Sunday, June 4th, 2023
The Pulpit Commentaries The Pulpit Commentaries
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These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Acts 17". The Pulpit Commentary. https://studylight.org/
commentaries/ eng/ tpc/ acts-17.html. 1897.
Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Acts 17". The Pulpit Commentary. https://studylight.org/
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Amphipolis. This was the ancient capital of that division of Macedonia (Macedonia Prima); see Acts 16:12, note. It was situated on the Via Egnatia, thirty-four miles southwest from Philippi, and three miles from the AEgean Sea. It lay in a peninsula, surrounded on three sides by the Strymon, whence its name, Amphipolis; its modern name is Neokhoria, now a village. Its original name was Ἐννέα ̔οδοί, The Nine Ways. Originally a Thracian city, it was conquered by the Athenians, then by the Lacedaemonians, then fell under the dominion of Philip of Macedon, and finally, with the rest of Macedonia, became part of the Roman empire. Apollonia; now probably Polina, thirty miles due west of Amphipolis, on the Via Egnatia. The modern track from Amphipolis to Thessalonica does not pass through Polina, but beneath it. Thessalonica; on the Via Egnatia, now the important seaport of Saloniki, on the Aegean Sea or Archipelago, thirty-eight miles from Apollonia, and con-raining about sixty thousand inhabitants. Its ancient name was Therma (whence the Thermean Bay), but it took the name of Thessalonica under the Macedonian kings. It continued to grow in importance under the Romans, and was the most populous city of the whole of Macedonia. It was the capital of Macedonia Secunda under the division by AEmilius Paulus (Acts 16:12, note), and in the time of Theodosius the Younger, when Macedonia consisted of two provinces, it was the capital of Macedonia Prima. But from its situation and great commercial importance it was virtually the capital of "Greece, Macedonia, and Illyricum" (Howson, in ' Dict. of Geog.'). Its trade attracted a great colony of Jews from before the time of St. Paul, and through the Roman and Greek and Turkish empires, down to the present day, when "one-half of the population is said to be of Israelitish race "(Lewin). £ Thessalonica had a terrible celebrity from the massacre of its inhabitants by order of the Emperor Theodosius, in revenge for the murder of Botheric, his general, which led to the famous penance imposed upon the emperor by St. Ambrose. It was also taken three times in the Middle Ages: by the Saracens, with fearful slaughter, A.D. 904; by the Normans, with scarcely less cruelty, A.D. 1185; and by the Turks, in 1430. Its ecclesiastical history under its archbishops is also of great interest (see 'Dict. of Greek and Roman Geog.'). Where was a synagogue. It is needless to point out the exact agreement of this brief statement with historical fact as pointed out above. There is said to have been twenty-two Jewish synagogues at Thessalonica after the expulsion of the Jews from Spain in the fifteenth century, and the number at the present time is stated to be thirty-six. The existence of a synagogue at this time was the reason of St. Paul's visit and sojourn there.
Custom for manner, A.V.; for three for three, A.V.; from for out of, A.V. Reasoned (see note on Acts 17:17).
It behooved the Christ to suffer, and to rise for Christ must needs have suffered, and risen, A.V.; whom, said he for whom, A.V.; proclaim for preach. A.V.; the Christ for Christ, A.V. The line of reasoning adopted by St. Paul in his preaching to the Thessalonian Jews was the same as that of our Lord to the disciples and apostles on the day of his resurrection, as recorded in Luke 24:26, Luke 24:27; 44-47, and that of St. Peter (Acts 2:22-36; Acts 3:18; Acts 4:11, etc.), and it is irresistible. The fulfillment of prophecies relating to the Messiah in the person of Jesus is like the fitting of a key to the intricate wards of the lock, which proves that it is the right key. The preacher of the gospel should carefully study and expound to the people the word of prophecy, and then show its counterpart in the sufferings and glory of Christ. This did St. Paul. Opening (διανοίγων); as our Lord had done (διήνοιγεν ἡμῖν τὰς γραφάς, Luke 24:32), the hidden meaning of the prophecies, and then alleging (παρατιθέμενος), setting before them the propositions which had thus been established. The process is described in Luke 24:27 as interpreting ("expounded," A.V.). In this verse the opening was showing from the prophets that the Messiah was to die and rise again; the alleging was that Jesus was that very Christ.
Were persuaded for believed, A.V. (ἐπείσθησαν). Consorted with; προσεκληρώθησαν a word only found here in the New Testament, but, like so many other words in St. Luke's vocabulary, found also in Pintarch, in the sense of being "associated with," or "attached to" any one; literally, to be assigned to any one by lot (comp. the use of the simple verb ἐκληρώθημεν, Ephesians 1:11). Of the devout Greeks. Observe the frequent proofs of the influence the synagogues had in bringing heathen to the knowledge of the true God (see verse 12; Acts 10:2; Acts 11:21; Acts 13:48; Acts 14:1, etc.). The chief women (τῶν πρώτων). So in Acts 13:50 τοὺς πρώτους τῆς πολέως means "the chief men of the city." And Lake 19:49, οἱ πρῶτοι τοῦ λαοῦ are "the chief of the people" (" the principal men," R.V.) It has been already remarked that St. Lake especially notices the instances of female piety. In Acts 13:12 we have τῶν εὐσχημόνων in the same sense as the τῶν πρώτων in this verse.
Jews for Jews which believed not, A.V. and T.R.; being moved for moved, A.V.; jealousy for envy, A.V. (see Acts 13:45, note); vile fellows of the rabble for lewd fellows of the baser sort, A.V.; gathering a crowd, set for gathered a company and set, A.V.; the city for all the city, A.V.; assaulting … they for assaulted … and, A.V.; forth for out, A.V. The house of Jason; where it appears from Acts 17:7, as well as from this verse, Paul and Silas were lodging. If, as is very probable, the Jason here mentioned is the same person as the Jason of Romans 16:21, it would seem that he joined the apostle, either at this time or on his visit to Macedonia mentioned in Acts 20:3, and went with him to Corinth, where the Epistle to the Romans was written. He was a relation, συγγενής, of St. Paul's, and doubtless a Jew. Jason was a Romanized form of the name Jesus, or Joshua, as we see in the case of the high priest, the brother of Onias (Josephus, ' Ant. Jud.,' 12. 5.1). It was borne also by Jason of Cyrene, the Jewish historian (2 Macc. 2:23), and by another mentioned in 1 Macc. 8:17, etc. St. Luke seems to introduce Jason as a well-known person.
Dragged for drew, A.V.; before for unto, A.V. Certain brethren; some of the Thessalonian Christians who happened to be in the house of Jason. The rulers of the city (τοὺς πολιτάρχας, and Acts 17:8). This is a remarkable instance of St. Luke's accuracy. The word is unknown in Greek literature. But an inscription on an ancient marble arch, still standing in Thessalonica, or Saloniki, records that Thessalonica was governed by seven politarchs. Thessalonica was a Greek city, governed by its own laws. Hence the mention of the δῆμος in verse 5. The politarchs also were Greek, not Roman, magistrates. Crying; βοῶντες, often followed by μεγάλῃ φωνῇ, but whether so followed or not, always meaning "a loud cry" or "shout" (Acts 21:34; Luke 3:4, etc.). Turned the world upside down; ἀναστατόω is used in the New Testament only by St. Luke and St. Paul (Acts 21:38; Galatians 5:12); to unsettle or disturb; i.e. to make people literally ἀναστάτους homeless, outcasts, from their former settlements, or, metaphorically, unsettled in their allegiance to their civil or spiritual rulers, is the meaning of the word. In the mouth of St. Paul's accusers it contains a distinct charge of sedition and disobedience to the Roman law. The world (τὴν οἰκουμένην the Roman empire (Luke 2:1), viewed as coextensive with the habitable globe (see verse 31; Acts 19:20; Acts 11:28, note).
Act for do, A.V. Received; i.e. as the word ὑποδέχομαι always means "received as a guest" (Luke 10:38; Luke 19:6; James 2:25, etc.). Hence the substantive ὑποδοχή, an entertainment or reception. The insinuation is that, by harboring these seditious men, Jason had made himself a partner in their sedition. That there is another king, etc. (comp. John 19:12, John 19:15).
Multitude for people, A.V. (τὸν ὔχλον, not δῆμον).
From for of, A.V.; the rest for of the other, A.V. The rest, or others, are of course the "certain brethren" of Acts 17:6.
Beraea for Berea, A.V.; when they were come for coming, A.V. Beraea. In the third division of Macedonia, about sixty miles from Thessalonica; its modern name is Verria. Went into the synagogue. No amount of ill usage from the Jews could weaken St. Paul's love for "his brethren, his kinsmen according to the flesh" (Romans 9:3); and no amount of danger or suffering could check his zeal in preaching the gospel of Christ.
Now these for these, A.V.; examining for and searched, A.V.; these for those, A.V. Note the immense advantage which the preachers and the hearers had in the previous knowledge of the Scriptures gained by the Beraeans in the synagogue. Note also the mutual light shed by the Old and New Testaments the one upon the other.
Many … therefore for therefore many, A.V.; the Greek women of honorable estate for honorable women which were Greeks, A.V. Honorable; εὐσχημόνων, as Acts 13:50, where it is coupled with τοὺς πρώτους τῆς πόλεως. Meyer thinks that it is meant that the men were Greeks too; but this is uncertain. The only Beraean convert whose name we know is Sopater (Acts 20:4), or Sosipater, who is probably the same (Romans 16:21). If so, he was apparently a Jew, whose Hebrew name may have been Abishua.
Proclaimed for preached, A.V.; Beraea also for Berea, A.V.; likewise for also, A.V.; stirring up and troubling the multitudes for and stirred up the people, A.V. and T.R.
Forth for away, A.V.; as far as for as it were (ἕως for ὡς), A.V. and T.R.; and for but, A.V. and T.R.; Timothy for Timotheus, A.V. As far as to the sea. If the reading of the T.R. is right, ὡς merely indicates the direction. Literally, ὡς ἐπὶ κ.τ.λ, means "with the thought of going to the sea," but thence, by a common usage, it describes the action without reference to the thought. The English phrase, "they made for the sea," is nearly equivalent. The object of going to the sea, seventeen miles from Beraea, was to take ship for Athens. This he probably did either at Pydna or at Dium. Silas and Timothy. Whether Timothy left Philippi with St. Paul, or whether, as is not improbable, he joined him at Thessalonica, cannot be decided. Anyhow, Paul now left Silas and Timothy to watch over the Thessalonian converts.
But for and, A.V.; as far as for unto (ἕως), A.V.; Timothy for Timotheus, A.V.; that they should come for for to come, A.V. They that conducted, etc. (οἱ καθιστῶντες). The verb καθίστημι, in its primary sense, means to "place any one" in a given spot; and thence secondarily, to "conduct" or" escort" any one to a place, to "set him down" at such a place. So Homer ('Odyssey,' 13:294) uses the word of transporting any one by ship to this or that town (quoted by Meyer). There is fie indication in the word of St. Paul's defect of sight or infirmity. Receiving a commandment, etc. We learn here that St. Paul sent a message to Silas and Timothy to join him at Athens as quickly as possible, and at Acts 17:16 that he waited at Athens for them. From 1 Thessalonians 3:1, 1 Thessalonians 3:2, we learn that he sent Timothy from Athens back to Thessalonica; and from 1 Thessalonians 3:6 we learn that Timothy came to St. Paul at Corinth (where the Epistle to the Thessalonians was written) from Thessalonica. We also learn from 1 Thessalonians 1:1 that Silas and Timothy were both with him at Corinth when he wrote the Epistle, and from Acts 18:5 that they had both come to Corinth from Macedonia, some weeks after Paul himself had been at Corinth (Acts 18:4, Acts 18:5). All these statements harmonize perfectly (as Paley has shown) on the supposition that Silas and Timothy did join St. Paul at Athens; that for the reasons given in 1 Thessalonians 3:1-13., when he was unable to return to Thessalonica himself, as he much wished, he sent Timothy back to Thessalonica, and Silas probably to Beraea; and that Silas and Timothy came together from Macedonia to Corinth, where St. Paul had gone alone; where it may be noted, as another undesigned coincidence, that whereas the First Epistle to the Thessalonians implies that Silas did not go to Thessalonica (1 Thessalonians 3:2), Acts 18:5 does not say that Silas and Timothy came from Thessalonica, but from Macedonia. The inaccuracy supposed by Meyer (on this verse) is purely imaginary. Acts 18:5 does not say that Silas and Timothy "only joined Paul at Corinth," but merely relates some change in St. Paul's procedure consequent upon their joining him at Corinth. Alford (on this verse), in saying that Paul sent Timothy from Beraea, not from Athens, is guided by his own idea of what is probable, not by the letter of the narrative (see further note on Acts 18:5).
Provoked within for stirred in, A.V. (παρωξύνετο: see Acts 15:29, note); as he beheld for when he saw, A.V.; full of idols for wholly given to idolatry, A.V. The Greek κατείδωλος occurs only here, either in the New Testament or elsewhere. But the analogy of ether words similarly compounded fixes the meaning "full of idols"—a description fully borne out by Pausanias and Xenophon and others (Steph., 'Thesaur.;' Meyer, etc.).
So he reasoned for therefore disputed he, A.V.; and the devout for and with the devout, A.V.; market-place every day for market daily, A.V. Reasoned (διελέγετο, as in Acts 17:2; Acts 18:19 and Acts 24:12). "Disputed" gives the force of διαλέγεσθαι better than "reasoned," because the word in Plato, Thucydides, Xenophon, AElian, etc., is especially used of discussions and arguments in which two persons or more take part. Διάλεκτος is "discussion;" ἡ διαλεκτίκη is the art of drawing answers from your opponent to prove your conclusion; διάλαγος is a "dialogue" (see, however, Acts 20:7). The market-place. "The celebrated Ἀγορά, … not far from the Pnyx, the Acropolis, and the Amopagus,… rich in noble statues, the central seat of commercial, forensic, and philosophic intercourse, as well as of the busy idleness of the loungers" (Meyer, in loc.).
