had come into prominence; and, having abundant leisure on their hands, the citizens generally found both occupation and excitement in taking part in them.
4. We can easily picture the amused curiosity, and the half-serious, half-sneering questions of the crowd which gathered around him: “What would this babbler say?” “He seemeth to be a setter forth of strange gods.” As the circle grew larger, and hearing more difficult, curiosity in the new religion became more earnest, until, in the spirit of mischief or half-mirth, “they laid hold upon him,” and led him up the stone steps to the top of the Areopagus, the ancient judgment seat of Athens, where in the crescent of stone seats had sat the judges, who, three hundred years before, had condemned Socrates to die. Beyond the tribunal, in the cleft of the rock, was the menacing sanctuary of the Furies, while above was the great temple of Mars, the god of blood. Here, then, was the pulpit of the apostle--such a pulpit as no man, unless sent of God, and filled with the courage of the truth, would have dared to occupy!
II. The audience. Their temper and character have exhibition in the half-earnest, half-contemptuous, inquisitive spirit with which they placed the apostle on “the stone of impudence”--where the accused were wont to plead their cause before the council--and with mocking judicial tones bade him speak.
1. The Athenian was religious: the innumerable temples, statues, and altars prove his “carefulness in religion”; but it reveals also what his religion was. It was one which made him a splendid animal with a splendid intellect, which had no holding power against profligacy and fatalism, but, like the sun, while it preserves the living, it hastens the decay of the dead. The same temper of mind and life had gone over into philosophy.
(1) Three hundred years before, in his little garden beside the market place, Epicurus had taught his followers that happiness is the great purpose and pursuit of life. In close alliance with this standard of life was a material theory of the universe, which made the world “a fortuitous combination of atoms,” so that Providence became accident, and chance the disposer of events.
(2) The Stoics taught a system of ethics radically at variance with this; for, while the Epicurean had made the world conform to self, the Stoic had made self conform to nature; thus self-gratification became the maxim of the one, and self-denial of the other. And while the Epicurean avoided pain, the Stoic welcomed it in or let to despise it, and found the secret of life in living in conformity to nature, receiving its bitter as sweet, and its sweet as bitter, with equal composure. But while its austere morality commands our admiration, its theories of the universe are degrading and material. Mind and matter were not distinguishable. God is only the reasoning principle in the universe--one with the material world. The very souls of men, like their bodies, were material.
(3) One other class of hearers were represented; the gossips who spent their time in hearing and telling some new thing. This sect needs no analysis; their creed is simple and their history is familiar. Every community knows them, and every successor of the apostle addresses them.
2. We have outlined the character and creeds of the company that we may note one or two facts.
(1) That, while unbelief is a revolving wheel, it is not a progressive one; for the very phases of unbelief against which the Church is contending today Paul met on Mars’ Hill. Our materialistic philosophy which rules out God; our advanced thought in natural science; where do they receive better statement or definition than in that old poem of Lucretius “On the Nature of Things”? Our selfish and infidel systems of ethics--what are they but echoes of voices across that line which has divided the centuries? Unbelief always carries its ball and chain; it has no progress, and it cannot build.
(2) In the focused light of Christianity in which we live today it would seem impossible for the worn pagan faiths of Epicurus and Zeno to exist among us. But such is not the case. For multitudes are living upon the unformulated theories and unspoken creeds of heathendom. Self is the centre of the universe, pleasure the great end of life; and as regards conduct they have no souls; there is no hereafter, and God is a fiction. Or they are austere, stern moralists, complacent in their own rightness, conforming to the events of life with stoical composure; scorning that humility which comes from repentance, and treating with disdain an atonement for its guilt and death.
3. Athens teaches us that culture cannot save a man nor a city from moral decay. Not commerce nor national era, not wealth nor taste, not even the library nor the college, convey the forces of permanent power or real welfare to men; but the gospel is the power of God unto life to the man and the state.
III. The sermon. Note the courteous prudence with which he begins as he raises his hand for silence--“Men of Athens, in all things I observe that you are unusually religious”--a compliment which carries the truth and the attentive favour of his audience; and yet such conciliation does not compromise the man nor his message. He continues “For as I passed through your city,” etc. (Acts 17:23). Paul might have denounced their idolatry with a sledge hammer blow, for his spirit had boiled within him as he beheld it; but alert to every circumstance which should serve a Christian purpose, he uses the very errors of heathendom to guide their feet and thought to Him who was the way and the truth. And now every sentence is packed with “the deep things of God” as he proceeds, and every word is a battle blow to the false philosophy of his hearers.
IV. Its reception (Acts 17:32). The same old story wherever the truth is taught. Mockers, procrastinators, believers; to which class do we belong? (Sermons by the Monday Club.)
Paul at Athens
It is one test of a real gospel, that it can overleap all barriers placed between man and man, and find its way into that innermost heart’s core which makes the whole world kin. Already in this one Book we have seen it dealing with the Jew and with the Gentile: we have seen it in Palestine, in Asia Minor, in Europe. Everywhere it has found some hearts into which it entered as a healing balm, some lives which it penetrated with transforming power. Now we are to see it at Athens.
I. St. Paul’s feeling. He was left there for a time alone. Some of us know that sinking of the spirits which is occasioned by loneliness in a strange city. He was a man of quick feeling, lively emotion, and gentlest affection; but even these were not the causes of his chief distress. His life was given to one work, and his whole heart was in it. Many a so-called Christian has tarried in an idolatrous place, and seen nothing in it but the antiquity of its associations or the curiosity of its monuments. At Athens the traveller feels nothing but a thrill of historic and poetic interest; and it would be judged by many a mere narrow-mindedness to remember the gospel. But St. Paul could not dissever the magnificence of a temple or the perfection of a statue from the remembrance of the idolatry which it served and of the souls which it debased. Yet his irritation was not a merely vexing and annoying thing, torturing to himself and to all about him, on the contrary.
II. It stirred him to acting.
1. At Athens, as elsewhere, there was a Jewish synagogue: there at all events he might find some to sympathise with his horror at idolatry; there, too, he might at least argue from the common ground of Scripture, and assume both the unity of the Godhead and the expectation of a Christ.
2. But the Jews he had with him always, the Athenians he met but for once; this was their day, the season of their visitation. Accordingly we read that in the far-famed Agora “he reasoned daily with those who met with him.” St. Paul was not too proud, reserved, indolent, or half-hearted, to seize opportunities of conversing with strangers. A man with a soul to be saved or lost must have, for him, a ground of interest and a point of contact. Thus there encountered him some of the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers. Strange meeting between a man who lived but for duty, yet found that duty in love Divine and human, and those who either denied the existence of a duty, or else made duty another name for hardness. Very brief, yet very graphic, is the account given of the treatment of the gospel by these philosophers. Nothing could be more contemptuous. They treated him as a mere reporter of idle tales picked up from others, and as a man incapable even of expressing the follies which he has adopted. Others took a more serious view of the case, and thought him a sort of travelling missionary of false gods, desiring to add new names to an already overflowing Pantheon. Because the names of Jesus and the Resurrection occurred so frequently they ran to the conclusion that they were the names of two deities whom he sought to incorporate in the national religion. And if this were so, it was a case requiring the cognisance of the great religious court of Athens (Acts 17:19-20). A brief word of comment on the Athenian character is here introduced (Acts 17:21). It was the complaint of their own orators. When they ought to have been taking vigorous measures for the welfare or protection of their own state, still the love of news predominated over every other principle, and they who should have been acting were ever talking still! There are some in every congregation to whom this reproof belongs.
3. Then St. Paul stood before that famous court, of which the poets and orators of Greece tell such proud things. It does not appear to have been a formal trial, nor that life or death hung upon the issue. For the present it was a hearing only for information. Observe now the wisdom and the courage with which he spake. “Ye men of Athens, I observe that in all things ye are more religious” than others. He would carry them with him if he could. And he selects this one characteristic as in itself hopeful. And it is better that a man should feel his dependence, and seek to be in communication with One above him, than that he should do neither. Lest after all their care anyone superior being should at last have been overlooked, they had adopted the singular expedient of an anonymous altar, which might at least deprecate the vengeance of a disregarded and slighted God. This altar St. Paul, with a wisdom and a skill above man’s, takes as the text of his sermon. I am come, he says, to give a name to that anonymous altar. I am come to you from an unknown God, to enable you to fill up that blank space in your devotions. And who then is He? The God who made the world. How then can He be limited to one spot in it? He is the Giver and Preserver of human life: how can He require material offerings as though to support His own? He is the one Creator of all races, assigning to each the duration of its being, and the place of its habitation, and with what object? The 27th verse gives the answer. He quotes from a Greek poet of Tarsus in Cilicia, his own native city, as though claiming for himself a new link of connection with his audience. If we are, as your own poets say, God’s offspring, it is derogatory even to man’s nature to represent God under material and inanimate forms. Let the very dignity of man cry out against the disparagement of God. There was, he continues, a long and dreary age, during which God seemed as it were to acquiesce in the spiritual ignorance of His creatures. But now He has interposed with a call to repentance. And that call is backed by a threatening as well as a promise. There is a day of judgment. And that judgment will be conducted by a Man, the proof of whose Judgeship is the fact of His own resurrection. Well can we understand that there was that in this address which was at once trifling and shocking in Grecian ears (Acts 17:32-34). And for this time he departed from among them. (Dean Vaughan.)
Paul at Athens
1. Paul is now “waiting.” He needs rest, and so will sit down and be quiet and recover himself. Paul waiting! The two words do not go happily together. He cannot wait. Life is short; the enemy is at hand; the opportunity enlarges; and he who was left in an attitude of waiting begins to burn. A paroxysm (for that is the literal word) seizes his heart as he sees a sight he had never beheld before--a city wholly given to idolatry--one, as an historian tells us, in which it was easier to find a god than a man. “Thou shalt not make to thyself any graven image” was ringing in Paul’s ears.
2. Athens was wholly given to idolatry. You cannot stop at one idol. One brings another. This law has also its force in higher directions. You cannot stop with one isolated excellence. It is not excellence if you so use it. 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 Athelstan philosophy--it is ours too! “Start another mission, and let us play what pranks we like under the darkness.” “Build five hundred more churches, but let us drink the devil’s cup right down to its last hot drop.” There are more idols in London than ever there were in Athens; not marble idols, but idols we can hide. Were Paul to come here he would see fashion, fortune, ease, ambition, self-seeking. In mighty, measureless London, for every man is his own idol! 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 paganism but crucifixion. The Athenian pagan might be led away argumentatively from stone deities to conceptions of deific being and force; but the pagan heart never listens to intellectual appeals. Only one thing can break the heart idol--“the hammer of the Lord,” that can grind to powder the stoniest heart that ever shut out the clemency and love of Heaven. “Not by might, nor by power,” etc.
3. Paul did a little introductory work. He always began just where the opportunity permitted him. “He disputed in the synagogue with the Jews,” 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 and Paul listened. Having listened, he spoke, as he had a right to do according to Athenian custom, but be spoke so as to bring upon himself a contemptuous name. “What will this seed pecker say? He is evidently nibbling at something, poor little, small-minded, weak-eyed Jew.” “He seemeth to be a setter forth of strange gods.” “Strange, i.e., startling things” (Acts 17:20). The gospel startles; it never comes easily into any civilisation. Jesus did not come to send peace, but a sword, not quietness, but fire!
4. The Athenians were interested in the matter from an intellectual point of view (Acts 17:18). That is not religious inquiry. If you want to know what that is, recall the instance of the jailer who said, “What must I do to be saved?” Are we typified by the jailer or by the stoic? Let us be honest with ourselves. If we are in God’s house for the purpose of ascertaining God’s Word, all heaven will be aflame with light, and every guest at God’s table will be satisfied; but if we are here in the Athenian spirit we may be disappointed and mocked.
5. Paul was always ready to speak. But they were learned men, so was he, but not as many men are with unavailable learning, but in his gospel. He asked for no time to prepare. Instantly he said, “Ye men of Athens.” That was Demosthenic; the great orator always began his appeal thus. Thus 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. There is genius even here. There is a gift of God in little matters as well as in great. Paul was never wanting in tact. Mark the simple dignity of the salutatory form. They were “men”; they met upon a common platform. Then the next, “I perceive that in all things ye are too religiously minded.” Mark the broad and generous recognition. Do not affront the people you intend afterwards to persuade. There are two methods of delivering a country from idolatry. The one is, Jehu like, to destroy Baal out of Israel; the other is to displace the false by the introduction of the true; not to deride an idol, but to preach a Saviour. So Paul recognises what he sees. “I found an altar with this inscription: to the unknown God. I will begin where you end. Whom, therefore, ye ignorantly worship, Him declare I unto you.” What infinite tact! That is the true method of preaching today. You must interpret to men what they do not interpret to themselves. Endeavour to make the most of a man. Every man has upon him this inscription, “To the Unknown,” and the Christian teacher has to say, “Then I will make it known to you. Do you ever yearn and desire?” Then such aspiration is the beginning of prayer. Do you suffer for others? You will sit up all night that others may sleep. If so, that is the beginning of sacrifice. Are you dissatisfied with earth and time? Are you filled with discontentment? That is the beginning of immortality. 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. (J. Parker, D. D.)
Paul at Athens
Greece was the clime and residence of the beautiful. The very air was tempered to delight, and the soul imbibed the same sunny hues as the landscape. The passion for the beautiful, gave to the Greeks a more brilliant mythology than any other nation. Music moulded the flexible language into its own nature, and it became so plastic that its very swell and modulation were but the waves of song. The arts and sciences danced around humanity, and “stored man’s home with comforts, and charmed his senses with all kinds and forms of elegance.” Athens was a marble paradise, filled with temples and with gods, whose forms were the very models of symmetry and perfection. What were the feelings which Athens was likely to produce in a mind so accomplished as Paul’s? To the splendour of its name, to the charms of its literature, he was no stranger; and his mind was peculiarly alive to every form of beauty. The streets were but long galleries of godlike forms in marble. Athens was the very focus of idolatry, and the apostle witnessed the living magnificence of their worship, the gorgeous attire of their priests--the solemn pomp of their processions--the clouds of fragrant incense which alone could obscure their transparent atmosphere, and the majesty of their theatres. He heard the surpassing melody of their music, and listened to the discourses of their orators; and “his spirit was stirred within him,” but only because “he beheld the city wholly given to idolatry.” Let me direct your attention to--
I. The preacher. He was no ordinary man. His mind, naturally strong, had been strengthened by culture; he had great energy and decision of character. Like the bird of heaven, he was at home in the storm as well as in the sunshine. He was once the greatest enemy of that truth of which he was now the foremost advocate. What a change has taken place in his views and feelings, since when a young man he studied Grecian literature! Just look at him with that volume of Greek poetry in his hand. He is longing for the hour when he shall visit Athens, and converse with the literati, and drink in inspiration from the fountain. He visits Athens; but, strange to tell, he visits that celebrated city as a preacher of the Cross! He is now to contend with the very master spirits of the world, in the very palace of intellect, and in the very sanctuary of idolatry.
II. The place where Paul preached. The spot where he stood was a rock where in earlier days the supreme court of justice had been held. Though the authority of this court had been abridged by the Roman conquest, still it was reserved for the judges to determine what gods were to be admitted into the temples, and to pronounce sentence upon any who should be guilty of blaspheming the divinities of Greece. If ever the sincerity of the preacher was tried, it was upon this occasion; and if ever Paul displayed intrepidity of character, it was upon Mars’ hill.
III. The congregation. Around him, then, were gathered a multitude, acute, inquisitive, and polished. Never did preacher have such a congregation. There were the philosophers of bower and porch; orators with whom the slightest tinge of a barbarian accent would break the power of the most persuasive discourse; Epicureans who believed the world was created by accident or by chance--men who though they professed to believe in the existence of a God, regarded Him as dwelling in the far-off watchtowers of some distant world, indifferent to His creatures; and Stoics who believe in two principles, God and matter, both eternal, and therefore they virtually denied that there was any creation. There, too, was the priest, astonished at the daring of the preacher; the young Roman who had come to Athens to be educated; the Jew looking on with hatred and fury at the apostate from the ancient faith; and there, too, though afar off and crouching to the ground, was the slave, drinking in the doctrine--strange and new to him, sweet as music to his ears--that God had “made all men of one blood.” What must Paul have felt when surrounded by such a congregation!
IV. The sermon. Nobly did the champion of truth perform his part. He spoke worthy of himself, of his commission, and his congregation. You cannot fail to be struck by the adaptation of this discourse to the congregation. When Paul went into a synagogue he reasoned with the Jews out of the Scriptures. But here were men who believed that the creation of the world was altogether fortuitous; those who did not believe in any creation at all; those who denied that there was any future state. The apostle then set himself to prove to them that there was a God, that this God was the Creator of all things, that there was an overruling Providence, and consequently that there was a judgment to come. We can only seize on some of the leading features of this sermon. How appropriate and judicious his introduction! Since you are worshippers of an “unknown God” it must be gratifying to you, who are such religious people, to hear something concerning Him. From his primary positions the apostle proceeds to draw certain inferences, viz., that God is not confined to any particular place, that God is independent; and the spirituality of the Divine Being. With these reasonings the apostle makes an assertion relative to the duty of man, to seek an acquaintance with God through the medium of His works and ways; and then concludes by observing, that though God for ages had left the Gentiles to themselves, now He “commanded all men everywhere to repent,” etc.
V. The effects (verses 32-34). Conclusion:
1. The great propriety of discourses being adapted to the circumstances of the hearers. It is necessary that the preacher should commend himself to every man’s conscience in the sight of God; but where there is a variety of character and circumstances, it is a difficult thing for a minister to adapt himself. But “the truth as it is in Jesus” is adapted to all men’s circumstances.
2. Paul’s discourse is an excellent homily for these times. There are not a few who are worshippers of an “unknown God”; who attach sanctity to certain places; who suppose that God takes delight in certain words, and in certain postures. Let such study Paul’s sermon, and they will find that that very sermon preached eighteen hundred years ago is peculiarly adapted to their circumstances. (H. J. Bevis.)
Paul at Athens
The practical lessons are:--
I. That a truly good man will be sensitive to the moral evils prevalent in the community in which he is placed (verse 16). Here idolatry was rampant. What are the prevailing evils in London?
II. A truly good man will bestir himself for the removal of those evils. There are those who feel and say much, but do nothing (verse 17).
III. In dealing with these evils a man who is wise as well as good will strike at their root ignorance of God and His will. There was much vice, but Paul said nothing of that. Political and social reforms are good, but what the world needs is regeneration. Make the tree good and its fruit will be good.
IV. In dealing with these evils tact is needed as well as zeal (verse 22). Paul never committed the gross oratorical blunder of accusing his audience of superstition. What he commended and proved was their religiousness, and having put them in good humour he proceeded to deliver his message. There is a great deal in the way we take hold of people. You must conciliate men before you can convert them.
V. In dealing with these evils you must not expect uniform success (verses 32-34). (R. A. Bertram.)
Paul at Athens
The practical lessons which this scene teaches us are--
I. That the loftiest efforts of unaided men, can produce no higher religion than a refined polytheism. This is confirmed by the records of all heathenism. Had man been left to himself, he never would have known the true God; and hence the privilege of living in a land where the Triune God is known and worshipped.
II. That art and literature have in themselves no conserving moral force. The citizens of Athens had a poetry, which maintains its precedence to this day; a literature, unsurpassed in eloquence and vigour; an art, developing itself in paintings, and statues, and architecture, which are even now the proudest monuments of human skill: yet just as in the age of Louis XIV in France, and in the Augustan age at Rome, art and literature were not only powerless to arrest immorality, they absolutely ministered to it. The mind is rightly cultivated only when educated in the principle of personal accountability to God. Hence the danger of a merely secular education. Hence the need of a Christian leaven in our secular schools.
III. That philosophy, originating in human minds, can construct no true system of belief or duty. Philosophy requires three constant factors to its full and true development, viz., a first Cause; a full knowledge of this first Cause; and a full knowledge of man himself. But no human mind can grasp these factors. We must look then above man to get this true philosophy; and we find it in the revelation of God. But “no man knoweth the Father, but the Son, and Hero whom the Son will reveal Him”; and Jesus only “needeth not that any should testify of man; for He knows what is in man.” So then we reach the fact that in Jesus Christ are “hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.” A philosophy which leaves out Christ is like a planetary system without a central sun, a mere series of vortices without a uniting and controlling centre. Philosophy has found out many truths, but not the great foundation truths of God’s existence, and attributes, and grace; and man’s fall, and helplessness, and need of a Saviour. How, then, should we thank God, that He has revealed all this to us.
IV. That repentance is a personal duty, eased on personal responsibility to God for personal sins. Heathenism knew nothing of sin, as the alienation of the heart from God. Its very gods were but splendid embodiments of sin; and their influence was only to reproduce in daily life the crimes which filled Olympus. It is the religion of Christ only which measures moral character with the unerring lines and in the unerring balances of the Divine law. It is only as we act upon the truth that man is personally responsible to God, and will be judged, that we shall have true views of God, and understand our need of a Saviour. (Bp. Stevens.)
Paul at Athens; Christianity in contact with cultivated mind
I. The subject on which the minister of the gospel addresses men is worthy of the attention of cultivated minds.
1. There ought to be no occasion for arguing this point. Paul felt no necessity of showing that the subject was worthy of attention. The Athenians had already expressed their sense of the importance of the inquiry by inviting him to come to the place where he could best address the people. We, on the contrary, are obliged to awaken inquiry, and to show why religion is worthy of profound thought.
(1) Among those who, in other respects, would be represented by the Athenian philosophers, religion does not come within the range of their inquiries. They are scientists, jurists, editors, philosophers, etc., not theologians.
(2) The great mass of men stop short when they approach the subject of religion in their investigations, even when it would appear impossible that they should not be led to see and to embrace its truths. In astronomy, e.g., such men seem almost to look upon the throne of God; but they will no, allow their minds to take the next step, and many an astronomer remains ignorant of Him who made the worlds.
(3) When men do come up to the point they find the subject distasteful. They have come into a region where the ideas of duty--retribution, repentance--are likely to be predominant; and they are not attracted by these themes.
2. It is proper, therefore, to show that the subject of religion is worthy the attention of this class of minds. Observe therefore--
(1) That it is an avowed principle with such persons, that all subjects are to be investigated. It is a maxim in philosophy that truth is to be followed wherever it may lead us. Why, then, should the astronomer refuse to follow out the revelation when the throne of God seems to stand before him, and admit that there is a God? Why should he always talk about “Nature,” and never about “God”?
(2) As mere abstract matters, the subjects of religion are as worthy of attention as any that can come before the minds of men. The Greeks, as a people, had evinced their own convictions of this, far more than most other nations. When Grecian sages were thus leading a foreign Jew to the Areopagus to ask him what he had to say on this subject, no man in Athens would feel that this was an unworthy act in the city of Socrates and Plato. No class of people, however advanced in civilisation, act contrary to the dictates of the highest wisdom, when they give themselves to earnest thought about the Creator of the world, the methods of the Divine administration, etc. If these great subjects are not important for man, what subjects can be?
(3) The subject of religion pertains, as a personal matter, as really to cultivated men as to the rest of mankind. It does not merely open questions relating to the welfare of society; but it is a subject of personal importance to each individual.
II. Paul was in possession of knowledge on these subjects which was in advance of what these philosophers possessed. In considering this, notice--
1. The manner in which Paul approached the subject of his peculiar doctrines.
(1) He made no direct attack on their religion. He did not awaken their prejudices, as if his mission was to destroy their temples.
(2) He commended their zeal in religion as real zeal in a great cause; and he referred, without any unkind reflections, to the evidence of that zeal exhibited on every hand.
(3) He referred to their acknowledged difficulties--to the avowal of their own ignorance or uncertainty, as recorded on the altar.
(4) He proposed to reveal the God whom they thus unconsciously adored; to lead them up to the real source of every blessing.
(5) He agreed, as far as possible, with the philosophers who heard him, and reasoned from their admitted principles. A truth found in their poetry, though it was heathen poetry, was not the less a truth because it had had such an origin, and because it was not found in the inspired writings of the Jews. So far he was successful. He did not excite their fears. He did not expose himself to contempt. He secured, as he had hoped to do, their profound attention.
2. The doctrines which he made known to them.
(1) Those which were based on principles that they themselves held--though in advance of their views.
(a) The existence of a God--to them the “unknown God.”
(b) The fact that this “unknown” God was the Creator of the world.
(c) The immensity of God.
(d) The independence of God.
(e) The unity of the human race.
(f) The grand purpose for which certain arrangements had been made in respect to the human race: “that they should seek God,” etc.
(g) The spirituality of God and of religion (verse 29).
(2) The doctrines which were peculiar to the Christian system; the “strange things” in reference to which particularly they had asked an explanation.
(a) God now commands universal repentance.
(b) God will judge the world.
(c) The resurrection of the dead; as derived from the fact that God had raised from the dead Him who was to judge the world,
III. The lessons suggested by the discourse.
1. Christianity does not shrink from investigation. Paul manifested no reluctance, but rejoiced in the opportunity of proclaiming the gospel where it would be most likely to be subjected to a thorough examination.
2. The history of the world, since Paul stood on Mars’ Hill, has made no difference in the relation of Christianity to the world ill the matter under consideration, lit claims to be now not less in advance of the world than it was then. The world has, indeed, made great progress in arts, science, etc., but it has made no advances in the knowledge of the great truths of religion by the aid of science or philosophy.
3. If Christianity was then, and is now, ahead of the world on these subjects, it may be presumed that it will ever retain this advanced position.
4. This furnishes a strong proof of the Divine origin of Christianity. System after system of philosophy and religion has disappeared. But Christianity has lived through all changes. After all the discoveries and developments of the last eighteen centuries--after all that has been affirmed to be in conflict with the Bible--the hold of Christianity on the world is stronger now, and the belief that the Bible is true is more widespread and deep, than in any past age. (A. Barnes, D. D.)
His spirit was stirred in him when he saw the city wholly given to idolatry.--
Moral wretchedness of idolatry
The great argument for missionary exertion, next to its being the plain command of God, is the spiritual helplessness of those who live under the power of idolatry. This paroxysm of grief which the apostle felt would be excited by--
I. The dishonouring views of the Divine character and government necessarily associated with such a system. Those who think lightly of idolatry speak as if it afforded the same outlet for the religious affections as true religion; that the religious element in man’s nature is as effectually cultivated, whether men called the being they worshipped Vishnu, or Juggernaut, or God, seeing the same honour in all cases is intended to the Great Author of the universe. But now, even if this monstrous impiety were conceded, it is sufficient to observe that the attributes with which these gods are commonly invested must for ever forbid the acceptableness of the worship. So far otherwise, God must regard it as worship by which His character is debased, and everything which could inspire filial and reverential sentiments is taken away.
II. The sanctioned and permitted disregard of the first principles of morality. The religion of Greece was chiefly a religion of festivals; and some of these extended to seven days. True, some were simply absurd; but at the majority things were performed of which it were a shame even to speak. With similar accounts our own missionaries are obliged to stain their reports unto this day. Now, it is easy to see that morality can have no existence under such a state of things, because all morals must have as their foundation the will of God. “Be ye holy, because I am holy,” appeals to a universal moral instinct; flee from iniquity, because God hateth iniquity--these are the safeguards of all that is pure in our social system. In the case of idolatry, however, this safeguard is removed. It were in vain that the law should forbid a thing as unholy which religion has declared to be acceptable in the sight of God.
III. The utter absence of all religious peace or tranquillity of conscience. The consideration may address itself, first, to our feelings of humanity. In some respects we know that the worship of the idolater must be a miserable worship. His self-inflicted torture must make existence to be a burden to him. But this belongs less to Athenian than to Asiatic idolatry. We may suppose the mind of the apostle to have been exercised by the absence of religious peace. They know not God; they know not the mercifulness of His nature, the wisdom of His ways, the gentleness of His yoke, the goodness of His laws. I am speaking to men who know something of the comforts of religion. What is the source of it? You feel that a propitiation has been found for your offences; that an exhaustless fund of holy influences is opened to meet every remaining infirmity; and that there is the power of a covenant keeping God to keep you faithful unto the end. You have troubles; but are not these among those things which work together for the believer’s good? But what knows the poor heathen of such consolations?
IV. Painful misgivings as to the final salvation of these people. Our chief guide upon such a subject must he the first chapter of the Epistle to the Romans. There does not seem to be an important distinction in that chapter; for though the apostle does seem to leave some hope of salvation for the mere heathen who is without the knowledge of God, is it quite so clear that it leaves a hope of salvation to the idolater? The heathen, it seems to be supposed, will be a law unto himself, and has a power to discern from the things which are seen and made the Almighty’s eternal power and Godhead. But suppose, instead of this, he should change the image of the incorruptible God into the image of corruptible man, etc., are we then prepared to say that an idolater hath any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God? We limit no mercies; but everywhere, as we look on the vast outspread of idolatry, the stern and withering sentence meets us, “Without God, without hope.” Oh! must not every heart be stirred up within us at such a spectacle? Conclusion: And now, in applying my remarks to the cause of missions, I must remind you of our three great wants and your three correlative duties. First, we want the means. But not only do we want your money--we want your sons. And then we want your prayers. (D. Moore, M. A.)
Paul’s moral survey of Athens
What did he discover that so intensely distressed him?
I. Great genius perverted. He saw--
1. Developments of great genius. What Jerusalem has been in the true religious culture of humanity, Athens has been in the culture of the aesthetical and reasoning powers of mankind.
2. Perversions of great genius. Though possessing a mind qualified to appreciate the splendid works which lay about him, yet he was thrown into an agony of grief at what he beheld. He had a standard of character unknown to any Athenian sage, and he felt that the aesthetic glory of Greece was but a gorgeous covering which genius had spread over a vast cemetery of moral corruption. Genius wasted--nay, worse than that, employed for immoral and impious ends. There is nothing in mere material civilisation, even in its highest forms, to delight a truly enlightened soul.
II. The great God dishonoured. With all this display the Athenians had--
1. No grand moral purpose in life (verse 21). Empty theories and idle gossip occupied their chief attention; since they knew not the only true God, they had no grand purpose in life. The deeper and diviner parts of their souls were undeveloped.
2. No love for the true God. Athens, by wisdom, knew not God. “It was easier,” says an old writer, “to find a god than a man.” All history shows that where the gospel has not gone, man has never reached the true religion, nor felt the higher inspirations of his being (Romans 1:1-32). The best of the Athenian gods were but men, whose passions in some cases were of the most revolting kind. Paul knew that the destiny of the soul depended upon its worship; that if it worshipped any object but God, it must inevitably sink lower and lower forever. There is but one being that has a claim to the worship of man--the Creator. He claims the supreme homage and service of all souls. His claim is just: no conscience can dispute it. Because the apostle loved supremely this supreme object of worships he felt intense pain at seeing His righteous claims contemned. “I beheld the ways of transgressors, and was grieved.” (D. Thomas, D. D.)