And certain also of the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers for then certain philosophers of the Epicureans, and of the Stoicks, A.V.; would for will, A.V.; preached for preached unto them, A.V. and T.R. The Epicureans (so called from Epicurus, their founder) and the Stoics (so called from the στοά, the colonnade or piazza where Zeno their founder taught) were the most numerous scots at Athens at this time; and their respective tenets were the most opposite to the doctrines of the gospel. Encountered him; σύνεβαλλον. In Acts 4:15 it is followed by πρός, and is properly rendered "conferred;" here it is followed by the dative, and may be understood to mean "disputed" (συμβάλλειν λόγους). It may, however, not less properly be taken in the sense of a hostile encounter of words, as Luke 14:31, and frequently in classical Greek. This babbler (σπερμολόγος); literally, a picker-up of seeds, applied to a crow. Plutarch too ('Demet.,' 28) has σπερμολόγοι ὅρνιθες, birds picking up seeds. Hence it is used of idle hangers-on in the markets, who get a livelihood by what they can pick up, and so generally of empty, worthless fellows. Hence it is further applied to those who pick up scraps of knowledge from one or another and "babble them indifferently in all companies" (Johnson's 'Dictionary,' under "Babble"). A setter forth of strange gods. There does not seem to be the least ground for Chrysostom's suggestion that they took Anastasis (the Resurrection) for the name of a goddess. But the preaching of Jesus the Son of God, himself risen from the dead (Luke 14:31), and hereafter to be the Judge of quick and dead at the general resurrection, was naturally, to both Stoics and Epicureans, a setting forth of strange gods. Ξένα δαιμόνια are "foreign deities," or "daemons," inferior gods. The word καταγγελεύς, a setter forth, does not occur elsewhere. But the nearly identical word κατάγγελος is used by Plutarch.
Took held of for took, A.V.; the Areopagus for Areopagus, A.V.; teaching is for doctrine … is, A.V.; which is spoken by thee for whereof thou speakest, A.V. Took hold of him. The word ἐπιλάβεσθαι means simply to "take hold of" the hand, the hair, a garment, etc. The context alone decides whether this taking held is friendly or hostile. Here the sense is well expressed by Grotius (quoted by Meyer): "Taking him gently by the hand." The Areopagas. Mars' Hill, close to the Agora on the north, was so called from the legend that Mars was tried there before the gods for the murder of a son of Neptune. It is (says Lewin) a bare, rugged rock, approached at the south-eastern corner by steps, of which sixteen still remain perfect. Its area at the top measures sixty paces by twenty-four, within which a quadrangle, sixteen paces square, is excavated and leveled for the court. The judges seem to have sat on benches tier above tier on the rising rock on the north side of the quadrangle. There were also seats on the east and west sides, and on the south on either side of the stairs. The Areopagus (the upper court) was the most august of all the courts at Athens. Socrates was tried and condemned before it for impiety. On the present occasion, there is no appearance of judicial proceedings, but they seem to have adjourned to the Areopagus from the Agora, as to a convenient place for quiet discussion.
Strange things. Ξενίζειν, in this use of it, means to act or play the foreigner, to imitate the manners and language and appearance of a foreigner (ξένος), just as Ἰουδαίζειν Ἐλληνίζειν Αττικίζειν, etc., mean to Judaize, Hellenize, Atticize, etc. Here, then, the Athenians say that St. Paul's doctrines have a foreign air, do not lock like native Athenian speculations.
Now for for, A.V.; the strangers sojourning there for strangers which were there, A.V. Spent their time. This gives the general sense, but the margin of the R.T., had leisure for nothing else, is much more accurate. Εὐκαιρεῖν, which is not considered good Greek, is only used by Polybius, and in the sense either of "being wealthy" or of "having leisure" or "opportunity." In the New Testament it occurs in Mark 6:31 and 1 Corinthians 16:12. Some new thing. So Cleon (Thucyd., 3.38) rates the Athenians upon their being entirely guided by words, and constantly deceived by any novelty of speech (καινότητος λόγου). And Demosthenes in his first 'Philippic', inveighs against them because, when they ought to be up and doing, they went about the Agora, asking one another, "Is there any news? (Λέγεταί τι καινόν;)." The comparative καινότερον ix a little stronger than καινόν: "the very last news" (Alford).
And for then, A.V.; the Areopagus for Mars' hill, A.V.; in all things I perceive that for I perceive that in all things, A.V.; somewhat for too, A.V. In the midst is simply a local description. He stood in the midst of the excavated quadrangle, while his hearers probably sat on the scats all round. Ye men of Athena. The Demosthenes of the Church uses the identical address—Ἄνδρες Ἀθηναῖοι—which the great orator used in his stirring political speeches to the Athenian people. Somewhat superstitious. There is a difference of opinion among commentators whether these words imply praise or blame. Chrysostom, followed by many others, takes it as said in the way of encomium, and understands the word δεισιδαιμονεστέρους as equivalent to εὐλαβεστέρους, very religious, more than commonly religious. And so Bishop Jacobson ('Speaker's Commentary'), who observes that the substantive δεισδαιμονία is used five times by Josephus, and always in the sense of "religion," or "piety." On the other hand, the Vulgate (superstitiosiores), the English Versions, Erasmus, Luther, Calvin, etc., take the word in its most common classical sense of "superstitious;" and it weighs for something towards determining St. Luke's use of the word that Plutarch uses δεισιδαιμονία always in a bad sense, of superstition, as in his life of Alexander and elsewhere, and in his tract 'De Superstitione' (Δεισιδαιμονία). Perhaps the conclusion is that St. Paul, having his spirit stirred by seeing the city full of idols, determined to attack that spirit in the Athenian people which led to so much idolatry; which he did in the speech which follows. But, acting with his usual wisdom, he used an inoffensive term at the outset of his speech. He could not mean to praise them for that δεισιδαιμονία which it was the whole object of his sermon to condemn. Josephus ('Contr. Apion.,' 1.12) calls the Athenians τοὺς εὐσεβεστάτους τῶν Ἐλλήνων, the most religious of all Greeks (Howson).
Passed along for passed by, A.V.; observed the objects of your worship for beheld your devotions, A.V. (τὰ σεβάσματα υμῶν: see 2 Thessalonians 2:4); also an altar for an altar, A.V.; an for the, A.V.; what for whom, A.V. and T.R.; worship in ignorance for ignorantly worship, A.V.; this for him, A.V. and T.R.; set forth for declare, A.V. AN UNKNOWN GOD. There is no direct and explicit testimony in ancient writers to the existence of any one such altar at Athens, but Pausanias and others speak of altars to "unknown gods," as to be seen in Athens, which may well be understood of several such altars, each dedicated to an unknown god. One of these was seen by St. Paul, and, with inimitable tact, made the text of his sermon. He was not preaching a foreign god to them, but making known to them one whom they had already in-eluded in their devotions without knowing him.
The God for God, A.V. (surely a change for the worse); he being Lord for seeing that he is Lord, A.V. Made with hands (χειροποιήτοις); see the same phrase in Mark 14:5, Mark 14:8; Acts 7:48; Hebrews 9:11. St. Paul applies it, too, to the circumcision made with the knife, as distinguished from that wrought by the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 3:11). It is frequent in the LXX. It is a striking instance of St. Paul's unflinching boldness and fidelity to the truth, that he should expose the hollowness of heathen worship, standing within a stone's throw of the Parthenon and the temple of Theseus and the countless other temples of gods and goddesses, which were the pride and glory of the Athenian people. Note how he begins his catechetical instruction to the Athenians with the first article of the Creed: "I believe in God the Father almighty, Maker of heaven and earth."
Is he served by for is worshipped with, A.V.; he himself for he, A.V. Served by men's hands. Θεραπεύεται, is "waited upon," as a man is waited upon by his servant, who ministers to his wants; θεράπων and θεραπευτής are "an attendant." So in Hebrew: דבַעָ, to serve God; דבֵעָ, a servant of God; הדָוֹבעְ service as of the Levites in the temple, etc. Anything; or as some take it, as if he needed anybody's help or service. The argument, as Chrysostom suggests, is similar to that in Psalms 1:1-6. 8-12.
He made for hath made, A.V.; of one for of one blood, A.V. and T.R.; every nation for all nations, A.V.; having determined their appointed seasons for and hath determined the times before appointed, A.V. From the unity of God Paul deduces the unity of the human race, all created by God, all sprung from one ancestor, or one blood (whichever reading we take), and so not to have their several national gods, but all to be united in the worship of the one true and living God, the Father of them all. It may be remarked by the way that the languages of the earth, differing like the skins and the features of the different races, and corresponding to those various bounds assigned by God to their habitations, yet bear distinct and emphatic testimony to this unity. They are variations, more or less extended, of the speech of man. Bounds of their habitation; τὰς ὀροθεσίας κ.τ.λ.: the word only occurs here; elsewhere, though rarely, τὰ ὀροθέσια.
God for the Lord, A.V. and T.R. (Meyer does not accept this reading); is for be, A.V.; each for every, A.V. If haply they might feel after him. Ψηλαφάω is "to touch, feel, or handle," as Luke 24:39; Hebrews 12:18; 1 John 1:1. But it is especially used of the action of the blind groping or feeling their way by their hands in default of sight. So Homer describes Polyphemus as χερσὶ ψηλαφόων, feeling his way to the mouth of the cave with his hands after he was blinded by Ulysses ('Odyssey,' 9.416). And in the LXX. of Deuteronomy 28:29 we read, Ἔση ψηλαφῶν μεσημβρίας ὠς εἴ τις ψηλαφήσαι τυφλὸς ἐν τῷ σκότει, "Thou shall grope at noonday as the blind gropeth in darkness." The teaching, therefore, of the passage is that, though God was very near to every man, and had not left himself without abundant witness in his manifold gifts, yet, through the blindness of the heathen, they had to feel their way uncertainly toward God. In this fact lies the need of a revelation, as it follows Deuteronomy 28:30, etc. And hence part at least of the significance of such passages as, "Ye were sometimes darkness, but now are ye light in the Lord" (Ephesians 5:8); "Who hath called you out of darkness into his marvelous light" (1 Peter 2:9 ); "God who commanded the light to shine out of darkness hath shined in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ" (2 Corinthians 4:6), and many more like passages.
Even for also, A.V. For in him, etc. This is the proof that we have not far to go to find God, Our very life and being, every movement we make as living persons, is a proof that God is near, nay, more than near, that he is with us and round about us, quickening us with his own life, upholding us by his own power, sustaining the being that we derive from him (comp. Psalms 139:7, etc.; Psalms 23:4). Certain even of your own poets; viz. Arstus of Tarsus, who has the exact words quoted by St. Paul, and Cleanthes of Asses, who has Ἐκ σοῦ γὰρ γένος ἐσμέν. As he bad just defended himself from the imputation of introducing foreign gods by referring to an Athenian altar, so now, for the same purpose, he quotes one of their own Greek poets. (For the statement that man is the offspring of God, comp. Luke 3:38.)
Being then for forasmuch then as we are, A.V.; device of man for man's device, A.V. Graven by art, etc. In the Greek the substantive χαράγματα, graven images, things engraven, is in apposition with the gold, silver, and stone, and a further description of them. Art, τέχνη, is the manual skill, the device; ἐνθύμησις is the genius and mental power which plans the splendid temple, or exquisite sculpture, or the statue which is to receive the adoration of the idolater. Compare the withering sarcasm of Isaiah (Isaiah 44:9-17).
The times of ignorance therefore God overlooked for and the times of this ignorance God winked at, A.V.; he commandeth for commandeth, A.V.; men for all men, A.V.; that they should all everywhere repent for everywhere to repent, A.V. and T.R. The times of ignorance; perhaps with reference to Acts 17:23, and also implying that all the idolatry, of which he had spoken in Acts 17:29, arose from ignorance. God overlooked; or, as it is idiomatically expressed in the A.V., winked at; made as if he did not see it; "kept silence," as it is said in Psalms 1:1-6. 21; made no move to punish it. That they should all everywhere. The gospel is for the whole world- "Their sound went into all the earth, and their words unto the ends of the world" (Romans 10:18); "Preach the gospel to every creature" (Mark 16:15). Repent. The key-note of the gospel (Matthew 3:2; Matthew 4:17; Acts 20:21).
Inasmuch as for because, A.V. and T.R.; the man for that man, A.V. He hath appointed a day. Hitherto the Athenians seem to have listened with interest while St. Paul was, with consummate skill, leading them onwards from the doctrines of natural religion, and while he was laying down speculative truths. But now they are brought to a stand. They might no longer go on asking, Τι καινόν; A day fixed by God, they were told, was at hand, in which God would judge the world in righteousness, and in which they themselves would be judged also. And the certainty of this was made apparent by the fact that he who was ordained to be Judge was raised from the dead, and so ready to commence the judgment. The time for immediate action was come; God's revelation had reached them. The man (ἀνδρί). So Acts 2:22, Ἰησοῦν τὸν Ναζωραῖον ἄνδρα ἀπὸ τοῦ Θεοῦ ἀποδεδειγμένον κ.τ.λ. And so in John 5:27 our Lord himself says of himself that the Father gave him authority to execute judgment "because he is the Son of man;" and in Matthew 26:24, "Hereafter shall ye see the Son of man sitting on the right hand of power." (For the connection of the judgment with Christ's resurrection, see especially Acts 10:40-42.) So too the Creeds.
Now for and, A.V.; but for and, A.V.; concerning this yet again for again of this matter, A.V. Some mocked. Athenian skepticism could not accept so spiritual a truth as the resurrection of the dead; and Athenian levity of purpose deferred to another day the decisive step of accepting the salvation of the risen Savior, just as it had deferred resistance to Philip of Macedon till their liberties were gone and their country enslaved. (For "We will hear thee again," comp. Acts 24:25.)
Thus for so, A.V. and T.R.; went out for departed, A.V. The meaning is that he left the assembly in the Areopagus. At Acts 17:22 we were told that he stood ἐν μέσῳ τοῦ Ἀρείου πάγου (where see note); now he went out ἐκ μέσου αὐτῶν, leaving them still sitting on their benches, while he walked down the steps to the city again from the place where he stood.
But for howbeit, A.V.; whom also for the which, A.V. Dionysius the Areopagite. The earliest notice we have of him in ecclesiastical writers is the well-known one of Eusebius, 'Eccl. Hist.,' 3. 4., in which he says, "We are told by an ancient writer, Dionysius the pastor of the diocese of Corinth, that his namesake Dionysius the Areopagite, of whom St. Luke says in the Acts that he was the first who embraced the faith after St. Paul's discourse in the Areopagus, became the first bishop of the Church in Athens." Eusebius repeats the statement in his long notice of Dionysius of Corinth, in 4. 23. Other uncertain traditions speak of him (Suidas) as one who rose to the height of Greek erudition, and as having suffered a cruel martyrdom (Niceph., 3.11). "The works which go by his name are undoubtedly spurious" (Alford). Damaris; "wholly unknown" (Meyer), but certainly not the wife of Dionysius, as Chrysostom (' De Sacerd.,' 4.7) and others have thought ('Dictionary of the Bible'). And others with them. These would seem to be but few from St. Luke's way of mentioning them, and from our hearing nothing more in the Acts about the Church at Athens. It is remarkable that this small number of converts coincides with the weakness of the synagogue at Athens—too weak to persecute, and too weak to make proselytes among the Greeks of Athens. It scorns clear that nowhere else had St. Paul won so few souls to Christ. And yet God's Word did not return to him wholly void. The seed fell on some good ground, to bring forth fruit unto eternal life.
The strange alliance.