Paul’s estimate of the Athenians
We are taught by this passage--
I. To be deeply affected by the moral condition of the world.
1. Paul’s was the excitement of fervent zeal for the honour of Christ.
2. He felt also the outrage done by idolatry to the dignity of human nature.
3. In this excitement the love of souls was not wanting.
II. That such an affection will lead to the use of active means for the world’s salvation.
1. Paul was never ashamed of Christ’s gospel.
2. He laid aside all fears of failure.
3. He does not remain inactive at Athens because he has no particular mission there. (Evangelical Preacher.)
The moral versus the aesthetic
When Howard went forth, on what a great orator has called his “circumnavigation of charity,” he visited some of the noblest cities, and passed through some of the most attractive scenery of modern Europe; but neither the splendour and wealth of the one, nor the attractions of the other, could engage his attention; the dungeon and the hospital, where suffering humanity invited his aid, had an interest to his mind which drew him aside from everything else, and made him insensible “to the sumptuousness of palaces and the stateliness of temples,” to the curiosity of art, and even to the sublimities and beauties of nature. Cicero tells us that for him Athens had a higher charm than was derived from its magnificent buildings and exquisite works of art--the charm that arose from the memory of its illustrious men, and which made him search out the abodes and favourite haunts of each, and look with intent gaze on their sepulchres. In all large and earnest minds the moral will ever overtop and master the aesthetic; and, save as the latter may in some way be made subservient to the former, such minds will be apt to overlook, if not entirely to underestimate it. What wonder, then, that Paul, bent on a mission of moral beneficence to which he had consecrated his life, and penetrated with an all-absorbing desire to accomplish a result which he knew to be the noblest and worthiest and most enduring that could be proposed to human exertion, should have been content to bestow only a passing glance on the marble splendours of Athens, and should have been more deeply moved by the gloom which rested on the moral features of the scene, than by all the glory which lighted up its physical and material aspect? As he moved through the city, he beheld how all this wealth of genius was prostituted to the service of a vain and misleading superstition. (W. L. Alexander, D. D.)
Christian unconcern explained
I was speaking with a gentleman who had just returned from a visit to Niagara, where he lived in the Clifton Hotel, which is close to the Falls. He asked a waiter, ‘Are you not annoyed by the noise of the waterfall?’ ‘Positively I don’t hear it. When I first came here I hardly heard anything for it; now it is quite quiet to me.’ Why is this? Because he is accustomed to it. That is the reason Christians are content to sit with folded hands, looking calmly on while so many of their fellows are gliding down the broad road to eternal death. Rouse yourselves; ask God for Christ’s sake to give you grace and strength to ‘rescue the perishing.’” (J. McFarlane.)
Therefore disputed he in the synagogue … and in the market.
Paul’s discussions in the synagogue and market place
I. The parties with whom Paul reasoned. These may be looked on in two aspects:--
(1) The “Jews” were monotheists. They believed in the one true and living God, and in Moses as His great minister.
(2) The “Epicureans” were atheists. They ascribed the creation of the world to chance; they had no faith in the one infinite Creator of heaven and earth.
(3) The Stoics were pantheists. They confounded the universe with God, or regarded it rather as God. Paul had to deal, therefore, with these three great intellectual systems. Each would require a very different line of argument.
2. Ethically. These three represented three great cardinal moral evils--
(1) Self-righteousness in the Jew.
(2) Carnality in the Epicurean.
(3) Indifferentism in the Stoics.
II. The subjects on which he discoursed--“Jesus and the resurrection.”
1. The greatest person in the history of the race.
2. The greatest fact in the history of this person.
III. The effects of the discussion.
1. Contempt. “What will this babbler say?” Paul was probably no orator in their sense, nor was he of commanding presence.
2. Misconception. They thoroughly misunderstood him. “He seemeth to be a setter forth of strange gods.”
3. Curiosity (Acts 17:19). This was so far the most favourable result. The apostle’s teaching succeeded up to this point in generating in them the desire to know something more about the new doctrine. (D. Thomas, D. D.)
St. Paul in the market place
1. St. Paul seems to have had so little thought of his own dignity, and we find his most efficient work was accomplished when he turned his back upon the synagogue, and went down into the market place. Yes, hither, rather than to the court or the palace. He did not wait for the people to come to him--he went to them. In the history of the new religion it was always so. The Scribes and Pharisees of John the Baptist’s day sought him, but he never sought them. Herod sent for John, but John never hung about the court, and when he was summoned to the royal presence, uttered unpleasant truths with great plainness. Nay, Christ Himself discloses a singular indifference to the reformation of either the religious or secular rulers of the time. And, when we follow the history of St. Paul, we find Agrippa, Felix, and Festus send for the apostle. So that there was no want of opportunity to make an impression in high places--and yet, the new religion resolutely sought the low ones.
2. It has been supposed that this was because the new religion aimed to testify to its sympathy with the masses. It was not aristocratic, it was democratic. Its Founder was not one of the “privileged classes,” He was a mechanic. And so it turned away from courts, and went where sorrow and need were most surely to be found. All which is true enough, but by no means the whole truth. The new religion turned its footsteps to the marketplace, because it discerned that in the transformation of the passions, hopes, and interests of the market place was to be found the redemption of humanity. Plato had said that “no relief would ever reach the ills of men until either statesmen became philosophers, or philosophers assumed the government of states.” To him the only hope of the commonwealth was in a perfect system of government, perfectly administered. It is what many of us are thinking today. But the hope of a nation really lies in the elevation and redemption of individual character among its people; and according to the New Testament, without waiting to reconstruct governments, we must begin by striving for the new creation of individual character.
3. And, in just so far as it has won any substantial victories, it is thus that the religion of Christ has worked from the beginning. Meantime we cannot overlook the fact that there have gone forward the triumphs of civilisation. When the Church points to what the faith of the Crucified has done for the individual life, the apostles of learning and science point to what these have done for society and the state, And who of us can see this without admiration.? But who of us can see it without seeing something more? With the growth of wealth there has come the growth of poverty; with the multiplication of the arts, the multiplication of evil uses to which those arts may be turned; with the birth of new sciences, there has confronted us the birth of new and hateful vices. Who of us is not awed as he sees the splendours of London or Paris or Vienna? And yet within a stone’s throw of some tall palace or some stately museum, what festering courts; what wretchedness and degradation! Is this the product of the highest civilisation, and if it is, how is it better than that barbarism on which, so complacently, it professes to look down? To such questions as these there can be but one answer. There is not a reform, a science, an art, a single step in the purification of our forms of government, that is not a step in the right direction. But the millennium will never come by that road. You may make government as just as was Aristides. You may make the streams of official patronage and power as pure and as wholesome as the sparkling waters of a mountain spring. But you cannot cure a cancer with spring water. You cannot restore the lost reason by means of a wholesome diet and a padded cell. “There is a spirit in man, and the inspiration of the Almighty giveth him understanding.” To that spirit, personally, something must speak as with a message from God.
4. And so we find the apostle as the messenger of that spirit, pleading and arguing in the market place. How hopeless it must have seemed at first! With what a light laugh they must have listened to this “babbler.” How useless, his fellow Israelites kept assuring him, doubtless, was any attempt to get a hearing there! It is the same cry now. What are you going to do about the ever-increasing mass of people who are growing up in as genuine heathenism as any that is to be found in Dahomey? How vain to attempt to gain an entrance or to make an impression there! Thank God that the apostle was wiser, and knew better than this. He knew that in the market place then, as in the tenement now, there beat the same human hearts and ached the same unanswered wants that were throbbing anywhere else. He knew that there was no one so degraded, so hardened but that somewhere in him there was the small crevice through which the truth could find its way. Above all, he knew that the more hopeless was the darkness the more urgent was the need and call for light. And so he begins at the bottom--in the market place--with the individual soul.
5. This message of the apostle, a personal message to the personal soul, is mine to you today. This religion of ours, is it a pastime for Sundays, or is it a message and a mandate for Sundays and week days alike? Will you hearken to it only here, or will you own its authority in the house and in the market place as well? If the world is to become better, it must become better because we have consented to become better. In urging such reform it is my business to hold up before you here a high ideal, and to bid you at whatever cost, to strive to realise it. Not unfrequently, I am told, “What is the use of setting up an impossible mark of attainment only to daunt one by the dismal discrepancy of his own endeavours.” And yet, who of us would be genuinely contented with any other? When, from those loftier levels, the Master’s truth comes trembling down to our souls, there is something in us that answers to it. Even so, I think, at Athens, there were some who were carrying heavy and unshared burdens. With what unspeakable thankfulness, when at last they heard of Him who had come to lift off those burdens, must they have turned to Him and gladly laid them at His feet! (Bp. H. C. Potter, D. D.)
The Agora, in all Greek cities the centre and focus of life, must not be confounded with an ordinary “market.” It was one to a certain extent. In one portion there were booths containing common articles of consumption, as well as bazaars for those of luxury. Other parts would be more suggestive of our own Covent Garden; shops for flowers and fruit; vegetables and oranges from the surrounding gardens; oil from the olive groves on the slopes of Lycabettus; honey from Hymettus; even fish from the shores of Salamis and Euboea. Mingling somewhat incongruously with these, we have the mention of stalls for books and parchments; a clothes booth; a depot for stolen goods; and the slave market called “Cyclus.” It was in this respect, a convenient trading centre for the surrounding city. But its main features and use were very different. Architecturally it must have been impressive. It is described by a writer as a “natural amphitheatre.” There was the Altar of the Twelve Gods, from which emanated, in varied directions, the streets of the city and the roads of Attica. Here, in one place, was the “Stoa Basileios,” “the Royal Porch” dedicated to Aurora; here, in another, is a Stoa dedicated to Zeus, with paintings of various deities by the artist Euphranor. These and similar ornamental buildings rose at all events on two sides, one of which was confronted with the Statues of the Ten Heroes. Xenophon tells us that, at certain festivals, it was customary for the knights to make the circuit of the Agora on horseback, beginning at the statue of Hermes, and paying homage to the statues and temples around. That garrulous throng whom Paul met here was composed of philosophers, artists, poets, historians, supplemented by a still livelier contingent of gossip mongers and idlers of every kind which gathered under alcove and colonnade to converse on “burning questions.” Moreover, anterior to the art of printing, and when journalistic literature was a future revelation, it formed the only means and opportunity of discussing the politics of the hour. Even the varied colour, blending and contrasted in this babel of confusion, must have been striking and picturesque, if the dress of the modern Greek is a survival of classic ages. Then the Agora opened its gates, not to natives only, but to “strangers” (verse 21). We can think therefore of “excursionists” and merchants, either in pursuit of pleasure or of gain, or both combined, from other towns and capitals near and distant. Noisy traffickers from Corinth and Thessalonica, Ephesus and Smyrna, Antioch and Damascus; sailors and voyagers from the Alexandrian vessel or Roman galley at anchor in the Piraeus. Here and there a Jew with sandalled feet, his long robe girdled round the waist and fringed with blue ribbon. Here and there some soldiers from the barracks--now on foot, now mounted--the flash of their helmets mingling with the red and yellow mantles of the market women, or with the still rarer keffeih and fillets of the swarthy children of the Arabian or Syrian deserts. What a rare “symposium”; what a singular whirlpool of thought in this “tumultuous Agora!” (J. R. Macduff, D. D.)
Certain philosophers of the Epicureans, and of the Stoics, encountered him.--
Epicureans and Stoics
It is a moment of perpetual and universal human interest, this moment of our text, when philosophers of the Epicureans and of the Stoics encountered Paul, the Christian, with his preaching of Jesus and of the Resurrection. For it was the moment when the gospel met the two sides of human life together, and spoke to them together, and contrasted its oneness with their dividedness, its wholeness with their partialness, and showed its mission of reconciliation. Who does not know what I mean when we talk of the two sides of life? Who is so young that he has not had life come up to him in the form of a question with something to be said on both sides? Who is so old as to have outgrown such questions? What day but presents one of them? Does not the great earth itself give you a perpetual parable of your single life, and each single life upon it? How it turns between day and night! I cannot think it is wrong to illustrate in this way Christ’s coming to the two sides of life, each true in itself, but partial; both truths, but half truths; each to the other inconceivable, except through the coming of Christ, the higher Light and the Reconciler. Epicureans and Stoics--these two classes of men represented the two opposite points of the sphere of life. Both represented facts, but separated ones. One was a class of men and minds who had started from the very high truth that good was sure to be the highest happiness, and had degenerated quickly into the mere pursuit of happiness and pleasure, as if they were good and would bring good of themselves. These were Epicureans. And their opposites were Stoics, a class of men and minds who had started from the noble truth that the highest good involves and is hardship and bravery, and had as quickly degenerated into mere proud endurance--pride in their own strength as the only good, and scorn of any gentleness or pleasure. One said, “It is a bright world, let us just enjoy it”; another, “It is a hard world, let us just endure it.” One would become selfish in luxury, the other selfish in strength and denial; the one was caught in sweetness, the other in bitterness; the one blinded by excess of light, the other by excess of darkness. They were the reverse sides of the globe of life. And yet could anything have been truer or nobler than the facts upon which they each rested? Is not virtue happiness? Is not virtue hardship and endurance? But half truths must degenerate into error. One side of human life by itself must deteriorate and become bad and selfish, and sink just as one side of a scale without a corresponding weight upon the other side must fall. So the happiness of virtue, and the hardness of virtue, had become on either side mere self-enjoyment and self-confidence. So human life must fall into error, however high it begins, unless it encounters some higher life and light. It never has anything except its own one human tendency to rely upon, which runs away with it if not corrected, and the half truth becomes a whole error. The best of lives at its best is one-sided, and alone, without Christ, will degenerate. Its noble tendencies will narrow upon self. It will surely end in meanness and error. Paul, then, meets these degenerate representatives of noble reverse rides of life, Epicureans and Stoics; and they are together as they encounter Paul. In their degenerate form they have a common union--not union in a higher life, but in a lower life, in a common selfishness. Is it a strange alliance? And yet your own single life may show the same thing--the armour under the silk. How much you may endure for pleasure’s sake; how you toil selfishly in order to enjoy selfishly; and yet the toil and enjoyment are perfectly out of sympathy with each other. There is nothing in common between them but the thought of self. That hollow union is the best the earthly life can make between the two sides, which say, “I ought to be happy and I ought to endure.” The two ideas of enjoyment and endurance go on seemingly as hopelessly separate as ever, whether in one life or two lives. Unless Christ meet them, and their union be in what Paul preached, Jesus and the Resurrection. What happens then? First, this, and it is the great thing which the gospel was meant to do, and I beg your closest attention to it. The gospel is bent on giving the two Divine motives, a Divine Person and a Divine future, Jesus and the Resurrection. It does not announce duties; it brings warm, stimulating motives. It preaches Jesus, who is the deep love of God for you, Him whose love and strength has come from the high heaven for you, come to the deep sin for you, come across the breadth of the world to you, come through the long years to you. Return His love, and you are in the happiness of virtue at once. The happiness of His companionship is the happiness of virtue. In His company you reach that fulness of joy. And now see, it is a happiness which also includes endurance. It does not depend on circumstances. It comes from the love of a Person, of Jesus the Lord. Am I bound to Him? Then I am happy; notwithstanding how self is put down, or how circumstances change. Happiness is not a mere luxury, not a quietness, not a favourable arrangement of circumstances. But it is my friendship with Jesus, which any man can have, and with which any man can endure, and be at once both as good an Epicurean as Epicurus, and as good a Stoic as Zeno. Now turn it over and begin with the other side; not how men think of happiness, but how they think of endurance. Suppose that a man says, “It is hard for me to do my duty, to be dutiful and faithful. I suppose I must just nerve myself to it and go to it as a necessity.” He and you are apt to think he is very brave, and is acting just in the right spirit. You let him go off in that way, and even give him your encouragement. But the gospel never left a man in that way. It never told a man to go and do a thing because he had to do it, and had better make the best of it and go with a good grace. But it preaches Jesus as Paul preached Him to the Stoics as well as Epicureans. “Do it, bear it, with Jesus and for Jesus. Go to it out of no necessity, but for the love of the Lord, who sets and leads the toil or suffering, and has borne so much for you. Can you not deny self for Him and His commands?” As the gospel gives no effeminate happiness, so now it gives no bitter bravery, no dreary courage, but a joyful endurance that is happier than any earthly delight in selfish pleasures; and the two sides of life are one in that preaching of Jesus which Paul brought to Stoics and Epicureans. But Paul gave them another teaching--“the Resurrection”; another motive, not only a Divine Person to love, but a Divine future to reach. Enjoyment and endurance had become simply different ways of getting through the present world, and they knew nothing else. The Epicurean said, “This is all there is; let us try to enjoy it as we can.” The Stoic said, “This is all I know of; let us try to bear it as we must.” But enjoyment and endurance are two very different things when the Resurrection is announced to them, and the Epicureans and the Stoics both encounter Paul. A present opening into a future changes both of them. See what it does for happiness. It makes it no longer the happiness of present possession, but of anticipation and preparation. It makes it active and brave. It is no longer the happiness of a man who sits in the midst of his gathered harvest and eats of his fruits luxuriantly. It is the happiness of one who is enduring the care and toil of preparation and exposure in view of a future harvest. And see on the other side how Paul’s truth of a resurrection changed endurance. It is no longer a bit of stern, proud resolution not to give up, to laugh bitterly and bear it hopelessly, but it is a bravery that is happy also in the great hope of result, a crown laid up, a prize at the end of the race. That alone sends cheerful sunlight through the workshop of life, the knowledge that it is a preparation for a Divine future. Do you not believe that Peter went to his preaching, after he learnt that Christ had risen, much more happily than he went to his fishing when he thought Christ was dead, and that he had just to go back and win his daily bread in the old dreary way? One was endurance with a rich future of results, the other was endurance under a mere present load of necessity. The one was happiness, also, the other was bitterness. So the glad light of a resurrection makes the Christian Stoic as light-hearted as the happiest of Epicureans. So life’s two sides help each other, and it is both sweet and strong. (Frederick Brooks.)
Then Paul stood in the midst of Mars’ hill.
Yes, the people gathered in crowds round the statue, and looked at it again and again. It was not the finest work of art in the city, nor the most intrinsically attractive. Why, then, did the citizens of Verona stand in such clusters around the effigy of Dante on that summer’s evening? Do you guess the reason? It was a fete in honour of the poet. No, you are mistaken; it was but an ordinary evening, and there was nothing peculiar in the date or the events of the day. You shall not be kept in suspense; the reason was very simple; the statue was new; it had, in fact, only been unveiled the day before. Every one passes Dante now, having other things to think of; the citizens are well used to his solemn visage, and scarcely care that he stands among them. Is not this the way of men? (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Novelties and how to regard them
“Did you not say that there was a green rose in this place? There are many lovely flowers here, but I had rather see the green rose than anything else.” So said a visitor as he stood in a garden where palms, and aloes, and all manner of rare plants, from many lands, were to be seen in perfection; and we should not be surprised if our reader, in like case, were to make the same observation. Yet, when the green rose was seen, it was at once denounced as nothing at all desirable, not a tenth as beautiful as a red or white rose. Just so, there are many folks in this world who must see that which is special, outré, unusual; yet, when they see this freak of nature, or of grace, they turn back to the more usual order of good things with considerable relief, for they feel that “the old is better.” It is a pity when a man, especially a preacher, is merely a green rose, with a name for being something remarkable, but with no special excellence with which to maintain a reputation. He attracts only for a moment, but sustains no permanent attention, for there is hardly as much about him as there is in the ordinary unpretending teacher of the gospel. Those wanderers who are always running all over the world after green roses, are by no means so wise as those who are content with the perfume and colour of that flower which grows over their own porch, whether it be red or white. The affectation of the unusual is a trick of the charlatan; the craving after it is the weakness of the shallow-minded. Yet, be it noted, that we do not wish to depreciate the green rose. You see we have almost fallen into that unfairness, but the fault was not intentional. We are glad to have seen it, for as a green rose it has charms of its own. Yet this eagerness to see it, this passing over of lovelier objects, this crying up of one beauty above another, inevitably leads to an undervaluing of that which has obtained undeserved prominence. Your foolish partiality has made your favourite a target for excessive criticism; but we will not yield to the temptation. God has made the green rose, and He makes nothing amiss. Your remarkable friend has his excellencies, and God be thanked for them. Your eccentric preacher has his own adaptations for usefulness. Because you cry him up, we are not going to cry him down. Let each rose display its own colour, and let each man be himself, and let the Lord be glorified in all. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Paul at Athens
I. The audience.
1. Jews. The place where he made his first public appearance as a teacher was the synagogue; and his first audience was composed of Jews and devout persons. This was in accordance with the usual apostolic custom of visiting the Jewish place of worship first, and making it the starting point for more extended labours. Nothing is said about the nature or result of his intercourse with his brethren, save that he disputed with them. He would remind them of their splendid opportunities of bearing witness for God in the pagan city.
2. Common people. Leaving the synagogue, and coming to the Agora or market place, the apostle had to mingle with a different class, and the subject of discussion would also be different. The Agora of Athens must not be associated with what is called the market place of a modern town. It was, indeed, the centre of public life, where business was transacted, where busy men moved to and fro, and idlers loitered about. But it was more than that, it was a space decorated with architectural beauties, an attractive place of resort for all classes of the community eager to listen to instruction or hear the news. It was a place where orators and statesmen, poets and artists used to meet for encouragement and stimulus in their several callings. The appearance of a foreigner among such a people, especially if he seemed sociable and talkative, would soon attract a crowd expecting to hear something new. The daily visits of the apostle to the Agora would afford him ample opportunities of proclaiming new truths in the idol city.
3. Philosophers. The philosophers who encountered him were the Epicureans and the Stoics, both of whom had their schools in the vicinity of the Agora.
(1) Epicureans. This sect took its name from Epicurus, who opened a school for the teaching of his philosophy in a garden in Athens; hence his followers were sometimes styled the “Philosophers of the Garden.” Epicurus taught that the chief end of man was the attainment of pleasure or happiness; and the way to gain it was the removal of every cause of pain or anxiety. A sound body and a tranquil mind constituted the ideal of Epicurean bliss. The main business of life was to raise the mind above cares. Such was the original aim of this school of philosophy; but its later disciples allowed grossest ideas to enter, and pleasure degenerated into the gratification of the appetites. There was no Creator, and no moral government. There were indeed deities, but they lived in undisturbed tranquillity: serene above the turmoil of the world, careless of mankind. The attainment of bliss like theirs was the main business of man’s life on earth.
(2) Stoics. The other sect that encountered Paul was the Stoics, so named because Zeno its founder held his meetings inn building called the Stoa or porch. This system of philosophy is regarded as a nearer approximation to Christianity than the Epicurean, inasmuch as it seems to possess a glimmering of the Divine Fatherhood, and forestalls the Christian truth that goodness is indispensable to happiness. But while it recognises God as the Author of all, it does so in a Pantheistic sense, as if God were everything and everything God. The God of the Stoic is not a distinct personality, but an all-pervading spirit, inseparable from the works of his hands. And not only so, but he, and all his works, are under a pre-ordained decree amounting almost, if not altogether, to fatalism. Everything, indeed, is the result of Fate, and freedom of will consists in bowing to Fate. The man who yields most completely to this iron law is the perfect man. The aim of this system was to produce a passionless conformity to Fate. The pursuit of this end engendered apathy or indifference to everything alike pleasurable and painful. Such was the array of diversified opinion that Paul had to combat, and he nobly vindicated his trust as a Christian teacher in the face of pagan enlightenment. His experience of men, and his knowledge of philosophy, gave him special fitness to discharge the mission that Providence had laid upon him.
4. Public meeting on Mars’ hill. To speak on this venerated spot was a distinction reserved for the foremost orators, and Paul’s promotion to that distinction showed the profound impression he had made. The summit of Mars’ hill was associated in the Athenian mind with solemn and venerable scenes. There sat the most august of assemblies, to dispense justice and confer on religion. The Areopagite court was the supreme tribunal of Athens on social, political, and religious questions. The judges sat in the open air, and their seat on the summit of the rock was reached by a flight of steps. Somewhere on this reserved and hallowed eminence the apostle took his stand; and whether he was there on his defence, as some suppose, or simply for convenience in addressing a large assembly, no spot could have been more suitable for a discussion on the mysteries of religion.
II. The discourse. It was no easy task adequately to address the assemblage that gathered to hear him. What theme could be chosen to suit all and benefit all? Their motives were manifold and their tastes diverse. There were the scoffing Jew and the wisdom-loving Greek, the refined Athenian and the rude provincial, the sceptical philosopher and the unsophisticated stranger, the contented Epicurean and the passionless Stoic. We will now listen to the apostle as he attempts to lift his heathen audience out of their ignorance into the knowledge of the true God, and Jesus Christ whom He hath sent.
1. Creator. He begins by setting forth “the unknown God” as the Creator of the world. “God made the world and all things therein.” This was an idea entirely new to the speculative minds or the ancient world, and the prominence here given to it shows that, in Paul’s estimation, it lay at the foundation of every true system of religion. It was idle to talk of worship if the Being worshipped was not raised above the worshippers by such qualities and attributes as inspired reverence and trust. So that Paul’s statement of the fundamental principle of Theism dealt a fatal stab at the views of ancient philosophy on the origin of the world. There could be no compromise between positions so radically at variance; and while philosophies change with the changing generations, the Christian position remains the same as stated from apostolic lips eighteen centuries ago--“God made the world and all things therein.”
2. Governor. Advancing a step, the apostle announces the unknown God as the Governor of the world: “He hath made all nations of men for to dwell on all the face of the earth, and hath determined the times appointed and the bounds of their habitation.” Here too there was a sharp contrast between revealed truth and the tenets of the schools. Chance, or Fate, said ancient philosophy, appoints to each nation and race its time and place in the world. No, said Paul, there is one presiding Deity, who not only set the world in motion, and gave everything in it life, but who keeps it going and sustains all life, assigning to each man and nation the sphere they are to fill and the length of their stay. The all-controlling providence of God, indeed, follows from the fact of creation. How grand the conception! God marshalling the nations of the earth one after another on the stage of time, appointing their seasons, their work, and the bounds of their habitation, and then withdrawing them when their work is done!
3. Judge. The apostle further declares the unknown God to be the Judge of all men. “He hath appointed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness.” Here is another aspect of the Divine character and work, which carries our thoughts forward to the close of the present constitution of things, just as the reference to creation recalled their beginning.
4. Father. This is another aspect in which the unknown God is set forth. “In Him we live, and move, and have our being, as certain also of your own poets have said, For we also are His offspring.” If the ideas of creation, superintendence, and responsibility were unknown to the ancients, much less was the Divine Fatherhood. The quotation referred to does not prove that they recognised God as Father save in the Stoical sense. Cleanthes, one of the poets, quoted from, was a Stoic, and Paul, in citing him, not only showed his acquaintance with Greek literature, but his willingness to take up common ground with his hearers whenever that was possible. In doing so, he doubtless gained for himself a more respectful hearing. He adopted the language of the Stoics, but put upon it a Christian meaning. Taking our position, then, in the world as God’s children, we can view everything in a different light, no longer repelled by the unapproachable majesty of a Great Creator, but drawn by His parental love. The works of His hand also will have an additional interest for us.
5. Is God knowable? This is the question to which the whole argument was leading up, and the answer is in the affirmative. The main purpose of Paul’s reasoning was to show the Athenians that He whom they styled the “unknown God” could be known if they sought Him aright. Though the Divine Being was for a long time pleased to draw a veil over His character and modes of working, it was not intended that He should for ever remain unknown. Indeed, all the arrangements of His providence were such as to lead men to the knowledge of Him.
III. The application. The apostle did not content himself with laying down great general principles. Like a practical man, he applied them. And in order to insure success it will be observed that throughout this masterly exposition there is an evident desire to carry his hearers along with him, so that they might be without excuse if they continued ignorant of God. Having thus laid down a few broad principles, he goes on to apply them to the religion and life of the people.
1. Idolatry. The first application is to idol worship, in which the Athenians prided themselves. It required no small courage and tact to assail with effect such a deep-rooted custom in its very hot bed. The inference was irresistible. The invisible Godhead cannot be represented in visible symbols; and even though it could, every such effort is here condemned because it is a dishonour to God. Besides, we do not need it any more than a child needs the help of an image to love its parents; and we ought not to attempt it, because we have a personal God and Father, who is near to every soul that seeks Him. Moreover all such externals are not only not helps to spiritual worship, but may become a positive hindrance.
2. Repentance. The next application which the apostle makes of his subject is to repentance, or the need of an inward change, which was never contemplated by the ancient religions. Their whole history was an acknowledgment of impotence to effect such a change, or satisfy the burdened heart.
3. Jesus and the resurrection. One practical question still remained. How were they to find favour with this just and holy God? The answer to this question brings us to the climax of this trenchant appeal. There was only one way of return to God, and that not through images of silver and gold, but through Him who is the brightness of the Father’s glory and the express image of His Person. If they must have an image of the invisible God, they had it in the person of His Incarnate Son, who was dead and is alive again, and clothed with judicial authority.
IV. The result. It has often been pointed out that the saving impression made by Paul on this occasion was disappointingly small. Nor need this excite surprise, when we reflect on the peculiar character of the discourse, and especially the sensuous habits of the Greek mind, its philosophic culture and pride of intellect. The haughty cultured Greek would not readily yield himself to the teaching of a rude barbarian. It is seldom that we are able to see the results of our work for Christ in this world, and no doubt the great apostle never saw on earth the fruits of that day’s work.
1. Some mocked. The philosophic mind of Athens would not bend to the simplicity of the gospel.
2. Others procrastinated. They had a passing glimpse of the falseness and hollowness of the present, and they thought the matter worthy of more serious consideration.
3. A few believed. We know the names of only two--Dionysius, a judge of the Areopagite court, and a woman named Damaris, of whom we are told nothing. (D. Merson, B. D.)
Paul’s sermon on Mars’ hill
He “declares” to them God--
I. In relation to the universe in general. As--
1. The Creator of the universe: “God that made the world,” etc. This would strike at once against the Epicureanism which regarded the universe as springing from a fortuitous concourse of atoms--the work of chance: and against the Stoicism, which regarded the universe as existing from eternity.
2. The Ruler of the universe: “He is Lord of heaven and earth.” The universe is not like a great machine built to manage itself, it is an order of things kept in being and harmony by the unremitting agency of the Creator.
3. The Life of the universe: “He giveth to all life, and breath, and all things” (cf. verse 28)
. The deductions which the apostle draws from this are irresistible.
(1) That God is unlocalised. “He dwelleth not in temples made with hands.”
(2) That God is independent. “Neither is worshipped with men’s hands as though He needed anything.” The heathens thought their gods needed their services.
II. In relation to mankind in particular.
1. He gave to all mankind a unity of nature. “Made of one blood all nations of men.” There are immense diversities subsisting between the European, the Mongolian, the Hottentot races that have led many scientists to conclude that they have descended from various stocks. Without touching on arguments of a scientific kind, we ground our belief chiefly--
(1) On mental resemblances. The faculties of thinking, loving, hating, fearing, hoping, worshipping, self-commending, self-condemning, are common to the race.
(2) On Scriptural statements. There is not a single passage in the Bible to suggest a doubt as to the homogeneity of the race, and the descent from one pair. The most brilliant names in science have maintained the unity of the race: Buffon, Linnaeus, Soemmering, and Cuvier, in natural history; Blumenbach, Muller, and Wagner, in anatomy; Pritchard, Latham, Pickering, among ethnologists; Adeling, W. von Humboldt, and Bunsen, among philologists; and Alexander yon Humboldt, “at whose feet all science had laid down its treasures,”
2. He appointed to all mankind their boundary in life. “And hath determined the times before appointed, and the bounds of their habitation.” There is a boundary for every man in relation to--
(1) The place of his existence. The sphere which individuals occupy is a sphere which God has appointed. Every man has an orbit of his own, and that orbit is appointed by Him. The same with nations. Nations have their geographic boundary, and these have been drawn by heaven. Though they may proximately grow out of the diversity of men’s organisations, customs, laws, habits, still God hath made them.
(2) Time. Men and nations have their day, and the length of that day even to the minute is determined. There is no room for chance in human history.
3. He requires from all mankind the recognition of His existence. “That they should seek the Lord,” etc.
(1) Man’s distance from God. This distance is moral, and is to be overcome by effort on man’s part. That they should seek the Lord.
(2) God’s nearness to man. This utterance is so pregnant as to require a separate discourse.
4. He is the Father of all mankind. “We are all His offspring.”
5. He demands repentance from all (Acts 17:30). (D. Thomas, D. D.)
Paul’s sermon On Mars’ hill
I. God the Creator. Paul shows this “unknown” Deity to be “the God that made the world,” etc. He was unlike the other gods in these respects--
1. There was no limit to His power. For none of the gods did the Athenians claim the power of universal creation. One could do one thing, and another something else, but this God was the maker of the world and all things in it.
2. There was no limit to His dominion. “Being Lord of heaven and earth.” Other deities were supreme only in certain localities, or under certain localities, or under certain circumstances, but this God was everywhere, and always Master.
3. There was no limit to His dwelling place. “Dwelleth not in temples made with hands.” The whole universe was His sanctuary.
II. God the Giver.
1. His independency. “Neither is served by men’s hands,” etc. Other deities, according to their notions, were hungry, and needed to be fed, and were therefore brought costly offerings of food and drink.
2. His outgiving. “Seeing He Himself giveth,” etc. God was the Giver, instead of being the Receiver--like the other deities that were worshipped. The Creator could not be dependent upon the creature.
III. God the Father. “For we are also His offspring.”
1. The brotherhood of men. To the Athenians this was no palatable thought. Proud of their culture and intellectual superiority, they superciliously divided the world into Greeks and “barbarians.” Paul set forth this doctrine by showing--
(1) The unity of the nations. “He made of one every nation of men.” They were not sprung from different sources, but from one source. They were not made of different blood, but of one blood. Having but one Father, the human race is one family.
(2) The cause of the creation of nations. “That they should seek God,” etc. God created men that they might adore Him. He blessed them with life that they might bless Him. He hungers for their love as a father hungers for the love of his children.
2. The Fatherhood of God.
(1) The fact. “For we are also His offspring.” To a heathen audience Paul does not quote from the Scriptures, but from one of their own authorities. Truth from any source is truth, and it is best to use that which will find the quickest acceptance.
(2) The obligation. “We ought not to think that the Godhead is like unto gold,” etc. God who made living, seeing, breathing, speaking men, how could He Himself be like those lifeless, sightless, breathless, speechless idols?
IV. God the judge.
1. The time of repentance. The “times of ignorance” are gone by. God cannot overlook sin any longer on the plea that one does not know.
2. The day of judgment. That day is surely coming. Men then will be judged according to the deeds done in the body. It will be a day of terror to the wicked--a day of rejoicing for the righteous.
3. The Judge. The world once judged Christ--the time is coming when Christ will judge the world. Christ is the Saviour now--the Judge by and by.
4. The people to be judged. They were in the audience before Paul--they are in the audience of every minister of the gospel now. How did those act who were before Paul?
(1) “Some mocked.” Some now mock at the preacher, or at sacred things, knowing their sacredness.
(2) Others did, as the majority of hearers do now--they put off deciding for the salvation of their souls.
(3) But there were a few who closed with the offer of salvation. In every revival there are a few who get ready for the day of judgment. But who shall be able to characterise the folly of those who continue to walk in the way of destruction? (M. C. Hazard.)
Some new thing.--
Some new thing
A manifest physical, intellectual, and moral weakness was strangely blended with an intense eagerness for novelty. We ordinarily associate a desire for new things with progress, but here that desire is associated with that which is the reverse of progress. This warrants the statement that a desire for something new is not necessarily indicative of progress. Indeed, it may be indicative of regress. It may not be an earnest desire for something better, but a mere restless, uneasy craving for change. To seek the new simply because it is the new, and apart from any consideration of its intrinsic worth, is to go backward rather than forward. I would not disparage legitimate desire for progress. Only an ignorant bigot will assert that “that which is new is not true, and that which is true is not new.” Some new things are true, and some old things are false. Let reverent investigation go on. Let it be accorded the widest liberty. To hinder it were intellectual and moral treason. But the contention now is that progress and restlessness are not synonymous terms. It is not the seeking of “some new thing” which is wrong, but the “doing nothing else, but either to tell, or to hear some new thing.” Indeed, so far from being good, it is evil. It indicates a fevered condition of the system--an unhealthy and morbid state. It begets instability of character and purpose. It leads to superficial ideas and modes of thinking. It withdraws attention from the tried and settled, and directs it to the flotsam and jetsam of daily happenings, the real importance of which is hardly ever discerned till time has them in their true perspective. Much occurred before our time which is of inestimable importance. Men need today, not less of the new, but more of the old, a wiser perception of its relative worth. More seriously, this craving for something new often dupes men into the acceptance of old errors. As a matter of fact, most new things are comparatively worthless, not all, but most. Originality is rare. What we call originality is usually eccentricity, and eccentricity nearly always means a screw loose in the intellectual or moral machinery. If an alleged new thing proves to be really good, the presumption is that it is not as new as it was supposed to be. But it not infrequently happens that the so-called new idea is an old error. We are told almost daily that modern thought has shown a belief in miracles to be unreasonable, and yet there is hardly a modern objection to miracles which was not anticipated by Celsus, who lived in the second century. Conversely, the presumption is that the old and established ideas are true. Not always, I grant. I would not fall into the opposite error. I would not question the reality or the value of the many great achievements of the present age. But it is a fair presumption that the old is the true. This was so of Athens in the time of Paul. The past was glorious, but the Athenians of St. Paul’s day, with all their passion for hearing or telling some new thing, added nothing to the stock of the world’s knowledge. For all that we owe to Athens, we go centuries back of those babblers. All history teaches us that progress is as likely to consist in getting back to old standards as in creating new ones. There is real ground for the apprehension that we may become a volatile people, lacking in stability and weight of character. We see this in literature, in the demand for new books, and in the neglect of old ones of tried value. “Robert Elsmere” is a case in point. The book is simply a dressing up, in popular narrative style, of the stalest and shallowest rationalistic objections to Christianity. Great was the commotion which it excited! Dire were the prophecies of the ruin which it would accomplish in the Church! We see it in science, in the haste with which new theories are accepted and promulgated as facts. Indeed, no matter how wild a theory is, there are always multitudes who are ready to seize it, and to proclaim that all existing institutions must be reorganised in harmony with it. We see this same craving for new things in everyday life, in the restless moving of people from place to place, in the frequency of business changes, in the small talk of society, in the rage of speculation. It seems to be the great object in life of many people to devise something novel, “something we’ve never had before,” the utility of the thing devised being usually a secondary consideration. And we see it especially in religion. Many people do not like the old ideas and doctrines which, after all that can be said, are those that are fairly deducible from Holy Scripture and the faithful preaching of which has wrought such glorious moral and religious changes in the world. They want something new, and the minister who gratifies them is sure to have a large, though unsubstantial following. Multitudes are hurried hither and thither by their craving for change. Their religious convictions are those of the last book they have read or the last person they have talked with. Suffer me in conclusion to make two additional remarks.
1. A disposition to undervalue established ideas or institutions is a sign of a weak mind. A misconception is prevalent at this point. There are some, particularly among the young, who say that they will not accept anything which they have not personally investigated and found to be true; and they pride themselves upon that position, and deem it an evidence of intellectual strength and independence. As a matter of fact, it is simply an evidence of intellectual conceit or moral debility. Has the world learned nothing in all these thousands of years? Has it proved nothing to be true? Does the endorsement of ages create no favourable presumption? A sensible man will no more refuse to become a Christian because he has not had time to investigate for himself the history and claims of Christianity, than he will refuse to become a citizen of the country in which he was born and reared until he has satisfied himself by years of study that the institutions of that country are better than the institutions of other countries. He who declines to avail himself of an electric car, because he has not yet learned what electricity is, is not a wise man, but a fool.
2. In this restless age we need a progressive conservatism, a willingness to accept the new when it is the true, but a holding fast to the old, which has demonstrated its right to be. This gospel which we preach, and in which lies the hope of the race, is not a new gospel. And we love it because it is old, because time has not been able to weaken it or exposure to tarnish it--because all the attacks of earth and hell have not been able to overthrow it. (A. J. Brown.)
I found an altar with this inscription, To the unknown God.
Whom therefore ye ignorantly worship, Him declare I unto you.
Before the altar of the unknown God
1. What was there in Athens to which Paul could appeal? To Jewish prophecy? No one held them in esteem. Should he begin with repentance, faith, Jesus, and judgment? No one would understand his message. Ought he now to overthrow these altars? But destruction is not construction. Ought the nothingness of the gods to be exposed to ridicule? Enlightenment that presents the stone of unbelief for the husks of superstition may train its subjects to doubt, but not to hope. To the apostle the heathen world seemed the groping of a man who is blind. But no man of feeling ever makes sport of a blind man’s groping, or strikes the last coin out of a beggar’s hand. Paul sought through the streets of Athens to see whether, somewhere, he could not still discover a trace of the footsteps of the living God, some pieces of the golden thread by which to lead these misled wanderers back into communion with God--and, behold, he has found something: here is an altar with the inscription, To the unknown God: a discovery which affords him as much joy as when he once picked up the words of the Greek poet we find him quoting here. That had seemed to him a feather which the angel, flying through heaven with the gospel, dropped into heathen lands. To the weak as weak, a Greek to the Greeks, the apostle explains this inscription to his hearers with most becoming deference.
2. This altar is a testimony to a grave defection, a longing that impels to seek, a hope fulfilled in Christ. Let us ask--
I. By what means the living God became unknown?
1. The features have been almost obliterated, but whose image has been stamped upon the souls of men?--Not from the clod, nor from the ape--we are also of His offspring! “God hath made of one blood all nations of men,” etc. One blood, therefore one family, one origin, one conscience, one hope: to seek God, everyone’s mission; to find God, everyone’s goal!
2. But if we live, and move, and have our being in Him, and if creation manifests His invisible power and Divinity--whence all this uncertain groping, until, brought to a stand, children of men cling to wood and stone? Whence the blindness that changes the clear mirror of nature into a thick veil, whence the insanity that desires to imprison the God over all heaven and earth within temples and images? Paul describes the lamentable process in Romans 1:21-24. Moral aberration always precedes the spiritual. Sinful inclinations in the heart are the fruitful lap of error. Doubt is a tendency of the character. Strange that amidst this jumble of rage, sensuality, love of money, etc., any room should remain for an altar dedicated even to the unknown God!
II. When is an altar erected to the unknown God? Just as in an impoverished family some jewel is preserved as a reminder of better days, so, in Athens, this one altar was a testimony of impoverishment. Israel could erect an Ebenezer: but this altar is only a monument, confessing: “Hitherto have we gone astray.” Its erection indicates home-sickness. According to a tradition, the Athenians built this altar when a plague seemed to threaten never to leave their walls:--there must, they concluded, be some other god whose anger is dangerous, whose favour of importance, to whom therefore it was necessary to rear an altar.
1. It is an hour of fatigue at midnight, the candle has burned down low, and an investigator is dipping into the depths and not finding the goodly pearl, and growing more and more weary, cries, “Boundless Nature, where shall I comprehend thee? Ye sources of all life, for which my withered breast so longs--ye flow, ye quench, and yet I thirst in vain!” Such imploring, outstretched arms--what are they but an altar erected to the unknown God?
2. Now enter yon brilliant room. Surely no sorrow can obtrude here. Nevertheless sighs from an inner chamber announce that “Death has no respect for riches.” A child is lying here sick unto death. Why has the anxious father no eye for the pictures that look down from the walls? Why does he not open some of his favourite poets? Why does he avoid that book which convinced him yesterday that there is room for neither miracles nor prayer? The anguish-stricken father throws himself on his knees--before whom? Which god can support him to bear this threatened loss? Oh ye pictures, books, money piles, ye idols that have eyes but no pupils, arms but no help!--at this moment, an altar rises in a corner of the room, faintly traced, “To the unknown God!”
3. Stranger, you have strayed into this house of God--do you know to what end? Do you know that your wandering and your sojourning, your childhood and your manhood, your solitude and your society, your sorrows and your joys, have all been working together to lead you to seek the Lord if haply you might feel and find Him, and to make that dusty altar to the unknown God in the corner of your heart one of reminder and of prophecy?
III. In whom does God make Himself known? Who shall win earth back to heaven, and reconcile and harmonise divinity with humanity? who is the man in whom the fulness of the Godhead dwells, and whose body is a temple, the only one worthy of Divinity? Through Christ the weather-beaten inscription, “To the unknown God,” is changed for “To the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” You are advancing to meet this unknown God as a revealed God in Christ Jesus. How? As a Saviour or a Judge? (R. Koegel, D. D.)
The unknown God
1. Athens was a city illustrious for its learning. But during the century or two preceding the Christian era, intellectual decay had set in, and instead of investigating the true, the people were raving after the new. The distinction between true and false philosophy in every age consists mainly in this--the one loves the new more than the true, the other loves the true more than the new. At this time Paul went to Athens, and the everlasting gospel with him; and in it there is a perfect combination of the true and the new. He declares unto them the unknown God:--
I. In relation to nature.
1. As Creator of the universe. The Greek mind had often but ineffectually grappled with the mysterious problem of the origin of the world. Every school of ancient thought believed in the eternity of matter. Of a creation out of nothing the ancient heathen had not the crudest idea. Mankind seemed to be entirely indebted to Divine revelation for it. God created--
(1) The matter of the world. Plato recognised God as the “Arranger of the Hyle.” But whence issued the “Hyle”? Plato is mute. But St. Paul teaches that God not only built the world, but made the materials likewise. A child may learn more in five minutes in the first verse of the Bible than recondite sages in their protracted studies. “Through faith we understand the worlds were framed by the word of God.”
(2) Its laws. Laws are so many windows through which we can glance at God. But over these windows infidelity draws the blinds. Men praise each other for discovering these laws, but are slack to give glory to God for making them. But what is the discovery of a law compared with its invention?
2. Having created the world, God is still present in it as its Sovereign Lord and Director. “Seeing He giveth to all life and breath and all things.” The Stoics did not theoretically deny the Divine existence, but they did deny the Divine government. They believed in fate; hence their reckless indifference to all the ills and favours of life. In our day also, law does everything, God nothing. Ancients and moderns alike, after putting the extinguisher on the sun, feel constrained to light a candle. The Bible teaching, however, is clear and unambiguous. Whilst we must insist upon the radical distinction between God and the world, we must beware lest we make this distinction separation. From these truths two valuable lessons are deduced--
(1) That “God dwelleth not in temples made with hands.”
(2) That “He is not worshipped or served with men’s hands as though He needed anything.” We do not give to Him, He gives to us. “Every good gift and every perfect gift,” etc.
II. In his relation to man.
1. God made man--a truth strikingly new to the Greeks. The Greeks thought that they had grown from the soil. The idea of God cannot be degraded without at the same time debasing the idea of man. The same theory practically is advocated now. God is involved in nature according to the fashionable Pantheism of the age; and man is evolved out of nature according to its anthropology. The apostle further proclaims the unity of the human race. The Greeks viewed themselves as the aristocracy of the world, separated even in origin from all other nations, whom they contemptuously treated as barbarians.
2. God rules men. He did not fling them upon the world to be the sport of chance, but “determined the times before appointed and the bounds of their habitation.” The one object, however, was that men “might seek the Lord, if haply they might find Him.” All events were so disposed as to be helpful to mankind in their search after God. We imagine that were the circumstances arranged a little differently, it would result in the spiritual advantage of the nations. But St. Paul declares otherwise.
3. God is the Father of man (verse 28). God is only the Maker of nature. The white man carries about him God’s image in ivory, and the coloured man in ebony, but none the less an image for that. How striking the genealogy in Luke 3:1-38 the son of David the Son of God. From this homogeneity of nature between man and God the apostle makes a practical inference (verse 29). Athens abounded in idols, but none of them properly represented God. The Divine likeness cannot be stamped on gross matter, it must have intelligence for its canvas. Consequently man’s fault has always been in seeking God among material objects. But inasmuch as we are partakers of His nature, it cannot be that “He is far from any one of us.”
(1) As to place. There is a sense in which the sun is over ninety millions of miles distant; but there is a sense in which it is nearer us than any other created object. Its beams pierce our frame, its light enters the eye, its warmth pervades the body. “In it we live and move and have our being.” In like manner God may be affirmed to be infinitely removed from us; but there is a sense in which He is nearer every one of us than any other being can possibly be (verses 27, 28).
(2) As to His nature. His spirituality and not His omnipresence is the leading idea. In our own spirituality can we best understand the nature of the Deity.
4. God is the Redeemer of men. From the Fatherhood to the Redeemership the stride is not so very great. “And the times of this ignorance God overlooked”--i.e., did not directly interfere. Not that He entirely disregarded the heathen world. That would be a flat contradiction of verse 26. God often interposed in their geographical and political history, but He left them to work out their religious problems for themselves. The “now” is significant of a change of policy. It is not a matter of no consequence whether you embrace Christianity or not. “He commandeth you.” The gospel comes with all the authority of law. You have broken other commandments, will you persist in breaking this also? Paul’s hearers had been all their lifetime endeavouring to atone for sin; now, however, they are bidden not to atone but to repent. “Every man everywhere.” The gospel embraces every human being. None are too high to need repentance; none are too low to have it.
5. God is the Judge of men (verse 31). Paul was now standing on the site of the most venerable court in the whole world. Here Mars and Orestes were tried, and here Socrates was unjustly condemned. What therefore more natural than that Paul should wind up his oration by a solemn reference to the judgment seat of Christ? Yes, there is an awful hereafter, notwithstanding the creed of Epicureans. Oh, the madness of those who spend their day of grace in reckless indifference, saying, “Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die!” (J. Cynddylan Jones, D. D.)
The unknown God
In this paragraph we have a graphic though brief description of the character of the men of Athens. “For all the Athenians and strangers which were there, spent their time in nothing else but either to tell or to hear some new thing.” And when the love of the new gains ascendancy over the love of the true, degeneration is inevitable. The distinction between true and false philosophy, in every age, consists mainly in this: the one loves the new more than the true, the other loves the true rather than the new. But the religious aspect of the city is depicted in more lamentable colours still “the city was wholly given to idolatry” (on the margin, “full of idols”). Idolatry was also flourishing in this city; but it seemed now as though it had received a new impulse. Why? Because their faith in idols was stronger? No; but because it was weaker. What if they are only the creation of my own over-heated imagination? The suspicion was so humiliating, so blasting in its effects, so awfully barren and withering, that he strenuously attempted to conceal it from himself; he tried to forget his religious bankruptcy in spiritual intoxication. That motto awakes a distinct echo in the heart of every unregenerate man; there also is an altar with the inscription To the unknown God! At this time Paul went to Athens, and the everlasting gospel with him; and in it there is a perfect combination of the true and the new. Glad tidings, true news, is its distinctive appellation. He declares unto them the unknown God--
1. In His relation to nature.
2. In His relation to man.
These two relations exhaust our knowledge of God; we know Him in none other. These were the topics held in dispute by the philosophers, and to which the Athenians now listen with abated breath.
I. God in relation to nature.
1. He is the Creator of nature. “God made the world and all things therein.” On this point he directs his remarks more especially against the Epicureans--they denied creation. “God made the world.” As we look around us we observe that nature is divisible into matter and laws, matter and truths. The Athenian mind had been often grappling with the mysterious problem touching the origin of all things; but notwithstanding all the energy and time expended to solve it, it continued to be shrouded in as much darkness as ever. History, indeed, seems to testify that the human mind, left to its own resources, could never grasp the idea of creation, properly so called. The Epicureans denied creation, and looked upon the world as the effect of the fortuitous concourse of atoms, and these atoms they believed to be uncreated and eternal. Of a creation out of nothing, the ancient heathens had not the crudest idea. Indeed, mankind are indebted to the Bible entirely for it. Not only the work but the idea of creation is Divine. And the truth with which Paul encountered the Epicurean philosophers of old, in the market and on the hill, requires to be reiterated again and again. There is a theory afloat, vindicated by men of unquestionable repute, that sets creation out of nothing among the impossibilities. According to this theory, everything is born. The sun is born, the moon is born, the earth is born. It is averred “We cannot conceive, either on the one hand, nothing becoming something, or on the other, something becoming nothing” (Sir W. Hamilton). The world, therefore, is a Divine evolution? No: says the Bible, it is not an evolution, but a creation. We cannot conceive such an act, say they. Man’s conceptions are not God’s boundary lines, says the Bible. We cannot explain the process, say they. Then believe the act, says the Bible. “Through faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that things that are seen were not made of things which do appear.” “God made the world.” It existed nowhere before, nor in God, nor in space; it existed in no shape before, nor in germ, nor in development. It is an act of pure creation. As already hinted laws form another important division of nature. Not only God made the matter of the universe, but also its laws.
2. He is the Lord of nature. “He is Lord of heaven and earth.” This truth is addressed more especially to the Stoics--they denied Divine government. They did not deny the existence of the gods; “but they held that all human affairs were governed by fate. Neither did they believe that any good was received from the hands of their gods.” This atheistic view the apostle refutes by the heart-inspiring truth that God is the Lord of nature and providence. As the servant is dependent on his master, so is nature on her Lord. What does this imply? That she is not her own governess. Not her own will, but His she follows. Not her own thoughts, but His she expresses. Everything in nature is a manifestation of some thought; but who is it that thinks? Nature herself? No. Fate? No. Who then? God. The sun rises every day to the right moment--who is the thinker? The sun? No; but God. Nature has no thought, no will of her own; she is entirely under the control of God. Neither is she her own support. She lives on the bounty of God, as a child on the table of its father. Nature can originate nothing; she must receive all. Left to her own resources, she would reduce herself to penury in one day. But these truths had a more practical end in view than the refutation of the fallacious theories of philosophers; they were calculated to undermine the idolatrous practices of the populace. “He dwelleth not in temples made with hands.” He is the Creator and Lord of nature. What is there in a temple of stones for Him to covet? Were He a forlorn fugitive, an impoverished God, He might be glad of a shelter anywhere. But this is not His condition. He is Lord of heaven and earth, and has the resources of both at His command. “He is not worshipped with men’s hands as though He needed anything.” The Athenians, in common with all idolaters, supposed religious rites to be established and enacted for God and not for man--for His advantage and not for our benefit. The mistake of the Stoics about God, in respect to nature, was that of all idolaters in respect to religion. They thought it was His prerogative to receive; the apostle teaches it was His property and function to give. “Neither is He worshipped with men’s hands as though He needed anything.” No; it is not giving, but receiving. As a creature you receive; as a worshipper you receive too. What is your sin? Is it giving too little? No; but receiving too little.
II. God in relation to man.
1. “He is the Father of man.” “We are His offspring.” God is the Maker of nature, He is the Father of man; He is the Creator of the brute, He is the Father of man. The popular opinion among the Athenians was, that they were the aboriginals of mankind. But where did they come from? They grew from the earth. According to one of their own writers, “the first men sprung up in Attica, like radishes.” And some moderns cherish the opinion, forsooth, that mankind are developed from a tribe of monkeys! Our ancestry has its root in Godhead. Adam is not our first nor our best father, but God. Based on man’s Divine sonship are two very important considerations. The first is the universal brotherhood of man. “God hath made of one blood all nations of men.” The second truth is the nature of God. “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.” There is a certain resemblance between parent and child; therefore God must be more like men, His children, than any other created object whatsoever. Man possesses reason, will, and intelligence; therefore God must have them in infinite perfection.
2. God is the Saviour of man. “And the times of this ignorance God winked at (overlooked, passed by); but now commandeth all men everywhere to repent.”
3. He is the judge of man. “For He hath appointed a day, in the which He will judge the world in righteousness by that Man whom He hath ordained.” (J. Cynddylan Jones, D. D.)
The unknown God
When he saw that the city was “wholly given to idolatry,” i.e., literally covered with idols--κατείδωλον referring to the place, not to the people--his spirit was roused; he could no longer keep silence and refrain from proclaiming the message he had come to deliver. Then it chanced that some of the members of the two great philosophic sects, the Epicureans and Stoics, encountered him. Part of these called him a babbler (σπερμολόγος), literally a picker-up of small seeds, like a bird, i.e., a collector and retailer of insignificant scraps of information; and others charged him with setting forth strange gods, foreign divinities.
I. The unknown god. There is an unknown God today, as certainly as there was in Paul’s time; and it is the business of the Christian teacher to declare Him, or set Him forth. In one sense God must always be unknown. The mind of man is finite, and can therefore never comprehend the Infinite.
1. The unknown god of the ancients. It is by no means clear how this altar came to be erected at Athens. By some, it is supposed that Polytheism had made so many gods by the deification of every human passion, that no more could be thought of; and hence, to cover the whole ground, an additional altar was erected to an unknown god at the shrine of which the worship should ascend to any possible deity that might have been overlooked. Others suppose that some special benefits had been received by the people, which could not be traced to any of the known gods--hence an altar to the unknown. More probably, however, it arose from some dim conception of a Supreme Being higher than all the gods of mythology, who, while He satisfied a yearning want of the heart, took no hold on the intellect. This would seem to be apparent from Paul’s words, that he would declare the very God thus worshipped. In any case, that altar was a tacit but terrible confession of the failure of heathendom. Nowhere perhaps had the intellect risen so high as at Athens.
2. The unknown God of the moderns. Herbert Spencer prates most glibly of the Unknowable, and Huxley worships at its shrine. Tyndal calls religions “forms of force” which must not be permitted to “intrude on the region of knowledge.” Matthew Arnold terms God a “stream of tendency by which all things fulfil the law of their being,” as though there could be a stream without a source, or things could fulfil any purpose where there was no plan.
II. The relation of the unknown God to man. It is difficult to understand what relationship we can sustain to the unknown, or at least to learn what the relationship is, if any such there be. Yet those who teach that God is unknown and unknowable recognise some sort of relationship to this unknown Being. The possible relationship may be considered under three distinct heads.
1. Worship. This, in some form or other, is universal. In all ages men have worshipped something. In fact it is difficult to find a stronger instinct in human nature than this one. We have--
(1) Worship in ignorance. This is what the Athenians were guilty of. They worshipped without ascribing to the object any definite qualities whatever.
(2) Worship of nature. An atheist writing recently in one of the Secularistic journals proposed verbal prayer to nature, and says, “May we not pray or invoke the powers of nature for aid, without any reference to a personal God, calling that power the unconditioned, unknowable Absolute, or what you will; or no name at all? I think so.” It is difficult to see what is the object of this prayer, since it is clear that blind forces can neither hear nor answer. But it proves the tendency to worship, even in the atheist. A more mystic form of worship, of an atheistic character, was proposed by the late Professor Clifford, under the name of Cosmic Emotion. The term originated with Mr. Henry Sedgwick; but Professor Clifford used it as a sort of substitute for religion. By it he simply meant the emotion which is called up in the soul when contemplating itself and its moral nature on the one hand, and the mysteries of the universe on the other. But such a worship as this--if worship it can be called--has no cult, and therefore cannot meet the condition required. It is a hollow semblance, nothing more.
(3) Worship of abstractions. The Positivists profess to worship humanity in the abstract. What this is, it is difficult very clearly to understand. Humanity in the concrete we know something of, and it is neither exalted enough nor pure enough to satisfy, as an object of worship, the religious nature of man. This form of worship professes to find a cultus in dead heroes and sages. But, to say the least of it, this is a miserable substitute for an Almighty and loving Father in heaven. The worship of nature, or of abstractions, is, after all, but idolatry. Men do not now make their idols of wood or stone, but cut of their own wild imaginings.
2. Responsibility. The moral law needs a personal God for its basis. The unknown is no foundation on which to raise a superstructure of ethics.
3. Immortality. Most of those, however, who assert that God is unknown do not believe in a personal immortality at all, but speak of the immortality of the race or of a man’s reputation that he may leave behind him. There is no guarantee that the race will remain forever, if God be taken away; and if there were, such a fact would not meet the wants of humanity. We long for, and aspire after, an eternal personal conscious existence, and nothing less than that can satisfy the soul.
III. The revelation of the unknown God. “Whom therefore ye ignorantly worship, Him declare I unto you,” or set forth unto you. This was Paul’s work, to reveal or make known the unknown God. This he was enabled to do by means of--
1. The Scriptures. God’s real character can only be learnt from the Bible.
2. The Incarnation. This is the only means by which God can be really and truly known. “No man hath seen God at any time: the only-begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, He hath declared Him.” He hath declared Him in such a manner that the simplest may understand. Do you want to know what God is like? I point you to Christ. There is the revelation and the Revealer blended in one. (George Sexton, LL. D.)
The unknown God
The astronomers Le Verrier and Adams, in separate countries at the same time, observing certain motions among the spheres which could not be accounted for by any known cause, concluded that there must be a body not yet discovered somewhere in the regions of space in which the disturbances were observed. Seeking in the direction thus indicated they found the far distant and hitherto unknown world. So Greek philosophy was able, from the appetites and vacancies of the human mind, which all the idols could not satisfy, to determine that there must be some God hitherto from them concealed, to whom these appetites pointed, and without whom they could not be satisfied. Their skill could discover in a general way their need, but they could not by their searching find the missing portion for a human soul. (W. Arnot, D. D.)
The unknown God
God is unknown--
1. To those who think themselves wise.
2. To those who perform the external acts of worship without seeking God Himself.
3. To those who do not live in Him, but in the world and its lusts.
4. To those who do not desire to find God in Christ. (Langbein.)
The unknown God revealed
I. That man, when left to the efforts of his own reason, never discovers the character of the true God. The most probable explanation of the inscription is the carefulness of the Athenians not to exclude any God.
1. That there was originally an adequate revelation of God is not properly to be doubted (Romans 1:20; Psalms 19:1-2). In addition to the silent testimony of nature were direct and verbal communications to patriarchs, etc.
2. Nevertheless, the knowledge of God became beclouded, and errors encrouched with fearful rapidity and success. There was a depraved principle in the heart of man urging him to devices, whereby God might be banished from his mind, and his passions set free from control. From this source sprang up idolatry. “They did not like to retain God,” etc. (Romans 1:21-23; Romans 1:25).
3. This fatal principle which led to the loss of the knowledge of God, prevented it from being restored. Having extinguished the light, it perpetuated the darkness. There were many centuries during which the human intellect was able to open all its resources, and to practise all its powers, but none retraced their steps to the Divine Being. “The world by wisdom knew not God”; “the age of reason” was an age of idolatry, pollution, and despair.
4. With reference to subsequent ages, and our own, the fact and its explanation are the same, as India, China, Africa, etc., testify. If, however, we are pointed to the writings of Deistical philosophers who have professed to argue the existence of God from the light of reason, we are not to be misled by the pretensions of unprincipled plagiarists who have but borrowed the guidance of revelation, without having had the honour to acknowledge it.
II. That it is the office of Christianity to place the character of the true God in full and distinct revelation. The circumstances just illustrated constituted a necessity for a revelation. Proceeding on this necessity manifestations were given to the patriarchs of the supremacy and grace of the Most High. Then followed the calling of the Jews, the giving of their law, the solemn warnings against idolatry, institutions designed to preserve them from the infection of surrounding nations, and the ministry of the prophets. At length, “when the fulness of the time was come, God sent forth His Son,” and then came the ministry of the apostles. Recognising all this, note--
1. That the revelations of God in Christianity are furnished in connection with a method of redemption, from which their clearness and lustre are derived. The purpose of the gospel is to explain and apply a scheme of sovereign mercy by which man is to be redeemed from his apostasy. The existence of such a scheme had been announced immediately after the fall, and was shadowed forth in type and prophecy, and employed, harmonised, and displayed the perfections of God. Hence our Saviour frequently spoke of His work as “glorifying the Father.” In the Cross Mercy and Truth meet together, Righteousness and Peace kiss each other, and in that Cross we see that “God is love.”