Among the hindrances to the progress of the gospel in the world we have often to notice the combination of the most discordant elements for the purpose of obstruction. Pilate and Herod were made friends together when they united in crucifying the Lord of glory. When the chief priests and Pharisees, in their blind hatred of the Lord Jesus Christ, sought his death, they did not scruple to invoke the aid of the Roman power, the object of their bitterest hatred and continual resistance, and to profess an entire devotion to that detested rule. "We have no king but Caesar." So in politics, men of the most opposite principles often combine to crush the object of their common dislike. In religion, too, we see extreme parties joining hands to discomfit a third party to which they are equally opposed. In all such combinations there is want of uprightness and truth. There is a culpable indifference to the nature of the weapons which men use to compass their own end. There is a clear evidence that it is not the cause of righteousness and of God's truth that men are seeking to promote, but some end of their own. When these combinations take place to oppose the progress of Christian truth, though they may be formidable for a time, they carry with them the evidences that they are from beneath and will not prevail. The Church of God need not be afraid of them. The Jews of Thessalonica combined with the heathen rabble of their town, under a pretence of loyalty to Caesar, to silence Paul and Silas. When they fled they pursued them to Beraea, and drove them thence onwards to Athens and Corinth. But the breath intended to extinguish the flame did but make it blaze up from place to place. So will it be with every conspiracy to put out the light of Christ. Philosophy and sensuality, science and lawlessness, atheism and superstition, may join hands and combine to remove the candlestick of God's Church; it will but shed its light brighter and wider in the places where God wills it to shine, until at last the whole earth shall be filled with the knowledge of God's glory, as the waters cover the sea.
The cross of Christ in the metropolis of art and philosophy.
There is a singular interest in this first encounter of the gospel with the art and philosophy of Athens, and it is instructive to note the attitude taken by the great preacher in the encounter. Whether St. Paul had artistic taste we have no means of knowing. But probably, as a devout Jew, seeing that sculpture was so largely employed in the images of the gods and the deified emperors, his eye would not have been trained to look with pleasure even upon the masterpieces of Grecian art. In like manner Greek architecture was mainly devoted to glorify the temples of the gods. The Parthenon at Athens, the temple of Diana at Ephesus, the temples of Apollo and Diana at Antioch, at Baalbec, in the many cities of Asia adorned by the Seleucidae, were indeed materially beautiful, but that material beauty was eclipsed by the moral deformity of their consecration to idolatry, to imposture, and to falsehood. The devout eye of the apostle would therefore be more shocked by the dishonor done to God, and the injury to the moral nature of man, than gratified by mere beauty of form, or architectural grandeur and grace. Hence, as far as we learn from the inspired narrative, the dominant effect upon his mind of the sight of the unrivalled statues and temples of Athens was grief and indignation at their homage to idolatry, rather than admiration of the artistic genius which produced them. In like manner he found himself face to face with philosophy. He was treading the courts of the academy where Plato had taught; he was in the city where Socrates had lived and died; there Aristotle had both learnt and taught; there the successors both of Zeno and Epicurus were still inculcating the tenets of their-respective schools. What was to be the attitude of an evangelist in the presence of these august representatives of human intellect? In what language was the apostle of Jesus Christ to address himself to them? In that of apology? In that of compromise? in that of conscious inferiority? or as if the possessors of so much wisdom had nothing to learn from him? Or, on the other hand, was he to speak the language of scorn and indignation—was he to shut his eyes to all that might be true and noble in the sentiments of those men, and to put them on a level with the vilest of mankind, because they were ignorant of the great truths of revelation? The actual conduct of St. Paul was as modest as it was wise, and as dauntless as it was modest. Looking around him at the altars of the gods, he seized upon the one favorable aspect of them—their witness to a worshipful spirit in the people towards the Unseen. Gathering from Greek literature a true description of the relation of man to the living God, he proceeded with wonderful simplicity and force to enunciate those truths of natural religion which an untainted reason perceives and approves. And then, rising to those higher truths which are the domain of revelation, he preached, as he had done before in the Agora, Jesus and the resurrection. He bid them repent of their sins done in ignorance; he told them of the coming of the day of judgment; he spoke to them of the awful Judge, and of his unerring righteousness. There was no faltering in his speech, no watering down of the severity of the gospel, no wincing at the subtle wits or the pretentious wisdom of those who heard him. He spoke as a man who knew that he had the truth of God, and that that truth would prevail. And such should ever be the attitude of the Christian teacher before the powers of the world. Humble, charitable, confident, and firm; owning all that is good and beautiful and true in the world around him, but always feeling, and acting as if he felt, that the gospel of Jesus Christ is better and truer and more beautiful than all; valuing true wisdom, and prizing the great gift of reason as the brightest jewel of our human nature; yet always remembering that in our fallen state reason could bring no remedy for sin nor cast a light upon the world to come; but that the only Name whereby we may be saved is the Name of Jesus, and that he alone has abolished death, and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel. To him be glory for ever and ever. Amen.
HOMILIES BY W. CLARKSON.
A fulfilled and an unfulfilled prophecy.
These verses would supply us with other material for thought. They present to us:
1. Christian workers patiently and conscientiously proceeding with their mission (Acts 17:1, Acts 17:2).
2. Christian advocates employing the weapon which was prepared for their use (Acts 17:3).
3. Christian laborers reaping a blessed spiritual harvest (Acts 17:4).
4. Faithful followers of the Lord partaking of his sufferings (Acts 17:5-9). But we rather find here—
I. A GREAT PROPHECY FULFILLLED. "Alleging that Christ must needs have suffered," etc. (Acts 17:3); i.e. must needs have so done in order that the Scriptures (Acts 17:2) might be fulfilled (see Luke 24:26, Luke 24:46). The death of the Messiah was the realization of
(1) the predictions contained in the Jewish sacrifices (the sin offerings and trespass offerings, and notably the offering of the goat on the great Day of Atonement; the Passover lamb, etc.); and of
(2) such predictions in word as those contained in the fifty-third chapter of Isaiah. The Law must have remained fatally incomplete and prophecy unfulfilled if the Christ had not suffered as Jesus of Nazareth did suffer, if he had not died the death which he underwent. In the crucified Nazarene the greatest of all prophecies had been fulfilled.
II. AN UNCONSCIOUS PROPHECY TO BE FULFILLED. The language of the complainants (verse 6) was unintentionally prophetic. They indeed stated, hyperbolically, as something already accomplished, that which the ambassadors of Christ are engaged in doing. But they indicated, truly and graphically, what the gospel of his grace is doing—it is turning the world upside down. We may put the facts thus to our minds:
1. When Christ came evil was everywhere uppermost. The reigning forces of the world at the time of the Incarnation were "not of the Father, but of the world." Within the one favored and enlightened nation were hypocrisy, superficiality, bigotry and unbrotherliness, spiritual delusion; without that circle were superstition, ignorance, atheism, vice, cruelty—all the abominations into which a corrupt heathenism had sunk. Language will not tell the enormity of the world's condition. Nothing would be of any avail but a radical revolution, the overturning of all existing thoughts, habits, methods, institutions—turning the world upside down, bringing to the dust of humiliation everything that was on the throne of honor.
2. The gospel of Jesus Christ is destined to overturn it.
(1) It has adequate means for so doing—Divine truth, the aid of the Divine Spirit, a Divine institution (the Christian Church).
(2) It has the true method, a spiritual one; its weapons of warfare are not carnal, but spiritual, and therefore mighty to pull down strongholds (2 Corinthians 10:4). It wins by teaching, persuading, leavening, renewing; acting upon the life through the mind, the heart, the will—through the whole spiritual nature. This is the one conquering course, the one method which really and permanently subdues.
(3) It has the assurance of success; both in the promise of a Divine Lord, and in the history of its own triumphs. It is turning the world upside down. In many districts "the idols are utterly abolished;" many "islands are waiting for his Law;" hoary systems of idolatry and iniquity are pierced through and through with the shafts of truth, and promise to fall prone as Dagon before the ark of God; the vices of civilized lands are being successfully assailed; the kingdom of error and of evil is disappearing, and the kingdom of Christ is coming. The triumphs of this last missionary century are a distinct assurance that iniquity shall be cast down and righteousness be exalted.—C.
The duty of individual research.
This interesting and cheering episode teaches us one lesson in particular; but there are three suggestions we may gain preliminarily.
1. That the Christian pilgrim (and workman) may hope that shadow will soon be succeeded by sunshine; that the tumult of Thessalonica will soon be followed by the reverent inquiry of Beraea.
2. That he must expect sunshine to pass, before long, into shadow; the fruit-gathering of Beraea to yield to the flight to Athens (Acts 17:12-14).
3. That true nobility is in excellency of character: "These were more noble" (Acts 17:11). The word signifies (derivatively) those of noble birth, and it is here applied to those who had chosen the honorable course and were doing the estimable thing. This is the true, the real nobility. That which is adventitious, dependent on birth and blood, is only circumstantial, is liable to be dishonored by the chances and changes of time, is of no account with God. That which is based on character and born of wise choice, pure feeling, estimable action, is real, human, unalterable, of Divine origin, and enjoying the Divine approval. But the particular lesson of our text is—
THE DUTY OF INDIVIDUAL RESEARCH. The Beraeans are commended in the sacred narrative as "more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the Word with all readiness," etc. (Acts 17:11). Their excellency was in their readiness to receive and investigate, to study and search for themselves whether the new teaching was or was not in accordance with the will of God. Whence we infer:
1. That blind opposition to all new doctrine is a sin as well as a mistake. It may be that men who propound views different from those that we have held come to us from God and offer us that which is in the Scriptures, though we have not yet discovered it there. There are more things in that living Word than the wisest man has ever seen yet. Unqualified resistance of doctrine which is different from "that which we have received to hold" may be the rejection of God's own truth; in that case it is both injurious and wrong.
2. That it is the duty of every Christian man to test all new doctrine by the teaching of the Divine Word. We are to search the Scriptures whether these things are so or not. There is no excuse for declining to do this; for
(1) God has placed his Word well within reach of us all. It is in a small compass; it is printed in our own language (no book so lends itself to translation and is so widely translated); it can be obtained for a small sum.
(2) He has so formed us and so written it that it is level to our understanding; he has given us the necessary mental faculties to comprehend it, and he has made the substance of it so simple, plain, appreciable, that the wayfaring man may rejoice in it. It is not the recondite, abstruse, mystical utterance which some disclosures are.
(3) He is ready to grant us his own Divine aid in mastering and applying it. For what can we ask the help of his Holy Spirit more confidently than for the study of his own Word? When is he more certain to fulfill his promise (Luke 11:13) than when we ask for his enlightening influence as we "search the Scriptures" (John 5:39)? It is not only our right but our ditty to listen to all and to try all (1 John 4:1); to "judge for ourselves what is right" (Luke 12:57). It is God's plain will concerning us that we should all bring what we hoar to the standard of his own revealed will in his Word. To do this effectually, we must study that Word
A saddening spectacle: a missionary sermon.
The spirit of Paul was "stirred in him" (Acts 17:16) by the statues which crowded the city of Athens. That which would yield intense gratification to any modern traveler plunged the apostle into deep melancholy and gloom. But there is a vast difference between then and now. Then idolatry was regnant; now it is dethroned. Then the worship of the living God had but one representative in that populous city; now there is not one idolater to be discovered there. To Paul those statues, meeting him at every turn and almost at every step, were abominable idols; to us they are interesting relics of a distant age.
I. THE SADNESS OF THIS SPECTACLE AS IT APPEARED TO PAUL. The aspect which Athens wore to the apostle is expressed by the sacred historian. It was a "city wholly given to idolatry," or filled with idols. He would have discovered on inquiry if he did not already know, that these statues were not worshipped as gods themselves by their devotees. Nevertheless, he would have called them "idols;" for they were distinctly condemned by the commandments of the Lord (Exodus 20:4, Exodus 20:5); they were prohibited by the Law of God as idolatrous. Though the intelligence of Athens saved its citizens from idolatry in its last and worst stage, the identification of the image with the deity, it had not saved it from the idolatry of an earlier stage, the association of the image with the deity it represented. Against this form of sin, so severely denounced in Scripture, so offensive to God, so dangerous and delusive to man, the spirit of Paul rose in strong rebellion. The sight of its outward manifestation filled him with inexpressible sadness; his "spirit was embittered."
II. THE ASPECT WHICH THIS ATHENIAN STATUARY WEARS TO US. TO US it is a sad proof that the world by wisdom does not know God. Human wisdom can never hope to go further than it went in Athens. If ever, anywhere, human philosophy, human art, the human imagination could have reached truth and found God, it would have triumphed at Athens. But there was the melancholy exhibition of error and immorality. The utmost exertion of human thought had ended in
(1) the worship of many gods;
(2) the worship of gods to whom lust and cruelty were ascribed;
(3) the worship of these gods with debasing rites.
No city in the world gives surer or sadder proof that sin so injures and disables us that our unaided manhood cannot rise to the sacred heights of truth and purity.
III. THE SAD SPECTACLE IT SUGGESTS TO US NOW'. If Athens needed the ministry of Paul so terribly then, how much must all heathen cities require the gospel of Christ today! In the vast populations of the Asiatic and African continents, and among the hundred "islands of the sea," where human intelligence has never attempted to scale the heights which Grecian philosophers tried to reach, what awful degradations must exist and do exist! If Athens was an idol-covered city, what must be the condition of the barbarous towns and villages of an unevangelized world? What sights are there to stir our spirits now! What idolatry, what superstition, what cruelty, what lasciviousness, what falsehood, what dishonesty! what utter absence of piety, holiness, and love! what an absolute reversal of God's first thought of human nature and human life! What infinite reason to address ourselves to—
IV. THE SACRED DUTY TO WHICH IT CALLS US. "Therefore disputed he … daily" (Acts 17:17). The Christian Church must gird itself to the work of meeting pagan error with Divine truth. It is a great task to undertake. But as the lonely apostle went on, single-handed, with his mission, trusting in him "to whom all power is given in heaven and in earth," and knowing that "the foolishness of God is wiser than man," and that "the weak things of the world can confound the things which are mighty," even so must we. If only the Church went forth to this its work with half the zeal with which the spirit-stilled apostle wrought out his life-work, the time would not be counted by centuries when the idols would be utterly abolished, and the Lord Jesus Christ would alone be exalted.—C.
Christianity and Epicureanism.
Against the doctrine of Epicurus, the truth as it is in Jesus teaches us—
I. THAT ALL THINGS PROCEED FROM THE INTELLIGENT OPERATION OF THE LIVING GOD, and are by him sustained. That all our springs are not in any" it," but "in him" (Psalms 87:7); that "every gift cometh down from the Father of lights, in whom," etc. (James 1:17); that he (a Divine One) made the worlds, and upholds all things, etc. (Hebrews 1:2, Hebrews 1:3; Genesis 1:1; Genesis 1:24; etc.).
II. THAT THE HUMAN SPIRIT, AS DISTINCT FROM THE HUMAN' BODY, IS THE ONE OBJECT OF INESTIMABLE VALUE.
III. THAT THE CHIEF GOOD AND FINAL END IN HUMAN' LIFE IS RIGHTEOUSNESS. Not ἀταραζία through φρόνησις, but righteousness by faith and love.
1. The being counted right (or righteous) by God.
2. The possession of inward, spiritual rectitude.
3. The exhibition of integrity in word and deed. This
(1) by faith in Jesus Christ, and
(2) as the outgrowth of love to him.
IV. THAT THE POSSESSION OF RIGHTEOUSNESS ISSUES IN PEACE AND JOY. We are not to regard a state of mental equability as the great end to be diligently and persistently attained, as the one supreme accomplishment; but to "seek first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness," in the assurance that, thus reeking, we shall find a "peace which passes understanding," and a joy which cannot be taken from us.
V. THAT THERE IS AN ASSURED FUTURE FOR THE FAITHFUL, WHICH WILL REALIZE THE LARGEST HUMAN HOPE: that the mind does not perish with the body, but lives on in another world, entering a brighter realm, moving in a broader sphere, living a fuller life, in the home of God, in the abode of purity and blessedness.—C.
Christianity and Stoicism.
While there were points in Stoicism which harmonized with the doctrine of the great Teacher, there was very much indeed in which it was wholly dissimilar and even antagonistic. The fact that it conducted so freely and frequently to suicide is a melancholy confession of its failure; something more and something other was needed to meet the wants of the soul than its proud, self-sufficient, but insufficient egoism. Christianity differs from it in that it teaches—
I. THAT A DIVINE FATHER, AND NOT AN INEXORABLE FATE, IS THE RULING POWER IN THE UNIVERSE. It is not true that Deity is subject to all-conquering fate; it is true that all circumstance is under Divine control.
II. THAT CONTROLLED AND CONSECRATED FEELING, NOT AN INFLEXIBLE APATHY, IS THE HIGHEST ATTAINABLE CONDITION. We are not to quench our feeling, or to impose on ourselves or others by the appearance of apathy. We are to weep and to rejoice; but
(1) our sorrow and our joy are both to be regulated—we are to "let our moderation appear unto all men;" and
(2) our sorrow and our joy are both to be consecrated to God,—the one is to be borne with a resignation which is not a sullen endurance of the inevitable, but a filial acceptance of the decision of the wise and faithful Father of spirits; the other is to be accepted with thankfulness, and dedicated to the service of the Supreme One and the surrounding ones.
III. THAT A TRUE SPIRITUAL CONDITION IS ATTAINABLE, NOT BY UNAIDED INDIVIDUAL WILL, BUT BY HELP OF THE DIVINE SPIRIT. (2 Corinthians 12:10; Philippians 4:13.)
IV. THAT NEITHER ULTIMATE ABSORPTION, NOR UTTER DESTRUCTION, BUT AN EVER-LIVING SPIRIT IN A GLORIFIED BODY, IS THE HOPE OF THE WISE AND TRUE. "He preached unto them Jesus, and the resurrection."—C.
Curiosity at the feet of Christ.
In the company which gathered on Mars' Hill, to listen to the Christian teacher, we have a picture of curiosity sitting at the feet of Christ. For it is clear that this was not a court sitting to try a prisoner, but a chance company of citizens, wishing to hear what new and strange doctrine this visitor had brought them.
I. THE CURIOSITY WHICH IS CONTEMPTUOUS. "What will this babbler say?" said some using the language of superciliousness. They evidently thought it was hardly worth while to pause m their gossip to listen to this new speaker; nevertheless they condescended to hear him for five minutes or a quarter of an hour! When men assume this attitude toward Christ and his gospel, they may expect to gain nothing at all from him. "God resisteth the proud." Except we be converted from the spirit of contemptuousness, we shall not enter the kingdom of heavenly truth.
II. THE CURIOSITY WHICH IS FRIVOLOUS. The audience on the Acropolis included some who were not contemptuous, but simply curious; they wanted to hear "some new thing" (Acts 17:21), to learn what was to be said of these "strange gods" which this Jew was "setting forth" (Acts 17:18). If there is nothing directly unfavorable, there is nothing actually favorable in this spirit of undevout inquisitiveness. No one attending the sanctuary in this temper has any right to expect a blessing. The disciple who brings nothing better than this to the feet of the Master may expect to go away unenlightened. But he may not depart unblessed.- Of the men who clave to Paul and believed (Acts 17:34), there were probably some who came on no high purpose bent, and who found more than they sought. Better come and listen, even from empty curiosity, than refuse to hear; better bring in the multitude with this inducement, than leave them outside in ignorance and error.
III. THE CURIOSITY WATCH IS EARNEST. Shall we not think that among the "certain men" who did believe, there were found a few who went up the steps of Mars' Hill sincerely desirous of learning what was true? Was not Dionysius or Damaris one whose heart had some "hunger after righteousness"? Certainly it is they who come in order that they may know the truth, who are curious to hear that they may be prompt to do the will of God—it is they who are likely to "be filled with the knowledge of his will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding." "Of such is the kingdom of heaven;" and to such it is that the Master says," Seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you." Those who earnestly desire to know
(1) what is the character and the attitude of God,
(2) what are the real conditions of salvation and eternal life,
(3) how they may best live to please God and to benefit the world,—these shall not return empty-minded; they shall be filled (Matthew 5:6).—C.
God revealed: his nature and relation.
Paul's spirit was "stirred" with holy indignation, and with pure and strong compassion, as he witnessed the abounding signs of superstition in the streets of Athens. But he had the wisdom to begin his address to these "men of Athens" by an expression which they would take to be complimentary. He told them that he perceived they were abundantly religious. He did not conclude this from witnessing their numerous divinities, but from the inscription he had read on an altar, "To the unknown God." Adroitly seizing on this as proof positive that they were in ignorance as to the true object of worship, he said that he could declare to them the Deity whom they were ignorantly or unconsciously worshipping. Then he spoke out the everlasting truth concerning the living God, which he had learned, and in the knowledge of which he stood superior, not only to those degenerate philosophers, but to the wisest man that had ever spoken their language and immortalized their city.
I. THE NATURE OF GOD.
1. Paul taught the unity of the Godhead. "God that made the world," etc.; a very noticeable singular, He taught, concerning his nature, that this was:
2. Spiritual; such that it is a vain and senseless thing to try to make any likeness of him. "God is a Spirit," we ourselves being his children, and it is not in gold or stone or silver to produce any sort of semblance of him (Acts 17:29).
3. Independent; so that he does not need the service of human hands. Except as expressions of our feelings of penitence, or trust, or gratitude, or homage, all offerings are an insult to his majesty and his power (Acts 17:25; and see Psalms 1:1-8-13).
4. Omnipresent. We need repair to the interior of no temple walls to find him, for he is "Lord of heaven and earth" (Acts 17:24), filling immensity with his presence. He is net far from any one of us; he compasses our path and our lying down; he besets us behind and before; we cannot go where he is not (Acts 17:27).
5. Sovereign. He is Lord of heaven and earth; he is the Divine Ruler of all.
II. THE DIVINE RELATION TO MANKIND. We not only want to know generally who and what God is; we also and equally want to know what is the particular relation in which he stands to us. And what, we ask, does he desire we should be to him? Here is the answer:
1. He is the Maker of the world in which we live: he "made the world and all things therein" (Acts 17:24).
2. He is the Divine Benefactor from whom all blessings flow: "He giveth to all life," etc. (Acts 17:25).
3. He is the Divine Provider and Arranger of all human affairs (Acts 17:26). His intelligence has foreseen, and his wisdom directed everything.
4. He is the Father of all human spirits: "We are also his off spring" (Acts 17:28). And we are so in that
(1) he is the Author (Acts 17:26) of our common humanity (Acts 17:26);
(2) he is sustaining us all in constant existence: "In him we live," etc. (Acts 17:28);
(3) he is deeply interested in us, and desires our approach to him; he has so wrought that men should "seek him, if haply they might feel after him and find him." He desires to be sought and found of us, that we may commune with him and rejoice in him, that we may attain to his likeness and prepare for his nearer presence. If such is the nature of God, and such the relation in which he stands to us, then:
(1) How pitiful a thing is
(a) heathenism, the ignorance of God; and
(b) atheism, the denial of God; and
(c) indifference, the rejection of God!
(2) How excellent and how wise a thing is
(a) reverence for God;
(b) obedience to God;
(c) an earnest effort to obtain the Divine favor, and to live in his love!—C.
God revealed: his attitude toward the sinner.
It is worth while to note, preliminarily, that Paul speaks of the pre-Christian ages as "times of ignorance." We know that these included much human learning. The words of the apostle were uttered on that spot where there was everything to call this to remembrance. But he would have said, and would have had us consider also, that any age in which God remained unknown was an age of ignorance. "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom." No art, no philosophy, no science, no literature, no intellectual attainments or achievements of any kind whatever will compensate for ignorance of God; the soul that knows not him is an ignorant man; the time that knows not him is an ignorant age. But the text suggests and answers a very urgent question—What is the attitude of the holy Father of spirits toward his sinful children? His holiness would lead to impartial severity; his fatherhood to exceeding tenderness and clemency. The answer is found in the words of the apostle here.
I. GOD'S ATTITUDE IN THE PRE-CHRISTIAN AGES. This was one of magnanimous forbearance. God "winked at" (as the text unhappily renders it), he overlooked, bore with all that was so painful in his sight, all the unimaginable iniquity of forty centuries of human sin. Not, indeed, without many proofs of his Divine displeasure; not without manifestations of his holy wrath. He sent sickness, sorrow, calamity, death, as marks of his meaning in regard to sin. But for long ages of evil, in which men were everywhere sinning directly against him by their idolatries and their atheisms and their practical infidelities, and indirectly against him by their sins against one another and the wrongs they did themselves, God's chief attitude toward his rebellious subjects was that of Divine magnanimity.
1. He did not punish them in proportion to their ill deserts. He "kept silence" (Psa 1:1-6 :21). He "dealt not with them after their sins," etc. (Psalms 103:10).
2. He did confer on them great and continuous loving-kindness through every age (Acts 14:16, Acts 14:17).
II. HIS ATTITUDE SINCE THE COMING OF HIS SON. He "now commandeth all men everywhere to repent." The entrance of the "kingdom of God" was attended with the utterance of this strong imperative, "Repent". The last, solemn commission of the ascending Lord was to sound this note of repentance "among all nations" (Luke 24:47). The apostle of the Gentiles, divinely taught, preached to Jew and Gentile "repentance toward God," etc. (Acts 20:21). And wherever this gospel is preached unto men, there is announced the Divine mandate, "Repent." We know:
1. Its real significance. It is the turning of the heart, and therefore of the life, from sin and folly to God and to his service.
2. Its breadth of application. It is coextensive with the race; it reaches to the remotest land and to the most distant age; none so pure of heart and life that they need not, none so base that they may not, none so old that they cannot repent.
3. The consequences of impenitence. They are
(1) God's displeasure now, and
(2) his final condemnation and punishment.—C.
God revealed: his holy purpose.
We ask not only—Who or what is he? what is his character and spirit? what is his present attitude towards us? we ask also—What is his purpose concerning us? That one infinite God, "in whom we live, and move, and have our being," who holds our destiny in his sovereign hand,—is it his intention that the lamp of his lighting, the human spirit (Proverbs 20:27), shall go out utterly at death, or that that spirit shall shine in another sphere? And if so, what are to be the conditions of that life beyond the river? The reply is—
I. THAT GOD WILL CONTINUE TO US OUR EXISTENCE IN ANOTHER STATE, AND WILL JUDGE US FOR OUR. ACTIONS HERE. "He hath appointed a day in which he will judge the world." We do not suppose that time hereafter will be measured as it is now, and that the "day" of the other life will correspond with "a day "of our present experience. But the time will come in the future life when "we shall appear before the judgment-seat." God has "appointed unto man once to die," and "after this the judgment." Clearly enough, in the thought and purpose of God, this life is only the commencement of our existence, the probation period on which the long results of the eternal world depend. So far from this being the be-all and end-all of humanity, it is but the preface to the large volume that succeeds; it is but the river which runs down to and is lost in the sea.
II. THAT GOD'S JUDGMENT OF US WILL BE ONE OF PERFECT RIGHTEOUSNESS. "In righteousness."
1. There will be no trace of partiality, no smallest shade of favoritism; none will fare the better, none the worse, for class, or sex, or parentage, or nationality.
2. Regard will be had to all the particulars of human action. "God will bring every work into judgment with every secret thing" (Ecclesiastes 12:14): all thoughts—the "work" of the understanding; all feelings—the "work" of the heart; all choices—the "work" of the will; as well as all words—the "work" of the tongue; and all deeds—the "work" of the hand.
3. Respect will be had to all that enhances or lessens responsibility; to all special privilege and opportunity on the one hand, and to all privation and disadvantage on the other.
III. THAT GOD WILL JUDGE THE WORLD BY HIS SON, OUR SAVIOR JESUS CHRIST. "By that Man," etc., even the Son of man, to whom all judgment is committed (John 5:22), who will have authority to execute judgment "because he is the Son of man" (John 5:27). Christ will be our Judge. His special relationship to us eminently fits him for that supreme position.
1. He is the Lord of our nature.
2. He knows our nature perfectly (Hebrews 4:15).
3. He claims that we shall all come into living relation to himself; we must all be "found in him" (Philippians 3:9; John 15:4, John 15:6; 1 John 2:28).
IV. THAT GOD HAS GIVEN US STRONG ASSURANCE OF HIS DIVINE PURPOSE. "Whereof he hath given," etc. We have an assurance of such intention in:
1. Our own consciousness of ill desert and incomplete retribution. We feel that sin demands condemnation and punishment, and that our own individual guilt has not received its due penalty. For how much and how many things do we deserve the reproval of the Divine voice, the infliction of the Divine hand!
2. Our observation of the course of abandoned and wicked men. How many are they who go down to the grave with (as it assuredly appears) unpunished sins on their soul!
3. The general apprehension of mankind.
4. But the assurance of God's purpose is in the language and the life of Jesus Christ; more especially in the fact of his resurrection, preceding, predicting, and ensuring our own.
(1) How foolish to treat as if it were the whole of our career that which is no more than the commencement!
(2) How wise to live in view of that great day of account!
(3) How needful to be rightly related to the supreme Judge!—C.
HOMILIES BY E. JOHNSON
Paul at Thessalonica.
I. HIS WORK. The synagogue was here again the scene of labor; the substance of the evangel again the theme of his discourse.
1. This is in contents ever the same; founded on the Scriptures. His special function as an apostle did not set him free from the authority of the past. Religion at any epoch is the fulfillment of all that has gone before and the prophecy of all that is to be. But let us beware of the slavery of the letter, and seek the truth of the freely developing Spirit. Fresh light and truth are to break forth at every epoch from the Scriptures. Preaching culminates in Christ. The Messiah must suffer and rise. Paul had no other theme than the crucified and risen One. The triumph of the spiritual element in mankind in and through, in spite of and over, suffering,—this is the eternal message of Christianity to mankind.