2. That these revelations are designed for diffusion through the world. The earlier dispensations were systems rather of defence than attack, of conservation than conquest. But the gospel was “good tidings … to all people.” Prophecy announced it as such, the “propitiation for the sins of the whole world” made it such, and the apostles were sent to preach it as such.
III. That it becomes the disciples of Christianity to exert themselves for the promulgation and triumph of their religion. The conduct of Paul, whose “spirit was stirred within him” not only to indignation but to service, is an example to all. Consider--
1. Reasons which are uniform and permanent in their appeals. The work of promulgating the truth--
(1) Has been committed by Christ to His Church as its specific duty.
(2) Vindicates and in the highest measure secures the Divine honour.
(3) Imparts exalted happiness to mankind.
2. Reasons which are derived from the peculiarities of our own times--the extraordinary facilities which are now provided for the dissemination of Christian truth. (J. Parsons.)
Three books relating to the knowledge of God
I. The book of the world with its two parts--nature and history (verses 24-26).
II. The book of the heart with its two parts--reason and conscience (verses 27, 28).
III. The book of Scripture with its two parts--reason and conscience (verses 30, 31). (K. Gerok.)
Revelation and nature: their witness to God
Suppose a scholar searching in some old library were to discover two MSS., which had lain unknown for generations on different shelves. The discoverer examines their contents and is struck with certain peculiarities in the handwriting, which are common to both documents. He also finds that in both there are words and phrases--such as seem the expression of a writer’s individuality. Still further, he discovers that many ideas are common to the two pamphlets, and that though different in subject, there is a substratum of thought identical in both. Could he do other than infer that they were the products of the same author? Mere coincidence might account for one or two of these resemblances, but could never explain the great variety and number that are found here. Now the object we have in view is somewhat similar.
I. The sake attributes which Scripture ascribes to God are to be traced also in nature.
1. The unity of God.
(1) This doctrine runs through the pages of Scripture like a stream of light illumining all things else. Now--
(2) Judging from the many religions in the world, one might suppose that nature leads to the conception of many gods. But Polytheism betrays as profound an ignorance of nature as it does of the Divine Being. Let us turn from pagan conceptions to the interpretations of science. All recent discovery is tending to set up one conception of the universe, and that is that one plan is to be discovered, and that one power is working under divers forms.
(a) See how the two kingdoms, animal and vegetable, correspond, meet each the other’s needs, and are evidently parts of one plan. With every breath that we exhale we pour into the atmosphere a gas destructive of animal life. With every inspiration we consume a portion of that element of the atmosphere which is vital to us. But then every vegetable--tree, grass, flower--is absorbing from the air the poisonous carbonic acid and breathing out the vital oxygen.
(b) But not alone within terrestrial limits is this unity discernible. The spectroscopist has caught the fleeting rays of light from stars and suns, and has wrung from them the confession that these worlds are built up of much the same materials as our own.
(c) Formerly the various natural forces were regarded as distinct. But experiment has shown that they are one, and are convertible. Electricity can be converted into light, and the light into heat, and heat into motion, or they can be resolved back again, motion into heat, heat into light, light into electricity. What a marvel is this! It is the same power that works everywhere in nature, taking a thousand different shapes; and what is that power but the power of the one God?
2. Every fresh discovery confirms the belief that Infinite Wisdom conceived, executed, and presides over all created things. And the power manifestly pervading the boundless universe is a power so vast that we may well yield to it the title of Omnipotence.
3. When we consider the moral attributes of God, nature yields a feebler testimony than revelation. Nevertheless, though nature needs to be supplemented, its witness coincides with that of Scripture. Take, e.g., the righteousness of God.
(1) Though conscience has not always power to compel obedience, it yet sits on the seat of judgment undisputed, and is a convincing evidence of the righteousness of God. For how came man to possess this faculty, which has created a universally prevalent idea of moral obligation? How came man to feel that good is intrinsically superior to evil? The secularist affirms that expediency or the general weal of society has dictated certain courses of action as the wisest and safest, and has dissuaded from others as hurtful to the community. Thus by the power of habit strengthened through the generations, certain actions have come to be regarded as right, others as evil and vicious. And we may grant to this theory a measure of truth. But there is a question farther back. Why has universal experience proved virtue to be conducive to happiness and vice the opposite? The only answer to this must be, that it is in the nature of things, impressed on them by their Creator.
(2) And man’s inner nature accords with external nature. Wherever we look we find evidence of “a power, not ourselves, making for righteousness.” The fail of empires through the corruption of luxury and evil; the prosperity of states whose citizens are virtuous, brave, and true; every life prematurely closed by the ravages of vicious habits, and every good man’s life attests an eternal moral order. Whence, then, this moral constitution? For every effect there must be a cause, and what is in the effect must first have been in the cause. Therefore He who made the world is a Moral Being, and has transferred to His works this moral order, which first existed in Himself. Whatever quality you discover in the work must have been first in the worker.
II. The same modes of Divine operation are clearly discernible both in Scripture and nature. There is something in a man’s work distinguishing it from that of all others, and which is manifest more or less in all he does. “The style is the man.” By his style you recognise an artist’s pictures or a writer’s articles, though no name be appended to the work. Now there is a style about the Divine works, and this style can be traced both in nature and revelation. Modern science has clearly established that in creation a strict order has been observed. There can be traced a gradual development from lower to higher types of being. And the Bible presents us with a remarkably similar process. In the spiritual education of men a development can be traced. The truths of religion were gradually disclosed, and the world was led on step by step in spiritual culture and enlightenment. Here, then, we have a resemblance of a peculiar kind, which stands out as a distinct evidence of a common origin for both nature and revelation.
III. Many of the difficulties with which Scripture confronts us are met also in nature. Take an illustration. The election of the Jewish people to be the recipients of Divine revelation, while the other nations were left in darkness, has often appeared a strange procedure on God’s part. Was this consistent with justice and love? The reply to this is that the selection of the Jewish people was not for their own sakes alone, but that through them all families of the earth might be blessed; and that men were not rejected by God simply because they were not Jews. Among all peoples there was light enough to save sincere seekers. A similar election of nations has always characterised God’s government of the world. He fixes the bounds of one people on a generous soil, and plants another amid barren snows. He confides to one people to work out some problem on which the world’s welfare and progress depend. And for a time that people stand out distinguished by Heaven’s favour above all others. To the ancient Greek was given the highest culture of art, to the Roman the highest development of government. To the English race today is committed the problem of combining the largest liberty with order and security. (J. Legge, M. A.)
All the Indo-European equivalents for God are the same in their ultimate root as the word “day,” and signify the brightness of the sky. The Latin Deus, the Greek Theos, the Sanskrit Dyaus, the Welsh Duw, and even the English God, all come from the same root, signifying the brightness of the sky. This thought has been fixed in the term Jupiter, one of the oldest appellations by which God is known in Europe. Jupiter--what is it? The first syllable Ju is the same as the Welsh Duw, and means the bright sky. The remaining two syllables mean father. Jupiter is the Latin synonym for the Saxon Sky-Father. As one of our Aryan ancestors stood on the open plain gazing upward, and meditating on the Being behind all phenomena, the Reality at the back of all appearances, he gave expression, to the deepest instinct of his nature when he pronounced in articulate language the solemn word “Sky-Father.” (J. C. Jones, D. D.)
That made the world.--
God and the universe
1. “God that made the world and all things therein.” Here is an emphatic denial of all polytheistic and dualistic notions as to the origin and government of the world.
2. “God made the world.” Here is an emphatic assertion that God is distinct from Nature: it is a product of His plastic hand.
3. God “is Lord of heaven and earth”; so that “the lords many,” amongst whom the Greeks believed that the presidency and control of the universe are distributed, were but the idle creations of fancy. By these few words the apostle boldly pushed aside a whole host of errors to which the Athenians had given place in their minds, and by which they had been bewildered and injured. (W. L. Alexander, D. D.)
The religious use of Nature
This must be distinguished from--
1. The mere scientific use, which stops with nature. He who handles it as so much matter to be torn apart with analysis and scrutinised with microscope or telescope, often makes the most irreligious use of it, forgetting the Artist in the work of art.
2. The mere sentimental use, which makes nature a nose of wax to be twisted into a mirror of human fancies, feelings, and passions.
3. The commercial use, which sees in nature but so many acres of woodland, or capacities for grain or grazing. Yet there is--
(1) A true science, which leads the way for religion to follow and adore.
(2) A pure sentiment, which penetrates the rare though hidden analogies with which God has crowded the natural and spiritual woods; there religion enters to admire and enjoy.
(3) And wherever the eye that measures value pursues its calculations the grateful heart may follow, saying, “Fruitful seasons, filling our hearts with food and gladness.” The religious use of Nature, therefore, is something beyond science, or sentiment, or material value, but utilising everything that is real and true in each. There is scarcely a greater need than the realisation that God is everywhere.
I. The foundation for this realisation is in the teaching of the text concerning God’s relation to nature. He is “Lord of all things.” God is over Nature because He was before it and is in it. You cannot touch Nature without touching God. The right use of Nature so related to God must be a religious use.
II. The duty and privilege of this use is seen in the fact that the Scriptures teach that nature is designed to be a perpetual witness to the wisdom and power of God. Nature is God’s perpetual demonstration of Himself. The crime of idolatry was its first rejection of God in Nature and then debasing His character.
III. This duty and privilege becomes plainer when we remember that man was so created as to be the interpreter of nature. For this he was--
1. Placed at the apex of the pyramid, last and greatest master work.
2. Given intellectual faculties competent to understand Nature and its relations.
3. Endowed with a moral character capable of resemblance to the God revealed in Nature.
4. Made a spiritual being capable of communion with God,
5. It must therefore be his mission to be a reflecting surface for the glory of God in Nature.
IV. This duty, etc., is seen to be rational because nature is so much more to us with God than without him. Without God it is a congeries of vast and uncontrollable forces before which we shudder; with God an ordered system no less majestic, but under the control of a beneficent will. Without Him Nature is senseless; with Him it has a meaning even where we cannot fathom it.
V. Plainer yet seems the duty, etc., when we consider the appeals which God in nature makes to all that is best in us.
1. To our reverence. Best ideas of omnipotence are from God’s rule over Nature.
2. God seeks to elevate us by exhibiting in Nature the nobler types of life. Who can be thoughtless in a world packed with thought, careless when everything is replete with arrangement, idle where everything is busy, or frivolous where all is serious?
3. God appeals to the spirit of praise everywhere in Nature, which is again designed to fill us with gladness in and by our gratitude.
4. Even growth in grace is possible by Nature.
VI. A religious use of Nature is essential to a symmetrical Christian faith and life. (S. T. Scovel, D. D.)
Dwelleth not in temples made with hands.--
I. Heaven, where the spirits made perfect are before His throne.
II. The visible creation, in which He has never left Himself without a witness to His power, wisdom, and goodness.
III. The Church, in which the unknown God is a revealed God in the gospel of His Son.
IV. My heart, in which He desires to dwell by His Holy Spirit. (K. Gerok.)
Neither is worshipped with men’s hands.
Contrast between God and idols
Idols certainly require the care of human hands. There are still shops in the cities of India and China, with this inscription on their sign boards, “Here old gods are repaired and renovated.” (Leonhard.)
As though He needed anything.
God has no needs
The idol was supposed to be a needy, dependent being, fed by the hands of man. God not so (Psalms 50:1-23). Notice the main points of comparison.
I. Idols are dead; God lives of Himself and by Himself. He gives--
1. Life. What a gift is life! And what a giver the Author of life!
3. All things necessary for the sustentation and continuance of both. It is not matter that lives, but God in matter. “This living God” is the Being with whom we have to do; there is a living eye on thee, a judge taking account now.
II. God is the builder of His own temple. The idol is made, then a temple is built, and the idol is put there and chained, that he might not be stolen. God too has a temple; but He is the architect of His own temple, erected it not for Himself but for us; worship is for the benefit of man. It is getting, not giving; receiving, not imparting. Worship may be regarded--
1. As the highest exercise of man’s nature. Man can never be greater than when he stands before God; a creature can never perform a nobler office than when thus holding communion with God.
2. As the purest influence of man’s nature. Sin is put down by this. We must look up, not down; the glance of the eye on the infinite is worth all the talking and troubling our minds about non-essentials in religion. But we must get the principles from the habit of looking up.
3. As the truest happiness. Have you ever felt happiness corresponding to the high demands of your nature? When your soul has been with God, how little did this world appear then!
III. God is the proprietor of His own sacrifice. All dead matter, silver and gold, our body, soul, intellect, affections, hopes, fears, are God’s. When we worship we are teaching ourselves a great truth, instructing ourselves in our own dependence on God.
IV. God is the father of His own worshippers.
1. Paul shows the nature of man. “We are also His offspring.” The tree, the elephant, birds, stars, etc., are not like God. They are far from Him, they are matter; He is mind. They are dead; He is living. But we are like God. We have power to think as He thinks, to love as He loves, to be felicitous as He is felicitous.
2. We have the destiny of this nature. “Seek the Lord, if haply they might find Him.” Seek Him, so as to feel Him touch the soul. Are you in search after God? Whatever pursuit fails, this will not. It is the only study worthy the soul of man. (Caleb Morris.)
God has no needs
I. This declaration sheds considerable light on God Himself, who is underived, unconditioned, everlasting, and the source of all other life throughout the universe. We have to do with a “living God”; therefore let us have no dead souls or dead services.
II. How may this truth apply to the scheme of redemption? God is all fulness of being, excellency, and blessing; yet He has condescended to propose reconciliation to men. The advantage here is altogether on the side of men. And what an advantage it is f It is the fulness, the power, of the rich God spreading Himself out through the entire nature of man; so that he feels he is invested with every attribute God possesses. When man is thus brought into union with the rich God, he receives two things which constitute his spiritual life.
1. A consciousness of his relationship to God. A living consciousness that we are “His offspring, in whom we live and move and have our being.” That feeling is worth the universe. Man is a child of God, whether he feels it or not; he has not lost his relationship to God. What has he lost by sin?
(1) The filial character. All likeness to God’s character.
(2) Sympathy to the Father. He does not love what God loves, nor hate what God hates.
(3) The knowledge of God to a great extent. Not altogether. He is far from God, as an isolated being. Man has not the slightest formal knowledge of Him as his Father.
(4) Every disposition to return to God.
2. But when the poor sinner comes to the rich God what takes place?
(1) There is a quickening sense of his relationship. He says, “I am not worthy to be called Thy son.” Then he says, “Talk to me about my Father.” The soul sympathises with God till it has impressed on it God’s character.
(2) There is a right in all the privileges involved in the relationship (Romans 8:17). Think how Christ is the heir of God; think of His position, offices, glory; then imagine yourselves to be in a state of approximation to Him; and then feel what it is to be enriched with the riches of God.
III. God has no needs. Then He is more than adequate to finish the work of redemption. If He has all power, He is able to work out men’s salvation. Man has not a fixed purpose. God has a clear, definite conception of the Divine scheme of salvation. God is so in love with His purpose of saving man there is no fear of His giving it up. Men often fail in their purposes in consequence of impediments. God, who is the Creator of heaven and earth, has dominion over all things.
IV. God has no needs. Then He could have no motives in redemption but generosity. (Caleb Morris.)
Seeing that He giveth to all life.--
I. “Life,” and none but He, the Living One. It is a rill from the Fountain of Life. Growth and other qualities belong to plants, such as circulation of sap and respiration by their leaves; but life characterises man--with its voluntary and involuntary functions, its enjoyments and capabilities, its appetites and instincts, its operations on the world without it, and its conscious possession of its powers within it. Pleasure, glory, and usefulness are bound up with its prolongation. So sweet is it that few choose to part with it, and the cessation of it was regarded by the apostle’s hearers as the direst of calamities. He who is our life confers and supports it in His ineffable goodness--for “man liveth not by bread alone.”
II. “Breath,” Which, as the condition and means of life, is, therefore, singled out. Even then the atmosphere was popularly valued as the first of necessary gifts, and, when scientifically examined, its preciousness is not only confirmed, but it becomes a powerful proof of Divine unceasing goodness. For the air we breathe is endowed with many qualities, the loss or disturbance of which must be fatal to life. If it lose its gravity, or if its elasticity be changed or become changeable; if it thicken, and darken, and cease to be an invisible medium; if it be deprived of its compressibility, or if any amount of cold could condense it; if the gases composing it were to vary in their proportions: or if it were not universally present, and what is vitiated by respiration purified and restored--animal existence would be extinguished on the face of the earth.
III. And His bounty is immense, for He giveth “all things.” Whatever we have He has given us--the food on our table, and the raiment on our persons, with ability to win them and health to enjoy them. Nor let any man boast of being the architect of his own fortune; for the materials out of which he builds it, the skill with which he constructs it, and the propitious season which enables him to rear it without pause or discomfiture--are each of them the gift of the one sovereign Benefactor. Discovery, invention, science, art, adventure, commercial shrewdness, literary power, mechanical skill, and political success; the sharp eye that is first to perceive the “tide in the affairs of men”; and the wary enterprise that launches the vessel upon it--are not self-originated. “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of Lights.” (Prof. Eadie.)
And hath made of one blood all the nations.
All of one blood
1. This is not the gospel, but it is the foundation on which the gospel builds--that humanity is one; that race distinctions are superficial, and not radical; that there is a universal brotherhood, originating in the universal Fatherhood of God. This is familiar enough to us, for our common speech is stocked with phrases and expressions which recognise it. But then no man believed in it. Jew and Greek, and Roman and barbarian were alike in this. They had their separate deities and their separate origin. Every people was proud of its own birthright, and deemed itself the elect of its own god, and regarded it as a natural law that they should despise or hate all others. Into this condition of things the inspired message of the apostles came, flinging its living cords over the wide gaps, and binding human society with a new and Divine bond.
2. And the greater our knowledge of men, the more irresistibly is this truth forced upon us. Everywhere there are substantially the same emotions, longings, regrets, some sort of conscience, hope; everywhere man is susceptible to the touch of love, moved by persuasions of kindness, thrilled by the voice of pity. Everywhere man confesses that he cannot live by bread alone, and is everywhere a praying creature. And everywhere there is in man a capacity for growth unlimited. Even among the lowest races, where science has sought, and will for ever seek in vain, for the missing link between the animal and man, proofs innumerable have been given that one or two generations are enough to work a transformation more than magical. Truly God hath made of our blood all nations of men, and the Christ who can redeem any one man is proved by that very fact to be the possible Redeemer of all.
3. How beautifully, and with what profound wisdom, does Paul here acknowledge that universal religious instinct in man which makes humanity one. They have all sought after God, if haply they might find Him, and He has not been far from any one of them. In every religion there has been something true. They have touched His feet if they have not seen His face. Their shrines have been vestibules to His Temple, if they had not been the Temple itself. Today, in all our mission work we are coming back to the generous thought of the apostle. The heathen world is becoming better known, its religions better understood, its gross errors and undying truths and aspirations more carefully and lovingly distinguished, and, therefore, the scope and nature of our work more clearly and hopefully defined. To understand the souls with which we deal is the first essential of evangelistic work. And verily there is hardly a truth of the Christian revelation which is not, at least, foreshadowed in the religious conceptions of the great Eastern races. We know, alas! too well, that all these things have been buried out of sight under successive layers of corruption. Yet, if we have patience to dig beneath the mass, we are always stumbling upon decayed forms of truth, and it is no little advantage to the missionary to be able to say, “I came not to destroy but to restore and fulfil.” Moreover, we are learning to respect those people and not simply to despise them. We are finding out not only that they are lost, but that they are really worth saving. India was the greatest of all empires before the names of Rome and Greece were known. Its people belong to the same Aryan stock as ourselves. All these races have proved themselves capable of all that we have attained, and they have fallen from all that because, as Paul says, though they once knew God, they became vain in their imagination, etc. It is the picture of Eden with a particular rendering. But whenever there is a paradise lost Christ speaks of a paradise regained. Our missionaries go to their work burning and inspired with an infinite hope, because they go where there are memories of a golden past. What has been may yet be again. They are a people to whom we can confidently say, “If thou canst believe, all things are possible to him that believeth.” (J. G. Greenhough, M. A.)
Mankind are one family
I. The truth of this doctrine. That mankind are one family; that a common origin, and common nature, belong to all nations.
1. We read (Genesis 1:27-28). Now as we read of no more creations of man, but on the contrary, that after the formation of man, Jehovah “rested on the seventh day, from all His work which He had made,” it is evident that if we admit the correctness of the Mosaic account of the creation, we must admit that nations of every colour, and of every mode of life, are the descendants of one pair. This I think more specially appears from another statement in this early history (Genesis 3:20).
2. There is reason to believe from other considerations, as well as from the words of our text, that it was the design of Almighty God, that the human race should spread over and people the whole earth; and one cannot but admire how His providence, by colonisation, adventure, and other means, continues to pursue the same design.
3. The sacred writers often express themselves in such terms as can only comport with the identity of the human species, for which we contend (Numbers 27:16; Romans 5:12; 1 Corinthians 15:22).
4. Against this doctrine, however, there has been advanced one objection, which, on account of the boldness and the frequency with which it has been put forth, it is proper to notice. It is this--“the difference in colour, form, and manners is so great in different nations of men, as to prove that they cannot have had a common origin.” In answer to this objection, it is to be remarked--
(1) That between the snowy whiteness of the most delicate European, and the jet black of the negro, there is, in the varieties of the human kind, every conceivable, intermediate shade of colour. And does the objector mean to say that men must have had as many distinct originals as there are distinct shades of colour in the nations of the globe?
(2) But perhaps he will choose to rest his objection rather on the conformation than on the colour of the body. But can the objector be ignorant that the different nations of Europe exhibit striking characteristic distinctions in their personal structure and appearance? Have we not an example of this in the Germans and the French?
(3) I might insist on the erect stature of man--on the bonal and muscular provisions by which this stature is produced--and on other anatomical peculiarities by which man in all his varieties is essentially distinguished from all the lower animals. And I do so far insist on this, as to affirm that Rousseau, and others, who have intimated that the negro man, and the simile of the woods, are only varieties of the same species, either wrote in utter ignorance of this department of physiology and comparative anatomy, or, what is worse, attempted to impose upon the world a wilful, wicked, and most detestable falsehood!
(4) With those who seek truth on this question it will be enough to know that all e great features which identify man are found alike in men of every colour and of every clime.
(a) One of these features is reason. The powers of ratiocination belong to man alone.
(b) Man is the only creature on earth endowed with the gift of speech.
(c) I pass over the institutions of law and government--the cultivation of science, literature, and the arts--the relations of domestic life--and the strength and durability of the natural affections. But there is another peculiarity of man on which I am bound to insist; and that is, his capacity for religion. I say that man possesses a power to contemplate, love, and worship the infinite Spirit, his Creator and Lord; and that he is the only inhabitant of earth that has this power. To my judgment this is the broad, deep, indelible mark which distinguishes man from the most sagacious of the brutes, more than any other of his characteristics.
II. The essential consequence of this doctrine to a consistent and acceptable Christian practice.
1. It is indispensable, in point of fact, to the exercise of a true faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. To suppose that shade of colour destroyed identity of species, were to us a horrid thought I for there is reason to believe that the holy Jesus Himself had not the European whiteness, but rather the Palestinian form and hue; so that if any nation must be excluded from the blessings of redemption on account of the shape of their bodies or colour of their skin, it is the English nation, and in the interdict we have our share!
2. The doctrine I have laid before you is no less necessary to enable us to feel and to act in a right manner in reference to the distinctions of rank and circumstances among men. If the father of a numerous family finds it expedient to appoint one child this task, and another that; and to one a task less easy or less honourable than to another; those children will not, surely, on this account, forget that they are brothers and sisters, that they have one father, and are equally the objects of his care and love. The use of this allusion is easy. Let the most exalted by riches, rank, office, or fame, keep in mind that he is but man, and never forget the kindliness and respect due from him to the meanest being partaking our common nature! And if there be men who choose to play the tyrant and oppressor--speaking and acting as though more than human blood flowed in their veins--let not this degrade the poor in his own eyes; let him act right in the sight of his God, and time shall show which is the greatest man!
3. It would be wrong were I to omit this further inference; that if all nations were of one blood, it must be in the highest degree criminal for one nation to enslave another.
4. In fine, from the doctrine that mankind are one family I might deduce that whole course of virtuous Christian demeanour which is due from man to man.
(1) Justice and integrity to all.
(2) Reparation where injury has been inflicted.
(3) Forbearance towards the errors and infirmities of men.
(4) Assistance to the weak, the distressed, the sorrowful, the aged, the widow, and the fatherless, according to the ability which God has given us.
(5) Instruction to the ignorant; in other words, the impartation of the religion of Jesus to them who have it not. To those near us, our own family, neighbourhood, and country, first to be sure; but not forgetting the most distant of our brethren. (James Bromley.)
The origin of mankind
I. The fact. The truth of the declaration will appear, if we consider--
1. The great similarity which is visible among the various nations of the earth. They all have the same--
(1) Exterior form.
(2) Mode of moving. They all walk erect.
(3) Use of speech, or power of articulation. None of the lower species have this.
(4) Intellectual faculties. The most uncultivated nations appear to possess the same native powers of the mind as the most civilised.
(5) Moral dispositions, “they have all gone out of the way, there is none that doeth good, no, not one.”
(6) Birth, growth, decay, and dissolution.
2. The ignorance in which they have generally been involved for many ages past, and the slow progress they have made in knowledge, learning, and civilisation.
3. The farther back we trace their origin, the more they become blended together and mixed into one. There is no nation but the Jews that appears unmixed. If different nations have originated from different sources, it is very strange that not one of them has been able to retain the knowledge of their distinct origin. But if they are all of one blood this is not strange.
1. Some have said it was impossible for one family to spread over all the world. To this I reply--
(1) That it was easy for one family to scatter into any inhabitable parts of the earth where they could travel by land.
(2) As to those nations who have inhabited Iceland and America, we can conceive of various ways by which they came to these places. It has been conjectured that many islands were once connected to the main land; and that this was the case in respect to the continents. If this be true, then the difficulty is entirely removed. But if this be not true, it is easy to suppose, that those on the continent could devise means to get to the nearest islands. And as navigation was early discovered by this means, they could get to remote islands and continents.
2. Some nations presume to carry their antiquity several thousand years higher than others, such as the Babylonians, Egyptians, and Chinese. But--
(1) They have no history or monuments to prove their great antiquity.
(2) The most ancient and faithful historians bear full testimony to the contrary.
3. It is farther objected that the great diversity in the customs, manners and complexions of different nations, is inconsistent with the supposition of their common origin. It is easy to answer that all these things may be accounted for by the different circumstances and climates in which they have lived.
III. Inferences. If it be the truth that all nations are of one blood, then--
1. We may justly conclude that the Bible is the Word of God. It confirms the account which the Bible gives of--
(1) The Creation, which tells us that mankind sprang from the same two parents.
(2) The Fall. Though men have sought out many inventions to account for the universal depravity of mankind; yet the Bible gives the only rational account of it, that by one man’s disobedience all were made sinners.
(3) The Deluge. The heathen have some dark traditions concerning this awful catastrophe, but they could never give any rational account of it. It cannot be credibly accounted for but on the supposition that all nations are of one blood, universally depraved, and universally deserve destruction.
2. That notion of patriotism which is generally imbibed and admired, is false and unscriptural. One nation has no more right to seek its own interests exclusively, or in opposition to the interests of other nations, than one member of the same family has to seek his interest in opposition to the interest of the rest of the family. All nations are morally bound to seek each other’s interests, and to refrain from doing anything which they deem to be injurious.
3. They have no right to enslave one another. All men have natural and inalienable rights, which never ought to be taken from them by force and violence.
4. God has manifested peculiar care, wisdom, and kindness in fixing the various places of their residence, in the best manner, according to their relations to and connections with each other. And as He fixed the bounds of their habitations, so He fixed their times. That is, the time when every nation should rise or fall, or become mixed with any other nation. It requires great care, wisdom, and kindness in a parent to dispose of his numerous family in the wisest and best manner; it requires more in a prince; but it required far greater in God.
5. God has exercised His absolute sovereignty in a very striking manner. He has made great and innumerable distinctions among the nations and inhabitants of the earth. How differently did He treat the three branches of Noah’s family, Isaac and Ishmael, Jacob and Esau! He has placed one nation in a warm and another in a cold country, one in a rich, and another in a poor. And it is impossible for any one of the human family to be happy in this world, or the next, without seeing and loving His sovereignty.
6. We have ground to think that the world will stand many centuries longer. The earth is far from being fully inhabited.
7. The whole family of Adam will be immensely numerous. If the seed of Abraham will be as the stars of heaven for multitude, what will be the seed of Adam? Their numbers will be beyond human calculation, if not beyond human conception. This immense family are to have one universal and solemn meeting at the Day of Judgment. (N. Emmons, D. D.)
The unity of the race
I. There is precisely the same plan in all the races--Of bone, nerve, artery, structure, etc. The great functions and organs are the same. If the African had his heart in his liver it would be a tough argument; but what difference does it make that his hair is kinked? The surgeon, the nurse, the dietician will treat him and you exactly alike. Yet you hear men say, “Look at his flat nose. Do you suppose that he is one with the man who has a Grecian nose? “But is not the sense of smell the same in both? The variation of superficial form does not touch the question of unity of function and structure. In fact the differences between one part of the human family and another is no greater than that which exists in a single household where one child is a genius and another practical, one poetic and another prosaic.
II. All the races of men are educable. It is not so with the lower animals. You can carry them a very little way in education, and all the rest is trick. But the moment you strike humanity at its very lowest you find capacity of culture. If you take the greatest savages and put them in better relations and conditions they show that they belong to the universal race of man.
III. All have the sense of the beautiful. There is no proof that this exists to any considerable degree in the animal kingdom. But sometimes, as among the Indians, you find this sense highly developed in the most uncultured.
IV. All have the perception of wit and humour. Man is the only laughing animal in the world.
V. Moral sense is common to all. Where men believe in killing their fathers and mothers they think it right, though their understanding is darkened, and they are misguided, just as a mariner makes his way towards a false light believing it to be true, and thus wrecks his vessel.
VI. The whole world is susceptible of sympathetic understanding, cooperation, and like social conditions. It would be impossible to herd together the different races of animals unless you pare their nails, extract their teeth, or stupefy them. But men of all nations can associate. Conclusion:
1. These thoughts are made emphatic by the undesigned tendency to unity which the growth of the world’s affairs is producing. The economic and scientific developments of the age are working alike for all the nations. Great mechanical and commercial improvements are bringing the whole world together. The Turk is borrowing civilisation from the European; and the European is bringing more threads of knowledge from Chinamen and Japanese. Mountains and oceans no longer divide. We tunnel the one and throw a nerve through the other.
2. The Church proposes, as it long has done, to move out on this tide. It has made a great many mistakes, but there never has been a time when it did not set its face towards human unity, and teach that God belonged to all men alike. (H. W. Beecher.)
The unity of the race consistent with its diversities
At a public meeting of the Anthropological Society the assertion was made that the aborigines of Australia, the negroes of Africa, and other miserable outcasts did not belong to the human family at all, but we’re merely a superior kind of orang-outang, or gorilla; that, not possessing souls, they require none of the sympathy and care the friends of missions were so anxious to extend to them. Immediately a young African requested permission to address the meeting. All eyes being fixed upon him, with a dignified mien and an unfaltering voice, he spoke as follows:--“Mr. Chairman, ladies, and gentleman,--The speaker who has just addressed the meeting thinks that I and my brethren of the negro race are not men because we have curly hair, our craniums are thick, and we have a shuffling gait when we walk. I have lately been down in Dorsetshire, where I observed the farm labourers have a shuffling gait; and I thought that my countrymen, who generally walk much better, might be tempted to laugh at them for their awkwardness if they saw them, but I do not think they would doubt their humanity on that account. And as to our curly hair, I think that need be no disparagement to us, as I have known persons of fair complexion try to make theirs curl without success. With regard to the thickness of our skulls, I may observe, that I suppose our Almighty and All-wise Creator knew what He was doing when he made us so. Our home is in a very hot and sultry climate, where the fiery rays of the sun have great power, and where the inner region of the cranium no doubt requires such a defence. If, by any mistake in our conformation, we had been made with skulls as frail as that of the learned gentleman who last spoke, our brains, under the influence of the heat, might have become as thin and addled as his appears to be, judging from the foolish and unphilosophical statement which he has made, and then it might have been reasonably doubted whether we were men worth listening to.” The young negro resumed his seat amid thundering applause; and for once, at least, it appeared to be the general opinion that the black was as clever as the white man.
Gospel aspects of the unity of the race
I. The natural unity of the race. This is--
1. Taught in the Bible.
2. Corroborated by tradition.
3. Confirmed by science.
(1) A chemist can prove the difference between the human and animal blood, but finds no difference between the blood of negro and European.
(2) Philology has reduced languages into a few orderly classes, and these again into a common tongue.
This doctrine offers the only solution to the problem of the origin of--
(1) Universal depravity with its universal consciousness of guilt.
(2) Sacrificial worship which men have always and everywhere practised.
II. The common interest of our race in the provisions of redemption. The doctrine implies--
1. Our common need of redemption as well as a common capacity for enjoying its benefits. “By one man sin entered into the world,” etc.
2. That salvation for Adam and his fallen posterity must have been provided for all men. The race existed potentially in “the first man Adam”; when, therefore, redemption was extended to him it was intended to benefit his offspring. He who has “made of one blood all nations” has made our Redeemer a “Ransom for all.”
III. The responsibility of the Church in relation to the race.
1. This springs out of the conscious brotherhood of man. If we fully believe that we share in the common evils of the Fall, and in the love of Christ, how can any who experience the great salvation avoid all sense of obligation to save others?
2. This is set forth authoritatively by Christ. “Go ye into all the world.”
3. The successive openings for missions, and the growing resources of Christian nations are intended to quicken this. (W. Hansford.)
This doctrine has three parts--
I. The unity of the creator.
1. Each nation in the dim past had its own gods, and the belief that they were superior to those of their neighbours.
2. But opposed to this is the revelation of one God, Creator, Universal Governor who is over all, and all in all.
II. The unity of mankind.
1. God created man--male and female.
2. This was one act, not divided or repeated at intervals in different places.
3. From this one pair the world has been peopled, through the laws of generation and dispersion. This contradicts the superstition of the heathen in reference to their origin, e.g., the Athenian belief that they were autochthons, springing from the soil.
III. The unity of destiny.
1. Man has a common nature, a mind that thinks, a heart that feels, a will that chooses, a soul that never dies.
2. Each nation has the same problems of society, government, and religion, to discover and apply.
3. Each nation is subject to the same diseases, physical and moral, and runs a like career of ruin or prosperity.
1. The purple tide of related blood from one spring writes a common declaration of rights which no Christian is at liberty to disregard. Simply to be a man or woman is to have claims upon the whole race.
2. Nations are so bound together in progress and privileges, material, moral and spiritual, that whatever helps or injures man in one quarter of the globe is ultimately a help or an injury to all.
3. It is the common duty of Christian nations to labour for the general diffusion of religion and civilization, so that peace, art, and science may universally prevail, and every human faculty find unhindered liberty to develop itself to the glory of God, individual wellbeing, and the good of mankind. (Preacher’s Monthly.)
And hath determined the times before appointed, and the bounds of their habitations.--
Consequences flowing out of the Divine Fatherhood to the race
I. God, as the Father of all, has, in a sovereign manner, disposed of the different nations of men. As a father disposes of his estate to his sons, and as his simple will determines the allotment of each, so has God “appointed men to dwell,” etc. (Genesis 1:28). And if it be asked, Why is this nation here or that nation there? the answer is, Not by accident, but because God so determined it. And if it be still further asked, To what is to be ascribed the mutations of nations, the dying out of some peoples, or their absorption into others? the answer is, The will of God hath determined the times as well as the bounds of the habitation of each. This representation of the apostle--
1. Supplies to us a deeper and juster view of the philosophy of human history than is usually suggested. Whilst, on the one hand, we repudiate the doctrine of separate centres of creation, and treat as a fantasy the doctrine of development, we are, on the other hand, taught to turn aside from the opinion that all human varieties are due to mere differences of climate and outward circumstance. The persistency of races--the retention, generation after generation, by whole communities of the peculiar characteristics of the variety to which they belong; and that under the most altered conditions of climate, occupation, food, is against that. Look, e.g., at the Jews, and at the Europeans settled in Africa, or the Africans in North America.
2. Enables us to read and understand aright the world’s history. There are some who see in national changes nothing but the results of fixed mechanical laws. Others, again, see nothing but the result of either an ungoverned caprice or of the ordinary passions and tendencies of men. But on neither of these hypotheses can a real philosophy of history be built. We can reach this only by keeping fast hold of the truth, that all human operations are conducted under the superintendence of an infinitely wise and powerful Being, who, without interfering with man’s free will, or interrupting any of the ordinary laws of nature, regulates all events according to the council of His own will, and uses all agencies as the instruments of a vast world plan, of which He alone knows the compass and the details. On these two poles all true philosophy of history turns. If we view man as a mere piece of organised mechanism, we cannot bring the phenomena of his history within the range of modern science at all; if we deny or overlook God’s supremacy we are out upon a wide sea, across which no path is drawn, and over which no light rests.
3. Shows us how contrary to the primary order of the world, and the will of the great Father of the race, are all attempts to extirpate races, or to drive people from their native soil, or to take forcible possession of it. God, no doubt, may overrule such deeds; but the deeds themselves are impious. Each nation holds the country it has aboriginally occupied by Divine right--by the will of the common Father. Who can tell how many of the calamities that befall great nations are just retributions for the deeds of rapine and wrong perpetrated in the day of the nation’s pride and strength on some weaker or some utterly defenceless people?
II. The duty binding on men to seek after God. This Paul brings in as describing the purpose which God had in distributing the nations, and allotting to each its place and time.
1. By being thus distributed over the whole face of the globe, and placed under the constant superintendence of God, the nations had the entire revelation of God in nature and in providence subjected to their study.
2. That it is man’s duty to search after God, is one of the primary truths of morals and of natural religion. In his present state man neither knows God aright, nor are his relations with God such as they originally were. Hence he needs to seek after God that he may enter into right relations and true communion with Him. These words depict man’s course in regard to this great matter. Endowed with a religious principle, men feel themselves constrained by the highest wants of their nature to seek after God; and yet, when left to their own unaided efforts, it has ever been only as one who gropes in the dark and at a peradventure, that they have pursued their search. To a few of the higher and purer spirits there came, like angels’ visits, ever and anon, brief revelations of the hidden mystery, just and true thoughts of the Infinite. But for the mass of men it was a fruitless groping, until at length, baffled and disheartened, they were ready to carry their homage to any altar that priestcraft or superstition might erect, or at the best, to embody at once their deathless longings and their conscious impotence in an altar to “An Unknown God.”
3. To what is this melancholy failure to be traced? Not, the apostle reminded the Athenians, to want of means and materials of success. God, whom they thus haplessly groped after, was, all the while, “not far from every one of them.” Not only are the evidences of the Divine existence and attributes presented in copious abundance on every hand, but the fact that man is the offspring of God supplies to him the most natural help for realising the truth concerning God. For, if man be God’s child, he must have a natural capacity for God. And there is thus a solid basis laid in the very constitution of man’s nature on which a true theology may be built; and when the page of creation and providence is opened before a being so fitted and prepared to learn the lessons they so abundantly teach concerning God, it can only be through some perversity of his own mind that he fails to attain to the knowledge of God (Romans 1:20-22). But sin had seduced them from God, so it became the great obstacle to their receiving those right views of God which the phenomena around them so clearly taught.
4. It was thus that the nations were betrayed into idolatry. Nothing can be more absurd in itself than to represent the Great Spirit under the similitude of any creature; and nothing can be more inconsistent than for those who call themselves God’s offspring “to think that the Godhead is like unto gold, or silver, or stone graven by art or man’s device.” Who of us would accept any image that human skill could produce as a fit representation of that which really constitutes us--our soul? And this is the true source of all those wrong, deluding, and debasing views of God, by which men are still led astray, even where the light of written revelation is enjoyed. Would that all who shudder at the thought of Atheism were equally alive to the evil and danger of a false, imperfect, or fanciful Theism! (W. L. Alexander, D. D.)
God in history
He manifests therein--
I. His creative power, causing the human spirit to be unfolded in the multiplicity of national spirits.
II. His gracious goodness, giving to each nation time and space to develop its peculiarity.
III. His judicial righteousness, appointing to each nation, whether it be Greece or Rome or Israel, the end and limit to its power and prosperity.
IV. His holy love--the whole history of the world aiming at this that the kingdom of God may come and that men may seek and find Him. (K. Gerok.)
God in history
The doctrine that God “hath determined the times before appointed, and the bounds of their habitations,” was taught by Moses--“When the Most High divided to the nations their inheritance, when He separated the sons of Adam, He set the bounds of the people according to the number of the Children of Israel.” The periods of their existence have been defined, and its limits mapped out by God. By the periods he means not simply their natural duration, but also the crisis or turning points in their national experience. And they had many of them in their own history. Not to speak of such epochs as the return of the Heracleids, the religious mission of Epimenides, the deeds of the Alcmaeonids, the despotism of Pisistratus, or the usurpation of the thirty tyrants, there had been the battle of Marathon, when Asiatic invasion was repelled by a gallant handful, and, ten years after, the victorious naval action at Salamis--both of them hair-breadth escapes for Athens, and both securing against loss of liberty and degradation into a Persian satrapy. These momentous junctures were the fore-appointment of an unrecognised Protector, who settles the limits of nations; for there is a boundary which they cannot pass, no matter what their ambition, and what the success of their arms. Their own defeats, and the ostracism of so many of their leaders, had shown this. Miltiades the patriot of Marathon, and Themistocles the hero of Salamis, had been sent into exile for misadventures by which the ambitious projects of Greece were limited, and similar had been the fate of Cimon and Alcibiades. Beyond certain termini Athens could not, with all her skill and valour, carry her arms; an unseen arm defined her bounds, and kept her within them. Minerva could not protect: Xerxes had burned her dwelling, and her spear and shield had neither repelled Philip from the north, nor beaten back the Roman warriors from the west. She stood immovable on that rock, defenceless against the invader. The sudden death of Alexander broke into four principalities the huge empire which he contemplated. But the Divine providence is all-embracing, and all history proclaims it. The battle of Zama relieved Italy and civilisation from all fears of Carthage. The Saracen power was thrown out of central Europe at a very critical period, and the tide of Turkish fanaticism was finally checked under the walls of Vienna. He blew with His winds and dispersed the Spanish Armada. Borodino, Leipzig, Trafalgar, and Waterloo set bounds to France in recent times, and Blenheim and Ramillies in days gone by. Bunker’s Hill put an end to British supremacy in the older American colonies. And the moral purpose of God in the allocation and government of the different nations was a special one--“That they should seek the Lord, if haply they might feel after Him, and find Him, though He be not far from every one of us.” Why do nations cease to be, and why are their bounds invaded and broken down? Simply because they do not own or follow out this Divine purpose. They deify themselves and forget Him who is above them--live but for themselves, and “feel after” aggrandisement, and not after Him. The Canaanites were ripe for expulsion on the invasion of Joshua, and so were the Jews themselves before the Roman Titus. The liberties of Greece had been struck down on the fatal field of Chaeronea, and many a nation has been dispossessed of its soil. No people have an irrevocable charter to it; they possess it only so long as they are worthy of it, and act in harmony with Him who planted them in it. And they are displaced that the new occupant may be put upon its trial, too. In this light may be viewed those conquests which are establishing modern colonies--the conqueror in turn is judged, and will, if God decrees it, be in turn exiled. The Anglo-Saxon has driven back the Celt to the verge of the Atlantic, but the Sclave may be commissioned to exercise the same force upon the Anglo-Saxon if he do not service as God’s tenant of His lands. And thus God shall be for Britain, so long as Britain is for God. (Prof. Eadie.)
That they should seek the Lord.
God the chief object of search
I. In what sense is it true that God is not far from any one of us? He is nigh--
1. In the creation around us.
2. In the sense of creaturely dependence and trust.
3. In that He is the Being towards whom the soul tends.
II. Is what sense does man feel after God?
1. In every search for an object of love there is a groping after God.
2. The intense longing after human fellowship is feeling after God.
3. So there is in the instinct of acquisition.
4. In the awful necessity there is in man for worship.
III. Any certainty that man will find Him?
1. Sin has separated both man and God.
2. Man desired not to retain God in His knowledge.
3. But God wants to find man.
(2) Provision for the new birth.
IV. There is necessity lain upon every soul to find God. No matter how wise and cultured, if a man does not find God, he has missed the object of existence. (B. M. Palmer, D. D.)
The search for God and its satisfaction
I. God made man to seek Him.
1. Man is by nature religious. No one ever discovered light or invented hearing; man saw because he had eyes and heard because he had ears. And religion is as natural as either, because as native and essential. Hence man gets into religion as into other natural things, spontaneously. But to get out of it he has to reason himself into a strange position. No man is an atheist by nature, only by art; and an art that has to offer to nature ceaseless resistance. The atheist does not escape from God, only finds an ideal substitute for Him.
2. Religion being thus native to man, its being is as old as his, and--
3. As universal. In his multitudinous faiths he has been blindly fulfilling the Divine decree to seek God. From this point of view the religions of the world have a most touching import; they show men belated, stumbling darkly on, impelled by his Divine homesickness. The religions of man are like voices which say “Come over and help us.”
4. The nature that demands religion responds to it. We know how bad the world has been with its religions, but what would it have been without them? In spite of their falsities they have helped man to live his little life to the measure of his capacity. It and it alone has been able to lift man up to the mountain peak of the Spirit. But if religion is the point where man touches the highest, then it is that which finds, vivifies and directs the best that is in him. It is only as the nature which has come from God returns to Him that it thinks the wisest, does the noblest and becomes the best.
II. Religion is not only natural and necessary to man, but also to peoples. When a people has the noblest conception of God its spirit is in its sublimest and most heroic mood. An English ambassador sat at the table of Frederick the Great, with infidel wits who were making sport of religion. Suddenly the talk changed to war. Said the long-silent ambassador, “England would by the help of God stand by Prussia.” “Ah!” said Frederick, “I did not know you had an ally of that name.” “So please your Majesty,” was the swift retort, “He is the only ally to whom we do not send subsidies.” There stood the truth confessed. England’s best ally is God. A sceptical age is never a great or golden age; nor an infidel people a noble or creative people. For deed, politics, letters, art, religion is a necessity. In seeking for peoples who know not God, our philosophers have to go to cannibals.
III. Since religion is so necessary, the higher and purer the religion, the greater will be its power for good. History unfolds a wonderful tale. In India a few thousand Englishmen hold empire over more than two hundred millions of men. Wealth and culture came to the Hindoos ages before they came to us, yet how with that long start do they and we now respectively stand? Why has the Hindoo declined in power as he grew in multitude, while the late-born Saxon has “widened with the process of the suns”? Because the faith of the one grew like an iron band round his spirit full of consecrated falsities, while to the other came a strong yet gentle faith which breathed into him a purer spirit and nobler aims. So while the Hindoo feels as if held in the dread bonds of fate, the Saxon knows himself a son of God, a brother of man, sent to make earth happier and holier.
IV. By what religion can man best find God and realise the end of his being. Religions may be divided into two classes.
1. Artificial or fictitious religions--those of the individual imagination or reason; “ideal substitutes for religion.” To this class belong--
(1) The Religion of Nature, that product of the eighteenth century, which, however, was neither a religion nor a thing of nature. It was simply a speculative system so named that it might better offend Christianity. It never was professed anywhere--save by its makers, who were not in a state of nature, but were cultured with the culture of the Christian centuries. This attempt to give us Christianity without Christ failed utterly.
(2) The attempt of Strauss to build on our modern physicism a faith in which the universe became the only God. But man can only love the good and trust the right, and as these are the attributes of a person, Strauss failed.
(3) The Comtist apotheosis of man. But worship implies reverence. The thinker in his study, heir of a splendid inheritance, may well feel how magnificent are the gifts of humanity; but what has humanity done for the convict or the miserable victim of lust? The religion that man needs is not one that can delight the enlightened only, but one that can save the lost.
2. Real religions--those of history and fact. These may be divided into--
(1) The national religions of the past. All round us lie the ruins of the ancient faiths of Egypt, Phoenicia, Greece, Rome. They are all dead, to revive no more: supplanted by the universal and unifying faith of Christ.
(2) Turning from the dead past to the living present we have--
(a) Confucianism: but its prudential wisdom is without the enthusiasm of humanity. Look at it as realised in the people so quick-witted, yet so stationary, and then imagine what it would be were the world an immense Chinese Empire.
(b) Brahminism--the most awful tyranny of custom and caste, to which morality is unknown, and which can deify the basest as easily as the best. Brahminism universalised could only mean man depraved, and sent wearily to wander through time in search of eternal oblivion and peace.
(c) Buddhism, numerically the mightiest religion in the world: but in spite of its admirable ethics, a religion without God or hope, radically selfish, and as impotent as selfish.
(d) Islam, whose religion does not purify the home and therefore cannot regenerate the race.
(e) Judaism, which was great only as a prophetic religion, and whose life for the past eighteen centuries has been but a reminiscence.
3. From these imperfect faiths let us turn to that which has created the civilisation and noblest moral qualities of the Western world. Study it--
(1) As regards its ideal contents. Take its conception--
(a) Of God. Such a God as that of Christianity, an eternal Father and Sovereign, infinite personalised love and righteousness, has boundless promise of good and hope for man.
(b) Of man. The Christian doctrines of man’s origin, nature, privilege and destiny are elevating and ennobling as no others are.
(2) As regards its actual achievements. Look around; you confront a civilisation that in its high, generous, and humane elements was created by Christianity; that has, to all its ignoble and pernicious elements, in Christianity a merciless foe. It has changed the sinner into a saint, freed the slave, built the hospital and created in every generation a noble army of teachers, reformers, philanthropists. Conclusion: The religion of Christ is the one religion that man needs; it has come from God that it may bring to God. Here lies the secret of its preeminence. Others have risen out of man’s search for God; this out of God’s search for man. (Principal Fairbairn.)
Religious nature, and religious character
1. The expression “feel after” has reference to what they as God’s blind offspring were doing; and “find Him,” to what God, never afar off, wants to have them do. In one the deep longings of a nature made for God and religion is recognised; in the other a satisfied state of holy discovery and rest in God.
2. That religious nature and character should be distinguished is important in view of a great religious danger. It used to be the common doctrine that sinful man had no affinity for God, had only an anti-religious nature, and that nothing could be done for or by us till a new nature was given. Now piety is regarded as a sort of natural taste, and multitudes congratulate themselves on being better Christians than there used to be, on the ground of mere natural sentiment, because better reformers, etc. Where we shall be stranded in this shallowing process is too evident. Christianity will be coming to be more and more nearly a lost fact, and a vapid and soulless naturalism will take its place.
I. What is it to have a religious nature? Nothing more nor less than to be a man, a being made for God and religion.
1. We are so made as to want God, just as a child wants father and mother. Our nature may not consciously pine after God as an orphan for its lost parents; yet God is the necessary complement of all its feelings, hopes, satisfactions and endeavours. And it hungers none the less truly that it stays aloof from Him and tries to forget Him, even as the starving madman is none the less hungry that he refuses to eat.
2. This something in the soul, which makes God its principal and first want includes nearly its natural everything. It feels the beauty of God, and has the feeling of admiration towards Him. Reason gets no satisfaction till it culminates in Him. Even fear wants to come and hide in His bosom; and guilt, withering under His frown, would only frown upon Him if He were not exactly just.
3. Nor are these things less true under the perverting effects of depravity. Human nature as created is upright; as born or propagated a corrupted or damaged nature, but however much so it has the original Divine impress upon it. The religious nature stands a temple still for God, only scarred and blackened by the brimstone fires of evil.
4. Denying therefore that human nature is less really religious because depraved, it is not to be denied that there are times and moods in which it will be exasperated by the Divine perfections--i.e., when tormented by guilt and resolved on a course which God is known to oppose. But these are only moods. The religious nature has more constant than perverse moods, and is reaching after God in a certain way of natural desire all the while.
II. What it is to have a religious character.
1. Mere natural desire, want, sentiment Godward do not make it. What does it signify that the nature is feeling after God when the life is utterly against Him? If a man has a natural sense of honour does it make him an honourable man when he betrays every trust? Even a thief may have a good sentiment of justice, and be only the more consciously guilty because of it.
2. To answer the question two things must be understood beforehand.
(1) That religious character is more than and different from natural character. It is that which lies in choice, and for which we are thus responsible.
(2) That souls are made for God. They are to know Him and be conscious of Him.
3. Assuming these points it follows that man is never in religious character till he has found God, and that he will never find Him till his whole voluntary nature abandoning its own ends goes after Him and chimes in with His principles and ends. God can have no room to spread Himself in the soul when it is hugging itself.
III. How easily, and in how many ways, the workings of the merely religious nature may be confounded with religious character.
1. The admiration of God’s beauty what is it, some will say, but love? Even the soul’s deep throbs of want--what are they but its hungerings after righteousness? And so it comes to pass that religion is the same thing as mere natural sentiment; and the feeling after God substitutes the finding God. But it will not organise a church, or raise a mission, or instigate a prayer. It is exactly the religion of Herod, who heard John gladly and then murdered him. Pilate had the same religious nature, felt the greatness of Jesus, and ended in giving Him up. Felix had the same religion, and Agrippa, and Balaam: the world is full of it--sensibility to God and truth, coupled with a practical non-reception of all.
2. It results accordingly that there are always two kinds of religion; those which are the product of the religious sentiment more or less blind, and those which look to regeneration of character. The religion of the Athenians was of the former kind, as are all idolatries. What an appalling proof of the religious nature of feeling dimly after God, imagining that He is in the sun, the moon, snakes, beetles, etc. Look on these and see how man feels after God: does he therefore find Him? And what but hills of character are these idolatries?
3. Under the guise of Christianity too we may distinguish at least two kinds of religion corrupted by infusions of the same error. One is the religion of forms, where the soul is taken by them as a matter of taste; loves to play reverence under them; the other is a religion of sentiment fed by reason: feeling after God in the beautiful in nature, delighted with Christ’s lessons of natural virtue; and praising Him as the finest of all great men.
4. Now the true gospel is that which brings regenerative power, and creates the soul anew in God’s image. Any religion that has not this is, so far, a mock religion. The test question, therefore, is--have I found God in my religion? The life of God in the soul of man--that is religious character, and beside that there is none. (H. Bushnell, D. D.)
If haply they might feel after Him and find Him.--
Feeling after God
Hassell, in his “From Pole to Pole,” quotes the following:--“A company of baptized Greenlanders,” says Mr. Crantz, “one day expressed their astonishment that they had spent their lives in a state of such complete ignorance and thoughtlessness. One of the party immediately rose up and spoke as follows: ‘It is true we were ignorant heathens, and knew nothing of God and a Redeemer; for who could have informed us of their existence before you arrived? Yet I have often thought a rajak, with the darts belonging to it, does not exist of itself, but must be made with the trouble and skill of men’s hands; and he who does not understand the use of it easily spoils it. Now the least bird is composed with greater art than the best rajak, and no man can make a bird. Man is still more exquisitely made than all other animals. Who then has made him? He comes from his parents, and they came again from their parents. But whence came the first man? He must have grown out of the earth. But why do men not grow out of the earth nowadays? And from whence do the earth, sea, sun, and stars proceed? There must necessarily be someone who has created everything, who has always existed, and can have no end. He must be inconceivably more powerful and skilful than the wisest of men. He must also be very good, because everything that He has made is so useful and necessary for us. Did I but know Him, what love and respect should I feel for Him! But who has seen or conversed with Him? None of us men. Yet there be men, too, who know something about Him. With such I would willingly converse. As soon, therefore, as I heard from you of this Great Being, I believed you immediately and willingly, having for a length of time longed after such information.’”
The parable of the climbing plants
1. The first peculiarity of the climbing plant to which Mr. Darwin calls our attention is “the slow revolution, in a larger or smaller circle, of the upper extremities in search of a support,” and when in their revolutions they are brought into contact with some firm object, they immediately press against it and so twine round it. The plant cannot stand alone, and it begins to reach out after support just as soon as it begins to grow. Do we not witness in these movements an analogy of the outreachings of the soul after God? The soul knows that it cannot thrive alone, that it needs some Power stronger than itself to cling to; and it feels after it if haply it may find it. Blindly, in the dark, the minds of men grope after this Object of their faith. It is not the heathen alone who have this experience. You know, my friend, no matter how irreligious your life may have been, that your heart is often yearning for a good you have not got; that the sense of helplessness and dependence sometimes takes strong hold of you and forces from your heart the cry: “Oh that I knew where I might find Him and lay hold upon His strength!”
2. “On another plant,” says Mr. Darwin, “three pairs of tendrils were produced at the same time by three shoots, and all happened to he differently directed. I placed the pot in a box open only on one side and obliquely facing the light; in two days all six tendrils pointed with unerring truth to the darkest corner of the box, though to do this each had to bend in a different manner.” The tendril is seeking an object to cling to, the light coming freely from one side shows that no object is there, so the tendrils turn in the other direction; support is nearest on the side where the shadow is. But how does this prefigure our spiritual relation to God? God is light; true, but clouds and darkness are the habitation of His throne. When it is said that in Him is no darkness at all, the darkness is moral; there is in Him no deceit, insincerity, hatred. His character is light, but there are many things about His nature that are dark to us. And it is precisely His transcendent greatness that our trust lays hold upon. We want a Power to cling to whose greatness we cannot compass with our thought. A God whom we could comprehend we could not fully trust. And so it is that our faith turns away from the garish light of human wisdom toward the unfathomed depths of Deity. There is another resemblance here. The darkness is a symbol of God’s infinity, of the veiling of His nature from our sight. But it is only by the help of shadows that we see. Look directly at the sun and you can see nothing. It is when your back is turned to the sun that you see most clearly. Our faith, like the tendrils, turns not only toward the darkness that hides God’s infinity, but also toward the shadow because in that something of His nature is visible. The shadow not only conceals, it also discloses. You cannot conceive of absolute deity. Your mind is dazzled when you look God in the face, just as your eyes are dazzled when you look on the sun. And men have always found it necessary to learn what God is by looking toward the shadows and the types which He has given us. The Incarnation is God in the shadow. Our faith finds something here that we can take hold of and cling to.
3. “Knowing,” says Mr. Darwin, “that the tendrils avoided the light, I gave them a glass tube blackened within, and a well blackened zinc plate; but they soon recoiled from these objects with what I can only call disgust, and straightened themselves.” Here we have not a likeness, but a contrast. Full often the tendrils of our desire fasten upon that which defiles us; and the faith that ought to bind us fast to God’s righteousness and power is entwined about some grovelling superstition or some ensnaring sin.
4. “When a tendril,” says our teacher again, “has not succeeded in clasping a support, either through its own revolving movement or that of the shoot, or by turning toward any object that intercepts the light, it bends vertically downwards and then toward its own stem, which it seizes, together with the supporting stick, if there be one.” So when our spiritual instincts that reach out naturally after God and goodness do not lay hold on their normal support, they, too, are very apt to turn downward and inward, and to lay hold upon that self which it was their true function to bind to a firm support. And when this is done the affections are apt to be turned backward upon self; the man comes to believe only in himself and to worship himself, and the character that is developed is a most unlovely product of egotism and selfishness.
5. “If the tendril seizes nothing,” says this naturalist, “it soon withers away and drops off.” It is possible thus, by simple neglect, to destroy that part of our nature by which we take hold upon God. The extinction of the faith faculty is a possible calamity, and it is the direst. How can the climbing plant cling when the tendrils have withered and dropped off? It must thenceforth grovel in the dirt and be trodden under foot of men. And how can the soul lift itself up, when all the faculties by which it takes hold on God have fallen into decay?
6. Let us hear Mr. Darwin again: “Tendrils, soon after catching a support, grow much stronger and thicker and durable, and this shows how much their internal tissues must be changed. Occasionally it is the part which is wound round a support which chiefly becomes thicker and stronger.” Is not this, also, true in the higher realm? The instincts of the soul that feel after God are wonderfully strengthened when they find Him, and take hold of His power. Faith grows by exercise.
7. “The tendril strikes some object,” Mr. Darwin proceeds, “and firmly grasps it. In the course of some hours it contracts into a spire, dragging up the stem and forming an excellent spring. All movements now cease. By growth, the tissues soon become wonderfully strong and durable.” The very character and quality of the tendrils themselves are changed as they thus fasten upon their support, and perform the function to which nature has assigned them. And so it is with these spiritual faculties of ours by which we lay hold upon God. Our trust, instead of being a tender and fragile thing, grows firm and strong and holds us fast to the throne of God with a grasp that the shocks of change cannot break nor the storms of adversity loosen.
8. Once more, “The tendrils and internodes of Ampelopsis have little or no power of revolving; the tendrils are but little sensitive to contact; their hooked extremities cannot seize their objects; they will not even clasp a stick unless in extreme need of support; but they turn from the light to the dark, and, spreading out their branches in contact with any nearly flat surface, develop discs. These adhere by the secretion of some cement to a wall or even to a polished surface. The rapid development of these adherent discs is one of the most remarkable peculiarities possessed by any tendril.” I cannot help seeing in this an analogy of that phenomenon of the spiritual life which we so often witness, by which those natures which have but little power of comprehending religious truth--of reaching round it and getting hold of it by their understanding--do yet lay hold upon it in a way of their own, and hold fast to it very firmly too. There are Christians whose faith does not seem to need the leading strings of logic or theology, but mounts right up by its own sure-footed intuition. And it is a blessed thing that those to whom the paths of philosophy are thorny, and the steeps of speculation hard to climb, may thus, by a simple and direct confidence in the Christ Himself, who is to all who receive Him the Way and the Truth and the Life, ascend to the serene and tranquil heights of virtue. (Washington Gladden, D. D.)
Though He be not far from every one of us.--
Not far from any one of us
This is the leading thought which the gospel presses home upon us in various ways.
1. In His Son Jesus Christ God has drawn near to the world.
2. The Holy Spirit’s abode in the heart of the Christian brings God near.
3. But Paul speaks of God’s presence in nature.
I. Distinguish between the revelation or God through nature and in the Scriptures.
1. The revelation in nature is the elder and more direct, that in Scripture the later and more mediate.
2. God speaks to us by nature in an inarticulate; by Scripture in an articulate voice. “Nature is very beautiful, but she is so unresponsive.”