2. The results the same. Some believe, others not. The good ground for the seed is there or it is not there. Vain to seek to penetrate below this mystery. Women again are specially named as favorable to the gospel. It is fair to argue that, when the feelings and the intuitions lead the judgment, the verdict will be for Christ and his religion. Divine grace does not court those in high station; certainly it does not repel them.
II. THE BEARING OF THE ENEMIES OF THE GOSPEL.
1. Instinctive perversion of the truth. As before, jealousy, whether proceeding from self-interest or sectarian pride, attacks the apostles. Their enemies would misrepresent the emissaries of peace, as public disturbers and revolutionaries.
2. Glaring inconsistency. They commit the very offence of which they accuse the apostles. They play on the feelings of the mob. It is a sign of weakness or of insincerity when men must drag the fickle multitude into such questions. The mob may be turned momentarily to any account. If they favor the gospel, they are despised as stupid (John 7:47-49). If they can be stirred up against it, their clamor is equally used as evidence.
III. THE EPISODE or HOSPITALITY. Good Jason shelters these dangerous guests. The guest who is loved and cherished in spite of danger to the host, will bring a blessing on the head of the latter. Be mindful of hospitality—the true hospitality, which gives without asking in return (Hebrews 13:2).—J.
Nobility of soul at Beraea.
Beraea stands out as a bright oasis in the dreary landscape of persecution. When Paul and Silas enter the synagogue, they find themselves in a new atmosphere. They find "men of nobler soul" then the dishonest cavilers and intriguers of Philippi and of Thessalonica. What were the elements of this nobility of soul?
I. WILLING AND UNPREJUDICED RECEPTION OF NOVEL VIEWS, This spontaneous receptiveness springs only from the rooted love of truth. Let us not forget how startling and how shocking was the story of a crucified Messiah to Jewish prejudice; it may help us to appreciate the candor of these men.
II. INDEPENDENT INQUIRY. They did not carry on a battle of notions with notions; they went to the sources, they studied the documents and facts. Let Protestants learn a lesson, and be true to themselves. In our time people are only beginning to understand the Scriptures in the new light thrown by history upon them. The study of the Bible is a right, a duty, and a profound science. Hasty generalizations and fixed opinions must give way before larger light.
III. TRUE FAITH AND FREE INQUIRY GO HAND-IN-HAND. It is only the profound believer who can afford to doubt. The faith which condemns inquiry, or stops it at a certain point, or is afraid of" going too far," is a blind faith. On the other hand, the "free-thinking," which owns no religions impulse, is never deep nor sound thinking. The sincere spirit of inquiry, as seen in the noblest scientific men, is closely allied to the true evangelical temper. What we all need is a living love in all our studies, as opposed to a dead and notional knowledge. The enthusiasm for truth is a noble form of faith; and each who pursues it for himself will enjoy a measure of its rewards. We must try the grounds of faith as we try the metal of coins, and with the greater attention, in that more is at stake. No resting upon the ipsi dixit even of an apostle satisfied the Beraeans, nor ought it to satisfy us.—J.
Paul at Athens.
Paul stands in Athens, amidst the master-pieces of Greek art and the memorials of Greek wisdom. It is not admiration or aesthetic delight which is awakened in him, but moral indignation. Christianity is not opposed to art; but Christianity does not approve the worship of sensuous or ideal beauty apart from moral earnestness. In the true relation, religion absorbs art into itself; when art is substituted for religion, there is moral decay. Nor is Christianity hostile to philosophy. On the contrary, there was in Greek philosophy a preparation for Christ. There were germs of truth in the Epicurean and the Stoic schools which Christianity incorporated, while it corrected the one-sidedness of these philosophies. The Epicurean built his practical system on human weakness, the Stoic his on pride. The gospel will not excuse sin on the ground of weakness; nor found a righteousness of man's own on pride (see the noted discussion of these schools, and the relation of the gospel to them, in Pascal's 'Pensees'). Between these extremes, as between those of Sadducecism and Phariseeism, the gospel ever makes its way. These academicians of Athens might well be anxious to know what the "ugly little Jew" had to say. Long had the mighty logos or dialectic of Plato and Aristotle and their successors and rivals ruled the world. What could the fanatical Jew have to say? An immortal discourse is the reply to these questions of curiosity.
I. GOD UNKNOWN, YET KNOWABLE. The speaker recognizes the reverence of the Athenians. The heathen were prepared for the gospel, all the more from the weariness and failure of their age-long "groping after God." In the inscription on the altar was the witness of the desire to worship all forms of divinity, whether to them known or unknown. Both Greeks and Romans recognized, above and beyond the definite gods and goddesses of the Pantheon, the indefinable in Deity, the mystery of that Essence, to us and to all, as to them, incomprehensible. So far we are all on a level with the Athenians. But there are special senses in which God is unknown to the worshipper.
1. To the sensual and sin-loving heart. Many there are whose heart is like the Agora of Athens or a Pantheon; one idol stands beside another. Wrath, pride, lust, avarice, treachery, ambition,—these are their gods. And again, science, art, money, the husband, the wife, the goods of this world. And in a neglected corner stands the altar with the inscription, "To the unknown God!"
2. To the wise in their own conceit. "For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God;" "He resisteth the proud, and giveth grace to the lowly."
3. To the formalists and externalists in religion. For the drama of an external ritual is rather a screen between the soul and God, if the soul be not bent on finding him.
4. To all who seek him otherwise than with the pure and lowly heart, coming by the Way, the Truth, and the Life to the Father. Though in one sense" God is great; I know him not," must be the confession of all hearts, from the lowliest to the wisest, in another the good news of the gospel proclaims—God may be known, is known; and every name by which he is known resolves itself into love. He is concealed, yet revealed; unknown, yet known; defined, yet indefinable. 'Tis a great yet a small part of his ways that we can understand.
II. GOD REVEALED IN THE CREATION. He has made the world and all things therein. Animate and inanimate nature, body and spirit, all have the stamp of omnipotence and of omniscience in the unity of a Mind. Every step in science makes more clear this unity; and in the last resort this unity is not conceivable as "law" or "force" merely, but only as the living and the loving God. In his infinite majesty, heaven is his throne, earth his footstool. He is in himself both Temple and Inhabitant. The voice of God bursts asunder the system of idolatry and superstition. The latter denies that God can be found only in fixed places, by means of fixed rites and mediations. The true temple is everywhere; "The walls of the world are that." In the Church, where the gospel of his Son is heard, and above all in the heart, where he indwells in the power of his Spirit, is the temple of the living God.
III. GOD REVEALED IN THE GOVERNMENT OF THE WORLD, As love. Needing nothing from men's hands; they incessantly feel the need of him. Life itself is sweet, and in that sweetness we have an instance of his love. There is a joy in breathing, moving about, looking, learning, experiencing manifold experiences in this "fair world of God." And each and every pleasure, lower and higher, leads up to God and his love. The tie that binds us to our kind is an expression of the same love. Sympathy is possible, is actual, between men of every color and clime. The mechanism of thought and feeling is alike in all. All men suffer and rejoice from the same causes. The unity of the human race reflects the unity of God's mind in wisdom and in love. Men form one people, one race: this is the great thought the gospel throws upon the world, and teaches us to say, in deeper senses than the heathen knew, "I am a man; nothing human is foreign to me." He has set bounds to man's habitations. All the effects of climate, of physical configuration of the earth, distribution of land and water, so interesting to the student of man and his dwelling-place, are conditions fixed by the same wise and loving hand. God is in history. His thoughts alone are living. Athens was not for ever, nor Rome; but the Divine thought, whence proceeded the culture of Greece, the law and order of Rome, lives on, and is revealed in changing forms from age to age. And towards the "far-off goal" of an infinite love, we doubt not, the whole of creation and of history moves. The end of all is the union of man with God. Though in one sense he "needeth not anything," in another he needs all—the whole love of his whole rational universe. The process of thought in the world is a process of "groping after" and of finding God. God wills that we should find him, but only as the result of our seeking. Therefore he "half reveals" and" half conceals" himself. He is far off, yet near; in each and all the spheres of our knowledge. Our being rests on his; ours are borrowed lives (Isaiah 54:6; 1 Corinthians 8:6). "In the Father," says Cyprian, "we are, from him all life comes; in the Son, who lives, we have life; in the Spirit, who is the Breath of all flesh, we have our being." His offspring we are—by creation in his image, by redemption through his Son. This truth we know from Scripture, from the human heart, from life; and the effect of this knowledge may well be to produce holy humility, mixed with confidence and joy.
IV. TRUE THEOLOGY AND WORSHIP.
1. The heathen draw a wrong inference freer, the true saying on men being the offspring of God. If we are of Divine origin, they seemed to argue, then the gods are of human kind, and images of them may be made. On the contrary, Paul argues, those who are of Divine origin despise themselves if they render worship to any but the supreme Head and Lord. When we say that God is in affinity with man, we do not affirm that man can represent him in thought, much less in images of plastic art. The philosopher Xenophanes had said that if the animals had gods, they would imagine them in their own likeness—the god of the horse would be a horse, etc. The truth is that only our ideal or higher nature is the mirror of God.
2. In conscience we find his clearest reflex. And ignorance of him in this nearest sphere of knowledge is not excusable, as St. Paul teaches in Romans 1:1-32. Men did not like to retain God in their knowledge. At the same time, the conscience needs light from without. There are dark ages of the world, when men have comparatively little light, and which may be viewed as ages of God's forbearance, wherein he "overlooks" much that men do, "not knowing what they do."
3. But Christ is a Turning-point of history. Before him, the period of "ignorance;" with him and after him, the true light. Before him, forbearance; henceforward, the just judgment of the world. The description of the person and functions of Christ. He is Man; a member of humanity, a partaker of human flesh and blood, subject to death. As High Priest, he is one "touched with a feeling of our infirmities." And as Judge, he is qualified on the same grounds. It is a common feeling which requires that a man should be judged by his peers. Knowledge and pity, severity and compassion, are united in Christ.
4. The call to repentance. It is an urgent call. The more indifferent and light-hearted the listeners, the more urgently it must sound. It is an absolute call, admitting of no exceptions. No ignorance and no philosophy, no dignity or rank, can exempt men from the immediate command of God to repent. Amidst the depths of sin and the heights of virtue, in paganism and in Christendom, the new heart and the new life are indispensable.
V. THE RECEPTION OF THE GOSPEL AT ATHENS. (Romans 1:32.)
1. Some scoffed, some procrastinated. These are ever the two main classes of those who turn a deaf ear to the Divine Word. Some make light of the truth, some put off attention to it until the "more convenient season." "Faith in to-morrow, instead of Christ, is Satan's nurse for man's perdition." Paul departed from among them, and came not back; the "tender grace" of the day of salvation vanished, not again to be found.
2. But some believed. Of whom Dionysius among men alone is mentioned; and of the women, Damaris, with some others. We need, however, to remind ourselves that great numbers are no sign of the true Church. There are many more of common stones than of jewels in its structure, according to the ordinary valuation; but God's measures are not ours. According to ancient testimonies, a bright light went forth from the Church at Athens. The splendid intellectual culture of Athens remains the heritage of the few; the gospel pours its common blessing on mankind. The relation of the Christian to the art and science of the world.
(1) He is not to despise them. The master-works of genius are gifts of God; and in their way they bear testimony to the universal striving of the human spirit after the reconciliation of sense and spirit, the human with the Divine. The aberrations of great spirits are more instructive than the meaningless commonplaces of ordinary minds.
(2) At the same time, he is to apply to them the Christian scale of judgment. Christianity cannot countenance immoral art or godless science. If tile heart of the artist and scientific man be sanctified, their works and studies will tend to the glory of God.—J.
HOMILIES BY R.A. REDFORD
Interest of the occasion, in view of the two Epistles afterwards written. The contrast between the Thessalonian and Philippian populations partly due to the presence of the Jewish synagogue. The Greek proselytes numerous. The Jews divided into two classes, the devout and the fanatical. The political element always ready to be called into use against the gospel, so that the multitude and the rulers were troubled.
I. Take the whole narration as affording a glimpse into THE STATE OF THE ROMAN EMPIRE at that time.
1. The elements of hope in it—the Jewish religion and synagogue worship, the openness of Gentile mind to inquiry; the two forces of Roman order and Greek intellectual culture.
2. The elements of corruption. The rabble at the mercy of evil-minded men stirring them up. The decrees of Caesar mere despotic acts of power. Ignorance and indifference to religious questions. Had they understood Christianity, they would never have supposed it to be against civil order.
3. The certainty foreshown. The spiritual power must prevail. Such a world must be overturned.
II. THE CHRISTIANITY WHICH PAUL PREACHED.
1. Founded on the Old Testament Scriptures, and therefore seeking a basis in the synagogue.
2. Setting forth the redeeming work of Jesus Christ as its substance.
3. Adapted to all, Jews and Greeks alike, and calling the influence of women to its service.
4. Though itself peace, yet, by its contrast with the world, turning it upside down. We must be quiet and orderly in our methods, but we must expect that spiritual forces will stir up opposition. The end is with the truth.—R.
The power of God in the world.
"These that have turned," etc. Thessalonians excitable, especially on the subject of political change (see Epistles). The misrepresentations of spiritual work proceed from two causes:
(1) fanatical opposition to the truth as it is in Jesus;
(2) the ignorant fears of sordid and selfish minds. Yet the progress of the work must be maintained.
I. THE THOUGHTS OF MEN CONTRASTED WITH THE THOUGHTS OF GOD.
1. Of the religious fanatics and superstitious. The fears for truth leading to false alliances. Compromise of principle.
2. Of rulers. Government is apt to fear for itself, because it knows not its own true basis. Decrees of Caesar must sometimes be resisted.
3. Of the populace. Mistaken ideas of their own interests. Deceivableness under the influence of demagogues or those who pander to their lowest feelings. The blessing was rejected. Jesus was a better King for the people than Caesar.
II. THE MISSION OF THE GOSPEL IN THE WORLD.
1. To explain the Divine dealings with mankind, and reveal the purpose running through both the Jewish and Gentile histories.
2. To lift up the multitudes and deliver them from despotism and deception.
3. To proclaim a new world in place of the old, the coming of the kingdom, which is not the exaltation of an imperial throne, but the reign of God on the earth, in the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ.
4. To stir up in the hearts of men a desire for the better things. The world within us must be turned upside down before the true peace is built up.—R.
The different state of mind among the Jews. The unbelief and opposition of men overruled by God to the fulfillment of his purposes. The footsteps of the apostolic messengers quickened. The sudden stride of the message from Beraea to Athens—scarcely likely to have been taken by Paul without an impulse in the circumstances driving him forward. Yet, as so much depended on the one man's work, as no one else so fitted to lay the foundations of Christianity in Greece, he must be lifted above the level of his own thoughts and plans. The whole passage illustrates the union of providence and grace.—R.
Preparation for the truth.
"Therefore many of them believed." Contrast between the ignoble prejudice and the noble openness of mind. Responsibility for our faith. Knowledge and practice bound up together.
I. THE TRUE PREPARATION FOR DIVINE BLESSINGS.
1. A state of mind. At liberty to think. Open to teaching. Desire for instruction. The two kinds of skepticism (skepsis), inquiry for truth, inquiry for reasons against faith.
2. A course of action and habit. Reading of the Scriptures daily, with a set purpose, devoutly, in connection with the preached Word, with an intention to follow their guidance.
II. THE TRUE FAITH SETTLED ON ITS BROAD FOUNDATION.
1. As distinguished from mere individual self-assertion and ignoble pride.
2. As accepting the standard of revealed truth.
3. As apostolic, seeing that "those things were so," i.e. as Paul represented them. The Pauline faith was the only faith which linked together the Old Testament and the New.
III. RESULTS FOLLOWING THE USE OF MEANS. A lesson to both preachers and hearers.—R.
Paul at Athens.
I. The connection of the whole with THE HISTORY OF CHRISTIANITY. The Greek mind evangelized. The function of Greek thought in the development of doctrine. The contrast between the gospel and philosophy. The step towards the conquest of the world.
II. The illustration of THE APOSTOLIC METHOD. Adaptation of the truth to every class of mind. Difference of the preaching when the foundation of the Jewish Scriptures was for the time forsaken. Important difference of results, showing that there must be something intervening between idolatry and Christian faith, besides natural religion. The resurrection must stand on its true foundation, or it is mocked at. The spiritual truth is mere "babbling" to those who look upon it from the naturalistic point of view.
III. The picture of HUMAN HELPLESSNESS presented. Intellectual restlessness of Athens. The judgment of God overhanging the moral corruption. Times of ignorance. Idolatry, the more hideous in its decorations of artistic beauty. Worship of the human body. Social miseries of the Greek world. The one man among the multitude, type of the spiritual force which, though a grain of mustard seed in apparent magnitude, was a germ of life in the midst of the universal decay and death. So in the decline and fall of the Roman empire. A great lesson on
(1) the sufficiency and power of the gospel;
(2) the responsibility of man.—R.
The world's want supplied.
"He preached unto them Jesus, and the resurrection." Paul at Athens a typical fact. No place so representative. No preacher so equal to the occasion. His spirit stirred within him. Idolatry—turning human greatness into ruin. "To the unknown God." Great opportunity well employed. No dreary denunciations. No lowering the gospel by admixture with human speculations. He presages the time when the intellect of Greece and the power of Rome would both alike be Christ's. He dared their mockery, to win their hearts.
I. A PERSONAL SAVIOR. Jesus:
1. Presented as Divine. "Setter forth of strange gods." The facts of the gospel so described as to reveal the Divinity.
2. Set forth as an Object of trust. Just what such minds required, to look away from self and the vagaries of the mind. Names enough in the ancient world. This Name above every name.
II. A PRACTICAL APPEAL.
1. To a true worship in place of the false. Religion universal. Paul's preaching was not intended merely to change the forms, but the substance; to place religion on its true foundation, not as man's offering to propitiate the Deity, but as his acceptance of God's love—in fellowship. Jesus is in the midst of us, therefore we worship no longer an unknown God.
2. To a new life in place of the old. A great city like Athens reminds us of the world's wants—power to live a better life. He did not preach a mere story of the past, but a proclamation of a new kingdom of grace, which should make all life afresh. Words! Examples! They had them. But they wanted power. There was a new fact before their eyes, a living man changed and made from a persecutor into a missionary. Nothing like it in Greece.
3. To a great future. The resurrection. Personal prospect. A fact more than arguments. Messages to Corinth. "In Christ shall all be made alive" (1 Corinthians 15:1-58.). May such doctrine prove its sufficiency in us!—R.
The worship of faith.
"Whom therefore ye ignorantly worship, him declare I unto you." Christianity aggressive. Insufficiency of all forms of religion apart from true knowledge. The true philanthropy of the missionary spirit.
I. THE WORLD'S IGNORANCE OF GOD INCONSISTENT WITH ACCEPTABLE WORSHIP OF HIM.
1. Athens the representation of the moral helplessness of men without revelation. Knowledge which is ignorance.
2. The practical view of the Divine character. Indifference to righteousness, vain trust in benevolence, mere sentiment of dependence.
II. THE FAITH OF THE CHRISTIAN THE TRUE BASIS OF RELIGION.
1. As a simple acceptance of Divine teaching.
2. As a growth of knowledge through experience and practical endeavor. "If any man will do his will," etc.
3. The actual fellowship of the spiritual life. Influence of the higher mind and larger soul upon the lower. Effect of loving self-sacrifice in opening the mind to larger views of the Divine character.
4. The opportunities of the world rightly used. Nature leading to God, not enslaving the soul. Culture lilting up the intellect and desires. "All things are ours."—R.
Man in God.
"In him we live, and move, and have our being." The greatness and humility of the apostle—an illustration of the nature and method of Christianity. Over all the glory of Athens the pall of spiritual death. An unknown God amongst them. The pride of the ancient world still clung to empty superstitions, only half, if at all, believed in. Boldness of the messenger. Polytheism is false. The human heart is claimed for God. From their own altar to the Christian announcement of coming judgment. An appeal to reason, conscience, experience, the universal spirit of humanity.
I. A GREAT PRIMARY TRUTH set forth in two aspects—natural and spiritual
1. All religion rests on a natural foundation. We are creatures of God. Threefold view of humanity—as life, as activity, as being or character. Unsatisfactory view of human nature which omits any of these. We live not alone for earth, but far eternity. Not alone to exist, but to unfold our possibilities, intellectual, moral, spiritual. God the God of providence. History. Social life. But natural religion insufficient. Has proved itself so—must be so.
2. Religion is the work in man of the spiritual. The great fact of a moral ruin cannot be overlooked. Ancient heathen admitted the irreconcilable Opposition of heaven and earth. Refuge in Promethean pride. Despondency They openly said "It is better to die than to live" Errand of the gospel was one of hope. Proclamation of the life of man in God. Spiritual power at hand. The message written out in the facts of the gospel. Paul led up his hearers to Christ. To us religion is Christ. The resurrection is the seal on the promise of life.
II. Consider THE APPLICATIONS OF SUCH A TRUTH.
1. The essential and supreme question of every man's existence is what he is to God, and what God is to him. Our life in him.
2. There is only one religion which meets man's wants, that which has come from God.
3. The religion of Christ is adapted to the humblest as well as the highest mind, to the lowest as well as the loftiest condition.—R.
Acts 17:32, Acts 17:33
"Now when they heard," etc. The hearing of truth is the demand of man's position. Temptation "of such minds as the Athenians" to regard themselves as able to be their own teachers. Facts often stranger than fiction. Philosophy has been a great obstacle to Christianity. So still intellectual pride and prejudice. The two classes of hearers still represented—mockers and triflers.
I. RESPONSIBILITY IN HEARING.
1. Application of mind. Concentration on the subject. Openness to persuasion.
2. Surrender of the heart to truth. The message not addressed simply to reason. A speculative spirit may easily admit a cloud of objections and difficulties which obscure the Word. Procrastination means indifference. Enough is already understood and felt to justify practice.
II. SPECIAL CRISIS OF OPPORTUNITY. Whether in listening to the Word, or in receiving Divine invitation through providential circumstances, opportunity at times gathers to a point where resistance becomes guilt. So it was in the Jewish nation at the advent of Christ. So at Athens by the visit of Paul. The Word may be taken away:
1. By the work of sin within us, hardening the heart.
2. By changes in the outward life.
3. By summons into eternity. "Take heed how ye hear;" "Work while it is yet day;" "Now is the accepted time."—R.
HOMILIES BY P.C. BARKER
Acts 17:2, Acts 17:3
The work of three sabbath days.
It was a great idea, and much more than mere idea with Paul, to "redeem the time." He would not have stayed a continuous three weeks in one place doing nothing at all, much less doing what was good for nothing, or for very little. The time he gave, therefore, to a subject, and the stress he laid upon it, may fairly measure to a certain degree his persuasion of the value of it. There are subjects which depend upon their very mode of treatment, not in the merely ordinary sense for producing greater or less impression, but for apprising us of the estimate they purport to put on themselves. And this thought may certainly help to guide us, even in these days. It may help work conviction as to the reality of things long "believed among us," but perhaps never more attacked or less boldly grasped than at this present. For we here may notice that—
I. PAUL TAKES THE OLD TESTAMENT SCRIPTURES AS HIS TEXT-BOOK.
1. It would have been particularly like Paul to have dealt with his subject or subjects through a period of upwards of three weeks, on their own merits, and not have laden them with any unimportant connection with things that had gone before. His method shows that the connection was not deemed unimportant by him.
2. If Paul does deal with great subjects, which might have been discussed on their own merits, in very close connection with their associations with the Old Testament, it were inevitable that those associations must cling to them. They will in a sense bring with them the atmosphere, or the flagrance of it, to which they have been accustomed.
3. There can be no doubt, no contradiction, as to the connection of the promised Messiah in the Old Testament with the sacrifices, which are really its most unique feature; nor can there be any doubt of the great sacrifices themselves, that they were in the main propitiatory.
II. THE DEATH OF CHRIST IS THE OLD TESTAMENT TOPIC SELECTED OUT OF ALL OTHERS BY PAUL. For what conceivable purpose should the apostles have taken all the trouble and encountered all the dangers they did in order to reconcile the minds of the Jews, to whom they preached, to the identity of the foretold Messiah of the Scriptures with the Jesus crucified of late at Jerusalem? There could be no satisfactory reason for this but one, that the suffering of Christ unto death was the central requirement of the whole position. While the Jew from first to last objected to the subject
(1) because the crucifixion of Christ lay at his door and on his conscience;
(2) and because the Jew had never consented to believe in such a King as Christ, such a grandeur as the grandeur of the cross for him, or such a method of recovering and exalting the distinction of his own nation, as the method which went right down to the root of its decay, disorder, misery! It would surely seem that nothing could be more nugatory than to labor as apostles labored, and to suffer as they suffered, and to be filled with zeal as they were filled with zeal, if it were for mere persistence sake in the matter of an unwelcome historical identification. Whether for Jew or Gentile, the death of Christ was with the apostles the foundation theme. But with the Jew it was argued as now, with all the light and necessarily with the associations that his Scriptures must throw upon it.
III. THE INVARIABLE SEQUEL-SUBJECT OF THE DEATH OF CHRIST—THE RESURRECTION—IS PREACHED BY PAUL. AS much as all the deepest traceable significance of the death of Christ tends to humble those to whom it is preached, as "the way of salvation," so much avails the significance of his resurrection to comfort and to raise them! The glory of glories for Christ, it is, and it is ever scripturally exhibited as, the joy of joys for the believer in Christ. These, then, were the great topics upon which Paul and his companions and other apostles were constantly insisting. Let it be explained as it may, these purport to be the message of Heaven to earth; let it be objected to as it may, nothing else comes in their place. The forces that lie hidden, yet scarcely hidden, in both of these are now at least testified by an unsurpassed mass and variety of practical and irrefutable evidence. Men's hearts have been softened, humbled, and won to the exercise of profoundest trust and firmest faith by the fact of the sufferings and death of Christ. Their highest nature has answered to the quickening influence of the clearly revealed and clearly exhibited fact of the Resurrection, and so far forth its correlative, immortality. The pride of man rarely finds its gain or its object in rejecting the latter, yet is it abundantly doubtful whether any man come to it rightly, much less come to it to the purest and truest advantage, except through that approach which Paul found so often "to the Jews a stumbling-block, and to the Greeks foolishness," but to "some" others even at Thessalonica (Acts 17:4) "the power of God and the wisdom of God."—B.
Acts 17:11, Acts 17:12
A comparison justly invidious.
In harmony with the directions of Jesus Christ himself, and with the dictates of wisdom as against presumptuousness. Paul and Silas, when endangered by their ministrations in one place, sped on in all fidelity and zeal to another. It may also be not without its significant interest that, as we are told, they were "sent away," or "sent on," by the brethren. Had they gone away at any time and ceased from their work, they and their motives and their love might well have been objects of suspicion. But the continuity of their devotion, and the renewal again and again of work after disappointment upon disappointment, protect them from suspicion, and even add to their praise. It is one of the greater practical difficulties of life to resist successfully the distressing and disintegrating natural operation of perpetual disappointments, and it is one of the severer tests of an uplifted faith and enduring purpose that "often foiled" is not accepted as failure, and that "cast down" does not mean "destroyed." On the other hand,
(1) had the apostles been enabled to hold their ground against every attack of the spirit of persecution, this would have been equivalent to an unceasing repetition of miracle; and the enmity of the human heart might have been silenced indeed, but long before it was destroyed, or had proved its own intrinsic collapse. And
(2) those apostles would not have covered anything like the same ground, nor secured anything like the same experience of human nature. The language of these verses is one result, simple enough and direct, of the experience that came from the comparison of one people with another. The contrast is brought sharply into prominence by the conduct of Beraea, in quick succession upon that of Thessalonica. The people of Berea are boldly pronounced "more noble than those of Thessalonica." Let us consider the ennobling reasons.
I. READINESS TO RECEIVE THE WORD.
1. There is, indeed, a "readiness to receive" which marks greed.
2. There is a readiness to receive which marks credulity.
3. There is a readiness to receive which marks the inertness of indifference.
4. There is a readiness to receive which marks a nature conscious of need, and responsive to the proper supply of that need, when proffered. The readiness to receive which now distinguished the Bereans marked thus a good and a healthy and a spiritual instinct. For their readiness was turned toward receiving a "word" that was true and pure and not flattering, but faithful to reprove and to teach, as well as to stimulate and uplift by promises. Such readiness as this is noble and ennobling. It saves souls pining. It saves wasted energies. It obviates vagrant pursuits. And for all such it substitutes a genuine education.
II. DETERMINATION TO BE COMPETENT TO "GIVE A REASON OF THE HOPE" WHICH THERE HAD BEEN "READINESS TO RECEIVE."
1. The very attitude of the inquirer has something of the noble in it, when compared with the custom of the decrier.
2. The mastery of prejudice is in itself a sign of nobility, while the reign of prejudice means an obstructiveness which infers to none greater loss than to the subject of it.
3. The searcher into truth does in the very act ingratiate himself with truth. "Happy is the man" who seeks for it as for silver, and searches for it as for hid treasure (Proverbs 2:2-5).
4. Openness to evidence comes inevitably of inquiring honestly, as surely as prejudice makes a shut heart and undiscerning mind. Many persons do not see because they never set themselves to look. They scarcely think it is given them to use their own natural powers.