3. Nature speaks more to our feelings and imagination. Scripture more to our understanding.
II. Note some of the tokens in nature of God.
1. Its effect upon the senses as an evidence of Divine goodness.
2. Its effect upon the emotions giving exquisite pleasure and evoking gratitude towards the unseen worker.
3. Its effect upon the imagination producing the consciousness of the presence of a mind sympathetic with our own.
4. Its effect upon the reason revealing besides God immortality, and creating a sense of sin.
III. But nature can only suggest to us those truths which we need for our peace and salvation, for their full exhibition we must turn to the bible. (E. Johnson, M. A.)
The nearness of God
God is not far from every one of us.
I. In the nature and aspirations of the soul. “We are also His offspring.” “We ought not to think that the Godhead is like unto gold or silver or stone graven by art and man’s device.” The art of the sculptor may grave an exact resemblance of the human body, but cannot make a similitude of the soul. And it is in the soul that our child likeness to God is found. He who is the Father of our spirits must be Himself a spirit. And that our spirits are endowed with reason, affection and will, suggests the conception of a supreme intelligence, affection. The same is true of our moral endowments. Our sense of right and wrong (Romans 2:15) points upward to a Being of absolute truth and holiness. And so also the desires of our souls are indications of a Being in whose love we may find absolute repose, and from whose resources all our spiritual wants may be supplied. The offspring bear the likeness of the universal Father. It is His witness, His imprint and the mark of our Divine paternity; “in which He is not far from every one of us.”
II. In his essential presence. He is omnipresent in His authority and influence, as a king in all his dominions. But His presence is not only influential, it is actual. “In Him we live and move and have our being.” He is God “above all and through all and in you all.” “He fills heaven and earth.” This universal and actual presence of God is, according to Scripture, the source of His perfect knowledge. There is no doubt a sublime mystery in this conception. But I can just as readily conceive of an infinite spirit filling immensity as of a finite spirit filling my own body. Nor is there any kinship between this Divine omnipresence and Pantheism. There is a worldwide difference between saying that God is everywhere, and saying that everything is part of God. The one degrades, the other exalts Him. The one is the foundation of all idolatry; the other lies at the base of all true worship and of all true religion. Let a man realise that he can never be alone, because the Father is with him, and the sublime thought will restrain him from sin, and just in proportion as he apprehends God’s wisdom, power and love, it will fill his heart with confidence and his lips with prayer, and undergird his whole being with Divine strength.
III. In the daily workings of his providence. He has “never left Himself without a witness” to His universal presence. His sun shining alike upon the evil and the good; all the revolutions and order of the material universe, and all the mysterious influences which hold human society together, bear a perpetual testimony to the presence and goodness of God. It is true that men do not always hear this testimony, and that when they hear it they often misinterpret and pervert it. It is easy for us to attribute all these things to the operation of second causes, and even to worship the things that are seen, and it is no less easy to attribute them all to the blind operation of natural law, and to exclude all thought of an intelligent lawgiver. But after all there is in the soul of man an intuitive perception of God and longing after Him. “For He has made of one blood,” etc., i.e., He so constitutes their common nature “that they should seek the Lord,” etc. And it is to this common religious nature which feels after God that the Scriptures constantly appeal.
IV. As Our Judge. The incompleteness and the disorders of the present life all point forward to retribution beyond the grave. Conscience warns us of it. Hope aspires to it. Fear shrinks back from it. And who shall determine that destiny for us but the God in whose hands our breath is and whose are all our ways? And how near judgment is! There is but a hand breath between us and death and the tremendous realities which it will reveal to us. The Judge standeth at the door. Our character will be determined, and our condition will be fixed by God in whom we live and move and have our being.
V. Is the preaching of the gospel and in all the means of grace and salvation. Here it is that revealed religion comes in to supplement and give efficacy to the teaching of natural religion. (H. J. Van Dyke D. D.)
God’s nearness to man
In relation to this truth our race may be divided into five classes--
1. Those who enjoy His presence, like the Psalmist, who said, “When I am awake I am still with Thee.”
2. Those who are stolidly insensible of His presence, like those described by Paul in Ephesians 2:12 as being “without God and without hope in the world.”
3. Those who are in horrific dread of His presence, like those of Job 21:14. “Depart!”--this is the unceasing cry of hell.
4. Those who are in earnest search of His presence (Job 23:3). This class comprehends all earnest inquirers.
5. Those who theoretically deny His presence (Job 22:12-13). But these different opinions and feelings do not alter, even to the shadow of a shade, the fact that God is near. The earth sweeps her majestic course around the sun, though all the priests of Rome deny the fact of her motion. God is--
I. Locally near (Jeremiah 23:24). An absolute existent has no relation to time or place. No metaphysics can explain, no finite thought comprehend, how He can be equally present in all places at the same time; but the denial of it involves philosophical contradictions, undeifies God, and contravenes the plainest and the sublimest teachings of inspiration. Then--
1. All men should live under a constant impression of His presence.
2. All attempts at secrecy in sin are to the last degree futile and absurd.
3. Death can effect no local separation of the soul from God.
II. Relationally near. He is the nearest relation we have. He is our Sovereign, overruling all things pertaining to us and our history; our Father, our Creator, who has made every particle of our being; our Proprietor, our Life. We cannot move a muscle, breathe a breath, think a thought, feel an emotion, without Him. “In Him we live and move, and have our being.” Two truths are inferable from His relational nearness.
1. That the necessity of the Atonement cannot be satisfactorily argued, to thinking minds, on the remote relationship of God as the Governor of man.
2. That the preservation of man’s perfect freedom of moral action is very wonderful. Whilst He moves us, we are morally free in moving. The how of this is the problem with which all thoughtful ages have wrestled hard, and to this hour it remains unsolved. I feel that I am free, and no argument can destroy this feeling.
III. Sympathetically near. How close is the heart of a mother to her babel But we are nearer to the heart of God than the babe to the heart of that mother. “Can a woman forget her sucking child,” etc. There are three things that show the nearness of His heart to us.
1. His distinguishing goodness in the creation of our existence. He has given us greater capacities for happiness than He has to any other creatures of which we have any knowledge. Sensuous, intellectual, social, and religious enjoyments are ours.
2. His wonderful forbearance in the preservation of our existence. We are rebels against His government as fallen creatures, yet how He forbears (Hosea 2:8).
3. His infinite mercy in the redemption of our existence. Here is the climax of love. “God so loved the world,” etc.
Conclusion: It is true that the heart-searching God is thus near us?
1. Then our indifference is more anomalous than the conduct of him who lies down to sleep upon the bosom of a burning volcano.
2. Then how preposterous and wicked is hypocrisy.
3. Then ceremonialists, why be so particular about the rituals, the places, and the times of worship? “God is a Spirit.” (D. Thomas, D. D.)
Realising God’s nearness
We are said to be, known to be, nearer to the sun in winter than in summer. But the increased swiftness of the earth’s motion in its orbit, together with the inclination of the axis in the same, prevents the increase of heat that otherwise would be inevitable. The surface of the earth on this account is so much less time exposed to the sun’s rays, and so obliquely that the heat is diminished by the nearness. Just so, the world may be nearer to God in position, by providential advantages, opportunities, and in speculative Divine knowledge, nearer, and yet farther from God’s love, less affected by His mercy, less warmed and quickened by His light. So it may be with an individual heart. One man may really be farther from God in position than another, and yet have a summer season in his soul; while the other, though nearer in point of every advantage and opportunity, may remain in the dead of winter. The climate of the soul does not depend so much upon the nearness and abundance of the rays, if it is flying swiftly through them, and obliquely turned from them, but upon the steadiness and constancy with which they are received by a heart turned directly towards them. Looking steadily to Christ is the condition of light and life. (W. Cheever.)
God’s nearness to man: effects of the consciousness of
Two men are walking upon the same plain, and each turns his face towards the sky. The light of the sun is shining upon both, but one sees no sun, while the other sees not only light, but the face of the sun, and his eye is overpowered with its glory. What makes the difference between the two? Not that one is in darkness, and the other in light; not that one is near the sun, and the other far away; not that one has an eye differently constituted from the other; but simply that there is a thin cloud between heaven and the one, and no cloud between it and the other. The latter can not only trace evidence that there is a sun, and that he is up, but has the presence of that sun before his face, and his glory filling his eye. So two men stand in relation to the universal and all-present God. One believes, infers, intellectually knows, that He is; ay, that He is present; yet he discerns Him not: it is a matter of inference, not of consciousness; and though believing that God is, and that He is present, he sins. Another spiritually discerns, feels His presence; and he will “stand in awe, and sin not.” (W. Arthur, M. A.)
In Him we live and move and have our being.
In Him we live and move, and have our being
I. Wrong views of the nature of God lie at the foundation of all false theories of religion.
1. That He is a limited Being, dwelling in temples, receiving gifts from man. This was the popular notion here combated.
2. That He is an infinite Being, but removed from us; the Creator, but not the Moral Governor.
3. That He is the only Being, all that is being merely phenomena of Him; so that there is no separate existence, no self-activity, responsibility, sin, holiness, or hereafter.
II. The true doctrine here taught.
1. That God is a personal Being, distinct from the world; its Creator and Preserver.
2. That He is not far from any one of us, but is everywhere present, beholding, directing, controlling all things; a Being on whom we are dependent and to whom we are responsible.
3. That our dependence upon Him is absolute for being, life, and activity, but at the same time it is consistent with separate existence, liberty, and accountability.
III. These are the fixed points in Paul’s theism. How are these points to be understood?
1. By the reason. The problem to be solved is how the omnipresent agency of the First Cause stands related to the phenomenal world.
(1) The most natural solution is the pantheistic.
(a) Because it is the simplest and most intelligible.
(b) Because it has been the solution most generally received.
Brahm was the universal substance of which all things are the manifestation. This principle underlay the nature worship of the Egyptians, and was the esoteric faith of the higher Greek philosophers, and of the Alexandrian school. It reappears among the schoolmen, and is the popular faith of many modern teachers.
(2) The rebound from this extreme is Deism--a God extra mundane, but indifferent to any efficiency of His in the events of the world.
2. By the intuitions of our moral and religious nature as enlightened by the Scriptures.
(1) That all existence is from and in God.
(2) That all life is from Him and in Him, and--
(3) All activity, so far that unsustained by Him no second cause could act.
IV. From. All this it follows--
1. That we are always most near God. This presence is one of knowledge, power, approval, or disapprobation.
2. That we are thus dependent for natural, intellectual, and spiritual life.
3. That this consensus of the human and Divine is according to fixed laws, which are, however, under the control of a personal God, who can suspend them at will. If we recognise these laws, and act according to them, we experience their normal working, we become more and more recipients of the life of God. If we transgress them the opposite result is unavoidable.
4. That as our whole being and blessedness is dependent on keeping the true relation to God, we should be ever on our guard against violating His laws; in all things acting in accordance with His will, feeling our dependence and obligation, rendering Him trust, gratitude, and love.
5. Under all circumstances we are ever in contact with the infinite source of knowledge, being, and blessedness; but the wicked are always in contact with Him as a consuming fire. (G. Hodge, D. D.)
In Him we live and move and have our being
I. We live. Apart from Him our life would decay, and be extinguished as a flame which had been suddenly deprived of its sustaining element.
II. We move. Apart from Him we are not only inert and helpless, but not even such movement as sustains the life of plants would be possible for us.
III. We have our being. In Him we are; apart from Him we should not only cease to be what we are, but we should cease to be at all; it is only the hand of God that interposes between us and annihilation. (W. L. Alexander.)
Let us apply Paul’s doctrine to--
I. The world of matter. We are embosomed by mighty forces which we regard merely as God’s instruments. But science comes forward as God’s interpreter, and indicates with Sir John Herschel the force of gravitation, e.g., as the energy of an omnipresent will. Again, we speak of “dead matter,” but science takes the ultimate atoms which chemistry deals with, so tiny that no microscope can detect them, and gives them free room to move about in--the ten millionth part of the twenty-fifth of an inch apiece, and shows them jostling each other with ceaseless activity, even in the block of stone and the bar of steel; and according to Jevons each one of these airy atoms is probably a vastly more complicated system than that of the planets and their satellites. But according to Faraday and Boscovitch an atom is a mere centre of force. When we have analysed it into its elementary constituents it is alive with energies inconceivably subtle. And all this force is the immediate energy of the omnipresent Creator. “Matter is force and force is mind,” says science. So says Scripture. “By the Word of the Lord were the heavens made.” This solid frame is, in its inmost essence, nothing but a form of the thought of God.
II. The human body.
1. Let us see how the same Divine force holds our physical frame together. Five-sixths of it is water, a creature of that form of force called chemical affinity. Each molecule is a compound of two atoms of hydrogen and one of oxygen. But for the constant action of this Divine force holding the gaseous element in unyielding combination our bodies would become a form of matter as invisible as air. Besides this the processes of growth and repair are carried on unrestingly by this same chemical energy of God ever gluing atom to atom in blood, skin, and bone, etc., under the direction of the master workman we call Life, in whose skill we see the Divine intelligence of Him in whom we live and who renews our substance day by day.
2. And it is wonderful how much God does and how little we do. We breathe because we cannot help it. From a sort of electric battery of cells in the head there streams along the nerves a current of divine force, which works the muscles of respiration, even in spite of the utmost effort of will to hold the breath. We eat and drink, but it is merely as the servant who opens the house door to receive supplies. The nerve current supplies the digestive apparatus with power to convert food into flesh, and works the central force pump which carries to every part of the system its due supply. What if it were dependent on us to keep the heart beating? And again, in every movement and utterance all we do is by our will to set free the quasi-electric force which is in us, but is not ours, by which the appropriate muscles are contracted and our will accomplished. “In Him we move.” But a large part of our experience is passive. Hot and cold, bitter and sweet, light and dark, etc. What are we to all these phases of surrounding force but a harp of so many strings responding to the fingers of God in Nature? And then these outward touches of the Divine fingers woke other powers. The pain of fire and the recoil of the flesh are independent of our will, and the operation of a will not our own. So again with our instincts; their automatic power is the immediate energy of the God in whom we live.
III. The mind. Our thinking is done by means of the brain, as our lifting is done by means of the muscles. In either case we simply press the key. The Divine current of power flows according to the measure of the door we open, whether it be narrow in the case of the peasant or wide in that of the philosopher.
IV. The soul. “We are His offspring.” His ever-flowing stream it is which fills the tiny pools of our existence. We think; but all the truth we think is His. Our discoveries are His revelations. We desire; but our aspirations are God’s inspirations. We pray; but prayer is the circulation of His Spirit through us and to Him again. Ours is the joy of doing good, but it is one with the joy of God in goodness; ours the pain of doing ill, but it is the resistance of God within us to evil. (J. M. Whiton, Ph. D.)
Our being in God
1. Where is God? Ye will answer, “In heaven.” True. Our Lord teaches us to pray,” Our Father which art in heaven”; and what child would not long to be where its father was? Here on earth we cannot see God. In heaven He is seen in His glory.
2. But is God confined to heaven? Many think of Him so, and many wish so, in order that He might give no heed to them and their ways. But God says, “Do I not fill heaven and earth?” The eternity of God contains all time; the being of God, all being; the infinity of God, all space. If we could see Him here as fully as the angels, this too would be heaven. Yet “God is everywhere wholly, and yet the whole of Him is nowhere.” For if He were not here wholly, He would be divided into parts; which cannot be. The air surrounds us, and we are in it, although we do not see it, only, at times, the moisture in it. God surrounds us, and we are in Him, although we have no senses to see or feel Him.
3. God worketh in all things around us, working at a distance, or giving laws by which all things should be and fulfil their being. Wherever anything is, or can be worked, there is God. It is not with God as when we build a house, and part off what is without from what is within, that so God should be shut out by the works of His own hands. He is above, beneath, behind, before them; not a part of them, not immingled with them, nor confused with them; nor are they a part of Him; yet they hinder not His presence. He is not in one way within them, in another way without them; but one and the same God wholly everywhere.
4. But then, since God is everywhere, we move, speak, act, think, in God. This might be the bliss almost of the blessed in heaven. But it has its awful side also. Since we think, speak, act in God, then every sin is committed in God. It cannot be otherwise. You can no more escape out of the presence of God than out of the air which you breathe. God’s infinite, unchangeable holiness is sinned against by every sin of every creature, but cannot be injured by all sin. The human feelings which God has given us make men shrink from doing deeds of shame even in this created light. But to God, darkness is light. God not only sees through the darkness, He is in it. There He is, where thou sinnest. Thou canst not turn away from God, except to meet God. Thou canst turn away from His love, yet only to meet Him in His displeasure. Turn, then, in sorrow from thy sin, and thou wilt meet Him and see Him forgiving thee.
5. Yes! so is there a more blessed presence than that through which, in nature, “we live and move, and have our being” in God--nearer, closer, dearer, fuller far, whereby the soul, through grace, may be, or is, in God. God willed, before the foundation of the world, to make us one with Himself in Christ. He did not make us to exist only through Him, or to be encompassed by Him. He willed that we should be in the very closest union of love and of being of which created beings are capable. To this end God the Son, in eternal harmony with the Father’s will, took the manhood into God. When men saw our Lord Jesus Christ in the body, they saw Him who was not man only, but God; they saw Him who was, with the Father, one God. And this oneness with us He took, not only to reconcile us to God by putting away the Father’s wrath, but to unite us to God in Himself. Marvellous mercy! Yet since God has vouchsafed to do this, stranger were it that God, who is the life of our life, should form us capable of, and yet not give us His love, if we will have it; that He should make us capable of being united with Himself, and not unite us if we will. So hath He not left us. “Whoso dwelleth in love, dwelleth in God, and God in him.” “He who is joined unto the Lord is one spirit.” “The love of God is shed abroad in our hearts through the Holy Spirit who is given to us.”
6. Since then all is of God, and in God, since we, if our souls are alive, are in Christ and through Christ in God, there is no room to claim anything as our own. To do so were to rob God. But who could wish to?. How much more blessed is it to draw every breath of our lives in Him. As in nature, even the strength which men abuse against God is still continued by God, so, in grace, each act wherewith, from the sacrifice of Abel, God has been well-pleased, has been done through the power of His grace put forth in men, and by Him perfected in them. Where then can be boasting, or any thought of anything as our own, or any pleasure in any works as our own? (E. B. Pusey, D. D.)
The Omnipresence of God
I. Its nature. The simple, popular idea is that God is equally present everywhere. The understanding, however, requires a more particular statement to avoid our conceiving of God as extended. The nature of time and space involved in this conception is among the most difficult of philosophical questions. Happily some of the most simple truths are the most mysterious. We know that our spirits are here and not elsewhere, and yet the relation of our souls to space is inscrutable. So we know that God is everywhere, but His relation to space is past finding out.
1. He is everywhere present as to--
(1) His essence, for He does not admit of division.
(2) His knowledge, for nothing escapes His notice.
(3) His power, as He worketh all things after the counsel of His own will.
2. This attribute, therefore, includes the idea--
(1) That the universe exists in God. All creatures “live and move, and have their being” in Him.
(2) That all the intelligence indicated in nature is the omnipresent intelligence of God. Rational creatures He has endowed with an intelligence of their own.
(3) That all the efficiency manifested in nature is the potestas ordinata of God.
II. Its consequences. Hence--
1. The universe is a manifestation of God. We see God in everything.
2. All events, the falling of a sparrow or of a kingdom; the course of history; the events of our own life, are all manifestations of His presence.
3. We are ever in God’s presence. All our thoughts, feelings, acts are open to His view.
4. An infinite Helper and Portion is ever near to us. The fountain of all blessedness is always at hand from which we may derive inexhaustible supplies of life.
5. All sin and sinners are enveloped, as it were, with a consuming fire, They can no more escape than we can escape out of the atmosphere.
III. Reflections. The contemplation of this doctrine serves--
1. To exalt our conceptions of God by making all things the manifestation of His glory and power.
2. To promote our peace and security, because we know that God is everywhere and controls all events.
3. To excite fear.
4. To stimulate joy and confidence.
5. To teach sinners the certainty and fearfulness of their doom. Conclusion: As all religion consists in communion with God, and as all communion supposes His presence, this doctrine lies at the foundation of all religion. (C. Hodge, D. D.)
As certain also of your own poets have said, For we are also His offspring.--The quotation has a special interest as being taken from a poet who was a countryman of St. Paul’s. Aratus, probably of Tarsus (circ. B.C. 272), had written a didactic poem under the title of “Phoenomena,” comprising the main facts of astronomical and meteorological science as then known. It opens with an invocation to Zeus, which contains the words that St. Paul quotes. Like words are found in a hymn to Zeus by Cleanthes (B.C. 300). Both passages are worth quoting:--
“From Zeus begin we; never let us leave
His name unloved. With him, with Zeus, are filled
All paths we tread, and all the marts of men;
Filled, too, the sea, and every creek and bay;
And all in all things need we help of Zeus,
For we, too, are his offspring.”
Aratus, “Phoenom.,” 1-5.
“Most glorious of immortals, many-named,
Almighty and forever, thee, O Zeus,
Sovran o’er nature, guiding with thy hand
All things that are, we greet with praises. Thee
‘Tis meet that mortals call with one accord,
For we thine offspring are, and we alone
Of all that live and move upon this earth,
Receive the gift of imitative speech.”
Cleanthes, “Hymn to Zeus.”
Man the offspring of God
This glorious fact in our nature--
I. Indicates constitutional resemblance to God. It means something more than to be God’s creatures, like the earth, sea, sky, etc.; but implies resemblance in essential attributes--spiritual personality, intellectual perception, moral sensibility, loving sympathy, spontaneous activity. This resemblance--
1. Constitutes man the highest natural revelation of God. Though a mere atom comparatively, he is the brightest reflector of the Infinite. As I see the ocean in a dewdrop, and the sun in a particle of light, I see God in man.
2. Accounts for our power of forming ideas of God. Had we no resembling attributes, His existence would be a blank to us. Had we no personality, love, etc., His perfections would be without meaning. The eagle takes a vaster view of nature than we can; yet it sees no God because not made, like us, in the image of the Creator.
II. Suggests the rationale of Divine laws. Why has God given us laws? To restrict our freedom or curtail our pleasures? Do His laws, like those of human monarchs, arise from the policy of selfishness or fear? Is He obliged, like mortal rulers, to guard His throne by legislation? No. His laws are the considerate directions of a loving Father, profoundly desirous that His offspring shall escape all evils, and realise the highest good. He who has the true spirit of a child will always say with the Psalmist, “O how I love Thy law!” If any question this interpretation of the Divine code, let him--
1. Carefully examine the character of those laws, and see if he can find one that does not tend to happiness.
2. Consult the experience of the obedient, and see if he can find one who will not say, “In the keeping of Thy commandments there is great reward.”
III. Explains the interposition of Christ. What was there in insignificant and sinful man to enlist this? Was it the intrinsic value of the human soul? The soul, it is true, is superior to the irrational universe; but it is inferior, perhaps, to other intelligences; and as compared with the Infinite mind, What is it? I find the reason in the soul’s relationship, as the “offspring of God. Parental love amongst men, instead of being cooled by the infirmities of the child, is fired by them. This principle, which is a Divine implantation, enables me to understand, in some humble measures, why the Infinite Father should show all this wonderful compassion to men.
IV. Exposes the enormity of sin. What laws are so binding--what authority so sacred as a true Father’s? How heinous is sin--
1. In relation to God, when you think of Him as a Father! The greatest ingratitude is that which overlooks a father’s kindness; the greatest criminality is that which violates a father’s precepts; the greatest rebellion is that which contemns a father’s authority.
2. In relation to society. We are all brothers and sisters. How enormously iniquitous then are slavery, war, cruelty, and oppression of every kind?
V. Aids us to estimate the transcendent blessedness of the dutiful. The office of a father is to provide for his children. As a guardian, God protects the mind as well as the body, and guards our existence with all its rights and interests. As an educator, He develops all the wonderful powers of our nature, trains us not only for some office in time, but for the high services of eternity. As a nourisher, He has supplies for all wants now and forever. Conclusion: Man, reverence thy nature! act worthy of thy high relationship; thou art a child of the Infinite. The great universe is thy Father’s house. Seek through Christ the pardon of thy sins, and the true spirit of adoption, and thou shalt find at last in the great eternity a “mansion” prepared for thee. (D. Thomas, D. D.)
Man God’s offspring
Man, with few exceptions, has never been able to believe that he stands alone in the universe, a helpless orphan, surrounded by blind and irresistible forces, and hurried onward by inevitable destiny. Wherever the voice of man’s nature is allowed to speak, it asserts that he is God’s offspring. This fact is demonstrated by--
I. Man’s intellectual superiority. In his physical nature he is allied to the lower animals; but the intellectual difference between the lowest savage and the highest animal is so great that it can only be accounted for by the text. Man’s marvellous powers are seen in his discovery of the laws of the universe, in his forcing from nature her secrets, and in subjecting her to do him service, and above all in his capacity for knowing God. All this raises him immeasurably above all other creatures.
II. His moral nature. In all men there is a knowledge of rural distinctions, and as arising out of them the sense of obligation. In some communities this knowledge is imperfect and even perverted, but it is there. It cannot be the result of education, but must be part of the constitution of our nature, because so universal. This fact again puts an impassable gulf between man and all other creatures, and is inexplicable save on the hypothesis of the text.
III. His religious nature.
1. His consciousness of guilt, everywhere demonstrated by sacrifice, shows his alienation from a Being with whom he was once in harmony.
2. His struggles after a purer and higher life are but the effort of God’s child to recover a lost condition and relationship.
3. His restlessness and dissatisfaction till he finds rest in God is the culminating proof. Conclusion: Christ has come to lead us back to God, to make us true sons in Him, so that His Father becomes our Father. (J. Fraser, M. A.)
Man God’s offspring
What a blessed doctrine! How high our dignity! how rich our patrimony! Wherever we are, in whatever portion of His universe, we are still in His house--our home. We can never outstep our heritage. The Father has fitted nature not merely to supply our wants, but also to minister to our delight--the glitter of the star and of the dewdrop, the colour and scent of the flower, freshness and beauty for the eye, and song and melody for the ear. Our Father’s house is not barely furnished, but richly ornamented. Rocks are piled into hoary mountains and picturesque heights; the woods are budding forth into life in spring, laden with foliage in summer, or swinging their great boughs to the tempest of winter; the sky folds its curtains and trims its lamps; the waters dance in torrents and leap in cascades, as well as fill the seas; there is gold as well as iron, gems as well as granites, the blush and fragrance of the blossom, as well as the sweetness and abundance of the fruit. The human frame, too, has symmetry as well as strength--possesses far more than is merely essential to life and work; the eye, lip, and brow are rich in expression and power. There is not only the power of thought essential to business and religion, but there is the garniture of imagination, poetry as well as science, music in addition to speech, ode and oracle as well as fact and doctrine in Scripture, the lyre of the bard no less than the pen of the apostle. Above sensation there rises the power of discovery--invention blends with experience. In man and around him there is not mere provision for necessities; there are profuse luxuries. “His offspring” walk in the lustre of His love. It rejoices them to know that the power which governs is no dark phantom veiled in mystery; no majestic and all-controlling force--a mighty and shadowless sceptre; no mere omniscience--an eye that never slumbers; no dim Spirit, having its only consciousness in the consciousness of man--but a Father with a father’s heart to love us, and to the yearnings of which we may ever appeal--a father’s ear to listen to us, and a father’s hand to bless with kind and continued benefactions. And, as we have wandered, shall not each of us say, “I will arise and go to my Father”? Will not He accept the returning child, giving us the adoption of sons, revealing Himself graciously through Christ the Elder Brother, who leads us to cry in true filial devotion, “Our Father which art in heaven”? (Prof. Eadie.)
Man God’s offspring
Man has not ascended from the animal, say rather that he has descended from God. The line of his pedigree points, not downward to the dust, but upward to the skies. “The son of Seth, the son of Adam, the son of God.” “For we also are His offspring”; not the offspring of the chimpanzee. Compare the head of the most uncivilised man with the head of the best-trained monkey, and the difference is immense. What is the capacity of the monkey brain? Thirty-two cubic inches. What is the capacity of the human brain? Ninety cubic inches. You therefore see that the brain of the most undeveloped man, who is not positively an idiot, is nearly three times the capacity of the brain of the most civilised monkey in this or any other country. How to account for the difference? There is a great deal of talking and writing in the present day about the “missing link”--the missing link between the ape and the man. Missing link indeed! It is not a link that is missing, but a whole chain. Human reason is not a development of the monkey brain; rather is it the immediate outcome of the Divine Life. (J. C. Jones, D. D.)
Forasmuch then … we ought not to think that the Godhead is like unto gold.
Paul’s cumulative argument
Up to this verse Paul has made a general statement respecting God. Here he lays down the groundwork of a true and abiding Christian philosophy. The armoury of the Church is in the word “forasmuch.” It throws man back on himself, and says, “If you want to know what God is, know yourself.” “Forasmuch then as we are the offspring of God, we ought not to think,” etc. He made us; as certain of your own poets have said. Then judge the Father by the child; the Creator 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. 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--
I. 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.
II. Forasmuch, then, as we have not been seen by our dearest admirers, we ought not to think that the Godhead can be seen. You have never seen your friend; you have never seen your own self. Any mystery that we find in God we find initially and typically in our own nature.
III. As we express our thought and feeling through body and form, so does God. We proceed by incarnation. Forasmuch, then, as our love must incarnate 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 this doctrine through the deep study of our own nature and ways of self-revelation, when we come to the historical Bethlehem we feel we have only come home. That Bethlehem has been in our hearts, and is the inner circle of our sacred home.
IV. Forasmuch, then, as we forgive our children who repent of their sins, we ought not to think that the Godhead is unwilling to forgive. Forasmuch, then, as that man did so to that sinning son, we ought not to think that the Godhead is a carved statue in the sky. “Like as a father pitieth his children,” etc. (J. Parker, D. D.)
The times of this ignorance God winked at.
God and the times of ignorance
1. Surrounded by the representatives of the great philosophic schools, and with the beautiful objects of Pagan devotion on every side, Paul characterises the error of idolatry as a mark of ignorance. It was a severe thing to say to a people who cherished the past so fondly, and who boasted of their culture; and perhaps not the least irritating thing was that Paul represented his own God--that God so new and strange to his hearers--as tolerating their worship as a matter which in no way concerned His own honour.
2. This raises the difficult question concerning certain things which God has permitted to run their course in past ages, which will not bear the test of even the lowest Christian morality.
3. As we study the Bible history, we see two movements in progress simultaneously. One the natural historic movement; i.e., the progress of a history, like that of Israel, e.g., according to the natural laws under which nations mature, such as climate, soil, migration, conquest. There are those who refuse to see in Biblical history anything more than this. But mothers detect another influence which gives character and direction to the other--the providential movement, the outworking of a Divine purpose. Thus, where the philosopher sees only the migration of a tribe under some physical pressure, the religious historian hears the Lord say unto Abraham, “Get thee out from thy kindred and from thy father’s house.”
4. Now, our difficulty arises out of the fact that these two movements are mysteriously intertwined; that God’s design works itself out through much which, to an educated Christian sense, is cruel and selfish, and by means of men who fall below even the lower types of the social morality of our day. Certainly, if we were called on to select types of devout servants of God, we should not choose Samson nor Barak, nor even Gideon; and yet they are placed in the New Testament among the heroes of faith. Or, there is that horrible business of the Canaanites, which, in some aspects at least, must, I fear, continue to be a puzzle. Take the matter of genealogy--that line which we should naturally suppose would have been kept absolutely pure--our Lord’s human descent. And yet it is not so: Judah and Rahab are both in it. Such illustrations show us that, in the Bible, the natural and the providential currents mingle; so that, to human eyes, God’s work in history seems discoloured by human passion and infirmity.
5. Now these facts involve difficulties; but we can nevertheless discover, running through them, some straight tracks leading us to three general principles.
I. That there is a progress in the Divine revelation in the Bible, from limited to fuller revelation, from contracted to expanded views of God and truth. Take--
1. The Incarnation. There is a fulness of time which must come before the Redeemer can be revealed; until then there are foreshadowings, types, prophecies. Now, after Christ has come, the same law holds. He plainly tells the disciples, “I have many things to say unto you, but ye cannot bear them now,” etc.
2. Immortality. How imperfect its revelation in the earlier Scriptures!
3. Spirituality in life and worship. Is there not a distinct progress from a religion which required the complicated apparatus of altars, etc., to that which intelligently accepts the truth that God is a Spirit? So, too, there is a progress from the morality which must be kept to duty by minute precepts, to the freedom with which Christ makes His disciples free, throwing them upon the guidance of the conscience enlightened by His Spirit.
II. But this principle necessitates a second--that of accommodation.
1. If we read the Old Testament expecting to find New Testament standards and principles in operation, we shall be constantly disappointed and puzzled. When you read the Book of Judges, for instance, you cannot help saying, “These characters are not for my imitation.” You cannot help thinking that there is a terrible inconsistency if you do not recognise the facts of progress in and accommodation of revelation to the actual condition of mankind. You cannot expect the full tide of Christian revelation to fit the moral conditions of Israel before Sinai. And therefore we find that God adapts His revelation to them, giving them symbols and rites. What was the revelation of God in human form but an accommodation? Man would not understand God by hearing that God was a Spirit; and so the Infinite took upon Himself the form of a servant. And there is a glory to be revealed; we might as properly ask why God does not fit us at once to receive its full weight? We know simply that that is not His way; that we could not bear it if it were revealed.
2. But this principle goes farther. God gives temporary sanction to certain things which will not stand the test of Christian morality. There is polygamy, for instance, which the New Testament refuses to recognise. Slavery was incorporated into the Mosaic law. God might have brought the ages of Deborah and Samson up to the level of the Sermon on the Mount, but He did not. He might have worked out His purpose by new methods specially devised; but He took men’s crudity--the practice of war, etc.
as they were, and let them work themselves out according to the spirit and methods of their age.
3. Christ recognised this fact clearly enough. “Moses, because of the hardness of your hearts, suffered you.” What was Christ’s baptism by John but a temporary adaptation to crude religious conceptions? What else did He mean by “suffer it now”? Or do not His words point back to a similar accommodation? “Ye have heard that it hath been said by them of old time; but I say unto you something better.”
III. To these we must add a third principle, without which the whole question would be left in worse confusion than before--viz., that through this partial, growing, and accommodated revelation, God is continually working towards His own perfect ideal. If you once admit this fact of a progressive revelation, the character of the revelation must be judged by its general tendency and outcome. Suppose I give a peach stone to a man who had never seen a peach, and tell him that, if he would plant it, it would yield a delicious fruit; and if, after a few weeks, he should dig it up, and finding the seed just sprouting, should come jeering, and saying, “Do you call that a delicious thing?” you all see what the proper answer would be. Back of the fruit is a long process, and you cannot pronounce upon the meaning or the quality of that process until the tree is grown. Then all becomes plain. So back of the perfect law and manhood of the gospel lies this slow, moral growth of humanity. When you once perceive that the Bible means Christ, that the history recorded in the Bible moves steadily toward Christ, then you may begin to understand that God’s toleration and accommodation are simply parts of the process which is to issue in the cheerful subjection of a man in Christ to the perfect law of the gospel. When you want to form a judgment of some great historic man, you read his life backward in the light of his glorious prime. Do you blame his father because he bore with the boy’s childish folly, and accommodated his own higher wisdom to the lad’s ignorance and crudity? But, with all its accommodations, God’s economy is never content to leave the man or the people in the condition to which it accommodates itself. It accommodates itself to raise. Its testimony against sin is clear throughout. There is a very significant passage at the close of Hebrews 11:1-40, in which these Old Testament saints are ranked among the heroes of faith: “God having provided some better thing for us, that they, apart from us, should not be made perfect.” What does this teach but that God’s purpose in the education of men does not fulfil itself in any man or generation of men, but in the whole history of mankind. Finally, we must not leave this subject without alluding to the practical conclusion which Paul draws from God’s forbearance in past ages: “But now He commandeth men that they should all everywhere repent.” In other words, God’s tolerance in the past is a warning against presuming on His forbearance in the present. God bore with the crudeness and ignorance of the men of olden time, in order that men of a later and more enlightened day should have no excuse for claiming His forbearance. A very different conclusion this from that of those who make this Old Testament record a ground of attack upon God’s character, and a reason for rejecting His later revelation in Christ. As we in happier times read of those old days, our proper sentiment is that of wonder at the patience of God through all these ages, of admiration at the wisdom of His forbearance, of congratulation that He has provided some better thing for us.
2. This history is reproduced, on a smaller scale, in your individual life. You have had your times of ignorance; and though you have had less excuse than they had, yet how your life has been marked by the forbearance of God! What is the practical result of this forbearance? Has it led you to a true estimate of sin? Has it led you to the Lamb of God, which taketh away sin? or are those terrible words of the apostle verified in you, “Or despisest thou the riches of His goodness and forbearance and long-suffering,” etc. (Romans 2:4-6). (M. R. Vincent, D. D.)
Past forbearance and present duty
I. The exhortation consists of two parts--
1. The censure of the past times.
(1) They were times of ignorance, and that easily leadeth into error. But now the light of the gospel was brought to them, God did more peremptorily insist upon His right, and commanded them to repent; for the practices of ignorance will not become a time of knowledge (1 Peter 1:14). There was a time when we knew neither the terror, nor the sweetness of the Lord, but securely lived in sin; what we did then will misbecome us now (Romans 13:12). Sins are more aggravated in times of more full gospel light (John 3:19).
(2) God winked at these times.
(a) The meaning. Certainly it is not meant that God allowed their idolatries; that would entrench upon His honour, and hinder their repentance. First. Some think it speaketh indulgence. God looked not after them to punish them for their idolatries. Ignorance is sometimes made an excuse a tanto, though not a toto (Acts 3:17; 1 Timothy 1:13). Secondly. Others think it speaketh a judgment. God neglected those times, or regarded them not (Acts 6:1; Hebrews 8:9). To this sense I incline, partly because it is so explained in a parallel place (Acts 14:16-17), because it agreeth with the thing itself (Psalms 147:19-20), and because God did punish the ignorance and error of the Gentiles by giving them up to vile affections (Romans 1:24). But yet I do not exclude the former sense, because though the idolatry of the nations continued for many years, yet God continued many signal temporal mercies to them.
(b) The necessity and use of this reflection. It is an answer to their cavil (verse 18), and Paul, as much as in him lieth, taketh off the prejudice of the practice of former times by a prudent and soft censure (1 Corinthians 2:8), and insinuateth that ignorance doth not wholly excuse those that err, but rather commendeth the Lord’s patience.
2. The duty of the present time. The duty pressed is repentance, which is here represented not as an indifferent and arbitrary thing, but as expressly and absolutely commanded, and that universally.
II. The argument or motive.
1. As propounded.
(1) The circumstances.
(a) The time appointed is put for a certain fixed space of time. The work cannot well be despatched in twenty-four hours. When this time will be we cannot tell, for God hath not revealed it (Matthew 24:36); and therefore it is curiosity to inquire, and rashness to determine (Acts 1:7). It is enough for us to believe the thing, which is not strange to reason, that God should call His creatures to account.
(b) The manner--“In righteousness.” But doth God ever judge the world otherwise than in righteousness? No; but (Genesis 18:25). He now judgeth the world in patience, but then in righteousness.
(c) The person. Why doth he call Christ man, rather than God? First. With respect to the Gentiles’ incapacity to apprehend the mystery of the Trinity or the Incarnation; and it concerneth us to dispense truths as people are able to bear them. Secondly. Christ is to discharge this office in the visible appearance of man. As the judgment was to be visible, so the judge (Tit 2:13; 2 Timothy 4:8; Matthew 24:30). Thirdly. This power is given to Christ as a recompense of His humiliation (Philippians 2:9-10; cf. Romans 14:10-11).
(2) The subsequent proof: “Whereof He hath given assurance to all men, in that He hath raised Him from the dead.” That is a sufficient testimony to convince the whole world. The Resurrection is a certain proof and argument of the dignity of Christ’s Person (Romans 1:4), and His office and doctrine (John 5:27-29).
2. What influence this hath upon repentance.
(1) The very day appointed inferreth a necessity of change both of heart and life; for how else shall we stand in the judgment who have broken God’s laws, and are obnoxious to His wrath and displeasure (Ecclesiastes 11:9)?
(2) From the manner or strictness of that day’s account; He will judge the world in righteousness (Ecclesiastes 12:14). What then is our duty but to exercise ourselves both in faith and repentance, that our Judge may be our Saviour, and it may go well with us when this search is made? (T. Manton, D. D.)
Past ignorance and present responsibility
I. God’s forbearance in early days--“The times” of this ignorance God winked at. This expression is pregnant with mysteries. It implies a holy God condoning sin, a just God overlooking iniquity. Before we can get at the proper explanation, it will be necessary to examine briefly two points--how God overlooked and why.
1. How God winked at the ignorance of the early inhabitants of the world.
(1) He did not give them knowledge. He left them in their original state of ignorance. All knowledge and light must come from Him, the Father of lights. This was not the case with all, but it was the case with the greater portion of the world.
(2) He did not punish their ignorance. The great heathen nations had been prosperous and eminent, They were seats of science and art and luxury. And such they were permitted to be. It was only when they came in contact with God’s chosen nation that they were made examples of judgment.
2. Why God winked at this ignorance.
(1) He desired to develop His plans and schemes for man’s salvation. This was to be done through human instrumentality. This process had to be carried on among a simple, ignorant, and rebellious people, and generations and ages had to pass away before it was completed.
(2) He permitted a proof to be given to all time, forever, of the utter abandonment of the human heart to evil and sin, and to show that no man would ever turn from his evil nature and sinful desires of his own accord. The ages of ignorance conclusively prove that no man by searching can find out God. Thus we see the principle of God’s forbearance, which is so much better expressed by the words of the text--“winked at.” God did not leave the old world in ignorance from mercy, but for the just execution of His purposes.
II. God’s present command--“That all men, everywhere, should repent.” The world went on its way until the advent of Christ.
1. The scheme of revelation was completed.
2. The season of discipline was ended. The law delivered to a chosen few was the discipline which had to be endured.
3. The work of salvation was completed. When Christ died, the top stone of the edifice was laid. Thus the consummation of all things having been attained, the way was opened for the universal application of religion. And then came forth the “command” that all men should believe. The sun began to arise, and the darkness was henceforth to be dispelled.
And what was the result? A terrible change in the responsibility of man and the policy of God.
1. As to the responsibility of man. There is now no excuse for darkness or ignorance. If man does not hear and obey, the fault is his own.
2. As to the policy of God. He no longer winks at ignorance or evil. Having removed the cause, He no longer accepts the excuse. With Him now is stern, hard justice. (Homilist.)
The gospel age
1. God’s relation to the world before the gospel age. The ages before the gospel were “times of ignorance” as regards the grand subjects of religion--“the world by wisdom knew not God.” This was a guilty ignorance. Outward nature, and the intuitions of their own souls, were sufficient to teach them the knowledge of God; but the means they neglected. This ignorance “God winked at,” not that He connived at it, but overlooked it. He dealt leniently with those dark ages. He did not interpose specially, either in vengeance or in grace. This is a question which, if proper to ask, is impossible to solve. We may discover certain useful ends answered by it; and these ends will be sufficient to satisfy us that His forbearance was worthy of Himself. It serves to show--
(1) The insufficiency of human reason in matters of religion. God gave human reason plenty of time to exhaust all its resources in endeavours to find Him out.
(2) The necessity of a special revelation. Since God gave mankind so many ages to endeavour to find Him out, and they failed, men are left without the shadow of a foundation for supposing that they can do without the gospel of Jesus Christ.
2. God’s relation to the world in the gospel age. God’s conduct now towards the world is changed. He who overlooked in forbearing mercy the wickedness of past times, now commands “every man everywhere to repent.” Notice--
I. The one great duty of man in the gospel age. To repent; which means something more than contrition or change of opinion, or renunciation of a habit; it means a change in the ruling disposition of life. Every man is under some ruling disposition, into which you can resolve all the actions of his everyday life. This is the heart of the man. Repentance is a change in this. This reformation of the soul is the one urgent duty of every man. Why?
1. Because it is right. All men, everywhere, are in the wrong, and eternal rectitude demands a change.
2. Because it is indispensable. There is no possibility of being happy without it.
II. The one grand prospect of man in the gospel age. The day of judgment.
1. The period is appointed (Matthew 25:1-46.). Who knows when? No one. It will come, perhaps, as the flood came--whilst men are eating and drinking, etc.; or as Christ came--in the deep hush of darkness, when men were all asleep. We know not when, but we know it is fixed. It is registered in His unfulfilled plans. His Providence is getting nearer to it every hour. “God hath appointed a day.” It must come.
2. The Judge is appointed. “By that man,” etc. This Man has heretofore ever dealt in mercy. Now eternal rectitude is the rule of His conduct. The grand thing that loomed before the gospel was the gospel age itself; the grand thing that looms in the future of humanity now is the day of judgment. What an argument for repentance is this righteous judgment! We must be made right to be enabled to stand in that day.
III. The one demonstrating fact for man in the gospel age “whereof He hath given assurance,” either that there will come a day of judgment, or that Christ is the Divine Judge. The latter is the most likely idea.
1. Any teacher, living a holy life, and rising from the dead according to his own announcement, must be Divine.
2. Christ as a Teacher did live a holy life, and did rise from the dead according to His own announcement. Who can escape the inference? (D. Thomas, D. D.)
But now commandeth all men everywhere to repent.--
Repentance is here urged as the command of the Almighty. In other places it is declared to be indispensable to salvation. Yet men have many objections. At one time they allege that they have done nothing which requires repentance. They have not been guilty of murder, or fraud, or falsehood. At another time it is said that repentance is wholly beyond the power of man; and wonder is expressed that a command should be urged to do that which will never be done but by Divine assistance. At another time it is alleged that the requirement is wholly arbitrary. Why has God chosen these mere emotions of the heart in preference to a correct moral character as the conditions of His favour? Again it is asked, why has God made the path to heaven a path of sorrow? Such are some of the feelings that spring up in the mind when we come to men and urge upon them the duty of repentance. My desire is to convince you that they are unfounded.
I. Repentance is a simple operation of mind understood and practised by all. You cannot find a person who at some time has not exercised repentance; and in the emotions of a child, when he feels sorrow that he has done wrong, and who resolves to make confession of it and to do so no more, you have the elements of all that God requires of man as a condition of salvation. No inconsiderable portion of every man’s life is made up of regrets for the errors and follies of the past. They invade the mind because we feel that we have done wrong, and that we ought to have done differently. They are not arbitrary. They are the operations of the regular laws of the mind; and they are operations which a generous and a noble heart would not wish to check or prevent. If such feelings actually occur on the recollection of the past, it is natural to ask why we should not expect to find them in religion? Further, the mind nowhere else knows emotions so overwhelming as in the recollections of past guilt. And why, then, should it be regarded as fanatical that the soul should be burdened with a sense of guilt when it comes back to God?
II. God may appoint his own terms. This is true in relation to everything. Health is His gift; and He has the absolute right--a right which He is constantly exercising--to state to man on what terms it may be enjoyed; and if he does not choose to comply with those terms, God will not depart from His settled laws to give him health by miracle. In like manner, pardon is the gift of God, and He has a right to say on what terms it may be obtained. God is dealing with you in this respect just as you deal with your fellow men. You will admit no one to your dwelling who does not choose to comply with the reasonable conditions which you may choose to have observed. You are a parent. A child violates your commands. Do you not feel that you have a right to prescribe the terms on which he may obtain your forgiveness? Even if the appointment were wholly arbitrary, God has a right to make it, and man has no right to complain.
III. When wrong has been done among men, the only way to obtain again the favour of those who have been injured is by repentance. You are a father. A child does wrong. Towards that son you cherish still all a father’s feelings; but you refuse to admit him to the same degree of confidence and favour as before without some evidence of repentance. You have had a friend. But he betrayed you. I ask any man whether he can receive such a friend again to his bosom without some evidence of regret, and some proof that he will not do it again?
IV. In the actual course of events under the Divine administration it is only in connection with repentance that forfeited favours can be recovered. I do not mean to say that repentance will always repair the evil of the past, but that if a man who has done wrong is ever restored to the forfeited favour of God, it will be in connection with repentance. A man has wasted his health and property by intemperance. Is there any way, now, by which health, and domestic peace, and property, and respectability may be recovered? There is. But how? By this course. Why should it be thought more strange in religion than in the actual course of events?
V. The necessity of repentance could not be avoided by any arrangement whatever. A moment’s reflection will satisfy any one of this. The law of God requires love to Him as the supreme rule of life. That law man has violated, and the gospel requiring repentance meets him as a sinner, and requires him to return to the love of God. Now no alienated man can come back to this love of God without regret that he wandered away from Him. (A. Barnes, D. D.)
I. Its nature.
1. A true sense of sin. This is naturally the first step, for until an individual has been made conscious of his sin, it is utterly hopeless to expect that he will turn from it. Most men are willing to admit in general terms the truth that “all have sinned and come short of the glory of God,” but few in comparison possess an enlightened and sincere conviction of their personal guilt and impurity in the sight of God. When the Spirit enlightens the mind of the sinner to discern the extent, strictness, and spirituality of the law of God, as taking cognizance of every thought, word, and action, and as requiring absolute perfection in all things, his conscience is awakened to a sense of his transgressions, so that he is ready to sink under the burden of his guilt.
2. Godly sorrow on account of sin. There is a spurious sorrow which does not regard sin itself so much as the misery which is its fruit. It is possible, too, that a man may be really sorry for particular sins, and yet he may be an utter stranger to true repentance. Of this we have a fearful example in the case of Judas Iscariot. But the sorrow of a true penitent is for sin, as committed against God, as rebellion against His rightful authority, as a violation of His holy law, and as a most base, ungrateful return for all his goodness.
3. An apprehension of the mercy of God in Christ to such as are penitent. Had we no reason to cherish the hope that God would pardon our sins, we could never return to Him as sincere penitents, but must inevitably sink into despair.
4. A turning from sin unto God, with a sincere purpose and endeavour to walk with Him in all the ways of His commandments. This constitutes the grand distinction betwixt true repentance and all false appearances. Accordingly St. Paul exhorted both Jews and Gentiles, not only that they should “repent and turn to God,” but also “do works meet for repentance.”
II. The motives which ought to lead us to it.
1. A regard to the Divine authority and to our own real interest. No injunction can be more explicit than this which is binding upon all men of every rank and character. Dare we thus pour contempt on His authority, especially now when “the times of ignorance which God winked at” are over, and the Dayspring from on high hath risen over our once benighted land. Consider what must be the consequence of such aggravated guilt. Jesus Christ hath declared, “Except ye repent ye shall all likewise perish.”
2. The many encouraging declarations and promises addressed to such as are exercising repentance.
3. The examples with which the Word of God furnishes us of sinners, whose guilt was peculiarly great, but who, notwithstanding, on repentance were pardoned and saved.
4. The great day of judgment. This is the grand reason which the apostle assigns for God commanding men everywhere to repent. (P. Grant.)
I. Its nature.
1. A deep sense of unworthiness to receive the Divine forgiveness. So felt Job, “Lord, I am vile: how shall I answer Thee?” So felt Isaiah, “Woe is me!” etc. So felt Peter, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.” So also did Paul, “O wretched man that I am, who shall deliver me from the body of this death?”
2. Bitter sorrow for past sin. When Peter caught the reproving eye of his Lord his repentance was evidenced by his “going out and weeping bitterly.” Paul “was three days, and neither did eat nor drink”; so great was his distress of mind. When the jailor at Philippi was awakened he came trembling.
3. Confession of sin before God. The prodigal went to his father and said unto him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before thee,” etc. “For, with the heart man believeth unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.”
4. A fixed determination to abandon henceforth, by God’s help, former sins. Herod heard John the Baptist gladly preach the doctrine of repentance, and he did many things which he enjoined; yet he gave not up his brother Philip’s wife, and so his repentance could profit him nothing. Judas, when he saw that his Lord was condemned, is said to have repented, but he afterwards went and hanged himself.
5. Amendment of life, holiness and diligence in the service of God.
II. Its obligations. Repent, because--
1. God commands it.
2. Because of the atonement made for sin by Christ. Repentance would be of no avail in itself for salvation; it draws all its value from the death of Jesus.
3. Because by virtue of Jesus Christ’s intercession the Holy Spirit is now sent down to enable them to obey the command. Repentance, however necessary, is not a feeling which any man can produce when he pleases; it is not a product of the natural mind.
4. Because “God hath appointed a day in the which He will judge the world in righteousness by that Man whom He hath ordained.” He who now waiteth to be gracious as our merciful Saviour in the forgiveness of our sins shall then have become our righteous Judge. And that the certainty of this awful event might be strongly fixed in the minds of men, He hath verified it by the amazing miracle of the Resurrection of Jesus. (R. M. Jones, M. A.)
When we think of the prevalence of idolatry and superstition we are apt to ask, Where is the wisdom, justice, or mercy of suffering whole nations for centuries and millennia to know not the worship of the true God? But all such questions are silenced in the text. God will not call the men who lived in them to such a reckoning as He will call us: they had not the revelation you now have. But though “the times of this ignorance God winked at; He now commandeth all men everywhere to repent.”
I. What God commands. All men “everywhere to repent,” now. He addresses idolaters that they should abandon their false gods and become worshippers of the true God. You and I have not to repent in that sense: our forefathers had. But now there is not an altar of Druidical worship to be found. Yet idolatry may exist in the heart notwithstanding. Now, the radical meaning of repentance is change.
1. Of mind.
(1) As to God. As to the law of God.
(2) As to sin.
(3) As to Christ.
Some persons accuse preachers of disturbing the minds of our hearers. But we do not bring the things there that are discovered--it is the light that reveals them.
2. Of disposition consequent upon a change of view. That which before was hated is now loved--the Bible, the Saviour, religion.
3. A change of conduct, for if the mind and disposition are changed, the behaviour is changed. Hence the Baptist, when he preached to the people in the wilderness, told them to “bring forth fruits meet for repentance.” God, then, commandeth men to repent. He commandeth all men--the poor and the rich--kings and their subjects--the young, the middle-aged, and the old.
II. The reason the command is given.
1. The certainty of a day of judgment is taught by--
(1) Reason. We observe the conduct of men around us: we sometimes see that the virtuous are rewarded; but we often see the reverse of that, and if we believe in the Divine government we must suppose there is some state after this in which all these discrepancies will be adjusted.
(3) The general belief of the Church of God in all ages.
(4) The Word of God.
2. The period “appointed.” The time is fixed; nothing can postpone it or antedate it. A day is a measured period--so long, and no longer. We know not how long this day will be: “One day with the Lord is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day.” There will be time enough for a determinate examination of every individual to be judged. The actual arrival of this day is unknown to us. This is wise. The wicked, who presume as it is, would then presume much more; the good would then, in all probability, relax in their zeal and assiduity and painstaking. “Watch, therefore, for ye know not the day nor the hour when the Son of Man cometh.” In one sense, the day of our death will be a sort of rehearsal of the judgment. But the last day is distant, and will take place at the end of the world. If every man were to be judged on his committing a single act of sin, it would throw everything into confusion, and society would be disturbed. All nations of men have certain fixed days--assize days--in which the majesty of law and order are vindicated. It is so in the government of God.
3. The Person who is to preside over the solemnities of that day. The sinner cannot object, because the Man Christ Jesus died to save him; and if He condemns him, he must, indeed, deserve to be condemned. The saint cannot object to that, because he has actually obtained his fellowship with Christ on earth; and, therefore, he sees in the Person of the Judge, his Brother, his Friend, his Redeemer. That is the occasion on which the human nature of Christ will be exalted; that is one part of the reward which the Father will give to the Son for His mediatorial acts. “The Father judgeth no man, but hath committed all judgment unto the Son; that all men should honour the Son, even as they honour the Father.” Whoever presides over the solemnities of the judgment day must be omniscient; He must be capable of estimating the motives and principles which actuate us; He must be a person of perfect equity and absolute perfection; He must, in short, be God. Therefore, the human nature that must sit on the throne of judgment will be the human nature in connection with one of the persons of the Godhead.
4. The process--“in righteousness.” There will be--
(1) Scrutiny. Those eyes that are like a flame--those eyes that see into all the depths of the human heart will scrutinise every individual character. Oh, what an unfolding of history, character, and conduct.
(2) Separation--the good from the bad. And the separation will be so complete that not one sinner will be found in the congregation of the righteous, nor one righteous in the congregation of the wicked.
(3) Decision. The sentence upon the righteous shall be, “Come, ye blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.” This intimates to you the vastness of our future felicity. But then the other sentence is equally strong, “Depart, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels.” It is a solemn fact that the sentence which will determine our fate for ever and ever is not unknown; we know it beforehand.
Conclusion: We learn a lesson of--
1. Confirmation of our faith.
2. Self-examination. Are we prepared for this process.
3. Diligence. (J. Beaumont, M. D.)
I. The nature of true repentance. It includes--
1. A true sense of sin. This must be the groundwork of all the rest, because it is impossible to hate what we do not feel.
2. The second step of repentance is being affected with a grief and hatred of sin. The former was a selfish feeling; this is a generous passion. The former respects sin as ruinous to the sinner; this regards it as offensive to God.
3. The third step in repentance towards God is an apprehension of the mercy of God in Christ and a forsaking of sin. This is properly an act of faith.
II. The motives to repentance.
1. The superior light and information derived to the world by the Christian religion, concerning the rule of righteousness according to which we ought to conduct our lives, suggests a strong inducement to repentance. What signifies the superior excellency of your religion, unless its superiority appear in your life? What avails the light to you, if ye continue to walk in darkness? Unless ye repent, it had been better for you that the kingdom of God had never come amongst you. If ye still walk in the region and shadow of death, it had been better that the Dayspring from on high had never risen over your benighted land.
2. A second motive and encouragement to repentance is the hope and prospect of success. The gate of mercy is set open by the blood of Jesus; and an inheritance that is incorruptible, undefiled, and that fadeth not away, is promised to all those who sincerely repent of their sins, to all who believe and obey the gospel.
3. A third motive to repentance is the assistance of the Spirit, which the gospel offers.
4. In the fourth place, as an inducement to repentance, consider the cross of Christ, who suffered the punishment due to our sins. How great must be the evil of sin, and how strong the obligation for us to repent of our sins, when such a sacrifice was required to expiate our guilt.
5. It is another motive to repentance that God “has appointed a day in the which He will judge the world.” (John Logan.)
Nature and necessity of true repentance
I. It extends to the heart as well as to the practice. Every true penitent indeed has an affecting sense of the many sins and guilty imperfections of his life; but then his repentance does not stop there, but he looks into the horrid arcana, the secrets of wickedness within! He traces up these corrupt streams to the more corrupt fountain in his heart, from which they flow. David’s repentance reached his heart. Hence in his penitential psalm (51) he not only confesses his being guilty of the blood of Uriah, but that he was shapen in iniquity, and conceived in sin, and earnestly prays, “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me” (Psalms 51:5-6; Psalms 51:10). And he is deeply sensible of the want of truth or integrity in the inward parts.
II. In evangelical repentance there is a deep sense of the intrinsic evil of sin and a hearty sorrow for it as done against God. Sin appears to the true penitent as some sorts of poison to us; that is, not only hateful because it is deadly and destructive, but hateful and nauseous in itself. I do not mean that the fear of punishment is no ingredient in true repentance; the love of God and self-love are very consistent, if the latter is kept in a due subordination to the former; and therefore the fear of punishment has great weight even with the evangelical penitent. But I mean the fear of punishment is not the principal, much less the only spring and motive of true repentance: the true penitent hates sin, even when he is not thinking of heaven or hell, but only viewing it in its own nature. He is also deeply sorry for sin, as against God, or as contrary to Him. As rebellion against His authority, as a contrariety to His holiness, as an opposition to His will and pleasure, as a most base, ungrateful return for all His goodness, and as the cause of all the agonies of the blessed Jesus; he hates it, he mourns over it with ingenuous and kindly relentings of heart. Nay, of so generous a nature is evangelical repentance, that the penitent soul never melts so freely, nor bursts out into such a flood of ingenuous sorrows, as when it has reason to hope that a gracious God has freely forgiven it. Then it sees the base ingratitude and complicated vileness of sin, as committed against so gracious a God. God’s forgiving the penitent is a reason to him why he should never forgive himself.
III. True repentance extends to all known sin, without exception. They are all forbidden by the same Divine authority; all contrary to the holy nature of God; all opposite to the obligations of duty and gratitude we are under to Him; and therefore they must be all repented of. This was the character of David--“that he hated every false way” (Psalms 119:128).
IV. True repentance always includes reformation. Remember that maxim of the wise man, “He that covereth his sins shall not prosper; but whoso confesseth and forsaketh them, shall have mercy” (Proverbs 28:13). Observe, not only confessing, but also forsaking them, is necessary to the obtaining of mercy. The same thing appears from the various expressions used in Scripture to describe repentance. To repent, in the language of the Bible, is to depart from our evil ways; to cease to do evil and learn to do well; to cleanse our hands and purify our hearts: which expressions signify not only sorrow for sin, but especially reformation from it. In vain, therefore, do you pretend you repent, if you still go on in the sins you repent of.
V. Evangelical repentance implies a believing application to God for pardon only through Jesus Christ. How opposite to this is the prevailing spirit of the world! If they repent, it is to make amends for their sins, and procure the Divine favour by their repentance, and thus even their repentance becomes a snare to them, and one cause of their destruction. In this sense, a bold saying of one of the fathers may be true: “That more souls are destroyed by their repentance than by their sin”; that is, sin is evidently evil, and they are in no danger of trusting in it to recommend them to God. But even their superficial servile repentance has the appearance of goodness, and therefore they make a righteousness of it; and upon this quicksand they build their hopes, till they sink into remediless ruin. I have only two or three remarks more to make for the farther illustration of this subject.
1. The first is, that all the principles of degenerate nature can never produce this generous and thorough repentance, but that it is the peculiar work of the Holy Spirit.
2. The second remark is, that this generous supernatural repentance is not the first repentance of an awakened sinner. No; he is first alarmed with terror and dreadful apprehensions of punishment; and all the springs of nature are put in motion before these nobler principles are infused, and he is brought to a genuine evangelical repentance. Therefore--
3. The only way to attain to this supernatural repentance is to use all proper means to excite the springs of natural repentance, particularly, to reflect upon your sins, upon their number and aggravation and your dreadful danger. My subject is now ripe for an application, and this shall be nothing else but a short illustration of the other parts of my text. And to the great God you must answer for your disobedience. My text tells you God commands all men to repent--all men, of all ranks and characters. This command therefore is binding upon you all. To render the call still more pointed and universal, it is added, “He commandeth all men, everywhere, to repent.” Everywhere, in city and country; in palaces and cottages; in Europe, Asia, Africa, and America, wherever the trumpet of the gospel sounds the alarm to repent; in this very spot, where we now stand. Here the command of God finds you out, and calls you to repent. Nor are you allowed to delay your compliance. Repentance is your present duty: for “now He commandeth all men, everywhere, to repent”: now, when the times of ignorance are over, and the gospels shed heavenly day among you: now, when He will no longer wink, or connive at your impenitence, but takes strict notice of it with just indignation: now, while the day of grace lasts, and there is place left for repentance: now, before you are hardened through the deceitfulness of sin, and while His Spirit is striving with you: now, while you have time, which may be taken from you the next year: now, while you enjoy health of body, and the exercise of your reason; and your attention is not tied down to pain and agony: He does not allow you one hour’s delay; and what right have you to allow it to yourselves? (S. Davies, M. A.)