5. Inquiringness has it in it to infer advantage
(1) to individual happiness;
(2) to social kindliness;
(3) to public and general progress.
6. Inquiringness, when it is turned to things of higher and deeper significance, to things invisible and spiritual, to the great themes of the soul and its need of a Savior, to the grand themes of God and his pitying love to man—this inquiringness carries its own praise in it. It is bound to enrich him who practices it and extorts conviction from the unwilling, while the spontaneous tribute of commendation is laid at its feet by the just and good. That kind of moral certainty that lies in strong conviction is the price won by all those who will take the trouble, in matters of Divine import, to "search" whether and how they agree and hold together.—B.
The gospel's kindly encounter with novel foes.
The opportunity now presented to Paul he must at once have recognized to be one of the grandest and most critical of his career. He was for a while separated from his two loved companions, and was permitted to face his work alone in the long-time metropolis of the world's learning, grace, and art. We are perhaps to understand that Paul somewhat sensitively felt his position to be one of a special kind of responsibility. It was certainly none the less one of so much the more honor. He does not delay his work. He appears in the synagogue (Acts 17:17) with the Jews and the "devout." In the market-place also he is found ready to debate with those who may be willing. The citizens of Athens, and the character which now obtained to so remarkable a degree among them, promised ground upon which rapid and easy impression, at all events, might be made, whether lasting or not. This, however, was held in check to a considerable degree by the presence of not a few who not only were naturally likely to fight hard for their pet philosophies, but whose very philosophy it was in some cases to attempt to "prove all things" at least in their own idea or proving. Paul is not long in being brought into the place of chief notoriety. The kind of treatment showed to him by that ancient center of refinement and of intellectual inquiry is vastly different from the treatment to which he had become only too accustomed at the hands of the Jews; and the kindly method and tone of the address of Paul seem to be some reflection of it. Still the gospel is to grapple, and in Athens it had its work before it. The incisiveness of Paul's style does not fall behind its courtesy. Let us notice what Paul has to say when now brought fairly in contact with all most typical of a heathen world.
I. THE TRUE APOSTLE OF CHRISTIANITY PURPORTS TO "DECLARE" WHAT THE WORLD SAYS IS "UNKNOWN," i.e. GOD. He "declares:"
1. A personal Creator-God, against Epicureans and all various others who either held the world to have been ever or to have come of chance. Neither Jesus himself nor Scripture records generally from beginning to end presuppose atheism, nor apply themselves to prove the existence of a personal Deity. But when nature, with all her ten thousand voices, has nevertheless let down men to a degraded unbelief, or when men have thus let down nature, these do pronounce and "declare" in no faltering tone this one starting-point of all upward progress, all knowledge, and all goodness (Acts 17:24).
2. A Creator-God, the opposite of depending for anything on man, inasmuch as all men depend for all things on him, including the initial breath of life, and thereupon every breath they draw.
3. A Creator-God who, so far as this world is concerned, knows one family alone, but that family the universal one.
4. A Creator-God who does not forsake men to their own inventions, but is the present and ruling Providence among them. There is such a reality as an administration of the wide empire on earth, and that administration in each part, each greater or less distribution, is Divine, is that of God, the sovereign God.
5. A Creator-God who admits of no proxy whatsoever of idol fashion.
II. THE TRUE APOSTLE OF CHRISTIANITY UNDERTAKES TO MAKE AN UNFALTERING AFFIRMATION OF THE THINGS MOST DISTINCTIVE OF CHRISTIANITY. These shall be facts or truths, not grown of reason, not even surmised of reason; very likely not, in all their bearings and all the questions they suggest, such as can be accounted for by reason. They occupy by intention a unique place. They come of the pronouncement of One who brings all-sufficient credentials, and whom to disbelieve rationally is a greater difficulty for reason by far than to believe. This grand, surpassing voice of Heaven is here given as threefold.
1. It bids repentance on the part of man.
2. It declares judgment to come by Jesus Christ.
3. It declares hereunto the resurrection of Jesus Christ; and certainly, if the resurrection of Jesus Christ is here instanced as speaking volumes for his likely judgeship, it will carry all that is necessary for showing men present at his solemn judgment-bar. Evidently nothing so much arrested men, when the world's clock was then striking, as this announcement of resurrection from the dead for Judge and judged.
III. THE TRUE APOSTLE OF CHRISTIANITY DOES NOT HIDE AWAY THE ELEMENT OF HUMAN RESPONSIBILITY AND THE NECESSITY OF HUMAN CO-OPERATION WITH DIVINE WORK. This is but one among many ways of asserting that man is himself a creation of reason and of heart and of conscience; in brief, of just so much as to constitute him justly responsible to his Creator. Beyond a doubt, we cannot draw the line that says where the exertion of man's will and the interposition of God's providence end or begin, nor, in all probability, could we see the line if it were drawn. It is none the less certain that both of these are facts in human life. Paul goes so far as to say that Divine arrangements (Acts 17:27) lead to Divine inquirings on the part of men, and are directly adapted to suggest "seeking the Lord." Notice, therefore:
1. That it lies with men, part of their simplest, first, happiest duty, to "seek the Lord," in distinction from the vain theory or degrading wish that the belief in the reality of the existence of God should be an absolutely necessary outcome of our life or natural income of our conviction. It is a remarkable fact that in all highest senses it is both one and the other of these things, but that in lower and literal sense, if it were so, it would bereave human knowledge of God of its noblest aspects, noblest tokens, and noblest uses.
2. That there is so much uncertainty about finding him we seek, as might well give zest and energy and trembling vigor to endeavor.
3. That the uncertainty lies much in some moral direction of our nature. To "find God" is not the quest of the intellect merely or chiefly. It will lie nearer the heart, at all events, and it will be greatly dependent on, say, the conscience, what it is in any man and how he heeds it. To "find God" will depend on "feeling after" him. The absence of a certain kind and amount of sensibility will in many a case decide, and "that right early," our not finding some one or some thing. Some truth and some people are coy. And very indisputable it is that sometimes it is of the highest truth and the highest style of human character that this is most chiefly true.
4. That to win the crown of "finding" finding really, finding blessedly, finding for ever—is quite among the possibilities; ay, it is among the sure promises exceeding precious to the true seeker.
5. That the grand object "sought," "felt after," and "found" is all the time "not far from" any one, i.e. really near to every one. He is so near us in our breathing life itself. He is so near us in all those qualities which are derived from his parentage. He is so near as in bountiful goodness and in pitying, strong love.—B.
Three kinds of hearing.
It is not always given to the hardest and most conscientious labored to reap a large harvest. The day had been a day of hard work and faithful work for Paul. Arrived at sunset, he counts more disappointment than gain. This passage speaks of three kinds of hearers. And it is telling us of facts—facts that were, facts that too often are. Notice—
I. THERE ARE WHO HEAR AND MOCK.
1. They mock when they hear something and fear something.
2. They mock when they cannot confute what is spoken into their outer ear, nor silence what speaks of itself in their inner ear.
3. They mock when they don't understand and don't try to understand.
4. They mock when they are ready to risk everything, rather than yield anything of self and self-will.
II. THERE ARE WHO HEAR AND PROCRASTINATE.
1. They procrastinate when they are persuaded—almost.
2. They procrastinate when it is no matter of "two opinions" but of active duty or public declaration of themselves.
3. They procrastinate when their mind is quite clear, but their heart neither honest nor earnest.
4. They procrastinate when they feel they must say something, but are not prepared either to do or to say the right something.
III. THERE ARE WHO HEAR AND BELIEVE.
1. They believe when "the Lord has opened their heart to attend to the things spoken."
2. They believe when they feel that the things spoken are true to their need and are for them.
3. They believe when they are practically ready, if needs be, to "forsake" all the rest in order to "cleave to" that one Being who has "the words of eternal life."—B.
HOMILIES R. TUCK
"And Paul, as his manner was" (Revised Version, "custom"). Luke thinks it necessary to record St. Paul's habits in connection with his missionary labors, and his point is, not that the apostle kept the sabbath day, but that he consistently observed the injunction to the first preachers that they should "begin at Jerusalem;" that is, deliver the gospel message first to the Jews. Whenever St. Paul went to a fresh town, "his manner was" to find out the Jews and join them at their meeting-place, whether that were proseuchē or synagogue. In either case be would have the opportunity always offered to visitors to say a word of exhortation to the people. Here, at Thessalonica, the fact that St. Paul was allowed to preach for three sabbaths in succession shows the respect commanded by his character as a rabbi, and, it may be, by his earnest eloquence. We dwell on the fact that Luke recognizes a fixed custom and settled habit of the apostle, and seems to feel that anything so orderly and regular it was singular to find in so impulsive a man. A great part of religious duty concerns the formation and the preservation of godly habits, and the subject is one which may be practically and usefully treated in a Christian congregation.
I. SETTLED HABITS. It is singular that our most common association with the word "habit" should be bad habits, and that a much stronger form of teaching should go in the direction of warning against or curing bad habits, than in that of culturing and nourishing good ones. Moralists have given abundant counsel in respect of common habits of personal and social life, but religious teachers, even of the young, have not worthily recognized that habits may be formed in connection with the religious life, and that direct instruction and guidance in relation to them is imperatively needed. Our Lord bad settled habits of prayer and worship, and no Christian life can be hopefully maintained without them.
II. How HABITS GET SETTLED. By simply doing things again and again with regularity. The philosophical and the practical explanations of the formation of habits may be given; and it may be well to show how the very muscles, nerves, and senses get fixed by continuing to act in the same direction. But the point to dwell on is that habits may be settled by intelligent intention and effort. They may be a product of will, and the formation of good habits is a proper exercise of the regenerate will. It may be further shown that relations of dependence bring on all parents, masters, or teachers, the responsibility of inciting to the formation of good habits and the due nourishment anti strengthening of them.
III. How FAR DOES THE SETTLING OF HABITS DEPEND ON DISPOSITION? In all questions of moral culture or religious duty the natural dispositions of men have to be taken into account. To some habits come easily, and they can be as easily changed. Others only form habits after much self-mastery and conflict. But these are the persons who are best helped by habits when once they get them fixed. Such an impulsive man as St. Paul might even find it necessary to restrain himself by forcing himself into the orderliness of settled habits. Illustrate how differently different persons stand related to the great Christian duties—prayer, reading God's Word, worship, almsgiving, etc.
IV. How MAY SETTLED HABITS HELP THE MAY WHO HAS FORMED THEM? Illustrate, especially in relation to the religious life, two points.
1. They help him to master his own varying feeling. A man is not always disposed for private prayer or public worship, but the habit keeps him related to these things, and it is often found that, while engaged in them, the needed mood of feeling will come. Custom only may take us to worship, but eye and heart may be opened when we are there.
2. They help him to overcome adverse circumstances. Hindrances of family or business life seriously affect the man who has no religious habits. They fail to hurt the man who has his life well ordered, and his regular times and ways. The habits soon get recognized, and the incidents of life take shape so as to fit in with them.—R.T.
The three points of Pauline preaching.
In Acts 17:18 the point of St. Paul's teaching to the Gentiles is briefly given, and it is seen that he had but one message, which he endeavored to adapt to his varying audiences. To the Gentiles he preached "Jesus and the resurrection;" to the Jews he preached that "Christ must needs have suffered, and risen again from the dead; and that Jesus is the Christ." It may be noticed that to a Jewish audience St. Paul could make a twofold appeal:
(1) to Old Testament Scripture; and
(2) to the established facts connected with the life, death, and resurrection of our Lord.
To the Gentiles he could make no appeals to Scripture testimony, seeing that they had no written revelation; but even to them St. Paul could make a twofold appeal:
(1) to the natural sense of religion, of which their idolatries gave witness; and
(2) to the circle of recognized facts connected with the manifestation of Christ in the flesh.
Still our appeal to men is based on
(1) the religious nature;
(2) the older revelation;
(3) the historical facts of Christ's life. St. Paul "preached the gospel as a herald. Yes, but he preached it also by long arguments, intended and constructed to produce faith or persuasion concerning Christ. Indeed, the Greek word originally means to carry on an argument by way of dialogue; question by the hearer, answer by the preacher, according to his light. That was the real apostolic method of serving Christ—a very eager, earnest, inevitable method. 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." Fix attention on St. Paul's three points.
I. MESSIAH MUST SUFFER. Compare our Lord's teaching to the two disciples on the way to Emmaus (Luke 24:25, Luke 24:26). This suffering of their expected Messiah was the point of Old Testament teaching which the Jews missed or resisted. It is in the old Scriptures, in psalm and prophecy, plainly enough; but the conception of the Messiah as a national Deliverer and conquering King had so possessed the minds of the people that the prophetic figures of suffering were willingly turned aside, referred to some other individual, or assumed to have been exhausted in the troubles of the writers. Yet the first promise made to men after the Fall gives hint of redemption by suffering (see especially Psalms 22:1-31.; Isaiah 53:1-12.; and the Book of Lamentations). Explain the influence which the writings of David and the conflicts of the Maccabean princes had upon the national sentiment. And yet in this necessity for Messiah's sufferings is declared the distinction between a temporal and a spiritual Savior. Christ's weapons are not carnal. Of moral weapons none are mightier than suffering, and few can be used without involving suffering. The necessity for Christ's suffering may be shown
(1) in his humiliation to man's nature;
(2) in his sympathy with man's disabilities;
(3) in his bearing of man's burden. There was both suffering of feeling and suffering of circumstances.
II. MESSIAH MUST RISE. Of this the older Scriptures give witness. The kind of passages which the apostles took to prove this position are found in St. Peter's first sermons; and the necessity may be shown
(1) in that the acceptance by God of his life and work on earth must in some way be attested, and
(2) in that we must have good ground of persuasion that Christ is alive and able to continue the good work which he has begun on earth. A Savior for men who was held fast in the death-grip plainly could not deliver man from death, the worst of his foes. Such a seeming Savior could not win our confidence, for it would appear to us that he was defeated at last. And, besides, we cannot trust a thing, a work; we must trust a person who has worked and can work, and therefore Messiah must rise from the dead and be alive for evermore.
III. MESSIAH IS JESUS OF NAZARETH. The things found to be necessary are met in him, and in him alone. Show the correspondence between the facts of the Christian teaching and the requirements of Scripture prophecy, and impress the personal demand which St. Paul makes to follow on his argument; then your loyalty, your trust, your love, your life, are demanded for Jesus Messiah.—R.T.
The nobility of the inquiring spirit.
The people of Beraea are commended for their disposition to inquire and search into the truth of Christianity as it was taught to them by the apostolic missionaries. They were not the slaves of prejudice. "With a quick and clear intelligence they searched the Scriptures daily to see whether they really did speak of a Christ who should suffer anti rise again. The Berean converts have naturally been regarded, especially among those who urge the duty or claim the right of private judgment, as a representative instance of the right relations of reason and faith, occupying a middle position between credulity and skepticism." The attitudes of men towards truth, as freshly revealed, or as revealed in fresh forms, are threefold:
(1) some are willfully antagonistic;
(2) some are weakly receptive;
(3) some are intelligently skeptical.