Because He hath appointed a day, in the which He will Judge the world in righteousness.
The day of judgment
I. There shall be a day of judgment.
1. “A particular judgment.” At the day of death the soul hath a judgment passed upon it (Hebrews 9:27; Ecclesiastes 12:7).
2. “A general day of judgment”; which is the great assize, when the world shall be gathered together (Ecclesiastes 12:14; Matthew 12:36; Psalms 96:13).
II. Why there must be a day of judgment.
1. That God may execute justice on the wicked. Things seem to be carried here in the world with an unequal balance (Job 29:3; Malachi 3:15). Diogenes, seeing Harpalus, a thief, go on prosperously, said [that] surely God had cast off the government of the world and minded not how things went here below (2 Peter 3:3-4). Therefore God will have a day of assize to vindicate His justice; He will let sinners know that long forbearance is no forgiveness.
2. That God may exercise mercy to the godly. Here piety was the white which was shot at (Romans 8:36). God will therefore have a day of judgment, that He may reward all the tears and sufferings of His people (Revelation 7:9).
III. When the day of judgment shall be. It is certain there shall be a judgment; uncertain, when (Matthew 24:36). And the reason is--
1. That we may not be curious. There are some things which God would have us ignorant of (Acts 1:7). “It is a kind of sacrilege,” as Salvian speaks, “for any man to break into the Holy of holies, and enter into God’s secrets.”
2. That we may not be careless. “God would have us live every day,” saith Austin, “as if the last day were approaching.” This is the use [which] our Saviour makes of it (Mark 13:32-33).
IV. Who shall be the judge? The Man who is God-man. We must take heed of judging others; this is Christ’s work (John 5:22) There are two things in Christ which do eminently qualify Him for a Judge--
1. Prudence and intelligence, to understand all causes that are brought before Him (Zechariah 3:9; Hebrews 4:13). Christ is “a Heart searcher”; He doth not only judge the fact, but the heart, which no angel can do.
2. Strength, whereby He is able to be revenged upon His enemies (Revelation 20:10).
V. The order and method of the trial.
1. The summons to the court (1 Thessalonians 4:16).
(1) The shrillness of the trumpet. It shall sound so loud, that the dead shall hear it.
(2) The efficacy of the trumpet. It shall not only startle the dead, but raise them out of their graves (Matthew 24:31).
2. The manner of the Judge’s coming to the bench.
(1) It will be glorious to the godly (Titus 2:13).
(a) Christ’s person shall be glorious. His first coming in the flesh was obscure (Isaiah 53:2-3). But His second coming will be “in the glory of His Father” (Mark 8:38).
(b) Christ’s attendants shall be glorious (Matthew 25:31).
(2) Dreadful to the wicked (2 Thessalonians 1:7-8).
3. The process or the trial itself.
(1) Its universality. It will be a very great assize; never was the like seen (2 Corinthians 5:10). Kings and nobles, councils and armies, those who were above all trial here, have no charter of exemption granted them. They who refused to come to “the throne of grace” shall be forced to come to the bar of justice. And the dead as well as the living must make their appearance (Revelation 20:12); and not only men, but angels (Jude 1:6).
(2) Its formality. Which consists in the opening of the books (Daniel 7:10; Revelation 20:12).
(a) The book of God’s omnisciency (Malachi 3:16).
(b) The book of conscience. Men have their sins written in their conscience; but the book is clasped (the searing of the conscience is the clasping of the book); but when this book of conscience shall be unclasped at the great day, then all their hypocrisy, treason, atheism, shall appear to the view of men and angels (Luke 12:3).
(3) Its circumstances.
(a) Impartiality. Jesus Christ will do every man justice. The Thebans did picture their judges blind, that they might not respect persons; without hands, that they might take no bribes. Christ’s sceptre is “a sceptre of righteousness” (Hebrews 1:8). He is no “respecter of persons” (Acts 10:34).
(b) Exactness of the trial. It will be very critical (Matthew 3:12). Not a grace or a sin but His fan will discover.
(c) Perspicuity. Sinners shall be so clearly convicted, that they shall hold up their hand at the bar, and cry, “guilty” (Psalms 51:4). The sinner himself shall clear God of injustice.
(d) Supremacy. Men can remove their causes from one place to another, but from Christ’s court there is no appeal; he who is once doomed here--his condition is irreversible.
VI. The effect of the trial.
1. Segregation. Christ will separate the godly and the wicked as the fan doth separate the wheat from the chaff, as a furnace separates the gold from the dross.
2. The sentence.
(1) The sentence of absolution pronounced upon the godly (Matthew 25:34).
(2) The sentence of condemnation pronounced upon the wicked (Matthew 25:41). The wicked once said to God, “Depart from us” (Job 21:14); and now God will say to them, “Depart from Me.” “Depart from Me, in whose presence is fulness of joy.”
3. The execution (Matthew 13:30). Christ will say, “Bundle up these sinners; here a bundle of hypocrites; there a bundle of apostates; there a bundle of profane; bundle them up, and throw them in the fire.” And now no cries or entreaties will prevail with the Judge.
1. Let me persuade all Christians to believe this truth, that there shall be a day of judgment (Ecclesiastes 11:9). How many live as if this article were blotted out of their Creed! Durst men swear, be unchaste, live in malice, if they did believe a day of judgment?
2. See here the sad and deplorable estate of wicked men. (T. Watson, A. M.)
The righteousness of final judgment
In which words I observe these five particulars.
I. First, an assertion of a judgment to come. He will judge the world. For the more clear apprehension of the full importance of which it is to be noted that there are two pares of Divine Providence. The former, that by which He takes notice of the actions of men in this life; the latter, that by which He brings men to account in the other world. Which two branches of Providence do mutually infer and prove each other. For on the one hand if there were no such thing as a wise eye of God that strictly observes the actions of men in this world, it were impossible there should be any judgment to come, at least not a judgment in righteousness; for how shall He judge that doth not discern? And on the other hand, if there were no judgment to come, it were to no purpose for God to concern Himself about the affairs of mankind here below. Now this doctrine is the soul and spirit of all religion, and the sinew of all government and society. It is the soul of all religion, for what doth the belief of a God signify (although we should imagine Him to be never so great, glorious and happy) if He will not trouble Himself with government; in short, if He will neither reward nor punish; virtue is then but an empty name. And it is the sinew of all government; for it is certain that plots may sometimes be laid so deep that no eye of man can discover them. And there may be such a potent confederacy of wicked men, as that they shall outface human justice, in which case, what shall keep the world from running into confusion, and becoming an hell upon earth, but the discerning eye and steady hand of Providence?
II. The second observable in my text is, that there is not only a judgment to come, but that the day of it is determined. “He hath appointed a day wherein,” etc. To adjourn to no certain time is, I think, to dissolve the court; and to appoint no day is to disappoint the business; the Almighty, therefore, hath appointed an express and solemn time for this great transaction. And indeed it is worthy of observation, that in all the great passages of Divine Providence He hath passed such an immutable decree upon them, that the time of their event can be no more casual than the very things themselves. So Exodus 12:41, the servitude of the children of Israel was determined to four hundred and thirty years, and the text tells us “that when the four hundred and thirty years were expired, even the self-same day departed all the host of the Lord out of the land of Egypt.” Again 2 Chronicles 36:21, God had decreed to punish the nation of the Jews with seventy years captivity in Babylon, and precisely upon the expiration of that term, when the Word of the Lord spoken by the mouth of Jeremiah was finished, God put it into the heart of Cyrus to proclaim them liberty.
III. The third observable, namely, that as the day of judgment is set, so the person of the Judge is also constituted and ordered; “He will judge the world by that man whom He hath ordained,” etc. And as all circumstances of time, place, and persons, are evidences of fact, and assurances of the principal business, so doth this particular designation of the Judge further confirm the certainty of the judgment. And not only so, but it also opens to us the great depth of the Divine goodness, especially upon these two considerations.
1. In the first place, it is wonderful decorous and becoming the Divine Majesty, and righteous towards the person of our Saviour, that He who humbled Himself to take our nature upon Him, and therein to fulfil exactly the Divine law, should in reward of this obedience and humiliation be exalted to be the Judge of the world, which He died for (Philippians 2:9).
2. Again, secondly, it wonderfully displays the Divine goodness towards us, that He should be appointed our Judge, that hath been, and yet is in our nature, that hath felt our infirmities, conflicted with the same temptations, and that withal had so much love to us as to die for us. That the Divine Majesty will not oppress us with His own glory, nor employ an archangel to pass judgment upon us, who as He hath had no commerce with a body of flesh and blood, cannot have sufficient compassion of our infirmities.
IV. In the fourth particular of my text, He hath given assurance unto all men in that He raised Him from the dead. But how doth that assure us of this great and comfortable point? It is true the resurrection of our Saviour did denote Him to be some great and extraordinary person, but that is no sufficient argument that He shall be Judge of the world; the evidence therefore lies in this, our Saviour, Christ Jesus, whilst He was in the world, had often declared that He was appointed by God to judge the quick and dead, and appealed to His resurrection as the great proof of this.
V. There is one particular more in my text that deserves especial consideration, and that is the manner of this judgment, or rather the measures this Judge will proceed by at that great judgment and that is in righteousness; He will judge the world in righteousness. Now in order hereto, we must first settle the Scripture notion of this phrase “righteousness” or “in righteousness.” And that which I first observe to this purpose is this: Nowhere in all the Scripture doth righteousness signify rigour. I say there is no such use of this word in Scripture, when applied to God’s dealings, no, nor yet when it is applied to men; a severe, harsh, rigorous man is so far from being a righteous man in the style of Scripture, that He is quite under another character. But to come home to the business, the full of my observation touching the Scripture notion of the phrase in my text is this, that δικαιοσύνη, or righteousness, is always used there in a comprehensive sense, so as to take in not only justice and uprightness, and impartiality, and the like, but also goodness, kindness, equity, clemency, candour, and mercy. “In righteousness shall He judge the world, and the people with equity (Psalms 98:1-9, last verse). Where, as world and people are equivalent expressions, and interpret each other, so are righteousness and equity made to be expressive of each other. Now agreeably to this notion, I will, by the guidance of the same holy Scripture, endeavour to represent the measures of that great day.
1. Christ Jesus, the Judge of all the world, will not at the last day proceed arbitrarily with men, but according to known laws; that is, He will not absolve and save any merely because He hath decreed so to do (Revelation 2:23; 2 Corinthians 5:10). Indeed in this world God doth deal by prerogative, and dispenses the means of grace as well as other favours, as He pleases, from whence it comes to pass, that greater advantages are conferred upon some people than other, but this is not the case at the end of the world, when God comes to demonstrate His justice and righteousness. And besides, wherefore is the Judge said to be the searcher of hearts, if He proceed proleptically upon bare resolution or determination? Why is He said to separate the sheep from the goats, if He make a distinction without a difference? Why is it called a fiery trial if there be no discrimination; and in a word, if He save and damn by prerogative?
2. The Judge of the world will not be partial, or use any respect of persons; that is, He will neither acquit nor condemn any man or men whatsoever, in consideration of external circumstances. As for kindred and family, the Jews were wont to bear themselves in hand with their lineage and descent, that they were Abraham’s seed. God will sooner exert His omnipotency in the most improbable miracle that ever He wrought, than admit an unholy person into heaven upon the pretence of kindred and consanguinity. And as for sect and opinion, it is notoriously evident that there is no opinion so orthodox, nor party so canonical, but an evil man may be of it, and at that day nothing will pass current for the sake of the public stamp upon it, but according to the intrinsic value; for all shall be weighed in the balance of the sanctuary. To this head I refer also, that this righteous Judge is capable of no fondness or indulgence, will be wrought upon by no flattery, will value nothing that men can either do or suffer for Him without an holy temper, an habitually pious and virtuous life, and such qualifications inherent as fit a man for the kingdom of heaven.
3. So just and righteous will be the proceedings at this great tribunal, that as no man shall be saved for the righteousness of another, so neither shall any man be damned for the sin of another, but every man shall bear his own burden. Whatever it may please the Divine Majesty to do in this world, where His inflictions are not so properly revenged or the expletion of justice, as methods of mercy to reclaim men from sin; yet most certainly at that day the sons shall not bear the iniquity of the fathers, but every man shall bear his own burden, and the soul only that sinneth shall die.
4. This Judge of all the world will at that great day candidly interpret men’s actions, and make the very best of things that the case will bear. Now touching this the tenor of the whole gospel assures us that our merciful Judge will not watch advantages against men, will not insist upon punctilios, but principally looks at the sincerity of men’s intentions (Matthew 25:34). But that which I principally note in this place is the benignity of His interpretation, for when the righteous say, “Lord, when saw we Thee an hungered,” He replies, “Inasmuch as ye have done it to the least of these,” etc., as if He had said, I know the sincerity of your intentions, and I take notice of the virtuous temper from whence those actions of yours proceeded; ‘tis the heart I value more than the thing done, or the opportunity of doing.
5. The admirable equity of the great and final judgment is this, That the glory and happiness of good men in the other world shall be increased proportionably to the measures of their difficulties, sufferings, and calamities here in this world. The apostle tells us, “That as one star differeth from another in glory, so also is the resurrection of the dead.” (J. Goodman, D. D.)
When the buried city of Pompeii was unearthed, there was found in a little stone room a circle of men lying dead around a table. They had been invited as watchers before a funeral, to remain with the corpse through the night, while the fatigued relatives rested. According to custom, a feast had been prepared as an offering to the departed spirit. These disinterested and honourable friends thought to help themselves to a moiety of the delicate provisions, and were led on to eat the viands and quaff the wine. Just in the midst of their unholy revel the ashes began to fall, the sulphurous vapours poured in, and they were strangled in the act. The city was soon covered deep under the discharge from the burning mountain--buildings all concealed, streets all filled up; and so two thousands of years passed on. Now that whole transaction, in all its dishonesty and unutterable meanness, has reached the light. The bodies of the watchers and the body of the dead they pretended to watch were lying together there in the midst of the excavations. Ages rolled away before men’s eyes saw it, but God the All-seeing was aware of the infamous cheat from the moment it was perpetrated. Oh, how sober, and yet how startling, will be the disclosures of secret iniquity, hidden sins, Sabbath hypocrisy, and ungenuine life, in the great light of the future judgment, as it comes to reveal them in the dawn of eternity! (C. S. Robinson, D. D.)
The resurrection a judgment
There are two moments in the history of this world in which the veil is drawn off from God’s government, and it is seen, without any doubt or confusion, how He gives judgment clearly and decisively on the side of goodness and truth. One of these moments is of course to come, the other is past. God, indeed, is far from leaving His judgment without witness in the history of the world. God rewards and punishes now. But human life, as we look at it from the outside, is still full of darkness and perplexity. The perfect and final and manifest clearing up of God’s judgment on what men think and do is not now. It is not till the end and time of mortality, when the Judge sits upon the throne, that this will be pronounced, so that none can doubt it. And in the course of the world there is but one other such occasion like it in its awfulness, like it in its clearness. It was when He who had been condemned as a sinner for the cause of truth and goodness, was raised again by the glory of the Father on the third day. Christ suffered for righteousness, and in Him righteousness was justified before the world, and in anticipation of that great day when righteousness shall finally triumph. Many men, before and after Him, have suffered for righteousness, but their righteousness was left to the varying and contradictory judgments of men. It seemed, as far as present experience went, as if they had found only evil, by keeping innocency and cleaving to the thing that was right. It was faith only that dared to trust against the melancholy resignation of experience. But in Christ the spectacle which had in others been only begun was shown also finished. The world had often looked on the sight of righteousness defeated and overthrown; it had seen the beginning of its course, but not how it was to end. But, for once, in Christ there was shown to men on earth both the beginning and the end. Never before had such righteousness suffered. On the other hand, never before had it been so unanswerably justified. “Now is the judgment of this world,” said our Lord, when He was about to suffer. The world had doubted whether God did judge and rule the course of things on earth. “Where,” it had asked, “was the God of judgment,” and in the person of Jesus Christ, the representative of the human race, the challenge was answered; the world itself was to be judged. In Jesus Christ the boast of wickedness was made in all its insolence. But in Jesus Christ the proof of righteousness, of righteousness in man’s real nature, was not put off till the world to come. In that tremendous breaking through the laws of mortality and death, we see the answer to the challenge of the world, and may be sure that it will be well with the righteous. Of this God hath given assurance unto all men, in that He hath raised “the crucified from the dead.” I am not sure that we always adequately understand how strong a faith it must have needed before Christ rose to believe this in earnest. Good men did believe it. The Psalms are full of this belief; but they are full, too, of its difficulty. They trusted like children to their general confidence in the goodness of the Lord, in spite of death; they were sure that, somehow or other, they would “see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.” But to us the proof has been given. And I am not sure that we always understand how, even still, that faith needs all the support which God has given it. The power of sin is unabated. The righteous and the sinner seem left alike to find their way through life. But when our hearts fail us, when the world mocks us, let us go back as Christians did in the days of the apostles, to the open, empty grave of the Lord--let us rise up in thought and feeling to the unspeakable preciousness of that foundation stone of all human hopes--“but now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the first fruits of them that slept.” No triumph of evil now can equal what happened when He suffered for us and was put to shame; “but now is Christ risen from the dead”--“now is the judgment of the world.” (Dean Church.)
The day of judgment
The day when Lord Exeter was tried for high treason; the day when the House of Commons moved for the impeachment of Lord Lovatt; the day when Charles I and Queen Caroline were put upon trial; the day when Robert Emmet was arraigned as an insurgent; the day when Blenner-hasset was brought into the court room because he had tried to overthrow the United States Government, and all the other great trials of the world are nothing compared with the great trial in which you and I shall appear, summoned before the Judge of quick and dead. There will be no pleading there “the statute of limitation”; no “turning State’s evidence,” trying to get off ourselves, while others suffer; no “moving for a non-suit.” The case will come on inexorably, and we shall be tried. You, my brother, who have so often been advocate for others, will then need an advocate for yourself. Have you selected him? The Lord Chancellor of the Universe. If any man sin we have an advocate--Jesus Christ the righteous. It is uncertain when your case will be called on. “Be ye also ready.” (T. De Witt Talmage.)
Whereof He hath given assurance unto all men, in that He hath raised Him from the dead.--
The doctrine of a future judgment confirmed by the resurrection of Christ
I. An express declaration of God concerning a future and general judgment. He hath appointed a day wherein He will judge the world. It must be owned that the natural proofs of a judgment to come, had it not been made an article of our faith, are very strong and cogent. The promiscuous distribution of the blessings and evils of this life to wicked and good men. The triumphs of injustice, and notorious oppression of right, and that not for a short time, but for a course of many years, have been all along made an argument that the Judge of all the earth will one day do right, and justify the wise though unsearchable methods of His providence in this world, by rewarding the innocent and bringing the successful and presumptuous sinner to condign punishment. And indeed there is nothing more true or certain in fact than what Solomon observes (Ecclesiastes 8:14, etc.), But though this and several other proofs, which are drawn from natural religion, of a judgment to come should be allowed not only highly probable, but very evident, it must be owned, notwithstanding a great happiness to mankind in general, that God has been pleased to make this natural principle an article of our Christian faith. For by this means those who are not able to reason justly on the nature of things, or to carry on a long train of proofs, are convinced of the truth of a future judgment upon the authority of God.
II. The justice and equity wherewith God will proceed in judging the world--“He hath appointed a day wherein He will judge the world” in righteousness. The justice of the proceedings at that day will appear in this, that God, in rewarding and punishing men, will make a more visible distinction between the wicked and the good than He ordinarily does in this life. Herein also lies the justice of the great and last court of judicature that no partial record shall be had to any persons on account of their superior quality, fortune, or other advantages in this world. To show the impartial execution of justice at that day, we have a particular enumeration of the men of the earth who have abused their power, their authority, or wealth to sinful ends and a very lively image and the horror of despair which will then seize them (Revelation 6:15-17).
III. The designation of the person who is to be our judge. “That Man whom He hath ordained.” It might perhaps have been thought more suitable to the awful solemnity of the last day, and the dignity and glory wherein Christ will then appear, if He had been described in the character of Judge as the Son of God, the brightness of His glory, and the express image of His person, or in those other magnificent terms wherein He is so often spoken of in the prophetical writings. But still it is more suitable to the state and condition of mankind, and His tender compassion towards them, that when He speaks of coming to judge the world He should rather give us an idea of His human than His Divine nature. For indeed, when we consider the infinite persecutions of the Divine nature, and at what an infinite distance our sins have separated us from it, had the eternal God Himself, without the interposal of a Mediator, thought fit to convene the world in judgment before Him. Alas! the best of men would have been so oppressed with the thoughts of His glory, and their own demerits, that they must of necessity, even under their best grounded hopes, have sunk into great despondency of mind. He that has assumed our nature, and done and suffered so much for us in it, will certainly show all the lenity and tenderness to it which the terms of evangelical obedience will admit.
IV. We have here a very particular and extraordinary circumstance to convince us of the truth and certainty of Christ’s coming to judge the world, and that is by His resurrection from the dead. The miracles which were done by our Saviour throughout the whole course of His ministry carried a sufficient proof and attestation along with them of the truths which He taught, for no one could have done those things which He did in the most open and public manner without the assistance of a Divine power. Now this being one great article of the religion He came to preach and establish that God has appointed a day wherein He will judge the world, it may be said, What need was there of any further witness to confirm this article? Or why, when it was sufficiently confirmed before, was there so great stress laid on the resurrection of Christ for the proof of it? But still there was something peculiar in what related to the resurrection of Christ which rendered it an argument of the truth of His religion more proper to persuade the generality of men and to convince gainsayers than the rest of His miracles. For--
1. He bad Himself appealed to this testimony as one great proof and characteristic of His Divine mission and authority (John 2:16). And therefore, besides that His resurrection was a miraculous and extraordinary event, exceeding the powers of nature, it was an argument of His being inspired with a prophetic Spirit, and that God, who alone appropriates to Himself the knowledge of future events, was in this respect also with Him.
2. The caution which the Jews used to prevent, if possible, the resurrection of Christ, gave the greater force to the arguments we draw in proof of our holy religion from it. So that His very enemies, who would fasten so chimerical an imputation upon Him, must confess at least that His resurrection could not be effected by it, but that He was raised by a power truly Divine.
3. Again, whereas it might have been objected that His other miracles were done before people of obscure and mean circumstances, before a company of illiterate Galileans, and the credulous multitude upon whom it is no difficult matter for men of parts and dexterity at any time to impose; though this objection is easily answered, from the public manner of our Saviour’s working His miracles, and His propounding them afterwards to the examination of His greatest enemies, the Pharisees, yet in His resurrection the very ground of these surmises is quite removed. There could be no artifice used on so remarkable and extraordinary an occasion.
4. There is something in the very nature of the thing itself apt to persuade men, from the resurrection of Christ, that the doctrines which He taught were true, and that He was the Messiah, the Son of God. For though every miracle is above the ordinary course and powers of nature, and supposes certain changes of bodies which cannot be accounted for according to the established order of things; yet where all the bodily powers of a man are rendered incapable of acting, and all the springs of life are entirely broken, it still seems less conceivable how He should either be able to work any change upon other bodies, or to restore His own body again to life.
1. If God has appointed a day wherein He will judge the world, let us have it often in our thoughts, and carefully practise the duties preparative to it.
2. If God has appointed a day wherein He will judge the world in righteousness, then it highly concerns us as we expect to stand in judgment before Him, to take care that we live and die in a holy and righteous state.
3. Since our Blessed Saviour, in speaking of the last judgment, is pleased more peculiarly to style Himself the Son of Man. This consideration will mightily fortify all true penitents against those black and desponding thoughts which are sometimes apt to arise in the minds of very good men. How great or numerous soever our sins have been, yet if we have humbled ourselves before God, and truly repented of them, we know that the blood of Jesus Christ is sufficient to expiate their guilt.
4. As by the resurrection of Christ we have a more full and express assurance of a future judgment than we could have had from the mere light of reason, let this consideration excite us to walk worthy of so bright and glorious an evidence. Let us resolve to live, not as persons that have some probable notions and conjectures about such a thing, but as men who fully and in earnest believe that we must one day appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that everyone may receive the things done in the body according to what he hath done, whether it be good or bad. (R. Fiddes, D. D.)
And when they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some mocked.
Mocking at the truth
“This has been one of the worst nights,” says Mr. Bampton, an Indian missionary, “I ever endured. Mockery! mockery! cruel mockery, almost unbearable! I talked for a while, and was heard by some, on the blessings to be enjoyed by faith in Christ, when a man came with a hell-hardened countenance, and that peculiar constant laugh which I can hardly bear. The burden of his cry was ‘Juggernaut is the foundation! Juggernaut is completely God! Victory to Juggernaut!’ He clapped his hands, he shouted, he laughed, and induced the rest, or a great part of them, to do the same. On the ground of reason I fear no one, and rage I commonly bear very well; but these everlasting laughing buffoons are nearly too much for me. It is my own great care, that amidst a reviling, laughing crowd, I do not seem abashed.” (Biblical Museum.)
is the natural fault of the predominance of the mere intellect unaccompanied by any corresponding growth and liveliness of the moral affections, particularly admiration of moral excellence. (T. Arnold, D. D.)
We will hear thee again of this matter.
In the cathedral at Genoa there is an emerald vase which is said to have been one of the gifts of the Queen of Sheba to Solomon. Its authentic history goes back eight hundred years. The tradition is that when King Solomon received it he filled it with an elixir which he alone knew how to distil, and of which a single drop would prolong human life to an indefinite extent. A miserable criminal, dying of slow disease in prison, besought the king to give him a drop of this magic potion. Solomon refused. “Why should I prolong so useless a life?” he said. “I will give it to those whose lives will bless their fellow men.” But when good men begged for it the king was in an ill-humour, or too indolent to open the vase, or he promised and forgot. So the years passed until he grew old, and many of the friends whom he loved were dead; and still the vase had never been opened. Then the king, to excuse himself, threw doubt upon the virtues of the elixir. At last he himself fell ill. Then his servants brought the vase that he might save his own life. He opened it. But it was empty. The elixir had evaporated to the last drop. Did not the rabbi or priest who invented this story intend to convey in it a great truth? Have we not all within us a vessel more precious than any emerald, into which God has put a portion of the water of life? It is for our own healing--for the healing of others. We hide it, we do not use it--for false shame, or idleness, or forgetfulness. Presently we begin to doubt its efficacy. When death approaches, we turn to it in desperate haste. But the neglected faith has left the soul. The vase is empty.
The effects of the sermon
1. That whatever might be the diversity in the positions, talents, and sentiments of men, the doctrines of the true religion are important to all. To the “Jews,” “Epicureans,” and “Stoics,” the apostle proclaimed the same doctrines.
2. That whatever might be the power with which the great verities of the true religion are urged, a necessary and uniform result is not to be expected. The same tool, wielded by the same hand, and with the same force and skill, could produce the same effect upon the same species of stone, metal, or timber; but the same doctrines urged by the same man, at the same time produce widely different results in the same place upon the same congregation. Here are three moral classes:--Some amongst his audience heard him--
I. With derisive incredulity. “Some mocked.” The Epicureans would especially do this. They denied a future state, and regarded death as an eternal sleep. Three things would probably induce them to ridicule this doctrine.
1. It stood opposed to their preconceived notions. Many a sceptic rejects Christianity on this same ground. How foolish, how arrogant is this! Are their little notions the measure, the sum of all truth?
2. It was apparently improbable to them. Are not the generations of men reduced to dust? Have not the particles of which their bodies were composed been wrought into the texture of every species and form of plant and of animal life? Where are the symptoms of a resurrection? But how foolish this The men who saw the priests endeavouring to level the walls of Jericho, by blowing in the rams’ horn, would probably “mock” them on this account, but the wails fell notwithstanding. Lot seemed as one that “mocked unto his sons-in-law,” when he warned them of the approaching judgment; but the tempest of fire came albeit, etc.
3. He who proclaimed the doctrine to them was not a recognised teacher. He did not belong to their school. He was a poor Jew. What did he, therefore, know about these things?
II. With a procrastinating resolve. “Others said, We will hear thee again of this matter.” Probably these were some of the Stoics, who believed in a future state, and who were disposed to give the subject a little attention at some future time. This procrastinating of the subject of religion is exceedingly foolish, because--
1. It is, of all subjects, the most important.
2. Because an important step towards its reception has been taken when an interest has been created.
3. Any portion of future time is very uncertain, and even should it be vouchsafed, the existing interest may never be renewed. A “more convenient season” may never come.
III. With practical faith. “Howbeit certain men clave unto him,” etc. These two names suggest--That Christianity is alike suited to both sexes. Let the woman stand as the representative of the intuitional power, and the man as the logical. Or let the woman stand as the representative of those who have to attend to the more private and domestic duties, and the man as the representative of those who have to be out in the open world--in the field, the market, the shop, the senate house--battling with difficulties. Christianity is great enough for the greatest, and simple enough for the simplest. Conclusion: From the whole we may learn--
(1) That the gospel is moral in its influence upon the world. It does not bear man down by violence and force.
(2) That the gospel is not to be restricted to any class.
(3) That ministers should not despair for want of success. Though some deride and some procrastinate, some will believe. (D. Thomas, D. D.)
So Paul departed from among them.--
Paul’s adieu to Athens
He leaves Athens--
I. Having considerably altered its spiritual condition.
1. He left it a new stimulus to thought. He gave to their understandings a new theory of the universe, a new method to happiness, a new manifestation of God.
2. He increased its responsibility. Responsibility is measured by privileges. Athens had been highly favoured; but Paul gave more of the Divine in thought to them than all their philosophers. O Athens, better a thousand times that Paul had never entered thee than that thou shouldst fail in the new-imposed responsibility!
II. With a heightened estimate of Christianity. The apostle made a great experiment in taking the gospel to Athens. He had undoubtedly heard about their great sages, and was perhaps acquainted with their systems of thought. He had no doubt received a deep impression of the inventiveness, energy, and aesthetics of their intellect in the architecture and statuary of their city. How will such men, he may have asked, regard the tale I have to tell them of Jesus of Nazareth? But after his sermon on Mars’ Hill, all these misgivings would give place to an unbounded confidence in the glory of his message. Christianity has been tested by every school of philosophy, every grade of intellect, and by every system of religion, and it has always come forth the triumphant power. How unbounded, therefore, should be our confidence!
III. Never perhaps to visit it any more. There is something very affecting in a parting of this kind. It was affecting to see Moses leaving Pharaoh to meet him no more until the judgment; the young lawyer leaving Christ, going away sorrowful; and now Paul leaving Athens. Though he would not return to them again--
1. He had discharged his conscience, and was clear of their blood.
2. He would be engaged in the diffusion of the gospel. He was off to Corinth, and thence on, for his gospel was a gospel for humanity.
3. Though he would not return to them again, he would anticipate meeting them at the retribution. He had told them of a day of judgment, and on that day he would meet them. (D. Thomas, D. D.)