The word "skepticism" may be used in a good as well as in a bad sense. It properly stands for that disposition to question and doubt which is one of the features of the thoughtful and inquiring mind.
I. SKEPTICISM AS DEPENDENT ON NATURAL DISPOSITION. There are, in respect of this spirit, marked diversities in nations and in races. And there are answering differences in families and in individuals. Usually the skeptical spirit is found in men rather than in women, who are as remarkable for their receptivity as men for their tendency to criticism. The beginnings of what will afterwards appear as skepticism are found in children. Some will question the why and wherefore of everything that is told them, while others will open wide eyes, and take in as real, the strangest fairy tales that can be told them. A great part of the responsibility of parents and teachers lies in the need for culturing-cultivating or restraining—the early signs of the skeptical spirit. Where the skeptical spirit is unduly developed the corrective spirit of faith must be nourished; and where credulity is excessive, the mind must he quickened to doubt. Ministers need to remember that both classes are found in their congregations, and that both classes have to be wisely led to intelligent faith.
II. SKEPTICISM AS FOSTERED BY INTELLECTUAL PRIDE. This is one of the gravest difficulties of our age, in which remarkable advances, in knowledge have been made. Those advances have chiefly borne relation to the sphere of the physical sciences, and in that sphere pride is readily nourished, because, apparently, all depends on men's own observation and research. It becomes easy for men to say—What we observe and know is the truth; and there is no other truth than "truth of fact." So we find all around us much skepticism in relation to the moral, spiritual, revelational spheres: a disposition to unreasonable doubt; to doubting for doubting's sake. This needs to be wisely but firmly rebuked, and its real source, in mere pride of intellect, should be pointed out. The physical is not the only sphere through which God has revealed himself to his creatures; and it never can be a sign of human wisdom that the best three parts of God's revelation are set aside as the dreams of dreamers.
III. SKEPTICISM AS A RESULT OF ASSOCIATIONS. As a disposition of mind, skepticism takes a place among infectious mental diseases, communicated very readily by association. A skeptical workman will infect his fellows. A skeptical student will change the tone of his college. A skeptical member of a family will destroy the recipiency of a whole family. So we, who have any kind of trust of others, need to be watchful over the influence of such persons. A minister's influence in a congregation may be seriously resisted by the power among the people of one unreasonably critical and skeptical member. He will look with high hope on every sign of the Berean spirit, the spirit of intelligent inquiry and research, but he has fewer things that call for his watchful care than the infection of the skeptical spirit, which will at once impair his influence as a Christian teacher. And the association of books of a prevailing critical and unbelieving character will be found quite as dangerous as that of skeptical persons.
IV. SKEPTICISM AS AN IMPULSE TO INQUIRY. This is its good side; and in this the example of the Beraeans is commended to us. It is the spirit that seeks for two things:
(1) comprehension, or the distinct, clear, and intelligent understanding of any teachings; and
(2) verification, or adequate and reasonable grounds for belief.
But it is characteristic of intelligent inquiry that it seeks its proofs within the spheres of its subjects. If it inquires concerning physical principles, it seeks for proof and illustration in physical facts. If its sphere be moral or spiritual, it asks for moral or spiritual reason and proof. So the Bereans did not confuse the spheres and domains of inquiry. The matter was one of prophetic revelation and of answering historical fact, and therefore their inquiries concerned
(1) the actual contents of the revelation, and
(2) the credibility of the witnesses to the historical facts. Conclude by showing the relations of skepticism to faith. The noble man, the intelligent believer, must have won faith out of skepticism—in the sense of humble and earnest inquiry. Those who are simply receptive have their mission in the world, and we desire to institute no unworthy, no discouraging comparisons; but for the active forms of Christian work, and for the emergencies of the Christian conflict, those are needed who have won faith out of fight. The Bereans are commended because they doubted and inquired; and yet this is the very thing which many nowadays would have feared. But one thing made their inquiries so safe—they led them to the Scriptures, and to the searching of God's revealed Word.—R.T.
The passion for something new.
Demosthenes said, in one of his speeches, "Tell me, is it all you care for, to go about up and down the market, asking each other, 'Is there any news?'" The restless inquisitiveness of the Athenian character had all along been proverbial. It did not alone distinguish the Athenians, though it gained a peculiar prominence in their case. It has returned upon man in such power, now that telegraphs and newspapers bind the nations together, that it may profitably be made the subject of Christian meditation.
I. IT SOMETIMES COMES TO BE A DISEASE, A mental disease. A restlessness that we see illustrated in some children, who tire at once of their toys and crave for something new. We see it in the world of fashion, in which garments are speedily set aside, and the last new color, or shape, or material is eagerly sought. It is equally shown in the passion for the newest books, the last newspaper, the freshest opinion, the present excitement. It even afflicts Christian people, who in a crowd run after the newest revivalist, and cry for the latest novelty in doctrine or in Church method. It is a kind of feverish delirium, which palls the appetite, vitiates the taste, and makes patient continuance in well-doing impossible. It needs to be treated as a disease, and its influence in a family, in social life, and in the Church needs to be carefully checked. It is not progress that is usually sought, because true progress ever goes slowly; it is mere novelty that is sought. We may generally say that "the old is better."
II. IT IS ONE OF THE SIGNS OF OVERDONE CIVILIZATION. It is a marked feature of a nation that is struggling up into civilization, that all its members must be workers, and none can be kept in idleness. To such a nation mere news is the amusement of its resting leisure hours; it cannot be the sober business of its days. But when nations have long reached the high levels of civilization, wealth has increased, multitudes can live in idleness, and, having nothing better to do, they may run after the latest stranger in art, or science, or music, or politics, or religion, and gathering round him say, "May we know what this new doctrine is, whereof thou speakest?" This is well illustrated in the case of the Athenians, who were surfeited with art and philosophy and superstitious religion. A city full of wealthy idlers, no doubt of good taste and cultured minds, who had nothing better to do than to run after the last new thing. The antidote for this evil is the preaching of the responsibility resting on every man to be a worker, and a worker for the general welfare. Nobody has any right to food and life save as they work, in some good way, for it. Workers soon get interest enough to stop their yearning for "something new." Illustrate how these things may be applied to Church life. Church work is the great remedy for the hindering passion for novelty.
III. YET IT IS AN INDICATION OF THE UNIVERSAL ASPIRATION FOR IMMORTALITY. There is good in it; the evil of it lies
(1) in the forms it takes, and
(2) in the excessive degrees of its exercise.
That something in us all which cannot rest, which must seek for something more; which rises up above all bondages and limitations; which is as
"An infant crying in the night,
An infant crying for the light;"
is but the aspiration of souls made in the image of God, who cry for permanence, for holiness, for rest, for God, and "can find no rest until they find rest in him." We must seek after something new, on and on, until we find God. And Scripture inspires us to such seeking; for it assures us that "Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither hath the heart of man conceived, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him." And though, in measure, these have been revealed unto us by the Spirit, yet again we are led on by the Word; for "it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is."—R.T.
"The unknown God."
For description of the statues and altars to various divinities with which Athens was crowded, see Conybeare and Howson, 'Life and Epistles of St. Paul,' vol. 1. pp. 415-417. "Roman satirists say, ' It was easier to find a god in Athens than a man.' Athenian religion ministered to art and amusement, and was entirely destitute of moral power. Taste and excitement alone were gratified. A religion which addresses itself only to the taste is as weak as one that appeals only to the intellect." In illustration of the altar to which St. Paul here alludes, Aulius Gellius says, "The ancient Romans, when alarmed by an earthquake, were accustomed to pray, not to a specified divinity, but to a god expressed in vague language, as avowedly unknown." For further illustration, see the Expository portion of this work; and 'Commentary for English Readers,' in loc. We now fix attention on—
I. THE CONFUSIONS OF POLYTHEISM. Its worshippers can never be quite sure that they have propitiated the right god, seeing that gods are supposed to be related to particular places, nations, events, sins, etc. This confusion tends to create a more and more elaborate ritual, and a wearisome round of ceremonies. All gods who may possibly be related to the matter in hand must be propitiated, and then the right one may be missed.
II. THE RESTFULNESS OF MONOTHEISM. One God stands related to all nature, to all events, to all ages, to all sins; and if we can know him and secure right relations with him, there is no one else to fear, no one else to come on us with claims. Behind God there is nobody and nothing. Rest in him is rest forever.
III. THE NULL SATISFACTION or THE ONE GOD KNOWN IN CHRIST. "Manifest in the flesh." Show how men in seeking after God want some form under which they may present him to their minds. This necessity is the secret cause of all idol-making. And God has graciously met it, and fully satisfied it, by presenting to us himself, apprehended as the "Man Christ Jesus." And this incarnation of the one and only God St. Paul preached to the Athenians. The name of the "unknown God' is Jesus, the Christ.—R.T.
"Whom therefore ye ignorantly worship, him declare I unto you." The materials for an introduction are found in the following suggestive passage from F.D. Maurice:—"This language assumed that the Athenians were in search of God; that they were ignorantly worshipping him; that they had a sense of his being a Father; that they wanted some one living human image of him, to supplant those images of him which they had made for themselves This teaching was adapted to all that was true and sound in the Greek mind. The Greek asked for one who should exhibit humanity in its perfection; and he was told of the Son of man. He felt that whoever did so exhibit humanity must be Divine. The Son of man was declared to be the Son of God. He had dreamed of one from whom the highest glory man could conceive must have proceeded. He was told of the Father. He had thought of a Divine presence in every tree and flower. He heard of a presence nearer still to himself." We may learn from St. Paul's speech how we ought to think of the Gentile nations of the earth, and what it lies upon us to do on their behalf. He shows us what "gospel"—what "good news of God"—has to be taken to the nations; and, by his example, he indicates in what spirit the message should be taken. Speaking amidst the surroundings of idol altars, statues, and temples, St. Paul—
I. RECOGNIZES THE RELIGIOUSNESS OF THE ATHENIANS. He was placed in a position of exceeding difficulty. To have attacked those pagan divinities in the very midst of their sanctuaries and altars, and before the very court which guarded the national religion, would have closed the cars of his audience to any message which he might deliver, and might have put him in some personal danger. In his speech he heartily recognizes the worshipping instinct; he sees the dissatisfaction with all existing forms of worship which indicates an aching and yearning of soul to know the full truth of God. To the unrest which the strangely inscribed altar revealed, he made his appeal. He does not attempt to break down their confidence in Zeus, Athene, or their companion divinities. He appeals to the want which no mere deification of human attributes or powers of nature could possibly satisfy. St. Paul admits a real worship in paganism. He admits that the incompleteness and imperfectness of the worship followed from their ignorance, He attempts to guide the worshipping faculty aright, by instructing their understandings, and by declaring positive truths of Divine revelation.
II. THE APOSTLE PLAINLY MARKS THE ERRORS OF THE ATHENIANS. He does not hesitate to say, "ignorantly worship," even to those who prided themselves on their learning. He accepts their own confession that they did not know the God to whom they raised their altar. They were wrong in their cherished conceptions of God, and wrong in the worship they offered to him. They lowered the very idea of God, by likening him to mere man-made images of gold and silver. They offered things to one who, being a Father, cared for hearts, and for things only as they carried messages of love and trust. The sacrifices of the true God are a "broken and a contrite heart," and they who "worship the Father must worship him in spirit and in truth." Three conceptions of God are essential as the foundations of true doctrine and true worship.
1. His unity. "There is no God but God."
2. His spirituality. "God is a Spirit."
3. His righteousness, He has been called, and the name has in it good suggestion, "The Eternal who makes for righteousness."
III. THE APOSTLE DECLARES THE TRUTH WHICH THE ATHENIANS MISSED. "Him declare I unto you." We may briefly summarize his presentation of the gospel revelation, as adapted to the Athenians.
1. He announces God to be a personal Being: no more force, like the sunlight or the evening breeze. No mere quality or virtue, such as they deified, raising altars to fame, to modesty, to energy, to persuasion, and to pity. God is living. He is one. He is the Source of all life, all breath, all being. You cannot imprison God in a statue, even though you may mould it of priceless gold. You cannot enshrine God in a temple, however gorgeous it may be.
2. Then St. Paul explains God's seeming indifference to men through the long ages. It was a mystery, but only the mystery of patient, forbearing love, which waited until the children put all their souls into the cry for him.
3. And, finally, he tells them that the waiting-time is quite past, and the great Father has come to the children now, asking their trust and their love. And the Father's nearness is to be apprehended through the human manifestation of his Son. "He preached unto them Jesus."—R.T.
Acts 17:28, Acts 17:29
"For we are also his offspring." The source whence St. Patti derived this quotation is given in the Exegetical portion of this Commentary. It may be well to point out how such a classical quotation would secure the sustained attention of his audience. Dean Plumptre suggestively remarks, "The method of St. Paul's teaching is one from which modern preachers might well learn a lesson. He does not begin by telling men that they have thought too highly of themselves, that they are vile worms, creatures of the dust, children of the devil. The fault which he finds in them is that they have taken too low an estimate of their position. They too had forgotten that they were God's offspring, and had counted themselves, even as the unbelieving Jews had done (Acts 13:46), ' unworthy of eternal life.'" The truth set before us in the text is that of the fatherly relation of God to all men, and the answering child-relation of all men to God.
I. THE FACT SEES IS ITS UNIVERSALITY. It is commonly assumed that St. Paul meant no more than to remind his audience that there was only one Creator, and that all men were made in his image. But he must have further designed
(1) to reveal God to them;
(2) to give them the best of names for him;
(3) and to awaken in them the sense of his universal claims to love and trust.
III. THE RELATIONS OF SON AND FATHER THUS INVOLVED. These cannot be made by Christ; they belong to us, and are the very conditions of our being.
1. Christ does enable us to recognize the relation.
2. He does restore it as a broken relation.
3. He does show the glory of the relation in his own human life.
4. He does help us, by his grace and Spirit, to meet and fulfill the claims of the relation. "Because we are sons, God hath sent forth the spirit of his Son into our hearts."
III. THE ARGUMENT FOR THE SPIRITUALITY OF GOD THUS INDICATED. Work out and illustrate:
1. That a thing can never be superior to its maker. If God made us, he must be better than we are, and we are manifestly better than speechless statues.
2. Man, the son, is a spiritual being; then God, the Father, must be spiritual too.
IV. THE CLAIMS OF GOD ON MEN THUS ENFORCED. Fatherhood means authority. What God commands we must heed. He commands two things.
1. That we should repent.
2. That we should receive his gift of eternal life in Christ. "God hath given unto us eternal life, and this life is in his Son."—R.T.